This is a week many Hokies fans have had circled on their calendar after last year’s lopsided losses to Clemson. They probably didn’t think they’d be 4-3 coming in , but the Tigers appear to be every bit the challenge everyone thought they’d be.
Here is what’s going on with the Tigers …
** Clemson will be the toughest team the Hokies have faced this year. The Tigers (5-1, 2-1 ACC) are ranked 19th by the Associated Press and 14th by the coaches. Their one loss came at Florida State, a 49-37 loss before the Seminoles went in the tank at N.C. State.
The Tigers had a bye last week after beating Georgia Tech 47-31.
** As expected, they’ve done it with offense. Clemson has the No. 11 scoring offense nationally (41.33 ppg), No. 11 passing offense (324.57 ypg), No. 32 rushing offense (201.17 ypg), and No. 13 total offense (525.83 ypg), so it’s the most formidable group than Virginia Tech has faced all year.
Quarterback Tajh Boyd, the reigning first-team All-ACC quarterback, is doing it again, with 1,748 passing yards and 14 touchdowns to five interceptions. He also has 224 rushing yards and two scores.
Amazingly, sophomore Sammy Watkins hasn’t even been the team’s best receiver. Suspended for two games because of an offseason arrest for drug possession and being out for another because of an illness, Watkins has just 16 catches for 118 yards and no touchdowns in three games. But DeAndre Hopkins has more than picked up the slack, with 49 catches for 777 yards and eight touchdowns. His 129.5 receiving yards per game are third nationally.
Tight end Brandon Ford has been doing a pretty good Dwayne Allen impersonation, with 20 catches for 234 yards and four scores.
Not to be overlooked, is running back Andre Ellington, who has 597 rushing yards and six touchdowns. He’s averaging 5.1 yards per carry.
The Tigers have scored 40 or more points in four of six games this year. Basically, this offense is doing everything you’d expect under offensive coordinator Chad Morris, whose $1.3 million salary is tops among assistant in the college game. Nick Saban may not like the hurry-up scheme, but it’s certainly working for Clemson.
** Despite their high-scoring ways, it has not been easy for the Tigers. After the FSU loss, Clemson trailed Boston College 21-17 before pulling away with 21 straight points. The next week, it had a see-saw game with a Georgia Tech team that would fire defensive coordinator Al Groh afterward, falling behind 31-30 in the fourth quarter before scoring the final 17 points.
Which brings us to the next point …
** The defense still has problems. The Tigers are allowing 202.67 yards per game rushing (99th nationally), 242.83 yards per game passing (78th nationally) and 445.5 yards per game total (97th nationally) under first-year coordinator Brent Venables.
All of those numbers are worse than last year, when Kevin Steele was fired following an embarrassing 70-33 loss to West Virginia in the Orange Bowl.
Consider this: Clemson is averaging 6.4 yards on offense, a pretty good figure. Opponents are averaging 6.6 yards per play against it.
The only defensive stat that’s been marginally improved is scoring defense (from 28.1 ppg to 27.3), although head coach Dabo Swinney thinks he’s seen overall improvement from the group, particularly out of the front four. That front, which gave Virginia Tech fits last year, has only seven sacks through six games (104th nationally). The Tigers are averaging just 5.5 tackles for a loss per game.
No surprise here, but the consensus is that the offense is carrying the load for a disappointing defense.
** Despite those defensive struggles, Clemson opened as 11-point favorites. It’s the first time the Hokies have been double-digit underdogs since LSU in 2007 (11.5). LSU, I’m sure you remember, won that game 48-7.
Gamblers don’t seem to agree with the high line this week. It has already been bet down to 8.5.
For those wondering, Virginia Tech hasn’t played at Clemson since 2007, when it was a 5.5-point underdog. The Hokies won that game 41-23.