By Ashley Denny.
CHARLOTTE, NC- The time has come for the ACC Championship game, the biggest game of the season thus far for both the Clemson Tigers and the Virginia Tech Hokies. The two teams faced off earlier this season and the Tigers came away with a sound 23-3 victory. However, the Tigers’ have limped through November as they’ve lost 3 of their last 4 games and the Hokies have hit their stride after demolishing instate rival Virginia last weekend 38-0.
The question remains, will Clemson’s defense show up like they did against the Hokies earlier this season? Or will the Tigers’ continue to struggle against the running quarterback, which has become Clemson’s Achilles heel this season, with VA Tech’s Logan Thomas being one of the best.
Virginia Tech on Offense
The Hokies are led by first year starting quarterback Logan Thomas who has continued to improve throughout the season as both a running and passing threat.
In the backfield, the Hokies have ACC Player of the Year and leading rusher David Wilson, who averages 134.9 yards per game and has 4 touchdowns.
The Hokies are also loaded at the receiver position with leading receiver Jarrett Boykin who averages 72.5 yards per game off of an average 5.5 receptions per game. Danny Coale has also come up big for the Hokies this season averaging 61.4 yards per game, becoming one of Thomas’s favorite weapons.
“They’re a very good football team, have gotten better as the year’s gone on,” Coach Dabo Swinney said at his press conference Tuesday. “David Wilson is a special back, he’s a great back, averaging 6 yards per carry. Their quarterback is much improved. Since our game he’s thrown 14 touchdowns and only 4 interceptions, going into our game he’d thrown 4 touchdowns and 4 interceptions, he’s effective in the run game and is accurate throwing the ball. Their receivers don’t get enough credit at Virginia Tech, those guys all show up and play.”
Clemson on Defense
Clemson’s defense has been bearing a lot of negative publicity for their inability to stop a running quarterback since the beginning of the season. The players hear the negativity from the media and most recently their own fans that being said will we see a change this weekend?
Against South Carolina last weekend, Clemson’s defense could do nothing to stop quarterback Connor Shaw in the first half when he wanted to tuck the ball and run. Although the halftime adjustments seemed to keep Shaw a little more contained, it was too late for the Tigers.
Most Tiger fans would agree that ironically the best football game played this season by Clemson’s defense came when the Tigers’ squared off against Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. Defensive end Andre Branch had a career high 3 sacks and multiple tackles for loss against the Hokies and Logan Thomas as the Tigers’ held VA Tech to only a field goal.
Advantages for VA Tech-
One advantage for the Hokies would be the fact that they’ve been playing really well lately. Since losing to the Tigers’ they’ve won 6 straight games and are continuing to find ways to win. The Tigers on the other hand have hit somewhat of a slump, with the defense not playing up to their potential and the offense not executing their plan of attack. The Hokies most definitely have the momentum coming into Saturday’s game.
Another advantage would be that Logan Thomas has found his stride. He’s continued to gain confidence in himself and his running ability throughout the season and has shown how effective he can be. Because of that, Frank Beamer and his staff have utilized him more as a running threat, something that is troubling news for Kevin Steele and the Tigers. If Thomas is able to run wild on the Tigers like several quarterbacks have it could be a long night in Charlotte for Dabo and his team.
An advantage also could be the fact that the Tigers’ beat the Hokies soundly in October and were the only team to keep the Hokies from having a perfect record. This gives Frank Beamer and company ammo to get the team motivated this week going into the game.
Lastly, the Hokies are regulars when it comes to playing in the ACC Championship game. The Tigers however are a young team, and although they played for the Championship game in 2009, only 18 or 19 players’ current players played in that Championship game. Because of this, the young players for Clemson may take a while to get used to the big stage.
Advantages for Clemson-
Only a few weeks ago the Tigers’ were the nation’s favorite heading into the ACC Championship game. However losing 3 out of the last 4 games have caused them to fall off of the national radar a bit. I’ve always said that Clemson plays better when the underdog and faced with adversity. They’ve faced a lot of adversity the past few weeks as reporters are now calling the Tigers’ the “same ol’ Clemson team” that chokes when the going gets tough. Before this season, the Tigers’ had enough of the bad taste in their mouths from the 6-7 2010 season, they came into 2011 with an “Us Against the World” mentality that they haven’t had for the past few weeks as they’ve coasted after winning 9 games. Well let me tell you, that mentality is back in force, meaning that the Tigers’ may come out Saturday and put up a fight.
Another advantage is that although it’s not completely a home game for the Tigers’, it has been confirmed that somewhere between 40,000-50,000 tickets sold for the ACC Championship (the stadium holds 70,000) were sold to Clemson fans. Therefore, if you’re planning on making a trip to Charlotte this weekend rest your vocal chords beforehand because the crowd noise in favor of the Tigers’ could definitely be a factor, especially on defense.
Although I noted this as an advantage for the Hokies it could also be seen as a disadvantage, the fact that they’ve been to the ACC Championship and the Orange Bowl so many times. The Tigers realize how important of a game this is and they classify it as a “must win”. The Hokies on the other hand may be overlooking Swinney’s Tigers due to their recent slump, so they could be in for a surprise on Saturday.
Most importantly, the Tigers have beaten the Hokies this season already and therefore know how to do it. They’ve watched film on what they did the first week in October to stop Virginia Tech that was so successful and therefore have a game plan that has already been practiced and successful.