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ACC Title Game Preview

Clemson Seeks Back to Back Titles on Saturday Night

NCAA Football: South Carolina at Clemson Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

I give Will Muschamp and his feathered minions a lot of credit. They got Clemson’s full attention last weekend a year after the Tigers more or less slept walked through the game in Columbia. Of course, the result was an absolutely brutal evisceration which proudly takes its place on the Mt. Rushmore of butt cuttings in the series with 1989 and 2003. I encourage those in USCjr’s camp to continue poking the bear, so to speak, because nights like last Saturday never get old.

Now Clemson moves on from the light work to take on the resurgent Virginia Tech Hokies in the ACC Championship Game in Orlando. The only downer here is the atmosphere in Charlotte would have been crazy had the game stayed there. The ACC is going to pay for that in the pocketbook, but that is a discussion for another time. VT appears poised to reclaim its former control of the Coastal division under new coach Justin Fuente. In fact, VT has done about a good a job as you will see in transitioning from a legendary coach to new blood. Fuente has kept Beamer in high regard, retained his top coordinator Bud Foster, and avoided any type of potential divide among the VT faithful. They are a worthy opponent and could be a regular in this game going forward.

Clemson offense vs. VT defense: This is a compelling matchup because VT offers perhaps the stiffest defense the Tigers have seen in a while. The Hokies have a capable secondary and might be willing to try some of what Pitt was doing to stop the Clemson ground game. Of course, having to face Mike Williams is a scary proposition for any coordinator as he has shown he is open even when he’s covered much of the time. The dazzling array of talent I was drooling over at the beginning of the year is finally putting it all together, and Deshaun Watson has kicked it into another gear once again. Watson has started putting the deep balls on the money much more often as well as showing more spark as a runner. There is no defense against him when this is the case. Can VT slow the Tiger run game down enough to be able to bring pressures against Watson? The Clemson OL is coming off two very good weeks in a row and boasts a whopping THREE first team All ACC linemen. It is hard to see any defense having much of a chance unless it's DL can really cause Clemson problems up front. VT will use a ton of movement from its line in an attempt to do that. Bud Foster is rarely afraid of blitzing as well. I think it is boom or bust here for VT in that they will either cause some negative plays and turnovers or get absolutely torched on big plays. They desperately need to hold up early on to have a chance.

Clemson defense vs. VT offense: Fuente is an excellent offensive mind, but he certainly is fortunate he landed Jerod Evans to run it. Evans has helped mask an otherwise weak rushing attack by offering a legit quarterback run game. VT has good skill, especially Ford and Hodges, but the absolute key for them is being able to run the ball inside at Clemson. That has been a nearly impossible task with only Pitt really generating that threat via the shuttle pass to the TE. The Hokies don't have a Dalvin Cook, James Connor, or even a Matt Dayes, so Evans must find a way to hurt Clemson with his legs. If not, Venables will tee off on him and it won't matter much who he has on the outside to throw it to.

They might hit a fade here or there but it won't be enough. The stellar Tiger DL backed by Boulware and Joseph must make Evans pay a heavy price in his attempt to give VT a run game. If VT can find success here, their tempo and passing game will become a much bigger problem. The Tiger defense hasn't been on its heels much but the times they have was because a run game was happening.

Special Teams: It has been nice a peaceful here most of the year. A few bad moments like Ray-Ray’s fumbles or the blocked kicks haven't cost the team. Meanwhile, Clemson has faced strong return threats from Syracuse, Pitt, and USCjr and shut them down. Clemson is long overdue for a really big return but once again the real hope is to not allow VT to make a game changing play in this phase. I certainly remember 2007 when VT’s special teams were a huge factor in their win in Death Valley.

Overall: This team has begun to look more and more like a better unit than last year. There are weak areas, but not nearly as glaring as last year when kick return defense and discipline in the back four were major problems at this stage of the season. The overall depth is better and it is showing.

I'd like to give the defensive staff a standing ovation after seeing the four scholarship senior starters make first team All ACC. Jadar Johnson’s development is particularly noteworthy. VT is a nice team, but I don't see how they can hold up against Clemson playing like it has the last two weeks. They are responding to that Pitt loss like that 89 team did after losing at home to GT, which was killing everybody in its path.

Clemson: 42
VT: 17