CLEMSON, S.C., OCT. 10 -- The Virginia Cavaliers have become an excruciatingly good football team. They defeat the teams they are supposed to defeat. They play with the teams they are supposed to play with. However, they get so close to defeating the teams they are not supposed to defeat that it's excruciating.

Today, before 80,500 homecoming day fans at Memorial Stadium, the Cavaliers made Clemson Coach Danny Ford's life miserable for about 46 minutes, then spent the rest of the afternoon making their own lives miserable. What could have been a game with a thrilling finish ended up being a 38-21 Clemson victory.

It was the eighth-ranked Tigers' 27th consecutive victory over Virginia, the longest current winning streak by one Division I-A team against another. Clemson continues to be the only Atlantic Coast Conference team the Cavaliers have never defeated.

"We are close to being a really good football team," said Virginia's senior quarterback, Scott Secules, "but we haven't played 60 minutes of consistently good football, something you have to do to win against these guys."

The Cavaliers (3-3 overall, 1-2 ACC) scored touchdowns the first two times they had the ball and the first time they had it in the second half, but that was it. The only other time they were inside Clemson's 42-yard line, at the beginning of the fourth quarter with the score 31-21, wide receiver Keith Mattioli dropped what should have been a 14-yard touchdown pass, fullback Durwin Greggs was dropped for a three-yard loss, Virginia was penalized for holding and Secules was intercepted by cornerback James Lott with 12:26 left in the game.

Clemson (5-0, 2-0) then held the ball for 3:29 before punting to the Cavaliers 3. On third and seven from the 6, Secules had wide receiver John Ford open at midfield and just overthrew him. After a punt, the Tigers held the ball for 6:56 more before Joe Henderson scored on a two-yard run with 42 seconds to play.

It is a distinct possibility that Clemson would have quickly nullified the touchdown Mattioli said he "definitely should have had." Led by a school freshman record 183 yards on 27 carries from tailback Terry Allen and 119 yards on 18 carries by sophomore tailback Wesley McFadden, Clemson rushed for 403 yards; quarterback Rodney Williams completed eight of 12 passes for 82 yards and the Tigers possessed the ball for 37:03.

However, Virginia would still like to find out what would have happened if . . .

"I just wish we could have gotten another one in the fourth quarter," Welsh said.

The Cavaliers rushed for 110 yards and passed for 202 against a defense that came into the game ranked second in the nation in total defense (159.5 yards allowed per game), first against the rush (57.8 yards allowed per game), second against the pass (101.8 yards per game) and sixth against the scoreboard (10.5 points allowed per game). Although it stumbled at times, Virginia also showed its ability to move the ball at will.

"Offensively, I'd put them right up there with Georgia as the best we've played," said Clemson's star defensive tackle, Michael Dean Perry, who had just five tackles and zero sacks.

However, Virginia, which opened the season by allowing 394 yards rushing and 483 yards overall in a 30-22 loss to the Bulldogs, had to say the the same thing about Clemson.

"When you play them, the game changes from when you are playing Duke and VMI," Welsh said. "It's a different tempo on the run, better backs, quicker, stronger offensive line. It's hard for us to practice against that."

It showed.

Virginia took the opening kickoff and drove 68 yards in 11 plays to a two-yard play-action pop pass from Secules to tight end Bruce McGonnigal. The lead lasted five minutes -- the amount of time it took Clemson to drive 80 yards to a four-yard run by Allen.

The Cavaliers came back, though. Set up by a 54-yard reception by Ford (five catches for 109 yards, making him Virginia's all-time leader in receiving yardage), Marcus Wilson took a pitchout and went three yards for a touchdown that made it 14-7 with 2:47 left in the first quarter.

In the second quarter, Clemson tied the game on a four-yard run by Allen that came two plays after McFadden rambled for 49 yards to Virginia's 8. The Tigers took the lead on their next possession, which ended in Tracy Johnson's one-yard touchdown run 5:23 before halftime and extended it to 24-14 on David Treadwell's 18-yard field goal as time expired.

The Cavaliers forced Clemson to punt on the opening possession of the second half, then drove 58 yards for a two-yard touchdown dive by Greggs, from McNamara High School, on a fourth-down play 5:19 into the third quarter. But the Tigers regained their 10-point edge 10 plays and 5:11 after Henderson made a 46-yard kickoff return.

Virginia's defense came up with a big play after Derrick Boyd fumbled the ensuing kickoff at the Cavaliers 16 as Elton Toliver forced Allen to fumble on the next play and Ray Savage recovered. However, the biggest non-score was yet to come.

"It's like Coach Welsh has told us," said Toliver, a sophomore who made 12 tackles, "if we can get that extra oomph, we are going to start beating teams like Clemson."

Virginia 14 0 7 0 21 Clemson 7 17 7 7 38

V -- McGonnigal 2 pass from Secules (Inderlied kick)

C -- T. Allen 4 run (Treadwell kick)

V -- M. Wilson 3 run (Inderlied kick)

C -- T. Allen 4 run (Treadwell kick)

C -- T. Johnson 1 run (Treadwell kick)

C -- FG Treadwell 18

V -- Greggs 2 run (Inderlied kick)

C -- T. Johnson 2 run (Treadwell kick)

C -- Jo. Henderson 3 run (Treadwell kick)

A -- 80,500 Virginia Clemson First downs 16 27 Rushes-yards 31-110 69-403 Passing yards 202 82 Return yards 20 55 Passing 12-28-1 8-12-0 Punts-average 5-37 4-36 Fumbles-lost 3-1 3-1 Penalties-yards 3-27 9-84 Time

RUSHING -- Virginia: M. Wilson 14-48, Greggs 11-43. Clemson: T. Allen 27-183, McFadden 18-119, T. Johnson 1

PASSING -- Virginia: Secules 12-28-1, 202 yards. Clemson: R. Williams 8-12-0, 82.

RECEIVING -- Virginia: Ford 5-109, Finkelston 5-76. Clemson: Jennings 3-41, Coley 1-28.