Saturday at 6:00 p.m all the eyes of the Atlantic Coast Conference – and beyond - will turn upon Blacksburg, Virginia as the 13th ranked Clemson Tigers (4-0 1-0) take on the 11th ranked Virginia Tech Hokies (4-0 0-0) in a showdown of who will proclaim the ACC their own.
While this game is a big time game to set the pace for the remainder of the ACC slate – the Tigers and Hokies come into this Top-15 ACC match up from very different angles. Clemson is on high after their win – at home over the Florida State Seminoles (35-30) while Virginia Tech tuned up in Huntington, West Virginia in a winning effort of the Marshall Thundering Herd (30-10).
Stats sometimes are skewed based upon level of competition, especially early in the season, but you can focus in on certain aspects of each of the Tigers and Hokies performances versus their respective opponents and find glaring issues that could swing this game one way or the other. Virginia Tech was tested by East Carolina, and Clemson by Florida State – but between the two Clemson is the only team that come into this game who have been mentally and physically tested. Saturday – this will change.
Clemson comes in fresh off of four consecutive home games versus Troy (43-19), Wofford (35-27), Auburn (38-24), and FSU (35-30). Virginia Tech comes in with home wins over Appalachian State (66-13) Arkansas State (26-7) and road wins versus East Carolina (17-10) and Marshall (30-10).
So how do the two teams match up?
Let us start with the home team in this game – the Hokies offense versus the Clemson defense.
Virginia Tech is going to want to keep the Clemson offense off the field as much as possible – and the best way to do that is run run run. New Hokies quarterback – the 6’6 250 pound Logan Thomas will be facing his first true test of the season defensively versus Clemson so RBs David Wilson and Josh Oglesby will be much relied upon. Thomas is a young sophomore who was recruited by Virginia Tech as a tight end. Do not let the tight end stigma fool you though, Thomas is an extremely gifted athlete who was an exceptional basketball player at Brookville High.
For the Hokies when you lose running backs the caliber of Darren Evans and Ryan Williams to the NFL – usually you would worry. However, when you bring two guys back the caliber of Josh Oglesby – who moved to tailback after playing fullback a season ago – and David Wilson, there is little cause or worry. Behind Oglesby and Wilson, there is a blazer by the name of Tony Gregory as well as Dominique Patterson – a converted linebacker and then freshman Michael Holmes.
The game plan is clear for Virginia Tech, but can Clemson stop it?
Keeping in mind that Florida State was only able to rush for 29 yards versus Clemson, the Tigers have given up on average 175 yards per game. Troy rushed for 165 yards on 36 attempts, Wofford rushed for 272 yards on 57 attempts, and Auburn rushed for 237 yards on 38 attempts. Drilling down further, in four games, Clemson is allowing 4.8 yards per carry and this number is even skewed with the Florida State game because the Seminoles abandoned the run game early – knowing the success would not be there.
When you throw out the Florida State game and focus in on the three teams who made a conscious effort to attack Clemson on the ground the Tigers are giving up 224.7 yards per game on the ground a 5.1 yard per carry average.
Though Clemson will want – when possible – to apply pressure to Logan Thomas, the Tigers defensive line is full of talent and has not been the real issue. Senior DT Brandon Thompson has assumed a much larger role with the absence of Da’Quan Bowers and Jarvis Jenkins from a year ago. Thompson – last year – put up stellar numbers with less scrutiny put on him by opposing offensive lines. Thompson is a guy that can work in a three or four technique – which makes him so attractive at the next level. Another guy on the defensive line is Andre Branch – who is very quick off the line and closes well. When I look at the two teams, it will be very interesting to see if Branch gets moved around in this game – because the right side of the Virginia Tech offensive line is as stellar as they come.
Senior OG Jayme Brooks was second-team all ACC a year ago and is a stellar run blocker who possess great athleticism for a 300-plus pound lineman. The anchor of the Virginia Tech offensive line is senior OT Blake DeChristopher. DeChristopher is a four-year starter for the Hokies and as good as he is and has been, it is believed he has yet to reach his potential. DeChristopher did not allow a single sack a year ago for the Hokies, as Beamer and staff hopes this continues Saturday night. If for whatever reason you cannot see #62 Saturday, just look for the best beard on the field. It will be his.
Up front – where it starts – will be a nice battle to watch as the Virginia Tech Hokies will try to set the pace versus the Clemson defensive line and establish the running game. If the Hokies offensive line can create the gaps and cut back lanes for Oglesby and Wilson to run through, Virginia Tech will be able to do exactly what they want to – eat the clock, control the ball, keep the Clemson offense off the field, and make the Clemson defense respect the run enough to free up Logan Thomas to exploit the weaknesses of the Clemson defense.
Clemson’s leading tackler is defensive back Jonathan Meeks which shows the immediate problem for the Tigers. Now Clemson is stocked full of talent at the line backer position but it is, in large part, very young talent. Through four games the line backers for Clemson have been a large question mark when it comes to tackling, making quick and reactive decisions, and closing on the ball.
Outside of factors already discussed if Virginia Tech is able to establish an early and constant run game, Virginia Tech will have some playmakers lining up at Wide Receiver that could really doom Clemson’s hopes. Senior WR Jarrett Boykin will play in this game which is very welcoming news for the Hokies. Boykin is the sure-fire possession receiver for Virginia Tech at 6’2 220. Has been an impact for the Hokies since his freshman season and has never let up. Boykins is a very versatile receiver who can attack all levels of field, is a deep threat, and his high-point ability makes him tough to defend against the jump ball. The absolute best route-runner on the receiver with the best hands is Senior Danny Coale. His speed is deceptive and he uses that to his advantage as he burns most teams. Coale is a 4.4 guy, runs crisp and precise routes, and catches anything thrown in his vicinity. Another guy to keep your eyes on will be Junior D.J Coles.
Now lets flip it around to the match up between the much talked about Clemson offense versus the untested Virginia Tech Hokies.
Unlike Virginia Tech, Clemson runs a fast-paced offense – however like Virginia Tech, the Tigers offense is also predicated on the run. Clemson’s ground game looked great versus a very terrible Auburn defense averaging 4.8 yards per carry – though when they faced the FSU defense that average fell to below 2 per carry. We do not have a lot to go on with the Virginia Tech defense other than looking at their impact players – but they have been dominant, considering who they have played, against the run. For the year – the Hokies have only allowed 172 yards rushing total and 117 of that came by Appalachian State in the season opener. Virginia Tech has allowed 1.6 yards per carry.
Clemson offensive coordinator, Chad Morris, is a very bright mind when it comes to X’s and O’s and he will have to be on Saturday. In order for this offense to work, on the road, Clemson must establish a running game early. If they cannot get the ground game running, this offense on the road is very different than playing in the friendly confines of Death Valley.
Case in point:
When, arguably, the #1 offense in the country – the veteran Oklahoma Sooners traveled to Tallahassee it played below average. Home fields matter, noise and atmosphere matters – the defense thrives off it, as did the Seminoles versus the Sooners.
Saturday, Clemson brings an offense with young offensive skill guys into a much colder and hostile environment than they, of course, have played in front of offensively this season.
With that being said, if Clemson schemes a way to run the ball effectively the pendulum of this game swings in a major way. QB Tajh Boyd has played brilliantly thus far on the year and has been helped by super freshman Sammy Watkins. Watkins, a true freshman, is averaging 7 catches and 108 yards per game on the season and has truly been a threat to be reckoned with by opposing defenses. With the running game working not only does that allow Tajh Boyd to sit more comfortably in the pocket and move this offense at the pace the Tigers want, but frees up guys like Sammy Watkins as well as, who I consider, a budding five-tool tight end in Dwayne Allen. Allen has great size and speed to start from the tight end position and is a tremendous receiver, who also excels in blocking.
Outside of establishing the run another major key of this game will come on third downs for both the Clemson offense and Virginia Tech defense. Clemson has been remarkable on 3rd downs this season. Against Auburn, the Tigers converted 14-18 and versus FSU they were 9-17. If Clemson can continue this 3rd down conversion rate – it extends the drive, keeps the crowd tamed, and most importantly keeps their questionable defense off the field.
Virginia Tech only allowed ECU to convert 3 of 12 on 3rd down conversions – who runs a similar paced offense as does Clemson. Versus Marshall, Virginia Tech held the Thundering Herd to 3 of 15.
After dissecting the match ups on paper how will guys like Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins react to taking the primetime stage – for the first time – in much colder weather and a much tougher place to play? The key is Clemson keeping their offense on the field and running a ton of plays, can they do it? Can Virginia Tech rise to the occasion as they take on their first true test of the year?
In my opinion I believe the Hokies will be able to come out in this game – being at home- and control the offensive line of scrimmage to establish the run game I have discussed. In doing this – everything else unfolds. Virginia Tech should be able to eat valuable time on the clock, while staying up on the scoreboard therefore the crowd at Lane Stadium stays rabid. On the other side, Clemson has to prove to me this offense can work on the road. With talented DBs like Jayron Hosley, Antone Exum, Eddie Whitley, Derek Dinardo and Kyle Fuller, LBs like Bruce Taylor, Jeron Gouveia-Winslow and Tariq Edwards, and a DL with J.R Collins and James Gayle all playing at home I feel as if the Hokies will be able to limit the 3rd down conversation rate of the Tigers while rendering the Clemson run game meaningless. Pressure then goes to the shoulders of Tajh Boyd.
Virginia Tech: 34 Clemson: 21