After completing the regular season by dismantling the USC Gamecocks, Clemson took the RoY bus up the road to Charlotte to take on the Virginia in the ACC Championship game.The Tigers have dominated the series. In fact during my time at Clemson in the mid 1980s, they had never lost to the Cavaliers. It was only during the Lost Years between Coach Ford and Coach Swinney that Viriginia was able to beat the Tigers. With LSU’s impressive dismantling of Georgia, it was clear that the Bulldogs, who had lost to the Gamecocks, were not the team that many in the SEC bias-fueled sports press thought they were. LSU made their case to be the #1 team. Clemson took the field in Charlotte ready to make their case.
Clemson kicked off and B.T. Potter put it through the end zone. Virginia started at the 25 and picked up 4 yards on a short pass on 1st down. QB Bryce Perkins scrambled on 2nd down and picked up a 1st down. Then he hit a receiver down the middle to move into the red zone. On 3rd and 9, Perkins tried to hit a receiver in the end zone, but he sailed it and Noal Turner made a toe-tapping interception to give the Tigers the ball. Trevor Lawrence proceeded to hit Justyn Ross down the middle for 15. Tarvis Etienne took the ball up the middle and might have broken it save for a face mask penalty on the Cavaliers. And out route completion to Tee Higgins move it into Virginia territory. Lawrence then took off for 20 yards. On the next play he hit Higgins on a short pass and Tee then beat the man trying to cover him to the end zone. With just over 11 minutes left in the 1st quarter and the Tiger offensive looking unstoppable, Clemson led 7-0.
UVa returned the kickoff to the 22. The Cavaliers moved into Clemson territory and converted a 3rd & 10 down to the Tiger 37. Another 1st down moved them to the 27. A couple pf plays later, a flat-footed Tanner Muse was beaten on a post route and Virginia scored. It was 7-7 with 6:22 left in the quarter. Clemson’s defense was not looking unstoppable. The Tiger offense started at their 25. Etienne and Lawrence runs set up 3rd &1. Etienne bulldozed his way for 7 yards to move the chains. Lawrence uncorked a 59-yard pass to Ross for a TD. Clemson led 14-7 with just under 5 minutes to go in the quarter.
On 1st down, Jamie Skalskie nearly sacked Perkins but he got away and picked up a 1st down. Virginia reached 3rd & 1 and completed an out route to get the 1st down. The subsequent 3rd & 4 down was an incomplete pass when Xavier Thomas just got a piece of the pass at the line of scrimmage. Virginia punted and Clemson got the ball at the 17. Etienne picked up 14 yards on 1st down. On the next play, a UVa defender made a diving tackle on Lawrence for the sack. Lawrence responded with a 38-yard pass to Higgins, where Tee showed great concentration to catch the ball after it initially bounced off his hands. Etienne went up the middle for 13 yards to move it to the UVa 27. An ineligible man down the field set the Tigers back 5 and an incomplete pass set up 3rd & 10. Lawrence was sacked and Potter came in for a FG attempt from 52 yards out but it was wide right. UVa was offside on the kick, though. Potter then nailed the 47-yarder. Clemson led 17-7 with 13:23 remaining in the half.
The Cavaliers started at the 25 after the touchback. The Tiger defense forced a 3rd & 10 after things got a little chippy between Perkins and K’Von Wallace on 2nd down when Wallace took him out of bounds one the UVa side. The punt was muffed by Derion Kendrick but the Tigers recovered it at the Tiger 32. Etienne ripped of a 14-yard run and then another 3. Lawrence scrambled right and hit Higgins. Tee made a sideline catch that is one of the best I’ve ever seen at any level in this sport. I’m sure our game review analysts will show it in their game reviews next week if you don’t see it beforehand. It was jaw-dropping. Etienne took over on the next play and went 26 yards for the score. With 9:10 left in the half, the Tigers were up 24-7.
UVa started at the 25 and got to 3rd & 3. Perkins scrambled for the 1st down. The Tiger defense put the Cavaliers at 3rd & 8 and they couldn’t convert. Kendrick fielded the punt at the Tiger 17. Lawrence hit TE Luke Price for 5 yards. Lyn-J Dixon picked up 4, setting up 3rd & 1. Dixon muscled hos way for a couple of yards to move the chains. Lawrence hit Higgins on an out for 8 yards. Lawrence rolled left and hit Ross on a short pass that he took out to midfield. Etienne got behind on the UVa defense on a wheel route but couldn’t haul the pass in. Lawrence hit Diondre Overton over the middle for 19 yards down to the Cavalier 31 and then picked up 9 yards running up the middle. A 12-yard pass put the Tigers at the 10. Etienne moved it to the 6 but a false start on the next play put the Tigers back to the 11. Lawrence ran right for 4 yards to set up 3rd & goal from the 7. Lawrence hit Higgins on a crossing route in the end zone. The Tigers led 31-7 with under a minute left in the half.
Virginia ran the kickoff out to the 28. The Cavaliers used timeouts and tried to make something out of the little amount of time left, but the Tigers were having nothing of it. The punt rolled to the Tiger 19. An Etienne run ended the half and the Tigers led 31-7.
Etienne took the kickoff back for 33 yards to the Tiger 38 and ran for 24 yards down to the Cavalier 38. An incomplete pass and a 7-yard loss on a Dixon run led to 3rd & 17. Lawrence stayed cool in the face of a good rush and hit Overton in the hands on a crossing route but he couldn’t hang onto to. The Tigers punted and UVa took over at their 15. A couple of passes including a jump ball that A.J. Terrell didn’t defend very well had the Cavaliers in Tiger territory. The Tigers sacked Perkins but a subsequent hold by Kendrick put UVa at the Tiger 32. They continued to hit short passes and moved inside the 10 for 1st and goal. They once again exposed Tanner Muse in coverage and scored. It was 31-14 Tigers at the 8:21 mark of the 3rd quarter.
Etienne went off tackle to 9 yards to start the drive. He then moved the chains with an 8-yard run. Higgins then hauled in a jump ball at the UVa 4. Etienne tried to bounce to the outside but was stuffed at the 11. Lawrence went back to Tee across the middle for the score. With 6:12 left in the 3rd quarter, Clemson led 38-14. Virginia couldn’t do much on their possession. They attempted a fake punt but the Tigers sniffed it out. Clemson’s offense was back on the field at the Cavalier 49.
Dixon took the 1st down handoff for 8 yards got the first down with an outside run on 2nd down. The Tigers then tried to get cute with a double reverse flea-flicker but it all went for naught. A short pass to Etienne and a Dixon run moved the chains to the UVa 23. Dixon took a handoff up the middle for the score. With a minute left in the 3rd quarter, the Tigers led 45-14. The Cavaliers started their drive with a couple of runs that got a 1st down. Brice completed a couple of passes over the middle to move to the Tiger 33. They moved down to the Tiger 18 and faced 3rd & 10. They couldn’t convert it and settled for the FG. With 13:11 left in the game, the score was 45-17 Clemson.
Chase Brice came in at QB and a Dixon run had a lot of dancing around for no yardage, but Brice hit Davis Allen for the 1st down. Brice then hit Frank Ladson for 57 yards to the Cavalier 7. The offense couldn’t finish it off from there and Potter kicked the FG to make it 48-17 with 10:45 left. Virginia had a couple of good plays but then Perkins was picked off by Isaiah Simmons and the run back and an illegal block penalty by UVa put the ball at the 7. On 3rd down, Brice kept in on a designed keeper and ran it in. It was 55-17 with 8:13 left. Virginia started their drive with a fumbled handoff but Perkins recovered it. It didn’t get any better and they punted it away. Clemson took over at their 41.
Chez Mellusi gained 3 yards on 1st down. Will Swinney took a short pass for 30 yards down to the UVa 26. Another Swinney catch put the Tigers at the Cavalier 14. Michel Dukes picked up 8 yards and then another 5 to make it 1st & goal. It took Mellusi a couple of runs to find the end zone. The extra point put the Tigers up 62-17 with 1:26 left. UVa moved the ball a bit but then threw another interception. Clemson downed the ball and that was the end of the game.
At the time of publication, Ohio State was in a close battle with Wisconsin in the Big 10 championship. LSU looked good today and of course the Tigers were dominant in this game. The CFP committee will have quite a discussion to get through for the final rankings. What do you think? Who is your choice for game MVP tonight? Let’s discuss it in the comments section below. Check back with us for reviews of tonight’s game and the upcoming playoffs. Thanks for making us a part of your championship Tiger football experience.