When Deshaun Watson learned he was going to play Virginia Tech in last year’s ACC Championship Game, he was giddy. Why? Watson loves a good challenge.
The challenge for Clemson’s former two-time Heisman Finalist was Hokies’ defensive coordinator Bud Foster, who is considered to be one of the best in the business. Watson immediately dove into film study and came to the following Monday’s quarterback meetings with a stack of notes and suggestions on how he could attack the Virginia Tech defense.
The extra preparation came in handy for the Tigers as Watson earned ACC Championship Game MVP honors after completing 23-of-34 passes for 288 yards and three touchdowns, while also running for 85 yards and two more touchdowns in Clemson’s 43-35 victory.
During the game, it appeared Watson knew everything Foster was doing and when he was going to do it. He was always one step ahead of the defensive coordinator.
But Deshaun Watson no longer plays for Clemson. He is instead giving guys like Bill Belichick headaches at New England, where he and the Houston Texans came within seconds of knocking off the defending Super Champions on Sunday.
That’s good news for Virginia Tech and not so good for Clemson. Foster’s robber coverage defense at Virginia Tech is a staple in Blacksburg, Va., going on almost three decades now. It’s a confusing defense for any opposing quarterback to prepare for, especially when Foster as an experienced defense like he does this year and the opposing quarterback will be making just his fifth career start.
Going into Blacksburg for a night game will not make it any easier for Clemson’s Kelly Bryant, who will have to play his best game in order for Clemson to continue its march towards another ACC Championship.
Currently, the Hokies rank fourth in the ACC in total defense, yielding just 311.3 yards per game. They rank second in scoring defense and sixth nationally (10.3 ppg). They are allowing just 203.3 yards per game through the air.
Though they have allowed five touchdown passes, the Hokies have four interceptions and opponents are completing just 45.7 percent of its passes. They also have nine sacks through the first four games.
So far this season, Bryant has done well in leading a Clemson offense that is one of the best in the ACC. However, he is probably coming off his worst performance in his brief four-game career. Boston College has one of the best secondaries in the ACC and they prevented Bryant and his playmaking receivers from getting anything deep on them.
Bryant did complete 17-of-26 passes, but the 17 completions went for just 140 yards and he was intercepted twice, though one was not his fault. He threw no touchdowns and the Tigers’ passing game was virtually neutralized.
Virginia Tech (4-0, 0-0 ACC) will probably have a similar game plan, however, its less likely it will give up 342 rushing yards like Boston College did.
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney mentioned in his weekly teleconference call with the media on Sunday night that BC frustrated Bryant early in the game, but once he settled in, he started taking what they were giving him.
Foster’s robber scheme is going to frustrate Bryant at times this coming Saturday, but he can’t let it get to him or the mistakes could mount up like a boulder rolling down a hill ready to flatten the Tigers’ championship aspirations.
Don’t get me wrong, Bryant can have some success against the Hokies’ defense just like Watson did a season ago and West Virginia’s Will Grier did in the season opener. The Mountaineers, the only Power 5 opponent Virginia Tech has played in the first month of the season, tallied 592 yards on Bud Foster’s defense, including 371 yards and three touchdowns through the air.
But to have that kind of success against Foster and the Hokies, the quarterback has to come totally prepared. If he isn’t, then the chances of success are slim for him and the offense.