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Preview: Virginia Tech Hokies vs. Clemson Tigers the Fuente Era Edition

It’s almost Game Day, and the Clemson Tigers are coming to Blacksburg with ESPN Game Day in tow. It’s the battle of two undefeated 4-0 football teams. It’s our ACC opener and “everyone” thinks that Clemson has it. Some of us don’t think it’s going to be so easy.

Josh Jackson in the Home Opener
John Schneider - SB Nation

How do you get at something that is just a swirling mass of information, emotions, old dislikes, new dislikes, and even some good old fashioned envy? The Fighting Gobblers of Virginia Polytechnic and State University have been, on and off, meeting the Tigers of Clemson University since 1900. Frankly, it was mostly off. Of the 117 Seasons that are represented in that list, there are only 34 games. Some of that might be the conference choices of the teams, but more than anything that condition might be the reality that from WWII until the Dooley tenure, Virginia Tech didn’t spend all that much time, energy, or money in an NCAA football program. There are still the naysayers in the background pushing to do away with collegiate sports, or minimize them and get back to the job of being unknown and esoteric… Oops that was an editorial comment that we are supposed to avoid…

Given the current level of scandal being pumped around the press, it’s no wonder that the “collegiate sport doesn’t belong” crowd is beginning to be heard, again. At some point the current basketball mess is going to begin to show its ugliness in other sports and more schools. It’s just unavoidable and the wincing will be common among loyal commentators for a while. For the purposes of this, though, we are going to park all of the controversy and concentrate on the situation ahead of us. Hokie Sports provides the old history grid.

Hoistory of Virginia Tech vs. Clemson

Season Date Site Score (VT-Opp) Rank
Season Date Site Score (VT-Opp) Rank
2016 Sat., Dec 3, 2016 Camping World Stadium, Orlando, Fla. 1 L, 35-42 19/3
2012 Sat., Oct 20, 2012 Clemson, S.C. * L, 17-38 NR/14
2011 Sat., Dec 3, 2011 Bank of America, Charlotte, N.C. 2 L, 10-38 5/21
2011 Sat., Oct 1, 2011 Blacksburg, Va. * 3 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. * 4 W, 24-7 NR/10
2000 Mon., Jan 1, 2001 Jacksonville, Fla. 5 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
1960 Sat., Oct 1, 1960 Clemson, S.C. L, 7-13 NR/7
1956 Sat., Nov 3, 1956 Clemson, S.C. L, 6-21 15/13
1955 Sat., Nov 5, 1955 Roanoke, Va. L, 16-21 NR/NR
1954 Sat., Oct 2, 1954 Clemson, S.C. W, 18-7 NR/NR
1946 Sat., Nov 2, 1946 Blacksburg, Va. * L, 7-14 NA
1945 Sat., Nov 10, 1945 Clemson, S.C. * L, 0-35 NA
1936 Sat., Sep 26, 1936 Clemson, S.C. * L, 0-20 NA
1935 Sat., Sep 28, 1935 Blacksburg, Va. * L, 7-28 NA
1924 Sat., Nov 1, 1924 Clemson, S.C. * W, 50-6 NA
1923 Sat., Nov 3, 1923 Blacksburg, Va. * W, 25-6 NA
1909 Sat., Oct 2, 1909 Blacksburg, Va. W, 6-0 NA
1908 Sat., Oct 10, 1908 Clemson, S.C. W, 6-0 NA
1906 Sat., Oct 13, 1906 Clemson, S.C. T, 0-0 NA
1901 Thu., Oct 31, 1901 Columbia, S.C. W, 17-11 NA
1900 Sat., Nov 24, 1900 Charlotte, N.C. L, 5-12 NA
The Hokies vs. Tigers over the 117 years

So, we’ll go back to the history for just a bit. Let’s discount everything since the start of the Beamer Era. Believe me after the disaster between 1977 and 1989, one whole win, we need to concentrate on that magic 1998 season. That was 9 years of no contact between the two schools. Then Tech jumped into conference play with the Big East. The natural regional overlap between the southern teams in the B.E. and the ACC was too good for the schedulers to avoid. The opportunities for some non-conference matchups presented Tech with a serious shot at redemption for the prior stretch of “terrible”. While it wasn’t a “rivalry” caliber stretch of games, the interchange was steady enough to provide some serious competitive game opportunities for both schools.

Of course we are now squarely in the choke-hold of the Dabo Swinney Era of Clemson Tiger Football. It’s sort of interesting because Swinney is such a Crimson Tide man that it’s almost like he’s built his program to put a whammy on Nick Saban. I am still convinced that if Saban retired; Dabo would be looking for the Star Trek Transporter back to Tuscaloosa. Well, until that eventuality, we have to deal with Dabo Swinney’s team sporting day-glow fluorescent Orange, and not Crimson and white; which means Saturday Virginia Tech has its work cut out for it.

Just who is showing up in Blacksburg on Saturday? Clemson is the NCAA FBS National Championship Team. There is little doubt about the stature and relevance of that particular fact. Dabo Swinney is an accomplished coach with 9 solid years of program building quality under his belt. He’s instituted a machine like system of dangerous receivers and big strong quarterbacks who can both run and throw. He’s been blessed with the likes of Sammy Watkins, DeAndre Hopkins, and Tajh Boyd. He’s also had Deshaun Watson throwing to Artavis Scott and Mike Williams. In every case Swinney has managed to pair a quarterback with two outstanding sticky fingered primary receivers. It’s a formula and he’s trying to replicate it with the current Quarterback, Junior Kelly Bryant combined with starting receivers Ray-Ray McCloud and Hunter Renfrow. He’s built another impressive offensive line, and has a functional system that seems to feature Emoji and pictures of things in grids to call plays. How slice of pizza, airplane, smiley face, and building fit into a play call, I am not sure, but it gets the play out to the field, and that play is executed with skill.

What I do know is that this season, Clemson is not the same team as last season’s team. Their last three starts have been against an SEC average Auburn team, a wobbly and inconsistent Louisville Cardinals squad, and the often woeful Boston College. Auburn held the usually powerful Clemson offense to 14 points, and Clemson didn’t even score in the 1st quarter. Louisville struggled with Purdue, and also got by Carolina in a shootout they trashed Kent State, and so did Clemson, which is one of those stupid scheduling things for Kent State, but not unexpected for an FBS top 25 program. Auburn and Louisville still aren’t pushovers so some of the ballyhoo is earned. It also means that the Hokies, who qualify with only 1 quality equal level opponent to date, West Virginia, have some serious propaganda points to bridge. Everyone needs to remember that BC fought Clemson to a virtual tie until the 4th quarter and exhaustion took over.

Okay, so given that what’s the prognosis? How does Tech beat a team that they haven’t done so well against since the Swinney era started?

To win this football game, the Virginia Tech Hokies are going to have to do four things; one to near perfection and the other three well enough to make a difference.

First, the Hokies are going to have to put aside all of the hype, and boosterism that comes from playing the previous season’s National Champion. There is a huge amount of psychological power in that particular title description. The Tech offense, defense, and special teams have to come to the game with the attitude that they are the better team THIS SEASON. That the Dr. Pepper Trophy was won by guys who are no longer on the field. This is a new season, and there should be no history in the way to create a climate of awe and fear. The Virginia Tech Hokies CAN win this game and they have to believe that.

Second, the Defense is going to have to make the Swinney Machine one dimensional and predictable. That means either stopping Bryant and the running game on the ground, or stopping the passing game and forcing Kelly Bryant to beat the defense with his legs. Foster will have to choose one or the other, at least for a half. That is going to depend on game planning, film study, and above all, execution. The defense must be disciplined. Swinney’s offense is built to take advantage of systemic misjudgments by the defense. The rush must be balanced, even though it will have to contain, it’s going to have to get heavy ‘A’ gap pressure and spoil the first read or two.

Third, the Hokie Offense cannot afford to get off to slow boil starts with ineffectual three and out and six and out two runs and a pass, or two failed passes and third and long for either. The Clemson Defense is really good; it’s kept Swinney’s offense in games that might have gone the other way until his offense got untracked. Tech is operating in some unusually heady offensive territory this season. Josh Jackson has something to prove. Cam Phillips is going to be blanketed, and that means check downs to C.J. Carroll, Henri Murphy, along some screens to Travon McMillian and Steven Peoples. It also means full read progressions, moving the pocket to buy time, and play calling that deals with what will be a fierce rush bent on QB destruction. It’s the potential that scares me the most. The Offense goes nowhere for most of the game, and the defense – like BC’s- just spends too much time out on the field and gets trashed, late. We have to move the ball, move it in a balanced fashion, and be effective at it.

Fourth and final is Beamer Ball. Though you cannot count on flashy plays, all the time, there is the quiet man of football lurking on the field, sporting an Australian accent, or a cannon leg. Oscar Bradburn and Joey Slye are going to absolutely be keys to this game. Bradburn is going to need to be pinpoint accurate with those punts. The field position game and forcing Clemson to drive 88 yards are going to be significant. Joey Slye will need to fix his accuracy problems. I have seen up close what those are (kick entry, plant leg foot placement, and trying to kick too hard are among the things, but they are detail items… inches… Joey isn’t missing by much. He’s put two over goal posts just to the outside. The contest could very well come down to field position and field goals vs touchdowns. Both kickers are going to need to be ready to be perfect on Saturday.

So that’s the Preview take on the game. Can Virginia Tech beat Clemson for the first time since Dabo took the controls of the Tiger Machine? The answer is YES, we can. Justin Fuente lost to Clemson in the ACC title game by 35 yards and a bad read. He was steamed. You can see his eyes flash when the question comes up, and he does not like the topic one little bit. He says it’s not about last season, it’s about this season. Well, I don’t exactly know about that one. Justin Fuente does not like losing, one little bit, and I think that losing to Clemson might have been his most bitter of pills to swallow. He’s going to get his chance at his own touch of vengeance on Saturday starting at 8:00.

Gobbler Country will be there, live on the field, in the box, and online with the Twitter feed and the game thread. It’s going to be a full Game Day and the campus is going to be a madhouse since the main Game Day commentators are going to be on the Alumni Mall with the Torgersen Arch and Pylons as a backdrop.



Okay Folks what’s it gonna be?

This poll is closed

  • 40%
    Clemson trashes the Hokies in their own house
    (148 votes)
  • 13%
    Clemson takes it in a shootout
    (51 votes)
  • 10%
    Hokies completely dumbfound the Tigers for a huge win
    (40 votes)
  • 34%
    Its a slug it out surprise. Hokies win a defensive struggle
    (126 votes)
365 votes total Vote Now