Clemson moved to 3-0 Saturday with a 16-8 victory over Virginia in Charlottesville, Va. The Tigers led 6-5 at halftime, and the Cavaliers proved a tough out by matching Clemson’s try count.
“They came out and played a tough first half and they made it tough on us. No excuses. We just have to perform better under pressure. We were able to take advantage of some of their miscues in the second half and pull the game out, but it was a grinder,” said Clemson coach Justin Hickey.
Virginia was physical at the breakdown and sound on defense, which flustered the Tigers into making errors. The contest was by far Clemson’s closest of the Atlantic Coast season, and the Tigers didn’t adjust well to the challenge at first.
“Their defense was pretty well structured, and I think having come off a couple games where we really haven’t had to manufacture a whole lot on offense, and after three phases we’re making breaks, I think we were a little impatient, or maybe frustrated with the pressure of having to build phases a little bit,” said Hickey. “It caused guys to go away from the structure, whereas in the second half we were a little bit more disciplined and just settled down and played more patient.”
Hickey commended his forwards for matching Virginia’s gritty play in the second half and winning a game that didn’t favor Clemson’s preferred open style.
“I don’t know if we touched sideline to sideline all game,” he said. “We weren’t playing with a whole lot of width, so it was one that the forwards just had to kind of knuckle down and grind out.”
The difference on the scoreboard was the boot of Aaron Keers, who slotted a conversion and four penalties on the day. Keers, a deadly accurate kicker in high school, wasn’t going for goal with a high percentage this season, until Saturday.
“I think what we maybe figured out was when you get a 40-point lead he maybe wasn’t concentrating a whole lot, and maybe the kicks weren’t meaning a whole lot to him,” said Hickey. “But we talked to him this week and going into the match said that, ‘Hey, you’ve got to take every kick seriously.’ He obviously responded well, and we ended up needing it.”
Clemson now takes a week off for fall break before hosting Virginia Tech, while Virginia travels to the league’s other undefeated team, Maryland, next week.