Sunday, November 22, 2009
Clemson holds off wildcatting Cavs
Virginia goes with an offensive switch that works well until it loses Mikell Simpson to injury.
Virginia's Mikell Simpson (5) breaks free between Clemson defenders Brandon Maye (20) and Kavell Conner on Saturday.
- Cavs continue to look west in scheduling
- Former Virginia assistant Mike Groh joins Bears staff
- Fairchild not expecting to overhaul UVa offense
- Lazor: Eagles job too good to pass up
Aaron McFarling's blog
CLEMSON, S.C. -- There was a wildcat on the loose Saturday, and for a while, it threatened to put a damper on Clemson's division-clinching celebration.
Actually, the Tigers had clinched a spot in the ACC championship game before taking the field at Memorial Stadium, but an anticipated walkover did not materialize.
Virginia, a 2012-point underdog, hung tough for a half before 18th-ranked Clemson turned up the heat in a 34-21 victory.
It was the sixth straight victory for the Tigers, who sacked Virginia quarterback Jameel Sewell seven times, including six times in the fourth quarter.
The Cavaliers (3-8, 2-5 ACC) suffered their fifth straight loss despite an uncharacteristically potent offensive performance.
When Sewell connected with Mikell Simpson for a 23-yard touchdown pass at the halftime gun, Virginia trailed 24-21.
At that point, the Cavaliers had outgained the Tigers 233-224.
Simpson, who had not played one week earlier in a 14-10 loss to Boston College, was responsible for 127 of those yards (84 rushing, 43 receiving).
While waiting for the results of a replay of the half-ending touchdown catch, most people failed to notice Simpson hobbling back to the bench.
Up the field, UVa coach Al Groh had seen Simpson pull his right hamstring as soon as it happened.
Simpson, who had been taking direct snaps out of a wildcat formation, did not play in the second half.
"Clearly, that removed a facet of our operation that had been successful," Groh said. "I'm sure that Clemson would have made their adjustments to it, but we still would have liked to challenge those adjustments."
Actually, Virginia returned to the wildcat on its second series of the second half, with utilityman Vic Hall taking direct snaps.
Hall picked up 3 and 2 yards on consecutive runs; then, Sewell returned to quarterback on third down and was sacked.
The Cavaliers did not have a first down in the third quarter and had a total of 40 yards of offense in the second half, 38 of that coming on a Sewell pass to diminutive freshman Perry Jones.
At least for a half, Virginia's offense was as clever as it was productive.
Sewell's untouched 6-yard run for Virginia's first score came on the only play of the drive on which he was behind center.
The second touchdown came on a play that looked like a flanker reverse before Hall, who had taken a pitch from Sewell, pulled up and tossed a 5-yard pass to tight end Joe Torchia.
On the preceding play, Sewell had thrown a backward pass to Hall, who then threw the ball back across the field to Sewell for a 30-yard catch and run.
"We'd been working on [the trick plays] for a while," Groh said. "Sometimes the opportunity doesn't properly present itself. There were some of those times today when the situation seemed ripe for it."
Clemson (8-3, 6-2) entered the day with a half-game lead over the Boston College in the Atlantic Division. The Eagles, who were playing host to North Carolina, quickly fell behind 21-0 in a game they would lose 31-13.
"We were watching at our hotel," Clemson wide receiver Jacoby Ford said. "We knew what was going on in that game. We still had four quarters to play. We wanted to win it the right way.
"Coach [Dabo] Swinney told us before the game that we were the champions, but we still had to go out and play hard."
Ford, who played at Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy and once had Virginia at the top of his recruiting list, caught a 24-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter and finished with a career-high 195 all-purpose yards, 155 coming in the first half.
Fellow senior C.J. Spiller had a quiet day by his standards but ran 4 yards for a touchdown and broke the ACC record for single-season all-purpose yardage that had been held by former Virginia great Thomas Jones.
The Cavaliers' defense had its one shining first-half moment after UVa running back Rashawn Jackson fumbled on the first play of the game. Clemson recovered at the UVa 24 but was unable to score when quarterback Kyle Parker was stopped for no gain on fourth-and-2 from the Cavaliers' 5.
That was the last time Virginia stopped Clemson in the first half. The Tigers did not punt until the second half, when from all of appearances, they were playing safe and sitting on their lead.
Nevertheless, UVa had the distinction of holding Clemson under 400 yards for the first time in five games. The Cavaliers end the season next week against another Top 25 opponent, Virginia Tech, which easily handled N.C. State 38-10.
"I am glad that everyone is fighting and playing and not giving up," said UVa defensive end and co-captain Nate Collins, whose left arm was in a sling after Saturday's game.
"We are going into this game full throttle and I am trying to let everyone know that we are treating this as a bowl game. This is our bowl game. No one on our team has beat Tech since they have been here, so this is a big deal. It's a big deal to us."