It was no secret what Pittsburgh wanted to do this past Saturday when it came into Death Valley.
The Panthers wanted to throw the football all over the field. Quarterback Kenny Pickett was third in the ACC in passing, averaging 288 yards per game. Clemson was ready for him.
Pickett completed just 22 of 39 passes for a season-low 209 yards, while being intercepted four times in Clemson’s 52-17 victory at Memorial Stadium. Pickett had thrown just four interceptions all season prior to Saturday afternoon.
But now as the third-ranked Tigers (8-1, 7-1 ACC) flip the page and get set to play at Virginia Tech this coming Saturday (7:30 p.m., ABC), they will have to take on a different mentality.
The Hokies like to run the football, and they like to do it a lot.
“Everybody has an identity this time of the year,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. “(Pitt), their identity was they were going to throw the ball all over the park. This is a team in Virginia Tech that is built differently. They are a lot of quarterback run and everything that comes off of that, so it is a little different mentality and mindset in preparing for these guys as opposed to what we just played. But that is what makes college football so fun.”
Virginia Tech (4-5, 4-4 ACC) runs the football primarily with two guys, running back Khalil Herbert and quarterback Hendon Hooker. Herbert has rushed for 924 yards and six touchdowns in nine games this year, while Hooker has 627 yards and nine touchdowns.
As a team, the Hokies lead the ACC in rushing yards per game, averaging 250.9 yards per game and 5.9 per carry. It is a totally different scheme from what the Tigers just faced. Pitt ran the ball just 24 times for 16 yards against Clemson.
“Every week as a staff you have different challenges, whether it be schematic, personnel or whatever and that to me is the fun part as a coach, is pulling it all together,” Swinney said. “I loved our plan this week, but we will have our hands full with those guys for sure.”
Virginia Tech does not want to throw the ball if it does not have to. It is averaging just 199.2 yards per game through the air, which ranks 12th in the ACC.
However, Hooker’s legs present an entirely different challenge for the Clemson defense.
“Again, schematically they do a great job running the ball and that is what they are committed to doing and that is why they are good at it, but the quarterback run presents some problems, so we are going to have to have a great week and great preparation,” Swinney said. “They have had an open date, I believe, so they had a little extra time to get ready for us, so we are going to have to do a great job of practicing with some great purpose this week and getting locked in to what we have to do to stop them.”
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