Clemson faces tough Va Tech test

Published Oct. 19, 2012 3:56 p.m. EDT

Clemson can’t overlook Virginia Tech on Saturday.

That seems kind of silly given that the Hokies have without question been the ACC’s top program since they joined nearly a decade ago.

But Frank Beamer’s team is struggling this season, and couple that with the Tigers’ improvements and that they owned the Hokies a year ago and it’s conceivable Virginia Tech may not grab enough respect from some Clemson players.

That’s not the case with Clemson coach Dabo Swinney.

“I know everybody talks about how they haven’t been consistent this year, but they’re Virginia Tech,” Swinney said. “His (Beamer) record is 27-6 on the road in this conference. That’s incredible, it really is. It’s hard to win on the road.”

Clemson beat the Hokies in Blacksburg last fall 23-3 and in the ACC championship game in Charlotte, NC, 38-10. In those victories over Beamer’s boys, the Tigers allowed just 588 total yards and forced five turnovers. They also limited Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas to completing just 37 of 71 pass attempts for 399 yards, a touchdown and three interceptions.

The Hokies’ point totals were the two fewest points scored by Clemson’s foes all season.

“We don’t think in the past very much around here,” Beamer said. “We try to look at what we’ve got this week and understand that this is a terrific football team and that we’ve got a tremendous challenge.”

Tech (4-3, 2-1 ACC) has even more offensive issues now. Thomas is completing only 53.6 percent of his pass attempts and the Hokies haven’t had much of a ground attack and among the injuries on the offensive line include the loss last week of center Andrew Miller for the rest of the season.

But freshman J.C. Coleman did rip off 183 yards in a fascinating 41-20 victory over Duke last weekend. The Blue Devils opened with a 20-0 lead only to see Virginia Tech reel off the game’s final 41 points.

“They want to run the zone, the power, get downhill on you in a heartbeat,” said Swinney, whose team is 5-1 overall, 2-1 in the ACC, and ranked No. 19 in the nation. “But they got it going against Duke. Looked like they started to click, get their confidence, probably played some of their best football of the year in that game on both sides as that game continued to move forward.”

But the Hokies will need more than just a ground attack. That will help keep Clemson’s prolific offense off the field some, but to beat the Tigers is to outscore the Tigers.

Quarterback Tajh Boyd leads the ACC in passing at 291 yards per contest. He’s completed 68.2 percent of his pass attempts for 14 touchdowns to five interceptions and junior wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins leads the league with 49 receptions for 777 yards and eight scores. And Clemson senior tailback Andre Ellington leads the ACC with 99 yards rushing per outing.

Virginia Tech’s defense, which returned 10 starters from a group that was ranked among the top-10 nationally a year ago, hasn’t been its usual self thus far, most notably in giving up 48 points at North Carolina two weeks ago.

And looking ahead, the task here is monumental because of the Hokies’ next two opponents. They travel to Miami for a Thursday night affair before hosting Florida State the following Thursday night. It’s possible Tech could be 4-6 after that stretch, meaning it would have to win at Boston College and at home over waddling rival Virginia just to qualify for a bowl game.

But Virginia can’t worry about that for now. Clemson is the foe, and if the Tigers take the Hokies seriously, it could be a very long day in Death Valley.