CLEMSON, S.C. — It seems way too early for Wake Forest to be in a must-win situation. After what coach Jim Grobe saw in a 56-7 loss to No. 3 Clemson on Saturday, he has no doubt that his team's downward spiral has to stop next week.
The Demon Deacons (2-3, 0-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) were held to one early touchdown and 222 yards of offense, just 80 in the second half. Senior starting quarterback Tanner Price was benched after halftime when the team couldn't get anything going.
"There's a couple of good drives we were moving it and came up short," Price said. "I don't know what exactly to pin point that to. It was just tough to get things going all day."
Receiver Michael Campanaro said the players can't let their season spiral downward from here and must put in the work to match up with North Carolina State, which won for the third time in four games by defeating Central Michigan 48-14.
Campanaro said Grobe told the Deacons that it was a must-win the week ahead.
"We've just got to come to work at practice, everyone's got to be locked in," he said, "and kind of put this game in our rear-view mirror."
That won't be easy.
Wake Forest found itself trailing 21-0 less than 8 minutes into the game. With the chance to swing momentum and cut the lead to a touchdown in the second quarter, Price fumbled on third down at the Clemson 32 to effectively end all thoughts of rallying.
Clemson's Tajh Boyd threw for three touchdowns and rushed for another score. The terrific performance made him the second ACC quarterback to account for 100 career TDs.
"It was a fun game," Boyd said. "I got a lot of chances to smile out there."
Boyd's return to form was part of a solid day on several fronts for the Tigers, (4-0, 2-0), who have won their first four games for the second time in the QB's three seasons as a starter.
Clemson figures to be the favorite the next two weeks against Syracuse and Boston College. Then the Tigers host undefeated ACC rival Florida State on Oct. 19.
Boyd accounted for five TDs in Clemson's season-opening victory against Georgia, making the quarterback a contender for the Heisman Trophy and stamping the Tigers as a team to watch this season.
But Boyd was held without a scoring pass and played less than a half against South Carolina State. Then he looked out of sync in Clemson's previous game, a 26-14 win at North Carolina State.
Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris thought Boyd was putting too much pressure on himself, and the quarterback said he just needed to relax to improve his play.
"The biggest thing for me is just to go out and enjoy," playing football, Boyd said. "I've pretty much accomplished everything you can accomplish in a college career, minus a couple of things. But, now I've got to enjoy this last go-round with my guys."
Boyd's performance against Wake Forest left him at 102 TDs in college, joining former North Carolina State star Phillip Rivers in the ACC's century club. Boyd passed for 311 yards and ran for 69 to surpass Charlie Whitehurst as Clemson's total offense leader.
Morris worked hard to get Clemson's high-speed offense back on track.
"This has been a very challenging week for those guys," Morris said. "Just to get into a rhythm, get into a groove and not press."
Boyd and the Tigers started fast against Wake Forest.
Boyd had touchdown throws of 64 yards to Sammy Watkins, 75 yards to D.J. Howard and 14 yards to Mike Williams as Clemson built a 35-7 halftime lead.
Clemson scored on its first three possessions, with Boyd ending his mini-slump along the way. He connected with favorite target Watkins to get the scoring started. Zac Brooks added a 10-yard touchdown run before Howard turned a simple swing pass into a second long scoring play that brought Boyd to the century mark.
Rivers accounted for 112 touchdowns with the Wolfpack from 2000-03.
Wake Forest's defense then stepped up, with nose guard Nikita Whitlock sacking Boyd to stall one series and the Demon Deacons sending the Tigers off the field for three straight three-and-outs.
But Boyd eventually cranked up the Tigers' offense once again. He ended a 67-yard drive with a 2-yard TD run, powering through the line when he was initially stopped on a fourth-and-short leap.
Boyd's final touchdown pass went to Williams, a sliding 14-yard grab that gave Clemson a 35-7 lead.