Clemson University

Tigers maul Deacons

CLEMSON -- Once Clemson's desired colors had shone through, lineman Chris McDuffie grabbed quarterback Cullen Harper and pointed to the sky.

A rainbow had formed outside the west end zone of Memorial Stadium, visible directly above the strip of scoreboard separating the lower and upper decks.

The omen confirmed what the 20th-ranked Tigers had worked toward all week.

A pot of gold lies beyond their inspired 44-10 pounding Saturday of Wake Forest.

"Next week is the show everybody's been waiting for," junior tailback James Davis said. "It's time."

With its fourth consecutive victory, Clemson reduced the equation for reaching the Dec. 1 ACC championship game in Jacksonville, Fla., to its simplest form.

As the scoreboard flashed afterward Saturday, "C-U next week for the divisional championship."

Needing a win to maintain control of their conference title aspirations, the Tigers (8-2, 5-2 ACC) carved through the defending champions to arrange a winner-takes-all showdown against No. 8 Boston College, regardless of the Eagles' outcome against Maryland late Saturday.

Clemson snares the Atlantic Division berth by trumping Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback Matt Ryan in next Saturday's 7:45 p.m. game in Death Valley, an atmosphere Davis predicted will be at least as electric as the memorable one for the Georgia Tech romp a year ago.

Lose, and Boston College advances.

Although the result actually was rendered moot by the Tigers' defeat of Wake Forest, Clemson players admitted feeling a jolt of renewed life after Florida State's upset of the Eagles last weekend seemingly brought their championship goals back within reach.

They performed like a team on a mission, to boot, matching the second-largest defeat the Demon Deacons (6-4, 4-3) have suffered under seventh-year coach Jim Grobe.

"Your backs are against the wall every game when you have two losses like we did," coach Tommy Bowden said. "To go into your 10th game being in the driver's seat was the most significant thing that our players responded to this week."

"There was a little something different about last Monday's practice, you could feel it. I could see us having a very similar scenario from a practice standpoint."

If it leads to comparable production, Clemson need not fear its trend of buckling when prosperity appears at hand.

Wake Forest, which shared second place in the division with the Tigers, figured to challenge them with another in a recent series of down-to-the-wire contests.

But unlike its past three blowouts of arguably lesser opponents, Clemson started at full throttle and then never let off the gas.

Using its sizzling passing game to shred various zone defenses, the Tigers scored on five of their six first-half possessions to blaze into halftime with a 27-7 advantage, punctuated by Mark Buchholz's 52-yard field goal as time expired -- the longest kick by a Clemson player in a decade.

Junior quarterback Cullen Harper continued his record-breaking season by throwing for 266 yards and three touchdowns while rushing for another score.

And with its offense pressuring Wake Forest to play keep-up, Clemson's defense teed off on quarterback Riley Skinner, rarely allowing the Demon Deacons to gain a rhythm with their misdirection packages.

In addition to tying their season high in sacks (five), the Tigers drew three holding calls and flushed Skinner from the pocket more than half a dozen times.

"We got focused this week, went to the lab and got after it," said junior defensive end Phillip Merling, who spearheaded the havoc with two sacks.

Duplicating the mixture in the Tigers' beaker would go a long way toward putting Clemson in position for its first ACC title since 1991.

Bowden kept his postgame locker-room address brief Saturday, merely stating the obvious -- the Boston College game will be the most meaningful game these players have encountered in their careers.

The same could probably be said for Bowden and his staff as well, setting the stage for what one school official contended could be the most anticipated home game since the 1981 victory against defending national champion Georgia.

"We couldn't have asked for any better spot to be in," Harper said.