#5 Virginia Tech (11-1) at #21 Clemson (9-3)
Bank of America Stadium (Natural Grass)
Saturday, Dec. 3
8:00 pm ET - ESPN
Virginia Tech -7, o/u 53.5
Let's be honest, Friday night's inaugural Pac-12 championship game was a bit of a joke. A 6-6 UCLA team, losers of three of their last six regular season games, got the invite since 10-2 Southern Cal was ineligible due to rules infractions. The result was a 31 point spread against the 10-2 Oregon Ducks and while the Bruins stayed somewhat close - eventually losing 49-31 - the game was never in doubt.
Turning our attention to Saturday's ACC Championship in Charlotte, we certainly don't have a matchup that lopsided on paper, but there is no doubt one team is limping into this game much like UCLA.
In late October, the undefeated 8-0 Clemson program was not only the toast of the ACC but were getting some National Championship talk as well. Much of the reason for that success was a Tigers offense that was clicking. QB Tajh Boyd threw 24 touchdown passes and just three interceptions in that fast start.
Included in that 8-0 start was a 23-3 beating of Virginia Tech - in Blacksburg no less - in a game Boyd was very efficient and the Tigers rushed for 119 yards. With that win, Clemson became the first Atlantic Coast Conference team to beat ranked opponents three weeks in a row and in the process ended the Virginia Tech's 12-game winning streak in ACC play. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said his team was on the "Shock the World Tour."
What was truly shocking was as great as Clemson started, they finished just as poorly. A 31-17 loss to Georgia Tech on October 29 set off a tailspin that lasted the final month of the season. Including the loss to the Yellow Jackets, the Tigers dropped three of their last four games, with Boyd throwing just four touchdowns passes against seven interceptions in that stretch.
So while comparing Clemson to UCLA is a touch unfair, there is no doubt this game appears fairly lopsided on paper. Of course, part of the reason for that is Clemson's opponent in this game, the Virginia Tech Hokies, have been on an absolute tear since losing that game on October 1 to the Tigers.
What has long been the plan for coach Frank Beamer is again proving to be the winning formula for the Hokies: Run the ball well and play good defense. That formula is a big reason Virginia Tech has appeared in the ACC Championship game four out of the last five times.
It starts with Virginia Tech star running back David Wilson one of the nation's leading rushers with 1,595 yards on the season. The junior has ten 100-yard games so far in 2011, including eight of the last nine games. Wilson is likely salivating at the prospect of going up against a Clemson defense ranked 77th in the nation in yards allowed per attempt (4.5).
Paired with sophomore QB Logan, the Hokies have a highly effective in combination. Thomas closed out the 2011 regular season as well as Clemson's Boyd started it. In Virginia Tech's seven consecutive victories, Thomas has thrown for 14 touchdowns and run for nine.
Paced by Wilson and Thomas, the Virginia Tech offense is a the perfect complement to a hardnosed defense ranked 12th in the nation. The Hokies defense has limited four of their last six opponents to 17 points or less and if that play continues, it's a good bet the ACC Championship trophy will again reside in the state of Virginia. Clemson has just one 100-yard rushing game in its last five and in their three losses, the Tigers averaged just 66 yards on the ground. To have a chance against Tech, Clemson must get back to the type of play that netted them 119 yards on the ground when they first met.
If Clemson can get their running attack on track, it will likely open up the passing game for Boyd and weapons such as WR Sammy Watkins who has 1,079 receiving yards with 10 receiving touchdowns, earning first team All-ACC honors.
The Clemson passing game is predicated on Boyd having time to find his receivers, a task that seemed easy enough in their first 10 games as the Tigers allowed just 18 sacks. But over the last two, Boyd has been sacked 11 times, an ominous sign with Virginia Tech, eighth in the nation with 3.1 sacks per game, on deck.
Virginia Tech is 4-8 against the spread this year while Clemson, who started the year 7-1 ATS, is 7-5 ATS in 2011, having dropped their last four straight.