College Sports

Clemson holds off Virginia Tech in ACC title game

Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson, named most valuable player, completed 23 of 34 passes for three touchdowns and 288 yards in Saturday’s ACC championship game in Orlando. Watson also rushed for 85 yards and two touchdowns.
Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson, named most valuable player, completed 23 of 34 passes for three touchdowns and 288 yards in Saturday’s ACC championship game in Orlando. Watson also rushed for 85 yards and two touchdowns. Getty Images

It appears Clemson will make a second consecutive appearance in the college football playoffs.

Where and against whom they might play is more uncertain.

The 12-1 Tigers repeated as ACC champions Saturday, beating Virginia Tech 42-35 in a title game that was moved from Charlotte to Orlando over the conference’s concerns with the North Carolina law known as House Bill 2.

Undefeated Alabama appears a prohibitive favorite to be the top seed in a four-team tournament. That would logically send the Crimson Tide to Atlanta for one of two semifinals on Dec. 31. Clemson could either be seeded fourth and play Alabama in a rematch of last season’s national championship game or go to Phoenix, where its opponent could be Washington or perhaps Ohio State.

Clemson cornerback Cordrea Tankersley saved the day for the Tigers when he picked off a pass by Virginia Tech quarterback Jerod Evans 14 yards from the end zone. The Hokies (9-4) were driving for what could have been a tying touchdown in the game’s last two minutes. Evans made the throw on fourth-and-6.

Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson, named most valuable player, completed 23 of 34 passes for three touchdowns and 288 yards. Watson also rushed for 85 yards and two touchdowns.

Watson nearly got his team in big trouble in the third quarter when his pass was tipped by defensive lineman Vinny Mihota and then intercepted by linebacker Andrew Motuapuaka. That gave the Hokies possession 38 yards from the end zone. The Tigers’ defense rose up, defending two passes then sacking Evans. Carlos Watkins got that sack, Clemson’s fourth of the game.

The Tigers then drove 98 yards for their fourth touchdown, ending with Wayne Gallman’s 8-yard run into the end zone. The drive featured two long passes to wide receiver Mike Williams and several keepers by Watson.

Tankersley picked off Evans along the sideline, giving Clemson possession at midfield with about six minutes left in the third quarter.

Watson again guided the Tigers to the end zone, scoring on a 2-yard run to make it a 35-14 lead. with about five minutes left in the third quarter.

Virginia Tech then scored mostly off two big plays — a 42-yard completion by Evans to Bucky Hodges and a 27-yard touchdown run by Travon McMillan.

Three who mattered

Deshaun Watson: He couldn’t have executed much better in Clemson’s first two possessions Saturday.

Jordan Leggett: Great job getting behind Virginia Tech’s secondary for the first of two first-half touchdown receptions.

Mike Williams: He has the makings of a great NFL wide receiver.

Observations

▪  Stretching back to the South Carolina game, Deshaun Watson completed 19 consecutive passes, a Clemson record.

▪  Virginia Tech kept extending Clemson drives with constant first-half pass interference penalties.

▪  Watson entered this game on a major uptick; he completed 75.5 percent of his passes in November, best completion percentage in the FBS among quarterbacks with at least 100 attempts.

▪  Clemson coach Dabo Swinney says it’s imperative the Tigers play a tough schedule each season to build a potential playoff resume. Entering the ACC championship game, the combined winning percentage of Clemson’s opponents (not including results versus Clemson) was .618. Among FBS teams, only Tennessee and Ohio State had higher opponent winning percentages.

▪  Florida is a major recruiting area for Clemson. There are 13 Floridians on the roster, including first-team All-ACC tight end Jordan Leggett.

Worth mentioning

▪  Some major confusion in the Clemson secondary led to a 53-yard reception by Isaiah Ford to set up Virginia Tech’s second touchdown.

▪  Clemson reached 500 points scored for the fourth time in five seasons.

▪  It looked like around two-thirds of the upper-deck seats at Camping World Stadium were filled, after the ACC moved the game from Charlotte to Orlando.

Rick Bonnell: 704-358-5129, @rick_bonnell

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