Clemson one win away from going to ACC title game
By Brett Huston,
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
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
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
“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.”
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
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
Virginia hasn’t visited Clemson since a 30-27 overtime loss in 2003.
Received 11/17/09 03:40 pm ET