When Clemson got ready to take on Virginia Tech in last year’s ACC Championship Game, then quarterback Deshaun Watson came into the meeting that Monday with a stack of notes from watching all 12 regular season games on the Hokies’ defense.
Watson had broken down Virginia Tech’s strengths and weaknesses. He knew the Hokies’ tendencies and he had suggestions for trying to figure out some of the zone and quarter coverages they used.
“Watching film and being in the quarterback room with him and all the knowledge he knew about the different defenses … the weaknesses, the strengths, what they were trying to do and what they were trying to take away from what we were trying to do on offense as well, you learn a lot from him,” Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant said.
Kelly and second-ranked Clemson hope he can take those lessons into Saturday night’s prime time showdown at No. 12 Virginia Tech. Hokies’ defensive coordinator Bud Foster likes to try different schemes and confuse opposing quarterbacks, especially when he has veteran secondary.
“This is one of the best secondaries in the country,” Clemson co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott said.
Virginia Tech (4-0, 0-0 ACC) is allowing just 203.3 yards per game through the air in the first four weeks of the season. Opponents are completing just 47.1 percent of their passes and have been intercepted four times by the Hokies.
“Now I’m in the situation where I’m the guy having to pick apart a defense on film and trying to find stuff on film that might work against them,” Bryant said. “So it is a challenge, but I think I’m ready for it. I still have to watch a lot of film throughout the rest of the week to be prepared as I want to be on Saturday.”
Since West Virginia’s Will Grier lit up Virginia Tech for 371 yards and three touchdowns on 31-of-54 passing, the Hokies have shut everyone else down. In wins over Delaware, East Carolina and Old Dominion, the Virginia Tech defense produced two shut outs and is giving up just 217.7 yards per game.
The Hokies rank fourth nationally in scoring defense, just behind Clemson, allowing 10.3 points per game.
“They play a little bit of this and that. They play it kind of differently,” Bryant said when talking about the different looks Virginia Tech shows. “I have to watch more film to truly get a grasp of it. It is going to take a little bit more film for me to watch.”
Last week, Boston College used a veteran secondary to confuse Bryant and the Clemson coaches for a little while. After showing man-press all season prior to playing the Tigers, the Eagles came out in zone coverage and brought some of the same pressures but in different ways. Behind it was a two-deep safety look that prevented Ray-Ray McCloud and Deon Cain from getting behind the secondary.
Bryant knows he is going to see more of the same against Foster’s defense, especially considering Clemson scored just seven points in the first three quarters.
“It took three or four drives for me to settle in and actually get a feel for what they were doing,” Bryant said about BC’s defensive scheme. “I was just talking on the sidelines with the coaches and just trying to get a general scheme, which we did, so we were trying to put together a plan of attack. It took a minute but we have a better feel for it.”
It’s a feel the Tigers (4-0, 2-0 ACC) are going to need to have success against a Virginia Tech defense that returns eight starters from last year’s 10-win team.
“Not only do they have a lot of experience coming back, but this is a very talented group, and we saw that in the ACC Championship game,” Scott said.
And Kelly saw how Watson beat the Hokies, throwing for 288 yards and four touchdowns, while running for 85 yards and two more touchdowns.
“It’s an opportunity to play and especially since this is going to be a road game for us,” Bryant said. “It’s also another good opportunity for us to go on the road and put a good performance together up there as well.”