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Watson, Clemson claim ACC title and await playoff berth

06 December 2016

It's been a year-long quest to get back to the playoff, and the Tigers survived every test with the exception of a 43-42 loss to Pittsburgh in early November - a game in which the Tigers turned the ball over three times but still came within a fourth-and-1 conversion of winning. MI and Penn State (after beating Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game) are the two teams that have a case after No. 2 Ohio State, but it's doubtful the committee would leave Clemson or Washington out after both won their conferences this weekend.There was plenty of discussion about which team would be the ultimate benefactor of a loss by the Tigers or Huskies, but that will all go for naught. "I mean, for us, when we have one or less, we have played at an incredibly high level. Because they didn't just come to play a close game or do anything other than win the ballgame".

Watson was 23-of-34 for 288 yards and three touchdowns - moving ahead of Tajh Boyd for the school record with 37 passing touchdowns on the season. He finished with over 200 yards and three touchdowns, and rushed for another two scores. The ACC moved the event to Orlando because of North Carolina House Bill 2, a controversial law that limits legal protection of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. While the game wasn't a sellout, it drew an announced crowd of 50,628 fans.

Saturday's game was a track meet from the very start. The junior, who announced his intention to enter next spring's National Football League draft, has passed for 34 touchdowns and 3,626 yards and is on a roll of late.

Clemson's defense asserted itself on Virginia Tech's first drive of the game. It was the redshirt freshman's fifth sack of the season.

RUSH JOB: Clemson's Watson has hardly been touched this season, and Virginia Tech's pass rush has not been especially effective, but defensive coordinator Bud Foster is one of the best in the country and will surely try to find ways to allow DE Ken Ekanem, DT Woody Baron and LB Tremaine Edmunds to disrupt Watson and try to force him into mistakes.

On the third play of the possession, Dorian O'Daniel was flagged for targeting and subsequently ejected after review.

"Hats off to Virginia Tech", said Clemson coach Dabo Swinney.

"If we don't do these things, then we have no chance, and the kids have bought into that and have done a good job".

Six plays later Travon McMillian carried the football into the end zone to cut the score in half, 14-7. After Temple (10-3) scored touchdowns on its first three possessions, protecting the 21-0 lead became substantially easier when Navy (9-3) lost standout quarterback Will Worth to a second-quarter ankle injury.

Clemson got the benefit of two calls on its second scoring drive.

Clemson senior linebacker Ben Boulware is the leader of the Tigers defense, and will make sure to have the defense ready when they face the Hokies Saturday night. The Hokies fought to get all the way down to the Clemson 23-yard mark when Evans was stuffed at the line of scrimmage for a gain of zero on a third down. It extended the Tigers' lead to 35-14.

"What a blessing to be a part of this journey", Swinney said, flanked by Watson. The junior has taken the program to heights it's never before seen - at least in a two-year sequence.

Clemson 42, Virginia Tech 35: Virginia Tech's Jerod Evans completes to Cam Phillips for a 26-yard touchdown. "You win that moment; you win that play".

NO. 14 WEST VIRGINIA 24, BAYLOR 21 Skyler Howard threw two touchdown passes and ran for another score to help the Mountaineers (10-2, 7-2) to their first 10-win regular-season since 2007. He added another 46 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. Such would be the case if Deshaun Watson won the Heisman this year after Lamar Jackson had a couple of "meh" games - ones that defined Watson's and Clemson's struggles this season.