ORLANDO, Fla. — Third-ranked Clemson travels to Orlando’s Camping World Stadium to battle No. 18 Virginia Tech in today’s 12th Annual ACC Championship Game. The game is scheduled to kick off at 8:14 p.m. and will be televised by ABC.
So who has the edge in some of today’s biggest matchups?
Clemson’s front seven vs. Virginia Tech quarterback Jerod Evans: All week long, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney, defensive coordinator Brent Venables and players have said the Hokies’ offense runs through Evans, who leads the team in rushing as well. For Virginia Tech to compete it is about Evans and this offense. The Hokies have playmakers around Evans in the backfield and especially out at wide receiver, but his ability to run the football all year at his size is something they are going to try and take advantage of against Clemson. Look for the Tigers to try and attack Evans with exotic blitzes similar to what they ran against Louisville and Florida State. Virginia Tech’s offensive line is a little better than those two lines, but they have allowed 24 sacks this year so pressure has gotten to Evans. Advantage: Clemson
Clemson’s secondary vs. Virginia Tech’s wide receivers: Clemson leads the ACC in passing defense and in interceptions. However, this will be the Tigers biggest challenge to date. The Hokies’ Isaiah Ford, Cam Phillips and Bucky Rodgers are matchup nightmares for almost any defense in the country and the same will go for Clemson tonight. The Tigers have no one to match up with the 6-foot-7 Hodges. Virginia Tech will try to spread out the Clemson defense and create some one-on-one opportunities. Phillips, if he gets a little bit of space, he can show what he can do with the ball after the catch, while Ford is also another receiver the Hokies have the ability to get the ball to in that manner. Then there is Bucky Hodges. When they get the ball into the red zone, they are going to put the ball up in the air in a one-on-one matchup, a 50-50 chance, let him adjust to the ball, highpoint it and come down with the catch. Because of Evans ability to run and throw, and the receivers he has on the outside, I think that gives Virginia Tech a good chance to make plays on Clemson’s secondary. Advantage: Virginia Tech
Clemson’s Wide receiver vs. Virginia Tech’s secondary: Like Clemson, Virginia Tech’s secondary is one of the ACC’s best. Defensive coordinator Bud Foster has gone back to his roots and is incorporating more exotic looks and coverages. However, Clemson challenges the Hokies with the best collection of receivers in the country in Mike Williams, Artavis Scott, Ray Ray McCloud, Hunter Renfrow, Jordan Leggett and Deon Cain. Williams is one of the best receivers in the country and is one of the more physical ones as well. Just go ask South Carolina if you don’t believe me. He can also high point the ball as well as Hodges, despite being four inches shorter. The Tigers also have explosive playmakers in Cain, Leggett, McCloud and Scott. Advantage: Clemson
Clemson’s Wayne Gallman vs. Virginia Tech’s defense: In the last two weeks, Clemson has run the ball for over 250 yards a game in wins over Wake Forest and South Carolina. Running back Wayne Gallman, who needs 57 yards to reach 1,000 yards, rushed for more than 100 yards in each game. If the Tigers are going to win a championship it starts with Gallman. He averaging 5.3 yards per carry and has 14 touchdowns. He is the physical presence of the Clemson offense. He sets the tone for the Tigers. The Hokies are allowing 3.9 yards per carry and 145.8 yards per game on the ground. Advantage: Clemson
Clemson’s Deshaun Watson vs. Virginia Tech’s Bud Foster: In the last two years, Watson has thrown 27 interceptions, the second most in the FBS. He has thrown 14 this year, and on a few of occasions, he was confused about what look he was getting. Foster is going to throw as many as eight different coverages at Watson to try and confuse him. It is going to be a big a challenge for the Clemson quarterback to try and recognize the different looks in his pre-snap reads. Watson also needs to protect the ball in the red zone. The previous two seasons in the red zone, he only threw one interception. This season, he has four interceptions in the red zone, which has taken away potential points. The key in all of this will be Watson’s ability to run the ball, too. Gallman is the guy, and they got him going the last two weeks so that is great for the running game, but when Watson rushes the ball for 40 yards or more Clemson is 15-1. Advantage: Virginia Tech
Bottom line: Because of the potential matchup advantages Virginia Tech has at some positions, Clemson will have its hands full tonight. However, Clemson has Deshaun Watson at quarterback and he knows how to win and how to play well on the big stage. He does it again tonight by leading the Tigers to a second straight ACC Championship.
Prediction: Clemson 31, Virginia Tech 27