North Carolina (5-3, 1-3 ACC) grabbed an early 7-3 lead when Bryn Renner (19-of-33 passing, 264 yards, 2 TD, 3 INT) connected with Jhay Boyd from 33 yards out midway through the first quarter. Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd (27-of-46 passing, 367 yards, 5 TD) sandwiched a pair of touchdown passes to DeAndre Hopkins (25 yards) and Martavis Bryant (29 yards) around a Thomas Moore 32-yard field goal.
The Tigers (8-0, 5-0 ACC) increased their lead to 24-10 on defensive end Kourtnei Brown’s 20-yard interception return for touchdown. UNC cut its deficit to 24-17 entering halftime on Boyd’s second touchdown pass of the day – this time from 58 yards out.
The Clemson quarterback’s one-yard touchdown plunge to open the second half scoring was set up by a trick play that netted a 39-yard pass to Sammy Watkins (8 catches, 91 yards, TD). Charles Brown fumbled on the ensuing kickoff return and Clemson quickly capitalized with Boyd’s 12-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Ford to build a 38-17 lead with 9:47 left in the third quarter.
UNC’s T.J. Thorpe responded with a 100-yard kickoff return for touchdown, but the Tigers tacked on three more touchdowns – a 42-yard pass to Watkins, a nine-yard pass to Dwayne Allen and Brown’s 26-yard fumble return – to post a 59-24 lead through three quarters.
Ryan Houston added two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to finalize the scoring.
DeAndre Hopkins took advantage of UNC’s focus on Watkins to grab nine catches for 157 yards and a touchdown.
Clemson outgained North Carolina, 450-418, and won the turnover battle, 6-1.
INSIDE THE GAME
Thumped in the Third
When North Carolina’s offense took the field with 13:45 remaining in the third quarter, momentum was not quite on the Tar Heels’s side but it was open to the discussion.
Bernard ran for five yards off the left side on first down and then Renner connected with Boyd for four yards on second down. On 3rd-and-1, offensive coordinator John Shoop made a risky play call that had his quarterback throwing deep down the field. The pass to Boyd was broken up and Thomas Hibbard trotted out to punt.
The Tar Heels would only run six more offensive plays by the time Clemson had piled up 35 third-quarter points en route to a 59-24 margin.
The Tigers’ offense is explosive enough that they don’t need much help in posting crooked numbers on the scoreboard, but UNC decided to lend a hand anyway, committing two turnovers that required just 12 yards of offense to morph into 14 points.
“When you coach in the business long enough, you see it all,” UNC head coach Everett Withers told reporters following the game. “You can’t turn the ball over. If you turn the ball over against a good football team, that will happen to you.”
North Carolina tallied 23 yards on 11 plays in the third quarter, while Clemson ran 27 plays for 196 yards. The 35 points UNC allowed equals the most that the school has given up in a game all season (Georgia Tech on Sept. 24).
Thorpe Approaches Return Records
Freshman T.J. Thorpe entered Saturday’s game leading the ACC and ranking 25th nationally with a 26.3 kickoff return average, but it was senior Charles Brown that started the game for North Carolina at kick returner, totaling 108 yards on six returns (18.0 ypr).
Thorpe entered the game after Brown fumbled his first return of the second half, which is oddly the same reason that the Durham, N.C. native was benched to open the game.
When asked why Brown started in place of Thorpe, Withers responded, “Because T.J. dropped the ball on the ground last week and Charlie started; when Charlie dropped the ball on the ground, T.J. went back [in].”
Thorpe promptly announced his arrival with a 100-yard touchdown return, equaling the school record set by Tyrell Godwin against Stanford in ’98.
“We were watching their previous returns all half and they were giving us lanes, so I figured if we just had a chance and somebody hit the hole hard enough that we would have a really good chance at taking one to the house,” Thorpe said.
Clemson’s third-quarter offensive assault provided three more opportunities for Thorpe and he took advantage with an additional 82 return yards. Thorpe only needed 15 minutes to creep within two yards of Marcus Wall’s school record of 184 kickoff return yards in a game (Clemson, ‘94).
The Tigers did not kick off during the fourth quarter, thereby preventing him from breaking Wall’s record.
Thorpe now has 760 kickoff return yards on 26 returns in ’11 to rank third all-time in school history for most yards in a season. He trails Brandon Tate’s ’07 record of 939 yards by 179.
Freshman running back Gio Bernard was listed as probable on this week’s injury report with a hip contusion. Houston took the bulk of the reps this week during practice and started on Saturday, but Bernard entered the game in UNC’s fourth possession.
He finished with 44 carries on 11 yards, ending his streak of 100-yard games at five.
When asked after the game how his hip was feeling, Bernard replied, “Perfectly fine.”
“It was just a little bump bruise and they made a whole big deal about it,” he said. “It was just a matter of putting a pad on it. Nothing too serious.”
Big Play Boyd
Boyd, a junior out of Gastonia, N.C., added two more touchdowns to his resume on Saturday. The speedster now has 35 career receptions for 697 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Boyd is averaging 19.9 yards per catch and a touchdown every 3.2 catches for his career.