BLACKSBURG, Va. – Behind Kelly Bryant’s 280 total yards and a defense that was once again suffocating, second-ranked Clemson rolled to a 31-17 victory over No. 12 Virginia Tech on Saturday night at Lane Stadium in Blacksburg, Va.
So how did the Tigers (5-0, 3-0 ACC) grade out in their win over the Hokies?
Quarterback: Bryant completed 12-of-21 passes for 186 yards and ran the ball for 94 yards on 19 carries. All in all, it was a solid performance by the junior quarterback. We thought he looked very poised and comfortable in the moment, and let the game come to him. The most impressive stat, especially when you consider the Louisville game too, is Bryant did not turn the ball over despite playing in two hostile environments. Though he did miss on a few throws – including one to Deon Cain and one to Tee Higgins, both of which would have likely gone for touchdowns — Bryant played very, very well. Grade: A
Running back: From a statistical standpoint, it was a very average day for the Clemson running backs. However, in this day and age, running backs do more than just run with the football. Tavien Feaster had the most explosive play of the game with his 60-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown. The sophomore also made some very good blocks in pass protection and as a lead blocker for Bryant on running plays. He also scored on a 1-yard touchdown run. C.J. Fuller played well in pass protection, as well, and his 1-yard touchdown run spoke to how determined he was to make up for last week’s fumble. Grade: B
Pass catchers: Once again, the wide receivers struggled for Clemson and in some ways held the offense down. Deon Cain dropped one pass that would have been a first down in the fourth quarter. Hunter Renfrow had a rare drop, and Diondre Overton also dropped a pass. Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said it was the most dropped passes the receiving corps has had this season. Last week, the Tigers’ issues were getting beaten at the line of scrimmage and being physically manhandled by Boston College. This week, they got open but couldn’t catch the ball. Grade: C
Offensive line: Virginia Tech’s defense front was more formidable than we originally thought. It also helped that the Hokies stacked the box, especially early in the game, and dared Bryant to beat them with his arm. Clemson finished the game with just 146 yards rushing, its second-lowest output of the season. Though when it mattered most, and they had to get that tough yard, Clemson’s O-line came through. Clemson is still struggling to keep people from hitting Bryant in pass protection, again giving up three sacks. But how many of those sacks will be charged to the offensive line and not Bryant? Overall, it was a decent game for the big boys up front. Grade: B
Defensive line: Once again, Clemson’s defensive front was dominant. Dexter Lawrence and Christian Wilkins blew up the middle, forcing Virginia Tech quarterback Josh Jackson to roll out almost every pass play. That’s huge because it shortens the field and thus shortens the range of view he has of his wide receivers. Austin Bryant was again magnificent. The junior continues to have an All-American-like season. Not only did he make a spectacular interception, but he also had five tackles, including 2.5 tackles for loss. He also blew up a play when he was sent out wide and was covering a slot receiver. Lawrence was credited with causing a fumble, which led to a touchdown and allowed Clemson to blow open the game. Reserve tackle Albert Huggins had a big game as well, which was huge for Clemson. He had three tackles, including half a tackle for loss, and a quarterback hurry. Grade: A
Linebacker: We’ll be surprised if Dorian O’Daniel is not the ACC Player of the Week. The graduate student had 10 tackles, one sack, recovered a fumble and returned an interception 22 yards for a touchdown. As Swinney said after the game, O’Daniel was all over the place. Kendall Joseph also had 10 tackles, including a tackle for loss, as well as a pass breakup and quarterback hurry. J.D. Davis is starting to look like his old man as he had another solid performance and led the Tigers with 11 tackles in a reserve role. Grade: A
Secondary: Ryan Carter had perhaps the best game of any defensive player, and that’s saying a lot considering what Bryant and O’Daniel did. But Carter was given the task of shutting down the Hokies’ best offensive weapon in Cam Phillips, and that’s exactly what he did. Phillips entered the game leading the country in receiving yards and yards per game. He was averaging 130.8 yards per outing prior to Saturday night. Though Phillips had seven receptions, he finished the game with just 74 yards and did not make any game changing plays as he normally does. Carter’s performance, plus the play of safeties Tanner Muse and Van Smith — both of whom did not allow anything deep — shows that despite what some might think, Clemson’s secondary is not its weakest link. Grade: A
Special teams: Swinney said after the game that Saturday’s performance was a complete game. We normally don’t like to disagree with the Tigers’ head coach, but Clemson’s special teams did not play well overall. Though the kick coverage was good, punter Will Spiers struggled all night, kicking the ball short and allowing Tech’s Greg Stroman to return a third-quarter punt 43 yards to the Clemson 2-yard line. That set up a Hokies touchdown and nearly changed the momentum of the game, but Spiers’ defense bailed him out. Kicker Alex Spence made his first career field goal, a 23-yard kick in the first quarter, but later missed a 41-yard kick that cost the Tigers points. Grade: C