Wolfpack stuns No. 7 Clemson
Published 9:00 pm Saturday, November 19, 2011
RALEIGH — Mike Glennon threw three touchdown passes and North Carolina State shut down No. 7 Clemson’s explosive offense to help the Wolfpack beat the mistake-prone Tigers 37-13 on Saturday.
Tobais Palmer had a dazzling 43-yard catch-and-run touchdown to highlight a surprisingly dominating performance by N.C. State (6-5, 3-4 Atlantic Coast Conference). The Wolfpack scored 27 points in the second quarter, then increased the lead and never let the Tigers (9-2, 6-2) build any momentum to rally.
It was N.C. State’s first win against a top-10 team in five seasons under Tom O’Brien, and it was a surprising outcome considering the Wolfpack needed to win the final two games just to become bowl eligible. Not to mention that Tigers had already wrapped up the league’s Atlantic Division crown and an appearance in the ACC championship game in Charlotte on Dec. 3.
But O’Brien couldn’t have asked for much more from his players. They avoided turnovers, made few mistakes and seemingly had the perfect counter for anything Clemson tried to do. And the defense — which had held the past two opponents to fewer than 200 total yards — harassed Tajh Boyd and cut off the big plays that had made the Tigers’ offense hum.
The Tigers averaged a league-best 37 points and 478 yards per game, but they didn’t reach the end zone until the final 90 seconds. They didn’t crack the 200-yard mark until late in the third quarter and earned many of their 337 total yards in the meaningless final minutes.
They also committed four turnovers, including two second-quarter fumbles deep in their own end that led to 10 quick points and charged up the red-clad Wolfpack crowd hoping for an upset.
Clemson played without star freshman receiver Sammy Watkins due to a shoulder injury suffered during last week’s division-clinching win against Wake Forest. He was listed as questionable, though with nothing to gain in the standings, he spent this game in uniform, but holding his helmet on the sideline.
While Watkins’ absence robbed the Tigers of some of their big-play punch, it didn’t explain why an N.C. State offense that had scored 23 points in the past three games moved the ball so effectively. Glennon completed 19 of 29 passes for 253 yards, with scoring passes to George Bryan and Jay Smith during the big second quarter.
By the time Niklas Sade kicked the second of three field goals to close the first half, N.C. State led 27-3 and sent the stunned Tigers headed to the locker room.
N.C. State finished with 398 total yards and held the ball 13 minutes longer by sustaining drives and keeping Clemson’s offense on the sideline.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney had said he wanted his players focused on “trying to go from good to great” as they pursued the program’s first 10-win season since 1990. Instead, the Tigers turned in a jarring clunker heading into a rivalry game at No. 14 South Carolina next weekend.
The Tigers managed just 86 yards through the first half. Meanwhile, N.C. State’s defense sacked Boyd six times — 2½ coming from Art Norman — while linebacker Terrell Manning recovered a pair of fumbles and teamed with Audie Cole to run Boyd out of bounds short of the marker on fourth down to end Clemson’s first drive after the break — a sign there would be no second-half comeback.
Palmer later provided the Wolfpack’s highlight-reel moment, taking a short pass from Glennon and sprinting down the left sideline. As two would-be tacklers closed in, the receiver abruptly cut inside and raced past them into the end zone for the 37-6 lead with 5:41 left in the third.
Boyd threw two interceptions near the end zone later in the period, with N.C. State sophomore David Amerson snatching one on fourth down at the goal line to tie the ACC single-season record with 11 picks.