I looked back at my pregame prediction, and like my Sugar Bowl prediction, it was very accurate. I picked Michigan to win 24-21, and they won 23-20 — correct margin, off by one point; I picked Clemson to win 41-20, and they won 38-17 — correct margin, off by three points.
But the reasons why the Hokies lost by three touchdowns, and how it unfolded, weren’t what I expected at all.
They were, however, familiar.
Visions of Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins running away from feeble attempts at coverage never materialized. Fears of Andre Ellington gashing the Hokies defense never came about. The defense played a pretty good game, and we’ll get to that in a moment.
But coaching miscues at key moments, and the offense failing to generate consistent yardage and put up points … those storylines are familiar and not surprising when they surface. Add in some dumbfounding calls by the referees, and next thing you know, it’s 38-17, and the bus ride home is quiet.
The Hokies won this game statistically in a lot of areas. Score, of course, wasn’t one of them:
- First downs: VT 23, Clemson 15
- Yards rushing: VT 199, Clemson 135
- Yards passing: VT 207, Clemson 160
- Total Yards: VT 406, Clemson 295
- Time of Possession: VT 33:57, Clemson 26:03
- Sacks: VT 5, Clemson 2
In another major stat, third down conversions, the Hokies nearly tied Clemson (VT 6-of-16, Clemson 6-of-15).
If you had told me those stats before the game, I wouldn’t have been dumb enough to declare a Hokie victory, but I sure wouldn’t have foreseen a three-touchdown loss.
Of course, there are other stats that explain the loss:
- Turnovers: VT 4, Clemson 1
- Red zone scores-chances: VT 1-2, Clemson 4-4
- Avg. start: VT-own 23; Clemson-own 42
Those last three stats speak to an element of the game that doesn’t jump out of the stat sheet at you: field position. The Hokies started one possession outside their own 40 yard line, and Clemson started six possessions outside their own 40, including five in Virginia Tech territory.
When field position starts going against you, you don’t sustain drives to flip...
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