Clemson beats Virginia, 34-21, in ACC matchup

Clemson quarterback Kyle Parker (11) looks for running room while being pursued by Virginia's Hunter Steward, right, during the first half of their NCAA college football game Saturday Nov. 21, 2009, at Memorial Stadium in Clemson, S.C. (AP Photo/Richard Shiro)
Clemson quarterback Kyle Parker (11) looks for running room while being pursued by Virginia's Hunter Steward, right, during the first half of their NCAA college football game Saturday Nov. 21, 2009, at Memorial Stadium in Clemson, S.C. (AP Photo/Richard Shiro) (Richard Shiro - AP)

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By Zach Berman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 22, 2009

CLEMSON, S.C. -- Eleven games into the season, Virginia embraced innovation. With nothing to lose -- the season cannot end with a bowl game, and Coach Al Groh's chances of returning next season seem extremely slim -- the Cavaliers unveiled an offense different from the previous 10 games.

Three players lined up at quarterback. The Cavaliers used the Wildcat formation. They employed trick plays. Virginia took chances and, at least for two quarters, caught No. 18 Clemson by surprise in a 34-21 loss to the Tigers.

In fact, the only familiar part of Saturday's game against was the result. Virginia (3-8, 2-5 ACC) has suffered its most losses since 1986, and it will host rival Virginia Tech next week trying to prevent its worst season since 1982. The Cavaliers will do so coming off a game when the offense finally displayed creativity -- at least for a half.

"We had nothing to lose, so we just brought it out today," said running back Mikell Simpson, who was used in the Wildcat throughout the first half. "I got excited. When I'm out there at quarterback running Wildcat, I feel like a little kid just back there having fun."

Simpson rushed for 84 yards and caught two passes for 43 yards and a touchdown. But after pulling down a 23-yard touchdown pass to send the Cavaliers into halftime trailing only 24-21, Simpson could be seen laboring while his team celebrated. He hurt his hamstring and could not play in the second half.

The injury took the formation with Simpson out of the playbook. The Cavaliers failed to score again. After registering 233 first-half yards, Virginia finished with only 40 yards in the second half.

"When you slide that out of the package, what are we going to slide in there?" Groh said. "It gave us some unique things in terms of formations that we weren't able to do."

Earlier this month, Groh was asked if his team possessed an offensive identity. The offense had changed so frequently this season that the answer varied by opponent. Are the Cavaliers a passing team? A running team? Should they use power back Rashawn Jackson or speed back Mikell Simpson? Groh said the skills of the players and the matchups dictate what happens, but even that explanation did not translate onto the field.

Simpson, for example, did not play last week. He was not hurt; it was simply Groh's decision apparently after evaluating the week of practice. On Saturday, Simpson was the catalyst of Virginia's first-half success.

Vic Hall, who opened the season as the starting quarterback before being moved to wide receiver, completed a touchdown pass off of a reverse and took a snap at quarterback. Hall had not attempted a pass since the season opener. He completed two on Saturday.

Even quarterback Jameel Sewell was used as a wide receiver and caught a 30-yard pass out of a trick play. It was effective offensive play-calling, but it could have helped the Cavaliers as much on Sept. 21 or Oct. 21 as it did on Nov. 21.

"Maybe you hadn't seen them, but we didn't just create them this week," Groh said. "We've had them. Sometimes the opportunity doesn't properly present itself. There were some of those times when it seemed like the opportunity was right for it."

Without Simpson, Virginia's offense stagnated in the second half. Clemson possessed the ball for 10 minutes and 25 seconds during the third quarter while Virginia went three-and-out on its two possessions. The Tigers scored the game's 10 final points during that span.

From that point, Virginia needed to pass to make up a 13-point deficit. As the first 10 games of the season proved, the passing offense is not dynamic enough to change the scoreboard. Sewell was sacked seven times in the fourth quarter, the wide receivers could not create separation and the team faced third-and-long situations.

The innovation of the first half became history, and the offense appeared like most of the season's first 10 games. So did the final result.

"You wonder [about the second half], but that's over with," Simpson said. "We got one game left as a whole team."


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