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October 26, 2012
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- If the Demon Deacons had a sermon to deliver Thursday night, No. 13-ranked Clemson wasn't listening. The Tigers thoroughly dominated from the start, and despite some letup for much of the second half, this one was never in any doubt.
Clemson (7-1, 4-1) took a 35-7 lead over Wake (4-4, 2-4) into intermission on the thrust of a record-setting performance by both quarterback Tajh Boyd and wideout Sammy Watkins, as well as an inspired defense that put together its best half of the season, statistically.
"What a great win, a team win, and in all three phases," said Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney, who moved to 4-0 all-time versus Wake. "We did some outstanding things. It was just a dominant performance in all phases."
Clemson's 42-13 win also marked the second straight blowout victory over the Demon Deacons at BB&T Field, which had been a virtual house of horrors for the Tigers throughout much of the past decade, with Wake coach Jim Grobe 3-3 in the series at home entering Thursday night's matchup.
Grobe's team held a 28-14 lead on the Tigers late in the third quarter in Death Valley last fall. Grobe also defeated Clemson in 2003, 2005 and 2008 in Winston-Salem, while nearly upending the Tigers in Death Valley in 2002, 2004 and 2011.
The last time the Tigers faced the Deacons on a Thursday night marked the final game of Tommy Bowden's tenure at Clemson and the beginning of the Swinney era.
Swinney downplayed the Tigers' 1-9 Thursday night record throughout the week when addressing his team.
"I told them it was still 10 yards to get a first down. I told them the hashes were still the same," he said. "Maybe now we can start a new (Thursday) streak around here."
The Tigers sputtered early, but with 4:42 remaining in the first quarter, quarterback Tajh Boyd connected with tight end Brandon Ford to stake a 7-0 lead. Ford was one of five Clemson receivers on the night to catch a touchdown pass from Boyd who set a Clemson single-game passing record with 428 yards.
"We are at our best when we're spreading the ball around," said Swinney. "That's really what makes us go."
Clemson would surge to a 35-0 lead with just 1:33 remaining before intermission. By halftime Watkins had set a Clemson single-game receiving record, ultimately finishing with eight grabs for 202 yards. It marked the second consecutive game where Watkins caught at least eight balls.
Watkins, who missed the first two games of the season while serving a suspension and later a third game due to illness, said he wasn't surprised he was able to amass such a large chunk of yardage, and for that matter Boyd.
"I just had to get in a groove. I just played within the system and got great balls thrown at me from Tajh. Tajh just threw the ball perfectly like he had been doing in practice all week."
The Tigers' ground game was not impressive for the second straight week, finishing with 101 yards after being held to a previous season-low of 135 yards versus Virginia Tech.
Veteran center Dalton Freeman said for much of the night Wake's defense "brought more than we could block."
"They were trying to heat us up early. They had a good game plan," said Freeman.
Offensive coordinator Chad Morris said he anticipated Wake would sell out to try to stop the Tigers' rushing attack, given the success the Hokies had the previous week.
"We just took advantage of what was there," he said.
Boyd had success early with several deep balls. Because Morris expected the Deacons were going to lean on their secondary, the strength of their defense, apparently there was plenty of target practice throughout the week.
"It's what we've been missing in the offense," said Watkins. "We've just been running the ball more with more short passes, but we opened it up this week and went deep."
Meanwhile the Tiger defense put up plenty of resistance, holding an opponent below the 300-yard mark for the first time this season and for the second straight week allowing 17 points or less.
Said starting cornerback Xavier Brewer: "That's just a product of us getting better from week to week. We did well for the most part. Tackling is still a little bit of a concern, but we held them to 13 points at their place and that was big for us."
Brewer started alongside Garry Peters, who left the game late in the second half with an injury to his hip. By the end of the night, starting wideout Adam Humphries found himself in the secondary and finished with two tackles despite not taking a rep at the position all week.
"I've been telling people ... Adam is just a stud. He can do anything on the football field," said Brewer. "He just went in there and played well. I told him, 'When you get in cover-2, just play inside. You know they're going to pick on you with slants.' He said, 'Dang it. In high school, we played cover-2 outside.' Adam is definitely going to step up for us."
Defensive coordinator Brent Venables did not rule out the possibility of Humphries drawing more work at corner in the coming weeks.
Said Venables: "There's definitely a chance, all things considered. He's tough, he's fast, he's competitive. He's got faceless discipline. He wasn't overwhelmed one bit out there."
The Tiger defense also was responsible for five sacks on the night, and held Wake to just 51 yards rushing. Backup weakside end Vic Beasley was responsible for two of the team's sacks. And for the second straight week, starting strongside end Malliciah Goodman recorded a sack.
"We mixed in some additional pressure," said Swinney. "Guys are getting better up front. And they're more confident. If you're more confident, you play faster and these are guys who have been coached and they're working harder to get better."
The Tigers get some additional time off before preparing for Duke (6-2, 3-1). The Blue Devils, which became bowl eligible last week with a win over arch-rival North Carolina, sit atop the ACC's Coastal Division entering this weekend. Clemson has not lost in Durham since 2004.
"It's good to be 7-1 right now but we've still got a ways to go," said Swinney. "We've got 30 days left in this season. Everyone has to continue to stay focused and committed to paying the price."
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