The Final Breakdown

CLEMSON - In what very well could be a preview of the ACC title game, No. 13 Clemson heads to Blacksburg to take on No. 10 Virginia Tech.

WHAT: No. 13 Clemson at No. 10 Virginia Tech
WHERE: Lane Stadium (66,233) - Blacksburg, Va.
WHEN: Saturday, Oct. 1 (6 p.m.)
SPREAD: Virginia Tech -6.5
TV: ESPN2

Clemson hasn't won in Blacksburg since 1989. In fact, the Tigers haven't beaten the Hokies since that 27-7 win. Since then, Virginia Tech has won the last five meetings, including a 41-23 Death Valley romp in 2007.

Not much has changed at Virginia Tech since the last meeting with Clemson.

Head coach Frank Beamer is in his 25th season in Blacksburg. His defensive coordinator, Bud Foster, is still one of the nation's most highly regarded defensive gurus.

Clemson, on the other hand, has seen a complete transformation.

It's year three of the Dabo Swinney era and things are off to a flying start.

The Tigers are 4-0 with an offense that's humming along at a pace of 38 points and 503 yards per game, thanks to the addition of offensive coordinator Chad Morris and a few key skill players.

Virginia Tech, also 4-0, enters with the nation's fourth-best defense.

Simply put, something's got to give Saturday night at Lane Stadium.

VIRGINIA TECH RUNNING GAME VS. CLEMSON FRONT SEVEN
Saturday's meeting marks the 300th game in Beamer's career at Virginia Tech. During that span, the Hokies are 178-32-2 when outrushing their opponents and 23-63 when outrushed.

Leading the way for the Virginia Tech ground game is junior David Wilson, who's among one of the top rushers in the nation with 516 yards. The junior running back, who's also an All-American triple jumper, has scored five touchdowns this season, as has senior Josh Oglesby. Oglesby is second on the team with 174 yards rushing.


David Wilson ranks seventh in the FBS in rushing at 129 yards per game. (Getty Images)
Wilson's running style is a nice blend of speed and power. Oglesby, a former fullback, is all power. Any tackling issues that have surfaced this year will have to be left back in Clemson. The Tigers won't have much success arm tackling the Hokie ball carriers.

If arm tackling won't cut it against Wilson and Oglesby, it definitely won't get the job done against quarterback Logan Thomas, a 6-foot-6, 250-pound redshirt sophomore with a similar skill set to Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton.

Thomas has rushed for 134 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries this season. Look for Virginia Tech to take some chances with Thomas on quarterback designed runs. Those kinds of things have been a bit of a thorn in the side of the Clemson defense since the arrival of Kevin Steele.

In three out of four outings, the Clemson run defense hasn't put up the prettiest of numbers this season.

Troy ran for 165 yards. Wofford cranked out 272. Auburn had 237.

Florida State was held to just 29 last week.

The Seminoles have struggled to run the ball against every opponent this season, so that figure comes with an asterisk.

Clemson will need to find a happy medium, somewhere between the Florida State and Troy figure. Thing is, the Virginia Tech offense butters its bread with the run.

Right tackle Blake DeChristopher offers a nice matchup with the Clemson defensive ends. Andre Branch and Malliciah Goodman could have their hands full with the fifth-year senior.

The Clemson linebacker corps continues to improve, but this may be too tall a task for the Tigers' run stoppers.

America's 85th best run defense leaves a little bit to be desired.

ADVANTAGE:

CLEMSON PASSING GAME VS. VA. TECH SECONDARY, PASS RUSH
Four tests up, Tajh Boyd has passed all with flying colors. The redshirt sophomore from Hampton, Va. currently sits 11th in the country in passing efficiency. His 173.76 rating is a result of 90 completions on 136 attempts for 1,255 yards, 13 touchdowns and an interception.

To date, his toughest test will be Saturday. The Virginia Tech secondary is full playmakers, starting with junior Jayron Hosley, who's widely regarded as the top cornerback in the ACC.


Tajh Boyd has completed 66 percent of his passes for 1,255 yards, 13 touchdowns and one interception this season. (Getty Images)
Hosley, a preseason all-conference selection, plays the boundary cornerback position. Clemson typically aligns wide receiver Sammy Watkins on the field side.

Watkins' numbers, 28 catches for 433 yards and five touchdowns, could draw plenty of attention from Hosley, despite where he lines up before the snap.

This has potential to be the premier 1-on-1 on the field matchup.

The chess game between Morris and Foster will be the matchup to watch. How Foster is able to defend Morris' no huddle, hurry-up could dictate Saturday's result.

Even with all the success through the air, Morris fancies himself a power run kind of guy, and if Foster decides that's where he needs to pay close attention -- Andre Ellington, Mike Bellmay and Boyd in the Clemson run game, it could open up things for the Tigers' vertical passing attack.

Foster is widely regarded for his ability to disguise what exactly he's throwing at opposing offense, so what might look like deep ball opportunity before the snap could change by the time Boyd starts with his post-snap progressions.

In the past, Foster's preferred to keep nickel coverages off the field, despite whatever offensive personnel is lined up across the line of scrimmage. Thus, if outside linebacker Jeron Gouveia-Winslow is in the game, vertical threats like Watkins, Martavis Bryant and Joe Craig could make a big impact.

The robber coverage on defense, which has been Foster's calling card, can flow outside linebackers and safeties to the curl/flats, which could pose problems for the screen and intermediate passing game that Morris has used plenty of this season. Cornerbacks are responsible for the deep halves while the free safety, or "robber" is responsible for deciding whether he needs to step up in run support or drop back in pass coverage.

Antone Exum has a lot on his shoulders. Clemson's misdirection and play-action could be a tough read for the redshirt sophomore.

Boyd's numbers may not be as gaudy this weekend, but they should be pretty good.

The only concern for the Tigers is the status of DeAndre Hopkins, who suffered a hamstring injury against Florida State. If he's limited, that could allow Bryant and Charone Peake to step into bigger roles.

And that could create even more matchup issues for Tech.

ADVANTAGE:

CLEMSON SPECIAL TEAMS VS. VA. TECH SPECIAL TEAMS
Beamerball has taken a bit of a this season. Redshirt junior punter Scott Demler has struggled so much that Coale and freshman punter Michael Branthover have both been in the mix for punting duties this week. Demler will trot out for the first punt on Saturday night.


Sammy Watkins has yet to break a long return this season. (Roy Philpott)
Demler, who averages just a net of 33 yards per punt, ranking 110th in the nation, has had a punt for less than 30 yards in all four games in 2011.

Everything else is business as usual.

Hosley has returned 11 punts for 123 yards. Wilson has five kick returns for 132 yards. Dyrell Roberts returned five for 148 yards. Freshman Demitri Knowles could work into Roberts' place, now that he's on the shelf with a broken arm.

Last week, Clemson showed some vulnerability in punt protection. Would-be Florida State punt blockers came dangerously close to blocking a Dawson Zimmerman punt. One drew a running into the kicker flag and the other a roughing the punter penalty. Zimmerman admitted that he was surprised the punt was blocked on the roughing call.

In a hostile environment, executing in the punting game can be quite the challenge. Look for the Hokie punt blockers to put heavy pressure on Zimmerman.

Clemson kicker Chandler Catanzaro remains in Swinney's good graces, despite a miss last week. Catanzaro has knocked down 4 of 6 field goal attempts. Three of his makes were from over 40 yards.

It's a road game against one of the nation's premier special teams units. The Tigers have their work cut out for them.

Big special teams plays have been a big part of Beamer's 25-year run in Blacksburg. One more on Saturday could make for a big swing in momentum.

Virginia Tech's Cody Journell has missed three field goals this year, but don't expect to see that Saturday night.

ADVANTAGE:

VA. TECH PASSING GAME VS. CLEMSON SECONDARY, PASS RUSH
After sitting out against Marshall because of a hamstring injury, senior split end Jarrett Boykin, Virginia Tech's all-time leader in receptions, expects to play on Saturday. Boykin has 10 catches for 93 yards and one touchdown this season.


Logan Thomas stands in at 6-6, 250 pounds and will be a major factor in the running game Saturday night. (Getty Images)
The most reliable target for Thomas has been Danny Coale, who's climbing his way up the Virginia Tech record book. Coale has 123 career receptions for 2,039 yards and six touchdowns, which includes 18 caches for 285 yards this season.

He's a possession guy, not a downfield threat, and that's been the Achilles heel for the Clemson secondary this season.

Redshirt junior Marcus Davis, who averages 20.6 yards per catch, is expected to play. He suffered a foot injury against Marshall and was limited during the week.

His injury, plus Boykin's could make life a little more manageable for the Clemson secondary, which ranks 82 nationally in pass efficiency defense with a 133.66 rating.

Still, Saturday will be the biggest test for Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas, same goes for the Hokies offensive line. To keep him on his feet, DeChristopher and start left tackle Andre Lanier will have their hands full fending off Goodman and Branch.

Thomas has a big-time arm and spins a nice ball, but he's thrown four interceptions already this season. Clemson cornerbacks Xavier Brewer and Coty Sensabaugh will be chomping at the bit to get their hands on a few of Thomas' throws.

When Virginia Tech runs out three and four wide receiver formations, Brewer and Sensabaugh will be responsible for the slot receivers, leaving Bashaud Breeland and Darius Robinson responsible for the Coale, Boykin matchups.

There should be plenty of give and take for this matchup. Clemson wants to prevent the big play and Virginia Tech will likely hit a few by game's end. It's a draw.

ADVANTAGE:

CLEMSON RUNNING GAME VS. VA. TECH FRONT SEVEN
Andre Ellington wasn't quite 100 percent when rushed for 71 yards on 23 carries and a touchdown against Florida State. Factor that in with the fact that the Seminole run defense is among the stoutest in the ACC, it's no wonder that the redshirt junior didn't exactly light it up last weekend.

Keeping the opponents in mind as the Hokies have yet to play a team from a power BCS conference, the Virginia Tech run defense is second-best in the country with a 44 yards against average.


Andre Ellington has rushed for over 100 yards just once this season. (Getty Images)
Regardless, it's a solid bunch. Brothers Derrick and Antoine Hopkins are squatty run stuffers in the middle. They're barely 6-feet and tip the scales at 300-plus. Ends J.R. Collins and James Gayle aren't bad either.

Backing them are a pair of South Carolina guys -- Tariq Edwards [Marlboro County] and Bruce Taylor [Myrtle Beach], and they are really good.

Edwards leads the team with 27 tackles and is tied for first with 5.5 tackles for loss. Taylor has 23 tackles, which is second among Hokie defenders.

The Clemson offensive line has played in consecutive games against quality competition while Virginia Tech saw Marshall and Arkansas State. A third-straight ranked opponent could make for a worn down Tiger front in the late stages of Saturday's showdown.

Physically, can the Clemson front hold up?

We'll see.

Consider this: the Clemson offense is converting third-downs at 53 percent clip, which is 13th best nationally. Virginia Tech is 12th in the country in third-down defense [27 percent].

Something's got to give.

ADVANTAGE:

PREDICTION: Virginia Tech 34 Clemson 30

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