Third-ranked Clemson’s defense struggled at times in the first half of Saturday night’s game against Virginia Tech at Lane Stadium in Blacksburg, Va.
The Tigers allowed 214 yards of total offense and 11 first downs in the opening two quarters, and the Hokies’ offense controlled the ball for nearly 20 of 30 minutes while playing keep-away from Clemson’s offense and keeping the score close as VT trailed by only a touchdown, 17-10, at halftime.
Injuries did not help Clemson’s cause on defense, as starting linebacker James Skalski, the heart and soul of the unit who returned against Pittsburgh last week following a three-game absence due to a groin injury, watched much of the first half from the sideline after playing the first series and getting in on the game’s first tackle. Skalski’s groin was sore, and he told the coaches during warmups, per a Clemson spokesperson.
To make matters worse, reserve linebacker Jake Venables suffered a broken arm in the first half, while star defensive tackle Tyler Davis, who has missed time because of injuries this season as well, got banged up on a play and had to exit briefly but did return to the game.
After a B.T. Potter field goal put Clemson on top early, Virginia Tech answered with a seven-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that took nearly five minutes off the clock and was capped by a 4-yard touchdown rush by Khalil Herbert. The score was set up by a 48-yard completion on the previous play, which resulted from a coverage bust.
Clemson nearly let the Hokies pull off a game-tying touchdown on a Hail Mary in the final seconds of the second quarter. Virginia Tech quarterback Braxton Burmeister, who replaced starter Hendon Hooker after the first series of the game, threw up a prayer to the front of the end zone near the pylon on the near side of the field, and instead of batting the ball down, cornerback Derion Kendrick tried to pick it off.
Instead of corralling it for an interception, the ball caromed off Kendrick’s hands and right into the hands of Raheem Blackshear. It was a 42-yard reception for Blackshear, but he needed 1 more yard for the touchdown and wasn’t able to get it when Kendrick and Mike Jones Jr. teamed up to stop him just shy of the goal line.
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