2007 Football Game Preview: Virginia Tech at Clemson

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Saturday, October 6th, 2007, 6:00 Eastern

TV: ESPN

Forecast (from WeatherUnderground.com):

Click the “Clemson Weather” link to the right.
Game time forecast, as of 3:30 pm Wednesday: Cloudy with a 20% chance of thunderstorms
or light rain. Temperature 77.


Click here for TechSideline.com’s VT/Clemson roster card


Game Preview: #15 Virginia Tech (4-1, 1-0 ACC) @ #22 Clemson (4-1, 2-1)


by Chris Coleman, TechSideline.com

Virginia Tech will travel to another Death Valley this Saturday, with hopes
that this trip turns out better than the first one back on September 8. This
time the Hokies will take on the #22 Clemson Tigers, a team that looked like
they could be the best team in the ACC until Georgia Tech embarrassed them 13-3
in Atlanta last Saturday.

This is an interesting game. If you look at the message boards of each
school, you’ll find Tech fans picking Clemson, and Clemson fans picking the
Hokies. Both teams are having problems up front and don’t appear to have much
ability to move the ball against top notch competition.

This will be Frank Beamer’s fourth meeting with Tommy Bowden, and Frank is
3-0 against the son of the man he can’t beat, Bobby Bowden. Not only is Beamer
3-0, but the games haven’t been particularly close.

Frank
Beamer vs.
Tommy Bowden
Year Score
1999 31-11
2000 41-20
2006 24-7
Total 96-38
Ave. 32-13

Neither fan base has much confidence in their team heading into Saturday, but
one of the teams has to surprise their followers and come away with a key ACC
victory. Which will it be?

The Clemson Offense

No offense in the ACC possesses as many playmakers as Clemson. The Tigers
have guys who can make plays at tailback and wide receiver. They are capable of
scoring from any spot on the field at any time.

The
Clemson Offense
Category Stat Conf.
Rank
National
Rank

Rushing Offense
150 ypg 4 63

Passing Offense
251.6 ypg 2 39

Total Offense
401.6 ypg 2 53

Scoring Offense
32.1 ppg 2 45

Sacks Allowed
3.2 spg 9 104

Clemson has the best tailbacks in the ACC. James Davis (5-11, 210, Jr.) leads
the team with 454 yards on the ground. He is averaging 6.5 yards per carry and
has four rushing touchdowns on the season. Davis has a good combination of
speed, agility, power and vision

C.J. Spiller (5-11, 190, So.) is the big hitter for Clemson, but he isn’t
playing as well this year. After running for 938 yards last season and averaging
a school-record 7.3 yards per carry, Spiller’s numbers have fallen off a cliff
this year. He has run for 201 yards, but he’s averaging just 3.6 yards per carry
and 40.1 yards per game.

Against
Georgia Tech last Saturday, Spiller had just two yards on nine carries. Earlier
against 1-AA Furman, he actually had negative yardage: (-1) yards on nine
carries. His bread and butter is the big play, yet he only has one run of 20+
yards on the season. Despite the lack of production, he still has blazing speed,
great moves and the ability to take it to the house on any given play.

Clemson is very similar to Virginia Tech at wide receiver. They’ve got some
big play threats, but no polished receivers. Aaron Kelly (6-5, 190, r-Jr.) is
their top target. He has 28 catches for 342 yards and three touchdowns on the
year. Seven of his 28 receptions have gone for gains of 20 yards or more.

Tyler Grisham (5-11, 180, Jr.) is probably the most polished of the Clemson
receivers, but he isn’t an exceptional athlete. He has 13 catches for 175 yards
and two touchdowns on the season.

Jacoby Ford (5-10, 185, So.) is the wide receiver with the most ability to
score from anywhere on the field. He has blazing speed, and the Tigers will look
to get him the ball in space. He can be used in the conventional passing game,
as well as screens, and will also run some reverses. The Tigers have had eight
running plays go for 20+ yards on the season, and Ford has three of them,
despite having just 10 carries.

Ford is an All-American sprinter on Clemson’s track team, and he’s been timed
at 6.52 in the 60 meters. The Hokies must pay attention to Ford, as he is the
Tigers’ most versatile offensive player.

Rendrick Taylor (6-2, 240, Jr.) is a very big receiver that is cut from the
same mold as David Boston. However, Taylor is far from a polished receiver. He
has nine catches for 108 yards on the season.

Clemson’s new quarterback is Cullen Harper (6-4, 220, r-Jr.). He has plenty
of experience in Clemson’s system, though he is still adjusting to being the
starter. His statistics are excellent. He has completed 62.6% of his passes for
1,158 yards, with 12 touchdowns and just one interception.

Harper has a stronger arm than his predecessor, Will Proctor. The Tigers are
able to stretch the field more with Harper. They have 18 passing plays of 20+
yards, including gains of 41, 49, 52, 68, 35 and 42. Harper prefers to do his
throwing from the pocket. He’s not much of a runner, as his -67 net rushing
yards show.

Clemson’s offensive line has struggled against the top competition they have
faced. The Tigers lost four full-time starters on the offensive line from last
season, and although they start three seniors this year, they aren’t performing
at the level of last year’s line.

The Tigers are led up front by mammoth left tackle Barry Richardson (6-7,
330, Sr.). Richardson was unanimous preseason All-ACC selection, and was also a
Playboy All-American. In 2006, he had 75 knockdown blocks and allowed just two
sacks, the second fewest in the nation.

The second most experienced lineman is left guard Chris McDuffie (6-5, 330,
r-Sr.), a Danville, VA native. McDuffie made his first career start against
Virginia Tech last season, subbing for the injured Roman Fry, who had torn his
ACL the previous week. He started the last five games of the season for the
Tigers and played 317 snaps.

Senior Christian Capote (6-4, 300, r-Sr.) mans the right tackle spot. He is
in his first year as a starter and did not have much game experience heading
into this season. Barry Humphries (6-3, 295, r-So.) is starting at center, and
he played just 84 snaps last year. Thomas Austin (6-3, 315, r-So.) starts at
right guard.

Clemson’s offensive line struggled against Georgia Tech’s blitzing last week.
Cullen Harper was sacked six times, and the Tigers managed just 34 rushing yards
as a team, averaging 1.1 yards per carry.

The Tigers’ line has also been limited by injury. Austin has a lingering
ankle injury that is giving him trouble, and Brandon Pilgrim (6-6, 290, r-Sr.)
was the original starter at right guard, but he dislocated his elbow against FSU.
He has seen action at guard and tackle.

Basically, the Clemson line has been in shambles. Pilgrim has started at
right guard, Austin has started at right guard, and Austin has also seen time at
center because of the subpar play of Barry Humphries. Christian Capote has also
seen game action at guard and tackle, and backup tackles Cory Lambert (6-6, 310,
r-So) and Chris Hairston (6-6, 315, r-Fr.) have also been forced into action.
Backup guard Bobby Hutchinson (6-3, 305, r-Jr.) has also played and didn’t
perform well.

In short, Clemson has been experimenting with different offensive line
combinations at every position except left tackle, and they’ve used a total of
nine guys in the rotation. The results haven’t been very good, culminating with
the Georgia Tech debacle (six sacks allowed).

Virginia Tech’s defensive front seven should be licking their chops. Against
Clemson’s talented, veteran offensive line last season, the Hokies held the
Tigers to just 80 rushing yards on 28 carries. They should be able to out-play
the Tigers up front on Saturday night.

It will be interesting to see if Clemson uses true freshman quarterback Willy
Korn (6-2, 215, Fr.) against the Hokies. Korn was a highly-touted dual threat
quarterback out of high school who gives the Tigers more mobility at
quarterback, which would be useful if their offensive line breaks out their red
capes against the Hokies again on Saturday night. I’m not saying that it will
happen, but it would be an interesting change of pace.

Watch to see how much the Hokies blitz the Tigers. Clemson could not pick up
the blitz against Georgia Tech, and the Hokies have been getting a lot of
pressure when blitzing this year. Clemson is 104th nationally in sacks allowed,
while the Tech defense is 13th in sacks. The Hokies are also 19th in tackles for
loss, so they should be able to play in Clemson’s backfield.

The Clemson Defense

Clemson’s defense is solid across the board, although there is no standout
subunit. They are good, but not great.

The
Clemson Defense
Category Stat ACC
Rank
National
Rank

Rushing Defense
154.2 ypg 10 66

Passing Defense
149.2 ypg 1 8

Total Defense
303.4 ypg 3 24

Scoring Defense
17.4 ppg 5 22

Sacks
1.8 spg 10 61

As usual, Clemson has some good athletes on the defensive line. Defensive end
Phillip Merling (6-5, 280, Jr.) is the best pro prospect on the line at this
point. He has prototypical NFL defensive end size. Merling is a former Freshman
All-American who actually had more tackle for loss last year (10) than first
round draft pick Gaines Adams.

So far in 2007, Merling has eight tackles for loss and a sack. Although his
sack total is low, he does have eight quarterback hurries. He’s very active
along the defensive front, and is second on the team with 36 tackles.

The other defensive end is speed rusher Ricky Sapp (6-4, 240, So.). Sapp is a
former five-star recruit who is starting for the first time after playing a lot
as a backup last season. He is a playmaker off the edge, with five tackles for
loss and two sacks so far this season. However, his lack of bulk means he can
get pushed around in the running game.

Clemson’s defensive tackles are solid, though no one stands out. Rashaad
Jackson (6-2, 280, r-Jr.) plays in the backfield more than any other Tiger
defensive tackle. He has three tackles for loss on the seasons.

As a group, Clemson’s tackles put pretty good pressure on the quarterback.
The other tackles are Dorell Scott (6-4, 320, r-Jr.), Antwon Murchison (6-4,
270, r-So.), Jock McKissic (6-7, 300, Jr.) and Jarvis Jenkins (6-4, 320, Fr.).
The Tigers are fairly deep at this position.

Clemson’s linebackers are small, but experienced and athletic. Weak side
linebacker Nick Watkins (6-2, 220, r-Sr.) is the top player of the group. He
leads the Tigers in tackles with 51. He has two tackles for loss and a sack.
Tramaine Billie (6-1, 210, r-Sr.) is the starter on the strong side, and he has
30 tackles with one tackle for loss on the year.

Cortney Vincent (6-0, 225, r-Jr.) and Antonio Clay (6-0, 230, Jr.) split time
at the middle linebacker spot. Clay was the starter last season, although
Vincent has that spot this year. Vincent has 28 tackles and 3 tackles for loss,
and could be the Tigers’ most productive linebacker when you consider that he
has played few snaps.

Statistically, Clemson is excellent against the pass, despite their
inexperience at cornerback heading into the season. However, when you take a
deeper look, they haven’t been challenged through the air all season.

Clemson’s
Opponents’ Passing Stats
Team YPG National
Rank

FSU
216.5 71

LA-Monroe
115.25 117

Furman
1-AA 1-AA

NC State
226.4 59

Georgia Tech
146.2 113

The Tigers have faced just one top 70 passing team. Two of the teams they have
faced are among the bottom 10 passing teams in the nation, and that doesn’t even
include Furman, who is a 1-AA team.

Clemson has a lot of experience at the safety positions. Their CAT safety,
Michael Hamlin (6-3, 205, r-Jr.) has been starting since he was a freshman. He
is a talented athlete and likely a future NFL player. He has three interceptions
so far this season, and could end up a First Team All-ACC selection.

Chris Clemons (6-1, 210, r-Jr.) is the returning starter at free safety. He
had over 100 tackles last season, and is tied for second on the team with 36 so
far this year. He has two interceptions and has broken up one pass.

The cornerbacks are young, but probably more talented than the guys that were
starting ahead of them last year. Crezdon Butler (6-0, 185, So.) is a talented
player who had three interceptions in a backup role as a true freshman last
season. He has one interception so far this year. He was ranked the #4 player in
the state of North Carolina coming out of high school.

The other corner is Chris Chancellor (5-10, 170, r-So.). Although Chancellor
is a bit on the small side from a weight standpoint, like Butler he is a natural
corner, which is something the Tigers didn’t have last year for most of the
season. Chancellor started the Music City Bowl against Kentucky and was an
Honorable Mention Freshman All-American. He has one interception so far this
season.

Watch to see how much pressure Clemson can get on the quarterback against the
Hokies. The Tigers have just eight sacks on the season, and five of those came
in the opening game against a Florida State team that was still adjusting to a
new blocking scheme. In games against Louisiana-Monroe, Furman, NC State and
Georgia Tech, Clemson has had just three sacks. They rank 10th in the ACC in
sacks per game. Virginia Tech is 10th in the ACC in sacks allowed per game, so
this will be an interesting matchup.

Clemson Special Teams

This is one area where Virginia Tech holds a clear advantage, and they need
to take advantage of it. Last week against Georgia Tech, Clemson placekicker
Mark Buchholz (6-1, 205, r-Jr.) missed four field goals. The Tigers also had a
punt blocked, which led to Georgia Tech’s only touchdown of the game, and there
were also snapping problems on two punts.

That’s not all. The Tigers are 102nd nationally in net punting, 59th in punt
returns and 113th in kickoff returns. They have had two punts blocked this year,
and Buchholz is just 7-of-13 on field goal attempts.

Clemson’s coverage teams have also been lacking. They allowed a 99 yard
kickoff return for a touchdown against NC State, and opponents are averaging
11.9 yards per punt return, an excellent mark (for the opposition). When he
actually fields punts, Eddie Royal is the best punt returner in the ACC. He
could have some running room against the Tigers.

The Hokies have a great opportunity to win the kicking game and thus win the
field position battle. If they don’t get it done against Clemson, they aren’t
likely to win the game, and wouldn’t deserve to win the game.

Conclusion

I walked out of Lane Stadium last Saturday saying the Hokies were going to
catch a beat down in Death Valley, and many of you probably did too. After
watching Clemson play later in the afternoon, and studying the matchup more
closely, I’m not saying that anymore. The Hokies’ defense matches up very well
with the Tigers in the trenches, and Tech holds a critical special teams
advantage.

Frank Beamer’s teams have always smacked Clemson in the mouth. The Hokies are
generally the tougher team, physically and mentally. Tech’s running game has
been struggling so far this year, but Clemson’s run defense hasn’t exactly been
stout, allowing 154.2 yards per game.

Plus, Virginia Tech is generally a team that just finds ways to win. Even if
it’s ugly, and even if the get out-gained, the Hokies will find a way more times
than not. Clemson is their polar opposites in that regard. The Tigers are known
as a team that finds a new way to lose, year in and year out.

Thus, I’m going to pick the Hokies to win this one, but note: I can also see
this one turning into a BC style meltdown if Tech doesn’t play well. I see this
game as either an ugly win, or an ugly loss. I’m going with the win.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 17, Clemson 10

Will Stewart’s Take: Interesting stuff. Chris is right, many of the matchups
do look promising for VT. One matchup, though, continues to not look
promising, until proven otherwise: Virginia Tech’s offense versus a defense with
a pulse. The Tiger D, ranked 24th in the nation in total defense and 22nd in
points allowed, has signs of life and will make it hard for Tech’s struggling
offense.

In addition, what do Frank Beamer’s three victories over Tommy Bowden have in
common? None of them occurred in Clemson’s Memorial Stadium, much less at night.
Sure, VT whacked Clemson 37-0 back in the 1998 season, but that was a long time
ago, under a different Clemson coach (Tommy West).

Lastly, you can’t keep beating the same team over and over. Eventually,
they’re going to get you.

Note that I didn’t play the revenge card here for Clemson. VT sent Clemson’s
season south last year, turning a 7-1 Clemson start into a 1-4 finish by drawing
up the blueprint for shutting down the Tigers’ offense. It’s easy and cheap to
say, “Ooh, Clemson will be looking for revenge, and they’ll play hard, and
blah-blah-blah.” Players and fans talk about revenge games, but revenge
rarely plays a part in the outcome of a game.

I like Chris’ optimism, but there are too many things stacked up against the
Hokies here. The VT coaching staff is still trying to find the sweet spot
offensively for Tyrod Taylor, and while they might hit it Saturday night,
there’s no guarantee. Combine a struggling Tech offense with a tough road venue,
and a win is a difficult formula for the Hokies.

Turnovers will be big in this game, but I always call games without
considering turnovers, because you can’t predict them. I see a real battle of
the defenses here, with Clemson eventually wearing down Tech’s defense, which
has been spending way too much time on the field. (Time of possession favors
VT’s opponents right now, 32:12 to 27:48). I think it’ll be a close game, of the
10-6 variety, with Clemson getting a decisive touchdown late.

Will’s Prediction: Clemson 17, Virginia Tech 6

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