SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- This week, several members of the Syracuse football team spoke confidently about their chances of pulling off an upset against No. 3 Clemson on Saturday at the Carrier Dome.
And why not? The Orange had done it recently, upsetting No. 20 West Virginia on the road in 2010, No. 11 West Virginia at the Dome in 2011, and No. 10 Louisville at the Dome last season.
But that was when Syracuse was in the Big East Conference, the forgotten stepchild of the BCS conferences. The Orange are now in their first year in the Atlantic Coast Conference, and they learned Saturday that the upsets aren't going to come so easily.
Clemson raced out to a big first-quarter lead and thrashed the Orange 49-14 Saturday in a nationally televised game before 48,961 fans -- the largest Dome crowd since 2000 against Miami (49,327).
Clemson senior quarterback Tajh Boyd
tied his career high with five touchdown passes as Clemson improved to 5-0 overall and 3-0 in the ACC. In snapping the Orange's six-game home winning streak, the Tigers notched their 13th consecutive double-digit victory against unranked teams.
"We knew what they were saying (during the week), but we weren't going to worry about that," said Tigers wide receiver Martavis Bryant, who caught one of Boyd's five touchdown passes. "We just had to focus on what we were doing."
Syracuse, which hasn't defeated a top 5 team since 2001, fell to 2-3 overall as it got crushed in its first league contest.
"I think our fans did a better job than we did today," Syracuse first-year coach Scott Shafer said. "We just weren't good enough today."
Before leaving the game at the start of the fourth quarter, Boyd completed 20 of 27 passes for a career-high 455 yards. He did throw two interceptions, snapping a string of 187 pass attempts without a pick.
"Their defense takes a lot or risks (with blitzes) and our offensive line did a good job of picking them up," said Boyd, who was sacked four times. "When you play defense like that it's either poison or golden, and we took advantages of our opportunities."
Clemson, the highest-ranked team to visit the Dome since No. 1 Miami in 2002, used its quick-strike offense to build a 35-7 lead at halftime. The Tigers' five scoring drives lasted a total of eight minutes and 50 seconds, ranging from 38 seconds to 3:54.
"I think early in the game (when the Tigers built a 21-0 lead), our offensive line being able to pick up their pressure was big," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. "We knew if we handled it early, we'd have big-play opportunities."
With star wide receiver Sammy Watkins
slowed in the first half by a minor hip injury, Boyd tossed touchdown passes of 60 and 42 yards to Adam Humphries
, 17 yards to Stanton Seckinger and 40 yards to Bryant. Running back Zac Brooks accounted for the other touchdown with a 1-yard plunge.
"Tajh is a great quarterback. With the performance he had tonight, I'm looking for him to win the Heisman Trophy," Syracuse safety Durell Eskridge said. "I feel like he can make any play on the field, and he did."
Watkins made his presence felt late in the third quarter, when he hauled in a long pass from Boyd and finished a 91-yard touchdown play that boosted Clemson's lead to 42-14.
"I dropped two dimes today, the one to Stanton (Seckinger) and that one (to Watkins)," Boyd said. "I don't think I've ever seen a guy go into second gear like Sammy did. He wasn't going to get caught."
Boyd's five touchdown passes gave him 107 touchdown passes or runs in his career, just five behind Philip Rivers' ACC record of 112.
Syracuse, meanwhile, managed just one first-half touchdown after scoring 106 points in its past two games against Wagner and Tulane. Quarterback Terrel Hunt, who had completed 33 of 43 passes for seven touchdowns and no interceptions entering the game, connected on just 8 of 24 passes with no touchdowns and his first three interceptions of the season.
The Orange scored their only first-half touchdown on Jerome Smith's 66-yard burst through the middle on the first play of the second quarter. It was the longest touchdown run of Smith's career and his seventh touchdown of the season.
Syracuse scored the first touchdown of the second half on running back Prince-Tyson Gulley's 28-yard scamper. The Orange had chances to cut even deeper into the Tigers' lead, but Ryan Norton missed a 42-yard field goal and the Orange failed to cash in on two other opportunities in Clemson territory.
Boyd and Watkins then took the rest of the air out of the Orange, who may have to wait a while for their next major upset.
"During the week we said they were nice, they were fast," Syracuse cornerback Julian Whigham said of the Tigers. "But they bleed, too. It's not like we're afraid of them, but they did a good job."
NOTES: On his 60-yard touchdown pass to Humphries, Boyd became just the third player in ACC history to surpass 10,000 total yards. Boyd trails only North Carolina State's Rivers (13,582) and Georgia Tech's Joe Hamilton (10,640) on the all-time list. ... At halftime, Syracuse retired the No. 9 jersey of legendary quarterback Don McPherson, who played for the Orange from 1984 to 1987. McPherson's jersey joins Larry Csonka's No. 39 and John Mackey's No. 88 as Syracuse's only retired jerseys; No. 44 (Jim Brown, Ernie Davis, Floyd Little) is SU's only retired number. ... This was just the second football game between Clemson and Syracuse. In their first meeting, freshman quarterback Donovan McNabb led the Orange to a 41-0 victory in the Gator Bowl during the 1995 season. Syracuse will retire McNabb's No. 5 jersey on Nov. 2. ... The Clemson helmets were adorned with a "BMc" sticker for former Clemson athletic director Bill McLellan, who died Monday.
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