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Tiger Takeaways: Clemson's Stars Shine, But Issues to Clean Up Exist

No. 1 Clemson improved to 3-0 behind a 41-23 victory over Virginia on Saturday night, but the Tigers "left a lot out there," according to head coach Dabo Swinney.

No. 1 Clemson did what it was supposed to Saturday night. 

The Tigers beat Virginia 41-23 in Memorial Stadium, but did they look the part of the team many pundits and fans expected them to be in this one?

The answer lies somewhere in the middle, which is where we'll try to get to in these reactions to Clemson improving to 3-0 on the young 2020 season.

"I thought we left a lot out there tonight, on both sides of the ball," Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. 

Tiger Takeaways

  • Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne were the best two players on the field and it wasn't remotely close. That's expected in most games, especially in the ACC, but this game was won by a comfortable, yet not covering, 18-point spread because Etienne refused to be tackled and Lawrence continues to direct defenses well pre-snap. 
  • Etienne finished with 187 total yards, including 114 receiving, and two touchdowns to tie an FBS record. He repeatedly bounced off defenders and refused to be tackled, especially on a 16-yard TD run that few backs would've been able to pull off. 
  • Lawrence, meanwhile, went over 300 passing yards for the second time in three games and tossed three touchdowns while completing 65.7 percent of his passes. These kinds of games are starting to look very routine to him, although there were a few throws he would've liked back in this one. 

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  • Amari Rodgers and Frank Ladson were the go-to targets for Lawrence most of the night. The receiver duo combined for 143 yards on 11 catches. Rodgers had a pair of touchdowns and is rounding into the kind of receiver Clemson needs him to be this season. 
  • The offensive linemen had their hands full against a solid Cavs defense, and while they weren't always perfect against Virginia's exotic looks and pressures, they still helped pave the way for Clemson to go 8-for-15 on third downs and accumulate 466 total yards. 
  • Speaking of third downs, Clemson's ability to convert the long ones really mattered. The Tigers had seven conversions go for 14 yards or more. 
  • As for the defense, it was the first time since N.C. State in 2017 that the Tigers allowed 400 total yards to an ACC opponent, and it was the highest-scoring output by a conference foe since Syracuse matched that 23 points in 2018. 
  • For the first time, it looked like Clemson missed starting defensive ends and veterans Xavier Thomas and Justin Foster. The surprising athletic Brennan Armstrong was a hard QB to chase around, and the inexperienced defensive front brought him down three times after registering 10 sacks in the first two games. 
  • Linebacker Baylon Spector played out of his mind Saturday, finishing with a career-high 13 tackles and 1.5 tackles for a loss. He had never reached double digits before, and ironically, his previous career-high of nine tackles came against Virginia last year in the ACC title game. His brother, Brannon, caught four passes for 32 yards. 
  • The Tigers made way too many mental mistakes, committing eight penalties for 65 yards on several false starts and offsides. That's something the coaching staff believes in can clean up, and with a top-10 showdown against Miami looming next week, they'll have to fix the miscues. 
  • Virginia was extremely well-coached and well-prepared, and Armstrong was touch as nails all night. In the end, Clemson's athleticism was simply too much for the Cavaliers to match, but Bronco Mendenhall proved he could improve in challenging the Tigers following last year's 62-17 defeat in Charlotte.