The 14th-ranked Clemson Tigers get back to work this weekend, as they welcome the Virginia Tech Hokies to Death Valley for a key ACC matchup.
Dabo Swinney's Tigers were idle this past weekend after knocking off Georgia Tech on Oct. 6, 47-31. The team's lone loss this season came at Florida State on Sept. 22 and at 2-1 in conference play, there is no longer any room for error in the competitive Atlantic Division.
Swinney knows the only game that matters is the one in front of his team.
"This was a huge win," said Swinney following the win over Georgia Tech. "It was a momentum win. It was a complete game and we won every quarter, especially the fourth quarter. The second half was a thing of beauty. I'm proud of the team, and they keep improving every week. We just need to refocus and recommit because our season starts with Virginia Tech."
Frank Beamer's Hokies are a mere 4-3 on the season, but the team boasts of an identical 2-1 mark in-conference. The team won last week in impressive fashion, going down 20-0 to the Duke Blue Devils before rallying for a 41-20 victory. The win halted a two-game slide for Virginia Tech, as the team is just a half game back in the Coastal Division standings.
Clemson leads the all-time series with Virginia Tech, 19-12-1, but the lead is a narrow 8-6-1 in games played in Death Valley. The Hokies had won five straight meetings, but that ended last year with a dominant 23-3 decision. Clemson doubled-up on Tech with a 38-10 victory in the ACC Championship Game.
Virginia Tech fell behind early to Duke, but found its offensive groove late in the first quarter and poured in on. The team finished the game with 525 yards of total offense, with a great mix of the run (269 yards) and the pass (256 yards). Freshman J.C. Coleman was instrumental in the win, rushing for 138 yards and two TDs. Quarterback Logan Thomas had a good outing as well, completing 14-of-23 passes, for 256 yards and two TDs. His top target was wideout Marcus Davis, who accounted for five receptions, 144 yards and both scores. Still. the win came at a cost, as starting center Andrew Miller was lost for the season with an ankle injury.
Beamer was pleased with his team's fight against Duke.
"I just told our football team that that was a great win for our football program," Beamer said following the game. "The circumstances, coming off two losses and getting down 20 to zip, I appreciate our players and their poise, our coaches��� poise and things worked out for us."
The Hokies are at their best when there is offensive balance. The run game has struggled with consistency this year (151.0 ypg), but Coleman's recent success is reason for optimism.
Also factoring into the sluggish first half of the season has been the inconsistent play of Thomas under center. There was a great deal of hype surrounding Virginia Tech's junior QB this year, but Thomas has failed to live up to it, completing just 53.6 percent of his throws, for 1,703 yards, with 12 touchdowns against eight interceptions. At 6-foot-4 and 232 pounds, Davis (27 receptions, 585 yards, four TDs) is a tough matchup for defenders down the field.
The Virginia Tech defense has long been a staple in Blacksburg, but this year's squad has fallen off a bit in terms of stingy play. The team is yielding 22.0 ppg thus far and has been particularly generous against the run (171.7 ypg, 4.2 ypc).
Junior linebacker Jack Tyler has been active, leading the team with 68 tackles through the first six games. Rush ends James Gayle (25 tackles, 6.5 TFLs, 3.0 sacks) and Tyrel Wilson (20 tackles, 5.5 TFLs, 3.0 sacks) have done the most damage up front, while defensive backs Antone Exum (28 tackles, two INTs) and Kyle Fuller (23 tackles, two INTs) headline the play in the secondary.
The Tech defense will be taken to task this weekend, as Clemson comes in as one of the nation's premier offensive squads. The Tigers rank 13th in total offense (525.8 ypg) and 11th in scoring (41.3 ppg).
It all starts with junior signal-caller Tahj Boyd. Certainly a threat to run with the ball, Boyd is much more dangerous as a passer, completing 68.2 percent of his passes thus far, for 1,748 yards, with 14 touchdowns. It certainly helps to have All-American talent on the outside in WRs DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins. The latter earned All-American status as a freshman in 2011, while the former has lit up the airways in 2012 and is playing as well as any receiver in the country. Hopkins leads Clemson in receptions (49), receiving yards (777) and touchdown catches (8).
The ground game has its own star in tailback Andre Ellington, who has rushed for just under 600 yards this season (597), on 5.1 yards per carry, with six touchdowns.
Like in years past, the Clemson defense has problems with consistency, especially when it comes to stopping opposing ground games. Opponents have been able to gash the Tigers for 202.7 rushing yards per game (5.4 ypc) and a total of 445.5 yards per game.
Linebackers Stephone Anthony (51 tackles) and Jonathan Willard (41 tackles) lead the defensive unit. Safety Rashard Hall (24 tackles, 3 INTs) is responsible for half of the team's six interceptions.