Clemson football: Grading the Tigers in their 31-17 win over Virginia Tech

It’s time to say it, without the fear of a potential jinx: Clemson is a front-runner for the College Football Playoff. Any doubts that still lingered entering Saturday should be stuffed into a cannon and launched as far away from the state of South Carolina as possible.

This was a game that looked even for the better part of … a quarter and a half? Two quarters? It’s hard to say. The Clemson defense did what it’s done all year, which was absolutely choke the life out of the other offense while Kelly Bryant did enough to win the game. And that’s fine.

Let’s grade it.

Offense – B

For the second week in a row, Bryant had some trouble hitting guys when he needed to, overthrowing a few receivers on occasion when a big play was right there for the taking. But for the most part, the junior looked comfortable and unfazed by an electric road crowd at Lane Stadium. He finished 12 of 21 for 186 yards and a touchdown, but as the story’s gone all year, Bryant did more damage with his legs.

He led the team in rushing with 19 carries for 94 yards, and his 24-yard scamper in the third quarter set up the touchdown that effectively salted the game away. Tavien Feaster did well in his first game as the official starter. He only carried the ball 9 times, but he punched it in once and took off for a 60-yard touchdown reception in the first quarter to make it a two-score game.

Defense – A-plus

You know, it might be easier to just assume this is what the grade will be for the defense going forward until proven otherwise.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: The Clemson defense thoroughly, absolutely and completely dominated a game. Oh, you have? Well, here it is again. Virginia Tech quarterback Josh Jackson entered the game leading the ACC in passing efficiency and in touchdown passes, but he succumbed to the front seven of the Tigers, as has every other quarterback — save perhaps Lamar Jackson.

He wasn’t able to establish a consistent rhythm despite playing in front of his home crowd. Jackson finished 29 of 44 for 251 yards with a touchdown, but he was picked off twice, including a game-clinching pick-6 by Dorian O’Daniel in the fourth quarter.

The Hokies were a measly 4 of 15 on third down, and they lost the turnover battle, 3-0. O’Daniel was everywhere once again, and the secondary did well despite being banged up entering the game. Virginia Tech’s most dynamic playmaker, Cam Phillips, had 7 catches for 74 yards but didn’t score.

Special Teams – C-plus

Here’s where improvement needs to be made. Alex Spence’s second game as the full-time kicker wasn’t good or bad — he connected on 1 of 2 field goals, missing a 41-yarder. Will Spiers had what was probably his worst game punting this year. He downed 1 of his 7 attempts inside the 20-yard line, and his average distance was just a hair better than 35 yards if you remove his 53-yard punt.

Virginia Tech was able to set up its touchdown in the fourth quarter thanks to a 43-yard punt return on a bad, line-drive punt by Spiers, as well.

Overall – A-minus

But, that’s the thing about a game like this. Clemson could afford to be less-than-perfect in one area because the defense was so dominant, which should surprise absolutely nobody. The Tigers passed yet another top-15 test with flying colors, and there is absolutely a strong argument to be made that this team deserves to be ranked No. 1 in the country.

Time will tell, however.

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