ACC Championship Game: Inside the Numbers

It’s not hard to spot a Tiger fan this week. There’s a permanent grin on most of our faces after the dominating performance against the Gamecocks. However, that was only game 12. There is potentially three more games ahead of the Tigers this season, and as the team flows into championship mode, the next game, as Coach Swinney would say, is the biggest game of the year. He’s right, this next game is biggest game of the year. It’s the ACC Championship game, its goal number four for the team, and it’s the key to the Tigers ultimate goal which is playing in the College Football Playoff. The Tigers will be taking on a familiar foe in Orlando, Florida at 8pm on Saturday. The Virginia Tech Hokies, with first year head coach Justin Fuente will try their hand at upsetting this hot Tiger team. Today we’ll examine the ACC Championship Game: Inside the Numbers.

When toe touches leather Saturday night in Orlando, the 3rd ranked Clemson Tigers (11-1), will meet the 23rd ranked Virginia Tech Hokies (9-3) with the ACC Championship on the line. Clemson is currently a ten point favorite heading into the game. This is the second time the Tigers and Hokies have played for the ACC title. In 2011, a Tajh Boyd led Tiger team defeated the Hokies 38-10 in Charlotte for Clemson’s first ACC Championship in two decades. The storyline is a little different this time around. There is no Frank Beamer on the Tech sidelines, and the Tigers are looking to win their third ACC Championship in 5 years. The Tigers are tied with Florida State for the most ACC Championships with 15 each.

Clemson holds an all time record of 20-12-1 against the Hokies. The last game played in the series was a 38-17 Clemson victory, in Death Valley, in 2012. In fact, the Tigers have won the last three games versus VT. Between 1999 and 2007, VT enjoyed their longest winning streak in the series versus the Tigers. The Hokies won five in a row, one of which came in the Gator Bowl, with Michael Vick at quarterback for the Hokies. Tommy Bowden, former Clemson head coach never beat the Hokies in his time at the helm of the Tigers. However, Coach Swinney’s staff have turned the tides and are looking for their fourth consecutive win against the Coastal Division Champions.

The Virginia Tech offense is led by junior quarterback Jerod Evans. The 6’3″ 238lb signal caller from Dallas, TX is enjoying quite a season. Evans has thrown for 3,045yds 26 tds against just 5 interceptions. Evans completes 63.8% of his passes and poses a running threat as well as a very live arm. Evans also leads the Hokies in rushing. He’s accumulated 738 yards and 8 touchdowns on the ground. He’s the epitome of a dual threat quarterback, and possibly the most talented QB that the Tigers have faced since Lamar Jackson of Louisville.

He has a trio of junior pass catchers that he’s targeted most often this season. Team leading receiver Isaiah Ford (69-949-7) is a big target at 6’2″, and he can stretch the field with his speed as well. Cam Phillips (58-776-4) is the Hokies second leading receiver, but the real match-up nightmare that the Hokies boast is the 6’7″ 245lb tight end Bucky Hodges. He’s played since his freshman season, he’s big, he’s fleet-footed, he can catch and he can block. Hodges has caught 42 balls for 598 yards and 7 touchdowns. VT has the 38th ranked offense in the country by yardage (453.7 per game) and the 35th ranked scoring offense in the country (35.0ppg). They are comparable, numbers wise to previous Tiger opponents Auburn and FSU.  The Tiger defense will need to keep Hodges in check, as well as limit Evans from breaking out of the pocket if they want to be successful defensively in this Championship game.

Speaking of the Tigers defense. They put on quite a clinic against an over matched South Carolina team. They will need that same kind of showing against a much more talented Virginia Tech squad. I’m not sure what the perception is nationally, but I can tell you right now, this will not be a cake walk. Virginia Tech is big, fast and experienced. It will take a great effort from the Tigers to disrupt the VT offense. Clemson will now have faced seven of the top 50 offenses in the country

Oct 15, 2016; Clemson, SC, USA; Clemson Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney celebrates with defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence (90) and defensive lineman Christian Wilkins (42) during the first half against the North Carolina State Wolfpack at Clemson Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

when this game kicks off. Clemson’s defense is ranked 8th in the country. The Brent Venables led squad allows 307.9 ypg and 17 ppg for the season. That’s impressive considering the offenses they have faced. You all know I love that tackles for loss stat. The Tigers are 2nd in the nation in TFL’s. They average 8.7 a game. Again, I think this will be a big difference in the game. Clemson is healthy on defense right now. The linebackers are playing fast and the scheme is aggressive. I like their chances, if and only if, they can get pressure on Evans. The defensive line, led by ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year, Dexter Lawrence, will need another big game of establishing dominance over the VT offensive line.

VT’s defense, led by Bud Foster for the 22nd year in a row is, well, really good. They are the 20th ranked defense in the country. They allow 332.2 ypg and 21.1 ppg. The scary stat to me is the Hokies are 7th in the country in TFL. They average 8.2 TFL per game, just slightly behind the Tigers. The Tigers and Hokies are actually ahead of Alabama in that category. The Hokies have played four of the top 50 offenses in the country. (Pitt 10th, Tennessee 26th, Miami 36th, UNC 44th). Those teams scored 36, 45, 16, and 3 points respectively. Pitt is the only team that averages more points than the Tigers, that VT will have played this season. VT is -2 in the turnover margin this season. It’s not that the offense turns it over a ton, the defense just hasn’t created a lot of turnovers this season. They rank outside of the top 50 in turnover margin. Leading tackler for the Hokies is junior linebacker Andrew Motuapuaka. He has 102 tackles 5 TFL and 2 sacks on the season. VT is not huge across the defensive line. The Clemson offensive line is much bigger in fact. The Hokies only give up 145.5 rushing yards per game. It’ll be interesting to see if Clemson can establish the run, against a smaller line and get Wayne Gallman the ball early and often.

The Wayne Train is rolling right now. He’s 57 yards shy of 1,000 on the season and he’s punched the ball in the end zone 14 times already. The Tigers are taking the 12th ranked offense in the country to Orlando. They average 508.7 ypg and have the 17th ranked scoring offense at 40 ppg. All of those numbers were helped out by a 56 point 600+ yard performance against the hapless Gamecocks. The VT defense should pose a much bigger threat. Running the ball is going to be key in this match up. The Tigers average 172.3 rushing yards per game and it’s of my opinion that if

Clemson wants to hoist a trophy Saturday night, their rushing yards need to be near that number. The running game in Clemson’s offense just opens up everything. If VT puts an extra man in the box to stop a successful rushing attack, that’s just a little more room for 1st team all ACC wide receiver Mike Williams (79-1,114-10) to work. Deshaun Watson (67.6% 306-453 3,626yds 34TD 14INT) is on fire right now. His deep ball is on the mark, his intermediate accuracy is great and there is no one in college football better at running a two minute drill.  He threw for six touchdowns last week and his receivers actually dropped two more. Clemson could have scored 80 points last week. Let’s hope that momentum, that fire and desire travels with the Tigers to Orlando.

Again it’s a championship game, so I’m throwing a prediction out there. This game is going to come down to running the football. Whichever team has the most success running the football will have a much higher percentage of walking out of Camping World Stadium the 2016 ACC Champions. VT hasn’t faced an offense like Clemson’s this year. So I’ll be curious to see how their undersized D-Line holds up against a Clemson O-Line that averages well over 300lbs. On the flip side of that, if Clemson’s defense disrupts VT’s offensive backfield, gets them in 2nd and 3rd and long situations, the Tigers should come out victorious. In my opinion, this game will be a dog fight, until depth takes over in the 4th quarter when I expect Clemson to cover the 10 point spread.

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