N.C. State can't stop Clemson in 62-48 loss

rgreenjr@charlotteobserver.comNovember 18, 2012 

— N.C. State football coach Tom O'Brien had already glanced at the post-game stat sheet that gave the neon-bright numerical details of 11th-ranked Clemson's 62-48 victory over the Wolfpack Saturday in breezy Memorial Stadium.

The numbers were overwhelming -- Clemson's 754 yards in total offense, the Tigers' 102 offensive plays and Wolfpack quarterback Mike Glennon's five-touchdown, 493-yard passing performance -- but O'Brien didn't need statistics to explain the story.

Having directed the conversation toward the Wolfpack's regular-season finale next Saturday against Boston College and what one more victory would mean to his team, O'Brien paused.

"It's a pretty dang good football team we just played," O'Brien said, restating the obvious after seeing Clemson move one step closer to a likely spot in a BCS bowl with its 10th victory in 11 games.

For a few moments Saturday afternoon, the Wolfpack (6-4, 3-4) appeared capable of taking down another highly ranked opponent like it did with its upset of Florida State last month. Clemson had jumped out to a 13-0 lead only to find itself trailing 24-13 midway through the second quarter once Glennon and receiver/returner Tobias Palmer had found each other.

But the N.C. State lead disappeared like smoke in the wind as the Tigers ran off 42 unanswered points in an offensive performance that caused a significant updating of the Clemson record book. It was the most combined points ever scored in a game at Memorial Stadium and the most points ever scored by the Wolfpack in a loss.

Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd accounted for 531 yards in total offense -- 426 yards through the air with five touchdown passes and 105 yards on the ground. He was involved in eight Clemson touchdowns, setting an ACC record for touchdown responsibility in a single game.

No matter what the Wolfpack defense tried, it didn't have an answer for Clemson's up-tempo, attacking offense. Clemson rushed for 328 yards. Receiver Sammy Watkins had 11 receptions -- all before halftime. The Tigers had five receivers with catches of 27 yards or longer including Brandon Ford who had a 69-yard catch and DeAndre Hopkins who had a 62-yarder.

O'Brien and the Wolfpack sensed they would have to win a high-scoring game in Death Valley but putting 48 points on the board still left them two scores short.

"I don't think I've ever been part of something quite like that," Glennon said.

The Wolfpack, which entered the game averaging 407 yards per game, gained 597 yards and that didn't include the 277 kick return yards by Palmer. Running back Shadrach Thornton ground out 114 rushing yards. Ten different receivers caught passes for the Wolfpack. Four times, N.C. State scored touchdowns on one-play drives.

It wasn't enough.

O'Brien said the plan was to throw downfield against a Clemson secondary that had given up big chunks of yardage at times.

It worked to near perfection once the Wolfpack got rolling. Fighting off what could have been an early blowout, Glennon found Palmer behind the Clemson defense for a 77-yard touchdown pass that cut the Tigers' lead to 13-7.

After forcing a three-and-out, Glennon and Palmer connected again on a 49-yard touchdown pass that gave N.C. State a 14-13 lead. Two plays that took a combined 22 seconds and covered 156 yards flipped the momentum.

When the Wolfpack stretched the lead to 24-13, an uneasiness ran through Memorial Stadium where the Clemson crowd had already cast a glance toward rival South Carolina's visit next Saturday. What was O'Brien thinking at that point?

"It's going to be a long day," he said. "Nobody was stopping anybody. I knew they weren't going to stay at 13."

The Tigers didn't. They scored six straight touchdowns to build a 55-24 lead.

"It was like, just go out and run some plays," Boyd said. "This is a team that has matured in so many ways. One way is coming through adversity. That situation hit us and we were able to respond."

Looking beyond the numbers, O'Brien said he was impressed by Clemson's offensive line that kept the pressure off Boyd and opened wide running lanes for the Tigers' backs. N.C. State entered the game tied for the ACC lead in sacks (30) and ranked 10th nationally.

They didn't sack Boyd, giving him time to shred the N.C. State defense.

"They're as explosive as anybody because they have more players," O'Brien said. "The thing in my mind is their offensive line is better than I thought.

"They found 1-on-1 match-ups. That's a disadvantage for us…It was not a good day on defense."

Green: 704-358-5118; Twitter: @rongreenjr

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