Virginia holds its own against No. 1 Clemson, but ultimately falls, 41-23

The understaffed Cavaliers, who lost 62-17 to Clemson in the ACC title game last year, never got closer than ten in the second half with a squad minus seven players and a full-time assistant coach amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. None of the players who dropped out due to a positive test or contact follow-up were not a starter.

“You want to improve against every opponent you play in every exposure, and we had higher expectations. We came to win the game, ”said Cavaliers coach Bronco Mendenhall. “We didn’t just come for benchmarks, and we didn’t get any better than us. Statistically, however, it was an even game. There are a handful of games that we didn’t make, but in order to take another leap, win the ACC or become an elite program, these games have to be played. “

Quarterback Brennan Armstrong made the second start of his career for Virginia, completing 24 of 43 passes for 270 yards and three touchdowns and running 22 times for 89 yards. The sophomore left-handed threw two interceptions which Clemson (3-0, 2-0 ACC) converted into 10 points. That night he wasn’t as good as he had to be to cause a surprise.

“I think it’s just the little things. Don’t force it when it’s not there. The little things play and play, ”said Armstrong when asked if he would like to take his development to the next level. “It gets frustrating sometimes when I don’t do the little things. We preach that all the time. I’m just clever with the ball. “

Virginia (1-1, 1-1) has amassed a total of 417 yards of offense. Broad receiver Billy Kemp IV caught 10 passes for 96 yards, and wide receiver Terrell Jana had five receptions for 55 yards and one touchdown.

“The strides we’ve made against Clemson have come a long way,” said Cavaliers security officer Joey Blount. “We’re not as good as them. They are a superior team, but I think we’ll get to this type of game. “

Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence led the 74-yard drive in the fourth quarter that ended with Chez Mellusi’s two-yard run for a 41-17 lead at 5:27, which nearly sealed the result. Lawrence, a contender for the Heisman Trophy, went 25 for 38 with 329 yards and three non-stop touchdowns.

Dynamic traffic jam Travis Etienne, a senior, added 187 yards before scrimmage, including 114 receptions and a touchdown on five receptions, helping the error-prone Tigers win their 24th straight home game despite incurring eight penalties for 65 yards .

The Tigers haven’t lost at Memorial Stadium since November 2016.

The teams traded touchdowns in the third quarter, with Virginia completing one of its more impressive drives of the season by marching 75 yards in nine games. Armstrong’s three-yard pass to Keytaon Thompson ended the streak, bringing the Cavaliers into the quarter within 27-17 at 6:05.

The deficit for the reigning ACC Coastal Champions had narrowed to three possessions after Etienne’s four-yard touchdown reception from Lawrence. It was the 39th game in which Etienne scored a touchdown and set a record for great college football.

Virginia earned three consecutive possessions in the first half. The last two of these were captured by Amari Rodgers, who has become the featured recipient since Tee Higgins left for the NFL and Justyn Ross’ end-of-season operation.

Cornerback Nick Grant was able to tackle the tackle to prevent Rodger’s second touchdown but caught his breath. Rodgers hurdled the Cavaliers Senior at the 1-yard line and fell 3:25 in the half for a 24-3 lead in the end zone.

With the result threatening to spiral out of control, the Cavaliers countered with a touchdown drive that ended on Armstrong’s 23-yard pass to Jana. Armstrong overcame a series opening bag in order to execute throws of 22 and 27 meters just before the strike against Jana, a team captain.

“It wasn’t the place to just turn off the TV or look for another game,” said Blount. It was kind of an interesting game. We really competed to the end, honestly. I don’t think anyone was down. Everyone was sad about the loss. Everyone was very, very confident that we would win the game. “

For the first time this season, the Cavaliers played in front of fans other than the family of players and coaches, as was the case last weekend’s opener, a 38:20 win against Duke with around 1,000 spectators at Scott Stadium.

This time around, an estimated 19,000 crowd awaited Virginia after Clemson received special permission for large gatherings from Governor Henry McMaster (R), the South Carolina Department of Commerce, and the state’s Department of Health and Environment.

Even so, the atmosphere that led to kick-off was far from the pomp and circumstance typical of Death Valley, where stadium capacity exceeds 81,000 and tailgates have a long history. Attendees were asked to curb such gatherings in the parking lot this season.

Some of the programme’s most generous donors occupied socially distant places in the closed luxury suites. The percentage of pupils in the upper bowl was the same as they would have been if the stadium had been fully occupied.

Clemson players stepped on the hillside beyond the East End Zone as usual and touched Howard’s Rock on the way to the pitch while the school band played around them. Instead of surnames on the back of their shirts, many players wore messages of social justice, including “equality”, “peace” and “change”.

One of these players was Etienne, who at the end of the first quarter put the Tigers 10-0 ahead with a 16-yard run and eluded several tacklers in the process. The touchdown came in third and second, ending a nine-game drive over 63 yards, of which Etienne made up 37.