CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — Pete Lembo identified his next long-range project as Ball State coach — preparing his players to handle college football's biggest venues.
The Cardinals gave up touchdowns on five of No. 12 Clemson's first six possessions and trailed by 35 at the half on the way to a 52-27 loss at jam-packed Memorial Stadium. Ball State also lost 62-6 at Oklahoma in Lembo's debut season last fall.
The 42-year-old Lembo knows those results have to change for Ball State to become more competitive in the Mid-American Conference and on the national scene.
"I think we're capable of playing better than we did," Lembo said. "I've got to do a better job of getting us ready to come into these kinds of environments."
The Cardinals were coming off a 37-26 season-opening victory against Eastern Michigan that included 596 yards and a school-record 36 first downs. They were hoping their fast-paced offense would be able to keep up with the defending Atlantic Coast Conference champions.
But Ball State (1-1) trailed 13-0 less than nine minutes into the game. Horactio Banks' 54-yard TD run closed the gap to 13-7 near the end of the opening quarter, and Clemson responded with a 32-point second quarter that included three touchdown passes from Tajh Boyd to DeAndre Hopkins.
Banks ran for 120 yards. But Keith Wenning threw two first-half interceptions, both of which led to Clemson scores.
Lembo hopes his team learns from this experience and will be better prepared when it faces Virginia next fall, or plays at Big Ten opponents Iowa in 2014 and Northwestern in 2015.
"We had some guys that are capable of playing a lot better than they did," Lembo said. "So, it's my job and the staff's job to make sure that we get every single guy to play at a high level, to play their 'A' game to have a chance against a really good opponent. We're not there yet."
Andre Ellington rushed for two scores and punter Spencer Benton kicked a 61-yard field goal to break an Atlantic Coast Conference record in Clemson's victory.
The Tigers had 526 yards of offense, surpassing 500 for a second straight week. And they racked up all those yards without record-setting receiver Sammy Watkins, who is set to return after missing the first two games because of a drug arrest.
Ellington's two short TD runs helped the Tigers (2-0) get off to a fast start, and Boyd found Hopkins for touchdown passes of 13, 34 and 15 yards in the second period to help increase the lead to 35-10.
About everything went the Tigers' way in the first half, including the long-range try by Benton, Clemson's punter and kickoff specialist who missed a 55-yard attempt last week at the Georgia Dome against Auburn. He came on with a few seconds left before halftime and snuck this kick between the goal posts.
"It felt pretty good when I hit it," Benton said. "I saw it coming off and thinking, 'Go. Go. Go.' Then I saw everybody in the background jump up and I was like, 'Yes.'"
Benton's kick surpassed the ACC mark of 60 set by Gary Cismesia of Florida State in a 2007 game against Florida. Benton also moved past a pair of former NFL players, Obed Ariri and Chris Gardocki, who each kicked 57-yard field goals for the previous school mark.
Clemson and Ball State have potent offenses, so this one figured to be a shootout. Instead, Boyd, Ellington and Hopkins took all the drama out the game early.
Ellington, who had a career-best 228 yards rushing in the season-opening victory over Auburn, scored on Clemson's first two possessions. Boyd and Hopkins took over after that, combining for touchdowns on three straight series.
Boyd threw for 229 yards on 19-of-23 passing without an interception. Ellington didn't get the chance to match his effort in the opener, collecting 41 yards on 13 first-half carries.
Watkins is expected to return from his two-game suspension against Furman next Saturday. He set school marks with 1,219 yards and 12 touchdowns as a freshman last year.