Known for frustrating defenses with its ability to consistently go the length of the field in less than a minute, Clemson’s high-powered offense went so far as to elicit expletives against Syracuse.
Scoring early and often, the Tigers overpowered Syracuse, 49-14, putting up 624 yards of offense in the Orange’s introduction to the ACC.
The boiling point for Syracuse coach Scott Shafer came at the end of the first half when the television feed caught him directing an expletive at Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, seemingly miffed at Swinney’s decision to go for a touchdown on a fourth down at the Syracuse 5-yard-line with Clemson up 28 points in the waning seconds of the first half.
Swinney hadn’t heard of Shafer’s reaction after the game and didn’t apologize for trying to score a touchdown instead of settling for a field goal.
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“Really?” Swinney said. “Were we supposed to take a knee? We had a whole lot of football left, and anything can happen. There’s nothing less important than the score at halftime, and the game’s never over until the last second is over, so I’m not taking knees in the second quarter. ... I hate to hear that.”
Said Shafer: “I’m an adult now, and I need to constrain myself a little better.”
Though Clemson’s fourth-down attempt at the end of the half was unsuccessful, the offense had done its damage in the first quarter, as the Tigers (5-0, 3-0 ACC) jumped to a 21-0 lead. The 35-7 halftime deficit was too much for the Orange to bounce back from.
It took 38 seconds for quarterback Tajh Boyd to connect with wide receiver Adam Humphries for a 60-yard touchdown. He found Humphries again at the end of the first quarter for a wide-open 42-yard touchdown pass down the sideline.
The two first-quarter scores doubled Humphries’ season total from last year and set a career-high in receiving yards with 118. Boyd took pride in having his five touchdowns go to four receivers.
“As a quarterback, my goal is to not get the ball to just one or two guys,” Boyd said. “I want to be the distributor, and I want for everyone to get a chance to touch the ball. That’s when I’m at my happiest.”
There were plenty of chances for every member of the receiving corps to get a piece of the reception pie, with Boyd continuing to toss touchdown after touchdown. He tied his career-high of five scores and set a Clemson record of 455 passing yards. He was pulled after the third quarter with a thumb injury that shouldn’t affect his status for next week’s game against Boston College.
“What can you say about our quarterback?” Swinney said. “He’s something special.”
Syracuse held Clemson’s offense to 2 yards for most of the third quarter, intercepting Boyd once and sacking him another time. After opening the second half with a touchdown, the Orange (2-3, 0-1 ACC) took two drives into the red zone, but costly penalties and an improved Clemson defense held Syracuse to no points on both drives.
Top wide receiver Sammy Watkins was on the bench for the majority of the second and third quarter with a sore hip, and Swinney said the staff was hoping to keep him out of the game since the offense was having success without him.
But Watkins went back into the game for the last drive of the third quarter when the Tigers were struggling to find the rhythm they had in the first half. On Boyd’s first pass of that drive, he connected with Watkins for a 91-yard touchdown pass that was the proverbial nail in the coffin.
It was a deflating moment for a Syracuse defense that appeared to solve the mystery of the Tigers’ offense for three drives. A near-capacity crowd in the Carrier Dome proceeded to empty at that point, leaving just the sounds of the Clemson cheering section chanting the fight song.
“We felt like there’d be some big plays early that would create some big momentum for us,” Swinney said. “We felt like, after the first quarter, we could get control of the game, and I really felt like we did.”