CLEMSON, S.C. – Clemson receiver DeAndre Hopkins says the 14th-ranked Tigers won't let recent success over Virginia Tech erode the team's focus after a week off.
The Tigers (5-1, 2-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) return to work after last week's open date. They start the second half of the season against what had been one of their difficult opponents in the Hokies, who had won five straight in the series before 2011. But last season, Clemson had a pair of dominating victories over Virginia Tech, including a 38-10 win in the ACC championship game.
"If you're playing Division I football, revenge is a big thing you always think about," Hopkins said Monday.
That certainly fueled the Tigers in their last game, a 47-31 victory over the Yellow Jackets on Oct. 6, Hopkins said.
"Georgia Tech ended our 8-0 season" in 2011, he said. "And coming into this game, a lot of guys knew we had to have our revenge. Virginia Tech, we messed up their chance to win the ACC championship, so they're going to have a chip on their shoulder coming in."
Virginia Tech (4-3, 2-1) also comes in with a bit of momentum, the preseason Coastal Division favorites rallying from 20-0 down against Duke for a 41-20 victory last week.
"We know we're going to get their very best," Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris said.
That's why Morris said the team went through a hard, productive week of practice sessions. The focus was self-analyzation: Building on what the team had done right the first half and improving on weaker areas.
Morris' offense has looked even more explosive in his second season at Clemson than it did in 2011, when the Tigers set school records for yards gained and points scored. The Tigers are averaging more than 525 yards and 41 points this season, surpassing their averages from a year ago.
Morris said it was important week to assess the team moving forward. He recalled it was the team's final six games — Clemson was 2-4 down the stretch after its undefeated start — when things slipped away.
"You've got to go back and look at the tires," he said.
Coaches used the off week to refocus the team on this year's stretch run, which starts with the Hokies.
Virginia Tech was the one with Clemson's number most of the past 15 years. The Hokies and quarterback Michael Vick embarrassed the Tigers, 41-20, in the Gator Bowl after the 2000 season. Clemson was 7-1 in 2006 when it got manhandled by Virginia Tech, 24-7, on a Thursday night showcase game. So it was stunning last season when the Tigers went to Lane Stadium and left with a 23-3 victory.
Morris said Clemson's fast-paced offense wore down Virginia Tech as the game went on; the Tigers outscored the Hokies 41-0 combined in the second half of the two victories last season.
None of that matters come Saturday, said Clemson tailback Andre Ellington.
"We know they're going to come in here with great effort," he said. "It's all about us, really."
Virginia Tech appeared set to drop its third straight when it trailed Duke 20-0 in the first half before turning things around.
"The mood was bad for a little bit," Hokies receiver Marcus Davis said. "Things hadn't been going our way all year. It's something you have to fight through, and I'm glad to see us pull together."
Most of Clemson's offensive stars are among the ACC leaders. Hopkins leads the league with 49 catches and 777 yards receiving. Ellington is No. 1 in rushing average at just under 100 yards a game. Quarterback Tajh Boyd is tops in passing yards at 291 per contest. The only big name missing so far is sophomore wideout Sammy Watkins, who has played just three games because of suspension and illness.
Watkins, who caught 82 passes for 1,219 yards as a freshman, has just 16 catches for 118 yards and none of Clemson's 18 touchdown grabs this season. Morris said it's taken Watkins a while to get into game shape and he looked good during the week off. Morris won't force the ball to Watkins — not with the offense averaging more than 500 yards a game this season — but said his sophomore star's breakout game is coming.
"I told him, 'Hey, we're going to have you playing your best at the right time of the season,'" Morris said.