While far from perfect, especially in the running game, Clemson did just enough on offense Saturday evening to keep the Cavaliers at bay for most of four quarters. The big story was Kyle Parker, who once again avoided costly turnovers and turned in an impressive 19-of-26 performance for 234 yards and two touchdowns. Jacoby Ford, Parker's favorite target, torched the Virginia secondary for 106 yards and one touchdown through the air and also added 16 yards on the ground on an end-around play. Credit Virginia for being stout against the run for most of the game, even though the Tigers managed to eventually grind out 132 yards. And again, it was far from perfect but 34 points against a team that was playing decent defense this year is nothing to complain about. The big plays were absent but that was going to be the case against a 3-4 scheme that is designed to keep everything in front of it anyway.
To say it was a tale of two halves would be a gross understatement. The first half Virginia utilized the Wildcat formation to perfection, keeping pressure on Clemson's defense with the quarterback draw and a variety of reverses and halfback passes. All told, UVA registered 21-first half points and moved up and down the field with ease on its three scoring drives. The second half was a completely different story as the Cavs managed only 12 yards of total offense by the midway point of the fourth quarter. In addition, Clemson ended up with seven total sacks (six in the fourth quarter), and only allowed the Cavs to penetrate the Tigers' 30-yard line once in the second half. Give Clemson a "D" in the first half for giving up the three touchdowns and 233 yards, to match an "A" in the second after holding the Cavs to just 40 yards and zero points. Overall- the final grade rests right in between with the "C+."
C.J. Spiller was held to just 59 yards on the ground and 39 through the air, but Clemson still looked strong on offense in the 34-21 win. (Roy Philpott)
For the first time in three weeks, Clemson converted on all of its extra point tries, which was a nice improvement. Richard Jackson converted four times on extra points as well as on two field goals. He missed one field goal from 51-yards out (wide left), but overall it was a solid effort. Virginia was able to contain Clemson in the return game on kickoffs, but C.J. Spiller and Jacoby Ford had two nice returns (17 and 22 yards respectively) to move the overall special teams grade past average.
Let's be honest, Clemson had been here before, on the cusp of winning the division championship, and failed to close the deal and on each and every occasion. It's been the same old broken record for the last five years ... until Saturday night. It wasn't the best performance of the season but it was enough to dispose of pesky Virginia by 13 points, as well clinch the Atlantic Division championship. Looking back ... wouldn't you have liked to have been a fly on the wall in the same room as the Clemson coaching staff during the off-week after a horrible loss to Maryland? What was said? What was done? How did this miraculous turnaround truly occur? The coaches and players say they all "came together" after that stunning loss in College Park, and clearly they did, but there's something else special that has emerged with this team over the course of the last six weeks. Credit Billy Napier. Credit Danny Pearman. Credit Kevin Steele ... credit the entire Clemson coaching staff, but most of all credit Dabo Swinney. Simply put, he knew what was wrong with this program last year and fixed it. Quickly. Indeed, Dabo did it.
With the Atlantic Division Championship now secure, the Clemson coaching staff and this team have proven they are ready to take the proverbial "next step" of competing for a BCS berth in the ACC Championship game against Georgia Tech. That being said, all of that is essentially meaningless for the next seven days. Lurking 140 miles to the southeast is Steve Spurrier and the South Carolina Gamecocks. Once again this week Dabo Swinney has to get this team focused on the task at hand instead of looking ahead to Tampa and a potential ACC Championship. Make no mistake about it, Clemson is once again the more talented team with the better record. The Tigers are once again the hotter team, winning their last six games in a row, but will it be enough to hold off a Gamecock club that is somehow building confidence from a 10-point loss to No. 1 Florida last weekend? Clemson has dominated the series in every way imaginable, but with an ACC Championship game lurking on the horizon, Dabo Swinney and the Clemson coaching staff will need every ounce of coaching energy they have to keep this team's focus on its archrival, instead of Georgia Tech. It won't be easy, but so far they've been up to the task each and every game.