Citadel coach Kevin Higgins warned all week the biggest difference between his Bulldogs and No. 7 Clemson was the Tigers' speed.
It didn't take Clemson (10-1) long to prove him right. After failing to score on their first drive, the Tigers scored on a five-play, 61-yard drive early in the first quarter. Four were passes where Clemson sprinted pass the slower linebackers and defensive backs for The Citadel (5-7).
"We try to simulate that speed with the scout team. Unfortunately, we have guys that run 4.8 and they have guys that run 4.4," Higgins said. "Then when you think you have it covered outside, they hit you up the middle because they have so much talent."
Clemson's Tajh Boyd would throw for 288 yards and five touchdowns, all in the first half, as the Bulldogs were down 42-0 at the break.
"We came out very slow and you can't come out slow against a team like this or you get run off the field," Citadel quarterback Ben Dupree said.
There were bright spots for the Bulldogs. They put together their longest drive of the year — 21 plays — and took off 12:10 of the fourth quarter. But it ended in a 29-yard field goal.
Dupree ran 23 times for 69 yards, topping the 1,000-yard mark for the first time in his career. Fullback Darien Robinson ran 17 times for 45 yards. The triple option Bulldogs completed just one pass on five tries, and it lost four yards.
But The Citadel was simply the invited guests as Clemson celebrated a senior class Saturday that brought the program back as a national contender. Boyd had touchdown passes of 8, 9, 19, 24 and 30 yards. He ended the game with 102 passing TDs in his career and tied the Tigers record of five passing TDs in a game for the sixth time. Three times Boyd has thrown for five scores in the first half.
"He's something special. Everything he's gotten he deserves," said offensive coordinator Chad Morris, the architect of an attack that is averaging 515 yards a game and is on pace to break last year's record of 512 yards.
Everyone expected a celebration Saturday. Clemson came into the game 27-0 against FCS opponents. The fans cheered every senior who ran down the hill, but the biggest ovation was for Boyd, who owns more than 50 school records as part of coach Dabo Swinney's first recruiting class dubbed the "Dandy Dozen"
"It wasn't a very heralded class. But I loved every one of them," said Swinney, who won his 50th game of a career that started as interim coach when Tommy Bowden was fired in October 2008.
Sammy Watkins caught seven passes for 58 yards and a TD. It might be the last game in Clemson for the junior, who is considered the best receiver prospect in next year's NFL draft. Watkins also became Clemson's all-time leading receiver, passing DeAndre Hopkins' mark of 3,020 yards set last season.
Watkins said the coaches also offered him a solo run down the hill with the seniors. But he refused, saying it wasn't his time.
"I didn't want to have that standing ovation. I haven't made my decision yet. At the end of the season we'll see," Watkins said.
And on Military Appreciation Day, the Tigers also finally got a touchdown for Daniel Rodriguez, who caught a quick flip as he ran past in motion from backup quarterback Cole Stoudt on fourth-and-goal early in the fourth quarter for the 4-yard score. The 25-year-old junior came to Clemson as a walk on after serving for the Army in Afghanistan. He received the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star Medal with Valor Device. The Tigers tried to get him a TD in garbage time in their 56-7 win over Wake Forest, but couldn't pull it off.
"We had to get him in there. Daniel Rodriguez — no better way to get a touchdown than Military Appreciation Day," Boyd said. "We all want to be in the movie when they make one about him."
The Clemson crowd cheered almost as loud for Rodriguez as it did for Boyd.
"I never expected to be there," Rodriguez said of the end zone. "And when I got there, I never thought I would get there so I just had so much excitement going through me."