Boyd, Bryant hook up for two scores in the second half
By Will Vandervort
RALEIGH, N.C. — It wasn’t the offensive explosion most people thought it would be, but third-ranked Clemson’s 26-14 victory over NC State Thursday night was a good one.
It was good because the Tigers did not play their best game, yet still found a way to get it done thanks to some big plays from quarterback Tajh Boyd and wide receiver Martavis Bryant in the second half, and a little luck, too.
“We are very fortunate to hang in there and find a way to win,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said.
Twice NC State had long runs on reverses, yet both times they accidently stepped out of bounds, including Bryan Underwood, who appeared to have gone 83 yards for a score that would have given the Wolfpack a one-point lead at the time.
Instead, Underwood stepped out at the Clemson 47 and NC State got nothing on the drive.
“You have to get some breaks throughout the season when you are having a great year and we got a couple of breaks. There is no question about it,” Swinney said. “I called a timeout, right before we threw a pick over there because we did not have the right situation. That was a good time out for us.
“Then, the guy stepped out of bounds two different times, one right on our sideline. That was a tough break for them and a good break for us, but you have to get some of those along the way.”
A few plays later, defensive end Vic Beasley turned that break into good fortune when he recorded his second of three sacks in the game, stripping quarterback Pete Thomas of the ball, which linebacker Spencer Shuey recovered at the NC State 48.
The play turned out to be huge because the Tigers scored on the ensuing possession when Boyd found Bryant streaking over the middle wide open for a 30-yard touchdown pass.
That gave Clemson a 20-7 lead with 1:27 to go in the third quarter.
The Wolfpack (2-1, 0-1 ACC) tried to cut into the lead to start the fourth quarter, but Niklas Sade’s 48-yard field goal attempt was wide right. It was his first miss of the season.
The Tigers (3-0, 1-0) took the ball and marched 68 yards in 10 plays to put the game away. On third down and long with the ball at the NC State 15-yard line, Boyd found Bryant for a second time as he hauled in a jump ball over cornerback Niles Clark for a 26-7 lead with 11:27 to play.
Though Boyd did not put up gaudy numbers like he did against the State defense last year, he still completed 24 of 37 passes for 244 yards and three touchdowns. He also rushed for 38 yards and picked up a couple of key first downs with his legs on two scoring drives.
Bryant had six catches for 73 yards to go with his two scores, while Sammy Watkins had 10 catches for 96 yards. Running back Roderick McDowell ran for 67 yards on 14 carries. Clemson ran for 170 yards as a team.
“The goal was to be 3-0 right now and that is where we are,” Swinney said.
Swinney rolled the dice on the Tigers’ last drive of the first half and came up a winner. With the Tigers faced with a fourth-and-two from the NC State 18, Boyd called his own number on a quarterback-power for a seven-yard gain to the 11.
“We are on the road. That’s just having confidence in my offensive line,” Swinney said.
On the next play, he found tight end Sam Cooper, who returned from ACL surgery in April, for an 11-yard scoring pass, giving the Tigers a 13-7 lead at the break.
Boyd, who struggled for much of the half, earlier in the drive found Watkins for a 28-yard gain on third-and-eight that moved the ball to the NC State 27. The Clemson quarterback finished the first half 15-26 for 144 yards.
“It just wasn’t smooth,” he said. “I don’t know if it was anxiety or the 12 days off. There just wasn’t as much rhythm for us as we wanted it to be. Yeah, we came back in the second half and did some great things, but for us, for what we want to accomplish, we have to go out there and move the ball on each drive.
“We did not have any turnovers and that’s good, but at the end of the day we have to step up and create more opportunities to score.”
NC State took a 7-6 lead with 11:03 to play in the first half when Shadrach Thornton raced 22 yards up the middle for a touchdown. The touchdown capped a seven-play, 92-yard drive that took 3:37 off the clock.
The Wolfpack had five plays over 10 yards on the drive, including a 32-yard run by Thornton. NC State had 34 yards on its first two drives before that touchdown.
Clemson took a 6-0 lead thanks to two Chandler Catanzaro field goals, one from 49 yards in the first quarter and a second from 45 yards early in the second quarter. Both field goals came on 14-play drives by the Tigers and both were keyed by third-and-long passes to Sammy Watkins one for 18 yards on third and 17 and one for 8 yards on third and seven.