Clemson and Virginia Tech played a fun, back-and-forth ACC title game last season that send both off to big postseason wins. While there were a lot of new faces on the field for their rematch on Saturday night, there wasn’t much of a back-and-forth between the two top 15 teams this time around.
As a result, Clemson looked every bit of a national title contender once again in passing their biggest road test of the young season to beat the Hokies 31-17 in a game that the Tigers controlled throughout.
Quarterback Kelly Bryant started off hot in the passing game before cooling down in just his second road start, eventually throwing for 186 yards and a touchdown. Where he really made an impact though was with his legs, weaving through Bud Foster’s defense to record 109 yards rushing. His budding stars in the backfield, sophomore Tavien Feaster and freshman Travis Etienne, were limited to fewer than 60 yards combined however as things were tough going outside of scrambles.
While the offense’s effort was notable, the story of the night was once again Clemson’s defense. They didn’t let Tech cross midfield until late in the first half and were swarming on nearly every play, recording eight tackles for loss and two sacks. Even when the Hokies looked like the could put points on the board, Brent Venables’ unit stuffed out a fake field goal in the third quarter and pulled down two interceptions (one of the pick-six variety) in the fourth to put an exclamation point on the victory.
Things were not all bad for Virginia Tech despite the rather lopsided final score. Young QB Josh Jackson topped the 250 mark passing (with a touchdown) and used his ability to take off and run to avoid dozens of sacks that seemed like he could have had on every one of his 44 dropbacks. Tailback Travon McMillian did break off a big 29 yard run in the first half but was otherwise kept in check with 30 yards and the nation’s leading receiver, Cam Phillips, was held to just 74 yards. For a very young team that remains in the running to win the division, it wasn’t a night they were hoping for but could be a solid building block against one of the nation’s best despite the loss.
Given Alabama’s dominance in the SEC so far in 2017 and what Clemson has shown so far in early ACC play, one still gets the feeling that no matter what happens with teams over the next few weeks that we’re headed for a rubber-match rematch between the two superpowers and everybody else could just be playing out the string until then.