Banged-up Clemson D ‘bowed up’ against Hokies

Banged-up Clemson D ‘bowed up’ against Hokies

Football

Banged-up Clemson D ‘bowed up’ against Hokies

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Virginia Tech moved the ball effectively against Clemson’s defense in the first half of Saturday night’s game, controlling the clock on offense and keeping the score close by keeping the Tigers’ offense off the field for all but about 10 of the first 30 minutes.

But the Tigers made some defensive adjustments in the second half and forced a couple of game-changing turnovers, and after leading by only seven points at the break, No. 3 Clemson pulled away from the Hokies for a 45-10 victory at Lane Stadium in Blacksburg, Va.

After allowing 214 yards of total offense, 11 first downs and 10 points in the first half, Clemson’s defense yielded only 119 yards in the final two frames while holding Virginia Tech (4-6, 4-5 ACC) off the scoreboard after intermission. The Hokies – who came into the contest ranked eighth nationally in rushing yards per game (250.9), tied for seventh in rushing touchdowns (24) and fourth in yards per carry (5.9) – ran for only 131 yards on 45 attempts (2.9 yards per rush) against Clemson and scored their lone touchdown of the game on a 4-yard run by Khalil Herbert in the first quarter.

The Tigers (9-1, 8-1) recovered three fumbles and scored 14 points off turnovers in the second half to help the team clinch a spot in the ACC Championship Game for the sixth season in a row. Clemson will face Notre Dame, which entered this week ranked No. 2 in the country, on Dec. 19 for the conference title at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C.

“I’m very proud of our guys,” Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables said after the game. “A lot of hard work has gone into this year and getting to this moment. Going on the road, playing against a team that’s had a couple weeks to get ready for you … I think they’re a top-10 efficient offense in the country, the best rushing offense in the country. They’re like an option team that throws the ball a lot better than most option teams, and thought our guys adjusted to some things they were doing.

“Thought we adjusted well and really had an outstanding second half in particular. Just super proud of our guys, putting ourselves in this position to go play for six ACC Championships in a row, and did it on the road with a toughmindedness.”

Clemson’s defense buckled down in the second half despite several injuries at linebacker. Starting linebacker James Skalski, the leader of the unit, played the first series but watched most of the game from the sideline after complaining to the coaches his injured groin was sore. Skalski’s replacement at middle linebacker, Jake Venables, also left the game after suffering a broken arm.

Starting linebacker Baylon Spector and reserve linebacker Kane Patterson were also injured in the game, but young players like defensive end Myles Murphy (seven tackles, one for loss, forced fumble) and linebackers Keith Maguire (five tackles, two for loss, forced fumble) and LaVonta Bentley (four tackles, sack) helped to fill the void left on defense by the injuries.

“I loved the physicality, I loved the aggressiveness, a lot of the young guys that had to step up,” Venables said. “Lost Spector, lost Jake, lost Jamie. Some other guys got banged up. I think Kane got banged up. So, those guys really stepped up. Just super proud of them.”

One of the highlights of the night for Clemson defensively was cornerback Derion Kendrick’s 66-yard scoop and score late in the third quarter that resulted from a muffed snap by quarterback Hendon Hooker and gave the Tigers a 31-10 lead. Earlier in the third quarter, Murphy forced Hooker’s fellow quarterback Braxton Burmeister to fumble on a running play, and the ball was jumped on by cornerback Mario Goodrich at Virginia Tech’s 12-yard line, leading to a 7-yard rushing touchdown by Trevor Lawrence two plays later that put Clemson up two touchdowns, 24-10, at the 4:45 mark of the third period.

“I think that lends credibility to, again, our aggressiveness – we were striking people, attacking the line of scrimmage and playing sure of ourselves at the right times in really critical situations where our guys bowed up,” Venables said of his opportunistic unit and the turnovers it created. “So, that does a lot for growth and maturity and belief that hey you give up a play here, a play there, but just keep playing, keep being aggressive and good things will happen, and that’s kind of the way it went tonight.”

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