The Final Breakdown

Clemson has a chance to accomplish something that hasn't been done in 20 years Saturday night -- win an ACC Championship. Will it happen? We break it all down, one final time, right here.

WHAT: No. 20 Clemson vs. No. 5 Virginia Tech
WHERE: Bank of America Stadium (73,778) - Charlotte, N.C.
WHEN: Saturday, Dec. 3 (8:02 p.m.)
SPREAD: Virginia Tech -7
TV: ESPN

In 1991, the Tigers' last ACC title, Ken Hatfield guided the Tigers to a 9-2-1 record [6-0-1 ACC].

A gallon of gas was $1.12.

George H.W. Bush was President.

'Terminator 2: Judgment Day' was the top-grossing film.

Desmond Howard was the Heisman Trophy winner.

And less than half of the current Clemson roster was alive.

Saturday night, they'll face a Virginia Tech squad that's become a regular in the ACC title game. The Hokies will be making their fifth appearance in the ACC Championship, which is more than any other school in the conference.

Clemson and Virginia Tech met earlier this season when the Tigers visited Blacksburg for a showdown of undefeated teams in Lane Stadium. Clemson won, 23-3.

On Saturday, they'll play once again. The winner heads to the Orange Bowl.

VA. TECH RUN GAME VS. CLEMSON FRONT SEVEN
Once again, a running quarterbacks gave Clemson trouble. Case in point, South Carolina's Connor Shaw, who abused the Tigers to the tune of 107 yards and a touchdown.

As Kevin Steele noted earlier this week, a majority of Shaw's production came on scrambles. Well, those yards still count, too. Those runs can still convert third-downs to first-downs and make potential field goal tries into touchdowns.

Unfortunately for Clemson, they'll have a big [pun intended] challenge in Virginia Tech's Logan Thomas, who leads Virginia Tech with 10 rushing touchdowns and is second with 414 yards.


Leading the rushing attack for the Hokies is ACC Player of the Year David Wilson. Not only is he first among Virginia Tech ball carriers with 1,595 yards, he's fifth in the country with 133 yards per game. (Getty Images)
Leading the rushing attack for the Hokies is ACC Player of the Year David Wilson. Not only is he first among Virginia Tech ball carriers with 1,595 yards, he's fifth in the country with 133 yards per game.

The combination of Wilson and Thomas spells trouble for Clemson.

The Tigers rank No. 92 in the country against the run with an average of 187 yards allowed per game.

But Clemson did manage to keep the Virginia Tech ground game under wraps in the teams' first meeting.

Thomas, who was nursing an injured shoulder gained 31 yards on the ground.

Wilson rushed 20 times for 123 yards and no touchdowns. His yardage was the third-lowest performance of the season.

A big factor in this matchup is Clemson's play at linebacker, which has rarely been good this season. Strangely enough, that night at Virginia Tech may have been the linebackers' best performance of the season. Jonathan Willard had eight tackles, Stephone Anthony had five stop while Corico Hawkins and Quandon Christian each registered four.

They'll have to do that again against the Hokies in this matchup to have a chance to win.

But a healthy Thomas will help the Hokies this time around. The nod goes to the Coastal champs.

ADVANTAGE:

CLEMSON PASSING GAME VS. VA. TECH SECONDARY, PASS RUSH
In terms of yards and completion percentage, last weekend's trip was the worst outing of Tajh Boyd's career as a starting quarterback.

He completed just 11 of 30 passes [37 percent] for 83 yards with a touchdown and an interception against South Carolina. His previous lows -- both against Virginia Tech -- were the 13 of 23 [41 percent] for 204 yards.

Since his five touchdown performance against North Carolina, he's thrown four touchdowns and seven interceptions. The first-team All-ACC selection has 28 touchdowns and 10 interceptions this season. Seventy percent of those picks were in the last one-third of the season.


Tajh Boyd completed just 11 of 30 passes for 83 yards with a touchdown and an interception against South Carolina. His previous lows -- both against Virginia Tech -- were the 13 of 23 [41 percent] for 204 yards. (Getty Images)
His top receiver, Sammy Watkins, who was named first-team All-ACC and ACC Rookie of the Year, continues to battle back from a shoulder injury. Watkins admitted that his shoulder was still bothering him last weekend, but has since said that he's fine for the title game.

Watkins was held in check when Clemson played Virginia Tech earlier this season with three catches for 38 yards. His second-worst performance was the four reception, 39-yard outing against South Carolina.

To further hurt Clemson's chances of taking the advantage here is the status of Phillip Price. The starting left tackle started and played the first two series against South Carolina before being pulled for the remainder of the game. Price will start against Virginia Tech on Saturday, but it remains to be seen how effective he'll be against the Hokies.

Price's presence on Boyd's blindside will be greatly needed since Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster dials up blitzes from every direction.

Keep in mind the Hokies are No. 8 in the nation with over three sacks per game, while the Tigers are No. 88 with nearly 2.5 allowed per game.

Missing from the Virginia Tech defense is middle linebacker Bruce Taylor, who suffered an injury against Boston College. He's third on the team with five sacks.

Still around are defensive ends James Gayle and J.R. Collins, who have seven and six sacks, respectively.

Given Boyd's struggles and lack of confidence in the pocket last week, we'll give the nod to Virginia Tech.

ADVANTAGE:

CLEMSON RUN GAME VS. VA. TECH FRONT SEVEN
Opposing teams have had a hard time picking up rushing yards against Virginia Tech's very sturdy front seven.

Aside from the 243-yard performance from Georgia Tech's triple option, only Miami has surpassed the 200-yard mark against Foster's defense.

Only four others topped the century-mark -- North Carolina [134], Clemson [119], Appalachian State [117] and Duke [100].


Andre Ellington finally appears close to 100 percent after suffering an ankle sprain and a hamstring injury earlier this year. (Getty Images)
Clemson was the first team to score more than one rushing touchdown against Virginia Tech. It's only happened two other times -- Georgia Tech and North Carolina.

Virginia Tech also ranks No. 9 in the country in run defense with an average of 99 yards per game.

Along with Taylor, missing from the Virginia Tech front seven that played in the first game of the season are defensive tackle Antoine Hopkins and outside linebacker Jeron Goubeia-Winslow (both out with injuries).

Meanwile the Clemson rushing offense is No. 67 in the nation with 151 yards per game. Andre Ellington, the Tigers' leading rusher, has run for 197 yards and two touchdowns in the last five games. To be fair, he did only play in four of those games.

Against Virginia Tech earlier this year, he ran 16 times for 40 yards and a touchdown.

Mike Bellamy rushed for a team-high 47 yards against the Hokies. He also scored the game-clinching touchdown from 31 yards out late in the third quarter.

Much like it was the first-time, Clemson will have hard time finding yards on the ground.

ADVANTAGE:

VA. TECH PASSING GAME VS. CLEMSON SECONDARY, PASS RUSH
Thomas has played at a high-level since the first Clemson and Virginia Tech game. In the seven games since, he's passed for 1,679 yards with 14 touchdowns and just two interceptions.


Logan Thomas stands in at 6-6, 250 pounds and will be a factor in the running game Saturday night. (Getty Images)
Danny Coale and Jarrett Boykin are still his favorite two receivers. Boykin leads the team with 54 catches and five touchdowns while Coale is first on the team with 776 yards receiving.

Virginia Tech in 67th in the country with 223 yards passing and 31st in passing efficiency with a rating of 143.87.

Clemson ranks No. 28 in the nation with an average of 197 yards through the air. The pass efficiency defense rating of 130.97 is 68th.

Working in the Tigers' favor is their pass rush. Andre Branch had a career-game in the first-meeting, during which he registered four sacks.

Thomas was held to 15 of 27 passing for 125 yards with an interception in the first meeting, but as mentioned above, he's playing at a much higher level. And he's healthy.

Assuming the same Thomas that's played the last month of the season shows up Saturday night, the nod, once again, goes to Virginia Tech.

ADVANTAGE:

CLEMSON SPECIAL TEAMS VA. TECH SPECIAL TEAMS
Virginia Tech is one of the worst teams in the country, in terms of net punting. The Hokies' 32.24 is the fourth-worst average in the country.


Senior punter Dawson Zimmerman gives the Tigers the edge in special teams. (Roy Philpott)
The kickoff return defense average of 22.03 yards is also 70th in the nation.

Even if Watkins doesn't return kickoffs against Virginia Tech (and he didn't against South Carolina last weekend), Ellington, who returned three kicks for 93 yards against South Carolina, is likely to find himself deep.

Meanwhile Chandler Catanzaro was named second-team All-ACC kicker. He's first among Clemson players with 101 points. The redshirt sophomore has converted 19 of 24 field goals.

Virginia Tech's kicker, Cody Journell, has been pretty consistent, too. He's knocked down 13 of 16 field goals, including his last nine.

Clemson punter Dawson Zimmerman, combined with the Hokies' terrible punting gives Clemson the advantage in a game in which field position.

Favorable field position was a big factor in Clemson's previous upset of Virginia Tech, and could be again Saturday night in Charlotte.

ADVANTAGE:

PREDICTION: Virginia Tech 31 Clemson 24


CUTigers.com Top Stories