This week Clemson takes on Virginia Tech in the ACC Championship game. The Tigers haven’t seen Virginia Tech since 2012, currently holding a 3 game win streak in the series which appropriately enough includes the Tigers’ win in the 2011 ACC Championship game. We talked to Roy from Gobbler Country, SB Nation’s Virginia Tech site to get some information on VT ahead of Saturday’s game. Here are his answers.
STS: Justin Fuente may have been the hire of the year, has he done anything special to turn around the Hokies or is it mainly just a case of getting some fresh blood on the coaching staff?
GC: There was a serious drop in recruiting over the last few years of the Frank Beamer era. There was some talent left in the cupboard, but we were pretty thin in certain areas, like linebacker. He is very good at putting offensive players in position to be successful. He uses tempo sporadically in the game when it suits us. In the preseason he said that they weren’t going to use tempo just for the sake of going fast. It’s been pretty interesting to see when he pumps the brakes, and slams the gas. Combine his offense with a Bud Foster defense, and the results should be pretty favorable.
STS: Obviously Fuente brings an impressive resume on offense, what's been the secret to their success this year?
GC: Jerod Evans has been an incredible QB for the Hokies this season. Evans was the number one JUCO QB according to some services. Fuente was recruiting him to Memphis before accepting the Virginia Tech job. The first call Fuente made as head coach was to Evans. He has thrown 26 TD’s, with only 5 interceptions. His QB rating for the season is a whopping 157.4. Evans has three primary weapons on the outside. Isaiah Ford got jobbed in the All-ACC voting IMO, and will own or share every Virginia Tech receiving record when he hangs them up. Bucky Hodges, at 6’7”, is a matchup nightmare. Fuente does an excellent job getting Hodges in favorable one on ones down the field. The other WR to keep your eye on is Cam Phillips. He has had some ball security issues this year, but has the speed to stretch a defense.
STS: On defense Bud Foster has always managed to put together a pretty stout unit, how has he been doing this year?
GC: The good news for Clemson fans is that we have really struggled against mobile QB’s. Wood Baron is probably our best player on the defensive side. Watch out for Ken Ekanem off the edge. He seemingly gets at least one sack per game. The linebackers are led by MLB, Andrew Motuapuaka. He has really improved over last year, and we will need his help in containing Watson. The secondary is as good as ever, and Mook Reynolds has had an outstanding season. Overall, the defense has played pretty well. If Watson rushes for over 100 yards, the Hokies lose.
STS: Beamer Ball is always one of the more interesting things from Frank Beamer's tenure. Is that still something the Hokies have embraced despite his departure?
GC: One of the best things about this transition has been Fuente’s obvious respect for Coach Beamer. Each week, the special teams player of the game receives a special award. That player wears #25 (Beamer’s old number) in the next week’s game. This has been a huge hit. Seeing guys like big Tim Settle sport the 25 is incredible. There seems to be some magic in that old 25, because the guy wearing it usually has a huge game.
STS: Virginia Tech may be the underdog, but they can certainly win this one, what will be some of the things you'll be looking at to see if the Hokies can pull the upset?
GC: As stated earlier, the Hokies must contain Deshaun Watson on the ground. I feel like the Virginia Tech secondary is good enough to play with Clemson. Look for exotic blitzes from Bud Foster this week, and a spy to shadow Watson. If Bucky Hodges has more than five catches, we probably win. Hodges has made big play after big play this season, and getting him the ball is crucial. Time of possession will be a big factor. If the Hokies can keep Watson and company off the field for long stretches, it should keep our thin defensive line fresh. Getting off the field on 3rd down has been an issue in our losses, so making stops wil also be big. The depth of Clemson scares me, but our ones match up very well with the Tigers’ ones.
STS: If you're scouting Virginia Tech what's the secret to beating them?
GC: Run the ball and keep Evans off the field. Fuente will eventually figure out most defenses during the game, and has shown to make great halftime adjustments. Limiting the opportunities for Evans is the big key here. We are vulnerable to the inside running game, so Clemson should be able to exploit that. Foster likes to blitz, so the one on one deep balls will be available.
STS: Finally, how do you see this game playing out?
GC: I think Clemson hasn’t played its best football this year, and that scares me. There were a lot of folks picking the Tigers to win the national championship this season. The depth of the defensive line is SEC-caliber, and Watson has had amazing career. I’m not sure which Virginia Tech team will show up. We have had a serious Jeckyll and Hyde thing going this season. We have a chance if we can contain Watson. Final score: Clemson 38 Virginia Tech 24.