By Will Vandervort
Here is a position-by-position breakdown of Saturday’s 3:35 p.m. kickoff (ESPN) as No. 8 Clemson visits Virginia at Scott Stadium in Charlottesville, Va.
Clemson enters the game with a 7-1 overall record, including a 5-1 mark in the Atlantic Coast Conference. The Cavaliers are 2-6 overall and have a 0-4 mark in the ACC.
Quarterback: It seemed as if Tajh Boyd started to have fun once again in the fourth quarter of the Maryland win last week. He ran for a long gain that set up his own score as well as threw a 41-yard pass to wide receiver Martavis Bryant to set up a Roderick McDowell touchdown. Virginia’s David Waterford has thrown for 1,715 yards and seven touchdowns this year, but he has also tossed nine interceptions. Last week he threw for 376 yards and two touchdowns, while setting school records in completions (43) and attempts (61) for one game. Advantage: Clemson
Running back: Roderick McDowell rushed for a career high 161 yards and scored two touchdowns in the win at Maryland. His touchdowns were his first and second of the season. The senior now has 607 yards and is averaging 5.1 yards per carry this season. Kevin Parks is one of the best runners in the conference. Not only is his 614 yards and nine touchdowns this year lead the Cavaliers, but he also has caught 29 passes out of the backfield for 285 yards and another score, which ranks second on the squad. Advantage: Virginia
Wide receiver / Tight ends: Darius Jennings and Tim Smith became the first pair of receivers at Virginia to catch at least 10 passes each in one game with Jennings hauling in 13 and Smith 10 in last week’s loss to Georgia Tech. Smith is the Cavaliers big-play threat. He is averaging 15.2 yards per catch. Sammy Watkins leads the ACC with 813 yards. He has hauled in 58 passes and has scored five touchdowns thus far. Watkins had a Clemson record 14 catches for 163 yards in last week’s win at Maryland. Adam Humphries has 30 catches for 368 yards, which is more than Virginia’s Smith who leads his team with 350 yards. Advantage: Clemson
Offensive line: The left side of the Cavaliers’ line is anchored with upperclassmen in left tackle Morgan Mosses, left guard Conner Davis and center Luke Bowanko. But the right side of the line is struggling and so too is the running game as they average just 3.9 yards per carry and 162.6 per game on the ground. Clemson’s issues up front seem to get worse than better. Yes, the Tigers rushed for 236 yards last week, but it struggled to run the ball in the red zone or in short yardage situations. The offensive line is not getting any push up the middle from its interior guys on third-and-short or goal line situations. The Tigers are also one of the nation’s worse in sacks allowed and tackles for loss. Advantage: Virginia
Defensive line: Clemson continues to lead the nation in sacks with 29 with defensive end David Beasley leading the way with 10, which also leads the country as well. He has 15 tackles for loss, which ranks second nationally. Defensive tackle Grady Jarrett has 44 tackles, plus 6.5 tackles for loss. The Tigers also lead the nation in tackles for loss with 73. Defensive end Eli Harold has eight tackles for loss, including 5.5 sacks to lead Virginia. Fellow defensive end Jake Snyder has four passes broken up. The Cavaliers have 18 sacks this season. Advantage: Clemson
Linebackers: Stephone Anthony continues to have a great year as he leads the Tigers with 80 tackles, including nine tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. Weakside backer Spencer Shuey is second on the team with 78 tackles and four tackles for loss. Anthony’s lone issue is in pass coverage where he isn’t getting deep enough in zone coverage at times. Middle linebacker Henry Coley leads the Cavaliers with 64 tackles, including 7.5 tackles for loss. Daquan Romero, who was Boyd’s tight end in high school, is second on the team with 62 tackles despite missing one game. He has five tackles for loss. The two starters have not recorded a sack this year. Advantage: Clemson
Secondary: Virginia’s Anthony Harris leads the country in interceptions with five from his strong safety position, but only reserve corner Demetrius Nicholson has the only other interception on the squad. The Cavaliers rank fourth in the ACC in pass efficiency defense and passing yards allowed, though. Other than the Florida State game, the Clemson secondary has been okay. The Tigers rank second in the ACC and eighth nationally with 13 interceptions and only Georgia and Florida State have thrown for more than 300 yards in a game. But there are issues at safety where strong safety Travis Blanks has been banged up and freshmen Jayron Kearse and Korrin Wiggins have both had to learn on the fly. Advantage: Virginia
Special teams: The Cavaliers’ Alec Vozenilek is 0-3 on kicks from 40 yards or more, but backup kicker Ian Frye has made a season-long 53-yard kick. Vozenilek also handles the punting chores for Virginia and he is averaging 41 yards per punt which includes 19 fair catches and 16 punts inside the 20-yard line. Clemson kicker Chandler Catanzaro has made 35 of his last 37 field goals, including a 4-for-4 day against Maryland last week. Bradley Pinion has a 38.6 net average as opponents are averaging only 2.0 yards per return. He has landed 17 punts inside the 20-yard line and has yet to record a touchback. Advantage: Clemson
Prediction: Clemson 57, Virginia 21