By Will Vandervort
It was no surprise that fourth-ranked Clemson built a 24-point lead early in Saturday’s 52-13 victory over S.C. State, but the way in which the Tigers’ built their big lead was definitely surprising. In fact, they made history in doing it.
For the first time in the 118 years of Clemson football the Tigers returned two interceptions for touchdowns in the same game and they came within four minutes and 45 seconds of each other. Martin Jenkins returned a pass 52 yards for a score late in the first quarter and Darius Robinson did the same early in the second.
“We kind of set the tone,” Jenkins said. “As a defense we have to, that’s how I feel. We have an amazing offense. They might not make every play and score every touchdown they want to. But they were fighting. They did not give up so we did not give up. We work as a team.”
In all, the Clemson defense forced three turnovers and held S. C. State to 241 total yards. The Tigers had three sacks and 12 tackles for loss also.
“We came out with the attitude that this is a nameless, faceless opponent,” Robinson said. “As far as how we prepare, we prepare as if every game is a big game. Our main thing was to play our keys and to play with our eyes. We knew they were going to try and trick us and things like that, but we stayed focused.”
After quarterback Tajh Boyd went over from the one-yard line to give Clemson a 10-0 lead with 3:47 to play in the first quarter, Jenkins picked off a Richard Cue pass on the next play from scrimmage and returned it 52 yards for a score.
Defensive tackle D.J. Reader hit Cue just as he was releasing the pass, causing the ball to flutter through the air for the easy interception.
The Tigers (2-0) soon made history when Quandon Christian tipped a Cue pass at the line of scrimmage and Robinson ran underneath it and rumbled 35 yards for a touchdown and a 24-0 lead with 13:48 to play in the first half.
“They tried to run slants and (Christian) was in the window and he hit the ball and I was there. I was in the right place at the right time,” Robinson said.
The only blemishes for the Clemson defense came when S.C. State wide receiver Tyler McDonald hauled in a 10-yard slant in the second quarter, broke a tackle and then broke two more while sprinting for a 63-yard touchdown. He hauled in a 51-yard pass from backup quarterback TeDarrius Wiley in the fourth quarter.
The Clemson offense eventually settled in and did what it does. Boyd completed 14 of 23 passes for 169 yards and ran for a touchdown, while Martavis Bryant redeemed himself and caught four passes for 87 yards. The Tigers also got 19 of 20 passing for 143 yards and three touchdowns from backup quarterback Cole Stoudt. His 95 percent completion percentage broke Woody Dantzler’s old record of 94.1 (16-17) for a single game vs. The Citadel in 2000.
Boyd put the Tigers up 10-0, when he dove over the pile at the goal line from a yard out with 3:47 to go in the opening quarter. Boyd set up his own touchdown thanks to a pretty 22-yard pass to Adam Humphries to the one.
The Tigers opened the game with a 13-play, 54-yard drive that was capped with a 38-yard Chandler Catanzaro field goal.
Everyone in Death Valley held their collective breath midway through the second when Boyd took himself out of the game after having the wind knocked out of him. He returned and led the Tigers on a long scoring drive just before the end of the first half.
Stoudt came in for relief and completed all six passes for 41 yards, including a three-yard touchdown pass to Charone Peake to give the Tigers a 31-7 lead with 5:48 to play in the half.
D.J. Howard capped off the scoring for Clemson in the first half with a 19-yard touchdown run that capped a 9-play, 77-yard drive and gave the Tigers the 38-7 halftime lead.
Despite the slow start, the Clemson offense finished the half with 316 yards on 54 plays. Boyd led the way with 14 of 23 passing for 169 yards, while Martavis Bryant hauled in four passes for 87 yards.
Stoudt threw two touchdown passes of 17 and 26 yards to wide receiver Germone Hopper in the third and fourth quarters for a 52-7 lead.
“Cole came in and played great,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. “We weren’t planning on using him as early as we did, but he was just awesome.”
Clemson will have next Saturday off as it prepares for its ACC opener on Thursday, Sept. 19 at NC State.
“They’ll challenge us,” Swinney said. “We definitely need to perform better than we did two years ago when we went up there. Our next goal is to win the division.”