Early in the season, a lot of people had discounted Clemson as a non-factor in the ACC. Florida State was the talk of the ACC Atlantic and talked about how Clemson was still a few years behind. Not a lot of people gave Clemson a chance.
And with a three-game stretch of Auburn, Florida State and Virginia Tech in consecutive weeks, people were quick to discount this team. And with having to learn a new offense, many said they could not make the transition so quickly.
Well, what do they say now? They say that the Tigers are undefeated at 5-0 after humiliating Virginia Tech in Blacksburg 23-3, allowing zero touchdowns and defeating Virginia Tech for the first time in over a decade.
After beating Auburn, Florida State and now Virginia Tech, the Clemson Tigers and head coach Dabo Swinney are the talk of the college football world now, and they have gone from being the hunters to the hunted.
The Tigers now have the proverbial target on their backs now, yet are in full control of their own destiny heading forward. As they hit the practice field this week to prepare for homecoming week against Boston College, we will take one last look against Virginia Tech and the Tigers' overall performance in Blacksburg.
Statistically, Tajh didn’t have what the pundits would call a good game, going 13-of-32 for 205 yards, throwing one touchdown and one interception. But, what he did was manage the game well, took care of the football after the interception and made smart decisions in where to go with the football.
Boyd also proved that freshman sensation Sammy Watkins isn’t the only weapon on this team. Boyd’s grade would have been higher had he not thrown the interception and had a better day in terms of completion percentage. But, as Dabo put it, the Tigers had just enough offense and a whole lot of defense.
Andre Ellington and Mike Bellamy had a bigger role than a lot of people think. Both backs, Ellington especially, were able to gain the tough yards needed on the ground and both scored two of Clemson’s three touchdowns when they needed them.
Clemson’s rushing attack ended the night with 119 yards, with Ellington totaling 40 rushing yards and a touchdown, while Bellamy led the night with 47 yards and a 31-yard rushing touchdown to seal the deal. The running game was set up well enough to open up the receivers downfield, and plenty of them took advantage.
In a game where the Tigers sensational freshman Sammy Watkins totaled only 38 receiving yards all game, it would appear that Virginia Tech accomplished their goal of keeping Watkins in check… only to reveal more of Clemson’s weapons in the passing game.
The highlight of the receivers was tight end Dwyane Allen, who showed why he is among the best tight ends, leading Clemson receivers with 75 yards and a touchdown. Jaron Brown also stepped up to the plate and ended up second in receiving yards with 56.
In a game where Hopkins was limited and Watkins contained for most of the game, Brown and Allen were crucial in the passing game for Boyd and the offense.
The offensive line has finally found its grove, giving up only one sack and starting Brandon Thomas at guard has continued to pay off for the offense and the coaching staff for keeping Boyd upright and stable.
The line finally got more push in the running game, contained VT’s pass rush and continued to make overall progress in every facet. The chemistry between these linemen is growing positively, and the starting unit is starting to look like we thought they would at the beginning of the season.
The defensive line could be the MVPs of the defense, totaling four sacks for 31 yards after having only four sacks for 27 yards throughout the first four games. Defensive end Andre Branch made himself known once again, racking up 11 tackles to go along with his three sacks.
The defensive line overall got better push in terms of stopping the run and rushing the quarterback. Branch is a large factor of why the defensive line got such a great grade and good production. The play of the defensive line also helped to improve the play of the linebackers.
The linebackers were able to handle themselves well, especially true freshman Stephone Anthony, who logged plenty of time at middle linebacker throughout the game. For most of the game, Anthony appeared to outplay current starter Corico Hawkins at times, and there may be more competition between the two soon.
Outside linebackers Jonathan Willard and Quandon Christian continued their solid play. The linebackers still did miss tackles at times and need to better wrap up in the open field but still managed to have an overall good day.
The defensive backs were the unheralded heroes in the passing game today, doing more than nabbing one interception by Xavier Brewer. The Tigers’ secondary held Virginia Tech’s passing game to only 125 passing yards and no touchdowns of any kind.
Virginia Tech was given good field position several times in the game and went deep plenty once they passed midfield but never managed to find any busted coverage by the Tigers.
The Clemson secondary did a great job playing sound assignment football and staying disciplined in coverage.
Punter Dawson Zimmerman showed some toughness after his injury last week and continued to be Clemson’s ace in the hole in the field position battle and turned the tide of Frank Beamer’s own "Beamer Ball" against him, pinning them inside the 20 on several occasions.
Chandler Cantanzaro also regained more confidence after going one-for-one on field goal attempts, missing only one extra point due to a bad snap and hold. Special teams have definitely seen improvement from week to week and should continue to be consistent for the Tigers.
Dabo Swinney is gaining plenty of attention from the media now after dismissing his Clemson Tigers as non-contenders after revamping his offensive coaching staff.
What do they say now? Dabo can proudly say he is 5-0, with the Tigers headed to a placement in the AP Top 10 and fully in control of their own destiny to win the ACC Championship…and more.
His coaching staff deserves a ton of credit. Offensive coordinator Chad Morris has completely changed the outlook of Clemson football on offense, making it more explosive and diverse. Morris has played an essential role in the growth of quarterback Tajh Boyd and has been just what Clemson needed to boost their offense.
The future of the offense looks bright with Chad Morris at the helm.
On defense, Kevin Steele continues to be a motivator and an innovator in getting the Clemson defense to make plays every week. The third-year defensive coordinator is the wily veteran on the defensive that, like Chad Morris, is the driving force of the aggressive style of defense the Tigers like to see and what the fans love to watch.
Steele doesn’t pull any punches and neither do the players playing in his system. The defense, despite their youth, had found ways to make plays, and there is still plenty of potential within this young group waiting to see the field.
The Clemson Tigers, after going 3-0 in their tough three-game stretch against Auburn, Florida State and Virginia Tech, are in full control of their destiny from here on out. The young defense is maturing, and the offense continues to grow and get better every week. Clemson has proved it can play with anybody, anywhere and on any field.
The key for them will be to take the remaining games week by week and to not fall into the quintessential trap game like they have the past couple of seasons. With four of their next seven on the road, including a big showdown at Georgia Tech in Atlanta, the Tigers must stay sharp and continue to play their game.