Grading the Tigers at Virginia
To Tommy Bowden's credit, he stuck with the running game Thursday night. Clemson came out running the football right at Virginia on the first series of the game that resulted in a Clemson touchdown.
When the night was over, Clemson rushed the ball 21. That was my magic number that I wanted to see at the end of the game. The bad news for the Tigers is that they ran the ball about as poorly as they have all season. Clemson gained only 45 yards net rushing; by far the worst of the season and it ultimately provided the demise on Thursday night.
In addition, the shelf life of Yusef Kelly may have expired Thursday night as the senior could never get things going in a game many thought he may excel at.
2. Haggle Hagans
Marcus Hagans proved to be a really good quarterback for the Cavaliers on Thursday night. Hagans passed for 225 yards and ran for another 38 on the evening. Many of those yards were in the first half when the Clemson defense was doing a good job of shutting down the Virginia running game.
As the 2nd half wore on, the Cavaliers stopped relying on Hagans and let the running backs do the damage. Alvin Pearman and Wali Lundy combined for 192 yards rushing, much of it in the 2nd half, to completely wear down the Clemson defense.
So while the Tigers put the ball into Hagans' hands in the first half, it was all the Tigers could do to contain the running backs in the 2nd half. However, you got the feeling Hagans could have done as he pleased Thursday night if called upon to do so. And that is to his credit.
3. Stop Killing Yourself
Surprisingly, turnovers were not the reason Clemson lost the game Thursday night. Both teams had one turnover and Clemson's came at an inconsequential point in the game. So the good news is that the Tigers were able to cut down on the bad mistakes that were killing them in the first four weeks of the season.
The bad news is that Clemson still could not score points even considering the lack of turnovers. So that sends Coach Tommy Bowden back to the drawing board in the 10 days before the Utah State game. The woes on offense can no longer be contributed to the turnovers. So where exactly are the problems with the offense coming from? Stay tuned.
4. A Much Needed Break
Coach Bowden continues to complain about the defense not creating turnovers, but for the 3rd straight week the offense could not move the chains at a rate to give the defense a chance.
Virginia won the time of procession war by a whopping 13 minutes. Some of that certainly falls on the defenses shoulders for allowing 10 and 11 play drives like the Cavaliers were able to put together in the 2nd half Thursday night. But that also falls back to the offense that went three and out on three consecutive series in the 3rd quarter that ultimately sealed the fate for the Tigers.
There most certainly is a balance that is not being met here. Part of that blame certainly falls on the defense to make some stops. But at some point the offense has got to pull its weight as well and keep the ball in their hands long enough for the defensive players to catch their breath.
5. Nothing Easy
Another bright spot for the Tiger defense and special teams was the fact that Virginia had to earn everything that they got Thursday night. The Cavaliers did not have a scoring drive of less than six plays, and three of the Cavalier scoring drives were more than nine plays.
So once again the Clemson team corrected a problem from the week before despite no real obvious return for this feat. But as the Tigers play teams not as talented as FSU and UVA down the stretch, the turnover battle and the nothing easy key will play a more prominent role with better rewards if the Tigers can be successful in these categories.
Next week Clemson hosts Utah State on Homecoming. After having traveled half way to California (College Station), half way to Cuba (Tallahassee), and half way to Canada (Charlottesville) it sure will be good to sit in Death Valley to watch the Tigers play. And hopefully the road to recovery starts next week against the Utah State Aggies.
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