Stats aside, this looked much more like the Chad Morris offense Clemson fans have come to know and love in his first two years as offensive coordinator. The big plays to Sammy Watkins were there: to the tune of eight catches for 169 yards and two touchdowns. Tajh Boyd also looked as cool, calm and collected as he had all season as he now sits at least second in ACC history in virtually every major passing category. The offensive line had some hiccups, but 59 points and 610 total yards tell the story. It was also good to see Martavis Bryant catch everything thrown his direction and even freshman tight end Jordan Leggett became more of a factor as well. It wasn't always perfect, but Clemson should have put up huge numbers in this matchup and it did.
After giving up an early scoring drive, Clemson's defense was literally lights out. In all, 14 different players recorded at least a half-tackle behind the line of scrimmage. Virginia could only muster 277 yards of total offense, including just 114 through the air. Bashaud Breeland continues to surge from his cornerback position, recording a team-high 10 stops and freshman safety Jayron Kearse made two of the biggest plays of the game - including a back-breaking interception and forced fumble. It was another well-called game by coordinator Brent Venables as well as he dialed up pressure when needed and allowed his guys to simply make plays when they had the opportunity. Also, it must be noted Clemson's defense forced 10 three-and-outs in the game, giving it 19 over the last two contests. UVa QB David Watford struggled to find any rhythm, completing just 16-of-35 passes. His backup, Greyson Lambert, was even worse as he converted on just 3-of-11 attempts. It is becoming clear Clemson's defense is no longer a weakness of the team, but more of a strength. The question is, can it continue increased production in these final three games?
SPECIAL TEAMS: B-
The only field goals attempted were by reserve Ammon Lakip as he connected on 1-of-2 attempts. Otherwise Clemson was a perfect 8-for-8 on PATs. The kickoff team is becoming a concern as Bradley Pinion continues to try squib kicks and he even sent one out of bounds. What appeared to be a strength of the team early in the year is quickly becoming a question mark. It needs to corrected. Soon. Adam Humphries had a 26-yard punt return and continues to do a solid job as Clemson's go-to return man.
With the loss to Florida State clearly behind the team, Clemson excelled in most key areas Saturday afternoon. The offense ran 88 plays. The defense forced turnovers. And the fog of last week's win at Maryland seems like a distant memory. The team was relatively sharp on both sides of the ball and never let up. Dabo Swinney said this one of the team's more complete wins of the season and we agree. While the offensive line still needs to get its act together, just about every other aspect of Saturday's win was encouraging- and that's exactly what this program needed headed into an open date.
The popular saying around the Clemson locker room this past week was, "They remember November." Well, if Saturday's win over Virginia is a precursor of things to come, this could be one special month. Understanding Virginia is far from a world beater, it was still Clemson's most dominating win of the season and team finally has something to feel good about again. Sure, the team is far from perfect, but it is now 8-1 and set to move up at least one spot in the BCS standings provided FSU beats Miami Saturday night. Not bad, eh? The upcoming schedule will present more opportunities for further advancement... and who knows where Clemson could end up if it continues to win games? Because many of the teams ahead of the Tigers play each other in coming weeks, it's not impossible for the Tigers to sneak back into the top five... or higher. Stay tuned on that front. In the mean time, Clemson enters its final open date of the season looking to get several key players healthy- including QB Tajh Boyd. Saturday's win was just what the doctor ordered, as Boyd rested most of the second half and many backups recorded much needed playing time. One down, three to go.
GRADES: Tigers roar to 8-1
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