SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Tajh Boyd kept his Heisman Trophy aspirations intact, throwing for 455 yards and five touchdowns in three quarters of work, and No. 3 Clemson beat Syracuse 49-14 on Saturday to spoil the Orange’s Atlantic Coast Conference debut.
Boyd, who matched his school record in TD passes, hit Adam Humphries with scoring passes of 60 and 42 yards in the first quarter to help stake the Tigers to a big early lead, and they held the Orange at bay.
Clemson (5-0, 3-0 ACC) entered the game as one of just 20 undefeated teams remaining in the Bowl Subdivision, and the Tigers made sure they wouldn’t slip up against the Orange (2-3, 0-1) and their raucous Homecoming crowd of 48,961 by taking a 21-0 first-quarter lead.
The Tigers entered the game with 12 straight wins by double digits against unranked teams, beating the opposition by an average of 27 points. Only top-ranked Alabama has a longer streak (21) in the FBS.
Syracuse had won six straight at home dating to the 2012 season opener and had beaten two eleventh-ranked teams handily in the Carrier Dome the previous two seasons, but the Tigers demonstrated they’re a cut above.
Boyd had a near flawless first half against Syracuse’s blitzing defense, hitting 15 of his first 17 passes for 317 yards and four scores as his receivers repeatedly broke free in the Syracuse secondary. Sandwiched between the two scoring catches by Humphries was a 1-yard touchdown run by Zac Brooks that was set up by an 18-yard pass from Boyd to Sammy Watkins.
The Tigers upped the lead to 28-7 when Boyd hit Stanton Seckinger in the right corner of the end zone early in the second quarter.
Boyd, who had his first interception of the season when Julian Whigham picked off a deflection in the second quarter near the Syracuse goal line, finished 20 of 27 passing with two interceptions. He hit Martavis Bryant with a 40-yard scoring pass midway through the second quarter for a 35-7 lead and completed his stellar day with a 91-yard strike to Watkins late in the third.
His performance against the Orange — he also rushed for 16 yards — pushed his career total offense to 10,442 yards in less than three full seasons. That’s third all-time in the ACC, behind only North Carolina State’s Philip Rivers (13,582) and Georgia Tech’s Joe Hamilton (10,640).
The Orange’s extra week of rest wasn’t much help. The Clemson defense held Syracuse to 139 yards of offense in the opening half and nearly half that total came on Jerome Smith’s 66-yard touchdown run on the first play of the second quarter.
Sophomore quarterback Terrel Hunt, making just his second career start for the Orange, finished 8 of 24 for 52 yards with three interceptions and was sacked four times.
The Syracuse defense had to put pressure on Boyd, disrupt his rhythm, and force him to play the game on the run, and the Orange offense had to play keep-away to prevent the high-powered Tigers from switching into high gear. Clemson gave an early indication that strategy would be difficult to implement on both sides of the ball.
After winning the toss and electing to receive the opening kickoff, the Tigers took all of 34 seconds to score. Boyd froze the defense with a fake, then hit a wide-open Humphries over the middle for a 60-yard touchdown on the third play from scrimmage. Humphries had three catches for 118 yards in the first half as the Tigers outgained Syracuse by 300 yards before the break.
The Orange scored on their first possession of the second half, Prince-Tyson Gulley bursting for 28 yards to make it 35-14, but Syracuse was unable to capitalize on an interception midway through the period as Ryan Norton’s 42-yard field-goal attempt sailed wide left.
Syracuse never quit and left a solid impression, with some trickery thrown in. Devante McFarlane gained 38 yards to the Clemson 19 on a fake punt on a fourth-and-9 play late in the third, but the Orange failed to convert on a fourth-and-4 play.
Boyd quickly made them pay. Standing at his own goal line, he hit Watkins in stride with an arcing spiral at the 45-yard line, and Watkins easily beat defender Ri’Shard Anderson for a touchdown.
ACC Commissioner John Swofford made the trip north, and he was excited to welcome Syracuse to the conference, which joined the ACC in July.
“It’s just great to have Syracuse part of this conference,” Swofford said before the game. “I think what we can see ahead is unlimited potential in football.”