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October 5, 2013

Heat is on

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There was a lot of talk coming in about the heat of the Carrier Dome and how Clemson would confront it.

The temperature didn't seem to bother the Tigers much Saturday. There was plenty of hot air, but it turned out all of it came from the mouths of Syracuse.

You had to wonder what was going through the minds of the Orange during the week when they spoke confidently and even brashly about the visit from Clemson. Not particularly wise when the only wins on the resume are Wagner and Tulane. And certainly not smart to basically assure the attention and focus of the No. 3 team in the country.

You also had to wonder why the bluster continued even as the Orange were getting smoked in their inaugural ACC game. From the gyrations of cornerback Julian Whigham after a pass broken up with his team down four touchdowns, to head coach Scott Shafer cussing Dabo Swinney for going for a touchdown late in the first half, it was a peculiar sight.

Clemson did most of its talking with its domination, shooing away a good portion of the fans halfway through and ultimately leaving the dome with a 49-14 victory to improve its record to 5-0 with next week's game against Boston College the only obstacle left before the Oct. 19 showdown with Florida State.

Clemson's first road trip of the season brought first-half sputters on offense in a hard-fought win over N.C. State. This time the Tigers made sure they were comfortably ahead before they went through an offensive drought.

Watching film of Syracuse's defense induced salivation in the offensive meeting rooms as Clemson prepared for this game. The Orange liked to bring pressure, and that's a dangerous proposition when your secondary isn't particularly good and you're facing Tajh Boyd and his fleet of receivers.

It looked way too easy for the Tigers as they shot to a 35-7 lead by the halfway point of the second quarter. That's probably because it was too easy. Maybe that explains why the offense proceeded to go six straight possessions without a score from that point. Maybe they lost some interest after establishing the fact that Syracuse didn't belong on the same field with them.

The long stretch without a score included Boyd's first and second interceptions of the season. It was said coming in that Clemson would be unbeatable if it didn't turn the ball over, and as it turns out the Tigers were unbeatable even with the two turnovers after they totaled just two turnovers over the first four games.

The defense, and particularly Vic Beasley, deserves some serious credit for coming up with stops in the third quarter when Syracuse had opportunities to cut into a 21-point deficit. The Orange went right down the field on their first possession of the second half to make it 35-14, and they had the ball inside Clemson's 16-yard line twice and got nothing. Beasley and the rest of the defense rose up during that stretch, putting Syracuse behind the chains with an assortment of tackles for loss.

That's when Clemson's offense awoke after taking over deep in its own territory. With 40 seconds left in the third, Boyd found Sammy Watkins behind a hapless cornerback and it ended in a 91-yard touchdown strike to make it 49-14. To that point in the third quarter, the Tigers had produced a grand total of 1 yard.

Boyd finished 20 of 27 passing for 455 yards through the air, and 250 of those yards came on his five touchdown passes. Adam Humphries hauled in two for 60 and 42 yards as the Tigers burst to a 21-0 lead in the first quarter.

Clemson's two turnovers weren't a pleasing sight to Swinney, but the Tigers' defensive backs snared four interceptions - including two by Darius Robinson. Bashaud Breeland had one in the first half, and Jayron Kearse got one as the final seconds ticked away to cap an encouraging day for the freshman who was pressed into duty when Travis Blanks left early with an injury.

Clemson outgained Syracuse 624-397, averaged 8.1 yards per play to the Orange's 5.1, and held the Orange to a 4-of-20 clip on third-down conversions.

Syracuse piled up more than 300 yards rushing after Clemson yielded just 103 per game against Wake Forest, N.C. State and S.C. State. The Orange came in wanting to pound it, and at times they did. But when it really mattered, the Tigers' defense produced stops.

Clemson might not have stopped the Orange from running their mouths, but that's not really the Tigers' problem and it never was.

*** To chat with other Clemson fans about this article please visit The West Zone message board.

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