The Tigers' offense had a slow start in Blacksburg on Saturday night, but the defense kept the Hokies off the scoreboard, and the offense eventually blew the game open for a 45-10 win, clinching a 6th straight ACC Championship berth. Outside of a busted coverage in the first quarter by Charleston and a big play on a screen pass in the second half, the Tigers' defense was absolutely dominant. They allowed just 10 points and 339 total yards, and 42 of those yards came on the Hail Mary at the end of the first half. Speaking of which, what a scary moment for the Tigers! Derion Kendrick tried to do the right thing and knock the ball down, but he knocked it straight into the arms of Blackshear at the 2-yard line. Fortunately, Kendrick made the tackle and prevented the game-tying touchdown! He could have easily caught the ball for the interception, so he was right to knock it down instead of catch it, but he didn't knock it straight down the way they are coached. So that gave the Hokies 42 more yards than they should have had, but the Tigers kept them out of the end zone for the final 3 quarters. The Hokies had a top-10 rushing offense, averaging 6 yards per carry and 250 yards per game. Even without Skalski in the middle, the Tigers held them to half of those averages. Dabo said after the game that Skalski was just sore from his surgery, so they held him out as a precaution. That's great news for Clemson fans, as it's a different defense with him on the field. Jake Venables broke his arm after missing last week's game because he rolled his ankle in practice. We'll see whether he will be able to play with a cast in 2 weeks. Baylon Spector also left the game hurt, but it doesn't seem to be serious. The Tigers didn't record an interception for the first time since the second game of the season--which is ironic since Kendrick would have had one on the Hail Mary if he hadn't intentionally knocked the ball down--but they did come up with 3 fumbles, including a scoop and score by Kendrick. The Tigers came up a yard or two short of a scoop and score last week on Patterson's recovery at the end of the game. Redshirt freshman Lavonta Bentley had another impressive game, with a sack and a half after his sack last week. He now has 3.5 sacks this season, and he is the one who forced the fumble that Patterson almost took for a score last week.
The Tigers' offense was rather stagnant for most of the first half, scoring just 10 points until the final minute of the half. Quite a difference from the 31-point first quarter they had last week! However, the Tigers worked their 4-minute offense to perfection to close the half with a 17-10 lead, thanks to a couple runs for 30 yards and a score by Lyn-J Dixon. After the Pitt game last week, I asked Dabo if that was Dixon's best game of the season, and he concurred. Amazingly, he scored his first touchdown of the season last week, and he followed that up with a big one before the half in Blacksburg to put the Tigers ahead for good. Trevor Lawrence was slightly off, throwing an interception in the end zone--just his 3rd of the season--and almost throwing another before that, when the corner came off coverage and Trevor didn't see him. Trevor finished 12-22 for 195 yards and 3 total touchdowns--scoring two with his legs. He now has 6 rushing TD's this season.
Travis didn't have the big game I was expecting him to have--in fact he didn't even score for the firs time since The Citadel game in week 2--but he made some nice runs and finished with 66 yards on 16 carries. Also, as I've said before, Etienne doesn't get credit for all the big plays made by the Tigers because of Etienne's presence on the field. The Tigers ran just 52 plays, about 30 less than usual, but scored 38 points on offense, so it wasn't their best performance, but it was far better than they needed. Ironically, the backs behind Etienne all had their best runs of the season. In addition to the aforementioned Dixon, Mellusi popped a 38-yard run in the second half, and Darien Rencher scored a touchdown on a career-long 50-yard run in the 4th quarter. Dabo tried to get Rench a TD in the final minute of last week's game on Senior Day, but he was stuffed twice in a row at the 2-yard line. This time, he looked like he was shot out of a cannon! What a week the former walk-on and team leader has had. He was named winner of the Disney Spirit Award on Tuesday, and finished the week with a career-long run for a touchdown! He will be coming back next season, by the way, and will continue to provide great leadership in his role as a reliable backup running back.
Cornell Powell came up 10 yards shy of becoming the first Clemson player with 4 straight 100-yard reception games, so he'll have to settle for being tied with Sammy Watkins and Nuk Hopkins at 3 straight games. Powell did score a 65-yard touchdown, though! It was his 3rd straight game with a TD and 5th out of the last 6.
Spiers had a couple bad punts, but better for that to happen now than in the post-season! He has been one of the nation's best all season, so I hope he got it out of his system.
It was the 6th straight win over the Hokies for Dabo and the Tigers. They will, of course, get a chance at revenge against Notre Dame in the ACC Championship in 2 weeks in Charlotte. Hopefully, the Tigers will be close to full strength this time! Trevor Lawrence now stands alone as the winningest quarterback in Clemson history at 33-1 as the starter. Deshaun Watson, Tajh Boyd and Rodney Williams all won 32 games.
Since the Tigers have off next week, we'll have our normal Sunday teleconference with Dabo on Monday evening, so be sure to check back for that as well as our Monday player interviews! Dabo's post-game press conference, notes and highlights are below. Click on the link for our coach and player post-game interviews!
Clemson clinched a berth in the ACC Championship Game with the victory. It will be Clemson's eighth all-time ACC Championship Game appearance, adding to the Tigers' ACC record, and its sixth straight appearance, also an ACC record.
Clemson becomes the first Power Five team to appear in six consecutive conference championship games. The only other active conference to have one team represented in six straight championship games is the MAC, in which Marshall qualified for six straight years from 1997-2002, as did Northern Illinois from 2010-15.
Clemson earned a ninth win through the first 10 games of a season for the 15th time in school history. Clemson previously won at least nine games in its first 10 contests in the 1939, 1948, 1950, 1978, 1981, 1987, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 seasons.
Clemson won an eighth ACC regular season game for a third straight season for the first time in school history. It is Clemson's fourth time winning eight ACC regular season games in a single season, joining the 2015, 2018 and 2019 seasons.
The 2020 Clemson seniors improved to 50-4 since 2017, becoming the fourth straight Clemson senior class (and the 11th such class in FBS history) to record 50 wins in four years.
The 2020 Clemson seniors are now 31-2 in ACC regular season play from 2017-20, surpassing the 2018 and 2019 seniors (30 wins each) as the winningest class in school history in regular season conference play. The group ties the four-year conference record of 31, set by multiple Florida State classes from 1995-2000.
Clemson improved to 51-3 against conference opponents since the start of the 2015 season, the first year of Clemson's active run of five consecutive ACC titles.
Clemson won its sixth consecutive game against Virginia Tech, dating to the 2011 season when the Tigers defeated the Hokies twice. It is Clemson’s longest streak in the series since winning nine consecutive games against the Hokies from 1955-85.
Clemson won its third consecutive game in Blacksburg.
Clemson won its 13th consecutive December game, dating to Clemson’s 2011 ACC Championship Game victory against Virginia Tech. Clemson entered the game as one of four schools to be undefeated in December since 2011 with a minimum of four games played, a list that also included Alabama (9-0) and Penn State (5-0).
Clemson improved to 24-13 all-time in December games, including postseason play.
Clemson improved to 3-0 in December games against Virginia Tech all-time, including wins in the 2011 and 2016 ACC Championship Games.
Head Coach Dabo Swinney improved to 6-0 as a head coach vs. Virginia Tech. Virginia Tech is one of five ACC schools against which Swinney is undefeated as head coach, a list that also includes Wake Forest (12-0), Louisville (6-0), Virginia (5-0) and Duke (3-0).
Clemson has now won 27 of its 29 true road games since the start of the 2015 season.
Though 2020 is technically a divisionless season, Clemson improved to 33-8 against opponents historically from the ACC Coastal Division, including postseason play, under Head Coach Dabo Swinney. Clemson has won 19 of its last 20 games against the Coastal Division since 2015.
Clemson improved to 67-3 in regular season play since the start of the 2015 season.
Clemson now has a 107-2 record when totaling more first downs than its opponent since 2011.
Clemson now has a 64-3 record when winning the turnover margin since 2011.
Clemson is now 58-1 when scoring first since 2015.
Clemson has now won 86 of its last 88 games, including each of its last 49, when leading at halftime.
Clemson improved to 108-2 since 2011 when leading after three quarters.
Clemson improved to 51-2 since 2015 when outscoring opponents in the “Middle Eight,” defined as the final four minutes of the first half and the first four minutes of the second half. Clemson won those eight minutes by a 7-3 margin on Saturday.
The 35-point win ties Clemson’s largest victory margin against Virginia Tech in series history, matching a 35-point margin by Frank Howard’s 1945 team in a 35-0 win. Clemson’s 45 points Saturday were the most points scored in its all-time series with Virginia Tech, surpassing its 42 in the 2016 ACC Championship Game.
Clemson recorded three takeaways and has now recorded at least three takeaways in back-to-back games for the first time since a three-game stretch against Miami (Fla.), Georgia Tech and Syracuse.
Clemson is now 45-1 under Dabo Swinney when finishing plus-two or better in the turnover margin, including a 29-1 mark when finishing exactly plus-two in that category.
After a plus-four margin in turnovers last week, Clemson has now won the turnover margin by multiple turnovers in back-to-back games for the second time this season (plus-two against both Virginia and Miami (Fla.)).
Clemson held Virginia Tech to 131 rushing yards, the Hokies’ lowest output of the season. Virginia Tech entered the game averaging 250.9 rushing yards per game this season, the most in the ACC and the ninth-most in the country.
Conversely, Clemson rushed for 238 yards, its second most of the season behind its 258 rushing yards vs. Miami (Fla.). Clemson improved to 67-1 when rushing for at least 200 yards under Dabo Swinney.
Despite being limited to a season-low 52 plays, Clemson averaged a season-high 8.3 yards per play to finish the game with 433 total yards.
Clemson’s 8.3 yards per play represent its highest average since last year’s ACC Championship Game against Virginia (9.2).
Clemson joined 2013 Florida State as the only ACC teams ever to score 34 or more points in each of the first 10 games of a season.
Clemson recorded multiple rushing touchdowns in a 26th consecutive game. The last time Clemson was held to a single rushing touchdown was in the 2018 Cotton Bowl.
Quarterback Trevor Lawrence completed 12-of-22 passes for 195 yards with one passing touchdown and added seven carries for 41 yards and two rushing touchdowns.
Lawrence improved to 33-1 as a starter, breaking the school record for wins as a starting quarterback shared previously by Rodney Williams, Tajh Boyd and Deshaun Watson (32 wins each).
On a 17-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, Lawrence (101) joined Tajh Boyd (133), Lamar Jackson (119), Deshaun Watson (116) and Philip Rivers (112) as the only players in ACC history to be responsible for 100 career touchdowns (scored and/or thrown).
Lawrence added his second touchdown run on a seven-yard rush in the third quarter. His two rushing touchdowns tied a career high set in this year’s season opener against Wake Forest.
The second rushing touchdown of the game for Lawrence was his 16th of his career, moving him into a tie with Kelly Bryant for fifth-most by a Clemson quarterback in the modern era.
Wide receiver Cornell Powell scored on a 65-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter.
The touchdown pass to Powell was Lawrence’s 12th completion of the night. On that completion, Lawrence (700) joined Tajh Boyd (901), Charlie Whitehurst (817) and Deshaun Watson (814) as the only Clemson players to reach 700 career completions.
The pass was Lawrence’s 18th touchdown pass of 50 yards or more, surpassing Tajh Boyd (17) for the most by a Clemson quarterback since 1950.
Powell has now caught a touchdown in three straight games for the first time in his career. He is the second Clemson player to accomplish the feat this year, joining tight end Davis Allen, who scored against Virginia, Miami (Fla.) and Georgia Tech in three straight weeks.
Running back Darien Rencher, who won the Disney Spirit Award earlier this week, scored on a career-long 50-yard run in the fourth quarter.
WIth the touchdown reception by Powell and the touchdown run by Rencher, Clemson produced multiple touchdowns of 50 yards or more in a single game for the first time since last year’s Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State.
Tight end Braden Galloway recorded a career-long 49-yard reception in the first quarter. His previous long was a 42-yard reception against LSU in last year’s College Football Playoff National Championship Game.
Running back Lyn-J Dixon scored his second touchdown of the season on a 19-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.
Dixon has now scored a touchdown in consecutive games for the first time since the first two games of the 2019 season against Georgia Tech and Texas A&M.
Defensive end Myles Murphy forced his third fumble of the season in the third quarter. It was recovered by cornerback Mario Goodrich, his first career fumble recovery.
Cornerback Derion Kendrick scored on a 66-yard fumble return in the third quarter. It was his second career touchdown, joining an interception return touchdown against Florida State in 2019.
With Kendrick’s fumble return touchdown, Clemson recorded a third scoop-and-score in a season for the first time in school records back to 1951.
Clemson has now recorded at least three defensive touchdowns in four straight seasons, its longest streak in records back to 1951.
Defensive tackle Nyles Pinckney recorded his first fumble recovery of the season — the third of his career — in the fourth quarter to end a Virginia Tech red zone drive. It was his first fumble recovery since Oct. 19, 2019 at Louisville.
Linebacker LaVonta Bentley and defensive end Xavier Thomas split a third quarter sack to force a Virginia Tech punt. The half-sack pushed Thomas’ season total to a team-high-tying 3.5 sacks.
Bentley later added a full sack on a fourth down in the fourth quarter to also join Thomas, Baylon Spector and Myles Murphy for the team lead with 3.5 sacks this season. Clemson entered the game second in the country in team sacks despite no single player having 4.0 sacks on the season.
With the sacks, Clemson recorded multiple sacks in a 16th straight game, tying a 16-game streak from 2018-19 for the Tigers' third-longest streak since 1980. Clemson now has multiple sacks in 32 of its last 33 games.
Clemson played its seventh December regular season game in school history. The win improved Clemson to 4-3 in those contests, giving the Tigers four December regular season wins in a row, dating to 1948.
Temperature at kickoff was 37 degrees, Clemson’s coldest game of the season and its coldest since 2018 at Boston College (34 degrees). It was the fifth-coldest recorded kickoff temperature in Clemson history. Clemson is now 9-0 under Dabo Swinney when the kickoff temperature is 45 degrees or colder.
Clemson played its latest regular season finale since joining the ACC in 1953, including only its second regular season contest in December in that span. Clemson closed the 2001 regular season with a 59-31 win against Duke on Dec. 1, 2001. This game against Virginia Tech is the program’s second-latest regular season finale all-time, behind a Dec. 8, 1928 finale against The Citadel.
Captains for the contest were running back Travis Etienne, linebacker Baylon Spector, center Cade Stewart and defensive tackle Jordan Williams.