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Preview 2016 ACC Championship: Virginia Tech Hokies vs Clemson Tigers

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It's the ACC Championship Game! The Hokies made it! Now we have to deal with the Tigers, and somehow defy both the odds and the Sports Punditry. Virginia Tech has a serious challenge, tomorrow. #Hokies #BeatClemson #ACC #CLEMvsVT #HardSmartTough #ThisIsHome #ACCChampionship

Not too many folks thought we'd be here.  Somehow I think he had an inkling
Not too many folks thought we'd be here. Somehow I think he had an inkling
Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

This was the article that I did not plan on writing.  I really haven't paid close attention to Clemson.   I know there are a bunch of ACC types out there who are champing at the bit for some sort of ACC National Championship presence in the CFB Playoffs, but I have failed the Test of ACC Boosterism repeatedly.  I could care less whether Clemson goes to the "playoffs" or not.  There is only one team (well two, but Army isn't going anytime in this particular universe) that I want to see and will root for in a College Football Playoff and that's Virginia Tech.

In a perfect and fair world, tomorrow's game would be the first step of that accomplishment, but that chance will only go to Clemson, IF Clemson WINS.  The reality of the phony playoff system is that if the Hokies pull off the upset, we'll get a choosey bowl game invite, but no one is going to see us beyond the end of the season exhibition drill.  So, I am sure that the ACC Booster types will be doing the wave for the Tigers.  Money is what money is.

So what are we up against?  Dabo Swinney has assembled a nearly perfect winning and recruiting machine in South Carolina.  He has the recruiting self-re-enforcing feedback loop performing at high efficiency.  He gets great recruits because he wins, and he wins because he gets the premium recruits.  We are well aware of that spiral and have seen the opposite over the last several cycles.  The simple fact is that Clemson is a well-oiled machine, and that step up in personnel quality on the field will be very difficult to beat.  It won't be impossible, but it will be difficult.

So, what's our history with Clemson?  They are in the other division of the ACC so we don't play them in the regular season, much.  We are scheduled to do a trade of two games or so some time in the near future -€” or far future; but we rarely take them on in the regular season.

The truth is that we haven't fared too well against Clemson.  The Series is very old.  The first game was played in Charlotte on Nov. 24, 1900 and we lost that one. (Ok, that's before the Roosevelt reforms and the forward pass, but still.) So, can't really call it a rivalry, since that is only 33 games over 116 years.   Here is the rub, though.  The last couple of meetings have actually meant something, and unfortunately the last three have not gone well, including a pretty stout defeat handed to us in the 2011 ACC Championship Game (38-10).  The insult to injury is that we had already lost a game to them during the regular season, in another drubbing 23-3.   The bright side of things reveals that during the Beamer Era the Hokies began to get some traction.  From 1987 to 2012 Clemson and Tech have Clemson an ACC Championship Game lead with 6 wins to our 5 losses.  Take a look at a simplified chart from Hokie Sports for a W-L and some dates:

Season

Date

Site

Score (VT-Opp)

Rank

2012

Sat., Oct 20, 2012

Clemson, S.C.

L, 17-38

NR/14

2011

Sat., Dec 3, 2011

Bank of America, Charlotte, N.C.

L, 10-38

5/21

2011

Sat., Oct 1, 2011

Blacksburg, Va.

L, 3-23

11/13

2007

Sat., Oct 6, 2007

Clemson, S.C.

W, 41-23

15/22

2006

Thu., Oct 26, 2006

Blacksburg, Va.

W, 24-7

NR/10

2000

Mon., Jan 1, 2001

Jacksonville, Fla.

W, 41-20

6/16

1999

Thu., Sep 23, 1999

Blacksburg, Va.

W, 31-11

8/NR

1998

Sat., Sep 12, 1998

Clemson, S.C.

W, 37-0

NR/NR

1989

Sat., Sep 16, 1989

Blacksburg, Va.

L, 7-27

NR/7

1988

Sat., Sep 3, 1988

Clemson, S.C.

L, 7-40

NR/4

1987

Sat., Sep 12, 1987

Blacksburg, Va.

L, 10-22

NR/10

1986

Sat., Sep 13, 1986

Clemson, S.C.

W, 20-14

NR/NR

1985

Sat., Sep 14, 1985

Blacksburg, Va.

L, 17-20

NR/NR

1984

Sat., Nov 10, 1984

Clemson, S.C.

L, 10-17

NR/NR

1980

Sat., Oct 4, 1980

Clemson, S.C.

L, 10-13

NR/NR

1979

Sat., Oct 13, 1979

Blacksburg, Va.

L, 0-21

NR/NR

1978

Sat., Oct 7, 1978

Clemson, S.C.

L, 7-38

NR/NR

1977

Sat., Oct 1, 1977

Blacksburg, Va.

L, 13-31

NR/NR

So, in my era of Hokie Nation fandom, we haven't done so well.  I still won't talk too much about that cold, rain soaked, muddy loss in 1977.  It's where and when I acquired my distaste for the Clemson Tigers.

What are we up against tomorrow?  What are Clemson's regular season numbers that count?  We all have heard in some form of Deshaun Watson and his Heisman potential.  We have also all heard of Dabo Swinney's offensive and defensive juggernaut.  There are really not a lot of us looking at where they really are in relation to us, though.

Clemson (Stats from Yahoo Sports)

Clemson Passing: Total Yards -€” 4,036

Player

Comp

Att

Pct

Yds

Y/A

Y/G

TD

Int

Long

Sack

YdsL

QBRat

Deshaun Watson

306

453

67.5

3626

8.0

302.2

34

14

65

11

51

153.4

Nick Schuessler

22

32

68.8

328

10.3

82.0

3

0

45

2

18

185.8

Virginia Tech (Stats from Yahoo Sports)

Virginia Tech Passing: Total Yards -€” 3,133

Player

Comp

Att

Pct

Yds

Y/A

Y/G

TD

Int

Long

Sack

YdsL

QBRat

Jerod Evans

226

354

63.8

3039

8.6

253.3

26

5

62

24

128

157.4

Brenden Motley

9

20

45.0

81

4.1

16.2

1

0

31

0

0

95.5

It's really difficult to get beyond the fact that Deshaun Watson is pushing huge passing numbers.  The Clemson Passing offense is ranked #12 in the nation.  Whether this is due to the talent of Watson or the stellar nature of his receivers (a Swinney Specialty) is immaterial at this point.  Tech's offense is ranked 75 in passing and 55 overall.  Okay, please, understand those numbers are unreal when the team name Virginia Tech Hokies are placed in the chart so there will be little to complain about for me.  The fact that Jerod Evans has thrown exactly five picks, several of which were off receivers not catching the ball, and that pretty much accounts for the difference in quarterback play between the teams.  The fact that Evans isn't noticed is frustrating, but hardly surprising given the bandwagon nature of College Football Sports Punditry.  The mileage edge goes to Watson; but Jerod Evans is nipping at his heels.

Clemson Rushing:  Total Yards from Listed Players -€” 2,034

Player

G

Rush

Yds

Y/G

Avg

Long

TD

Wayne Gallman

12

179

943

78.6

5.3

59

14

Deshaun Watson

12

112

444

37.0

4.0

23

4

Tavien Feaster

3

34

209

41.8

6.1

45

2

C.J. Fuller

8

40

165

20.6

4.1

15

0

Adam Choice

9

41

142

15.8

3.5

16

0

Tyshon Dye

6

21

109

18.2

5.2

17

1

Kelly Bryant

4

12

22

5.5

1.8

27

1

Virginia Tech Rushing: Total Yards from Listed Players -€” 2,390

Player

G

Rush

Yds

Y/G

Avg

Long

TD

Jerod Evans

12

161

713

59.4

4.4

55

8

Travon McMillian

12

129

600

50.0

4.7

69

4

Sam Rogers

1

61

269

22.4

4.4

32

2

Marshawn Williams

9

59

244

27.1

4.1

19

2

Brenden Motley

5

20

124

24.8

6.2

26

2

Cam Phillips

3

23

115

9.6

5.0

20

0

Shai McKenzie*

5

20

76

15.2

3.8

9

1

D.J. Reid

2

12

65

32.5

5.4

18

0

Steven Peoples

5

16

60

12.0

3.8

7

1

C.J. Carroll

5

9

46

5.1

5.1

16

0

Bucky Hodges

12

7

32

2.7

4.6

7

0

Deshawn McClease

1

8

27

27.0

3.4

7

0

Isaiah Ford

11

4

19

1.7

4.8

26

0

*Juice is out for the Season with a torn knee ligament

Overall, Tech runs the ball better than Clemson does.  We also spread the ball around to more than just running backs.  Fullback Sam Rogers has often been used as a single setback and as we saw several times the reason was the versatility that he brought to the field; blocking quality, receiving chops, decent running skills, and an occasional pass here and there.  What is slightly disturbing to QB purists is that our number one rusher is also Jerod Evans, who's put up more than 700 yards this season.  Deshaun Watson is normally almost as productive from the pocket, but with Clemson's receivers and the fact that Watson seems to be more interested in staying in the pocket to check down, and get the ball out, makes this a contrast of inches.  Evans has nearly double the yards on the ground, double the TD runs, and is pushing Watson in passing stats.  You have to wonder how long it's going to take for someone out in the Sports ozone to notice.

Clemson Receiving

Player

G

Rec

Yds

Y/G

Avg

Long

TD

Mike Williams

12

79

1114

92.8

14.1

50

10

Jordan Leggett

10

34

588

58.8

17.3

56

5

Deon Cain

12

30

552

46.0

18.4

65

9

Artavis Scott

10

64

544

45.3

8.5

28

5

Ray-Ray McCloud

9

44

434

39.5

9.9

36

2

Hunter Renfrow

8

27

307

38.4

11.4

35

3

Trevion Thompson

7

10

105

15.0

10.5

25

1

Wayne Gallman

12

15

96

8.0

6.4

18

0

Cornell Powell

1

12

87

17.4

7.3

18

0

Virginia Tech Receiving

Player

G

Rec

Yds

Y/G

Avg

Long

TD

Isaiah Ford

11

69

949

86.3

13.8

47

7

Cam Phillips

3

58

776

64.7

13.4

55

4

Bucky Hodges

12

42

598

49.8

14.2

42

7

C.J. Carroll

5

17

253

28.1

14.9

62

0

Sam Rogers

1

19

253

21.1

13.3

52

3

Travon McMillian

12

10

112

9.3

11.2

31

3

Chris Cunningham

6

5

43

7.2

8.6

13

3

Steven Peoples

5

2

40

8.0

20.0

27

1

Henri Murphy

2

3

29

9.7

9.7

12

0

Shai McKenzie*

5

3

28

5.6

9.3

17

0

Clemson and Tech are actually closer in passing quality than many might think.  Though Clemson's primary receiver is Mike Williams with over 1,100 yards for 14 yards a grab; the follow ups are pushing half those totals each.  This is not a bad thing, but it does indicate that Foster, Scott, and Mitchell are going to have to figure out how to deal with major ax chops from the W&W Connection, while not ignoring the dangerous trio of 500+ yard receivers who are next in line.  Tech charts out with a very balanced passing attack that spreads the ball around to more than a few receivers; the top three of which are garnering next level attention.  It's pretty obvious that the Fuente/Cornelsen playbook scatters the ball around quite a bit, and doesn't concentrate on any one eligible receiver; wide-out or running back.  All five top listed receivers are pushing over 13 yards a catch.

The way that I see it, the game is going to sit squarely in the laps of the defenses and how those squads handle the offensive situations ahead of them.   As has been drubbed into the sports world, the Clemson Tigers are "All That" and the Virginia Tech Hokies are a fluke, mild surprise, and still struggling for recognition.  Maybe if we hadn't tripped over Syracuse or Georgia Tech (neither of which we were well prepared for and were team losses) we'd be more "respected", than means instead of the blow out level -10 points the wise guys are giving the Tigers we'd be pushing a better -3 or so.  I don't see that as a great disadvantage, this particular team has always been better than expected when it has been rated as an underdog.

How is Tech going to win this game?  Well, if I was that much of a football genius I'd be coaching, not writing about it, but I see this game hinging on four things:

  1. The Defense has to make Watson pull the ball in and run.  Clemson has to be made one dimensional on the ground.  That means doing something that we have not done well, to date, and that's handle a running QB.   So the secondary is going to have to cover receivers and choose one on one situations that our personnel can handle.  The W&W Connection needs to be broken.
  2. The Defensive Line, while getting pressure must contain Watson so Andrew Motuapuaka and Tremaine Edmunds can alternate keys on him to get him on the ground before he does damage.
  3. The Offense needs to move the ball.  Evans is going to be keyed heavily.   That means getting other backs into the game, and mixing it up.  It also means that Evans might get some time if he slides around, to check down a few times to hit his secondary receivers.  Tech is going to have to pass to win.  Evans is going to need all 6'7" of Bucky Hodges.  Isiah Ford is going to be challenged, that will free up CJ Carroll in the slot, or if Cam Phillips is on the field Clemson will have difficulty keeping help over the top.  Those 8-20 yard pass plays across the bottom of the zone are going to be gold if Evans has some time and patience.  If Clemson can help it, Evans is not going to be allowed to "wreck" their game plan.

The simple fact is that Clemson is favored to win this game.  The numbers say Clemson is just a better more experienced team.  The numbers also lie like rugs sometimes.  Virginia Tech is "new" old.  We have a solid defense and a new offense that is proving to be something that can put up serious points.  We also have a problem with slow starts so that will have to be addressed because Clemson is explosive and will look to bury us early.

Virginia Tech CAN win this game; and it's not a slim possibility.   It is a good chance.  Can the Hokies reach up, grab it, and play it for all that its worth?   Tomorrow, we need to leave it all on the field.

#OneGameOneTeamRightNow

More than ever!

GO HOKIES!!!!!!