Clemson's defense made its usual promise to itself, then made good on it against Illinois in the Hall of Fame Bowl.
"Before every game we put a zero on the chalk board to signify that we want a shutout," linebacker John Johnson said Tuesday after the 14th-ranked Tigers forced four turnovers and used an efficient ball-control offense to dominate the Big Ten co-champions 30-0 at Tampa Stadium."We don't always get it," fellow linebacker Levon Kirkland added. "But this time we were able to pull it off in our biggest game of the season."
The victory extended Clemson's winning streak in bowl games to five and allowed the Tigers to finish with a 10-2 record for the fourth consecutive year. No. 16 Illinois (8-4) was shut out for the first time since 1986 when Ohio State beat the Illini 14-0.
"They're as talented on defense as anyone we saw this year," Illinois coach John Mackovic said. "They didn't give us a chance to have much success."
Clemson forced a fumble on Illinois' first play from scrimmage and scored a touchdown to take a 10-0 lead six seconds later. The Tigers led 24-0 at the half after Arlington Nunn intercepted Jason Verduzco's pass and returned it 34 yards for a touchdown.
Offensively, DeChane Cameron passed for 141 yards and two touchdowns and also rushed for 76 yards on 17 attempts. Chris Gardocki kicked field goals of 18, 26 and 43 yards - one of them set up by a blocked punt.
"When we got the 10-0 lead, even though it was still early, I thought our defense would rise to the occasion and prove that it was No. 1 in the nation," Clemson coach Ken Hatfield said.
"I think the start of the second half was a key to the game," Hatfield added. "With them getting the kickoff, we had to make something happen. We forced a kick and then was able to go down and get a field goal. That gave us more confidence."
Illinois, which averaged 26.6 points per game during the regular season, finished with 247 yards total offense. But the Illini couldn't produce any points on three possessions that ended deep in Clemson territory.
Verduzco completed 13 of 25 passes for 121 yards. He was intercepted twice and sacked four times in the shutout.