The Virginia Tech Hokies (4-5) host the No. 3 Clemson Tigers at Lane Stadium on Saturday night.
If you had asked Hokie fans in October about this game, you would’ve encountered excitement and a small belief that Tech could hang with the mighty Tigers.
Unfortunately, the Hokies have lost four of their last five games and have struggled on both sides of the ball.
Clemson, meanwhile, enters the game at 8-1. The Tigers only loss came with star quarterback Trevor Lawrence sidelined at Notre Dame. Even without Lawrence and a host other notable Tigers, it took the undefeated Fighting Irish two overtimes to take down Clemson.
Clemson is loaded on both sides of the ball and the Tigers are led by Lawrence and star runner Travis Etienne.
When: Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020
Where: Lane Stadium, Blacksburg, Virginia
Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
Odds: Clemson is 22-point favorites, per BetMGM
Clemson leads the all-time series 22-12-1. The Tigers, unsurprisingly, have won the past five meetings. The last matchup between these two foes was in 2017 when the Tigers won 31-17 in Blacksburg.
Before that, the Tigers and Hokies met in the ACC championship game in 2016 with Clemson surviving the Hokies 42-35. It was Justin Fuente’s first season as head coach and many who follow the ACC believed that matchup would become a regular occurrence around the league.
As ACC rivals, Virginia Tech is 2-5 against Clemson, winning the first two meetings when arriving in the league. Before Clemson’s current winning streak, the Hokies had won the previous five meetings, including the 2001 Gator Bowl.
That was Michael Vick’s final game as a Hokie.
When Clemson has the ball
The Tigers are terrific on offense. Lawrence is a record-setting passer who is one of the greatest quarterback prospects in recent memory. The junior is having another outstanding season, despite missing two games.
On the season, Lawrence is completing almost 71 percent of his passes with 19 touchdowns and just two interceptions.
Etienne set the ACC’s all-time mark for rushing yards this season. While his rushing numbers aren’t as gaudy as in the previous three seasons, he has improved as a receiver, catching 40 passes for 511 yards and two touchdowns. Etienne has rushed for 692 yards and 12 scores. As a team, Clemson is averaging over four yards per rushing attempt with 25 touchdowns.
Clemson’s top receiver is Amari Rodgers. Rodgers is having a strong season, as he has 58 receptions for 813 yards and six touchdowns.
The Tigers have a host of other weapons and a pair of solid tight ends in Braden Galloway and Davis Allen.
If there is one area the Hokies could look to exploit it’s Clemson’s offensive line. While it is by no means a weakness, Clemson fans will tell you the unit has had some issues this season. The Hokies have struggled up front in recent weeks and defensive coordinator Justin Hamilton must get creative with his pressure packages in order to create opportunities for his defense.
When Virginia Tech has the ball
There have been some rumblings this week that Braxton Burmeister could start at quarterback for the Hokies. And no, it is not because Hendon Hooker has been benched. Hooker has battled some injuries and the staff may elect to sit him for next week’s showdown against Virginia.
This team needs Hooker. He is having an outstanding year as a runner and a solid year as a passer. He is not getting enough help from those around him in the passing game, mainly with the scheme. If the playcalling were a bit more unpredictable, Hooker would be even more dynamic in the passing game.
Running back Khalil Herbert is expected back this week in a full capacity. Herbert was slowed in the previous two games with a hamstring injury. Sadly, Herbert was on pace for an All-American season before the injury and Tech’s offensive coordinator Brad Cornelsen slowed him down.
Virginia Tech’s offensive line is outstanding. It gives the Hokies a chance. However, they will be battling a group of five-star talents up front with Clemson’s defensive line. The Tigers are an NFL factory along the defensive line and this year’s version is no different. This is strength on strength and we are going to learn a lot about Vance Vice’s group on Saturday.
The Hokies need to do things to get Tre Turner, James Mitchell, Tayvion Robinson and Raheem Blackshear the ball. Too often this season, these talents are going to waste because the staff isn’t designing enough for them. Mitchell has also battled an injury, but he should be all set for Saturday.
There is a lot of negativity swirling around Fuente and the football program right now. Changes to the staff of some kind appear to be inevitable. However, outside of backup quarterback Quincy Patterson, the team all returned from Thanksgiving break and want to finish the season on a strong note.
Don’t let what happened at Pittsburgh fool you. The Hokies are going to come out fired up, with a good plan early and hitting hard. Unfortunately, Clemson is just too talented and the game will get away from Tech before halftime.
Even early in the season, I would not have predicted the Hokies to win here. I did believe it would be competitive. Now, not so much.
Clemson 45, Virginia Tech 17