CLEMSON, S.C., Oct. 24 (UPI) -- Freshman T.A. McLendon rushed for a career-high 179 yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries Thursday night as ninth-ranked North Carolina State routed Atlantic Coast Conference rival Clemson, 38-6, to improve to 9-0 for the first time in school history.
In 1967, current coach Chuck Amato was a senior linebacker on the only other North Carolina State team that started 8-0. That squad, known for its "White Shoes" defense, was ranked third before losing to unranked Penn State and Clemson in its final two regular season games.
Four times since 1989, Clemson has handed North Carolina State its first loss of the season, but the Wolfpack (9-0, 4-0 ACC) were never threatened in this one. They got dominant play from their special teams and defense, taking the usually vocal crowd at "Death Valley" out of the game early.
Safety Terrence Holt returned a blocked punt for a touchdown, recovered a fumble that set up another score and intercepted a pass that turned back a Clemson threat in the third quarter.
Clemson (4-4, 2-3) avoided the shutout when Justin Miller returned a kickoff 89 yards for a touchdown with 7:52 remaining in the contest.
Not to be outdone, Jerricho Cotchery answered by returning an onside kick 42 yards, the third touchdown in 31 seconds, to make it 38-6.
While motivated by the prospect of becoming the first North Carolina State team to start 9-0, the Wolfpack also were out to silence the critics who claim they are not worthy of their ranking because of a weak schedule.
North Carolina State is only 11th in the BCS standings due to a slate that includes New Mexico and Navy, along with Division I-AA schools East Tennessee State and Massachusetts.
Thursday's contest was considered North Carolina State's first major test and the Wolfpack passed it with flying colors. The schedule does get a bit tougher and the Wolfpack will have a chance to prove themselves in the coming weeks.
After entertaining Georgia Tech next week, North Carolina State faces defending ACC champion Maryland and Virginia on the road, then hosts Florida State in its regular season finale.
Lamont Reid set the tone early, returning the opening kickoff to the Clemson 42-yard line. The Tigers got a break when Adam Kiker's 32-yard field goal hit the left crossbar.
But it was only a momentary reprieve for Clemson as linebacker Manny Lawson blocked Wynn Kopp's punt on the Tigers' opening possession. Holt scooped up the ball and raced 38 yards for a touchdown with 10:09 left in the period. North Carolina State went for two and holder Chris Young scored on a trick play to make it 8-0.
McLendon's 31-yard touchdown on fourth and one capped a long drive and gave the Wolfpack a 15-0 lead 1:29 into the second period.
Things continued to fall apart for Clemson as quarterback Willie Simmons fumbled while in a shotgun formation on the Tigers' next possession.
Holt recovered at the 15 and North Carolina State needed four plays to take a 22-0 lead on Philip Rivers' one-yard keeper with 10:11 left in the half.
McLendon scored his second touchdown on a two-yard run midway through the fourth quarter. He has 14 touchdowns this season, a school record for freshman.