The Hokies had a chance to make a statement in a Saturday night game on national television, but the offense and special teams took one on the chin in a 23-3 loss to #13 Clemson. The Hokies are now 4-1 on the season, and 0-1 in the ACC. Clemson improved to 5-0 overall, 2-0 in conference play, and the Tigers are headed towards a top 10 ranking when the polls are released on Monday.
The Tech defense limited a powerful Clemson offense to 323 yards, and held the Tigers to just 119 yards on the ground. Tajh Boyd was just 13-of-32 for 204 yards, with a touchdown and an interception, easily his worst game of the season. Clemson ran just 67 plays, after running 92 against Auburn and 85 against Florida State. Overall, the Hokie defense played a good game against very good competition.
That wasn’t enough to overcome the struggles of the Tech offense, however. The Hokies shot themselves in the foot from the opening possession. Logan Thomas was intercepted in Clemson territory on a slant pattern that deflected off the hands of Jarrett Boykin. On the next drive, David Wilson fumbled after a big run up the middle, and Clemson recovered. Tech also had a false start on the Clemson two yard line, and despite picking up 17 first downs for the game, couldn’t manage to punch it in the endzone.
Thomas was 15-of-27 for 125 yards, with an interception. Clemson challenged Tech to complete passes down the field, and the Hokies couldn’t do it. David Wilson did manage to rush for 123 yards on 20 carries, but the Tech passing game couldn’t get anything going at all against a well-prepared Clemson defense.
In particular, the Hokies didn’t have an answer for Clemson defensive end Andre Branch, a Richmond product. Tech tried to block Branch one-on-one all night, and he had five tackles for loss and three sacks.
Special teams were a major adventure, as they’ve been recently, and in a bad way. Scott Demler averaged just 29.4 yards on eight punts. Tech even attempted what looked like it was going to be a rugby style punt at one point, but Demler dropped it. After picking it up, Demler had plenty of time to get the kick away because Clemson wasn’t coming after it, but he rushed it. It resulted in an 11 yard punt.
That particular bad punt hurt the Hokies in the worst way. Tech punted from the Clemson 45 in their first possession of the third quarter, down just 10-3. They had a chance to pin the Tigers deep and get an advantage in field position. Instead, after the 11 yard punt, Clemson got the ball on their own 34 and ended up scoring a touchdown in just three plays to take a 17-3 lead.
Sustaining drives was Virginia Tech’s biggest issue in this game. They had just two three-and-outs up until the six minute mark of the fourth quarter, when the game was already out of reach. Whether it was an interception, a fumble, poor execution by the Hokies or good defense by Clemson, Tech just couldn’t keep drives alive against the Tigers. Though they picked up 17 first downs in the game, they had just 258 yards of total offense.
The Hokies will have to get better quickly on offense and special teams, because they’ll face a talented Miami team in Lane Stadium next Saturday. Kickoff is scheduled for 3:30pm, and the game will be televised by ABC.