Turkey shoot

Larry Williams, Senior Writer
Tiger Illustrated

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BLACKSBURG, Va. -- The big Jumbotron at Lane Stadium showed clips of a different era before Saturday's game, reminding people of a time when Virginia Tech was far superior to Clemson.

The video, from convincing Hokies victories over the Tigers in 2007, 2006, 2000 and 1999, was old and grainy and low-def. Not a bad idea, but it also had the unintended effect of reinforcing the ancient nature of that history.

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The present is about Clemson as a college football dominator, and that reality was hammered home once again in high definition in the Tigers' 31-17 trouncing of the ACC's past kings.

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The No. 2 Tigers made a strong case for No. 1 with their third win over a Top 15 team in five games. Just as it did two weeks earlier at Louisville, Clemson methodically took apart the Hokies in a game that was more convincing than the score indicated.

A 5-0 September. Guessing most Clemson fans would've signed up for that over the summer.

"It's not easy to win, ever, much less to come into an awesome environment like they have here," Dabo Swinney said. "It was just our night tonight."

The Tigers added to a vapor trail of superlatives that paint the picture of a college football machine barreling toward a third consecutive trip to the College Football Playoff:

-- Eight consecutive wins over ranked teams

-- 12 consecutive road wins

-- 20 wins in the last 21 games against ACC teams

-- 36 wins in the last 38 games

-- 18 wins in the last 19 games away from home

-- Five consecutive wins over Virginia Tech since 2011, all of them under Swinney and all of them convincing.

"Man, they were really focused," said defensive coordinator Brent Venables. "Just tenacious effort, and we needed that to have a chance to win."

Virginia Tech's fans showed that they can still pack the place and rock the house with their famed "Enter Sandman" entrance. But that was mere window dressing once the game started and Clemson commenced its own version of ruthless, relentless death metal.

The Hokies and their fans slept with one black eye open after watching Brent Venables' defense suffocate an offense that came in riding high. Clemson's offense, meanwhile, did what it had to do when it had to.

Kelly Bryant passed yet another test as the Tigers' first-year starter at quarterback, rushing for a team-high 94 yards on 19 carries and throwing for 186 yards and a touchdown on a 12-of-21 clip. And the most important part: No turnovers.

"He wasn't perfect," Swinney said, "but man he's just a competitor. He made some big plays with his legs and his arm."

Clemson actually found itself out-gained 342-332 and had 14 first downs to the Hokies' 17. But those statistics didn't remotely tell the story of what unfolded under the lights in Blacksburg.

Virginia Tech came in having committed just two turnovers in its first four games, an impressive stat for an offense breaking in redshirt freshman quarterback Josh Jackson.

But things quickly become different when you're facing a group with this kind of speed, disruptiveness and depth. The passing windows are smaller, and so is the space to run.

Dorian O'Daniel played a central role in two monster second-half turnovers that helped keep the momentum on Clemson's side. After the Tigers went three-and-out on the opening possession of the second half, Tech had the ball at midfield but Dexter Lawrence dislodged the ball and O'Daniel recovered it.

The offense cashed in with an authoritative, grown-man drive of 51 yards in 10 plays to make it 24-3 when Tavien Feaster ran it in from a yard out on fourth-and-goal.

Later, early in the fourth quarter, Virginia Tech still had some hope when it took over at its 20 with the score 24-10. But Henri Murphy bobbled a pass by Jackson and O'Daniel was right there to swipe it away. Twenty-two yards later, O'Daniel was in the end zone for his second pick-6 in three games. His other, at Louisville, had the same soul-crushing effect on the Cardinals and their fans.

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Add in Austin Bryant's leaping snare for an interception in the fourth quarter, and Clemson had three takeaways in the second half. And the Tigers wrecked the Hokies' offense in more ways than just the turnovers; Bryant blew up a fourth-down bunch formation in the third quarter. Isaiah Simmons came up with a third-down sack with the Hokies facing third-and-6 from Clemson's 14, and then the Tigers smashed a fake field goal attempt.

And this was on top of a first half in which Clemson forced four three-and-outs.

Clemson entered halftime up 17-3, and it felt like it should've been more like 31-3. The Tigers out-gained the Hokies 271-149 in the first half and left some points on the board.

"I don't see many, if any, weaknesses," second-year Hokies coach Justin Fuente said afterward.

Fuente's postgame press conference was broadcast on the same video screen that had shown all those old highlights of the Hokies pushing Clemson around.

His words echoed off a sea of empty seats. The fans were long gone, off to never-never land.

Or maybe just home.

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