By Will Vandervort
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — After he picked off Virginia quarterback David Watford in the second quarter, Clemson safety Jayron Kearse liked what he was feeling as his teammates all started to celebrate with him on the sideline.
It did not hurt either that quarterback Tajh Boyd turned the interception into a 10-yard touchdown pass to running back Roderick McDowell.
“I really liked the feeling,” the freshman said following eighth-ranked Clemson’s 59-10 victory on Saturday. “I felt like, ‘Let me see if I can do this again and go back out there and make another play.’”
And that’s exactly what he did. With Virginia (2-7, 0-5 ACC) moving the ball, Kearse was able to get his hand on the ball on a running play and strip it out of the arm of Khalek Shepherd, which defensive tackle DeShawn Williams recovered at midfield. A few plays later, McDowell was celebrating a 25-yard touchdown run and the rout was on.
“I went out there trying to maybe get an interception, but I got a forced fumble,” Kearse said. “I was getting in my gap and I was doing what I was supposed to do. I was taking care of my responsibility and I was not trying to do too much and the play just came right to me.”
Another freshman, Korrin Wiggins, had the Tigers’ third turnover of the day when he picked off backup quarterback Greyson Lambert in the fourth quarter and returned it to the Virginia 10. On the very next play, D.J. Howard plowed into the end zone for Clemson’s final score of the night.
“It was good to see them making plays,” Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. “They are maturing and they do some things real well and some other things not so well, but to see them continue to get playing time and learn from their mistakes, that’s good.
“They spend a lot of time in their practice and preparation in trying to get better and the older guys do a great job in helping them out, they really do.”
Those older guys helped Clemson (8-1, 6-1 ACC) have a span of nearly 14 minutes in which it gave up only 51 yards on six possessions, which included four punts and two turnovers. The Tigers held the Cavaliers to 277 total yards, 13 first downs, forced 10 three-and-outs and three turnovers.
Virginia was 6 of 22 on third down.
“I’m really proud of our guys on how they locked in and played with the right kind of focus, discipline and intensity you need to,” Venables said. “We had a couple of turnovers there between that second and third quarter and the big plays by Jayron.
“We played a ton of guys tonight and we are just pleased with the overall cleanliness and play of our defense.”
Venables especially was in the fourth quarter when even his second and third team players kept the Cavaliers from putting up anymore points or very many yards. That’s been something that has kept Venables from saying his defense played cleanly in wins over Syracuse and Maryland in the last few weeks.
“It was very pleasing to see them play to the very end,” he said.