Final exam awaits as Tigers blow away Wolfpack

Win puts Clemson one victory from berth in ACC championship game

pstrelow@thestate.comNovember 15, 2009 

  • Injuries

    Senior left guard Thomas Austin suffered a sprained foot and should be available for this week's Virginia game, coach Dabo Swinney said. X-rays showed no breaks in Austin's foot, which he injured in the third quarter. Backup left tackle Cory Lambert and special teams player Spencer Adams sat out with the flu.

    - Paul Strelow

    Clemson numbers

    5: Consecutive games winning streak for Clemson. The Tigers have scored at least 38 points in all five games. It is Clemson's longest winning streak since the Tigers won six in a row in 2006. Clemson also has won six in a row against N.C. State, the longest winning streak in school history against the Wolfpack.

    200: Clemson has had at least 200 yards passing and 200 yards rushing in its past two games, wins against N.C. State and Florida State. Clemson is 52-0-1 when it has at least 200 yards passing and rushing.

    5: Ways C.J. Spiller has accounted for a Clemson touchdown this season - the first Tigers' player to do that. Spiller has one punt return for a score, three kickoff returns for scores, four receptions for touchdowns, one touchdown pass and six rushing touchdowns.

    1,952: Single-season all-purpose running yards for Spiller, a Clemson single-season record for all-purpose running in today's game. He finished with 158 all-purpose yards and has 1,952 for the season. The previous record was 1,883 by Derrick Hamilton in 2002. Spiller needs 140 all-purpose yards to become the fifth player with 7,000 all-purpose yards.

    69: Yards of Jamie Harper's touchdown run, the longest run by a Clemson player since 2007, when C.J. Spiller went 83 yards against Auburn in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

    - Staff and Wire Reports

RALEIGH, N.C. | The Clemson team buses stayed their course en route to campus Saturday night.

There was no YouTube moment in which the entire squad could be seen on the side of the interstate dancing, as coach Dabo Swinney had suggested might happen. No buses were tipped during celebratory looting, either, as senior tight end Michael Palmer playfully predicted.

"If there's a huge wreck on I-85, don't worry about it," Palmer said a half-hour after Clemson had manhandled N.C. State 43-23 at Carter-Finley Stadium, its fifth win in a row and sixth straight against the Wolfpack.

The Tigers (7-3, 5-2 ACC) would have been crowned Atlantic Division champions had Boston College not beaten Virginia later in the day, 14-10

Instead, they are left with one task: Beat Virginia (3-7, 2-4) in Saturday's final home game, and they stamp their ticket to face Georgia Tech in the Dec. 5 ACC championship game in Tampa, Fla., where they can claim the program's first conference title since 1991.

A loss by Boston College either this week (vs. North Carolina) or next (at Maryland) also would do the trick.

But for a team featuring so many players who were unable to seal the deal in its 2007 winner-takes-all showdown with Matt Ryan's Eagles, clinching the berth on its own would complete Clemson's so-called changing of the culture.

"We're where we wanted to be," senior running back C.J. Spiller said. "We control our own destiny."

Spiller had a hand and two legs in maintaining that control, accounting for a variety pack of three touchdowns.

The Heisman Trophy tallied a passing, rushing and receiving score to become the first Clemson player to do so in a game.

His 17-yard halfback option pass to Xavier Dye pushed the Tigers ahead 17-0 with 12:48 remaining in the second quarter, the second touchdown pass of Spiller's career.

"I don't know how many other first-evers he can have," Swinney said.

Spiller finished with 97 rushing yards and 158 all-purpose yards, highlighting another outburst from the offense.

Clemson scored at least 38 points for the fifth consecutive game, albeit against an N.C. State defense that entered allowing a league-worst 41.4 points per game in ACC play.

It marked the second consecutive outing in which the Tigers tallied at least 200 yards rushing (254) and passing (200).

They went without a turnover for the second time this season, scored on seven of their first nine drives (six touchdowns, one field goal) and converted a season-high 60 percent on third down.

And it was arguably the sharpest showing by redshirt freshman Kyle Parker, who threw for 183 yards and two touchdowns while eliminating his penchant for making costly mistakes.

"We talked about playing a complete football game, and that was probably as complete an efficient performance that we've maybe had all year," Swinney said.

Clemson's defense hardly had its strongest contest, committing six penalties that extended N.C. State drives while allowing 377 yards.

But the Wolfpack (4-6, 1-5) could not keep up with the Tigers' frenetic scoring pace, and when replay confirmed an official's ruling that Spiller did not fumble away possession with Clemson up 24-14 halfway through the third quarter, N.C. State's only drip of momentum dissipated.

In the locker room afterward, Swinney instructed that championship teams take care of their business and seize opportunities.

The opportunity to qualify for the ACC championship game is one win against a middling opponent away

"We haven't done anything yet," Swinney said. "We're right where you want to be. But you have to finish, that's the bottom line. If we don't finish the right way, then nobody cares. We hadn't done a dad-gum thing but put a little run together where we played good football.

"We've been wandering in the desert in Clemson a long time. We're trying to find our way."

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