Clemson one win away from going to ACC title game

By Brett Huston,
STATS Writer

Clemson didn’t look much like a team that would be in contention for a BCS berth as of early October.

That was before the 18th-ranked Tigers’ offense – most notably C.J. Spiller – took off.

Averaging 42.0 points in winning five straight while Spiller has

emerged as a Heisman Trophy candidate, Clemson can wrap up its first

trip to the ACC title game with a home victory Saturday against lowly

Virginia.

The Tigers (7-3, 5-2) lost three

of its first five games by a total of 10 points, falling by three at

Georgia Tech and four at home to TCU – both teams now ranked in the top

10.

While those defeats came against

impressive opposition, a 24-21 loss at woeful Maryland on Oct. 3 could

have sent Clemson into a tailspin. Instead, the Tigers have become the

team to beat in the league’s Atlantic Division by reeling off five

consecutive victories. They’ve scored at least 38 points in each win

while averaging 425.8 yards, most recently beating North Carolina State

43-23 last Saturday in Raleigh.

With a win

on senior day against Virginia (3-7, 2-4), Clemson would clinch a spot

in the ACC championship game to face the Yellow Jackets, who needed a

36-yard field goal in the final minute to win the first meeting 30-27

in Atlanta on Sept. 10.

The Tigers haven’t won the ACC title since 1991.

“We’re where we wanted to be,” Spiller said. “We control our own destiny.”

The senior tailback has keyed Clemson’s turnaround. Spiller ran for

72.0 yards per game and 4.2 per carry in the Tigers’ first five games,

running for one touchdown and catching another. In their five straight

wins, he’s rushed for 95.2 yards per game and 7.0 per carry while

totaling eight TDs.

Spiller needs 103

all-purpose yards to break the ACC single-season record of 2,054, held

by Virginia’s Thomas Jones. Last Saturday, Spiller had a 16-yard

touchdown run, caught a 34-yard scoring pass and threw a 17-yard TD to

Xavier Dye, becoming the first Clemson player to do all three in one

game.

“I’m just proud of C.J. – another

ho-hum day for him,” coach Dabo Swinney said. “I don’t know how many

other ‘first evers’ the guy can have.”

The

only other TD pass of Spiller’s career was a 15-yarder to Tyler Grisham

last season in Charlottesville as the Tigers beat Virginia 13-3 despite

gaining only 192 total yards. Spiller was held to 18 yards on 14

carries.

He’s 21st in the nation in

scrimmage yards per game (121.8), but what boosts his Heisman candidacy

is his contribution in the return game. He’s taken three kicks and one

punt back for touchdowns this season, and with one more kickoff return

TD, he will tie the career record of six held by Southern California’s

Anthony Davis (1972-74) and Tulsa’s Ashlan Davis (2004-05).

Clemson also has gotten a big boost lately from freshman Kyle Parker.

He’s thrown 10 touchdowns and two interceptions in the Tigers’ four

wins over FBS opponents during their five-game winning streak while

compiling a 164.9 passer rating.

His rating was 102.4 through his first five collegiate games.

“Early in the season, the skills were apparent, but clearly he was a

player who hadn’t had to make those decisions under the speed of ACC

competition,” Virginia coach Al Groh said. “Now that he’s 10 games into

the season he’s really doing a terrific job with it.”

Swinney’s defense, meanwhile, allows 299.3 yards per game to rank

second in the ACC and 20th nationally. Clemson’s 20 interceptions lead

the FBS — 12 in the last five games — and DeAndre McDaniels leads the

team with eight.

Virginia only has nine

turnovers in its past nine games after having seven in a disastrous

season-opening loss to William & Mary.

The Cavaliers’ offense, though, still isn’t moving the ball. Virginia

ranks 118th in the nation with 266.7 yards per game and 106th in

scoring offense, averaging 19.8 points.

After three straight games under 200 yards of total offense, the

Cavaliers gained 298 last Saturday against Boston College – Jameel

Sewell threw for 221 – but they couldn’t score an offensive touchdown

in a 14-10 loss.

“It’s important for me,

despite the bitterness of the loss, to keep in perspective that very

little separated the two teams,” Groh said after his team’s fourth

straight defeat.

Virginia hasn’t visited Clemson since a 30-27 overtime loss in 2003.

Received 11/17/09 03:40 pm ET