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Dec. 4, 2011
CHARLOTTE (theACC.com) – The announcement went out from the public address system with about five minutes to go Saturday night.
“For the safety of the players, please do not throw anything onto the playing field.”
But after 30 years since its last postseason trip to south Florida, Clemson fans felt they were entitled to throw a few oranges onto the grass of Bank of American Stadium. The Tigers were en route to a 38-10 thrashing of Virginia Tech to win the Dr Pepper ACC Championship game and a berth in the Discover Orange Bowl.
Safety Rashard Hall picked up one orange, ripped off half the peel and put the rest of the fruit in his mouth. Defensive end Corey Crawford chomped on another and offensive tackle Phillip Price, with a wide grin, tossed yet another back to the crowd.
When the horn sounded to end the game, players jumped up and down in glee, put on ACC champion hats and let all their emotion out. A couple even did “Lambeau leaps” to the first row of the stands.
“This is what we worked all season for, to be ACC champions,” said tight end Dwayne Allen on the field, “and here it is, here it is. We beat (Virginia Tech) the first time and we knew we should come out and dominate them the second time.”
His reference was to Clemson’s 23-3 victory over the Hokies on Oct. 1 in Blacksburg. That was the Tigers’ fifth win of the season. They would extend that streak to eight straight and rise to No. 5 in the rankings before stumbling three times in their last four games.
Coach Dabo Swinney talked about turnovers – the Tigers had 12 of them in those four games – and getting everyone to “pull the rope in the same direction” on every play.
Those issues were solved during the week of practice before this game. They committed no turnovers against the Hokies and their execution was virtually flawless.
“We’ve been down in a valley for a couple of weeks now,” Swinney said, “and these players locked arms, came together, pulled the rope in the same direction and they charged up the hill today.”
Allen said Swinney was tough on the players Monday, when they spent all day watching film and “watching each other’s mistakes.”
Swinney said he should have had the meeting three weeks ago.
“We really don’t have an ability problem,” he said. “We have a little bit of an accountability problem and responsibility and dependability. So it was a challenging week … and they responded the right way.”
Allen said Swinney’s message was to the point.
“Coach said it all along – the only team that can beat Clemson is Clemson,” Allen said. “If you watched the film, it’s not South Carolina physically beating us, it’s not NC State physically beating us, it’s us…not doing our jobs, defensively and offensively.”
Everyone did their jobs on both sides of the ball in this game. The defense stopped Tech’s David Wilson, the ACC Player of the Year, with 32 yards on 11 carries, forcing quarterback Logan Thomas to throw the ball 44 times. He completed only half of those, was sacked twice and intercepted twice.
“We just had to throw the ball the whole time,” Thomas said. “We didn’t really get a chance to get David going. We like to … let him pound and keep the defense honest, but they could just sit on our passes.”
The game was 10-10 at halftime, but Clemson put it away with three touchdowns in a span of 4:24 in the third quarter.
“We were excited at halftime,” Hall said. “We knew we were going to come out and just blank them in the second half and that’s exactly what we did. The offense came out on fire and we were just stopping them back to back to back on defense.”
The explosive Clemson offense took advantage of those stops. Quarterback Tahj Boyd, the game’s most valuable player, drove the Tigers 87 yards, capping it with an 8-yard TD toss to a wide-open Allen in the end zone. It was Allen’s second catch and his second score.
“The corner who had me man-to-man, he just ran inside,” Allen said. “I guess he thought I was going to run the post route, but I just broke it to the corner and Tahj laid the ball out there.”
That put the Tigers on top 17-10 and opened the gates. Moments later, after a Virginia Tech punt, Boyd hit Sammy Watkins in stride for a 53-yard score and a 24-10 lead. It was a play-action pass with a fake to running back Andre Ellington.
As soon as Watkins heard the play called, he knew what the result would be.
“We were saving that play the whole game,” he said. “We knew he (Tech’s cornerback) was going to come up on it. We called it and I was like ‘it’s going to be a touchdown.’ It was a double move and he went for it.”
Clemson’s defense forced another three-and-out punt that traveled just 29 yards to the Hokies’ 41-yard line. Three plays later, Ellington burst around the left side for a 29-yard TD that pushed the lead to 31-10 and effectively put the game away.
“I think their offense did a good job of mixing it up,” Beamer said. “It was up the middle, it was around the side, it was throwing it down the field. It gets you back on your heels.”
It was a vindication of sorts for Boyd, who had an excellent season but did not play well in the last four games.
“My quarterback showed back up,” Swinney said.
Boyd finished with 20 completions in 29 attempts for three TDs and added a fourth on a 1-yard sneak.
“Somewhere you’ve just got to find out and dig deep into yourself,” he said.
Offensive tackle Landon Walker concurred.
“I think it was just a sense of ownership out there tonight,” Walker said. “It’s been one guy here and one guy here not doing their job. We weren’t clicking. We had a heart to heart on Monday and got everybody right.”
Although the Tigers put things away in the second half, they set the tone in the first half. On Virginia Tech’s first play, Clemson defensive end Andre Branch hit Thomas hard and then linebacker Stephone Anthony stripped the ball, which Branch recovered. It was the first turnover created by the defense in four games.
That set up Clemson’s first touchdown, a short pass from Boyd to Allen, who rumbled 23 yards with three Hokies bouncing off him like gnats off a locomotive.
“Coach said ‘do not let one man bring you down.’” Allen said. “I just wasn’t going to have it tonight. I knew what we were playing for.”
And so did the rest of his teammates.