Clemson offense hits on all cylinders in win over Ball State

The Associated PressSeptember 8, 2012 

— Tajh Boyd loves what he's seen so far from Clemson's offense. And the quarterback is looking forward to the return of star receiver Sammy Watkins.

“Oh, man,” Boyd said with a smile. “It's going to get ugly.”

Sure could, especially considering the impressive numbers by the 12th-ranked Tigers without the suspended All-American.

DeAnde Hopkins caught three touchdown passes, Andre Ellington rushed for two scores and punter Spencer Benton kicked a 61-yard field goal to break an Atlantic Coast Conference record in Clemson's 52-27 victory over Ball State on Saturday.

It was the second straight game the Tigers surpassed 500 yards on offense. Can Watkins' return mean add another couple hundred yards to coordinator Chad Morris' attack?

“I just want to win,” Morris said laughing. “I don't care if it's a hundred yards.”

Ellington's two short TD runs helped the Tigers (2-0) get off to a fast start, and Boyd found Hopkins for touchdown passes of 13, 34 and 15 yards in the second period to help increase the lead to 35-10.

Benton closed the Tigers' 45-point half – the team's best since scoring 49 in the opening half against Wake Forest during its 1981 national championship season – with his record-setting kick as time ran out.

Ball State (1-1) had hoped to use its fast-paced attack to keep up. But Keith Wenning threw two interceptions, both leading to Clemson scores.

About everything went the Tigers' way in the first half, including the long-range try by Benton, Clemson's punter and kickoff specialist who missed a 55-yard attempt last week at the Georgia Dome against Auburn. He came on with a few seconds left before halftime and snuck this kick between the goal posts.

“It felt pretty good when I hit it,” Benton said. “I saw it coming off and thinking, `Go. Go. Go.’ Then I saw everybody in the background jump up and I was like, `Yes.“’

Benton's kick surpassed the ACC mark of 60 set by Gary Cismesia of Florida State in a 2007 game against Florida. Benton also moved past a pair of former NFL players, Obed Ariri and Chris Gardocki, who each kicked 57-yard field goals for the previous school mark.

Clemson and Ball State have quick-snap, fast-paced offensive systems, so this one figured to be a shootout. Instead, Boyd, Ellington and Hopkins took all the drama out the game early.

“I think we're capable of playing better than we did,” Ball State coach Pete Lembo said. “I've got to do a better job of getting us ready to come into these kinds of environments.”

In Lembo's first season last year, the Cardinals lost 62-6 at Oklahoma.

Ellington, who had a career-best 228 yards rushing in the season-opening victory over Auburn, scored on Clemson's first two possessions to put the Tigers up 13-0 less than nine minutes into the game.

Boyd and Hopkins took over after that, combining for touchdowns on three straight series. Boyd said Watkins came up to Hopkins on the sidelines after the third TD catch and told him to slow down. “You're going to get too far ahead of me,” Boyd recalled Watkins telling his fellow receiver.

The Tigers pulled most of their offensive stars following the fast start, but it didn't slow down Clemson's attack. Third-string tailback Roderick McDowell had a 27-yard touchdown run after a Ball State interception.

Backup passer Cole Stoudt, son of former NFL quarterback Cliff, led the Tigers on another scoring drive that ended with Benton's long field goal.

Boyd threw for 229 yards on 19-of-23 passing without an interception. Ellington didn't get the chance to match his effort in the opener, collecting 41 yards on 13 first-half carries.

Hopkins, who set a school record with 13 receptions in the win over Auburn, also came out midway through the second quarter. He did manage to become just the fourth wideout in school history to post three straight games with 100 or more receiving yards, joining three former NFL players in Charlie Waters, Tony Horne and Rod Gardner.

Hopkins' three TDs tied a school single-game best for pass catchers. Imagine what Hopkins can accomplish with defenses keying on Watkins, who sat two games for an offseason drug arrest.

“We're going to be more explosive,” Hopkins said. “I'm not Miss Cleo so I can't tell the future, but we're going to do what we do every week.”

Watkins set school marks with 1,219 yards and 12 touchdowns as a freshman last year. While Hopkins has capably made up for Watkins' absence, you can bet Morris will look to get his sophomore star going as quickly as possible.

For those looking for Clemson flaws, there were plenty of nits to pick on defense.

The Tigers again had trouble stopping the run, surrendering touchdowns of 54 and 21 yards to Horactio Banks, a redshirt freshman playing just his second college game. Banks finished with 120 yards rushing, the second time in as many games the defense allowed a 100-yard runner.

“We've got to get better,” first-year defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. “Lots of work to do.”

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