CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Weeks of frustration washed away in 42 seconds.
WHO: Georgia Tech (6-3, 5-2 ACC) at No. 9 Clemson (8-1, 6-1)
WHEN: Thurs. Nov. 14, 7:30 p.m.
WHERE: Memorial Stadium, Clemson
Agreement weaved through quarterback, offensive coordinator and head coach: Clemson marched off its finest drive of the season Saturday night, curing temporary ills with the Tigers’ 59-10 demolition of host Virginia at Scott Stadium.
Game Ball / Numbers
Statistics: 24-for-29, 377 yards, 3 TD; all-time ACC leader with 116 total touchdowns
BY THE NUMBERS
169 - Sammy Watkins’ receiving yards, the 13th (school-record) 100-yard performance of his career
10 - Three-and-outs forced by Clemson’s defense, which has 19 over the past two games
46 - Punts this season by Bradley Pinion, who has placed 20 inside the 20-yard-line without a single touchback
16 - Consecutive victories by double-digits over unranked opponents
What resulted was the program’s second-most thorough beating of an ACC foe in its own stadium, bested only by a 55-0 win at Virginia 29 years ago. It’s the most points Clemson (8-1, 6-1 ACC) has scored in a true road game since beating South Carolina 63-17 in Columbia on Nov. 22, 2003.
Clemson never before had exceeded the traditional speed limit (55) on rival league turf; 59 points is the school’s new ACC road record.
The go-go-Watkins-go attack crushed the Cavaliers (2-7, 0-5) twice Saturday; Tajh Boyd hooked up with Sammy Watkins on touchdown gains of 33 and 96 yards to open halves.
The latter bomb came on 3rd-and-15 from Clemson’s own 4-yard-line, picking on poor true freshman corner Tim Harris, as Watkins galloped the distance for a 42-7 lead.
However, Watkins had little to do with the drive that turned around the Tigers’ spirits for good.
Ahead by three touchdowns and taking over possession on his own 14 with 55 seconds remaining before halftime, Boyd would not be content to take a knee. Virginia yielded open space along the left sideline, and Boyd took advantage with the poise and patience of a fifth-year veteran.
First, to freshman Mike Williams for 11 yards. First down, stop the clock.
Then, to freshman Germone Hopper for 7 yards, out of bounds; followed by 10 yards to Watkins. First down, stop the clock.
After Boyd had to scramble for a 1-yard pickup, inducing the first of Clemson’s three available timeouts with 32 seconds left, he struck back to Williams for 19 yards entering Virginia territory.
Now a dart to Martavis Bryant for 12 (again, first down, stop the clock) and one to Adam Humphries for 25, downed at the Cavs’ 1-yard-line, and another timeout called with 17 seconds on the clock.
The bewildered Virginia defense was too weary for resistance when Boyd finally called his own number, easily crossing the goal line himself with 13 seconds to spare. The old Clemson was back.
“That was really, really good execution. We work on that every week,” coach Dabo Swinney said. “Seeing those guys drive down the field, take what’s there, not force anything, manage the sideline like we did — have great sense of urgency, every first down, getting up there and ready to go — and punching it in was really great momentum going into the half.”
Eight plays. 86 yards. 42 seconds elapsed. A 35-7 lead. And 46,959 fans, or many of them anyway, scurrying for the exits.
Boyd: six attempts, six completions, five different receivers, five first downs and the 115th touchdown of his college career, more than any other ACC player.
A perfect score, by an imperfect offense. At least, of late.
“Probably our best drive of the year. Because we’re out there just playing, not really thinking,” Boyd said. “It just felt good, felt loose. We moved at a really good pace at that moment, and you’ve just got to let it hang out there.”
While the Tigers’ train of offense never totally stalled, it certainly shifted to a lower gear in lackluster wins over Boston College and early against Maryland — offensive coordinator Chad Morris muttered recently the Tigers were barely running their base offense, devoid of their usual tricks and swagger.
No such issues Saturday in enemy territory. A season-high 610 yards and 59 points have a way of quelling the perfectionist Morris’ scrutiny.
“It was great to see us play better and improve over two weeks,” Morris said. “This is the first time we’ve seen this now. It’s been here and there, and I’ve been really stressing over that three-week span: I just didn’t think we were consistently getting better.
“Now’s the time to play your best.”
Don’t forget that defense, either. Clemson again tormented an unproven quarterback overmatched by the Tigers’ defense, which limited Virginia to 277 total yards, 19-of-46 passing, 2.9 yards per rush and just one David Watford 6-yard TD scramble while turning it over three times.
“Probably our most complete game in a while, as far as putting it all together,” Swinney said. “We’ve been really close, but we just haven’t been able to put it all together. But tonight, we did.”
For the first time in 18 years, Clemson went 4-0 in ACC road games, and it barely broke a sweat doing so. The Tigers knocked off N.C. State, Syracuse, Maryland and Virginia by a combined 174-65 margin.
Clemson enjoys a bye week before returning home to Death Valley for its ACC regular season finale against Georgia Tech (6-3, 5-2) on Nov. 14 at 7:30 p.m. televised by ESPN.
Boyd finished 24 for 29 with 377 passing yards, accounting for four touchdowns, the final time he’ll play college football in his home state of Virginia. He only needed 34 minutes of game action to do it, before wearing a ball cap and a smile the rest of the evening.
“Sometimes we put ourselves in situations where we kind of hold back a little bit,” Boyd said, “but we’ve only got three games left here in the regular season. It’s time to let it all loose.”