Backup QB Stoudt shines in Tigers’ blowout of Bulldogs

Did Clemson go from a Heisman Trophy campaign for Tajh Boyd to a quarterback controversy in one day? Under other circumstances, the Tigers might in light of backup Cole Stoudt’s impressive performance.

Stoudt took his turn at being Clemson’s record-setting quarterback in its 52-13 home win over South Carolina State on Saturday afternoon. The junior came on when the All-American Boyd had the wind knocked out of him with the Tigers already up 24-7 in the second quarter, and went on to finish 19-for-20 passing for 143 yards and three touchdowns.

“I’d think we’ve got us a quarterback controversy, if I didn’t know better,” offensive coordinator Chad Morris joked.

Stoudt’s completion percentage of .950 set a single-game school record, besting the previous mark of .941 set in 2000 by Woodrow Dantzler, who was on hand for the game serving as an honorary captain.

“We have been doing those plays all year and (by) working together we all get in a rhythm and momentum with everyone,” Stoudt said. “When you get in a groove out there, it all kind of comes with you. It was fun.”

For his part, Boyd was 14-of-23 passing for 169 yards and ran the ball six times for 10 yards and a touchdown, but he did not throw a touchdown in the game, which ended his school-record streak of consecutive games with a touchdown pass at 17. Boyd was uninjured but remained out of the game for cautionary reasons.

The Tigers also had standout efforts from reserves at other skill positions, as running back C.J. Davidson made his Clemson debut and led the team with 13 carries for 63 yards, and Germone Hopper led the team with six catches for 66 yards and two scores.

“It was a really good day,” Hopper said. “I just took advantage of my opportunities when Coach (Morris) told me to go in. He told me it would be a big day for me.”

Chandler Catanzaro’s 38-yard field goal gave the Tigers a 3-0 lead after the game’s opening drive, and they went ahead 10-0 later in the quarter on a one-yard dive by Boyd.

On the next play from scrimmage, Martin Jenkins intercepted a Richard Cue pass and weaved through the Bulldogs for a 52-yard touchdown return to make it 17-0 Tigers with 3:33 still to go in the first quarter.

Spencer Shuey and D.J. Reader hurried Cue’s throw to force the errant throw, which led to Jenkins’ first career interception and first career touchdown. The play also allowed Clemson to achieve the rare feat of scoring touchdowns on consecutive snaps from scrimmage.

“We were in the Cover 3, and I just looked back and saw the ball coming,” Jenkins said. “I just saw a moment and wanted to capitalize on that moment.”

The defense added to Clemson’s lead early in the second quarter, when Quandon Christian tipped a Cue pass and Darius Robinson came up with an interception, racing 35 yards into the end zone to make the score 24-0 with 13:48 to go in the half.

“Both Darius and Martin have fought through some adversity, so it was good to see them get rewarded,” head coach Dabo Swinney said. “The interception by Jenkins was good by itself, but that was a heck of a run after the catch.”

The two pick-sixes marked the first time in Clemson history that the Tigers have returned two interceptions for touchdowns in the same game.

The Bulldogs got on the scoreboard on a 63-yard completion from Cue to Tyler McDonald for a touchdown to make the score 24-7 with 11:04 left in the first half.

But Clemson responded and made it 31-7 on a three-yard touchdown pass from Stoudt to Charone Peake. After Boyd had the wind knocked out of him, the offense didn’t miss a beat under the direction of Stoudt, who was 6-for-6 for 41 yards and a touchdown on the 15-play, 88-yard march.

“Cole came in and played great,” Swinney said. “We weren’t planning on using him as early as we did, but he was just awesome.”

D.J. Howard scored a 19-yard touchdown on Clemson’s next possession, finding a seam on a quick pitch off tackle and bursting into the open field to cap a nine-play, 77-yard march that made it 38-7, which was the score at halftime.

After the Tigers forced a quick three-and-out by South Carolina State to open the second half, Stoudt led the Tigers down the field and hit Hopper for a 17-yard touchdown that made it 45-7.

The scoring grab was both the first reception and first touchdown of Hopper’s career. The key player on the drive, however, was former walk-on Davidson, who carried fives time for 41 yards – an 8.2-yard average – on the eight-play, 63-yard march.

“For him to come out and perform today like he did, it only helps us out at that position down the road,” Morris said of Davidson.

Clemson extended its lead to 52-7 on a 26-yard touchdown from Stoudt to Hopper with 11:19 to go.

That was Stoudt’s last pass of the game, leaving him at 19-for-20, which bested Dantzler’s 16-for-17 performance in a 38-0 win over The Citadel in 2000.

South Carolina State reached the end zone again on a 51-yard pass from TeDarrius Wiley to McDonald. The extra point was no good, but the touchdown made the score 52-13 with 4:05 to go.

That was how the game finished, as Clemson moved to 27-0 all-time against FCS foes, including a 2-0 record against South Carolina State.

Just as importantly, perhaps, Clemson played 82 players in the game, gaining valuable experience at a number of positions.

“Today was a great day to develop the entire team,” Swinney said. “I thought we had good focus where everyone played well and did their job. I thought the second group was ready. They were able to flex their muscles and show the depth we have.”

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