CLEMSON, S.C. — The offensive numbers were staggering by No. 11-ranked Clemson, with junior quarterback Tajh Boyd leading the way with five touchdown passes and three rushing in a record-setting 62-48 win over NC State on Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
Boyd controlled the tempo and utilized the speedy weapons around him to go 30-of-44 passing for 426 yards and five touchdowns, and he rushed 18 times for 103 yards and his three scores to help the Tigers improve to 10-1 overall and 7-1 in the ACC. He set an ACC single game record for being responsible for eight touchdowns, and he broke his previous league mark of last year with 41 touchdowns with two games remaining.
Clemson finished with a staggering 754 yards, 34 first downs and had 102 plays from scrimmage, which overshadowed an impressive offensive performance from the Wolfpack, who fell to 6-5 overall and 3-4 in the league.
The loss overshadowed some impressive individual performances by NC State. Fifth-year senior quarterback Mike Glennon went 29-of-53 for 493 yards and five touchdowns, with classmate wide receiver Tobais Palmer accumulating 496 yards of all-purpose yardage — 219 receiving on seven receptions and three touchdowns, and 277 yards on kickoff returns.
Palmer set an NC State and ACC record, which was previously set by former Wake Forest player John Leach in 1993 (411).
"I knew I needed to come out and be explosive and play, and be on top of my game," Palmer said. "I couldn't have done it without my teammates. Once we got on a roll, we were hard to stop, but then we got back in the hole that we were trying to dig ourselves out. I just kept playing and just kept making plays for my team."
Glennon's passing yards were a career best, and he tied his school record for touchdown passes. The Wolfpack also set a school mark for most points in a loss, which seemed to sum up the bittersweet feelings about the game.
"I knew they had a real powerful offense and I knew we had to score a lot of points," Glennon said. "We just didn't score enough. I don't think I've ever been a part of something like that. Tajh played a great game and he's a talented player."
Glennon, Palmer and the seniors will close out their careers at Carter-Finley Stadium next Saturday against Boston College, and then prepare for a bowl game. The players were fired up to get back on the practice field despite the tough setback.
"As a senior, you want to go out on a high note," Glennon said. "We want to win at home for Senior Day, get a bowl win and finish the season strong."
Clemson built an early 13-0 lead and it appeared the game could be getting away from NC State right away, but Glennon connected on a 77-yard touchdown pass to Palmer, and then a 49-yarder to him. He ended the first quarter with an 18-yard touchdown strike to redshirt junior Rashard Smith, and then later set up sophomore kicker Niklas Sade for a 32-yard field goal with 14:17 left in the second quarter.
The 24 unanswered points gave NC State a nice cushion and 24-13 lead, but the Wolfpack weren't too comfortable due to the Tigers' quick-strike scoring ability.
Clemson answered with a torrid 42-0 run of its own to take a commanding 55-24 lead with 4:13 remaining in the third quarter. Boyd had four touchdown passing and two rushing during the stretch. Clemson sophomore defensive end Vic Beasley also had three sacks and a forced fumble for the game.
"You have to really credit Clemson and that's a really good offensive football team," NCSU coach Tom O'Brien said. "That's not a good matchup for us, and we left too many points on the board, and too many opportunities to score. It's just too much skill for us.
"The plan coming in was to do it the way we did it. It was a game of runs. I thought maybe we'd come out in the third quarter and get our run back going again, but just didn't do it."
Clemson's defense came through with a big turning point during the second quarter. The Wolfpack led 24-19 but momentum was starting to go toward the Tigers. NCSU faced fourth and one at the Clemson 41 and went for it, which was the right call, but couldn't muster that yard with redshirt sophomore running back Tony Creecy getting stuff for no gain. Clemson scored five plays later to take a 27-24 lead with 10:28 remaining in the quarter. The Tigers never looked back.
"We weren't going to beat them by punting," said O'Brien in general about his fourth-down decisions. "We had to get scores and stay on the field, and try to get their offense off the field. We missed two opportunities to do that — two fourth-down opportunities."
NC State showed its heart by battling until the end, but the damage was done.
Glennon received help from freshman running back Shadrach Thornton, who rushed for 114 yards on 21 carries and a touchdown, plus had four catches for 53 in arguably his best game of the season. Thornton earned the start with Creecy hobbled by injury, and Creecy ended up missing the second half after giving it a try in the first.
Fifth-year senior tight end Mario Carter also sparked the passing game, with seven receptions for 105 yards and a score in the best contest of his Wolfpack career.
NCSU fifth-year senior safety Earl Wolff did his best to slow down the Clemson offense with 18 tackles (14 solo) and an interception. The Tigers just proved to be too athletic and fast, which was aided by their breakneck no-huddle attack.
"It was a rough game, but I felt the offense held their part, but the defense today played terrible," Wolff said. "Too many mental errors and too many missed tackles. We just didn't play well. Sixty-two points, that's ridiculous and should never happen."
Clemson entered the game averaging 42.9 points and 513.8 yards per game, so the outburst wasn't a complete surprise, but hard to defend.
O'Brien also pointed out that the Wolfpack's inability to get one sack against Boyd compounded manners. The Wolfpack managed two interceptions, but the shootout was on from the first quarter-on.
"Their offensive line, we just couldn't get any pressure on him at all," O'Brien said. "We couldn't get too him. That was one of the things we counted on in the past. Then he pulls it down and takes off and runs it. He's talented, there isn't question about it. The play of their offensive line was better than I had anticipated."
NC State and Clemson played to a 14-13 defensive struggle on Nov. 6, 2010, with the Tigers winning. The 180-degree change proved to be telling about the nature of the high-scoring ways of college football this season.
"It's unbelievable isn't it," O'Brien said. "That's football today, it's changed.
"You just have to do a better job tackling. We didn't tackle, we blew some coverages and did some things. It was not a very good day on defense, but some of it is attributed to what they did on offense, their players."