CHARLOTTESVILLE — Facing the first real test to its dominance this season, Virginia showed Clemson — and the nation — that its numbers haven’t just been built against inferior competition.
Running the ball with apparent ease in the second half, Virginia got 104 yards and two touchdowns from Alvin Pearman and shut down the Tigers after their opening drive to convincingly win 30-10 last night.
Pearman, who replaced Wali Lundy at tailback in the third quarter, scored on a 2-yard run on the first play of the fourth quarter to make it 23-10, then clinched it with another 2-yarder with 5:14 remaining.
“Whatever Coach needs me to do, I’m willing to do so,” said the versatile senior who also returns punts and plays wide receiver. “Today I just happened to be carrying the rock a little more and I’ll take that.”
No. 10 Virginia (5-0, 2-0 ACC), ranked higher than at any point since it was No.7 in 1998, has won eight straight and now has nine days to prepare for its sternest test — at No.8 Florida State.
The Cavaliers certainly looked ready after starting slow against the Tigers.
Clemson (1-4, 1-3) drove 80 yards in six plays on its opening drive, Duane Coleman capping the march with a 5-yard touchdown reception.
They managed just seven first downs and 131 yards thereafter.
“When you drive it down like that in pretty convincing style, you’re expecting you can do it again,” quarterback Charlie Whitehurst said. “We didn’t.”
Instead, all the Tigers added was a 43-yard field goal by Jad Dean on their third possession — a drive that covered only 16 yards. Connor Hughes had field goals of 21, 43 and 50 yards for Virginia and the Cavaliers gained 239 yards on the ground, 225 through the air.
In the second half, Pearman replaced Lundy and did the heavy lifting, carrying 17 times on three drives that all ended in points. The Cavaliers also converted 14 of 20 third-down plays; Clemson was 5-for-14.
“The players knew what the challenges were in front of them, and I thought they responded to those challenges,” Virginia coach Al Groh said.
Playing without defensive end and captain Chris Canty for the first time after he had season-ending surgery, the Cavaliers looked just as dominant as they had in blowout victories in their first four games.
Clemson rushed for just 45 yards on 21 carries.
The Tigers also had no answer for Virginia’s running game, getting a reprieve only when Lundy fumbled after running for a first down at the Clemson 5 in the third quarter. Travis Pugh recovered for the Tigers.
Three plays later, the Tigers were forced to punt from their 22, Pearman took over at tailback and the Cavaliers salted the game away.
“We saw they were getting tired,” guard Elton Brown said of the Tigers, who lost their fourth in a row. “We just wanted to get out after it and just let it go. Coach put the ball in our hands and we responded.”
Virginia scored the last 27 points.
The Cavaliers trailed for only 3:22 of 240 minutes in their first four games, but quickly fell behind 7-0 on Coleman’s touchdown. The key play on the six-play drive was Whitehurst’s 56-yard pass to tight end Ben Hall that moved the ball to the Cavaliers’ 6.
The Tigers held the lead until 5:39 before halftime, when Marques Hagans hit Heath Miller from 5 yards out to give Virginia a 13-10 lead. On the drive, Hagans also hit Deyon Williams for 13 yards on third-and-7, then found Miller for 32 yards on a third-and-11 from the Tigers 43.
Whitehurst finished 16-for-28 for 166 yards and threw his 11th interception of the year. Tony Franklin made the pick for Virginia.
Hagans was 14-for-26 for 225 yards.
Virginia honored former coach George Welsh at halftime. He coached the Cavaliers for 19 seasons and is their leader in career victories with 189. He’ll be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in December.