CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The gap between Clemson and the rest of the ACC remains massive.
Virginia moved the football well in Saturday’s ACC Championship Game, but the Cavaliers had no answers for Clemson’s explosive offense and struggled to turn yards into points in a 62-17 loss to the Tigers.
Trevor Lawrence dazzled and Dabo Swinney’s Tigers (13-0) punched their ticket to the College Football Playoff with their 28th consecutive victory. The win is Clemson’s eighth consecutive victory of at least 30 points.
Despite a lopsided affair, Virginia (9-4) didn’t perform all that badly.
The Cavaliers made miscues, including an interception on their first drive, but they moved the ball about as well as any team has against Clemson all season. Bryce Perkins made plays with his arm and legs, and the Cavaliers were able to gain chunks of yardage against the country’s No. 1 passing defense.
UVa started particularly well. The Cavaliers took just three plays to move the ball down to the Clemson 13 on its opening possession. A 46-yard strike to Hasise Dubois highlighted the drive. Unfortunately for Virginia, Perkins tossed an interception three plays later to end the drive.
Clemson responded by taking the ensuing drive 80 yards for a score. It took Lawrence and company just five plays, and they didn’t face a second down on the drive. Tee Higgins, who torched the Virginia secondary all night, finished the drive with a 19-yard score.
Perkins and company answered back with a score of their own to tie the game at 7. Perkins found Dubois for a 20-yard touchdown reception to give the Cavaliers a jolt of confidence.
That’s about where the fun ended for Virginia.
Players like Travis Etienne, Clemson’s star running back and the ACC Player of the Year, ran over the Cavaliers. Lawrence picked apart Virginia’s secondary as his wide receivers were too much for Virginia’s depleted secondary.
After Virginia knotted the score at 7-7, Clemson rattled off the final 24 points of the first half. Lawrence found Justyn Ross for a 59-yard score. B.T. Potter knocked in a 47-yard field goal after his missed 52-yard kick was waved off because of a Virginia offsides penalty. Etienne then scampered into the end zone from 26 yards out before Lawrence found Higgins for a 7-yard score to take a 31-7 lead into the break.
Virginia trailed by 24 points and didn’t look bad doing it.
The Cavaliers moved the ball effectively at times in the second half as well. Virginia became the first team to surpass 300 yards against Clemson this season, but the Cavaliers allowed over 600 yards of total offense.
Virginia played a solid game, but it was no match for Clemson.
Bronco Mendenhall wants to build Virginia into an ACC title contender. The Cavaliers came within a game of holding the ACC championship trophy, but it didn’t feel like the Cavaliers came anywhere close to capturing the crown.
The point spread of 28.5 points was in question at times during the second half, but the outcome was never in doubt.
Clemson was the ACC’s best team when the season started in late August, and it remains the ACC’s best team in December.
Virginia received an up-close view of the ACC’s best Saturday night. Clemson dominated the game and asserted its will for 60 minutes.
Mendenhall’s squad achieved many of its goals from when the season started. The Cavaliers won the ACC Coastal Division. They beat Virginia Tech. There’s no doubt the program is improving, but the gap between Clemson and Virginia is wide.
That gap was evident Saturday night.