CLEMSON — Just before 11:30 p.m. last Saturday night, Van Halen’s “Top of the World” blared from Bank of America’s sound system. A pair of Clemson linemen hoisted coach Dabo Swinney onto their broad shoulders, and a number of Tigers ran towards their cheering section in an end zone, doing Lambeau Leaps into the crowd.
Clemson had its first ACC title since 1991, a 38-10 rout of Virginia Tech, fueled by a dominant third quarter that saw the Tigers outscore the Hokies 21-0, at one point rolling up 182 yards to Tech’s -2.
With the dust settling from the ACCC title game romp, it seems like a perfect time for a second look, with help from my trusty DVR.
ESPN had two of my favorites – Brent Musburger and Kirk Herbrstreit – on the call.
The telecast got off to an inauspicious start when a graphic for Clemson’s impact players included “Tahj Boyd”. How hard is it to get a star quarterback’s name right, ESPN?
Herbstreit said Clemson needed “a spark,” and they got it on Tech’s first offensive play, when middle linebacker Stephone Anthony stuck his helmet into Logan Thomas’ midsection and popped the ball free.
Three plays later, tight end Dwayne Allen took advantage of a very, very wide open left side of the field, thanks to Tech CB Kyle Fuller’s coverage bust for a 7-0 Clemson lead.
The first forced turnover in four games clearly gave Clemson’s defense a spark, too. Rashard Hall rocked star tailback David Wilson with a bone-rattling hit, and reserve safety Carlton Lewis did the same two series later.
This prompted Herbstreit to utter one of my least favorite phrases in the football lexicon, that Clemson had “pinned its ears back” on defense. What does that mean? Are they going to a Star Trek convention later on?
Same with “dialing up” a blitz. The phrase “dialing up” evokes memories of sitting in a University of Iowa dorm room, circa fall 1997, waiting for America Online to connect.
“Dialing up” means “You’ve got mail,” not “You’ve got an angry 220-pound linebacker barreling down on you.”
Thomas did recover from some early jitters to torch safety Xavier Brewer twice; Clemson’s only major defensive busts of the night. Brewer bit on a play-action pass, getting singed for a 45-yard touchdown by D.J. Coles.
I’m not sure if that or the first of several Pitbull Dr. Pepper ads was worse. Brewer probably wasn’t having a “real good time” with Kevin Steele on the sidelines after that series.
I really liked the way Chad Morris got Sammy Watkins involved, using jet sweeps and short passes (Watkins also showed tremendous acumen to come back for a ball near the right sideline on a Boyd scramble).
He looked much smarter than the Virginia Tech fan that showed up with his entire head, including his full beard, painted orange, and sporting a gigantic wooden shield with the “VT” logo carved in. I have no clue how he got that past security.
After the first of two Danny Coale 60-yard punts, Musburger quipped, “He’s wasting his time as a wide receiver.” He’s right.
Clemson probably should’ve entered the locker room with a 10-7 halftime lead, if not for Andre Branch’s silly roughing penalty on Thomas, which extended a late first-half drive and allowed the Hokies to drive for a game-tying field goal.
Branch had a great game, but his penalty for that hit/shovedown should’ve been one sack without strutting around like a peacock afterward.
I was also impressed by the way Clemson’s offensive line held up after senior left tackle Phillip Price went down following a re-tweak of his right knee, injured three weeks earlier. Price is a gamer, and that injury was painful to watch; he went down like a sack of concrete and took at least 30 seconds to limp off the field, with plenty of help from two trainers.
Another Musburger mistake on the Tigers’ go-ahead touchdown drive (capped off by Dwayne Allen abusing Antoine Exum for another score): “Mike O’Cain did a great job dialing that up.”
Either Brent was confused by the shade of orange on the field, or he was watching too much vintage (well, maybe not vintage) Clemson tape last week.
Also, Musburger was a beat slow on Boyd’s 53-yard touchdown pass to Watkins, which broke the game open at 24-10. Actual call: “He’s got the fella…. The freshman, Watkins, hauls it in for a 53-yard touchdown!”
Maybe Brent bit on the same double move that victimized Tech corner Chris Hill; it looked like the same Watkins that terrorized cornerbacks earlier this season, using the short game to set up the long strikes.
It seemed to demoralize Tech’s defense; following a short punt, the game was all but over after Andre Ellington covered 42 yards in two carries for a 31-10 lead.
It really ended when Tech tight end Chris Drager dropped a very catchable ball on fourth and 2 inside the Clemson 30 Clemson had a trio of stops inside its 30; defensive backs Bashaud Breeland and Jonathan Meeks both punctuated solid games with nice interceptions of Thomas.
Swinney’s reaction to Boyd’s touchdown sneak, the game’s final score, was priceless: an exaggerated fist-pump that suggested he’s been spending too much time watching “Jersey Shore.”
And after two weeks of misery, Steele was a camera magnet in Charlotte, high-fiving and low-fiving players as they came off the field. Branch and a teammate had the last laugh, distracting him long enough for a pair of defenders to sneak up and douse him with an orange Gatorade bath.
The night’s most made-for-TV moment? With the game won and Clemson running out the clock, both sides spilled onto the field as the clock expired. With 16 seconds left, Swinney came running into the frame.
On his head, he already wore one of the ubiquitous “ACC Championship” hats handed out to players and coaches, perfect for fan consumption – at a price, of course.