Second-ranked Clemson puts a number of streaks on the line today when it travels to Blacksburg, Va., to take on No. 12 Virginia Tech at Lane Stadium for an 8 p.m. kickoff on ABC.
The Tigers (4-0, 2-0 ACC) have won nine straight games overall and its last 11 on the road. They have also won seven straight games against ranked-opponents, which is third all-time in the history of the ACC, and is the longest active streak in the FBS
So what battles does Clemson have to win to keep those streaks alive? Who has the edge in tonight’s ACC Showdown?
Kelly Bryant vs. Bud Foster: There were times in last week’s win over Boston College where Bryant was confused with what he was seeing. The Eagles played a lot of man-under with two safeties behind it. The coverages took away Clemson’s quick-screen game and did not allow Bryant to have any receivers running deep. You have to figure after seeing Bryant struggle against BC, Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster will try to throw as many looks as he can at Bryant and force him to take sacks and possibly turn the ball over. Foster also has very good cornerbacks in Greg Stroman and Brandon Facyson, which means Foster is probably going to come with a lot of blitzes in hopes of slowing down Clemson’s running game and forcing Bryant to beat them with his arm. Advantage: Virginia Tech
Josh Jackson vs. Brent Venables: In his only true test of the season in the season-opener against West Virginia, Jackson played well. The redshirt freshman completed 15-of-26 passes for 235 yards and one touchdown. He also ran the ball 11 times for 101 yards, including a 46-yard run to set up the winning score. But let’s be honest, West Virginia’s defense is not Clemson’s and what Jackson saw in the first month of the season cannot prepare him for what he is going to see from the Tigers. Virginia Tech likes to roll Jackson out to give him time to find receivers due to a suspect offensive line. Look for Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables to take that away and try to collapse the pocket around him with blitzes up the middle and off the edge, while dropping defensive ends and tackles into coverage. Venables will also try to force Jackson to find someone else other than wide receiver Cam Phillips, who has been his safety blanket so far this season. Advantage: Clemson
Clemson’s defensive line vs. Virginia Tech’s offensive line: Clemson got four sacks against this same offensive line in last year’s ACC Championship Game. The Hokies also ran for just 102 yards (2.9 yards per carry) as Clemson dominated the line of scrimmage in this matchup. This will more than likely be the case tonight as well. Clemson is second in the country in sacks with 17, and 11 of those sacks have come from the defensive line which has four potential draft picks in Christian Wilkins, Dexter Lawrence, Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant, who leads the ACC with five sacks. Bryant’s matchup with right tackle Kyle Chung will be the matchup to watch, if Bryant dominates Chung like he has with everyone else he has played this year, then it could be a long night for Jackson. Advantage: Clemson
Clemson’s offensive line vs. Virginia Tech’s defensive line: There is no one that really worries Clemson on Virginia Tech’s defensive front. The Hokies generally bring pressure with their linebackers and safeties. The Tigers, who are averaging 5.9 yards per carry, should be able to run the ball on the Hokies when the box is not stacked. However, Virginia Tech will more than likely stack the box and dare Bryant to throw the ball. If that is the case, look for Foster to try and bring pressure off the right side and confuse right tackles Tremayne Anchrum and Sean Pollard, who have struggled at times this year in pass protection. I think eventually Clemson’s size can wear the Hokies down up front as long as it is taking care of the football and stay ahead of the chains. Advantage: Clemson
Clemson’s wideouts vs. Virginia Tech’s secondary: Last week, Clemson receivers struggled to get off the line and get in their routes against Boston College. They were abused all day. One would think they will play better tonight because of it, but don’t think Virginia Tech did not recognize it. The Hokies are very physical in the secondary and they will try to do the same against the Tigers’ receivers. This could be the matchup that decides the outcome of this game because Bryant will need Ray-Ray McCloud, Hunter Renfrow and Deon Cain to bail him out at times, especially when Foster comes with his exotic blitzes. Advantage: Virginia Tech
Bottom line: A lot of people think Clemson is going to go into Blacksburg and roll. And though that is possible, it is not likely. It’s difficult to win at Lane Stadium. Yes, Clemson is the more talented team, but the more talented team does not always win. Clemson is more than capable of losing this game and if Bryant struggles, they will. And that’s what I think is going to happen. The defense will keep Clemson in the game, but look for a late turnover to be the difference as the Hokies end all of Clemson’s win streaks.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 17, Clemson 13