With Virginia Tech’s offense unable to move the ball consistently against the Tigers’ defense, Clemson’s high-powered attack broke open a tie game with a dominant second half and pulled away for a 38-10 victory in front of a sellout crowd at Bank of America Stadium. It was the Hokies’ most lopsided ACC defeat since joining the conference in 2004.
The win gives the No. 21 Tigers (10-3) a berth in next month’s Orange Bowl and their first ACC title in 20 years. The Hokies (11-2), who entered this title game ranked No. 5 in the Bowl Championship Series after reeling off seven straight wins since first losing to Clemson, are likely headed to the Chick-Fil-A Bowl, where they could meet either Auburn or Florida from the Southeastern Conference.
There is a slight chance Virginia Tech could earn an at-large berth to a BCS bowl if it is still ranked in the top 14 when the newest BCS rankings come out Sunday. But the performance the Hokies mustered here in Charlotte won’t look good to voters.
Running back David Wilson, just three days removed from being named the ACC player of the year, was held to a season-low 32 yards. Quarterback Logan Thomas finished 22 of 44 for 272 yards and a touchdown, but also had a fumble on his first play of the night and two interceptions in the fourth quarter.
Wide receiver D.J. Coles led the Hokies with seven catches for 116 receiving yards and a touchdown.
But just like when these teams met two months ago, Virginia Tech’s offense was held scoreless after halftime as receivers struggled to get open down the field and the Hokies’ reliable offensive line withered against a ferocious Clemson defensive front.
After the game, Wilson questioned the play-calling of quarterbacks coach Mike O’Cain, and wondered aloud why the Hokies seemed to abandon the run game so quickly. The junior, who said this week he plan to explore his NFL draft options following the season, had just six carries in the first half.
“Part of the reason we stopped running the ball is because I guess the coaches thought it was unsuccessful the times we did try,” said Wilson, who entered Saturday as the nation’s third-leading rusher. “But at the same time, you’ve got to get your guys going. The offensive line, gotta get them moving and get your running back into the flow of the game. When you see that happening, you can’t just exclude them.”
When asked about the team’s struggles running the ball, Coach Frank Beamer said: “We tried to get [Wilson] going in the first half and they did a good job of stopping us. . . . We wanted to get him more involved in the second half, then the score got down quickly.”
Beamer was alluding to the Tigers’ dynamic offense, which got its groove back against a wounded Virginia Tech defense. Clemson entered Saturday’s game with losses in three of its past four games.
Already missing three opening-day starters due to injury, the Hokies lost star cornerback Jayron Hosley to a stinger midway through the first quarter. The Tigers didn’t shy away from attacking Virginia Tech’s secondary during a decisive third-quarter surge.
Clemson scored three touchdowns in a span of 4 minutes 24 seconds to blow the game wide open. First, quarterback tight end Dwayne Allen beat redshirt freshman cornerback Detrick Bonner and quarterback Tajh Boyd found him for an eight-yard touchdown pass.
After a three-and-out by the Hokies’ offense, the Tigers struck again as wide receiver Sammy Watkins streaked past cornerback Cris Hill and Boyd connected with him on a 53-yard touchdown strike that left Virginia Tech’s sideline shellshocked.
The Hokies’ offense lost three yards on its next series, and the Tigers didn’t let off the gas pedal. Less than two minutes after Watkins’s score, running back Andre Ellington burst through the line of scrimmage for a 29-yard touchdown to give Clemson a commanding 31-10 lead with six minutes remaining in the third quarter.
At that point, the Tigers had gained 181 yards since halftime. Virginia Tech had minus-two.
“It was quick strikes, too,” Hill said, shaking his head in frustration. “Too much to rally from.”
Boyd, who was named the ACC championship game MVP after completing 20 of 29 passes for 240 yards and three touchdowns, added a rushing touchdown early in the fourth quarter to seal the Hokies’ fate.
Clemson’s 38 points are tied for the most given up by a Virginia Tech defense to an ACC opponent. The Tigers finished the contest with 457 total yards.
That was more than enough against a Hokies offense that moved the ball at times, but once again couldn’t seem to put up points against a Clemson defense that has given up plenty recently.
And so as Thomas shuffled back to the locker room following a somber postgame news conference, his eyes were red from tears and his white jersey was covered in grass stains.
This loss, he said, hurt worse than the first one.