Making a statement

Through Clemson's first four games, its high-scoring offense was the key to its success. On Saturday, against Virginia Tech, the defense showed up, too.

Clemson's defense held the then-No. 10 Hokies without a touchdown at home for the first time in 16 years in a resounding 23-3 victory in Blacksburg, Va., that kept the Tigers (5-0) unbeaten and elevated them to a No. 8 ranking in both polls.

"We had just enough offense and a whole lot of defense," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said.

They did indeed, as Clemson's defense limited the Virginia Tech to 258 total yards while amassing 10 tackles for loss for a total of 46 yards.

The defense entered the game with just 12 tackles for loss over its first four games.

The emergence of the defense is a welcome addition as the Tigers enter a key stretch of Atlantic Coast Conference games that could strengthen their grip on the Atlantic Division race.

"To hold a team like Virginia Tech, in this stadium, to three points, that hasn't been done very often," said Clemson defensive coordinator Kevin Steele. "We've not scratched the surface yet, but we've got the right attitude, they've bought into it and they're working to try to be the best. And that's all you can ask."

Clemson's defense, which ranks only 63rd nationally in total defense, now has an opportunity to enhance itself statistically over the next two games as Boston College (Oct. 8) and Maryland (Oct. 15) are the two lowest-scoring teams in the ACC.

MONDAY NOTES: With its No. 8 ranking in both polls, Clemson is enjoying its highest ranking since October 2000, when the Tigers were No. 5 in AP and No. 4 in the coaches poll.

* By topping Virginia Tech 23-3 on Saturday, Clemson became the first team in ACC history to win three consecutive games on three consecutive weekends over Top 25 opponents. Clemson beat No. 19 Auburn, No. 11 Florida State and 10th-ranked Virginia Tech during that stretch.

* Clemson has won five straight games to open the season against five teams that won some type of championship last year. Clemson has beaten Troy (Sun Belt champion), Wofford (Southern champion), Auburn (SEC and national champion), Florida State (ACC Atlantic Division champion) and Virginia Tech (ACC champion).

* Clemson, which ended a five-game losing streak against Virginia Tech dating to 1989, posted its largest margin of victory ever against a ranked opponent on the road -- 20 points. The Tigers' previous largest margin of victory over a ranked road foe was 11 points, which they accomplished against North Carolina in 1994 and Florida State in 1989.

KEEP AN EYE ON: DE Andre Branch -- Branch, a senior who is a candidate for the Hendricks Award, showed why against Virginia Tech. Branch enjoyed his best game as a Tiger, matching his career high with 11 tackles and recording five tackles for loss, including three sacks. "He was a man on a mission," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. "He was relentless."

LOOKING GOOD: Clemson's rookies continue to make big strides. Freshman RB Mike Bellamy and freshman LB Stephone Anthony led the way against Virginia Tech, with Bellamy leading the rushing game with 47 yards and Anthony seeing his most extensive action of the season and contributing three tackles, including two for lost yardage. Bellamy's 31-yard touchdown run with less than seven minutes left in the game put the finishing touches on the victory.

"Mike Bellamy is such a good player, and he's still growing," coach Dabo Swinney said.

LB Lateek Townsend also saw his first action of the season against the Hokies, becoming the 13th freshman to play this year for the Tigers.

STILL NEEDS WORK: Although Clemson's defense mustered its most impressive overall effort of the season in the 23-3 win over Virginia Tech on Saturday, the Tigers continued to be plagued by missed tackles. On one memorable run, the Hokies' David Wilson broke numerous tackles behind the line of scrimmage and reversed field twice en route to a 17-yard gain.

"I thought the game was going to be over by the time we got him down," defensive coordinator Kevin Steele said. "There were some plays that looked ugly. But don't follow one minus with another minus. Play the next play."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Everybody's been questioning our defense. Tonight we wanted to answer the bell, and we did." -- Clemson DE Andre Branch after the Tigers' 23-3 win over Virginia Tech.

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