CHARLOTTESVILLE — The Clemson fight song blared and the smattering of Tigers fans left in Scott Stadium roared, so Virginia Coach Mike London lingered for just a few extra seconds. He looked over at the orange-and-purple clad corner of the stands only to be reminded why they were so happy to begin with when he caught another glimpse of the scoreboard.
London could only shake his head at a scene that appeared all too familiar and continued jogging off the field.
Few figured the Cavaliers stood much of a chance against No. 9 Clemson, but after the Tigers left Charlottesville with an easy 59-10 romp over Virginia on Saturday — an identical score to when the Cavaliers lost to No. 2 Oregon back in September — London and company were still trying to come to grips with how it all fell apart.
Clemson scored three touchdowns in the final 4 minutes 18 seconds of the second quarter and tallied 35 unanswered points overall to break open a tie game and give quarterback Tajh Boyd the sort of homecoming the senior could have only dreamed about previously.
The Hampton native finished the afternoon 24 of 29 for 377 yards and four touchdowns (three passing, one rushing) on an afternoon when a collection of his family and friends watched Clemson rack up the most yards against a Virginia defense (610) since 2000. It was the largest margin of victory for the Tigers in an ACC road game since beating the Cavaliers, 55-0, back in 1984.
Virginia’s sixth loss in a row officially ended its hopes of qualifying for a bowl game this year, and London is 4-17 in his past 21 games against Football Bowl Subdivision competition. The Cavaliers have lost six straight games in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1975 and 1976.
“Things unraveled for us and they took advantage of a lot of things,” London said. “It just kind of took off for them, what they were doing and what they exploited.”
The afternoon began as many predicted, with Clemson storming right down the field on its opening possession when Boyd found wide receiver Sammy Watkins on a 33-yard touchdown pass. The throw moved Boyd ahead of former North Carolina State quarterback Phillip Rivers as the ACC’s all-time touchdowns leader.
Initially, Virginia didn’t back down. Quarterback David Watford quickly orchestrated a 10-play drive, converting two third downs and then running around the edge for a six-yard touchdown that tied the score at seven with five minutes left in the first quarter.
But Clemson struck right back when Boyd picked on Virginia freshman cornerback Tim Harris for a 37-yard completion and tailback C.J. Davidson barreled in for the Tigers second touchdown. Harris, starting in place of injured starters Demetrious Nicholson and Maurice Canady, was targeted often by the Boyd.
“He abused the boundary guys,” linebacker Henry Coley said. “We just didn’t execute.”
That, though, obscured what was otherwise a strong start by the Cavaliers’ depleted defense. They held Clemson’s high-powered attack without a first down on four-straight first-half possessions, including safety Anthony Harris’s sixth interception of the season.
But after its first drive, Virginia’s offense barely showed a pulse. The Cavaliers have scored just 13 points on 16 takeaways the entire year.
Watford admitted he “forced too many passes he shouldn’t have” and finished just 16 of 35 for 130 yards a week after a 376-yard performance against Georgia Tech in which he set program records for completions and attempts.
“I felt like we were on fire. It felt like everything was clicking when we first came out,” running back Kevin Parks said. “We had too many three and outs and I feel like that was the difference in the game. We didn’t make the most of our opportunities.”
Clemson, meanwhile, scored 14 points off Virginia turnovers before the first half ended. After a fourth-down stop by Coley, Watford overthrew wide receiver Darius Jennings and Tigers safety Jayron Kearse returned the interception 37 yards. Boyd capitalized, finding tailback Roderick McDowell for a touchdown on a 10-yard screen pass.
On Virginia’s ensuing possession, running back Khalek Shepherd was stripped by Kearse near midfield and five plays later McDowell powered through defenders for a 25-yard touchdown run. The damage only got worse following another Cavaliers’ three-and-out as Boyd led Clemson on an 86-yard drive that took all of 42 seconds and gave the Tigers a 35-7 advantage heading into halftime.
None of Clemson’s touchdown drives Saturday lasted longer than 2 minutes 12 seconds.
Boyd, meanwhile, closed his day by hitting Watkins (eight catches, 169 yards) for a 96-yard touchdown pass thrown from inside his own end zone. Boyd did not play over the final 26 minutes of the game, and by the time he met Watford on the field for a postgame photo, the shock of what transpired still hadn’t worn off.
“It hurts. I take it very personally,” Watford said of the final score. “We just got to play better. That’s the most important thing: We got to play better.”