Clemson at Virginia Tech
Clemson. You've proven yourself. Now you'd shown you can hit someone, too.
The Auburn win was on the offense. It was the national coming out party for Sammy Watkins, and the attack simply outplayed the Auburn attack in impressive fashion.
The Florida State win was nice, but Seminole No. 2 quarterback Clint Trickett threw for 336 yards and three touchdowns. Clemson won on offense with Tajh Boyd bombing away for 344 yards and three scores.
Against Virginia Tech, the Tigers allowed just 258 yards of Hokie offense, gave up just one field goal, cranked out four sacks, and came up with two takeaways. This might be a very, very young team, and this might be a case of Clemson not knowing it's supposed to be struggling in big games and in big moments. The Tigers showed toughness and maturity to go into Blacksburg and come out with a win, and now the pressure is on.
This has been a terrific three week stretch, but now the Tigers have to deal with expectations. Now the BCS talk will start and dreams of winning the ACC title and being in the national title chase look for real. That means Clemson can't be Clemson and by flaky against a Maryland or a Wake Forest.
This is just another big step with nasty games ahead on the road against Georgia Tech and South Carolina along with home dates against North Carolina and a hot Wake Forest, but if the Tigers are good enough to win at Virginia Tech, they're good enough to beat anyone left on the schedule.
After proving they can win with offense or defense, and with their talent, the sky's the limit.
So, how high is the ceiling for this Clemson program?
Since the subject is Clemson, a program many had listed outside the Top 25 in the preseason, there's a natural sense to be cautious about the school's potential to actually compete for a national championship. However, the Tigers have begun to remind me of the 2010 Auburn squad. Now, I'm not suggesting that Dabo Swinney's team is poised for a BCS title run, but they've begun to ride a similar trajectory as last year's improbable champs. From the new starting quarterback and modest expectations to the penchant for winning close games, the Tigers are starting to resemble, well, the Tigers.
Besides LSU, how many programs have had a more impressive start to the season than Clemson? You'll need no more than one hand to count them. Having suffocated Virginia Tech in Blacksburg on Saturday, the Tigers have now bested three consecutive ranked teams, Auburn, Florida State and the Hokies. Best of all, they got to 5-0 with defense, the first time this year that that's happened. On an evening when the high-powered offense labored to get out of the starting blocks, the D stepped up to hold Tech to just a second-quarter Cody Journell field goal. If that effort from the defense was the beginning of a trend, Clemson is going to be a very tough out over the next two months.
So, where does the ride stop for Clemson, one of the country's biggest surprises of the first half of the year? It's a fluid situation that's evolving on a weekly basis. If the Tigers and Georgia Tech can keep winning over the next three weeks, it's going to set up an Oct. 29 showdown on the Flats that could propel the winner into legitimate contention for a spot in the national title game. Raise your hand if in August you saw that scenario developing this season.
By Matt Zemek
Yes, Clemson won against Auburn and Florida State, but those wins were at home. The Tigers had to travel to Lane Stadium; to Blacksburg; to the lair of the defending ACC champions. This was where the joyride was supposed to end... or at least get interrupted. True, Virginia Tech had wobbled through September without a lot of conviction, but this was supposed to be the Hokies' coming-out party in 2011. History, resumes, patterns, trends - they all pointed in Virginia Tech's direction.
It's not hyperbole, and it's definitely not premature to say so: Clemson - yes, Clemson - has stamped itself as an upper-tier team. The Tigers have also gained a considerable amount of leverage in this respect as well: If they were to run the table in the regular season and lose (perhaps to Virginia Tech?) in the ACC Championship Game, they would own a resume worthy of a BCS bowl, thereby enabling the Atlantic Coast Conference to gain its first-ever BCS at-large invitee and, thusly, the league's first-ever two-bowl haul in the BCS's five-game pageant. This win carries enormous long-term significance for the program that has now proven, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that it can get out of its own way. The Florida State war was draining, so the ability to go to Blacksburg the very next week and prevail represents an incredibly strong statement... not just to the ACC, but to the national college football community.
It's true that Virginia Tech's offense resides in the dumpster. It's true that the Hokies and new offensive coordinator Mike O'Cain did not run the ball as aggressively or as creatively as they needed to. Yet, Clemson still smothered the Hokies and waited for the home team to implode. That was the smart strategy, and it worked.
Sammy Watkins, the do-everything receiver who lit up Auburn and Florida State, didn't play a dynamic game against Virginia Tech, but he didn't need to. Clemson was able to play a smashmouth style and trade punches in a different kind of contest; the Tigers didn't get enmeshed in a racehorse affair with "basketball on grass"; they slugged it out with the Hokies and proved to be the more fundamentally sound squad. Teams that can win in different ways each week (see LSU as example No. 1) are the teams that max out in a given season. Clemson, through five games, has maxed out.
Yes, this is really happening. Let the doubting cease in the Palmetto State, where the Tigers - not the South Carolina Gamecocks - are doing the heavy lifting this season.
By Russ Mitchell
Follow me on Twitter @russmitchellcfb
Don't look now, but this isn't your father's Clemson team.
The Tigers didn't just win Saturday...they exorcized ghosts with this win.
Clemson ended a long litany of Va. Tech streaks on Saturday, and did it in striking, dominating fashion. In Blacksburg no less. The third straight ranked opponent the Tigers have beaten.
And many folks are learning how to spell Taj with an H.
If you don't know much about Clemson redshirt sophomore quarterback Tajh Boyd, it's time. He was shaky at times in his 13 of 33 passes for 204 yards day against the Hokies (with one touchdown and one interception), however, on the season he's a remarkable 103 of 138 for 1459 yards, 14 touchdowns to just 2 interceptions.
For an inexperienced quarterback playing in a BCS conference, that last stat is head turning. It's played a material role in the Tigers being second best in the ACC in turnover margin.
Boyd's also ranks in the Top 20 nationally in Passing Efficiency, and can hurt you with his legs if need be.
Remember, Va Tech's defense entered the game ranked fourth best in the nation, IF the Hokies defensive honors had come against some rather suspect offenses...not unlike the Florida Gators.
Given the Hokies' home and conference winning records, and Clemson's penchant for...let's just call it instability...this Tiger victory has surprised many. Not just inside the ACC, but across the nation.
It shouldn't have. Along with fellow newcomer, freshman wide receiver Sammy Watkins, Boyd is leading this Tiger offense to heights not seen around Clemson for a while.
With games against a struggling Boston College (1-4) and Maryland (2-2) up next, there's a decent chance the Tigers will be 7-0 and a Top Five team when the Tar Heels come calling on October 22.
Who would have thought that in August.
By: Barrett Sallee
Follow me on Twitter: @BarrettSallee