Clemson-Virginia Tech grades: Watson dominant in Tigers win
Clemson 42, Virginia Tech 35
These are the top takeaways and highest-graded players from Clemson’s win over Virginia Tech in the ACC Championship.
Watson rules conference with dominant display
Quarterback grade: Deshaun Watson, 84.0
Deshaun Watson’s performance last week against South Carolina was ominous for other national championship contenders. He carried that form into the ACC Championship Game, tearing a very accomplished defense to shreds. Clearly protecting their quarterback early in the year, the coaching staff removed the shackles this week by calling a number of designed runs for their star signal-caller. After carrying the ball just over 100 times in 12 regular season games, Watson registered a season-high 19 carries, generating an impressive 83 yards (60 after contact), two touchdowns and five broken tackles. He was equally efficient in the passing game, completing 23 of 35 passes for 177 yards, three touchdowns and an interception batted at the line. It was a complete display from Watson, who is primed to take Clemson into the playoff once again in 2016.
Top offensive grades
C Jay Guillermo, 86.0
QB Deshaun Watson, 84.0
WR Deon Cain, 77.7
TE Jordan Leggett, 77.7
OG Maverick Morris, 75.7
Misdirection helps Clemson to victory
Dabo Swinney had plenty of new looks for the Hokies, helping his offense to run wild early in the game. Clemson ripped off three touchdowns to open the contest, a lead not threatened until late in the fourth quarter. Jordan Leggett was featured regularly, catching four of six targets for 48 yards and two touchdowns. One of his receptions came on a throwback screen, with Clemson’s OL initially faking a busted play, luring the Hokies’ defensive lineman upfield. Artavis Scott also found some joy on jet sweeps and wide receiver screens. No individual seized the limelight, with Swinney expertly spreading the ball around. Each of Clemson’s top five receivers managed a catch of at least 15 yards, but none topped 70 yards on the day. A true team effort.
Top defensive grades
LB Ben Boulware, 90.8
CB Cordrea Tankersley, 84.8
LB Kendall Joseph, 80.6
ED Clellin Ferrell, 76.4
DT Carlos Watkins, 75.6
Captains combine to end Hokies season
Cordrea Tankersley and Ben Boulware led by example in their team’s biggest game of the season. Facing four down and six with one minute to go in the fourth quarter and the game on the line, both stepped up decisively. Boulware timed another blitz perfectly (a feature throughout the game), beating right tackle Jonathan McLaughlin to lay a hit on Watson. Simultaneously, Tankersley blanketed his man on the outside, redirecting to Evans’ off-target throw to secure a game-ending interception. In total, he allowed only two catches on nine targets for 23 yards, two interceptions and a pass deflection. With their captains’ performing so well, Clemson will be confident they can secure a national championship.
Virginia Tech Hokies
Quarterback grade: Jerod Evans, 69.7
Evans falters in high-pressure game
Evans’ toughest test of his Hokies’ career did not go entirely to plan. Although he enjoyed some success on the ground, he had one of his worst games as a passer, managing only a 60.3 passing grade. Evans started like a wind up clock, taking an age to get ticking. He appeared skittish in the pocket, taking a number of avoidable sacks. In total he managed only one completion on 12 dropbacks from five attempts, just 10 yards and two picks. Aside from the game-ending interception late in the game, he floated a pass down the right sideline off balance, only finding the gleeful arms of Cordrea Tankersley. Evans will improve for the experience, but this performance was below his usual standards.
Top offensive grades
OG Wyatt Teller, 78.7
WR Cam Philips, 73.1
WR Isaiah Ford, 72.9
OT Jonathan McLaughlin, 70.7
QB Jerod Evans, 69.7
Speed options flourish in passing attack
Isaiah Ford and Cam Philips were characteristically effective against Clemson. Phillips’ excellent form continued with a touchdown and a 12-catch, 100-yard game. He was lethal after the catch, breaking a couple of tackles on course to collecting about two thirds of his yardage with the ball in hand. Phillips shouldn’t be pidgeon-holed though — he also caught a key touchdown downfield on a slot-wheel route. Isaiah Ford was less efficient working on the perimeter, but still showed all of his savvy with four catches for 90 yards. On the other hand, Bucky Hodges had a disappointing day. He caught only one of six targets for 42 yards, failing to win a number of contested targets. Ultimately, Clemson’s superior depth proved a deciding factor in the conference title game.
Top defensive grades
CB Greg Stroman, 82.9
DT Woody Baron, 76.6
LB Andrew Motuapaka, 76.5
OLB Vinny Mihota, 76.4
SS Chuck Clark, 73.1
Stroman’s return confirms Hokies’ best cover man
Greg Stroman had not played since week 10, but he returned just in time to remind everyone of his status in Virginia Tech’s secondary. While all around him floundered, Stroman shined. He allowed only one catch on five targets for six yards, dominating throughout. Unfortunately, he was let down by those around him, particularly Adonis Alexander. Despite some recent form, Alexander was unable to contend with the physicality of Mike Williams, giving up a QB rating of 132.4 on the day. The two scores he allowed put the Hokies in an early hole they were unable to climb out of.