CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) Clemson quarterback Cole Stoudt was glad for two things against Georgia State - the victory and the boost of confidence it gave the Tigers heading into their biggest game of the year.
The Tigers (8-3) bounced back from their loss to Georgia Tech last week with a 28-0 win over Georgia State on Saturday. The club had been reeling, particularly on offense, after the 28-6 loss to the Yellow Jackets a week ago. Besides scoring its fewest points in seven years, Clemson again lost freshman quarterback standout Deshaun Watson to injury.
Stoudt, the senior backup, was not ready to sub in against No. 17 Georgia Tech and it showed with three interceptions, two returned for touchdowns.
Stoudt was much more poised and effective against the Panthers, who lost their 10th straight to fall to 1-10.
''A lot of people got their confidence back today,'' said Stoudt, the son of ex-NFL passer Cliff Stoudt. ''We're going to build off this game.''
And just in time for rival South Carolina, which comes to Death Valley next Saturday carrying an unprecedented five-game win streak in the rivalry.
''We get that. These guys have heard that. There's nobody in this locker room that's beaten them,'' Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris said. ''But again, it comes down to us and how we prepare.''
Whether they'll prepare this week with Watson available is still a question. He sprained a ligament and bruised a bone in his left knee last week. Coaches feared a more serious injury, but an MRI showed the damage was much less severe and coach Dabo Swinney said Watson could play again this season. Swinney said he hopes Watson can play. ''If not, we'll have Cole ready,'' he said.
Stoudt proved he could lead the offense to touchdowns. Freshman runner Tyshon Dye had 124 yards - a Tigers' season-high - and two first-quarter touchdowns as Clemson took control.
Wayne Gallman, another freshman tailback, added a touchdown and Stoudt found Mike Williams for an 8-yard score right before the half for a 28-0 lead that was all Clemson would need.
The defense posted its second shutout this season, the first time that's happened since the Tigers blanked Furman and Maryland in 1998.
It's also Clemson's fourth straight season with eight or more wins, the first time that's happened since six straight from 1986-91.
The Panthers provided the perfect remedy for Clemson's offensive ills: The Tigers surpassed last week's total of 190 yards offense with 219 in the opening half, performing much more crisply than the meltdown against the Yellow Jackets.
Dye, a highly regarded recruit from 2013 kept out by injuries, had just five rushes in his career. His strong rushing, though, kept him in much of the way.
''It's been quite a journey,'' Dye said. ''I just know I've just stayed positive and had a lot of faith.''
Gallman, another freshman who's the Tigers top rusher this fall, finished off their third TD drive with a 9-yard run.
It was Stoudt's turn to rebound on their next scoring drive, as the senior quarterback connected on a 17-yard pass with Williams, then ran for 13 yards before finding Williams for an 8-yard touchdown pass and a 28-0 lead.
For Williams, the 6-foot-4 receiver who's third in Atlantic Coast Conference yards per game, it was his first TD catch in six games.
Clemson's defense also stepped up with interceptions from Korrin Wiggins, Jayron Kearse and Garry Peters.
Defensive end Vic Beasley notched his ACC-leading ninth sack, but his first in five games. Already the school's career sacks leader, the senior now has 30 sacks in his time at Clemson.
Georgia State, averaging 22 points a game during its losing streak, was a long shot to make a dent on Clemson's defense, which was ranked second nationally in overall defense and 13th in scoring defense.
Quarterback Nick Arbuckle, who set the school's single-season passing mark with 2,941 yards this year, didn't help the cause with his three first-half interceptions. He finished with 13 of 29 with 115 yards before sitting out the final quarter.
The Panthers managed 155 total yards, their second fewest this season.
''Our kids always give good effort, that wasn't the problem. You can't turn the ball over three times to a defense like that,'' Georgia State coach Trent Miles said. ''With a well-coached football team like that, you're not giving yourself a chance because we don't have a magical, 28-point play.''