DURHAM, N.C. — The touchdown passes are adding up for Tajh Boyd. So too are the wins for a Clemson team that still has a chance to get back to the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game.
Boyd threw for 344 yards and tied a school record with five touchdown passes for the second straight week to help the 10th-ranked Tigers beat Duke 56-20 on Saturday night.
DeAndre Hopkins caught three of those TD tosses in the opening quarter for the Tigers (8-1, 5-1 ACC), who scored 42 points by halftime and rolled to their fifth straight win — all by at least 14 points. Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant also had first-half touchdown catches, helping Clemson rack up nearly 500 yards by halftime and 718 for the game.
“You’ve just got to go out there and have fun,” Boyd said. “It’s been fun to me lately. Guys have been coming out and everybody’s been touching the ball. … It’s just so fun playing with these guys and being able to put some points up like that.”
The win moved Clemson into a tie with No. 9 Florida State atop the ACC’s Atlantic Division, though the Seminoles beat the Tigers in September for the head-to-head tiebreaker in the division race to reach the ACC title game in Charlotte on Dec. 1.
“It’s still a goal of ours,” Hopkins said. “We’re really not worried about Florida State. We’re focused on Clemson. If we do all the right things, who knows what’s going to happen?”
Besides, coach Dabo Swinney said, there’s still “a lot of opportunities in front of us” regardless of what happens in the division.
“Our goals are bigger than 8-1,” he said.
The loss dropped Duke (6-4, 3-3) a game behind Miami for the Coastal Division lead.
Duke is already bowl eligible for the first time since 1994 and entered the week tied atop the Coastal with Miami and North Carolina, though the Tar Heels are ineligible for the division crown due to NCAA sanctions. That success had put the long-struggling Duke program in the unusual position of playing meaningful games in November, though some of that momentum has ebbed after a brutal two-game stretch.
First came last week’s 48-7 loss at FSU. Then came Saturday night, with the Blue Devils managing more offensive success but finding no way to slow Boyd or the Clemson receivers sprinting downfield for big gains.
It was Duke’s first loss in six games at Wallace Wade Stadium this season.
“They’ve got a lot of talent — quarterback, running back and on the outside,” Duke cornerback Ross Cockrell said. “It’s on par with Florida State, I’ll say that.”
Boyd threw for a school-record 428 yards with five touchdown passes in an easy win at Wake Forest last week, then added another five TD passes by halftime against Duke.
“I just can’t seem to get that sixth one, man,” Boyd said with a laugh.
Boyd also ran for a 21-yard score to give Clemson a 42-17 halftime lead, setting up the Tigers for a stress-free second half. He left the game late in the third quarter and now has an ACC-best 25 TD passes this year.
The Tigers played almost the entire game without Andre Ellington, the ACC’s second-leading rusher. Swinney said Ellington tweaked his hamstring on a 26-yard carry on the game’s first offensive play, but it didn’t matter with the Clemson passing attack humming so well.
Boyd hit Hopkins for a 5-yard touchdown 2½ minutes in, then connected with him again over the middle for a 58-yard TD on a ball that slipped by Cockrell’s outstretched arm for a 14-3 lead midway through the first.
Boyd and Hopkins connected again minutes later, this time for 45 yards out in a sign that Duke’s secondary — featuring three players that had been named ACC defensive back of the week — was in for a long night. Boyd found Watkins for a 30-yard touchdown for a 28-10 lead with 16 seconds left in the first quarter, then found Bryant for a 41-yard TD midway through the second.
Hopkins finished with four catches for 128 yards, reaching the 1,000-yard mark for the season while also setting the program record with his 22nd career touchdown catch.
“Hopkins and Watkins are the best of the best,” said Duke receiver Jamison Crowder, who had a 77-yard touchdown catch of his own. “It was a joy out there watching them to see how they run their routes. I was trying to pick up on things I can work on from watching them.”
Sean Renfree threw for 240 yards and the scoring pass to Crowder, while Brandon Connette also had a touchdown pass for the Blue Devils.