CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) -- Now that North Carolina State has achieved
the best start in school history, the Wolfpack are trying hard not
to think about where this special season might lead them.
"We can't afford to look at the big picture and look past
people. That's how you get beat," said safety Terrence Holt, who
had a fumble, an interception and returned a blocked punt for a
touchdown for N.C. State (No. 9 ESPN/USA Today; No. 12 Associated Press) in its 38-6 victory over Clemson on
The Wolfpack not only improved to 9-0 (4-0 Atlantic Coast Conference), they firmly
established themselves as a team to be taken seriously in the Bowl
Championship Series race.
"We'll let everybody else analyze all that BCS talk, about us
being 9-0 and about us being the first team at N.C. State to do
that," Holt added. "We can't worry about that."
He'll leave the worrying to North Carolina State's opponents.
Freshman T.A. McLendon ran for a career-high 178 yards and two
touchdowns for the Wolfpack, who are tied with Florida State for
first place in the conference. Philip Rivers, the nation's highest
rated passer, also ran for a touchdown, and the team's defense held
Clemson (4-4, 2-3) to a season-low point total.
With victories over Division I-AA East Tennessee and Massachusetts,
N.C. State was one of the most overlooked unbeatens in the country.
Surely, the thinking went, the Wolfpack would crack in prime time
at Death Valley, where they had lost eight of their past 11 games.
But the Pack were more than ready for the spotlight.
"All I know is, we're one of eight football teams that are
undefeated at this juncture of the season," said N.C. State coach
Chuck Amato, a linebacker on the 1967 team that opened 8-0. "And
that's not easy to do."
Amato's current team has a chance to accomplish what the Wolfpack
couldn't during his senior year -- 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.
Lamont Reid returned the opening kickoff 56 yards before many of
the 74,000 fans 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 touchdown run and 22-0 lead.
Clemson tried to rally in third quarter, driving to the Wolfpack
17 on its first possession. But with a yard to go for a first down,
the Tigers were stuffed for no gain on runs by Yusef Kelly and then
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 touchdown.
When the game ended, Wolfpack fans rushed the field, waved signs
and chanted "Nine and oh, nine and oh," on the Tiger Paw at
midfield. Rivers said winning at Clemson proved the Wolfpack could
compete with anyone.
"To me, that was the biggest thing we accomplished tonight,"
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.
"I didn't have my team ready to play," Clemson coach Tommy
Bowden said. "They had their team ready and I didn't."
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 defeat 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