BLACKSBURG, Va. — In the first half Saturday night, Virginia Tech did its best to keep Trevor Lawrence and the Clemson offense off the field. The strategy worked, as the Hokies limited the third-ranked Tigers to just four first-half possession, while keeping the ball for 19:42.
Until the last 66 seconds of the half, they found themselves tied with Clemson. However, in the second half things were different. The Tigers not only settled in and began to suffocate the Virginia Tech offense, but it also started to force turnovers and even took one to the house.
The end result, the Clemson offense got the ball a couple of more times in the second half as the Tigers reeled off 35 unanswered points for a 45-10 victory at Lane Stadium in Blacksburg, Va.
“In the second half, defensively, they were awesome,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. “They just created just great energy and great field position for our offense.”
Clemson (9-1, 8-1 ACC) held the Hokies to 119 total yards in the second half, after the Hokies amassed 214 in the first 30 minutes. Even more impressive was the fact the defense limited Virginia Tech’s strong rushing attack to 50 combined yards in the last two quarters.
“They caught us in a few things (in the first half). There were some new things they were doing,” Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. “They caught us in a few things where we were maybe not in a good position, structurally. We missed a couple of fits early, some different stuff they had to get adjusted to. I thought there was some over pursuing and missed tackles in the backfield.”
The Hokies (4-6, 4-5 ACC) also completed a 48-yard pass to set up its only touchdown of the night and then a 42-yard pass on a Hail Mary that was caught at the one-yard line.
But other than a long pass play Virginia Tech got on a screen in the fourth quarter, the Hokies did very little in the second half.
Clemson’s defense forced three turnovers, which led to 14 points. Cornerback Derion Kendrick also picked up a loose fumble at the end of the third quarter and raced 66 yards for a touchdown.
After giving up 10 points and 214 yards in the first half, what changed in the second stanza?
“They have a guy (Khalil Herbert) who is probably going to be a first-round pick in the draft on the other side,” Venables said. “I think they were just protecting their defense. Probably just good coaching. They just shortened the game. They were just managing the game.
“You see that happened a lot at every level of football.”
But Clemson took it away in the second half, and thus the game got away from the Hokies.
“That was their style of play coming into this game,” Swinney said. “They wanted to shorten the game and keep our offense on the sideline. But in the second half, it got away from them because defensively, we were able to get the ball back… We got it all together in the second half.”
And the Tigers did it without linebackers James Skalski, Jake Venables and Baylon Spector at linebacker. All three were injured during the game. Skalski’s injured groin was sore, so he was taken out for precautionary reasons, and there was no official word on Spector’s injury.
Swinney fears Venables injury could be a broken arm. The Tigers were also without cornerback Andrew Booth. He suffered a deep thigh bruise in practice this past Tuesday and was still not ready to play on Saturday.
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