Clemson was on the road this week to take on another top-15 opponent in Virginia Tech. With two very good defenses and offenses led by relatively inexperienced quarterbacks, the game was expected to be a low-scoring affair. That turned out to be the case for the Hokies, limited to ten points by the Clemson starting defense, but the Tiger offense didn’t get the memo. The Tigers looked good in a 31-17 win.
Clemson won the toss and chose to defer. The Tiger defense came out swinging and the Hokies gained a yard in three plays. A short punt gave the Tiger offense excellent field position at their own 47. Ray-Ray McCloud had a leaping catch on third down to convert. Hunter Renfrow got loose on another third down to put the ball at the Hokie three yard line. A false start penalty pushed the Tigers back and Deon Cain couldn’t make the catch in the end zone on third down as the VT defender got a hand on the ball. The Tigers came away with an Alex Spence field goal to take the lead 3-0.
The Hokie offense had another 3-and-out with Tre Lamar and Clelin Ferrell playing well for the Tigers. To this point the Tiger front seven were manhandling the Hokies. The Tiger offense responded in a big way as VT learned a painful lesson about leaving Tavien Feaster uncovered out of the backfield. A quick flare pass from Kelly Bryant and sixty yards later, Feaster was in the end zone. The extra point put the Tigers up 10-0.
The Hokie offense started well, appearing to convert a 3rd down, but an illegal formation penalty derailed them. I was beginning to get a strong case of deja vu as the VT punt pushed the Tigers back near their own 20. Travis Etienne got a couple of touches but VT’s defense tracked him pretty closely. On the second run, it looked to me like he missed a cutback that probably would have seen him make another one of his long runs. Bryant couldn’t quite get to the marker on third down and the Tigers punted.
The Hokie offense started well again, but the Tiger defense stiffened and forced a punt that sailed into the end zone. The next Tiger possession started with two mental mistakes, false start and a snap infraction, putting them in a 1st and 20 hole., but Bryant took off and got 17 yards with his legs. The Tigers moved the ball but eventually the Hokie defense sacked Bryant on 3rd down and the Tigers punted. A 50-yard punt and a block in the back on the return put the Hokie offense on their own 6 yard line and they could do no more than a 3-and-out against the Tiger defense.
The Tigers responded with a good drive, moving methodically down the field on the legs of Bryant and Feaster, Unfortunately, Bryant missed a couple of throws to Deon Cain, one of which was a sure touchdown. Spence missed the field goal attempt.
The Hokie offense got another drive started and finally pushed into Clemson territory. The Clemson defense bent but didn’t break and limited the Hokies to a field goal, leaving the score 10-3 Clemson. With about four minutes left, Clemson moved down the field, led by a long Cain reception. After some nice running by Bryant and a great catch and run by Cain, the Tigers had the ball at the half yard line. C.J. Fuller bulldozed his way into the end zone. The Hokies got the ball back with about a minute left in the half and managed to move the ball pretty well, setting up a 45-yard field goal attempt that sailed wide right. The half ended with Clemson up 17-3.
The Tigers started the second half but that’s about all they started. VT’s defense came out fighting and forced the Tigers to punt on 4th and 24. The punt was decent but the Hokies still got good field position. The Tiger defense then came out fighting even harder and forced a fumble that they recovered. Bryant led the Tigers down the field on his legs and his arm. Feaster punched it in from a yard out to put the Tigers up 24-3. with about seven minutes left in the 3rd quarter.
VT came out up-tempo and had some success moving down the field. On a key 4th-and-3, Austin Bryant smothered the receiver on a bubble screen and gave the ball back to the offense. But they couldn’t do much, with Renfrow losing control of the ball as he hit the ground on a long 3rd down pass. VT responded with a good drive, converting a 4th down to get deep into Clemson territory. But the Tiger defense made some big plays to stop the drive and a fake field goal went nowhere for the Hokies.
The Tigers had the ball at the beginning of the 4th quarter, but a sack of Bryant put them in a hole they couldn’t dig out of. A terrible, terrible punt by Will Spiers and poor coverage resulted in a good return by the Hokies down to the 2 yard line. On the next play they ran it in. The score was 24-10.
The Tigers took over and started well, but the Hokie defense forced a punt that was fortunately a bit better this time around. The Hokies took over on their own 20 with a bit of momentum on their side. Dorian O’Daniel had a different idea. He picked off a bobbled catch by a VT receiver and took it 22 yards to the house. The Tigers were up 31-10, and there was a very detectable deflation of the home crowd’s spirit. Being down by three touchdowns and having to face the Tiger defense tends to do that.
The Hokies kept fighting, however. Austin Bryant nearly had an interception near the sideline but it just went over his fingertips. But he really wanted it, and a few plays later he makde quite an athletic play to pull down the ball and put a dagger in the heart of the Hokies with seven and a half minutes left. The Tiger offense didn’t do much on their possession and punted the ball away. With Tiger backups coming in on defense, the Hokies moved down the field and scored on a 30-yard pass, but it was too little, too late and Clemson left Blacksburg with a 31-17 win.
Coming into the season there was a lot of uncertainty about how the Tiger offense would do with a tough September schedule. They have responded to the challenge really well. Next week the Tigers return to Death Valley to take on Wake Forest, a team that no one should be sleeping on. They probably should have beaten Florida State today. Check back in the next few days for the best in-depth analysis of tonight’s game and what the Tigers face next week. Let us know your thoughts below.