Charlottesville, VA (SportsNetwork.com) - The ninth-ranked Clemson Tigers continue their run through the ACC, as they invade Charlottesville this weekend for a conference showdown with the Virginia Cavaliers.
Dabo Swinney's Tigers got back on track following a rout at the hands of Florida State two weeks ago, by dispatching Maryland in College Park this past weekend, 40-27. With the win, Clemson moved to 7-1 on the season and 5-1 in the ACC. The team sits a game behind Florida State (in the loss column) in the Atlantic Division standings heading into November action.
Mike London's Cavaliers are at the opposite end of the ACC spectrum, at 2-6 overall and 0-4 in league play. Virginia sits in the basement in the Coastal Division and is tied with NC State (0-4) as the only winless teams in conference play. The Cavs haven't posted a victory since Sept. 21 against VMI (49-0). The team has lost five straight games since, including a 35-25 setback to Georgia Tech last weekend.
Clemson holds a 37-8-1 advantage in the all-time series with Virginia, including a 16-5 mark in games played in Charlottesville. However, these two teams have split the last six meetings. The last meeting came in 2009, a 34-21 win by Clemson.
After a disappointing performance against the Seminoles, Clemson got back to what it does best, as the Tigers rolled up 551 yards of total offense against the Terrapins. The team got a great effort from tailback Roderick McDowell, who rushed for 161 yards and two touchdowns in the win. Quarterback Tahj Boyd showed no ill-effects from the debacle against FSU, completing 28-of-41 passes, for 304 yards and one TD, while rushing for another score.
Boyd's Heisman campaign got a little off track against Florida State, but the senior has had a strong showing overall, completing 63.9 percent of his throws, for 2,243 yards, with 17 TDs against just five interceptions.
All-American Sammy Watkins, who hauled in 14 balls, for 163 yards against Maryland, has returned to form in 2013, leading the team in receptions (58), receiving yards (813) and TD catches (5).
McDowell hasn't been a workhorse all season long, but certainly has the potential to do so, leading the team with 607 yards (5.1 ypc).
Swinney still sees room for improvement offensively.
"I know everybody wants us to be up 35-0 in the first quarter of every game, but that's not really realistic," Swinney said. "It's a four-quarter game, especially on the road and you've got good players on the other team with a lot of pride, as well. The biggest issue that I have with us offensively is the turnovers."
Clemson's defense, with the exception of the FSU game, has played extremely well. The Tigers have been particularly strong in terms of rushing the passer with 29 sacks.
Leading the charge in that regard is defensive end Vic Beasley (29 tackles), who has registered more than half his tackles behind the line of scrimmage (15 TFL), including 10 sacks. Linebackers Stephone Anthony (team-high 80 tackles, 9.5 TFL, 4.0 sacks) and Spencer Shuey (78 tackles, 4.0 TFL) have been extremely active playmakers as well.
Despite a career day from quarterback David Watford (376 yards, two TDs), the Cavaliers couldn't slow down the Yellow Jackets and dropped their fifth straight game. Watford wasn't the only player to enjoy great success, as wideouts Darius Jennings and Tim Smith combined for 23 catches, 270 yards and two TDs.
"I was pleased that David had a career day in terms of yardage and the number of passes," said London. "I was pleased that Tim Smith also had a career day, and Darius Jennings. Those are two wide receivers that if you remember we talked about making some changes there because of the lack of production, and ever since those two young men have taken it personal and have worked hard in practice, and the game was representative of the type of way they've been practicing. It was good to see that."
The offensive eruption for Virginia was certainly not the norm, as the team has been mediocre at best in that regard. The team averages a healthy 162.6 yards per game on the ground, but a more modest 219.9 through the air.
Watford has completed 60.8 percent of his passes, for 1,715 yards, but he has a disturbing TD-to-INT ration at 7-to-9. The team's top offensive weapon has been tailback Kevin Parks, who has rushed for 614 yards on the season with nine TDs, while ranking second on the team in catches (29) for 285 yards and one more score.
Virginia has struggled to stop the run this season and it was never more evident than last week, as Georgia Tech churned out 394 yards on the ground, with three players going over 100 yards on the day. The horrific effort now leaves the team with a rush defense that yields 182.0 yards per game on 4.6 yards per carry. The pass defense however, has been up to the task, with foes netting just 211.8 yards per game through the air.
Linebacker Henry Coley currently leads the team in tackles with 64 stops, with 7.5 TFL and one sack. Strong safety Anthony Harris has been the most opportunistic defender for Virginia, ranking second in tackles (62), with a team-high five interceptions. Defensive end Eli Harold (36 tackles) has made an impact upfield, with 8.0 TFL and a team-high 5.0 sacks.