Virginia 30, Clemson 10
Virginia's football team found itself in unfamiliar territory during the first half of Thursday night's game against Clemson. The holes weren't as big for tailback Wali Lundy to run through. The Cavaliers' offensive line, which had resembled a bulldozer in the team's first four games, wasn't getting as much of a push. Their young receivers couldn't get open and their rebuilt secondary couldn't cover anyone on critical downs.
Fortunately for No. 10 Virginia, quarterback Marques Hagans was as quick and athletic; tailback Alvin Pearman was still elusive; and kicker Connor Hughes and tight end Heath Miller were as dependable as ever. Hagans completed 14 of 26 passes for 225 yards, including a touchdown to Miller, and Hughes kicked three field goals in a 30-10 victory over the Tigers in front of a sold-out crowd of 61,833 at Scott Stadium.
After rolling over two lightweights (Temple and Akron) and two struggling programs (North Carolina and Syracuse) in their first four games, the Cavaliers (5-0, 2-0 ACC) won a laborious ACC contest over Clemson (1-4, 1-3 ACC), which was ranked No. 15 during the preseason but has lost four games in a row. After taking a 10-3 lead, the Tigers watched the Cavaliers score 27 unanswered points.
Virginia remained undefeated to set up an ACC showdown on Oct. 16 against No. 8 Florida State in Tallahassee, where the Cavaliers have never won. In fact, Virginia has beaten the Seminoles only once in 12 meetings, 33-28 in 1995, since FSU joined the ACC in 1992. The Seminoles (3-1, 2-1 ACC) play at Syracuse on Saturday.
"It was a good performance," Virginia Coach Al Groh said. "What we know next week is we're playing World Series competition. We'll have to rise to that because we've never been to the World Series. . . . We'll see what it brings. We'll do the same thing we've done from the start -- put our jaws down and plow ahead."
That's exactly what the Cavaliers did in burying the Tigers in the second half. After trailing Clemson for more than 24 minutes of the first half -- the Cavaliers were behind for less than 31/2 minutes combined in their first four victories -- Virginia ran 33 times in the final two quarters for 161 of its 239 rushing yards.
Pearman came into the game after Lundy fumbled at the Clemson 6-yard line midway through the third quarter, spoiling what had been a 14-play drive, and scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter. Pearman ran 18 times for 104 yards, all but one carry and two yards coming in the second half. The Cavaliers outgained the Tigers, 464 yards to 211, and had nearly a 13-minute advantage in time of possession.
"We kind of saw they were getting tired," Cavaliers guard Elton Brown said. "We wanted to get after it. Coach put the ball in our hands and we responded."
Hagans, making only his seventh start at quarterback, also responded well in front of a national audience on ESPN. With Virginia trailing 10-6 late in the first half, he made two critical throws on third down -- a 14-yarder to sophomore Deyon Williams (Suitland High) and a 32-yarder to Miller, which moved the Cavs to the Clemson 11. Three plays later, Hagans again threw to Miller, who caught the ball near the right sideline and lunged for the end zone, giving Virginia its first lead, 13-10, with 5 minutes 39 seconds left in the half.
"You want your quarterback to step up and make plays," Groh said. "If you're going to be a good team, your quarterback has to make plays, and that's what Marques has done."
Virginia's offense, which scored 23 touchdowns in its first four games, couldn't make the plays when it needed them in the first half. Clemson quickly silenced most of the sold-out crowd by driving 80 yards for a touchdown on the game's opening possession. Virginia got as close as the Tigers 3 on its first possession, but had to settle for Hughes's 21-yard field goal. After Clemson made it 10-3 on Jad Dean's 43-yard field goal, the first of his career, the Cavaliers put together another productive drive. But again, their offense couldn't make clutch plays, and Hughes kicked a 43-yard field goal to cut Clemson's lead to 10-6.
Tigers quarterback Charlie Whitehurst, who had drawn Clemson fans' ire by committing nine turnovers in the previous two games, threw his 11th interception of the season when cornerback Tony Franklin picked off his pass intended for Curtis Baham with about 12 minutes remaining. Whitehurst completed 16 of 28 passes for 166 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Clemson gained only 45 yards on 21 rushes, and the Tigers never advanced past midfield in the second half.
Despite his team's fifth consecutive dominating performance, Groh still isn't sure if the Cavaliers are ready to face the Seminoles, who have won the ACC title in all but one of their 12 seasons in the conference.
"We remain in the hunt," Groh said. "That's our way of thinking, nothing less, nothing more. I'm sure Florida State is not particularly impressed with it."