Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall wanted to see a little more fight in his Cavaliers when they traveled to play top-ranked Clemson at Death Valley on Saturday. The last time his team was on the field with the Tigers, Clemson ran up and down it on its way to a 62-17 victory in last year’s ACC Championship Game.
Mendenhall got what he wanted, though Clemson ultimately won the game, 41-23.
In the end, the Tigers just had too much firepower as quarterback Trevor Lawrence threw for 329 yards and three touchdowns, while running back Travis Etienne accounted for 187 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns. Wide receiver Amari Rodgers added six catches for 72 yards and two scores in the win, which was Clemson’s 24th straight in the ACC.
Lawrence finished the game with 365 total yards.
“Well, we haven’t really had any adversity so you hate to say it is good for you, but it is usually good for you,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said after the game. “So, we got a little Robitussin tonight. Hopefully that will make us better. It didn’t taste real good for a little while there.
“We were sloppy. We missed a lot of opportunities. We had a few drops where we could have put the game away.”
But Virginia (1-1, 1-1 ACC) made the Tigers work for it despite missing seven players and an assistant coach due to positive COVID-19 cases. Quarterback Brennan Armstrong gave them fits all night as he totaled 359 yards, including 87 rushing yards. He also threw for 270 yards and three touchdowns, though Clemson did intercept two of his passes, while allowing him to complete just 24-of-43 passes.
“I thought their quarterback played great, very smart,” Swinney said. “Their system is really good. They executed at a real high level, but we dug in and we finished the fourth quarter. I am really proud of our guys. We really haven’t had a fourth-quarter game.
“We have a lot to improve on. We are going to have to improve.”
Clemson corner Andrew Booth made a spectacular third-quarter interception to stymie a Virginia drive. The sophomore made a one-hand snag while falling backwards to record the interception, causing most of his teammates to run down the field to celebrate with him.
The Cavaliers pulled with 10 points, 27-17, with 6:05 to play in the third quarter after Keytaon Thompson hauled in a 3-yard touchdown from Armstrong.
But Lawrence and the Tigers (3-0, 2-0 ACC), quickly answered. Lawrence found Frank Ladson on throws of 11 and 21 yards and then Rodgers made a man miss on the next play and sprinted 25 yards to the Virginia seven. Two plays later Lawrence found Etienne for a 4-yard touchdown, to extend the lead back to 34-17 with 3:54 to play in the third.
Clemson added a decisive touchdown with 5:27 to play on a 2-yard Chez Mellusi touchdown run. Virginia scored a late touchdown with 1:11 to play to make the final score 41-23.
Clemson took control of the game midway through the second quarter.
Following a 27-yard field goal by Brian Delaney that pulled the Cavaliers with seven at 10-3 with 9:38 to play before halftime, Lawrence and the Tigers answered with their second touchdown of the night.
Facing a third-and-15 from the Virginia 27, Lawrence threw a strike to the back of the end zone, where Rodgers toe-tapped his feet on the backline to complete the 27-yard touchdown pass.
Then safety Nolan Turner picked off a Brennan Armstrong’s pass on the Cavaliers’ ensuring possession. That set Clemson up at the Virginia 36. Following a Virginia facemask penalty, it did not take the Tigers long to capitalize, as Rodgers took a pop-pass at the Cavaliers’ nine, turned the corner and then jumped over would-be-tacklers for the touchdown.
Etienne rumbled in from 16 yards out to give Clemson a 10-0 lead with 22 seconds to play in the first quarter. The drive covered 63 yards in nine plays and took 4:18 off the clock. Etienne carried the ball four times for 37 yards on the drive. He also had a 17-yard run to start the drive.
B.T. Potter got Clemson on the board with a 47-yard field goal to complete the Tigers’ first drive of the game. He also made a 43-yard field goal in the third quarter.
Virginia did add a late touchdown with 41 second to play in the half, as Armstrong found Terrell Jana for a 23-yard touchdown down the middle of the field. That made the score 24-10.
Lawrence finished the first half 15-of-23 for 167 yards and two touchdowns. Etienne had 10 carries for 54 yards to go with his 16-yard touchdown, his 38th game in which he scored a touchdown in his career. The touchdown allowed him to tie an FBS record with Tim Tebow.
Rodgers finished the game with five catches for 47 yards. Frank Ladson had three catches for 39 yards, while Etienne added two receptions for 37 yards.
Clemson will host No. 8 Miami next Saturday at Death Valley. ESPN announced earlier on Saturday that they will have their pregame show GameDay in Tigertown for the ACC battle.
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