CLEMSON, SC-- On a day that started windy, overcast and just plain dreary, the sun breaking through the clouds midway through the first quarter was a welcome sight for the 73,000 Clemson faithful in Death Valley. But the warm feelings and laughter with which they left Clemson Memorial Stadium in the after glow of a 39-10 trouncing of North Carolina State was due to the breakthrough of the Tigers' offense.
It was the kind of day when a high snap on an extra-point attempt would be recovered by kicker David Treadwell near the 35-yard line and converted into a two-point play when he threw a pass to fullback George Smith. It was the kind of day when senior tailback Stacey Driver, after missing last week's game against Duke with an elbow injury, would gain 125 yards while his running partner, junior Kenny Flowers, would equal his career-high three touchdowns.
It was the kind of day when a fake reverse, practiced for the first time this week, would turn into a 29-yard touchdown run for Driver. And it was the kind of a day where the turnover line would read no fumbles and no interceptions. It was just your basic overpowering kind of day that breeds confidence, and plenty of it even if it did come against a 1-7 Wolfpack team that may not be as good as its record indicates.
"I think we're headed toward the point of dominating people," Driver said. "We knew we had the talent," said quarterback Rodney Williams, "we just needed to cut down on the mental mistakes and the turnovers." Though the offense basked in the light of its best performance of the season, its cohorts on defense were hardly outdone. Clemson coach Danny Ford gave his defenders two simple directives. "We wanted to get to the quarterback ... and we wanted to intercept some passes," Ford said.
Result: Eight sacks for losses of 55 yards and four interceptions. Oh yes, there was one other directive from Ford. "I felt if we were going to win the game today, we had to take control from the start."
Result: Clemson's nine-play, 48 yard, down-your-throat scoring drive on its first possession. And as for the defense's response to that directive, listen to redshirt freshman nose guard Mark Drag, who had four tackles for losses of 25 yards, two of which were sacks. And if that didn't blow the Wolfpack's mind, then certainly getting intercepted on first-and-10 from Clemson's 13 by Brian Raber when the score was only 7-0 and later being stopped on four downs on first-and-goal from the 7-yard line made them wonder what time was the bus leaving for the trip back to Raleigh, N.C.
Nor did it help that Michael Perry, who has struggled all season with an ankle injury, played only in spots but seemingly every spot put another blemish on State's offensive plans. Perry was credited with only one sack, but he tipped the pass that Raber intercepted and his rush was instrumental in two other interceptions. It was a nice way to come back after Ford had spoken none too kindly about Perry's poor performance last week against Duke. "He knows I'm playing hurt, I know I'm playing hurt, so I expect criticism until I m 100 percent, said Perry, the 6-2, 255-pound little brother of the Chicago Bears' William Perry.
However, according to Drag, Clemson's problems on defense, which had yielded about 20 points per game until last week, was not a case of playing hurt. "I think this is the first game when everybody said 'I'm just going to do my job and not worry about covering up for 'somebody else,' " Drag said. "If we just play technique and everybody just concentrates on what they have to do individually, we're going to get the job done."