CLEMSON, S.C. — Clemson coach Dabo Swinney hasn't stopped thinking about Virginia quarterback Bryce Perkins since the 22nd-ranked Cavaliers clinched their spot in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game last week.
"He's a guy you've got to account for," Swinney said. "He'll go 50 (yards), he'll go 60."
And Perkins isn't the only Cavalier with big-play potential the third-ranked Tigers (12-0; No. 3 College Football Playoff) will need to contain when they take on Virginia (9-3) in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Saturday night.
Virginia receivers Joe Reed and Hasise Dubois have a combined for 1,476 yards and nine touchdowns.
Perkins leads the league in total offense with 303 yards a game. He's had a hand in 27 of Virginia's 50 touchdowns this season (16 passing, 11 rushing) and is at his best, Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables said, when things break down and the Cavaliers need a play.
"I just look at him as a great player on his own. He's the heart and soul" of Virginia, Venables said. "He's just difficult to defend."
Perkins made second team all-ACC while Reed, the league leader in kick returns, was picked as a first-team all-purpose player.
Clemson had 16 players named to All-ACC teams on Tuesday.
One of them at the top of the list is Perkins' counterpart, Clemson's Trevor Lawrence, who has thrown 30 touchdowns, 10 of them for 30 yards or more. Another is Tigers tailback Travis Etienne, who leads the ACC with 16 rushing touchdowns and set the league career mark for running TDs with 53.
On the outside, the Tigers are power-packed, too, with receivers Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross combining for 1,548 yards and 17 touchdowns.
Lawrence, Etienne and Higgins are all part of the all-ACC first-team offense.
"They have a great quarterback. They have a great running back. They have great receivers, good tight ends and everything. The (offensive) line is obviously real good," Virginia linebacker Zane Zandier said. "A lot of us are just real excited."
Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall knows the challenge his team is up against.
He said Clemson's offense is matchup nightmare because of all the ways they can advance the football. The bevy is standout skill players makes it near impossible to take away one aspect and expect to shut the Tigers down.
"When you allocate resources, and at any point if you allocate an additional resource to any one of those spots, there's an instant trade-off that you're making somewhere else," explained Mendenhall.
Lawrence and Clemson's offense have averaged 541 yards and 45 points this season, topping the ACC by far in both categories. While the Tigers have the postseason experience edge on Virginia - Clemson is seeking to become the first school to win five straight league title games - Lawrence said it's essential to keep level-headed this week.
Thousands of fans will pack Bank of America Stadium Saturday night for the ACC Championship game.
The number three ranked Clemson Tigers will face 23rd ranked UVA Cavaliers, but the fun begins Friday night.
FanFest starts at 5 p.m. Friday at the Charlotte Convention Center. Watch the video below as Traffic Team 9's Mark Taylor breaks down how it may impact traffic in uptown.
"I think just not making the moment too big. That's something that's easy to do," he said.
Clemson's been able to easily navigate any bumps during games this year - they've won 27 straight games.
Swinney believes that in the chase to find flaws, a sublime season by his Tigers has been somewhat overlooked. He said his offense and defense are playing at higher levels than at this point in Clemson's 15-0 national championship season a year ago.
"Will they finish?" Swinney asked. "I don't know."
Virginia hopes to have a big say in that answer.
No. 22 Virginia (9-3, 6-2 ACC) vs. No. 3 Clemson (12-0, 8-0; No. 3 CFP), Saturday at 7:30 p.m. EST (ABC).
Where: Bank of America Stadium -- Charlotte, North Carolina
Line: Clemson by 28.
Series record: Clemson leads 38-8-1.
WHAT'S AT STAKE?
Clemson is looking to become the first program with five straight championship game victories, keeping alive its 27-game win streak and run to a fifth consecutive College Football Playoff. The Cavaliers are playing their first title game in seeking their first ACC championship since sharing the crown with Florida State in 1995.
Virginia quarterback Bryce Perkins against Clemson's back seven. The Tigers defense has held all 12 opponents to under 300 yards this season, leading the ACC and second nationally behind Ohio State at 232 yards allowed per game. Perkins is a dynamic force for the Cavaliers with 27 touchdowns (16 passing, 11 rushing) who may be even more adept at making big things happen when a play breaks down.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Virginia: WR Joe Reed is a force on the outside, and on special teams for the Cavaliers. Reed has 3,010 yards in kick returns and is only 143 yards from tying the ACC record of former North Carolina State standout T.J. Graham. Reed also leads Virginia with 70 catches for six receiving TDs.
Clemson: LB Isaiah Simmons has been the unquestioned defensive leader for the Tigers this year. His strength may be his versatility in lining up at several different spots in the secondary, at linebacker or up front to make plays. He leads Clemson with 84 tackles, seven sacks and 14 stops behind the line of scrimmage.
FACTS & FIGURES
Clemson is after its fifth straight ACC title and sixth in the past nine years. ... Clemson has won its past seven games by 30 or more points, which according to ESPN Stats, tied a record for most consecutive such wins in the AP poll era (since 1936). ... Virginia is on the verge of its 10th win, something it accomplished only once before when going 10-3 in 1989. ... Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence has thrown for 23 touchdowns and just three interceptions over his past seven games. ... Tigers tailback Travis Etienne broke the ACC mark for rushing touchdowns (53) and TDs from the line of scrimmage (57) with two scoring runs in a 38-3 win over rival South Carolina.
Trevor Lawrence believes No. 3 Clemson is better than it was a year ago. He and the Tigers will get the chance to prove it in the College Football Playoffs.
Lawrence threw four touchdown passes, three to Tee Higgins, and the defending national champions dismantled No. 22 Virginia 62-17 for its fifth consecutive Atlantic Coast Conference title Saturday night. The Tigers (13-0, No. 3 CFP) won their 28th straight game and become the first program with that many wins in a row in a league title game.
Lawrence said Clemson came out with a fire to finish league play strong.
"I'm proud of the way we handled it. We came out with a fire. And while Lawrence acknowledged the difficulty of comparing last year's group to this one, "the way we're playing, I think we are better," he said.
Maybe good enough to be No. 1?
"I think so. But, hopefully, in a couple of weeks we'll get a chance to prove it," he said.
It would be hard to bet against the Tigers, who easily put away the Cavaliers (9-4, No. 23 CFP) with their dazzling set of playmakers.
Lawrence and Higgins, the game's MVP, headed that list against the Cavaliers.
"We just want to have an opportunity to compete for the whole thing," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. "I think we've done enough to get somewhere in that top four, wherever they put us."
Virginia showed off a game plan that caused the Tigers a few early headaches. But Clemson's talent quickly took control on the way to an ACC championship game record for points and yards (619).
"In championship games, you've got to expect some adversity," Clemson linebacker Isaiah Simmons said. And we always say that when adversity hits, you've got to be stronger and stronger."
Lawrence set an ACC title-game record with his four touchdown throws and had 302 yards passing, his second best total this season, and completed 16 of 22 passes before coming out in the third quarter.
Higgins finished with 182 yards receiving yards and the three TDs, both bests in ACC Championship game play.
Travis Etienne had 114 yards, his eighth game over 100 yards this season.
Virginia and Perkins appeared to have a game plan to compete with the Tigers, even without leading receiver Joe Reed out due to injury.
Perkins threw a 20-yard scoring pass to Hasise Dubois to tie it 7, just the second TD pass allowed by Clemson in its past seven games.
Virginia's defense sacked Lawrence twice in the opening half (Clemson had allowed only 11 sacks in the regular season) and Perkins accounted for 177 yards the first 30 minutes - nearly as many as the 194 yards the Tigers allowed in a 38-3 win last week over South Carolina.
But it was impossible to contain Clemson's offense.
"We didn't make enough plays, we couldn't make enough plays," Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall said.
Higgins had scoring catches of 19 and 7 yards, Justyn Ross went 59-yards for another touchdown (the second longest in ACC Championship game history) and Etienne broke free for a 26-yard touchdown run as Clemson opened a 31-7 lead by halftime.
Perkins, the ACC's leader in total offense, had 324 of the Cavaliers' 387 yards, which were a season high allowed by Clemson's defense this season.
The Cavaliers played without leading receiver and the ACC's top kick returner in Joe Reed due to injury.
Perkins believed the loss showed Virginia how to move up in the ACC. The gap with Clemson is "big, but we have the opportunity in the coming years to close it," he said.
Virginia: The Cavaliers showed creativity and ability in devising and executing a game plan designed to make Clemson sweat. But the gap between Virginia and the Tigers - as it is for most everyone else in the ACC - was too wide to overcome without perfection on nearly every snap.
Clemson: The Tigers showed once more they had no equals this season in the ACC. The challenge now grows more difficult with Clemson likely facing off against LSU or Ohio State in the national semifinals.
Tigers receiver Justyn Ross said the team was fully ready to play because each championship game is a different experience - and another chance to achieve. "It means everything to be part of this legacy," he said.
Clemson has won six ACC championships in the past nine season. It has a 63-2 record against league opponents since the start of the 2015 season.
It means everything to be a part of this legacy.
"Just seeing the look in everybody's eyes, there's an excitement about being in this game. It's always going to be different because there's always a different challenge.
Virginia quarterback Bryce Perkins had his moments against Clemson. He threw two touchdown passes, something the Tigers' No. 1 pass defense had allowed just once in a 21-20 victory over North Carolina in September. Perkins also set the Cavaliers' single-season record with 3,215 yards.
Virginia awaits its bowl assignment, most likely the Orange Bowl.
Clemson will head to the College Football Playoff with its matchup announced Sunday.
© 2020 Associated Press