CHARLOTTE—CHARLOTTE, N.C. By the time it was done dismantling Virginia Tech 38-10 in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game, Clemson had to feel as if it was vindicated, while Tech was left empty.
No, Clemson's 23-3 win on Oct. 1 against Tech in Blacksburg wasn't a fluke. Yes, Clemson's run of three losses in four games coming into the ACC title game did seem like a distant memory Saturday night.
With the loss, Tech could be destined to play in the Chick-fil-A Bowl on Dec. 31 in Atlanta. It would be Tech's second trip to the Chick-fil-A Bowl in the last three years, and fourth appearance in the bowl overall. In 2009, Tech defeated Tennessee 37-14 in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
Clemson, which will be headed to the Orange Bowl, captured its first ACC title since 1991. It will be making its first appearance in a Bowl Championship Series caliber game since '81, when it won the national championship.
Tech finished with 330 yards, while Clemson had 457 yards. Tech quarterback Logan Thomas was 22 of 44 passing for 274 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. Running back David Wilson, who was named the ACC's player of the year this week, had 11 carries for a season-low 32 yards. Tech committed nine penalties for 91 yards lost, and the Hokies turned the ball over three times.
Clemson's offense seemed to hit rock-bottom Nov. 26 in its 34-13 loss to South Carolina, when the Tigers posted just 153 yards. It was a huge drop for a team averaging 439 yards per game for the season, which put Clemson 29th in the nation in total offense entering the game.
Clemson's revival was embodied by what it was able to do on three consecutive drives in the third quarter. While Clemson found a spark behind Tajh Boyd, a Phoebus High graduate, the third quarter was an utter disaster for Tech.
With the score tied 10-10, No. 21 Clemson (10-3) took over at its own 13-yard line on its opening drive of the second half. Boyd proceeded to complete all three of his passes on the drive for 48 yards, and added 15 yards rushing. He capped the drive with an 8-yard touchdown pass to Dwayne Allen with 8:11 left in the quarter.
Allen may have come up with the biggest play of the game on the drive, when he scooped up a fumble by wide receiver Sammy Watkins at Tech's 28. Tech strong safety Antone Exum appeared to have a chance to recover the fumble, but Allen came up with it to preserve the drive.
After a three-and-out on Tech's next drive, Boyd wasted no time going to the air again. He found Watkins streaking up the field behind cornerback Cris Hill. Boyd hit Watkins with a 53-yard touchdown pass to extend Clemson's lead to 24-10 with 8:02 left in the third quarter.
Another Tech drive and another three-and-out was followed by a Clemson offense that went to the ground to add to its lead. Running back Andre Ellington ripped off back-to-back runs for a total of 41 yards, scoring on a 29-yard run to push Clemson's advantage to 31-10 with 6:21 remaining. He finished the game with 20 carries for 125 yards and a touchdown.
Clemson put up more yards in the third quarter (210) than it did the entire game against South Carolina. Tech managed just 51 yards in the quarter. Boyd, who was named the game's Most Valuable Player, completed 20 of 29 passes in the game for 240 yards and three touchdowns.
Clemson opened the scoring in the first quarter when it capitalized on Thomas' lost fumble on Tech's first play from scrimmage. Defensive end Andre Branch recovered the fumble, which was caused by linebacker Stephone Anthony at Tech's 24. Three plays later, Boyd threw a 24-yard touchdown pass to Allen to put Clemson up 7-0 with 11:17 left in the first quarter.
Tech bounced back later in the quarter when Thomas helped the Hokies convert a third-and-7 with a 21-yard pass to receiver Marcus Davis to move Tech to its own 47. Thomas spotted receiver D.J. Coles two plays later on a play-action pass for a 45-yard touchdown to tie the game 7-7 with 44 seconds remaining. The teams traded field goals in the second quarter.