CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – “Most complete game that we’ve had.”
There’s the testimony from Dabo Swinney last night from Scott Stadium. He’s wrong, of course. That Georgia opener was still definitively the finest 60 minutes Clemson football has produced this season.
But it’s all about peaking at the right time, and the Tigers were in a valley (not the Death variety) in October. It was evident last night Clemson’s back on the right track; and lest you think the Tigers are bitter they now have to take 12 days off before their next game, the coordinators each expressed how thrilled they are this bye week comes right now, because Clemson still has things to iron out before finishing out with Georgia Tech, The Citadel and No. 14 South Carolina.
But first things first. Here’s how Clemson graded out in its 59-10 victory Saturday over Virginia (which, by the way, was the same score Oregon beat the Cavs by in week two on the same field):
Season-high 59 points. Season-high 610 yards. The tackles for loss are still a concern (11 yesterday, five on the first-team offense) but everything else is just what you want. Tajh Boyd was a magician on that drive at the end of the first half (detailed in full here), Roderick McDowell is looking like he’s settled in to the lead back role, and Sammy Watkins is thrusting himself into the upper half of mock draft boards.
Another constricting performance. No, they’re not perfect; David Watford squirted loose for a 6-yard TD run around Vic Beasley, capping a 10-play scoring drive on Virginia’s second possession. But the Cavaliers had eight possessions in the first half after that touchdown, and totaled two first downs. Three turnovers caused by freshman (Jayron Kearse pick, Kearse forced fumble, Korrin Wiggins pick) playmakers, 27 incomplete passes, and 2.9 yards per rush … it’s all good.
Special teams (A)
A moment to sing Bradley Pinion’s praises. The kid has punted 43 times this season. Twenty of them have landed inside the 20. And not one of them has bounced into the end zone for a touchback. Pinion’s net punting average won’t always pop off the page, in part because his offense can move the ball toward midfield and thus call on him for directional punting rather than distance. But he’s done his job quietly and extremely effectively. Backup kicker Ammon Lakip whiffed on a 31-yard try, but rebounded with a 41-yard kick later in the second half, his first career attempts.
Like what they’re doing with Boyd and Watkins, picking on the right matchups and lighting up scoreboards. The key was to get Boyd’s swagger back, and he’s got it with yet another commanding performance. Interesting to see Isaiah Battle start the second half at left tackle; maybe Battle keeps that spot in 12 days, moving Brandon Thomas to the right side. At least Clemson has options. Brent Venables has made it abundantly clear he will not tolerate defensive lapses even with a 35-point lead, and the defense responded with fine effort in the second half.
That looked much more like a team worthy of top-five consideration. If results fall as expected over the next few weeks, Clemson should be there going into Nov. 30.