Hokies' four turnovers, failed fourth-down conversions prove costly
CLEMSON, S.C. -- Each time Virginia Tech had a chance to build momentum and take control, Clemson was there to swipe it away.
There were the three interceptions, two off star quarterback Logan Thomas, a fumble on a Hokies punt return and two very big fourth-down stops in Virginia Tech's 38-17 loss to the 14th-ranked Tigers on Saturday.
"It came down to about four, five, six plays," Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said. "Those plays get the momentum going, and the whole game changes a little bit."
It changed plenty on a couple of first-half plays. Ahead 7-0 and eager to go for the throat early, Beamer chose to go for it on fourth-and-1 at the Clemson 18. Michael Holmes was stopped short by linebacker Corico Wright and defensive end Cory Crawford.
Another moment came early in the second quarter when a short punt by Clemson's Spencer Benton was touched by Virginia Tech and recovered by Tigers linebacker Tony Steward. Six plays later Tajh Boyd leaped for a 1-yard TD to put Clemson ahead for good 10-7.
Still another occurred three minutes later, when Thomas' pass sailed into the waiting hands of safety Jonathan Meeks, who took off for a 74-yard touchdown run.
"We just needed to make a couple of plays when they were there for the taking," Beamer said.
Thomas had 207 yards passing and a 29-yard scoring throw to Corey Fuller. Thomas also rushed for 99 yards, and his 19-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter gave the Hokies hope of a comeback.
But that ended a short time later when a flanker pass by Marcus Davis was picked off by Xavier Brewer. Boyd's second touchdown run ended the scoring.
Thomas has thrown five interceptions and lost a fumble in his last 10 quarters against Clemson. No surprise the Hokies have lost all three games.
Thomas said Virginia Tech did mostly what it wanted to on offense most of the game.
"We played better than 17 points," he said.
Boyd ran for two touchdowns and passed for another for the Tigers, who were held to their lowest offensive output of the season at 295 yards. Boyd thought the team didn't come out as strong as he hoped for their first game in two weeks. Still, Boyd said, in other seasons, such a showing would lead to defeat.
"I think it shows how far we've come," he said.
Andre Ellington had a 12-yard touchdown run and 96 yards for the Tigers. All-American receiver Sammy Watkins has his most productive game this season with eight catches for 84 yards.
Tigers coach Dabo Swinney knew it was the defense that led the way in Clemson's third straight victory over Virginia Tech.
"They had a great performance," Swinney said. "From the sidelines, I believe it was their best effort."
Boyd was 12-for-21 for 160 yards, 131 fewer than he averaged coming in.
Clemson tied a school record with its 11th straight home victory, something it had done twice before from 1937 to 1942 and from 1989 to 1991. To match the mark this time, the Tigers had to count on their usually unreliable defense as their high-flying offense was largely grounded. Boyd was sacked five times after Clemson had allowed 10 its first six games.
Virginia Tech had entered this one stung by last year's failures against the Tigers. After dominating Clemson for more than a decade, the Hokies were overrun in two games last year, including a 38-10 loss in the ACC title game.
Clemson celebrated Military Appreciation Day and had walk-on receiver Daniel Rodriguez, a U.S. Army veteran who was awarded a Purple Heart and Bronze Star, lead the team's charge down the hill into the stadium carrying the American flag to loud cheers. Rodriguez was also an honorary captain against Virginia Tech, the team he grew up following.