CHARLOTTESVILLE, SEPT. 8 -- They will go down in the record books as the first Clemson football team ever to lose to Virginia, but the Tigers insist today's 20-7 loss will not tarnish their season.

"We're going to win the ACC championship anyway," Clemson defensive tackle Vance Hammond said. "We won't need any help at all."

Last season Virginia (2-0) lost only one conference game -- a 34-20 defeat at Clemson. The Cavaliers shared the conference championship with Duke -- with Clemson finishing third -- but the common refrain during preseason drills was that a victory over Clemson was the one stumbling block to their recognition as a major football power.

Coach George Welsh had worried before the season that his team was overlooking the opener against Kansas, but those fears were put to rest as the Cavaliers rolled to a 59-10 victory.

"Clemson was in my mind even as I was working out," cornerback Tony Covington said. ". . . You hear things like in order to be recognized as the ACC champ you have to beat Mike Tyson. Beating Clemson is like beating Mike Tyson."

Clemson first-year Coach Ken Hatfield, the target of much protest when hired as the successor to the popular Danny Ford, becomes the first in a line of six coaches to lose to Virginia.

"Everyone's entitled to their own opinion," Hatfield said. "Some people will have some things to say about it. The question is what we're going to do about it. We'll find out a lot about the character of this team next week."

Clemson finished last season as the ACC's top defense, yielding only 12 points a game. But the Tigers surrendered 358 yards -- 213 rushing, 145 passing -- today, and struggled after a 79-yard punt return by Virginia's Jason Wallace led to the Cavaliers' final touchdown of the game midway through the third quarter.

"The play that turned the game around was the punt return," Hatfield said. "You take that away and you have a six-point game in the fourth quarter."

Clemson won the first meeting between the teams here in 1955 by the 20-7 score they lost by today. The Tigers won all 29 games since, and held the nation's longest winning streak over a regular Division I opponent.

The teams engaged in much rhetorical jousting leading up to today's game, evident by a second-half fracas on the Virginia sideline that cleared both benches and, later in the game, the ejection of Virginia linebacker P.J. Killian for a personal foul following a Virginia punt.

"There was a little bit of talk on both sides," Hatfield said. "But if you're going to talk, you have to back it up . . . We did not perform up to our capabilities today."

Virginia sophomore defensive end Chris Slade said Clemson recruiters badmouthed Virginia when recruiting him as a high school senior in 1988. Slade responded today with two quarterback sacks, one of which forced a late first-half fumble by DeChane Cameron and led to Jake McInerney's second field goal of the half, cutting the Clemson lead to 7-6.

"I had a personal vendetta against Clemson," said Slade, who finished with 10 tackles despite a nagging ankle injury that kept him out of the Kansas game. "They said Virginia was only known for their basketball program. I worked all summer to beat Clemson."

Clemson (1-1) next faces Maryland, 14-10 winners over West Virginia today. "The biggest thing I want folks to do is to realize that we're in this for the entire season," Hatfield said. ". . . I know that {the players} are going to get a lot of flak from a lot of areas."

"This isn't the end of Clemson football," linebacker Wayne Simmons said. "We'll bounce back -- that marks real winners."