By Will Vandervort
CHAROLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Each week we take a look back at what the Clemson Tigers did right and what they did wrong on the gridiron as we grade the eighth-ranked Tigers’ performance at every position in Saturday’s 59-10 victory over Virginia.
Tajh Boyd was Tajh Boyd, again. The Clemson quarterback gained his confidence, again and more importantly started having fun, again, in the fourth quarter of the Tigers’ win at Maryland last week. He carried that over to Virginia on Saturday where he had even more fun. Boyd threw for 377 yards on 24 of 29 passing, while throwing for touchdowns of 33, 10 and 96 yards. He also rushed for a score. Boyd now owns the ACC record for touchdown responsibilities in a career with 116. Cole Stoudt came in and looked good running the offense and ran the ball for 23 yards on three carries. He also threw for 31 yards on 5 of 9 passing. Chad Kelly also got in the game and led the Tigers on two scoring drives, while rushing for 56 yards, including a 38-yard score – the first of his career. He also completed five of seven passes for 27 yards.
Roderick McDowell proved he can be even more dangerous in the Clemson offense than he has been. The senior caught his first career touchdown reception—a 10-yard catch in the second quarter—and had a 27-yard catch-and-run as well in the first quarter. He also rushed for 70 yards and scored on a 25-yard touchdown in the second quarter. D.J. Howard also ran hard, coming in and rushing for 32 yards on nine carries, including a 10-yard TD in the fourth quarter. Former walk-on C.J. Davidson averaged 7.7 yards per carry and had one touchdown before suffering an MCL sprain in his left knee in the third quarter.
Wide receivers/ Tight ends
Sammy Watkins continues to have a great season. He added eight more catches for 169 yards and two touchdowns Saturday, including a 96-yard touchdown reception from Boyd. Watkins now has 982 yards and needs only 111 yards to break DeAndre Hopkins’ career receiving yards record at Clemson. Overall, the Tigers had nine different wide receivers or tight ends catch a pass. Martavis Bryant had five catches for 72 yards, Mike Williams had three for 39 and Jordan Leggett had four for 30.
At one point in the second quarter, Clemson had eight yards rushing. That’s right, eight yards. But give credit where credit is due. The Tigers made adjustments and rushed for 167 yards after that. For the second week in a row, the Tigers averaged more than 4.0 yards per carry. A lot of guys got to play as well as Isaiah Battle who came in to start the second half at left tackle. The Tigers did allow two sacks and 11 tackles for loss.
Clemson officially was credited with only one sack, but the Tigers defensive front caused Virginia issues all afternoon. Vic Beasley did not have a sack, but he was effective in shutting down the Cavaliers running game as he funneled plays back inside to the linebackers. Reserve defensive end Tavaris Barnes played perhaps his best game as he consistently was in the backfield disrupting plays. Clemson, which led the nation in tackles for loss coming in, added 12 more to their national lead. D.J. Reader was credited with his first official sack.
Spencer Shuey did a good job covering Kevin Parks out of the backfield. Parks, the Cavaliers second leading receiver coming in, had only three catches for 20 yards and more importantly no touchdowns. His longest reception only went from nine yards. The Tigers also held Virginia to 2.9 yards per rush and to only 114 a game. Stephone Anthony was also all over the field, though he was credited with only five tackles.
Jayron Kearse recorded his third interception this season and also caused a fumble. Both plays turned the game. Kearse’s interception led to a Boyd to McDowell touchdown for a 14-point lead and then Kearse’s caused fumble on the next possession led to a McDowell 25-yard touchdown which gave the Tigers a 28-7 lead at the time. Virginia quarterbacks completed only 19 of 46 passes for 163 yards and were intercepted two times. Nickel back Korrin Wiggins had the second interception which also led to another Clemson touchdown. Defensive back Bashaud Breeland was credited with 10 tackles and had two passes broken up.
Bradley Pinion averaged 37 yards a punt, but dropped three inside the 20-yard line and only two of his six punts were returned for two yards. Chandler Catanzaro was 6-for-6 on his PAT attempts, while Ammon Lakip made his two PATs and was 1 for 2 on field goals, missing from 31 yards and making a 41-yard kick. Pinion had four of his seven kickoffs downed for touchbacks and Virginia had only 59 yards on three returns.
Dabo Swinney had his team ready to play as the Tigers played their most complete game since beating Wake Forest by 49 points last month. Chad Morris and the offense went over 600 yards of total offense for the first time this season, finishing with 610. His quarterbacks threw for 435 yards and three touchdowns. Brent Venables’ defense kept their intensity for 60 minutes, while limiting the Cavaliers to 277 yards of offense and 6 of 22 on third downs. They forced three turnovers and had a season-high 10 three-and-outs.