CLEMSON, S.C. - North Carolina State has a few less doubters today. Clemson has a few thousand more.
The Tigers didn't give fans what they came to see - not Thursday night, and not this season - in an embarrassing 38-6 loss to No. 12 N.C. State at Death Valley.
In a telling indicator of how far it needs to go under fourth-year coach Tommy Bowden, Clemson was dominated from beginning to end. The Tigers had a punt blocked for a touchdown, their offense turned the ball over five times - three by starting quarterback Willie Simmons - and their defense was pushed around when it mattered.
N.C. State tailback T.A. McLendon, who was playing in high school this time last year, rushed for a career-high 178 yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries.
Clemson mustered a season-low 229 yards. Sixty-six came on the ground, also a low on the year.
"There wasn't any throwing of chairs or anything like that," Tigers cornerback Brian Mance said of the mood in the locker room after the game. "It was a bunch of guys ready to get things fixed."
The Wolfpack improved to 9-0 (3-0 Atlantic Coast Conference), their best start in school history. The Tigers (4-4, 2-3) lost for the third time in four games, with road trips to Duke and North Carolina next.
Clemson has lost six straight games against ranked opponents, and Bowden's record against those teams dropped to 3-12.
Bowden rotated Simmons and redshirt freshman Charlie Whitehurst with almost no success. The two were a combined 13-for-32 passing for 163 yards with two interceptions.
Clemson's offense wasn't even able to claim responsibility for the Tigers' lone touchdown. Freshman Justin Miller provided that with an 80-yard kickoff return in the fourth quarter to make the score 32-6.
N.C. State entered the game facing doubts about its unblemished record and lofty ranking. The Wolfpack had fattened up on a schedule that included nondescript teams such as East Tennessee State, Navy and Massachusetts.
They squelched some of those questions early. Manny Lawson blocked Wynn Kopp's punt on Clemson's second drive of the game, and Terrence Holt returned it 39 yards for a touchdown to get things started.
After forcing the Tigers into a quick punt, the Wolfpack marched 80 yards in seven plays, the last a 31-yard touchdown run by McLendon.
Facing fourth-and-1, McLendon took a handoff and found the left side wide open after his linemen decimated Clemson's front.
Things only got worse for the Tigers from there. Simmons mishandled a shotgun snap on the third play of the next drive, and Holt recovered at Clemson's 24-yard line.
Five plays later, quarterback Philip Rivers (15-for-24 passing for 129 yards) used more great blocking to plow in for a 1-yard touchdown to put his team ahead 22-0 at the half.
The Wolfpack outgained the Tigers 172-68 in the first half, and Simmons and Whitehurst combined for 4-for-11 passing for 40 yards and an interception.
Whitehurst, inserted to an enthusiastic ovation after Simmons' fumble, silenced his fans by throwing an interception to Rod Johnson on his second play.
The Tigers couldn't even kick off right. An onside kick by Kopp in the fourth quarter was picked up by Jerricho Cotchery, who found no tacklers near and dashed 42 yards for a touchdown.
Clemson was 2-for-15 on third downs; N.C. State was 8-for-18.
Reach Larry Williams at (706) 823-3645 or firstname.lastname@example.org.