Clemson finished the day by running 48 times for 200 yards and four touchdowns in an easy 35-6 victory over Utah State Saturday at Memorial Stadium. The Tigers also finished with 11 sacks, just one shy of a school record.
With the win, Clemson improves to 2-4 overall and remains 1-3 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Utah State drops to 2-5 overall and stays 1-2 in the Sun Belt.
The atmosphere in the locker room following the game was one that had nothing but smiles and relief.
"A win is a win," said quarterback Charlie Whitehurst. "We struggled the first half offensively, but we played much better in the second 30 minutes. It just feels really good to win. We needed this win, any win to give us some confidence heading into next week (against Maryland)."
Nearly every one of the Clemson players pointed to the offense's ability to run the ball with consistency for the reason it was able to dominate on both sides of the ball.
Reserve tailback Reggie Merriweather led the way with 18 carries for 84 yards and two touchdowns, while starter and teammate Duane Coleman added 21 rushing attempts for 82 yards and a score.
But because the running attack was so successful, it allowed the defense of the Tigers to remain on the sidelines, thus gaining the breathers during the game they'd been sorely lacking the previous four contests.
"When our defense is rested, the stats prove themselves," Merriweather said. "With our running game picking up, that just opens everything up."
As a result of the extra time on the sidelines, the defense made good use of its time on the field.
Utah State finished with minus-20 yards rushing, which is a school record against a Division I opponent. Also, the 11 sacks were the most against a Division I school. The team record for rushing defense is minus-29, which came against Furman. The sack record of 12 also came against Furman.
Every member of the starting defensive line got a sack Saturday, which was the first time all season any member of that group had recorded one.
|"When our defense is rested, the stats prove themselves," Merriweather said. "With our running game picking up, that just opens everything up."|
The 139 yards of total offense by the Aggies is the lowest amount against a Clemson team since The Citadel gained just 105 on Sept. 2, 2000.
"I wanted everybody to get a sack on defense," said defensive end Charles Bennett, who had two sacks. "To be honest, we all came out and played hard in every game this season, but today it turned out different. We actually finished the game."
After a less than spectacular first half in which the Tigers scored only seven points and had two turnovers, the team came out after intermission after having done very little offensively and showed the type of performances most fans thought they'd see from the beginning of the season.
On Clemson's first possession of the second half, it ran the ball nine straight times and marched 58 yards down field for a touchdown with 7:37 left in the third quarter. The score came on a four-yard run by Merriweather to give the Tigers a 14-0 lead.
The next possession by the Tigers produced another score after Whitehurst scored on a one-yard run with 2:55 left in the third to make it 21-0. It was the biggest lead Clemson has had over any team this year.
The Tigers added two more scores in the fourth quarter, but the highlight came when Gaines Adams blocked a Utah State punt and defensive end Bobby Williamson recovered it in the end zone for the touchdown to give them a 28-0 lead with 10:18 left in the game.
"I thought going into the locker room, I thought there was a good chance of the defense pointing fingers," Clemson head coach Tommy Bowden said. "I kind of looked for that. But the defense didn't do it. They just came out and turned it up another notch and finally we got going."
The first half was downright ugly as the Tigers looked like the team that had taken the field the last month.
Clemson's only score came on a Merriweather two-yard run with 10:28 left in the second quarter.
During the first half, the Tigers had two three-and-outs and would have had a third had it not been for a defensive penalty.
Also, Whitehurst threw two interceptions, to make it 11 straight he's thrown at least one.
The Clemson defense, however, was strong as it produced seven sacks in the first half and limited Utah State to 46 yards of total offense. Conversely, the Tigers allowed gained 198 yards of total offense.
Nonetheless, the Tigers cured a lot of ills by getting the decisive win.
"It's been a long, long time since we've had that taste," Tommy Bowden said. "The win will help keep the players' attention focused. It was a game we needed at this point in time."