To upset Clemson today, Virginia Coach Dick Bestwick knew his team had to negate the Tigers' tough defensive rush early in the game with some nifty passing. It never happened.
Moving into a stiff wind and stymied by poor field position, with a quarterback whose throwing has not been sharp recently, Virginia fell behind quickly, 10-0, and Clemson went on to a 17-7 Atlantic Coast Conference victory.
Clemson tailback Lester Brown scored two touchdowns as part of a 125-yard day, tying him for the school record of 31 TDS, and Obed Ariri kicked a 22-yard field goal before Virginia finally put its only touchdown -- Greg Taylor's two yard run -- on the board with 11 minutes to play.
Led by linebacker Bubba Brown, Clemson's defense keyed on stopping Virginia from running wide. The defense succeeded, holding the nation's ninth-best rushing team to 144 yards on the ground.
What Clemson did defensively was fairly simple. Coach Dan Ford ordered his interior linemen to pinch inside, shutting off those running routes and forcing Virginia to the outside where the linebackers and a strong secondary kept the Wahoos from turning the corner.
Tommy Vigorito, the Virginia fullback, finished with 94 yards, including a 43-yard burst off tackle that set up Virginia's touchdown. And Taylor, the tailback, gained only 48 yards.
What the offense called for, Bestwick said, were wide passes in order to neutralize the linebackers and force the tackles to play more honesty, thus opening up the middle and giving Virginia, now 302, the shot at its first victory ever over the Tigers in a 19-game series dating back to 1955. Clemson is now 3-1.
Virginia had few breaks today: an interception was called back by a roughing the passer penalty; a missed tackle enabled Clemson to score the clinching touchdown; punt returner Pat Chester lost the ball in the sun and a 72-yard punt put Virginia in yet another hole.
Bestwick faced a dilemma when the Wahoos won the coin flip. He elected to receive. Clemson, naturally, took the wind at its back.
"We felt we had to have ball control," Bestwick explained, "and we didn't feel we could give it to them at the start of both halves."
So Virginia, which did not make a first down until the middle of the second quarter and did not cross midfield until the middle of the third, was in a hole from the start.
In the first series, Vigorito was smothered going outside, then gained three yards up the middle, setting up third down and six. Quarterback Todd Kirtley's first pass, toward the sideline for Taylor, was overthrown.
When Ford Mays punted only 29 yards, Clemson had good field position at its 42. Eleven plays took the ball to the Virginia five and Ariri easily kicked the field goal for a 3-0 lead.
His kickoff went in the end zone. Virginia ran three plays and punted. After another exchange, Virginia tried a couple of passes. Kirtley overthrew one, the other the former Robinson High star completed to Taylor, who slipped after a two-yard gain.
A personal foal on a dubious fair catch gave Clemson the ball at its 40, and the Tigers moved 60 yards in 10 plays, Brown cutting back after a Itchout to his right for a 15-yard touchdown run and a 10-0 lead following Ariri's extra point.
"Todd was not as sharp today as he has been in the past," Bestwick said. "We had to be able to neutralize their linebackers."
"We had to play conservative because we didn't want to give them anything cheap," Kirtley said.
However, he probably did not know that Bestwick and his assistants debated taking the offensive gambles.
"It was very tempting," Bestwick said. "We talked about it plenty of times. If he (Kirtley) had been as sharp throwing the ball as he had been, we would have."
"I don't know what's wrong," said Kirtley, only six for 18 today. "I'm just not throwing the ball as well as I had been. I'm going to sit down, watch the films and see what I'm doing."
At one stage, Bestwick tried freshman Gordie Whitehead. But his first pass was intercepted and Kirtley returned two series later.
"We keyed on their outside game," said Clemson linebacker Brown. "We knew we had to contain those running backs. If we give them an inch, they would take a mile. We had to be quicker than they were on the explosion from the ball."
"Not throwing in the beginning gave them a lot of confidence defensively," said Vigorito, " and in the long run that's what hurt us."
However, Virginia was not embarrassed by Clemson, as the Wahoos have been in the past.
"They're on the verge of knowing what the value of winning is," said Bubba Brown. "In a very positive sense, Virginia is on the verge of it."
And Bestwick was talking about two or three plays that could have changed the momentum. That pass interference call cost Virginia a good shot at attempting at least a field goal before halftime.
When Virginia kicked off to start the second half, Bestwick cited a third-down mistake, a missed tackle that allowed Clemson quarterback Billy Lott to gain a first down on third and seven at his 23. Twelve plays later, Lester Brown took a pitchout, cut back and scored on a 17-yard run.
That made it 17-0 with 5 1/2 minutes gone in the second half and the homecoming crowd of 61,000 could breathe easier.
And later, Bestwick could say, "We weren't flat. We were ready to play. When things like that (the mistakes and breaks) happen to you in a close football game, you lose. I still think we're as good as they are; today we weren't."