But Virginia Tech coaches and players think holding Clemson’s spread offense in check comes down to the same old basics, which include stopping the run first.
“I’ve said if we held them to three yards or less rushing and they threw for 300, I bet we’d have a really good chance of winning the game, probably,” defensive line coach Charley Wiles.
Quarterback Tajh Boyd and wide receivers DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins get plenty of attention in the Tigers’ offense — and, considering their numbers, rightfully so — but Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris has made no secret of the fact that his teams will try to establish the run.
In fact, the Tigers have run the ball 261 times and thrown it 232 times, averaging 201.2 yards per game on the ground and 324.7 in the air.
Tailback Andre Ellington has 597 rushing yards, a 5.1-yard average and six touchdowns this year.
“They’re a pretty balanced team,” Hokies defensive coordinator Bud Foster said. “They want to run the football. The Ellington kid is a good back. He’s explosive. He’s good with the ball in his hands. He’s good with the ball coming out of the backfield. They run outs and screens to him. Just a really good football player.
“Then Tajh looks really comfortable. I saw the Florida State game where they said he’s lost a lot of weight. In all the big games he runs the ball. You see some games he doesn’t run as much, but in our game they always get him involved in the run game. I guess they feel like they have to a little bit. We’re always trying to load up a little bit. But we’ve got to keep him contained as well, in the run game as well as the pass game.”
That puts plenty of pressure on Virginia Tech’s defensive line to match its production against Duke. The Hokies were active the last three quarters up front, holding the Blue Devils to 22 rushing yards and forcing them to be one-dimensional.
“That’s the key against any team,” said defensive end James Gayle, who had nine tackles and 2.5 tackles for a loss. “If we stop the run, you force the quarterback to win the game. If you know they’re going to pass it, it’s easier to play defense.”
That’ll be a challenge. A big part of Clemson’s offense is misdirection, trying to get lineman tied up.
“It’s a unique offense,” Foster said. “It gives you the spread element but a Wing T and some of the same principles of Georgia Tech too. Some option football and spread football. Just a lot of misdirection. We’ve got to be sound with our perimeter people, not letting the ball get outside of us. Keep areas restricted and then not give up the big play.”
Here are more notes and quotes from post-practice defensive interviews Monday ….
- I’ll have more on the challenge facing Virginia Tech’s cornerbacks with Hopkins and Watkins in Wednesday’s paper. Foster was asked about matching up with them and laughed — cackled, really — about the problems they present to cornerbacks. ”Hell, they’ve got to protect deep,” Foster said. “They can’t have yards after the catch. … Now, you can’t double those guys because then they’re going to run it up inside on you. So I’m hoping those guys will step up like they’re capable of doing.”
- Foster had plenty of praise for Hopkins, calling the receiver, who is probably the ACC’s MVP at the midpoint of the season, “one of their best, if not their best football player” on offense. Cornerback Antone Exum said Hopkins and Watkins in the “top three, top four receivers in the country.”
- An increased pass rush would help out on the back end. The Hokies had five sacks against Duke after getting only eight the first six weeks. “We weren’t covering [Duke] for that long at all,” Exum said. “We were two seconds and something was going on. So when they started getting after that guy, that really eased it up for us in the secondary.”
- The d-line knows it. Here are Gayle’s thoughts on Boyd: “That’s a guy that you’ve got to have scrambling. You can’t have him sitting in the pocket. He’ll beat you.”
- Defensive tackle Luther Maddy working his way back from an ankle injury helps. He injured it on the first play of the Cincinnati game and tweaked it against North Carolina, rendering him ineffective. “It was real frustrating,” he said. “You can ask my teammates. I’d be walking around with my head down because of my injuries. I wasn’t smiling as much. I wasn’t playing around as much. But when it started feeling better, I was more talkative. My head was high. I felt good coming into the Duke game.”
- He had two sacks and a forced fumble against Duke. “He gives us a great quick-twitch pass rusher inside,” said Wiles, who has been looking for some inside push all year. “And Luther is a tough kid. He never complains about being hurt. You can just see it on video. You can see him dragging his leg around. He’s just not healthy. So it was good to get him back and get him healthy.”
- Foster thinks Clemson’s offense is better in Year 2 under Morris. “You just see a group that’s playing with a lot of confidence,” he said. “They’re doing more things with it than they did a year ago. And they’ve had extra time to prepare for us, so there’s no telling what they’ve come up with. And they do run a lot of gadgets. They’re going to run it and run it, then throw it and throw it, then run it and throw off the run, reverse passes or a throw back to the quarterback. Just do a lot of unique things. And they do it very well. Looks like they have a lot of fun with it.”
- Foster said Clemson’s athletes are “a real booger to prepare for,” which was one of the funnier things he’s said in a while, mostly because I’ve heard him use saltier language in the past.
- Foster said linebacker Tariq Edwards (knee) continues to get closer to playing, but Bruce Taylor played well last week at backer, which kept him off the field. “I’d like to get him in there more,” Foster said. “I want to make sure he’s full speed. Because it needs to be a full-speed effort with this group that we’re getting ready to play.”
- While we’re on injuries, receiver Dyrell Roberts (neck/head) was in blue today. Left guard David Wang was not there at the end of practice because he left early to hear a speaker in a class. We’ll see what color jersey he’s wearing tomorrow.
- I asked a couple of guys if this game has any added significance, considering Clemson beat Tech soundly in two games last year. “I would think that it’s definitely in the back of guys’ minds that we lost those two games to them,” Exum said. “It’s in the front of my mind that we lost the ACC championship game to them. So that’s definitely a motivator for us to go down there and handle our business. You don’t want to use that revenge word, because it’s a new year and things like that. But like I said, it’s in the back of my mind.”