By Ashley Denny.
CLEMSON, SC- As the Tigers continue in their Schedule of Champions, they’re finally taking their show on the road, to one of the most hostile environments in the Atlantic Coast Conference, Lane Stadium to face off against the Virginia Tech Hokies.
Although in recent years, the Tigers haven’t had much luck against the reigning ACC Champions, they still hold a 17-12-1 overall advantage in this series, including a 7-4 advantage against the Hokies in Blacksburg, VA and a 5-2 advantage against them in Lane Stadium.
“Virginia Tech in my opinion is the best team in the league and they’ve earned it,” Clemson Head Coach Dabo Swinney said. “They’ve got the best coach in this league too and he’s earned it. It’s a great environment they have and we’re going to have to do a great job in managing that environment, taking care of the football, and playing with a lot of discipline and poise.”
There has been a lot of talk this week about Clemson playing in its first road game of the season, in a hostile environment like Tech’s and if they’ll be able to be as effective of an offense with the crowd noise going against them.
“We’re going to have a lot of crowd noise at practice to prepare our offensive guys for that environment,” Swinney said. “We’re going to challenge them this week in practice to perfect their communication and execution with extreme noise. When we’re at home we don’t have that kind of issue on offense. But my big thing is if you’re a good player, you’re going to be a good player anywhere. They don’t change the field, the ball is the same, if you’re performance is determined by where you play, you’re not mentally where you need to be. External things cannot affect performance. You have to be focused and dialed in and have to execute whatever’s called.”
Swinney believes that with the right mentality, an opposing crowd can energize his offense. In his opinion, the players on the field determine the game, so as long as his players are ready for the crowd to yell at them and don’t let it affect their play, there shouldn’t be a problem.
Virginia Tech’s Offense
As for their offense, Swinney saw right of the bat when watching film that Virginia Tech is a run-first offense, with two very impressive running backs and a quarterback with the size and stature of Heisman Trophy Winner Cam Newton.
Their quarterback Logan Thomas is 6’6, 250 pounds, and although he is a first year starter, Swinney knows that he will be a challenge to his defense.
“He’s a different kind of guy,” Swinney said. “They use him a lot like we use Tajh. They are a lot more shot gun and a little more spread than you’d think, and that’s to take advantage of Thomas’s size. We’re going to have to do a great job of tackling him because they’re going to try and run him against us.”
“Their two running backs David (Wilson) and Josh (Oglesby) have scored 10 out of their 11 rushing touchdowns on the year,” Swinney said. “They’re a handful when it comes to stopping the run. Their receivers are all good and they have four guys who have been productive, they really spread the ball around. They will probably get receiver Jarrett Boykin back at full speed and we expect to see him.”
Swinney believes that his defense, which improved greatly in tackling and stopping the big plays last weekend against Florida State will have to continue to improve in this hostile environment Saturday in order for the Tigers to come away from Lane Stadium with a win.
“Defensively, we have to stop the run. That’s where it starts,” Swinney said. “If they have a good running night it’s going to be a long night for us. We also have to continue to eliminate big plays.”
Advantages for Virginia Tech’s Offense against Clemson’s Defense
One of the main advantages for the Hokies this weekend will be the home field advantage. Although Swinney and his players have said this week that the crowd noise shouldn’t affect their offense, it’s safe to say it being Clemson’s first road game, against the reigning ACC Champions, the Tigers will have some nerves at first that may affect the game if they let them. Several of Clemson’s big playmakers on their 2011 team are freshmen who have gotten used to playing in Death Valley surrounded by fans, how will they react to the boos and the hostile environment that Lane Stadium is known for having?
A second advantage for the Hokies on offense is the fact that they are a run based offense. Although Clemson’s defense did a great job against Florida State’s run game last weekend, the Hokies have a dynamic run duo of David Wilson and Josh Oglesby that has given opponents fits so far this season. Against Auburn, Wofford and Troy, the Tigers gave up several big chunk run plays, if they cannot stop the run against Virginia Tech this weekend; it’s going to be a long night for Dabo Swinney’s Tigers.
A third advantage for the Hokies is found in their offense. Tech’s Head Coach Frank Beamer has been with the Hokies for 25 years, meaning that not a lot has been changed during his tenure on the offensive or defensive side of the ball. The Hokies have been running this offense for years and therefore know it works in any environment. The Tigers however, have only been running Chad Morris’s offense since spring and are unsure of how effective it will be on the road.
Advantages for Clemson’s Defense against Virginia Tech’s Offense
The main advantage for Clemson’s defense against Virginia Tech this weekend is the improvement made by their defense against a very good Florida State team last weekend. The Tigers tackled better, covered big plays better and even won the game for the Tigers by sacking FSU’s quarterback Clint Trickett on a 4th and 9 play. This means that Clemson’s defense is starting to gain confidence which will carry over to this weekend against Virginia Tech.
A second advantage for Clemson’s defense going against Virginia Tech’s offense is that Tech has a first year starting quarterback at the helm. Although Logan Thomas is starting to come on for the Hokies, completing 57% of his passes so far this season, he hasn’t been as spot on as Clemson’s quarterback Tajh Boyd with 4 interceptions and only four touchdown passes. If Clemson’s defense is able to get pressure on Thomas, who is a tight end converted to quarterback, he may be forced to make some bad throws, or throw into coverage which could be costly for the Hokies.
A third advantage for the Tigers is their ability to stay humble. Center Dalton Freeman said on Tuesday that until December when the final rankings come out, Clemson is still that 6-7 team until they prove themselves. The coaching staff has done a great job of keeping the team humble and hungry with all of the national media attention they’ve been getting over the past few weeks. The team realizes that they have yet to play their best game, a full four quarters of football and are leaving a lot on the field. This keeps the team focused and looking for that perfect game.
The Tigers have beaten two straight ranked opponents, the reigning National Champions Auburn and reigning Atlantic Division Champions Florida State. The Hokies however, have had an easy ride to their 4-0 record. They haven’t played an ACC or SEC opponent like Clemson has, instead has won against teams like East Carolina, Arkansas State, Appalachian State, and Marshall, a few of these games were barely won. I definitely see it as an advantage for the Tigers because they’ve faced tougher competition so far and have come away victorious.
No one thought the Tigers would be a team to beat this season with a new offensive coordinator, new quarterback and 12 true freshmen. I see this as an advantage for the Tigers because they have more to prove this season because of the negative press they’ve received coming away from a disappointing 2010.