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Virginia Tech Football: Can the Hokies Beat Clemson?

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Virginia Tech meets Clemson on Saturday in the ACC Championship game.

NCAA Football: Virginia at Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech QB Jerod Evans
Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

Virginia Tech football is back. After a drought of five years, the Hokies are back in the ACC championship game. Coincidentally enough, Clemson was Tech’s opponent back in 2011, with the Tigers winning that one by a score of 38-10.

Will things be any different this time?

These teams are playing for different things. For No. 3 Clemson, a spot in the College Football Playoff is at stake. If the Tigers win, they’ll be in the playoff for the second straight year.

For the Hokies, a win means an Orange Bowl bid. Virginia Tech fans will certainly take that.

Clemson, which lost the national championship game to Alabama last year in thrilling fashion, is one of the most balanced teams in the country. The Tigers rank No. 12 in total offense and average 509 yards per game. Defensively, Clemson is even better, ranking No. 8 in total defense.

Quarterback Deshaun Watson leads a talented and deep Clemson offense. The junior signal caller had another banner season in 2016, passing for over 3,600 yards, completed 68 percent of his passes and 34 touchdowns. Watson was also second on the team with 444 rushing yards. If there is one chink Watson’s armor it’s his propensity to throw interceptions. He has 14 on the season.

Watson isn’t careless with the football, but he does take a lot of chances down the field. He will give Virginia Tech’s defensive backs plenty of opportunities. Tech ranks No. 10 in opponent’s passer rating.

The best way to get to Watson is to blitz. Sure, that sounds easy and with defensive coordinator Bud Foster, one of the more aggressive coordinators in the country, he will bring the heat. But he’ll need to be creative. Drop his linemen into coverage, send defensive backs after Watson. Sure, it makes you vulnerable, but for the Hokies to win this one they’ll have to take chances.

The Tigers have a plethora of talented weapons Foster will have to deal with. Running back Wayne Gallman rushed for almost 1,000 yards this fall and scored 14 touchdowns. He’s a game-breaker. Wide receiver Mike Williams and tight end Jordan Leggett are both huge and athletic. The two pass-catchers combined for 113 catches, 1,702 yards and 15 touchdowns. Fortunately for the Hokies, they have size and experience in the defensive backfield.

Stopping Clemson will be tough, if almost impossible. What Virginia Tech needs is a strong performance from its offense. The stage is set for a big game for quarterback Jerod Evans.

The JUCO transfer quietly had a terrific season in a conference full of talented quarterbacks. Evans leads the Hokies in rushing and threw only four picks on the season. However, the Tigers will put plenty of pressure on Evans, having sacked opposing quarterbacks 40 times this season. That will lead to quick throws against a strong secondary.

VT head coach Justin Fuente must find creative ways to get the football into the hands of Isaiah Ford and Bucky Hodges. Clemson doesn’t have a player that can physically matchup with Hodges.

So, can the Hokies win?

Sure, Virginia Tech can win this game, but it will be tough. Very tough. This isn’t the same Hokie team as we’ve seen in recent years. The defense isn’t quite as strong, although they’re still very good, and this offense can score points. When you have an explosive offense, you have a chance.

Win or lose, 2016 has been a successful one for Virginia Tech. Nothing would be better, though, than another 10-win season and an ACC championship in Fuente’s first season in charge.