Clemson did not play its best game against Virginia Saturday night, but the top-ranked Tigers still won by 18 points in their 41-23 victory at Death Valley.
How did the Tigers grade in their latest victory?
Once again Trevor Lawrence played well, and again he made great decisions with the football. The junior completed 25-of-38 passes for 329 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. He has now thrown 314 consecutive passes without an interception, the longest active streak in the country and the third-longest streak in ACC history. He is just the third quarterback in ACC history to throw 300 or more passes without an interception. It was not a perfect night, though, as Lawrence did miss on a couple of throws and he was penalized for intentional grounding while trying to avoid a sack.
Running back: B
Travis Etienne rushed 14 times for 73 yards with one rushing touchdown, and he also set a Clemson receiving yardage record for a running back with 114 yards on five receptions and added another touchdown. His receiving performance broke C.J. Spiller’s Clemson running back record of 108 receiving yards, set against Duke in 2008. Etienne recorded the fourth 100-yard receiving game by a running back in Clemson history, as all three previous instances were recorded by Spiller. By scoring a touchdown in the 38th different game in his career, Etienne tied the FBS record for most career games with a touchdown (by any means), held jointly by Florida’s Tim Tebow (2006-09) and Louisiana Tech’s Kenneth Dixon (2012-15). Chez Mellusi came in late in the game and scored on a short run, but Lyn-J Dixon ran for just 11 yards on five carries, dropped a potential touchdown and was called for a late hit.
Pass catchers: B
Wide receiver Amari Rodgers tied a career-high with six catches for 72 yards and two touchdowns. The game was the third multi-touchdown game of Rodgers’ career. Rodgers scored his second touchdown of the season — the 10th of his career — on a 27-yard pass from Lawrence in the second quarter. He added another touchdown later in the quarter on a nine-yard pass from Lawrence. Frank Ladson continues to become a playmaker. He caught five passes for 71 yards, including a tunnel screen he took for 29 yards after the catch. Brannon Spector also had four catches for 32 yards, including a big-third down catch. Tight ends Braden Galloway and Davis Allen combined to catch three passes for 35 yards. The only blemishes were three drops. Rodgers again dropped a touchdown pass, but he did make a great effort to try and bring in the ball. There was nice blocking on the perimeter that allowed for some big runs after the catch. Cornell Powell made a big difference without the ball in his hands.
Offensive line: C
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney thought the offensive line really got after the Cavaliers up front. Virginia presented a lot of unique challenges and fronts and a few things they had not prepared for and they were able to make a few adjustments throughout the game and the communications got better as the game went along. However, the Tigers ran for just 4.4 yards per carry and the line was called for a couple of penalties. Lawrence was also sacked twice, even though Tony Elliott took the blame for one of them. Left tackle Jackson Carman was charged with the second sack due to bad technique.
Defensive line: B
For the most part, the defensive line played well. They got three sacks, battled down two passes and they flushed Virginia quarterback Brennan Armstrong out of the pocket all day. Armstrong was able to escape a lot as he ran for 89 of the Cavaliers’ 147 yards. Defensive end Myles Murphy had six tackles, Justin Mascoll had three tackles, including a sack, while K.J. Henry had three tackles and a half sack. Bryan Bresee also had a sack.
Baylon Spector was named the National Defensive Player of the Week by the Walter Camp Football Foundation after he had a career-best 13 tackles (4 solo), including 1.5 for losses, and added a half sack. James Skalski had nine tackles and broke up one pass, while Mike Jones had three tackles and broke up one pass as well. However, Skalski and Jones had a couple of missed tackles and at times the backers did not fill their rush lanes, allowing Armstrong to escape. Skalski struggled at times trying to be the spy on Armstrong.
Six of Clemson’s eight breakups came from the secondary, plus they recorded two interceptions. Safety Nolan Turner grabbed a second-quarter interception to set up a touchdown just before the half and on Virginia’s first drive of the third quarter, Andrew Booth made the play of the weekend when he snagged an Armstrong pass with his right hand while falling backwards against 6-foot-7 wide receiver Lavel Davis. Tuner finished the game with seven tackles, while Booth had three tackles and broke up two passes. Kendrick also had three tackles and broke up two passes. Safety Lannden Sanders also broke up a pass. He also had a couple of missed tackles. There were a few more missed tackles and there were blown coverages, again. Armstrong did throw for 270 yards and three touchdowns, but he completed just 24-of-43 passes.
Special Teams: A
Kicker B.T. Potter was good from 47 and 42 yards against the Cavaliers, while getting touchbacks on seven of his eight kickoffs. Punter Will Spiers averaged just 38.3 yards on his three punts, but he did drop one punt inside the 20-yard line. Rodgers had one punt return for nine yards, while Dixon opened the game with a 52-yard kick return.
Elliott took the blame for one of the Tigers’ two sacks allowed and defensive coordinator Brent Venables called the play of his defense pathetic at times, which he took the blame for. Still, Clemson’s coaches made the adjustments necessary during the course of the game and, like always, their players were in position to make plays when they were needed the most.
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