Mad respect from Clemson for the Virginia offense
“You wondered how they didn’t score 50 every week,” Venables said in the aftermath of the big Clemson win in Charlotte back on Dec. 7.
The final score was obviously egregiously lopsided, but the Virginia offense, to its postgame credit, was able to do some things.
The 387 total yards is by far the most surrendered by Clemson to this point in 2019. Virginia also set season-highs for a Tigers opponent in passing yards (283), completion percentage (62.5 percent), plays (75), first downs (23), among others.
Now, think back to late October, when it seemed to me to be a fair question to ask if it was time for Bronco Mendenhall to move on from Robert Anae as his offensive coordinator.
The nadir was the 28-21 loss at Louisville, in which the UVA offense gained 311 total yards against a unit that gave up 446.1 yards per game this season.
Through eight games, the first two-thirds of the season, the offense was generating just 345.3 yards per game, better than just one team in the ACC, Georgia Tech, which at least had the excuse that it was undergoing a sea change in philosophy, from triple-option to spread.
Virginia didn’t have anything in the way of a good excuse: with the preseason second-team All-ACC quarterback, Bryce Perkins, plus talent, experience and depth at wideout in Hasise Dubois, Joe Reed and Terrell Jana.
The efforts at excuses included: young line, inexperience at running back, putting all the pressure on Perkins to produce.
Nobody’s perfect, except maybe Clemson, so it’s not about what you don’t have, but rather how you do with what you do have.
To the credit of Anae, his staff and his players, they figured it out, to the point that, when you’re Venables, you direct your video staff to give you a look at what the early UVA opponents did to make it hard on the offense, but you have to do that knowing that what Anae and his group started doing heading into the 38-31 win at UNC in late October is the offense you’re going to see.
What Anae did to get things working: he doubled down on Perkins, added tempo to try to take advantage of matchups, put renewed emphasis on the short-passing game – a smart workaround for a unit that was having trouble getting yards from the traditional run game.
As much as Venables was able to prepare, with the nation’s best defense at his beck and call, Virginia was able to get some things working early, driving into the red zone on its first drive, which ended on a spectacular third-down interception by Nolan Turner, then picking up the pieces from the turnover to answer a Clemson TD with a TD of its own.
Sum total for those first two drives: 167 total yards.
“They did a good job scheming. We had a couple calls not ideal to be in, and a couple guys made some fundamental mistakes. Thought we adjusted and did pretty good the rest of the night,” Venables said.
It didn’t hurt Clemson there that Virginia had to make a go at it without Reed (70 catches, 627 yards, 6 TDs).
Even without Reed, we saw Dubois have a career night – 10 catches on 11 targets, 130 yards.
Also having a career night was Billy Kemp – nine catches, a career-high, on 13 targets, for 66 yards.
Jana had six catches on eight targets for 62 yards and a 17-yard TD.
Perkins threw for 266 yards and added 58 on the ground.
How Virginia did it …
“They definitely threw the kitchen sink at us schematically and formationally,” linebacker Jamie Skalski said. “Virginia, that’s a good scheme. You’ve got to give them a lot of credit. A lot of movement, eye candy, they created matchups they like. And you can’t go broke taking a profit, and that’s something they did really well.”
“(Perkins) has a designed run with every play they have, which is smart and it works for them. It’s really smart what they do,” linebacker Isaiah Simmons said. “They pull people out of areas so that the running lane is wide open. That’s the first team I’ve played where they really do that. It’s almost like everything is RPO.”
I came across these comments from the Clemson side in a breakdown from the Clemson perspective on what that side needs to do to get ready for the College Football Playoff.
The point of the Clemson beat writer is one you see me make often – that it’s not always a bad thing to show vulnerability in a game that you win, because that kind of thing can help you focus with the competition ratcheting up.
Cue this quote from Skalski: “It’s been a while since we’ve really been, like, challenged, and I can tell you right now they challenged us.”
Flip side: while Clemson is prepping for Ohio State in the CFP, Virginia has Florida in the Orange Bowl to finish out its breakthrough 2019.
My audience here is UVA fans still licking their wounds from a 62-17 loss, which I so hesitate to mention that we’re 900 words in, and that’s the first time I use the final score.
Clemson is Tiger Woods playing a round of golf with me in a pro-am on Tuesday.
They’re both playing different sports, is what I’m getting at.
Virginia got a couple of holes on Clemson in Charlotte.
Let’s see if they can get a few more on Florida down in Miami. Thinking here is, they can.
Story by Chris Graham