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Hot Read: Clemson Passes Test Ahead of Miami

By Dave Holcomb
SouthernPigskin.com
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Dave Holcomb recaps Clemson's 41-23 win over Virginia.

Bye weeks can be a bit tricky in football. Sometimes rest is great but in other occasions, too much time away from the field leaves a roster rusty.

Clemson wasn’t particularly sharp early Saturday night against Virginia after its bye week. At one point in the second half, the Cavaliers pulled within two scores of the Tigers, which hasn’t happened against Clemson for about a year. But Clemson prevailed nonetheless, tallying 17 of the game’s final 23 points.

Virginia making things a little uncomfortable in the third quarter may be just what Clemson needed, as the No. 1 team in the country will welcome the No. 9 Miami Hurricanes to town next weekend. Here are five thoughts from Clemson’s 41-23 win Saturday night.

1. Travis Etienne continues to dazzle

Obviously, we didn’t just learn Saturday that Etienne is a terrific player, but still, he’s worth mentioning because he always stands out on a team full of talent.

Etienne recorded 177 yards from scrimmage and scored twice on 19 touches against the Cavaliers. He’s a big play waiting to happen every time he touches the ball, and that was especially true in the receiving game Saturday, as he averaged 22.8 yards per catch on five receptions.

There’s a lot of elite talent around the country, and Etienne should be mentioned with any of the best players.

2. Clemson passing attack still just fine without Justyn Ross

Etienne’s ability to contribute to the passing game is a major reason why Clemson hasn’t missed Ross yet, but Saturday, quarterback Trevor Lawrence also involved wide receivers Amari Rodgers and Frank Ladson Jr. Together, they posted 143 receiving yards, and Rodgers caught two touchdowns.

Both Rodgers and Ladson are more possession receivers, but each also had at least one catch of more than 25 yards.

Lawrence is off to the start everyone thought he would be last year after winning his first championship. Lawrence went 25 of 38 with 329 yards and three touchdowns against Virginia. He has seven touchdowns and zero interceptions while averaging 11.3 yards per pass.

3. Takeaways propel Clemson over Virginia

While the other Top 5 teams in action Saturday mostly dominated, Clemson struggled to get going early. That made the Tigers’ takeaways even more vital against Virginia.

Clemson scored 10 points off Cavaliers’ giveaways, and at the time, the touchdown and field goal seemed to put the game out of reach early in the second half. Virginia answered, though, to make things interesting, before the Tigers took over again in the final 20 minutes.

But without the takeaways, it’s not a reach to say this contest could have come down to the final possession.

4. Dabo Swinney will have plenty of ways to motivate his team this coming week

The scoreboard was a little lopsided, but Clemson only outgained Virginia 466-417. The Tigers allowed the Cavaliers to convert 4 of 5 on fourth down, and Clemson committed eight penalties versus Virginia’s one.

That will give Swinney plenty to complain about at practice next week, which is a bad sign for Miami. Whether the Tigers were sluggish because of the bye week or looking ahead to the Hurricanes, all of their focus will be on Miami next Saturday.

5. Virginia closing the gap?

The Cavaliers should receive a lot of credit for making this game more competitive than last season’s ACC Championship. Virginia fell behind 24-3 but didn’t give up and pulled within 10 points with 6:05 left in the third quarter.

Virginia’s effort leaves the door open to ask the question -- is the gap closing between the rest of the conference and Clemson? Maybe, but next week will be a better indication. The Tigers won’t have any excuses to not be at their very best against the Hurricanes.