Clemson needs to shape up, or it will get knocked out

ORLANDO, Fla. — Clemson entered Saturday’s ACC Championship Game against Virginia Tech in the enviable position of having its College Football Playoff fate in its hands.

Unlike Penn State and Wisconsin, the Tigers didn’t need to convince the committee to have a last-second change of heart at the expense of another deserving team. Clemson also had no fear whatsoever that its rightful place in the top four could be usurped in the event of an especially persuasive performance the Badgers or the Nittany Lions — something that couldn’t be said, definitively, for Ohio State, or Washington. And unlike Michigan, the third-ranked Tigers didn’t have to pray for a miracle.

The only thing Dabo Swinney’s team had to do to assure it would play on New Year’s Eve was beat the Hokies — and beat the Hokies it did. But while the Tigers’ 42-35 victory at Camping World Stadium was everything it needed to be with respect to getting into the playoff field, it also revealed a host of flaws that could prove disastrous regardless of who they face in the national semifinal.

“There’s no question this team right here is incredibly deserving of where they are,” Swinney said of his players after the game. “They’ve earned everything they’ve gotten. It’s never been easy.”

In front of a Clemson-leaning crowd of 50,628, the Tigers (12-1) were unquestionably the superior team from the start, and there were several times throughout the game, which they led by as many as 21, when they appeared poised to blow it wide open — and in those moments, they looked every bit the part of a national champion.

But Clemson, for all its trying, could never pull away, and repeatedly allowed Virginia Tech (9-4) back in the contest long after the Hokies should have been put out of their misery. And it wasn’t until Cordrea Tankersley intercepted a Jerod Evans pass at the Clemson 11 with 1:11 to play that the Tigers faithful could finally breathe a sigh of relief, their team’s future finally secure.

“We needed a turnover,” Tankersley said. “The only way we knew we could win the game was if we won the turnover margin. Credit to our defensive line for getting pressure, (forcing) the quarterback to get the ball out quick.”

Overall, Clemson’s top-10 defense “held” Virginia Tech to 386 yards — 67 under the Hokies’ season average — and did win the…