GRADES: Defense saves the day

CLEMSON - CUTigers publisher Roy Philpott grades Clemson's win over Virginia Tech.

It was obvious early in the game Clemson's offense was slightly out-of-sync after Tech recorded two sacks on the Tigers' first possession. Truthfully, it really didn't catch fire until midway through the third quarter, and even then, it was a far cry from what we've seen in recent weeks. The Hokies kept Tajh Boyd off balance with difference looks and it created issues throughout the game. In all, Clemson mustered just 295 total yards. Credit Virginia Tech for its sound scheme and also for playing ball-control throughout the game. The Tigers didn't get their normal number of snaps and production was down as a result. With all that said, Andre Ellington still rushed for 96 yards on 19 carries, Nuk Hopkins still caught a touchdown pass, and even Sammy Watkins got back into the mix with eight catches for 84 yards. Hey- if a bad day at the office still yields 38 points, it's been a good year.

The defense certainly controlled the game after Tech bolted out to a 7-0 lead, thanks to two huge interceptions by Jonathan Meeks, including a badly needed pick-six in the second quarter. Credit Brent Venables for starting Spencer Shuey- who appeared to be a surprising answer for a defense in desparate need of playmakers. Xavier Brewer also got into the act, thwarting a late Tech rally with a big interception on a throw-back pass. Clemson gave up nearly 400 yards but a portion of that came with the game already decided. For once, the Tigers were able to generate consistent pressure on the quarterback while also bringing down the ball carrier in the backfield. This unit is still a work in progress, but it is improving as the season moves along.

Chandler Catanzaro continues to be perfect (17-for-17) on the season after converting another field goal. There remains an issue with kickoffs being too short and that needs to be corrected soon. However, the punt team came up with another fumble recovery and most of the coverage teams were pretty strong. All in all, it was another solid effort by this group. "Winning football," if you will.

The Hokies figured to be hungry after scoring 41 unanswered points against Duke last week and after being blown out twice last season by the Tigers- and they were. Whether the Tigers came out flat is debatable, but righted the ship in time for a 21 point win. In previous years, this would have gone down to the wire, but in the Dabo Swinney era, these healthy victories are becoming more common place. Culture change, anybody?

It was a game that could be best described as "an extension of what was seen last year in the two matchups between these teams." The defense was stifling at times, and the offense found ways to make enough plays to keep the home folks happy. It was far from perfect, but most Clemson wins this season fall into that category. The Tigers now face a quick turnaround with a road trip to Wake Forest on Thursday night. Clemson has just one ACC road win in its history on Thursday nights (2005 - N.C. Staet), and this will be a reoccurring theme in the coming days. For now, the defense finally stood tall when the offense wasn't clicking, and that's not a bad thing. Can it do it again in five days? Top Stories