Clemson celebrated a senior class Saturday that brought the program back as a national contender.
And the No. 7 Tigers (10-1) thanked the crowd with the kind of relentless, high-powered offense their fans have come to expect in a 52-6 win against The Citadel (5-7).
The key to Clemson’s offense is senior quarterback Tajh Boyd, who threw for five touchdowns and 288 yards in the final home game of his career. Clemson didn’t score on its first possession, but made it to the end zone the next five times it touched the ball. Boyd had touchdown passes of 8, 9, 19, 24 and 30 yards. He ended the game with 102 passing TDs in his career and tied the Tigers record of five passing TDs in a game for the sixth time. Three times Boyd has thrown for five scores in the first half.
“He’s something special. Everything he’s gotten, he deserves,” said offensive coordinator Chad Morris, the architect of an attack that is averaging 515 yards per game and is on pace to break last year’s record of 512 yards.
Everyone expected a celebration Saturday. Clemson came into the game 27-0 against FCS opponents. The fans cheered every senior who ran down the hill, but the biggest ovation was for Boyd, who owns more than 50 school records as part of coach Dabo Swinney’s first recruiting class dubbed the “Dandy Dozen”
“It wasn’t a very heralded class. But I loved every one of them,” said Swinney, who won his 50th game of a career that started as interim coach when Tommy Bowden was fired in October 2008.
With the victory against The Citadel, the Tigers have won at least 10 games for the third season in a row. They haven’t done that since putting together four consecutive 10-win seasons from 1987 to 1990.
Now attention turns to next week and No. 12 South Carolina. The Tigers have lost four in a row in the bitter instate rivalry.
“We’ve done some really good things for this program. The senior class has accomplished a lot,” Boyd said. “The one thing that no one has done is beat those guys.”
Boyd threw for 249 yards in the first half Saturday and stayed in the game until almost the final minute of the third quarter, when Swinney called a timeout so the crowd could give him one final ovation. Boyd trotted to the sideline, got high-fives and a big hug from his coach, then ran almost to the tiger paw a midfield and saluted the fans. He finished 21-for-28.
“It was a very emotional day for some of the guys,” Boyd said. “I don’t think we could have handled a game better, especially the last one in the Valley.”
Among Boyd’s more than 50 school records are marks for total passing yards, total offense, touchdowns in a game with eight (five passing and three rushing against North Carolina State last year) and most 300-yard passing games. He just missed that mark Saturday, remaining one away from Phillip Rivers’ ACC record of 17 300-yard games. His 102 touchdowns more than double Charlie Whitehurst, who is in second with 48.
Boyd was asked if he wanted to stay in and throw on more TD.
“Somebody said if you get one more touchdown you break the record. I think I have enough records,” Boyd said.
Citadel quarterback Ben Dupree ran 23 times for 69 yards, while fullback Darien Robinson ran 17 times for 45 yards. The triple option Bulldogs completed one pass on five tries, and it lost four yards.
The Citadel got two field goals, including one in the fourth quarter on a 21-play drive that took 12:10 off the clock.
“Their defensive scheme was the best scheme we’ve gone against in the four years of running the triple-option,” Bulldogs coach Kevin Higgins said.
Sammy Watkins caught seven passes for 58 yards and a TD. It might be the last game in Clemson for the junior, who is considered the best receiver prospect in next year’s NFL draft. Watkins also became Clemson’s all-time leading receiver, passing DeAndre Hopkins’ mark of 3,020 yards set last season.
Watkins said the coaches also offered him a solo run down the hill with the seniors. But he refused, saying it wasn’t his time.
“I didn’t want to have that standing ovation. I haven’t made my decision yet. At the end of the season, we’ll see,” Watkins said.
And on Military Appreciation Day, the Tigers got a touchdown for Daniel Rodriguez, who caught a quick flip as he ran past in motion from backup quarterback Cole Stoudt on fourth-and-goal early in the fourth quarter for the 4-yard score. The 25-year-old junior came to Clemson as a walk-on after serving for the Army in Afghanistan. He received the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star Medal with Valor Device. The Tigers tried to get him a TD in garbage time in their 56-7 win against Wake Forest, but couldn’t pull it off.
“We had to get him in there. Daniel Rodriguez — no better way to get a touchdown than Military Appreciation Day,” Boyd said. “We all want to be in the movie when they make one about him.”
The Clemson crowd cheered almost as loud for Rodriguez as it did for Boyd.
“I never expected to be there,” Rodriguez said of the end zone. “And when I got there, I never thought I would get there, so I just had so much excitement going through me.”