SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) – It started so simply for Clemson.
A quick pass left for 6 yards to Sammy Watkins on the first play from scrimmage, then a quick pass right to Adam Humphries for another 16 yards. The pressing Syracuse defense on its heels after just two plays, Tajh Boyd then dropped back, watched Humphries break open, and hit him for a 60-yard touchdown.
Three plays, 34 seconds. 7-0.
Welcome to the Atlantic Coast Conference, Syracuse.
Nothing, not even a raucous, near-sellout Carrier Dome crowd of 48,961, seems to bother these Tigers (5-0, 3-0), who led 21-0 after one quarter and 35-7 at halftime as they brought Death Valley on the road. Most hometown fans were elsewhere when the game clock was winding down in the fourth quarter of Clemson’s 49-14 victory in the Orange’s ACC debut on Saturday.
“Real proud of our team. Great performance on the road,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “It’s not about what surrounds you, it’s about what’s inside you that determines your success. We didn’t want any excuses. We knew it was going to be a tough place to play, but our guys came out focused and really executed at a high level early in the game.”
Especially Boyd, who continues to excel as he chases a Heisman Trophy. Facing mostly man coverage by the Orange, he threw for a school-record 455 yards, 27 more than the record he held, and matched his Clemson record with five touchdowns – in just three quarters.
That boosted Boyd’s career total to 10,421 yards of offense in less than three full seasons. That’s third all-time in the ACC, behind only North Carolina State’s Philip Rivers (13,582) and Georgia Tech’s Joe Hamilton (10,640).
Boyd was 20 of 27 in his third career 400-yard passing game, an impressive average of 20.3 yards per completion to 6.2 yards for the beleaguered Orange offense. Besides the opening drive, he completed touchdown passes of 42 yards to Humphries, 17 yards to tight end Stanton Seckinger, 40 yards to Martavis Bryant, and 91 yards to Watkins.
“Every time we get down there we need to score,” said Boyd, who guided the Tigers to three TDs in four chances inside Syracuse’s 20-yard line. “We have to take care of business every time we step out there.”
Boyd, who has thrown for five TDs in a game five times, now has 107 touchdowns passing and running in his career. That’s six shy of breaking Rivers’ ACC record. On the season, he’s 93 of 141 for 1,449 yards and 14 touchdowns passing and is averaging just over 320 yards of total offense per game.
Boyd has been responsible for 21.6 points per game, the fifth-best mark in the Bowl Subdivision, and that includes a 52-13 victory over South Carolina State in which he played less than a half and didn’t throw a scoring pass, ending a streak of 17 straight games with at least one.
Against Syracuse, Boyd completed passes to 10 players: Watkins had his 10th career 100-yard receiving game with four catches for 123 yards; Humphries, who also contributed a 40-yard punt return, had three catches for 118 yards and the two TDs, both career highs for the junior.
Imagine if he played the whole game. Boyd has only been around at the end of two games this season – against Georgia and North Carolina State.
“It’s been an honor breaking records at Clemson, but for me it’s just helping this team win,” said Boyd, who did throw his first two interceptions of the season. “Records are meant to be broken at some point, but I’ll go out on a limb and say it will probably need to be a four-year starter to break these records.”
Count first-year Orange coach Scott Shafer among the admirers of Boyd and the Clemson offense.
“He’s perfect in that offense,” Shafer said. “These (Clemson) guys get up on you quick. Those are some talented kids in an excellent offensive scheme.”
The Clemson defense wasn’t too shabby, either, with four interceptions and four sacks, holding Syracuse to 74 yards passing. The Tigers did allow 323 rushing yards, though nearly half that total came on three runs.
A couple of hiccups earlier in the season for Boyd and the Tigers seem to be long forgotten.
“We played a pretty complete game and are getting close to where we want to be,” Boyd said. “External factors shouldn’t affect how we perform on the field.”
Clemson, which remains No. 3 behind Alabama and Oregon in the AP top 25, hosts Boston College next week and then No. 6 Florida State visits Death Valley.