CLEMSON, S.C. — DeAndre Hopkins caught three touchdown passes, Andre Ellington rushed for two scores and Spencer Benton kicked a 61-yard field goal to set an Atlantic Coast Conference record in No. 12 Clemson’s 52-27 victory over Ball State on Saturday.
Ellington’s two short TD runs helped the Tigers (2-0) get off to a fast start, and Tajh Boyd found Hopkins for touchdown passes of 13, 34 and 15 yards in the second period to help increase the lead to 35-10. Benton finished the Tigers’ 45-point half with his record-setting kick as time ran out.
Ball State (1-1) had hoped to use its fast-paced attack to keep up. But Keith Wenning threw two interceptions, both which led to Clemson scores.
The Tigers had 526 yards of offense, surpassing 500 for a second straight week. And they racked up all those yards without record-setting receiver Sammy Watkins, who is set to return after missing the first two games because of a drug arrest.
About everything went the Tigers’ way in the first half, including the long-range try by Benton, Clemson’s punter and kickoff specialist who missed a 55-yard attempt last week at the Georgia Dome against Auburn. He came on with a few seconds left before halftime and snuck this kick between the goal posts.
Benton’s kick surpassed the ACC mark of 60 set by Gary Cismesia of Florida State in a 2007 game against Florida. Benton also moved past a pair of former NFL players, Obed Ariri and Chris Gardocki, who each kicked 57-yard field goals while at Clemson for the previous school mark.
Clemson and Ball State have quick-snap, fast-paced offensive systems, so this one figured to be a shootout. Instead, Boyd, Ellington and Hopkins took all of the drama out the game early.
Ellington, who had a career-best 228 yards rushing in the season-opening victory over Auburn, scored on Clemson’s first two possessions to put the Tigers up 13-0 less than nine minutes into the game.
Boyd and Hopkins took over after that, combining for touchdowns on three consecutive series in the second quarter.
The Tigers pulled most of their offensive stars after the fast start, but it didn’t slow down Clemson’s attack. Third-string tailback Roderick McDowell had a 27-yard touchdown run after a Ball State interception.
Backup passer Cole Stoudt, the son of former NFL quarterback Cliff, led the Tigers on another scoring drive that ended with Benton’s record-setting field goal.
Boyd threw for 229 yards on 19-of-23 passing without an interception. Ellington didn’t get the chance to match his effort in the opener, collecting 41 yards on 13 first-half carries.
Hopkins, who set a school record with 13 receptions in the win over Auburn, also came out midway through the second quarter. He did manage to become just the fourth wideout in school history to post three consecutive games with 100 or more receiving yards, joining three former NFL players in Charlie Waters, Tony Horne and Rod Gardner.
Hopkins’ three TDs tied a school single-game best for receivers. He could be even more difficult to cover when All-American Watkins returns from his two-game suspension against Furman next Saturday.
Watkins set school marks with 1,219 yards and 12 touchdowns as a freshman last year. While Hopkins has capably made up for Watkins absence, you can bet offensive coordinator Chad Morris will look to get his sophomore star going as quickly as possible.
For those looking for Clemson flaws, there were plenty of nits to pick on defense.
The Tigers again had trouble stopping the run, surrendering touchdowns of 54 and 21 yards to Horactio Banks, a redshirt freshman playing just his second college game. Banks finished with 120 of Ball State’s 244 yards rushing, giving Clemson first-year coordinator Brent Venables plenty to work on in the coming week.