CLEMSON - It wasn't a start, technically. But Clemson has standout sophomore defensive end Da'Quan Bowers back in the mix, which coach Dabo Swinney viewed as progress.
Bowers, who sat out two games because of a sprained medial collateral ligament, came off the bench in Saturday's 34-21 victory and logged 13 snaps, tallying one tackle for loss.
While Bowers had been expected to play, there had been no indication what role Bowers would have.
But Swinney said all signs are pointing to Bowers getting his standard volume of snaps come Saturday's noon regular-season finale at USC.
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"He moved around well," Swinney said Sunday. "That's about what we were hoping to do with him, to just kind of test the water. His confidence should be really high coming in Monday.
"I think he'll be ready to go in pretty much a full-blown role next weekend. Getting Da'Quan back is really important to us."
Senior end/linebacker Kevin Alexander and sophomore end Andre Branch continued to fare well in Bowers' place.
The wild side. The Tigers held Virginia to 40 offensive yards and two first downs in the second half after allowing the Cavaliers to muster as many touchdowns (three) in the first half as their offense had scored the previous 10 quarters.
Virginia did all its damage of those scoring drives by using tailback Mikell Simpson to run the "wildcat," as he gained 43 yards on five carries.
That well went dry in part because Simpson sat out the second half with a pulled hamstring sustained on the half-ending touchdown catch.
But Clemson defensive coordinator Kevin Steele said the Tigers also had a hand in taking the "wildcat" away, dusting off two defensive calls the team has used against the variations previously.
"We don't come in and rant and rave and scream," Steele said. "That playing hard stuff - guys are playing hard. You've got to give them something tangible to hang their hat on. We took a few calls, tweaked them and made them work."
Kick ball. Swinney sounded pleased with junior kicker Richard Jackson's performance, saying Jackson "struck the ball" in his return to the lineup.
Jackson had missed six of his previous 12 field goals and two extra points against Florida State before being benched for most of the N.C. State contest for an academic violation. But redshirt freshman backup Spencer Benton fared no better against the Wolfpack, re-opening the competition.
Although Jackson appears hands-down the more consistent option in pregame warm-ups, Swinney said Sunday the two were "dead-even" all the way.
"So we went with the experience, and Richard did a good job," Swinney said.
Open late. Perhaps in part because of the festive mood, Swinney said he allowed himself to stay up late Saturday night to celebrate the division title with numerous family members who came into town for his 40th birthday.
But after squeezing in breakfast with the group Sunday morning, Swinney said game preparations for USC beckoned.
"We have to turn the page and get ready for a good South Carolina team," he said. "They've had an open date to prepare for us, so we'll have to catch up and burn the (midnight) oil pretty quick the next few days to get the plan in place and get our guys ready."
Extra points. In addition to the nearly $1 million raise Swinney will earn the next four years of his contract for winning the Atlantic Division title, he gets at least a $75,000 bonus for participating in the ACC title game and $10,000 bonus for winning eight games. Those bonuses climb to $100,000 and $35,000, respectively, if the Tigers meet an academic standard as expected. ... Kyle Parker has more wins than any freshman or redshirt freshman quarterback in the country. ... Senior linebacker Kavell Conner was named the team's defensive player of the game. Initially credited with a career-high 15 tackles, Conner was determined to have 13 after the team's film review, while defensive back Marcus Gilchrist and linebacker Brandon Maye had 11 apiece.