2007 Monday Thoughts: Clemson

Going into the game, TSL’s Chris Coleman correctly identified the matchup
issues that favored the Hokies against Clemson. Special teams was the most
glaring mismatch the Hokies could exploit, and boy, did they. Thanks to a rare
and unpredictable points explosion from the defense and special teams, Tech
grabbed a big win on the road, running their ACC road record to 12-1 since
joining the conference.

I
thought long and hard about this trip. 290 miles, on the heels of five straight
Saturdays attending every Hokie game in person. The season was starting to wear
me down, and I didn’t like Tech’s chances in this one. That opinion was shared
by a lot of people I talked to, though not everyone. One source close to the
team said he had a BC-2006-like vibe, and he felt the Hokies were about to get
hammered.

I’m glad now that I went. That just goes to show, you have to go play the
game, because you never know what’s going to happen. (The flip side is, that
statement applies to the Duke game this coming weekend. Don’t sleep on the
Devils and Thad Lewis.) What happened was simple: The Hokies blew up on Clemson
with special teams and defense for a 24-3 lead, then rode that lead to victory,
though it got dicey late before the Hokies added an insurance touchdown.

I was at Clemson for the 37-0 thrashing the Hokies laid on the Tigers back in
1998, and the parallels and differences between that game and this one are
interesting.

That game was only nine years ago, but the Virginia Tech-Clemson dynamic has
changed drastically since then. In 1998, Clemson had beaten the Hokies 16 out of
18 times dating back to 1935 and had a stranglehold on the series. The 1998 game
was a 1 pm affair on September 12th and was, of course, a non-conference game.
Clemson’s Memorial Stadium was drenched in sunshine that day.

Fast forward nine years, and much had changed. It was the Hokies who had
dominated the series, winning four in a row (now five) by a combined score of
133-38. The game is now a conference matchup (we never saw that coming in
1998), and this time around, it was scheduled in October, as a night game.
Clemson has expanded their stadium, adding an impressive West end zone addition,
taking Memorial Stadium from a large venue into one that is now impressive for
its amenities, as well.

Thanks to Tech’s efforts Saturday night, I can report that it has been an
honor and a joy to see both games, the 1998 romp and the 2007 romp. Clemson is a
great place to watch a game, especially when you’re winning.

Tech’s 2007 offense rightly takes a beating for being punchless and mostly
ineffective, but the 1998 Hokie offense wasn’t a steamroller, either. Lost in
the mists of time is the truly horrible passing display put on by the Hokies
back in 1998, when starter Al Clark and backup Dave Meyer combined to go 7-of-29
against Clemson. That’s the bad news. The good news is that when the Hokies did
hit a pass play in that game, it was a whopper: Tech posted 171 passing yards in
1998, good for 24.4 yards per completion.

VT had 345 yards of offense in that game, including 18 first downs, twice as
many as the Hokies had Saturday night. What really juiced that romp was a Tech
defense led by Corey Moore and John Engelberger, who played
meet-you-at-the-quarterback all day long. Moore and Engelberger pounded Clemson
QB Brandon Streeter mercilessly, holding the Tigers to 102 yards of offense and
nine first downs. Tech whip linebacker Lorenzo Ferguson, who was ousted before
the 1999 season because of a check stealing and forging crime, had three
interceptions that day. The whipping the Hokies gave Clemson contributed to the
dismissal of Tommy West and the hiring of Tommy Bowden.

In reviewing the box score for the 1998 game and comparing it to Saturday
night’s game, one stat jumps out at me: number of offensive plays. In 1998, Tech
ran 79 plays to Clemson’s 56 (+23). Saturday night, Clemson ran 90 plays to 55
for Tech (-35).

Enough traveling down memory lane. That last stat segues into discussion of
Saturday night’s game.

Special Teams Domination, Viewed a Different Way

If you think about it, this game went the way many expected … sort of. The
Hokie defense played well, Tech outplayed Clemson on special teams,

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