By Will Vandervort.
By Will Vandervort
DURHAM, N.C. — All week leading up to Saturday night’s Atlantic Coast Conference showdown in Durham, N.C., Clemson players and coaches spoke well of Duke and the turnaround head coach David Cutcliffe and his staff have done in getting the Blue Devils bowl eligible for the first time in 18 years.
It was obvious the ninth-ranked Tigers were not trying to be polite or avoid any bulletin board material. Clemson came out focused like a team that had the up most respect for its opponent, and it showed with five touchdowns on its first five possessions in route to a 56-20 victory at Wallace Wade Stadium.
“We are starting to play to our level of capability every week,” Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd said. “We are playing to a standard. We are not worried about what the external factors are and things that have kind of hurt us in the past. I’m starting to think we are becoming a solid and complete team.”
It mark the first time in Clemson history the Tigers (8-1, 5-1 ACC) beat five straight ACC foes by at least 14 points. Clemson also finished the game with 718 total yards, the second most in school history. Only the 1981 team’s 756 against Wake Forest had more in one game.
“We were 38 yards away from setting the all-time record so that was a little disappointing,” Boyd said. “But still, I’m very proud of the way the guys came out and played… We have to continue to improve. Games like this, when we can continue to put points up, it can add some depth and help them get experience so they are ready when more guys are needed.
“I’m just proud of the way we came out and put points on the board.”
One of those guys who stepped up was reserve running back Roderick McDowell, who rushed for 83 yards on 13 carries after starter Andre Ellington had a hamstring injury on the first play of the game. Overall, the Tigers rushed for 339 yards, with D.J. Howard rushing for 69 yards and Boyd for a career-high 72.
“I thought we played well, and we executed,” Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris said. “I told our offensive line earlier this week that we were going to put it on them and we were going to run the football.
“We challenged those guys to really step up and I was glad to see them step up.”
The Tigers gained a school-record for a half with 487 yards in the opening 30 minutes, while Boyd threw for 314 yards, rushed for 74 more and accounted for six touchdowns as Clemson took a 42-17 lead at halftime. Boyd’s favorite target was DeAndre Hopkins, who scored on touchdown passes of 5, 58 and 45 yards, while catching four passes for 128 yards.
Boyd, who tied a school-record for a third time with five touchdown passes in a half, finished his night with 416 total yards—344 through the air. His six touchdowns also allowed him to pass Woodrow Dantzler as Clemson’s career leader in touchdown responsibilities. He now has 73.
“We are just excited about the way we executed and the way Tajh and our receivers played,” Morris said.
Hopkins’ three touchdowns set new Clemson single-season and career marks in receiving touchdowns. He now has 21 for his career and 13 in 2012.
Boyd, who threw five touchdown passes against Wake Forest last week in the first half, hit Hopkins on touchdown throws of 5, 58 and 45 yards to race the Tigers out to a 21-10 lead.
Boyd completed 14 of 19 passes for 314 yards, while running eight times for 74 yards. His 21-yard run on a zone-read option gave Clemson a 42-17 lead with 1:52 to play in the first half.
Earlier Boyd found Sammy Watkins for a 30-yard touchdown pass for a 28-10 lead with 16 seconds left in the first quarter. The Tigers increased their lead to 35-17 with a 41-yard Boyd to Martavis Bryant touchdown with 9:29 to play before the half.
Duke got two touchdown passes from Sean Renfree, including a 77-yard bomb to Jamison Crowder. The Clemson defense closed out the first half with four straight stops, and then held the Blue Devils to three points in the second half.
“I’m proud of our team. These guys just continue to respond and get better,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. “I’m proud of them for finishing tonight.”