CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — It was easy to spot the happiest guy in No. 14 Clemson's locker room — defensive coordinator Brent Venables.
Venables had spent most of his first season watching his Tigers struggle against opponents big and small. But with one of the Atlantic Coast Conference's best players in Logan Thomas in to lead Virginia Tech, Clemson's defenders put together their best effort of the season.
The Tigers got three interceptions — two off of Thomas — and made a pair of fourth-down stops in a 38-17 victory over the Hokies on Saturday.
Clemson (6-1, 4-1 ACC) came in 10th in the 12-team conference in yards given up at more than 445 yards a game. Virginia Tech (4-4, 2-2) got 406 in this one, all but 100 of those by Thomas, but it was the Tigers' defense that turned things around against the fired-up Hokies.
"We don't have to play like Alabama yet," Venables said with a grin. "Although we'd like to. But we can definitely play better than we have up to this point and hopefully, today was a sign of moving in the right direction."
Jonathan Meeks had two interceptions, including one he took back for a 74-yard touchdown off Thomas.
"I knew right away," Thomas said of his sailing throw.
Tajh Boyd ran for two touchdowns and passed for another for the Tigers, who were held to their lowest offensive output of the season at 295 yards. Boyd thought the team didn't come out as strong as he hoped for their first game in two weeks. Still, Boyd said, in other seasons, such a showing would lead to defeat. "I think it shows how far we've come," he said.
Andre Ellington had a 12-yard touchdown run and 96 yards for the Tigers. All-American receiver Sammy Watkins has his most productive game this season with eight catches for 84 yards.
Tigers coach Dabo Swinney knew it was the defense that led the way in Clemson's third straight victory over Virginia Tech. "They had a great performance," Swinney said. "From the sidelines, I believe it was their best effort."
Boyd was 12 of 21 for 160 yards, 131 fewer than he averaged coming in.
Clemson tied a school record with its 11th straight home victory, something it had done twice before from 1937-42 and 1989-91. To match the mark this time, the Tigers had to count on their usually unreliable defense as their high-flying offense was largely grounded.
Thomas had 207 yards passing and a 29-yard TD throw to Corey Fuller. He also rushed for 99 yards, including a 19-yard scoring run in the final quarter that gave the Hokies hope of a rally down 31-17.