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Brown, Tigers shred Tar Heels

If ever you need a lesson in the power of patience, consult with Clemson defensive end Kourtnei Brown.

Brown, a former high school star at Charlotte's Victory Christian , took a different path, redshirting his third college season. It was partially about the Tigers' depth at the position, partially Brown's need for his knowledge to catch up with his physical ability.

He grew and grew, and then Saturday happened; Saturday, as in things defensive lineman seldom even imagine.

The fifth-year senior scored twice -- on an interception and a fumble recovery -- to set the pace for the eighth-ranked Tigers in a 59-38 thumping of North Carolina.

This was the first time Brown scored since he was a high school senior, playing against Charlotte Latin. First, he knocked down a swing pass by North Carolina's Bryn Renner, pulled it in, and ran 20 yards to the end zone. Then, late in the third quarter....well, let him describe:

"The ball is on the ground, and somebody's got to pick it up," Brown recalled. "Why not me?"

That expression -- "why not me?" -- is permeating Clemson's 8-0 start (5-0 in the ACC). On a day when the Tigers honored their 1981 national championship team, coach Dabo Swinney asked his players how they might channel that team's success.

"They made a determination 30 years ago: 'Why not Clemson?' And I say, 'Why not Clemson now?'" Swinney said.

"I don't know how good we can be, and I think (the 1981 team) didn't know, either."

Saturday confirmed that Clemson is the elite team in the ACC and has potential to run the table. Until Saturday, the Tigers hadn't gotten a complete game from both the offense and the defense. Against the Tar Heels (5-3, 1-3 in the ACC), quarterback Tajh Boyd threw five touchdown passes, each to a different receiver. Defensively, the Tigers forced six turnovers (while committing only one).

Those turnovers wrecked the day for North Carolina interim coach Everett Withers.

"Turnovers kill you," Withers said. "They take momentum away from you, they take energy away from you. They take energy out of you, they take emotion out of you. It kills you!"

Hardest hit among the Tar Heels was Renner, who entered this game completing 75 percent of his passes. Clemson defensive coordinator Kevin Steele had described Renner as "an efficient, NFL-style quarterback."

Not so much Saturday, when Renner was intercepted three times and sacked once.

Boyd was the efficient one. He completed 27 of 46 passes for 367 yards, threw five touchdowns and no interceptions.

Clemson's offense was so dominant, it scored all 59 points in the first three quarters, then let the subs take over. After riding freshman wide receiver Sammy Watkins in a comeback against Maryland (Watkins had a school-record 345 all-purpose yards), Boyd found seven different receivers against the Tar Heels.

North Carolina paid heavy attention to Watkins early, only to be beaten by DeAndre Hopkins (nine catches for 157 yards and a touchdown) on the other side.

Asked what it's like for a defense to have to account for Watkins, Boyd said it's like Allen Iverson on a basketball court -- if he's in one corner, there has to be a wide-open shooter somewhere else.

"There's not a lot of difference between our skill guys, talent-wise," Swinney said. "They're an unselfish group and they know everybody gets a chance to make plays in this system."

OBSERVATIONS

With a trip to Georgia Tech looming next Saturday, Clemson has a chance to build on only the fourth 8-0 start in school history.

Defensive coordinator Kevin Steele said he studied Georgia Tech's option-oriented offense over the summer but will do extra study on recent games in anticipation of what the Tigers may face in Atlanta.

Head coach Dabo Swinney will be looking beyond the Xs and Os.

"We have to empty the tank this week in practice and then leave it all on the field at Georgia Tech," Swinney said.

North Carolina's recent two-game slide has been plagued by slow starts.

Early in the season, the Tar Heels jumped on teams early, outscoring opponents 42-3 in the first quarter through the first six games.

However, against Miami and Clemson, the Tar Heels were outscored 27-7 in the first quarter.

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