Ayers: Terriers closing in on Clemson
CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) - Give Wofford coach Mike Ayers enough time and he's sure he'll steal one for the Terriers at Clemson.
Ayers was a defensive assistant for Wofford in 1981 when the Tigers won 45-10 to start their national championship season. Ayers was Wofford's head coach the next time the team came to Death Valley in 2001 and led 14-7 before Clemson scored the next 31 points. This time, Ayers and the Terriers had Clemson on the ropes most of the way, finally running out of tricks - and gas - in the fourth quarter of a 35-27 defeat on Saturday.
"We're getting closer,'' Ayers said. "If they'll have us back, who knows, we might get it.''
Right now, that's scheduled for 2015 when some of the younger Terriers should still be around to remember what it felt like to scare the Tigers at Memorial Stadium.
Fullback Eric Breitenstein said Wofford, which led the Football Championship Subdivision in rushing average last season, proved it could move the ball against any defense. "We had a great time for the most part,'' he said. "But when you walk out of there and you're down on the scoreboard, it's not a fun game.''
Wofford (1-1) gets next week off before it opens Southern Conference play at home against Samford. The Terriers shared last year's league title with Appalachian State and are seeking their fourth NCAA FCS playoff berth in five seasons.
Tajh Boyd threw for three touchdowns and ran for another for Clemson. Andre Ellington had 165 yards and the Tigers defense had a late fourth-down stop to prevent losing for the first time ever to an FCS school. The Tigers improved to 25-0 all-time against FCS opponents.
Still, it was hard to ignore Wofford's triple-option offense racking up 272 yards, two passes over 60 yards each allowed by Clemson's defense or a 28-yard run by Wofford's punter that kept a scoring drive alive.
"We can't get down in these situations,'' Boyd said. "We got a lot of guys who are like that and that's going to help us throughout the season.''
It better happen fast since defending BCS champ Auburn comes to Death Valley next weekend.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said it's back to work on Monday to fix those mistakes. Right now, he'll choose to see the positives in Clemson's victory as the Tigers rallied from 21-all at the half to hold on. It wasn't until Rennie Moore stopped Donovan Johnson on fourth-and-2 with 3:30 left that the Tigers could rest easy against Wofford.
"The defense stepped up and the offense finished the game,'' Swinney said. "We have to improve on some things.''
Boyd had touchdown throws of 42 yards to Martavis Bryant, 38 yards to Sammy Watkins and 17 yards to DeAndre Hopkins. Ellington added a 74-yard TD run, the longest of his career. Ellington's total yards were one short of his career high, set last season against Georgia Tech.
The Tigers have not opened 2-0 in consecutive seasons since 2000 and 2001.
Clemson moved in front for good, 28-24, on Boyd's 5-yard touchdown run with 7:54 left in the third quarter. Wofford got within a point after Christian Reed's 38-yard field goal five minutes later, but could not come closer.
Boyd finished 18 of 29 for 261 yards. He also had four sacks in his second game running things for new offensive coordinator Chad Morris.
Clemson called on young players like Watkins and tailback Mike Bellamy to spark a second-half surge and power past Troy, 43-19, last week. The Tigers had hoped to carry that momentum against the Terriers and put them away in a hurry.
Instead, Wofford's pesky triple-option attack had the Tigers' inexperienced defense on its heels much of the opening quarter. After Clemson fullback Chad Diehl was stopped on fourth-and-1 at midfield, the Terriers took just five plays to break on top as Mitch Allen finished the drive with a 27-yard TD run.
Wofford kept it up two series later when Brenton Bersin ran 20 yards beyond the closest defender for an all-too-easy 66-yard scoring catch.
The Terriers used some surprise on their final score of the opening half when punter Kasey Redfern scrambled 28 yards for a first down on fourth-and-3 - Wofford punted fewer than four times a game last season - and a Clemson personal foul pushed the ball to the Tigers 13.
Breitenstein, the Southern Conference offensive player of the year last season, capped the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run and a 21-13 lead.
Clemson wasn't done in the opening half and got a little help from the Terriers. Boyd hit Hopkins with a 17-yard pass on second-and-20 and Wofford jumped offsides a play later to keep the Tigers' drive going.
Boyd then delivered a well-thrown ball to Watkins between two defenders that the freshmen snatched from the air and took into the end zone. Hopkins converted a two-point play to tie things at 21.
Wofford's last lead came when it opened the second half with Reed's 24-yard field goal.
Allen finished with 92 of the Terriers' 272 yards rushing. Wofford led the FCS in rushing last season.
"I think we had a good game plan and we came out rolling and that's what you've got to do against a bigger, faster team,'' Breitenstein said. "We did well, but not good enough.''
Clemson's secondary played short-handed with one-game suspensions to starting cornerback Xavier Brewer and backup safety Carlton Lewis for undisclosed violations of team rules.
The game, played a day before the 10-year anniversary of 9/11, honored the military with a 21-gun salute, a flyover and a performance by The Citadel's Summerall Guard silent precision drill team.
SI Now Live Friday December 20, 2013
SI Now: Olympians on Liberty Mutual, gearing up for Sochi