CLEMSON - Tommy Bowden said all week the most important thing that could come out of Saturday was a victory. Ultimately, he got his wish.
Clemson (2-4) overcame a lackluster first half to run away from visiting Utah State (2-5) Saturday at Death Valley, 35-6. The win snapped the Tigers' four game losing streak, and sent a restless announced crowd of 77,500 home reasonably happy.
And considering the way the previous four outings had gone, reasonably happy is better than nothing.
"It's been a long time since we've had that taste," Bowden said. "A lot of teams have played teams like this early in the season. They had that test and got confidence. The win will help keep the players' attention focused."
Clemson came out determined to run the ball against an Aggies' defense which allows in excess of 200 yards rushing per game.
The Tigers accomplished the mission by landing squarely on the 200 yard figure, most of the damage coming from Reggie Merriweather (18 carries, 84 yards) and Duane Coleman (21-82).
Four of the Clemson's five touchdowns came via the run - two by Merriweather (2, 4 yards), one from Coleman (7 yards) and one by quarterback Charlie Whitehurst (1 yard). The Tigers had just three rushing touchdowns in their previous five games.
"Coleman and Merriweather both ran the ball well. (Running backs coach) Burton Burns has done a good job with them," Bowden said. "We had some good blocking up front, but they ran through some arm (tackles) and did a great job."
The other Clemson score was the result of the special teams' third blocked punt of the season. It came when Gaines Adams blocked Leon Jackson's kick at the goal line; Bobby Williamson fell on the ball in the end zone for the score.
Meanwhile, the Tigers' defense turned in its best performance of the season.
Clemson held the Aggies to just 139 total yards, including minus 20 yards rushing on 30 attempts. They also sacked Utah State quarterbacks 11 times, one shy of the school record set against Furman in 1944.
The previous high for sacks by a Bowden-coached Clemson team was eight.
"There was a chance at halftime for some fingers to be pointed defensively at the offense for their performance, but they didn't do it," Bowden said. "They just turned it up another notch. I was really pleased with the way the defense played."
Clemson led just 7-0 at the half. It might have been 7-7, but Utah State head coach Mick Dennehy called for a trick play that backfired with his team driving on its first possession.
With first and 10 at the Clemson 14 yard line, Dennehy called for a halfback pass by Peter Shields. Shields had a receiver open near the five yard line, but overthrew his target and had the ball intercepted by Clemson safety Jamaal Fudge.
"Obviously that play's not a staple of what we do, but at the time I thought that it was the right call," Dennehy said. "We felt they were pulling guys up to support the run and we had a good chance to complete the pass...(Shields) just put too much air on the pass."
The interception was just Clemson's second of the year, and only the team's fourth total takeaway.
- The day got off to a rocky start for Bowden when the patrol car that carries the coach
around the stadium to the Hill before the game was hit by a bus that was carrying the players. The bus took off the front of the police car but no one was injured. "Holy Smoke. They are really mad about this one and four (Clemson's record)," joked Bowden after the game.
- The school record for least yards rushing by an opponent is minus 29, set by Furman in 1996; Clemson held Utah State to minus 20 yards rushing on 30 attempts.
- Michael Collins finished with a game-high six catches for 64 yards. Prior to Saturday, Collins had just four career receptions;
- Leroy Hill had his team-leading sixth quarterback sack among Clemson's 11. It marked Hill's third straight game with a sack;
- When backup punter Chris Wiksell kicked for 35 yards in the fourth quarter, it marked his first live game action since middle school. Wiksell did not play football at Wando High School.
- Wide receiver Kelvin Grant was suspended for academic reasons and should return to action next week.