No. 2 Clemson rolls over No. 12 Virginia Tech
BLACKSBURG, Va. -- If the first five games are any indication, No. 2 Clemson has a defense capable of taking it far this season.
The Tigers certainly played at a championship level throughout a difficult early-season schedule.
Clemson crashed No. 12 Virginia Tech’s house party Saturday night and came away with yet another big victory over a ranked opponent.
The Tigers toppled the Hokies 31-17 in front of an electric crowd at Lane Stadium. Their relentless defense forced three critical turnovers, including a big pick six by linebacker Dorian O‘Daniel in the fourth quarter.
“We were relentless. We played fast. We tackled well. Obviously, those three turnovers were huge,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said.
Kelly Bryant passed for 186 yards and a touchdown and rushed for 94 yards in leading Clemson to its third win this season over a ranked opponent and its fifth straight victory over Tech.
“He’s a poised guy. ... He settled in and did an excellent job,” Swinney said of Bryant.
Playing their ACC opener, the Hokies (4-1, 0-1) never really threatened the Tigers (5-0, 3-0) in the first matchup of top 12 teams at Lane Stadium since 2009.
Clemson led 10-0 after the first quarter and 17-3 at halftime. The defending national champions were outgained by the Hokies 342-332 but came up with big defensive plays to extend their school-record road winning streak to 12.
“We played a really good opponent today that highlighted some mistakes really quickly,” Tech coach Justin Fuente said.
The Tigers have won eight straight against teams ranked in the AP Top 25 and are 10-1 in matchups of top 15 teams in the last three years.
“Those guys are maybe the best team in the country. They’ve got athletes everywhere,” said Hokies wide receiver Cam Phillips, who had seven catches for 74 yards.
Tavien Feaster scored two touchdowns, one rushing and one receiving.
Tech redshirt freshman Josh Jackson completed 29 of 44 passes for 251 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.
The Hokies fell to 1-31 all-time against AP Top Five teams.
Clemson took a 24-3 lead on Feaster’s 1-yard touchdown run with 7:12 remaining in the third quarter. That deficit stood until early in the fourth when Greg Stroman returned a punt 43-yards to set up a 2-yard scoring run by wide receiver Sean Savoy.
The Tigers sealed the victory on a 22-yard interception return for a touchdown by O‘Daniel with 11:08 left.
“As an offense, we’ve got to execute better,” Phillips said. “There’s no ifs, ands or buts about it. ... We harp on ball security. I think that’s what gave us a chance in some games is not turning over the ball.”
Clemson dominated the first half, taking a 17-3 lead into the locker room at intermission.
The Tigers outgained the Hokies 271-149 in the first half thanks to a strong performance by Bryant, who completed 10 of 16 passes for 176 yards and a touchdown and added 65 yards on the ground.
Virginia Tech managed only 35 first-quarter yards and was held without a first down for almost 13 minutes to start the game.
Meanwhile, the Tigers moved down the field with relative ease. They had favorable field position on their first possession thanks to a short punt by Tech’s Oscar Bradburn. The Tigers had first-and-goal from the 3 but couldn’t cross the goal line and settled for a 23-yard field goal by Alex Spence to take a 3-0 lead.
Clemson had no such problem reaching the end zone on its next drive, taking a 10-0 lead on a 60-yard catch and run touchdown by Feaster with 6:48 remaining in the opening quarter. The sophomore snuck uncovered into the secondary and ran untouched for the score.
The Hokies got on the scoreboard late in the second quarter on a 43-yard field goal by Joey Slye.
The Tigers wasted little time answering. Bryant completed passes of 35 and 20 yards to wide receiver Deon Cain to give Clemson a first-and-goal at the 1, and running back C.J. Fuller carried the ball in for the short score with 1:19 remaining in the half.
Virginia Tech had an opportunity to cut into the deficit late in the second quarter, but Slye was wide right on a 45-yard field-goal attempt with two seconds remaining before halftime.
“The story of the game was the turnovers and how we attacked the line of scrimmage,” Swinney said. “I thought our defense was just awesome for four quarters.”
NOTES: Clemson RB Tavien Feaster scored a 60-yard touchdown in the first quarter on only his second career reception. His first career catch came on the previous play and gained three yards. ... Virginia Tech junior CB Adonis Alexander returned to action after missing the previous two games for disciplinary reasons. Alexander did not start, but entered the game during the first possession. ... The Tigers’ 10 first-quarter points broke a 95-0 scoring streak for the Hokies. Tech scored 57 straight points at East Carolina on Sept. 16 and toppled Old Dominion 38-0 last week. ... Virginia Tech RB Steven Peoples (ankle), who scored a career-high three touchdowns last week, did not dress.