Clemson new team to beat in the ACC

BLACKSBURG, Va. -- This is not normal for Virginia Tech.

Virginia Tech has owned this conference since joining it, winning four ACC titles and four Coastal Division crowns. Entering Saturday’s game against Clemson, the Hokies had won 12 straight ACC games -- including last year’s ACC championship -- and 14 straight regular-season games.

Those streaks came to a halt as quickly as the Hokies’ offense on Saturday night in a 23-3 loss to Clemson.

That’s right, Clemson.

This is not normal for Clemson.

The Tigers are known for their inconsistency, their letdowns. Clemson had not defeated Virginia Tech since 1989. It had lost five straight games to Virginia Tech.

On Saturday, Clemson started a new streak. The Tigers became the first ACC team to defeat three straight ranked opponents. With the upset of the Hokies, there was a monumental shift of power in the ACC. Fleeting? We’ll see. Georgia Tech might have something to say about that. But Virginia Tech’s offense looked inept. Clemson’s offense looked efficient. Virginia Tech’s defense looked good. Clemson’s defense looked great. Virginia Tech looked like a team playing its first ranked competition. Clemson looked like a championship-caliber team.

The ACC race is just beginning -- Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer will be the first to tell you that -- but in a game that has revealed the most about the defending ACC champs, Clemson looked like the team to beat this year.

“That’s the mindset we had since after the South Florida game last year,” quarterback Tajh Boyd said. “Coming into the offseason workouts, we were like, ‘We have a championship team.’ Clemson always has a championship team. But things are starting to change, and the tide’s starting to roll a little bit.

“We haven’t had our best game yet. That’s the best part about it. We still haven’t peaked. I don’t think it will happen in the next few games. But when it does, it’s going to be something special.”

Clemson’s offense has stolen the spotlight this season, but the Tigers’ defense was equally as effective against the Hokies, if not more. Andre Branch had three sacks and 11 tackles. Quarterback Logan Thomas was just 15 for 27 for 125 yards and was sacked four times. The Hokies fumbled the ball three times and lost it once, and Thomas threw an interception. The Hokies were ineffective in third-and-long situations and converted just 4 of 16 third downs.

It was only Beamer’s second loss in a conference opener, but it was the program’s biggest margin of defeat and first time the Hokies had failed to score a touchdown at home since 2005.

When asked about starting off behind in the ACC race as opposed to leading the standings, Beamer brought up the Hokies’ loss to Boston College in October 2007.

Former BC quarterback Matt Ryan threw two touchdown passes in the final 2:11 for an improbable 14-10 win over then-No. 8-ranked Virginia Tech in Lane Stadium.

“I felt awful that night,” Beamer said. “It was a game we had wrapped up. All of a sudden they go right down the field. But you know what? We came right back and beat them in the ACC championship game. That’s why I’m saying next week will be a real important game. There’s no question we need to improve as a football team. But this one’s not over. It’s our first conference game.

“I think this game makes next week more important. … Now it becomes win your side and try to get to the championship game.”

In order to win their side, though, the Hokies have to first beat Miami at home in a week. Virginia Tech has rebounded before: After starting out 0-2 last year, the Hokies reeled off 11 straight wins and became the first ACC team to go undefeated in conference play since Florida State in 2000.

“We’ve got to respond like we did last year,” said free safety Eddie Whitley. “It was the same feeling. We knew we were better than them, but things happen. We felt the same way when we played JMU last year. As a senior, we have to come back Monday, get the troops right, get our heads back on right, because we’ve got Miami coming in here. We can’t slip up. We can’t have two losses in a row. We have to come back strong on Monday.”

Problem is, Clemson already proved it’s stronger.