Just what the Tigers needed

With a win over Virginia in the rear view mirror and an open date coming up, the Tigers are positioned to end the season with a strong run.

Virginia is not a good team.

It doesn't have much elite talent and makes bad mistakes and questionable coaching decisions. Yet, Clemson's 59-10 win Saturday over the Cavaliers was just what the Tigers needed.

Yes, there was some sputtering by the offense early in the second quarter, but it's hard to be too upset with 610 yards of total offense (435 passing) and a 49-point win on the road against a conference team, albeit a really bad conference team.

It's also hard to be critical of a defense that stepped up with big play after big play throughout the game. The Tigers held the Cavaliers to just 277 yards, while Virginia converted only 6-of-22 attempts on third down (there's that stat again).

The game wasn't perfect. None are. But it was a really strong performance by the Tigers, who had only three penalties and one turnover in a pretty clean game on their part.

After they struggled a little bit offensively early in the second quarter, they looked like head coach Dabo Swinney wants them to look. The offense was crisp, scoring three touchdowns in the final 4:18 of the first half and then adding another score on its first drive of the second half.

It was the kind of high-powered, quick-striking attack the Tigers have been known for the past few years, and it was good to see it return. Plus, Swinney and his staff got to rest some starters early and get a lot of reserves plenty of playing time, and that's always a good thing.

Terrific Tajh
Can we please stop with the Tajh Boyd bashing and appreciate just how good he has been for this program and what he has meant to this program for the past five years?

It's laughable the way people have criticized him the past few weeks, and some of that continued in the second quarter Saturday. He wasn't great against Boston College and really struggled against Florida State (the entire team did, by the way), and he was inconsistent against Maryland. But there are many college programs across the country that would trade places with Clemson and have him running their offense. He showed that again Saturday, passing for 377 yards and three touchdowns.

The highlight came as the Tigers got the ball back with 55 seconds remaining in the second quarter at their own 14-yard line, holding a 28-7 lead. Clemson could have sat on that lead and gone to halftime feeling good about itself, but instead the Tigers were aggressive (boy, that was good to see) and marched down the field for a score to make it 35-7 at the break. Boyd completed all six of his passes on the drive and scored on a 1-yard run.

He also had beautiful touchdown passes of 33 and 96 yards to Sammy Watkins on the first drive of the game and first drive of the second half to get the Tigers rolling early in each half. Boyd played like the quarterback we'd like to see every week. Again, he's not going to be perfect, and fans and NFL analysts can pick apart his warts all they want.

Clemson fans should appreciate what they have and just what he has done for this program, on and off the field.

Special Sammy
Clemson fans also better continue to appreciate Watkins because it's not likely he's going to be around much longer.

He's just too good to pass up the chance to jump to the NFL after this season. There is talk he will be a top-10 pick, and players just can't turn that down. The money is too big and the opportunities too vast for players in that realm. Watkins, like Boyd, showed just how good he is again Saturday, finishing with eight catches for 169 yards and the two touchdowns. He surpassed 100 receiving yards for the sixth time this season.

There was a time when Clemson receivers wouldn't have that many 100-yard games in a career, but things have changed as the Tigers have been able to recruit those kinds of special athletes in recent years.

C.J. Spiller was one of those players, and Watkins certainly is. He has special things coming in his career, although he likely only has a handful of games left in a Clemson uniform. Enjoy them.

New playmaker on defense?
Jayron Kearse is quickly becoming a key playmaker for the Tigers' defense, and he had two game-changing plays Saturday.

The first came midway through the second quarter when the Clemson offense was scuffling.

Kearse came up with an interception and returned it 37 yards to the Cavaliers' 33. That led to a Clemson touchdown and sparked the barrage to close the half and help the Tigers put the game away.

On Virginia's next drive, Kearse made a tackle on Virginia runner Khalek Shepherd, who had enough yards for a first down, but Kearse stripped him of the ball. DeShawn Williams recovered, and the Tigers also turned that into a touchdown.

Kearse is a terrific young player, and he seems to be getting better every week. Last week, his interception in the end zone helped keep Maryland at bay, and Saturday's plays were crucial to Clemson getting a grasp on this game.

Up next
Clemson has just three games left in the regular season, and while a trip to the ACC title game looks like a long shot with the way Florida State is playing, the Tigers have plenty to play for the rest of this season.

Two of those three games are going to be difficult tests (they should roll over The Citadel). We'll have plenty of time later to talk about the season-ending game against South Carolina, so let's focus on Georgia Tech, the Tigers' next opponent on Nov. 14.

Clemson has a week-and-a-half to prepare for Georgia Tech's unique option offense, although the Yellow Jackets aren't really running the true option much these days. Getting Georgia Tech's offense figured out in that time frame will be critical to winning that game, and winning that game will be critical to the Tigers' goals the rest of the season: getting to a BCS bowl, finishing with at least 10 wins for the third straight season and just really continuing the consistent growth of this program.

A convincing win over Georgia Tech would be another big step in the right direction for all three of those things.

Daniel Shirley is the sports editor of The Telegraph in Macon, Ga., and co-host of The Morning Show on FoxSports 1670 AM. Follow him on Twitter at @DM_Shirley and read his blog at macon.com/peachsports.

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