The game of the weekend falls within the ACC, as #2 Clemson travels to Blacksburg to take on #12 Virginia Tech under the lights on Saturday night in a rematch of last year’s ACC Championship Game.
Both teams come into this game undefeated at 4-0. Clemson is 2-0 within the ACC with a dominant win over Louisville and after a slow three quarters, a 34-7 win over Boston College. Saturday’s game will be the ACC opener for the Hokies, who have impressed, with two shutouts so far and a victory over rival West Virginia. This will be a prove-it game for Virginia Tech, but they’ll have a huge advantage with being at home.
For Clemson, their offense is still a work in progress, as Kelly Bryant has struggled through the air in the last couple of weeks. Against Boston College, Bryant only managed 140 yards and threw two interceptions. Luckily, his running game and defense were able to back him up, with Travis Etienne rushing for 113 yards and two touchdowns, both coming in the fourth quarter. Tavien Feaster chipped in 73 yards against the Eagles, and while Bryant was able to rush for 106 yards, his inability to stretch the field with his arm made the Eagles a much tougher test than they appeared to be for the Tigers.
Fortunately for Bryant and Co., Boston College has one of the worst offenses in the country.
On the defensive side of the ball, Clemson has been remarkable. Their front four is better than Alabama’s and all four studs; Christian Wilkins, Austin Bryant, Clelin Ferrell (above) and Dexter Lawrence. They’re able to control any offensive line, which makes life easy on the backend for a young, but extremely talented secondary. Clemson’s ability to get constant pressure with only four rushers makes them so dangerous and effective. Brent Venables has built a powerhouse of a defense in 2017.
Virginia Tech is looking for their first win over Clemson since 2007, which was a 41-23 victory for the Hokies.
In 2017, VT is flying high behind freshman quarterback Josh Jackson (featured), who has tossed 11 touchdowns as opposed to just one interception. He’s won a primetime game against West Virginia, but the lights will be much brighter. Jackson hasn’t seemed phased by the big stage through his first four collegiate games, but to prove he’s legit, he needs to play spotless football.
Cam Phillips has been his go-to target, racking up 523 yards and five touchdowns. After Phillips, the production drops dramatically, with the second leader receiver, Sean Savoy, having only 163 yards. Phillips and Savoy are the only two players with more than 100 yards over the air for Virginia Tech.
The ground game, however, has been excellent for the Hokies. Five players, including Jackson, have rushed for over100 yards. They use a balanced running game, with no player above 162 yards, and no rusher above 36 carries. They’ll use their running backs to keep defenses off balanced and guessing. If one running back isn’t having a strong ground game, there are plenty of options behind him. The usage and success of their running backs has been key to keeping Jackson upright and defenses honest.
While Virginia Tech has two shutouts on their ledger, they’ve come against Delaware and Old Dominion, who are far inferior to the Hokies.
The defense is led by junior linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, who leads the team in tackles with 33 after racking up 94 in 2016. He’s a throwback linebacker, with big size at 6’5” 250 and is a thumper in the middle of the defense, and is one of the best linebackers in the nation. Edmunds’s brother, Terrell, is a junior safety for Virgina Tech. Also in the middle of the defense is former five-star defensive tackle Tim Settle, who seems to be progressing nicely for Justin Fuente (pictured, above) in his redshirt sophomore year.
Virginia Tech doesn’t get a lot of pressure on the quarterback, but undersized linebacker Andrew Motuapuaka leads the club in in sacks and tackles for loss, with 2.5 and 4.0, respectively. The secondary isn’t flashy, but the senior duo of Brandon Facyson and Greg Stroman has been strong this year.
This game is a statement game for Virginia Tech, and will be the most important game they play this year. All eyes will be on Jackson and the offense, but if the defense can get stops, Virginia Tech could pull off the upset. The X-Factor for Virginia Tech will be to stop the running game. They need to force Kelly Bryant to throw the ball down the field, something he hasn’t been able to do too much this year. He’s been ineffective through the air, and it could lead to more turnovers forced for the Hokies.
For Clemson, getting after Jackson early is the key. Too many times this year he’s been able to sit in the pocket and find guys, or tuck it and run for first downs. Forcing him to make quick decisions with the football on a big stage could lead to takeaways.
This game will be close, no doubt about it. Virginia Tech seemingly plays every big game close. The Virginia Tech faithful will be out in full throat, making it difficult for Clemson. Look for an upset to occur in Blacksburg on Saturday night.
Hokies win, 30-24 and put themselves firmly in the hunt for the College Football Playoff.
Cover Photo via Lohud.com
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