CLEMSON, S.C. -- North Carolina State is off to the best start in school history. More importantly, the Wolfpack showed they're for real in the Bowl Championship Series race.
Freshman T.A. McLendon ran for a career-high 178 yards and two touchdowns as the 12th-ranked Wolfpack improved to 9-0 with a 38-6 victory over Clemson on Thursday night.
North Carolina State quarterback Philip Rivers also ran for a touchdown, and the Wolfpack defense, led by safety Terrence Holt, held Clemson (4-4, 2-3) to a season-low point total.
Holt had an interception, recovered a fumble and returned a blocked punt 39 yards for a touchdown as N.C. State (4-0 ACC, tied for first place with Florida State) surpassed the 8-0 start of its 1967 team.
Coach Chuck Amato played linebacker on that squad, and now his team has a chance to do what he couldn't 35 years ago - win a conference title and challenge for a national championship.
It won't be easy. N.C. State closes with Georgia Tech, Virginia, Maryland and the Seminoles. But the Wolfpack have exceeded expectations all year long.
With wins over Division I-AA East Tennessee and Massachusetts, North Carolina State was one of the most overlooked unbeatens in the country. Surely, the thinking went, the Pack would crack in prime time at Death Valley, where they had lost eight of their last 11 games.
But the Wolfpack were more than ready for the spotlight.
Lamont Reid returned the opening kickoff 56 yards for the Wolfpack before many of the 74,000 had even taken their seats. And while that drive fizzled when Adam Kiker's 32-yard field-goal try thumped the left upright, it was about the only thing that didn't go according to plan for N.C. State.
Manny Lawson blocked a first-quarter punt - the Wolfpack's seventh blocked kick this year - and Holt scooped it up for his touchdown.
On N.C. State's next drive, McLendon got the call on fourth-and-1 and went untouched through the left side of Clemson's stacked-up line for a 31-yard score.
Three plays later, Clemson quarterback Willie Simmons fumbled a shotgun snap. Holt recovered at the Tigers 15, and five plays later Rivers bulled his way in for a 1-yard TD run and 22-0 lead.
Clemson tried to rally in third quarter, driving to North Carolina State's 17 on its first possession. But with 1 yard to go for a first down, the Tigers were stuffed for no gain on runs by Yusef Kelly and then Simmons.
McLendon followed that with a 65-yard gain as the Pack regained momentum. Kiker finished the drive with a 26-yard field goal.
McLendon added a 4-yard touchdown run - his 14th of the season - in the fourth quarter, and Jerricho Cotchery took an onside kick 42 yards for the Wolfpack's final TD.
Clemson came in averaging nearly 26 points a game, but the Tigers could get nothing going in this one.
Simmons had two fumbles and an interception. When he was pulled in the second quarter, backup Charlie Whitehurst threw an interception on his second play.
Even when the Tigers scored, it was comical. Derrick Hamilton fumbled a kickoff, then while lying on the ground shoved the ball to teammate Justin Miller, who went 80 yards for the touchdown.
The Tigers had talked all week of reviving their season against a North Carolina State team that hadn't played anyone of Clemson's caliber. Instead, the Tigers served up their worst home loss since falling 35-3 to North Carolina last year.
The Wolfpack gave up only three first downs and 68 yards in the opening half.
It was the first time Clemson had been held scoreless before the break since a 17-7 Peach Bowl loss to Mississippi State in 1999.
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