BLACKSBURG, Va. — Earlier in the week, Clemson linebacker Dorian O’Daniel said the goal for second-ranked Clemson on Saturday night was to do what they did at Louisville two weeks before and leave Blacksburg, Va., with no doubt on who was the better team.
When the Tigers left Lane Stadium, they definitely left no doubt to the 65,632 people in the stands or those watching back home as Clemson beat No. 12 Virginia Tech 31-17. Of course, just like at Louisville, it was linebacker Dorian O’Daniel that played a big role in doing so.
The graduate grabbed a deflected Josh Jackson pass in the fourth quarter and rumbled 22-yards for a touchdown to seal the victory. He also had a 44-yard interception return for a touchdown against Louisville, which sealed the Cardinals’ fate as well.
This time, however, O’Daniel happened to be in the right place at the right time. Virginia Tech receiver Henri Murphy took his eyes off the Jackson screen pass as the ball popped over his head. As he tried to grab it, O’Daniel came and came took the ball right off his back and then raced into the end zone for the easy score with 11:08 to play.
The interception return came at a key moment in the game. The Hokies (4-1, 0-1 ACC) had just got the ball back and had momentum thanks to a 43-yard Greg Stroman punt return to the Clemson 2-yard line. Receiver Sean Savoy scored on the next play to cut the lead to 24-10 with 14:00 to go in the game.
After a short punt by Will Spiers, Virginia Tech had the ball and a chance to cut into the lead. But unlike last year, when the Tigers (5-0, 3-0 ACC) gave up a 21-point lead in the ACC Championship Game and had to hang on to beat the Hokies, this time they made sure it did not happen.
Clemson’s defensive forced three turnovers overall. O’Daniel’s recovered a fumble on Virginia Tech’s first possession of the third quarter, which led to a one-yard Tavien Feaster touchdown run. After O’Daniel’s interception return for a touchdown, defensive end Austin Bryant, who had a monster game, made a spectacular one-handed interception on a screen pass.
With the defense rolling, they allowed just 342 total yards, quarterback Kelly Bryant managed the offense well as he finished 12-of-21 for 186 yards, including a 60-yard touchdown pass to Feaster. More importantly, he did not turn the ball over.
Bryant also rushed for 94 yards on 19 carries. Feaster finished the game with two touchdowns as the Tigers rushed for 146 yards overall. C.J. Fuller also had a one-yard touchdown.
Clemson got most of its 332 total yards in the first half as it had 271 total yards in the opening 30 minutes.
Bryant was 10-of-16 for 176 passing yards in the opening 30 minutes, including his 60-yard touchdown to Feaster. The quarterback also led the Tigers with 65 yards on nine carries in the first two quarters
After the Clemson defense forced a three-and-out to open the game, the offense took over at its own 47 and went on a 10-play, 47-yard drive that saw it get to the Tech one. But on third-and-goal from the one, Christian Wilkins moved early pushing the Tigers back, ultimately leading to a 23-yard Alex Spence field goal and 3-0 lead.
The Tigers took a 10-0 lead on its second possession when Feaster took a third down pass from Bryant and went 60 yards for the touchdown. Feaster leaked out on the play and no one on the defense picked him up as he raced untouched for the score.
Feaster’s score came with 6:48 to play in the first quarter.
The Tigers had an opportunity to extend the lead in the second quarter, but a good drive bogged down at the Hokies’ 24-yard line. On the drive Bryant missed Tee Higgins and Deon Cain, who were wide open for what could have been touchdowns.
On third down, Cain was again open, this time for a first down, but Bryant’s throw was too high. Spence then missed a 41-yard field goal to the right.
The missed opportunities gave the Hokies a little life as Jackson led Virginia Tech on a 10-play, 52-yard drive, which resulted in a 43-yard field goal by Joey Slye with 3:10 to play before halftime.
Cain helped Kelly out on the Tigers’ ensuing possession as he had a 35-yard catch-and-run to the VT 35 and then a few plays later the two connected again for a 20-yard gain to the Hokies’ one. Again, it was a nice catch-and-run by Cain to set up Fuller’s one-yard touchdown.
Clemson took a 17-3 lead with 1:19 to play in the first half.
Clemson will travel back home next Saturday to face ACC Atlantic Division foe Wake Forest. Kickoff is set for noon.