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Instant Replay: No. 2 Clemson 31, No. 12 Virginia Tech 17

BLACKSBURG, Va. — Second-ranked Clemson defeated No. 12 Virginia Tech 31-17 on Saturday night at Lane Stadium in Blacksburg, Va. The Tigers improved to 5-0 (3-0 ACC), while the Hokies fell to 4-1 (0-1).

Here is a look back at how Clemson earned the victory:

What happened?

Clemson got off to a quick start, forcing back-to-back three-and-outs to begin the game and scoring points on its first two possessions to take an early 10-0 lead. After Alex Spence knocked in a 23-yard field goal a little more than five minutes into the game, Kelly Bryant threw a 60-yard touchdown pass to Tavien Feaster at the 6:48 mark of the first quarter.

The Tigers took a 17-3 lead into the locker room at halftime thanks to a big sequence on the last three drives of the second quarter. Following a 43-yard field goal by Joey Slye that put the Hokies on the board with 3:10 remaining in the period, Clemson responded with a six-play, 75-yard drive for a touchdown. C.J. Fuller scored from 1 yard out to cap the possession that lasted less than two minutes. Slye then missed a 45-yard field goal on Virginia Tech’s final drive before the half.

Clemson turned a fumble recovery by Dorian O’Daniel into a touchdown early in the second half. A 24-yard run by Bryant set up the offense at the goal line, and Feaster punched the ball in on a 1-yard run that gave the Tigers a 24-3 lead midway through the third quarter.

Virginia Tech cut its deficit back to two scores on a 2-yard touchdown run by Sean Savoy a minute into the fourth quarter, but the Hokies wouldn’t score again until the final minutes of the contest. A 30-yard pass from Josh Jackson to Savoy with 1:32 remaining provided the final margin.

What went right?

Sure, Bryant was inaccurate on some of his throws, but he did a lot more right than wrong. Though the junior only threw for 186 yards and one touchdown on 12-of-21 passing, he led the Tigers in rushing with 94 yards on 19 carries (4.9 average). Overall, he did a good job of orchestrating the offense and wasn’t fazed by the road environment. In his first five career starts, Bryant has three wins over top-15 opponents.

Defensively, Clemson was dominant again. Aside from Virginia Tech’s late score in scrub time, the Tigers gave up only 10 points, right on par with what was an average of 9.3 points per game allowed entering the contest. Clemson also held the Hokies to a 4-of-15 clip on third down and forced three turnovers — the total number of turnovers it forced through its first four games.

What went wrong?

Special teams were the weak link for Clemson. Spence missed a 41-yard field goal, while Savoy’s score early in the fourth quarter was set up by a 43-yard punt return. Moreover, if you take away Will Spiers’ 53-yard punt, he averaged just 35.3 yards per punt on his other six attempts and pinned only one of his seven total punts inside the 20-yard line.

Game-changing moment?

It was a two-score game early in the fourth quarter, and there was still a sliver of hope for the Hokies, when O’Daniel ended any threat of a comeback. With Clemson leading by a couple of touchdowns, the senior intercepted a pass off of a deflection by a Virginia Tech wide receiver and returned it 22 yards for a pick-six. It was O’Daniel’s second pick-six of the season and made the score 31-10 at the 11:08 mark of the final period.

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