2006 Monday Thoughts: The Clemson Game

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ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit put forth the theory during Thursday night’s broadcast
of VT’s win over Clemson that the Tigers were emotionally spent from their
previous win over Georgia Tech and weren’t putting forth their best effort.
Herbstreit may have a point there, but it doesn’t matter. This game goes down in
the books as a win over a top ten team, and it gives the Hokies some confidence
heading into a critical road matchup with Miami this Saturday.

A
mere two games after the season seemed to be going down the toilet against
Boston College, the Hokies appear to be coming together and peaking. Branden Ore
has posted back to back 200-plus-yard rushing games. The offensive line has come
together, opening up rushing lanes up the middle and giving up just three sacks
in the last two games. The offense has returned to its ground-game roots. The
defense has posted two of its best games of the season in the last two outings
and played near-flawless assignment football against Clemson. Perhaps most
importantly, the team has played with renewed focus and chemistry, getting the
most of their talents in the process. Virginia Tech football has returned.

This momentum will be put to the test Saturday night in Miami. This matchup
doesn’t have nearly the glitter that last year’s three-versus-six matchup had,
when ESPN dialed up the hype meter to ridiculous levels, but it is critically
important for the two teams involved. To be honest, I’m not sure what Miami’s
motivation at this point is, other than to save a little face, avoid a total and
complete meltdown, and avoid posting their worst record since they went 5-6 in
1997. (UM has gone 9-3 and 9-4 a few times since then.)

I know what VT’s motivation is, though: to keep making strides, prove the
doubters wrong, get to a better bowl, and stay in contention for the Coastal
Division championship. As this team seeks to close out the year strong, they’re
also building for the future, for next year. Players who are going to be leaders
next year need to step up into leadership roles in the last month of the season.
Whereas Miami has no clue what’s going to happen to their program, with a likely
coaching change around the corner, the Hokies know exactly what’s in the future
and need to prepare for it.

I said in the Clemson game preview that I was going to pick VT to beat the
Canes on the road, and with VT’s impressive, gelling win over Clemson and
Miami’s key loss to GT, that won’t change. I like Tech’s chances to get it done
on the road, despite the Hokies taking an inexperienced quarterback into the
Orange Bowl, a place where it usually takes great QB play to win. Not just
adequate QB play, but great. VT has won in the Orange Bowl three times in the
last decade (1996, 1998, and 2004), and each time, there was a senior QB at the
helm. But I think VT will get it done.

Keys Against Clemson: QB Play, Big Plays, Field Position, and Points Off
Turnovers

A reader asked me to break down Will Proctor’s quarter-by-quarter
performance, because he felt that the Clemson QB must have thrown ten straight
incompletions at one point in the second half (close). Proctor’s play definitely
eroded down the stretch, and here are the numbers.

Will Proctor, Quarter-by-Quarter
Quarter 1st 2nd 3rd 4th Totals
Attempts 7 6 7 8 28
Completions 5 2 3 1 11
Yards 58 9 14 5 86
INTs 0 0 1 0 1
TDs 0 0 0 0 0
  • First half: 7-of-13 for 67 yards
  • Second half: 4-of-15 for 19 yards, 1 INT

On Clemson’s first two possessions, Proctor was 5-of-6 for 58 yards, and for the
rest of the game, he was 6-of-22 for 28 yards (yowza). From mid-third quarter
through the end of the game, Proctor hit just two of his last 11 passes for 10
yards, and Clemson was not asking him to make difficult throws. As the game went
on, Proctor’s accuracy just fell apart.

By
contrast, Tech’s Sean Glennon was a very effective 2-of-3 for 50 yards in the
second half. Going into the season, I really liked Clemson’s chances to win the
Atlantic Division, because their o-line was so experienced and deep, and I
always like a senior QB, no matter how inexperienced. But on this night,
redshirt sophomore Glennon (9-of-15, 108 yards) clearly outplayed Proctor,
mainly because Glennon’s tailback and offensive line came to play, while
Proctor’s did not.

In addition to QB play, the Hokies held the advantage in big plays, as I
pointed out in my Friday column. The Hokies had nine plays of 10 yards or more:
17, 13, 21, 40, 11, 11, 41, 19, and 14 yards. Clemson only had four plays of 10+
yards: 12, 13, 14, and 20 yards.

If you add them all up, the Hokies averaged 20.7 yards on their nine big
plays (187 yards), while Clemson averaged just 14.8 yards on big plays (59
yards).

The Hokies won the critical field position battle as well. Tech’s average
start was their own 35 yard line, whereas Clemson’s average start was their own
24. For the Tigers, it got worse as the game went on. After a first quarter that
was even in field position, Clemson averaged starting on their own 28, 26, and
18 yard line in the last three quarters; VT averaged their own 40, 34, and 38.

The field position battle probably played into why the Tech offense was so
ultra-conservative in the last two quarters of the game. Number one, the Tech
rushing attack was working, and number two, the Tech defense was stonewalling
the Clemson offense. As the Tech lead increased, first to 17-7 then 24-7, the
Hokie coaching staff was content to run the ball into the line and play field
position. They also knew that Proctor’s efficiency was deteriorating.

The Hokies did the most with their takeaways. After Sean Glennon’s fumble in
the second quarter gave Clemson the ball on the Hokie 26 yard line, Clemson
gained one yard, threw a bad incompletion, then fumbled the snap and turned it
back over.

When Xavier Adibi intercepted Proctor early in the second half, the Hokies
wasted no time cramming it in the end zone from the Clemson 35 yard line.
Branden Ore averaged seven yards on five carries and finished things off with a
tackle-breaking 11 yard run.

QB play, big plays, field position, and points off turnovers. Tech won them
all and therefore won the game easily.

Bullet Points

  • According to ESPN’s Chris Fowler, this game marked just the third time in
    the last dozen years that the Hokies were home underdogs. The first two
    times were Miami, in 2001 and 2003. Hokies are now 2-1 as home ‘dogs in that
    stretch.
  • Branden
    Ore came into this game as the #2 rusher in the ACC. He left it as the #1
    rusher. Ore is averaging 117.1 ypg, and James Davis of Clemson is averaging
    110.1.
  • Clemson’s timeout prior to their first snap from scrimmage is the first
    time I’ve ever seen that, at least that I can recall. The Tigers blew all
    three first-half timeouts just 7:10 into the game.
  • Out of Sean Glennon’s 15 passing attempts, at least six were of the type
    that some observers say VT “never throws”, crossing patterns and
    deep passes to the tight end. I counted four crossing patterns by the Hokies
    in this game, plus two downfield passes to tight end Sam Wheeler.
  • The injury to Ryan Shuman, who was replaced by Brandon Gore, is the one
    injury the Hokies can afford on the offensive line. Tech cannot afford an
    injury to either tackle, Brandon Frye or Duane Brown. The Hokies could
    absorb one injury on the interior OL, because two players can play starting
    center (Shuman and Danny McGrath), and four can play starting guard (Shuman,
    McGrath, Gore, and Sergio Render). With Shuman out, the Hokies have no more
    starting-quality centers, and they can’t lose any more guards, either. Gore
    is very heavy and might wear down as games go on, but Tech shouldn’t notice
    much of a dropoff, if any, going from Shuman to Gore.
  • Perhaps the key play of the game was Frank Beamer’s decision to go for it
    on fourth and short after Clemson’s touchdown. I’m not a fan of going for it
    in your own territory early in the game, but I liked this call. The distance
    (six inches) was very short, and Tech has shown that a QB sneak by Glennon
    has been a very effective play. Tech picked up the first down, the interior
    OL continued to assert itself, and the Hokies got a key tying touchdown.
  • With 8:50 to go in the second quarter, the Hokies ran a flanker screen to
    David Clowney. Backup TB Elan Lewis got out in front of Clowney and threw a
    heck of a block. Look for it.
  • VT had just three penalties for 22 yards and had no penalties for the last
    37:47 of the game.
  • Clemson had just one first down in each of the last three quarters.
  • The Hokies have scored 54 points off 17 opponent turnovers this season.
    Tech’s opponents have scored just 23 points off 15 Tech turnovers.
  • Branden Ore had 19 first half carries and 18 second half carries.
  • Reason #37 why Duane Brown will have a nice pro career: VT’s athletic
    offensive tackle got downfield and tackled Clemson’s C.J. Spiller on a punt
    return.
  • VT had another successful day bottling up kickoff returners and punt
    returners. Clemson averaged 21.7 yards on three kickoff returns, with a long
    of just 24 yards; the Tigers had three punt returns for just five yards.

Playing Hokie Football Again

So far, so good. Since the meltdown in Beantown, the Hokies have returned to
their roots, running the football and playing disciplined defense. The offensive
line seems to be gelling and growing in confidence, and that helps bring the
offensive game plan together. The Hokies have been a pleasure to watch these
last two games and are playing about as well as you could have hoped for at the
eight-game point, as they get ready to head down to Miami.

The Hurricanes are not the juggernaut they were expected to be this season,
and we’ll have a closer look at them later this week in our preview. I had
chalked this one up as a loss before the season began, but as noted above, I
like how it breaks down now. I think it’s going to be a defensive struggle, with
a big play or big mistake settling the outcome, a la 2004.


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