The Final Breakdown

For the third time in just over a year, Clemson will meet ACC Coastal Division rival Virginia Tech.

WHAT: No. 13 Clemson vs. Virginia Tech
WHERE: Memorial Stadium (85,000) - Clemson, S.C.
WHEN: Saturday, Oct. 20 (12 p.m.)
SPREAD: Clemson -8
TV: ABC/Mirror window ESPN2

Clemson won both of last season's meetings in convincing fashion.

The Tigers took game one in Blacksburg by a final score of 23-3 before rolling 38-10 in the ACC Championship two months later.

This year, Virginia Tech heads into Death Valley at 4-3 [2-1 ACC] while Clemson, led by fourth-year head coach Dabo Swinney is fresh off a bye week with a record of 5-1 [2-1 ACC].

Led by Frank Beamer, who's in his 26th year as the Hokies' head coach, Virginia Tech had won five meetings in a row before last season. Clemson owns the all-time series lead with a 19-12-1 mark.

Saturday is also Military Appreciation Day in Clemson.

Wide receiver Daniel Rodriguez, who served for 1.5 years in Iraq and a year in Afghanistan while earning a Purple Heart and the Bronze Star Medal with Valor, will lead Clemson down The Hill before kickoff.

Here's a look at what to expect for the game:

CLEMSON PASS GAME VS. VA. TECH SECONDARY/PASS RUSH
So Bud Foster and company want to run more man-to-man? That's what Virginia Tech has done all season. The Hokies have gone away from the robber coverage that's become synonymous with Foster's defenses.


Tajh Boyd's dual-threat ability has made Clemson's offense even more dangerous in 2012. (Roy Philpott)
That shouldn't be all that new to the Tigers. In the two meetings last year, Clemson saw plenty of man coverage from Virginia Tech.

While Virginia Tech currently ranks 25th in the country in pass efficiency defense and 36th in pass defense, the numbers are a bit skewed, thanks to games against Georgia Tech and Austin Peay, during which both teams combined to pass only 37 times.

The results were much different against pass-first teams. Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Duke all threw for over 280 yards against Virginia Tech.

Cornerbacks Kyle Fuller and Antone Exum are solid players, though their cover skills may not be good enough to earn "lockdown" status. Nonetheless, Clemson certainly wouldn't mind having either one of them in its secondary.

Fuller, who plays the boundary corner spot, will matchup with DeAndre Hopkins. Exum, who plays to the field [wide-side] will cover Sammy Watkins. Both matchups will be among the more intriguing battles to keep an eye on throughout that afternoon.

This could be the weekend for Watkins to return to form. One would have to imagine that both Fuller and Exum will need some help over the top from free safety Detrick Bonner. Given how explosive Hopkins has been this season, one would have to imagine that he'll get the first look at double-teams and help over the top.

Since Virginia Tech doesn't offer much in the way of a pass rush, Tajh Boyd should have time to find Watkins and Hopkins on some downfield shots. The Hokies are 67th in the country in sacks with 1.86 per contest.

One would have to imagine that Chad Morris feels good about what he can do with the tight end against Virginia Tech. In two games last year against the Hokies, Dwayne Allen caught six passes for 109 yards and three touchdowns. Brandon Ford is no Allen, but he has proven himself to be a very viable threat this season.

ADVANTAGE:

CLEMSON RUN GAME VS. VA. TECH FRONT SEVEN
Not many teams are able to hold Georgia Tech to under 200 yards rushing. But, in the season opener, Virginia Tech limited the Yellow Jackets to 192 yards on 55 total carries. Georgia Tech came away with just one touchdown on the ground.

Pittsburgh, which many have the best one-two running back punch in the country, put up 254 yards and a pair of scores up on Virginia Tech two weeks later.


Andre Ellington is averaging over 99 yards rushing per game this season. (Roy Philpott)
After consecutive strong run defense showings against Bowling Green and Cincinnati, North Carolina happened.

The Tar Heels dropped 339 yards and four scores on the Hokies.

Virginia Tech is 73rd in the country in run defense, having given up an average of 171 yards per contest. Fresh off a bye week, Clemson should be able to top that mark on Saturday.

After running for 119 yards and two touchdowns at Virginia Tech last year, Clemson followed up with 217 yards and two scores in the ACC title game.

While Andre Ellington is on his way to an All-ACC kind of season, he's not the only Clemson ball carrier that's made the Tigers the No. 32 rushing offense in the country.

Boyd is second on the team with 224 yards and third with two touchdowns. Roderick McDowell is third on the team in rushing [154 yards] and second with five scores. Thrown in Watkins' ability to make things happen on hand offs and Clemson has one potent ground game.

With guys like J.R. Collins, James Gayle, Derrick Hopkins and Bruce Taylor in the Virginia Tech front seven, it's a tight matchup for the Clemson offensive linemen.

Another potential hindrance to Clemson having success on the ground is the up and down nature of the offensive line. The left guard and right tackle spots have been inconsistent for much of the year.

Home field advantage gives Clemson the slight nod.

ADVANTAGE:

VA. TECH PASS GAME VS. CLEMSON SECONDARY/PASS RUSH
Logan Thomas has most of the tangible skills needed to be a good quarterback. He's big, tall, strong, drives the ball downfield well with his arm and has enough mobility to beat you with his feet.

Part of the problem for him and the rest of the Virginia Tech offense is the departures from a year ago. Running back David Wilson is with the New York Giants. Wide receiver Jarrett Boykin is with the Green Bay Packers and wide receiver Danny Coale is with the Dallas Cowboys.


Logan Thomas has thrown 12 touchdowns and eight interceptions this season. (Getty Images)
Without last year's strong supporting cast, Thomas has struggled, completing 118 of 220 passes for 1,703 yards with 12 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He's ninth in the conference with a pass efficiency rating of 129.39.

Thomas' top receiver is Marcus Davis, a highly skilled split end with a future on Sundays. This season, Davis has 27 catches for 585 yards and four touchdowns.

Option No. 2 for Thomas has been Corey Fuller, a former walk-on who's hauled in 21 catches for 407 yards and three scores. Dyrell Roberts, the starting flanker, has 20 receptions for 234 yards and a score.

Running back J.C. Coleman and tight end Ryan Malleck are both in double-digits for receptions.

Thomas has topped the 250-yard passing mark three times this season [Pittsburgh, North Carolina and Duke]. But it's come with a price. He's thrown a total of five interceptions in those games. In fact, Thomas has thrown interceptions in each of Virginia Tech's last five games.

Despite what some may feel about Thomas and his abilities as a quarterback, this doesn't look like the game where the Clemson pass defense is guaranteed to improve on its numbers.

However, with Travis Blanks playing more safety and Xavier Brewer working primarily at cornerback now, the Tigers' secondary could be in line for a better second half of the season.

But there is another side to that coin.

Clemson needs to develop some sort of a pass rush, and it has to start against Virginia Tech on Saturday. The Hokies are tied for 65th in the country with 1.86 sacks allowed per game, so there's an opportunity for improvement by the Tigers.

Then again, Clemson is among the worst teams in the country when it comes to generating sacks. The Tigers are 104 with 1.17 sacks per game.

Despite the losses in skill personnel, Virginia Tech still has a few pieces on offense to make this a tough matchup for Clemson. This one is too close to call.

ADVANTAGE:

VA. TECH RUN GAME VS. CLEMSON FRONT SEVEN
Virginia Tech has had some serious issues when it comes to finding consistency in the run game. The Hokies have been up and down all season.


J.C. Coleman ignited a stagnant Virginia Tech running attack with 183 yards and two touchdowns last weekend against Duke. (Getty Images)
Here's a game-by-game breakdown of the Virginia Tech run game production this season:

Georgia Tech: 35 carries, 96 yards

Austin Peay: 38 carries, 187 yards and four touchdowns

Pittsburgh: 26 carries, 59 yards

Bowling Green: 43 carries, 246 yards and three touchdowns

Cincinnati: 34 carries, 160 yards and two touchdowns

North Carolina: 25 carries, 40 yards and a touchdown

Duke: 39 carries, 269 yards and three touchdowns

Despite Clemson's struggles to stop the run, it's probably a safe assumption that the Tigers will not allow more than 269 yards.

Coming into this season, Virginia Tech had some serious issues on the offensive line. That's been compounded with the loss of the lone returning starter, Andrew Miller, who went down last week in the Duke game with an ankle injury.

Coleman, a freshman, has shined this season, despite the inexperience on the offensive line. He's rushed for 319 yards and two scores on 44 carries.

Michael Holmes has rushed for 239 yards and is tied with Thomas for the team lead with four touchdowns.

Speaking of Thomas, he leads all Hokie ball carriers with 71 rushes. He's gained 291 yards on the ground but has a net of 199 since sacks are counted against rushing totals by quarterbacks.

Davis is another threat in the run game. Though he has only four carries, he's picked up 61 yards for an average of 15.2 yards per carry.

In the second half of the previous two games, Clemson has shown signs of improvement against the run.

Will that translate to Saturday when trying to slow down Virginia Tech's zone scheme?

Possibly.

But, for now, the Hokies get the nod. Over 200 yards per game is too hard to ignore.

ADVANTAGE:

SPECIAL TEAMS
Outside of net punting, Virginia Tech has better numbers than Clemson five major statistical special teams categories -- punt return average, kickoff return average, kickoff return defense and punt return defense.


Chandler Catanzaro has connected on 16 straight field goals, dating back to last season. (Roy Philpott)
Both teams have solid field goal kickers in Chandler Catanzaro and Cody Journell. Catanzaro has made all 11 attempts for Clemson while Journell is 9 of 10 for Virginia Tech.

Virginia Tech has a punt return touchdown [Kyshoen Jarrett] and a kickoff return touchdown [Demitri Knowles]. Both were over 90 yards. Clemson's longest special teams play was a 39-yard kickoff return by Ellington.

Not many teams will get the advantage over Beamer Ball.

ADVANTAGE:

PREDICTION: Clemson 35 Virginia Tech 27

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