I'll be honest. On this early Monday morning, I fully envisioned waking up and trying to figure out where things went wrong in Blacksburg. Like many of us, I was in wait and see mode with this team. They had proven to me they could win games at home, but before this team could really be considered a force in college football, I wanted to see them put together four quarters of solid football on the road, and win a game against Virginia Tech. On this Monday morning I'm gladly eating some crow.
This team proved on Saturday night that they were mentally and physically tough enough, on both sides of the ball, to win a cold and rainy game, on the road, in one of the toughest environments on the Eastern seaboard. While the Virginia Tech attack certainly didn't look like an offensive juggernaut, Kevin Steele's defense played it's best four quarters of the year. Holding the reigning ACC champions to 3 points, outside the friendly confines of Death Valley is to be commended, and we tip our hats to the boys on defense. Hands down the standout on that side of the ball was Andre Branch, and he flat out took the game over in the fourth quarter, putting a dagger in the Hokies.
Branch entered the game tied as Clemson’s leader in tackles but few expected him to finish the night by tying a career-high with 11 tackles and establishing new ones with three sacks and five tackles for loss. The tackles for loss trails only the six by Keith Adams in 1999 (against Duke) and Michael Dean Perry is the lone Clemson lineman to ever post five.
"Pretty much everybody has been questioning our defense and we just wanted to come out and answer the bell," Branch said. "Our offense always plays well each and every week and we just wanted to answer that. It felt great because we played like we were capable of playing."
Prior to this year, it could be argued that Dwayne Allen hadn't lived up to his potential. That could have been chalked up to poor quarterback play and defenses zeroing in on him during games. Whatever it was that certainly seems to be in the past. Allen has been a man child this year and has proven to be a matchup nightmare for every team on the Clemson schedule. Saturday was no different. Hauling in huge catches including a 32 yard touchdown pass from Boyd mid way through the 3rd quarter, Allen proved why NFL scouts are salivating over his potential on the next level.
Last season, when Clemson lacked playmakers on the perimeter, Allen was the focus of defenses drawing Miami's best cover corner, Brandon Harris, in their meeting last season. This season with the emergence of Watkins and continued presence of DeAndre Hopkins, Allen is drawing linebackers and safeties in coverage - not top corners - and has become a matchup nightmare.
Allen has already quadrupled his touchdown production of last year with four touchdown catches.
Game 5 of the season marked another win where Clemson stepped up in the fourth quarter. The Clemson offense stalled several times late in the game, but a big drive, capped off by a Mike Bellamy run and Allen Iverson juke move, put the game on ice. The offense needed points to take pressure off a defense that had answered the call all game, and they did that late in the fourth quarter.
Persistence: For the second straight game, the Tigers averaged less than three yards per rushing attempt. For the second straight game, they kept at it with dogged persistence. And for the second straight game, the running game set the stage for a big-play passing game that provided the punch for a victory over a top 15 opponent.
The Tigers did more on the ground than set the stage, of course. Andre Ellington hammered the ball into the end zone for the Tigers’ go-ahead touchdown, and Mike Bellamy gave the lunch bucket a resounding kick with a clinching touchdown burst. And Tajh Boyd showed that he ran impact the game with his legs – either on scrambles or designed keepers.
After finishing a pretty brutal three game stretch, the Tigers head back to Death Valley for a grudge match with Boston College. Clemson has opened as 20 point favorites against the Eagles and for good reason. Boston College is struggling to do anything, especially on offense, which has resulted in losses to Duke, UCF, and a Northwestern team without its star quarterback. Boston College's physical style of football has plagued the Tigers in years past, but there is no excuse not to dominate the Eagles at home. These teams are going in opposite directions, and if you want to get to Charlotte you have to take care of the the teams that you have no business losing to.
While Clemson put itself in the driver's seat in the ACC's Atlantic Division by beating the Seminoles last week, the victory over Virginia Tech, the first time Hokies coach Frank Beamer has lost an ACC opener, knocks FSU into the back seat. Clemson can afford one loss and still have the tie-breaker in the division standings on the basis of its victory over FSU.
That means Clemson would have to lose two from among these remaining opponents: Boston College, Maryland, North Carolina, Georgia Tech, Wake Forest and North Carolina State. The most difficult game, at this point would be Georgia Tech in Atlanta. The rest look very winnable.
Here at STS, we're very happy with the way things have unfolded thus far in 2011. Clemson has won games in the fourth quarter at home and played a physical football game on the road. We didn't expect to be sitting undefeated in early October, but this team has proved us wrong. Despite this, the job is not done. The ultimate goal is still an ACC Championship and a ten win season. Both of those are now within reach. If this team can start to tackle more consistently on defense, establish an A gap to A gap running game on offense, and continue to get the ball to its playmakers across the board, this could be a team nobody wants to play in the second half of the season.