This game marks Frank Beamer's 300th contest at the helm of the Tech program. The Hokies have raced out to a 4-0 mark in 2011, finishing off their non- conference schedule last week with a 30-10 victory over Marshall.
Dabo Swinney's Tigers are vying for a conference crown and gave legitimacy to that claim with last weekend's 35-30 win at home over conference favorite Florida State. With the win, Clemson moved to 4-0 on the year as well. The victory was one week after knocking off defending national champion Auburn, 38-24 and gives the team plenty of confidence heading forward.
Clemson leads the all-time series with Virginia Tech by a count of 17-12-1, but the Hokies have closed the gap considerably with five straight wins, including the most recent meeting, a 24-7 victory in 2007 in Blacksburg.
Clemson's rise in the national polls is due to an offense that is averaging an impressive 502.8 yards per game. The ground game is solid at 187.3 yards per outing, but it is the passing attack (315.5 ypg), led by the dynamic duo of Tahj Boyd and Sammy Watkins, that has fueled the offensive onslaught.
Just a sophomore, Boyd has thrust his name in the Heisman talk early on, completing 66.2 percent of his passes thus far, for 1,255 yards and 13 TDs against just one INT. Boyd is the first signal-caller in Clemson history to have four straight games with three or more TD passes.
He has certainly been aided by the immediate impact that the 6-1 Watkins has provided. A freshman, Watkins already has 28 receptions in the first four games, going for 433 yards, with six TDs. Fellow wideout DeAndre Hopkins (21 receptions, for 269 yards, two TDs) and tight end Dwayne Allen (14 receptions, 216 yards, three TDs) round out a productive receiving corps.
Boyd is supremely confident in the play of Watkins and the chemistry the two have shared early on.
"He's got the speed and it's great to know we're going to have that type of player on the field for three more years. I know he's going to get the ball every time and run with it."
Junior tailback Andre Ellington provides offensive balance, averaging 4.8 yards per carry and 92.8 yards per game on the ground.
The Tiger defense lost some serious talent from last year's squad and now plays second fiddle to the offense in Death Valley. The numbers reflect that, with Clemson yielding 405.5 yards per game to the opposition. The team has been especially vulnerable to the run (175.8 ypg), perhaps a reason for concern with the run-heavy offense of Virginia Tech on the docket.
Senior end Andre Branch has assumed the role of defensive leader. He is currently tied with junior safety Jonathan Meeks for the most tackles on the squad with 23.
Virginia Tech will put Clemson's defense to the test this weekend, as the Hokies like to set everything up with the run. The team has always had a talented backfield and this season is no different. The ground game is churning out 211.8 yards per game, highlighted by the play of junior tailback David Wilson. The 5-10, 205-pounder is averaging nearly six yards per carry (5.9) and 129.0 yards per game. He leads the team with 516 yards rushing and five TDs. Senior Josh Oglesby (174 yards and five TDs) is a nice complement.
Quarterback Logan Thomas has played well this season. The first-year starter has completed just over 57 percent of his passes, for 761 yards and four TDs. Thomas has a talented receiving corps at his disposal, headlined by players like Danny Coale (18 catches, 285 yards, one TD), D.J. Coles (14 catches, 156 yards, one TD), Jarrett Boykin (10 catches, 93 yards, one TD) and Marcus Davis (9 catches, 185 yards, two TDs).
Strong defensive play has been the mantra in Blacksburg for some time and early indications are that 2011 will be more of the same. The Hokies are allowing just 10.0 ppg on the season, yielding a mere 231.2 yards of total offense. The run defense has been particularly stout, giving up just 43.0 yards per game on a meager 1.6 yards per carry.
Linebackers Tariq Edwards (team-high 27 tackles, 5.5 TFLs) and Bruce Taylor (25 tackles, 1.5 sacks) headline the play in the middle. Sophomore rush ends J.R. Collins (17 tackles, 4.5 sacks) and James Gayle (12 tackles, 5.5 TFLs, 3.5 sacks) have been forces up front, while cornerbacks Kyle Fuller (17 tackles, one INT) and Jayron Hosley (13 tackles, two INTs) prove tough to throw on in the secondary.
Beamer is particularly pleased with the play of his young ends.
"They're athletic and they do a good job of coming off the edge. We've had some fast guys in the past, and when we're fast coming off that edge, we're usually pretty good."
Swinney knows the road to an ACC crown hinges on his team's play outside of Death Valley.
"We're supposed to be 4-0. We have to win at home, and that's what we've done. We want to be a much better road team this year then we were last year. We lost four road games last year by 17 points, but this is a different team. Virginia Tech is going to be a hard place to play. We're going to find out stuff about our team. We're still trying to play our best game."