"It was kind of like we had four exhibition games, competition in the first four games wasn't as -- I don't know -- as powerful, dominant as we would like," said defensive back Eddie Whitley, who's second among Virginia Tech defenders with 66 tackles.
"But going into the Clemson game everybody was on a high horse. It was a wake-up call. After that game we were like, this is ACC play," he said. "Obviously we knew how it was going to be. But I guess we got caught off guard for a little bit.
"But after that everybody woke up and we knew what we had to do for the rest of the season. And that's why we've been winning since."
The high-powered Clemson offense that had rolled up no fewer than 35 points and 443 yards of total offense was held to just 23 points and 323 yards that night.
Cornerback Jayron Hosley, a second-team All-ACC performer, also intercepted Tajh Boyd that evening, resulting in one of the few early-season mistakes by Clemson's first-year signal caller.
"We felt that we played a pretty good game against them," Whitley admitted. "We probably had four plays out there we wanted to get back and that could have changed obviously the difference of the game. But we couldn't get them back."
The Tigers scored on one sustained drive that night, before adding two big plays from Dwayne Allen and Mike Bellamy.
Tech DB Jayron Hosley intercepted Tajh Boyd in the first matchup between these two teams. (Getty Images)
On Saturday night, Clemson [9-3] and Virginia Tech [11-1] will meet again, this time at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C. for the ACC Championship.
"All we can do now is learn from our mistakes, keep playing with the same emotion and the passion we had the first time and clean up the mistakes we had the first time," Whitley said.
Locking up ACC Rookie of the Year Sammy Watkins could help the Hokies' effort, too. He recorded season lows in the first meeting -- three catches for 38 yards.
"I guess it happened like that that Sammy was into the field the whole game or most of the game so that Cris Hill had to guard him," Whitley said. "It wasn't like we had to pay a little more attention to him. We knew he was a dynamic player and he was going to make his plays when possible."
It's important to note the Virginia Tech defense will be without one its best players on Saturday. Linebacker Bruce Taylor, a South Carolina native, went down with a season-ending foot injury against Boston College in late October.
"We just -- when Coach Bud [Foster] told us what happened and that he was going to be out for the season, that Bruce was going to be out for the season, guys -- everybody knew they had to step it up an extra notch," Whitley said. "Our defensive leader out there with me, and we lost one. So we knew everybody has to step it up and play that much better."
Nationally, the Hokies are 12th in total defense, ninth against the run, ninth in pass efficiency defense and seventh in scoring defense.