Tigers stone Hokies on cold night in Blacksburg to clinch ACC title spot

by - Senior Writer -
Lyn-J Dixon looks for running room. (Photo courtesy ACC)
Lyn-J Dixon looks for running room. (Photo courtesy ACC)

BLACKSBURG, VA – Take the win, go home and get warm and move on to Charlotte.

Clemson didn’t play as sharp as it did in last week’s win over Pitt but they did enough on both sides of the ball and leaves frigid Lane Stadium in Blacksburg with a 45-10 victory over Virginia Tech.

Clemson improves to 9-1 overall and 8-1 in the ACC, while Virginia Tech falls to 4-6 overall and 4-5 in the ACC.

Clemson is off next week and will play Notre Dame at 4 p.m. on Dec. 19th in the ACC Championship Game in Charlotte (ABC). The Hokies host in-state rival Virginia next weekend.

Trevor Lawrence now holds the record for wins as a starting quarterback for Clemson with his 33rd victory. Now 33-1 as a starter, he broke the school record for wins as a starting quarterback that was held by Rodney Williams, Tajh Boyd and Deshaun Watson at 32 wins each.

"Really proud of our guys. What a great moment for our team tonight. Just proud of them and proud of our staff," head coach Dabo Swinney said after the game. "I knew this was going to be that type of game and I knew it would probably take a while to settle in. Give them credit, they completely took the ball away from us in the first half. They had it 20 minutes to our ten. We only had four possessions and that was big for us to score on three of them. In the second half, we settled in, and even though the time of possession was still way off, we settled in and defensively we dominated the second half. Just an incredible performance in the second half."

The Tigers held Virginia Tech to just 131 yards - the Hokies were leading the ACC in rushing at 250 yards per game - and forced three big turnovers.

"The turnovers were the story of the game. Mario Goodrich came up with one after Myles Murphy caused that fumble," Swinney said. "Nyles Pinckney came up with one, and Derion Kendrick with the scoop-and-score. I think Keith Maguire was one of them that caused a fumble. I am just happy to see our defense respond."

Clemson won the toss and elected to defer, and Virginia Tech was forced to punt after picking up just one first down. The Tigers took over at their own 23. The big play on the drive was a 49-yard pass to tight end Braden Galloway – Lawrence popped out of a scrum of defenders and hit a wide-open Galloway, who took it to the Tech 13. The Tigers settled for a 28-yard field goal from BT Potter and led 3-0.

The Hokies didn’t take long to respond. Braxton Burmeister replaced Hendon Hooker under center and engineered a seven-play, 75-yard scoring drive. The penultimate play was a 48-yard pass to Tayvion Robinson, who didn’t have a Tiger in the same zip code when he caught the pass at the 30. On the next play, Juice Herbert ran it in from four yards out and Tech led 7-3.

Clemson answered with a 10-play, 75-yard drive of its own. The Tigers mixed the run and the pass to perfection, and when the defense collapsed on a fake to Etienne, Lawrence sprinted around the left end and raced 17 yards untouched into the end zone. Late in the first quarter, the Tigers led 10-7.

The teams traded punts, and Virginia Tech was content to milk the clock and run the ball. After a short punt by the Tigers, however, the Hokies scored on a 54-yard field goal by Brian Johnson that snuck over the crossbar. With just over three minutes to play in the half the score was tied at 10-10.

The Tigers took the ensuing kickoff and went to the ground game to try and open the offense. Etienne started the drive with a 15-yard drive, and Lawrence later added an eight-yard run for a first down at midfield. Lyn-J Dixon then put together two 19-yard runs back-to-back, the latter a scoring run that gave the Tigers a 17-10 lead with just a minute left before intermission.

The teams traded punts to open the second half, but the ball bounced to the Hokie punter and his punt traveled just 10 yards and was returned seven yards by Nolan Turner to near midfield. The Tigers moved steadily down the field and had the ball first-and-goal, but on third down Lawrence’s pass was intercepted in the end zone.

However, the Hokies were called for a chop block that pushed the ball to their 10, and on the next play Myles Murphy punched the ball out of the hands of Burmeister. The ball rolled into the arms of corner Mario Goodrich and Clemson took over at the Hokie 12. Lawrence kept the ball for five yards on the first play, and then ran it in from seven yards out on the second play, giving Clemson the 24-10 lead late in the third quarter.

Burmeister was injured on the next possession after he was drilled by linebacker LaVonta Bentley, and following punts by both teams, Hooker came back in the game with the Hokies on the Tigers’ side of the field. Hooker took a shotgun snap on the second play and simply bobbled the ball and batted it on the ground where it was picked up Derion Kendrick, who raced 66 yards for the touchdown. Late in the third quarter Clemson led 31-10.

The Hokies, down to their fourth-string quarterback after Hooker was taken to the locker room (the third-stringer opted out this week), were stopped on downs when Knox Kadum was stopped for a five-yard loss on fourth down by Bentley.

The Tigers took over and Cornell Powell was called for an offensive pass interference penalty on a play in which he appeared to beat the defensive back on a deep sideline route. The Tigers dialed up the same play two plays later, Powell catching the ball in stride and streaking into the end zone for a 65-yard score. With 10:16 to play in the game, Clemson led 38-10.

Following a short Virginia Tech punt that was fair caught at midfield, running back Darien Rencher got in on the fun with a 50-yard burst up the middle for the final score of the night. The drive took eight seconds off the clock and Clemson led 45-10.

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