CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. - For the first time in three games there are no excuses. No talk of botched plays or missed opportunities. No fretting over missed tackles or bad decisions.
Thursday night in Charlottesville, Clemson simply was beaten by a better team.
No. 10 Virginia spotted Clemson a 10-3 lead, then roared back for a 30-10 victory in a nationally televised ACC matchup. The Cavaliers improve to 5-0 on the season (1-0 ACC), and did so with an impressive performance on both sides of the line of scrimmage.
Meanwhile, the Tigers fall to 1-4 (1-3 ACC). It was Clemson's eighth loss in 11 games vs. top 10 opponents in Tommy Bowden's coaching tenure.
"Right now we are not a very good football team," Bowden said. "We didn’t play real smart on offense. We had some penalties. The defense didn’t tackle very good and wrap up. Obviously I am not getting the job done in those areas. So I have to go back and get that corrected.
Virginia is a good football team but they shouldn’t be that far ahead of us, and they're not. They weren’t the last three years. I’ve got to go back and get on the drawing board and get some results here when we come home next Saturday."
The story of Thursday night rests with Clemson's defense which, thanks to its inability to stop Virginia on third down, got very little rest.
Virginia was 14-of-20 on third downs for the evening. Couple that with another lackluster offensive performance, and you have a fourth consecutive defeat.
The early culprit was Cavs' quarterback Marcus Hagans, who converted five third downs with pass completions on his team's first three scoring drives. The last of the group, a 32-yard pass to tight end Heath Miller that put the ball at the Clemson 11, set up Virginia's first touchdown three plays later.
It was Hagans (14-of-26, 225 yards) and Miller hooking up again for the score, a short flip from 3 yards away that put the Cavs in front to stay, 13-10.
In second half, it was Virginia's running game which did the damage.
After totaling 78 yards in the first half, Cavalier tailbacks - led by Wali Lundy and Alvin Pearman - ran up a total of 161 yards in the second half. Lundy's night ended at 88 yards after his fumble midway through the third quarter at the Clemson 6 short-circuited a potential scoring drive.
Pearman took over from there, running for 74 yards on Virginia's next three possessions - capping off two of them with short touchdown runs and setting up a Conner Hughes field goal with the other.
Pearman finished the night with 104 yards on 18 carries.
Right now we just can’t sustain anything and keep the defense off the field," Bowden said. "They can’t keep themselves off the field. I think (Virginia) punted one time the whole night. We had the big play early with Ben to kind of swing momentum but we never could create any. If we could sustain some drives we could keep them off the field.
"But at some point in time they (Clemson's defense) have to take themselves off the field. I think we had two drives in the second half. One was six yard line. One was seven yard line. We are going to have to score points when we have the ball."
Clemson's offense, again devoid of a capable rushing attack, totaled just 211 yards on the night - just 45 on the ground.
Quarterback Charlie Whitehurst was better than in recent weeks, completing 16-of-28 for 166 yards, a touchdown (5 yards to Duane Coleman) and an interception.
Jad Dean's 43-yard field goal - his first-ever attempt at the college level - provided Clemson's final points.
After it was over, Bowden vowed to continue fighting what is now a major uphill battle.
"There are still six games left and we are going to come out and play like we ought to play. That’s my job," he said. "I’ll get that squared away from a coaching perspective...to get those guys to perform and find the guys who can do what we ask them to do."
Clemson 7, Virginia 0
Scoring Drive: 6 plays, 80 yards in 3:11
Scoring Play: Whitehurst's 5-yard pass to Coleman at 11:49
Key Play: Whitehurst's 56-yard pass to Ben Hall to the Virginia six yard line.
Clemson 7, Virginia 3
Scoring Drive: 12 plays, 60 yards in 4:43
Scoring Play: Hughes' 21-yard field goal at 7:18
Key Play: On third and 10 at his own 44, Hagans completes to McGrew for 25 yards
Clemson 10, Virginia 7
Scoring Drive: 8 plays, 16 yards in 3:10
Scoring Play: Dean's 43-yard field goal at :25
Key Play: On fourth and three from the Virginia 35, Whitehurst completes to
Currie for 6 yards
Clemson 10, Virginia 6
Scoring Drive: 11 plays, 56 yards in 4:22
Scoring Play: Hughes' 43-yard field goal at 11:03
Key Play: On third and eight from his own 21, Hagans completes to Miller for 12
Virginia 13, Clemson 10
Scoring Drive: 9 plays, 58 yards in 3:11
Scoring Play: Hagans' 3-yard pass to Miller at 5:39
Key Play: On third and 11 from the Clemson 43, Hagans completes to Miller for 32
Virginia 16, Clemson 10
Scoring Drive: 6 plays, 26 yards in 1:53
Scoring Play: Hughes' 50-yard field goal at 3:31
Key Play: Pearman's 18-yard run to the Clemson 37-yard line.
Virginia 23, Clemson 10
Scoring Drive: 6 plays, 43 yards in 1:51
Scoring Play: Pearman's 2-yard run at 14:55
Key Play: Hagan's 19-yard pass to Pearman to the Clemson 4-yard line
Virginia 30, Clemson 10
Scoring Drive: 13 plays, 60 yards in
Scoring Play: Pearman's 2-yard run at 5:14.
Key Play: On third and three from the CU 13, Pearman runs for 5 yards.