Clemson University

Tigers cage 'Pack

Clemson's James Davis looks for running room in the second half of Clemson's 42-20 victory over N.C. State.
Clemson's James Davis looks for running room in the second half of Clemson's 42-20 victory over N.C. State.

RALEIGH, N.C. -- More than half a dozen times, Clemson helmets flipped like tumbleweed out of a pile, lending to flippant speculation about whether the equipment staff had emerged as this team's ultimate liability.

If nothing else, the sight should be sufficient evidence for coach Tommy Bowden that the Tigers' heads have not swollen too big just yet.

Finding fault in any other facet of their 42-20 walloping of North Carolina State would be splitting hairs.

"The good thing is, we probably could have put up 60 without a couple of mistakes," right guard Thomas Austin said.

Which probably illustrates why Bowden was quick to temper sideline and locker room enthusiasm as No. 15 Clemson raced to a 4-0 start for merely the second time since 1989.

The Tigers went down this road mentally a year ago and do not want to run out of gas again, especially with a road game against a Georgia Tech team invariably thinking revenge looming next weekend.

In similar fashion to last season's early blowouts, Clemson annexed real estate as if Carter-Finley Stadium had been rezoned.

Aggressively mixing its newfound proficient passing game with the old standby running attack, the Tigers butchered a floundering defense for 608 total yards, tying the fourth-highest amount in program history while setting their ACC record for a road game.

Tailbacks James Davis and C.J. Spiller accounted for two touchdowns apiece, while junior quarterback Cullen Harper picked up where he left off against inferior competition, throwing for 268 yards and two scores while looking unfazed by his first road start.

"We surely jumped the gun from a team standpoint last year with too much excitement," Bowden said.

"I don't think this reveals any great Pandora's box like we've discovered something."

Sure, even a mad scientist could hypothesize the Wolfpack (1-3, 0-2), owners of the nation's No. 101 rush defense coming in, would buckle against the likes of Davis and Spiller, each of whom had thrashed N.C. State in previous meetings.

It was the manner in which Clemson levied the overall assault that served notice this year's team could be more than a one-trick pony.

With Harper's efficiency keeping N.C. State on its heels, the Tigers moved the ball seemingly at will and would have led larger than 24-7 in the second quarter if not for a pair of red zone trips that culminated in one made and one missed field goal.

The offensive line, criticized for pass-protection issues and mediocre performances of late, overwhelmed an undersized defensive front to pave the way for the rebirth of Davis and Spiller, who had combined for fewer than 18 carries each of the past two routs.

Their patience was rewarded, with Davis notching the second-best day of his career (166 yards on 24 carries) and Spiller (114 yards, 21 carries) exceeding his season yardage total.

"It's the most frustrating thing in the world," N.C. State linebacker Ernest Jones said. "It's like a bully that just keeps picking on you and you can't do anything about it."

To be fair, Clemson's defense had a hand in that, too.

With lingering questions about the Wolfpack's turnover-prone quarterbacks, the Tigers succeeded in rattling starter Harrison Beck and injury replacement Daniel Evans with pressure from their front four the entire afternoon.

N.C. State, which had thrown seven interceptions in eight quarters against bowl subdivision competition, surrendered another three and two that technically did not count -- one by linebacker Kavell Conner on a play in which Clemson took a penalty because Conner fumbled possession away, and another on a 2-point conversion safety Michael Hamlin returned to push the Tigers ahead 39-20.

The final damage: Clemson had three times N.C. State's total offensive yardage, executed 32 more offensive plays and won time of possession by 14 minutes.

Suffice to say, the Tigers also earned a week's worth of humility speeches.

"It's going to show a lot of people how balanced our offense is," Davis said.

"But we don't want to be excited too early."