Of the 10 teams Virginia has played this season, nine have been held below their season passing yardage average.
A preseason All-ACC selection, cornerback Ras-I Dowling leads the Cavalier secondary into Death Valley this week with hopes of slowing down the hot-handed Kyle Parker. Dowling combines with Chris Cook to form one of the more formidable cornerback duos in the ACC. Both had interceptions last week against Boston College. Cook returned his 58 yards for a touchdown--his second career pick six. Each has three interceptions this season.
Kyle Parker had his most consistent game of the year last week against N.C. State, completing 12-of-18 passes for 183 yards and two touchdowns. Just as important, he had zero turnovers and managed the game beautifully. (Roy Philpott)
Parker is one of the hottest quarterbacks in the nation right now. Against the Tigers' last three ACC opponents, Parker has completed 65 percent of his passes for 751 yards, nine touchdowns and just two interceptions.
Of his four favorite targets, three have yards/reception averages of at least 14 yards. Starting with Jacoby Ford, who has 39 receptions this season--Parker has come to rely on C.J. Spiller and Xavier Dye as big play threats. Throw in Michael Palmer's reliable set of hands and Parker has a nice set of four targets to chose from.
Virginia's corners both stand 6-2, a preferable matchup when lining up across from the 6-4 Dye. Dowling is the better of the two. He'll likely draw the task of covering the speedy Ford.
Nate Collins leads Virginia with five sacks from the defensive end. His backup Zane Parr is second on the team with 3.5. Outside linebacker Cam Johnson is the Cavalier's best pass rushing linebacker on the team. Nine of the team's 19 sacks have been in the previous three games.
This matchup will be the most important matchup to watch as Clemson looks to improve its ACC record to 6-2. Virginia is 3-0 when opponents are held to less than 300 yards of total offense. Parker should have plenty of time to continue throwing with accuracy like he has been lately. His efficiency rating is up to 124.5--71st in the nation. The two players behind him: Greg Paulus (123.9) and Steven Garcia (123.7).
A couple of quick scores should help the Tigers jump out to an early lead and limit the numbers Parker puts up.
VIRGINIA SPECIAL TEAMS VS. CLEMSON SPECIAL TEAMS
If Virginia follows suit to what it's done throughout the season, kickoffs to Clemson could leave the Tigers with very favorable field position, similar to the Tiger's 43-23 win last week at N.C. State.
C.J. Spiller has made a name for himself as the most dangerous return man in the nation. Partnered with Jacoby Ford, the Clemson duo has the Tigers ranked among the best in national return averages (11th in punt returns and 27th in kickoff returns).
The battle to claim the starting spot at placekicker will continue into pre-game warmups. (Roy Philpott)
Field goal kicking continues to be an area of concern for Clemson. In the past two weeks, Clemson has missed five extra-points. Virginia kicker Robert Randolph has been money this season. He's 15-17 on field goals with misses from 35 and 47. He ranks 19th nationally among kickers with 1.5 field goals per game.
Coupled with what should be favorable field position, Spiller and Clemson should win this matchup. Even if Clemson has slip ups in place kicking for a third consecutive week, the missed point(s) shouldn't factor in to deciding Saturday's winner.
CLEMSON RUNNING GAME VS. VIRGINIA FRONT SEVEN
Spearheaded by Spiller, the Clemson rushing attack is among the best in the country. His 836 yards and six touchdowns are both team-highs. He's complimented by Jamie Harper and Andre Ellington, a duo that has put together a quality season. Together they've rushed for over 600 yards and have five touchdowns.
They'll run behind an offensive line that has emerged as one of the best in the ACC. In each of the last three games, the Tigers have carried for over 241 yards rushing--a credit to the dominate front. Though the line's undisputed leader Thomas Austin could be limited with an ankle sprain, Mason Cloy fits right in to Austin's left guard spot, if needed.
Saturday's game will be the last time Clemson fans have the luxury of watching Heisman Trophy candidate C.J. Spiller run the down the hill. (Kevin Bray)
The Cavalier's 3-4 front is led by defensive end Nate Collins, who is first in sacks and tackles for loss and is third in tackles. Freshman inside linebacker Steve Greer leads the team in tackles with 80.
Virginia has given up at least 125 yards rushing in every game except for North Carolina, Duke and Indiana.
Look for two Clemson backs to individually pickup 100 yards rushing on Saturday.
VIRGINIA RUNNING GAME VS. CLEMSON FRONT SEVEN
Though Virginia could reach the scoreboard by kicking field goals, offensive touchdowns could be pretty unlikely. Against Boston College last week, Virginia reached the red zone only once--on the final drive of the game.
Among the worst 10 teams in college football when it comes to running the ball, the Cavaliers could see a little success against a Clemson defense that has proven to be susceptible to quarterbacks running the ball.
Jameel Sewell is third on the team in rushing with 106 yards. He leads the Cavaliers with 109 carries and is tied for the lead with and five rushing touchdowns. He could be a threat along with Vic Hall, who's capable of operating the offense out of the wildcat.
Rashawn Jackson is Virginia's top rusher with 420 yards. A bruising runner, he's complimented by a shiftier Mikell Simpson, who's carried for 286 yards.
Four starters along the offensive line have combined to make 108 career starts. Will Barker leads the unit from the right tackle spot. He's started 47 games during his career.
Clemson expects Da'Quan Bowers to return to the field after injuring his knee versus Coastal Carolina. His return to the line will command double teams, opening up space for any of the five interior tackles to make tackles and will help give the linebackers a clear line of sight to the ball carrier.
The Cavalier offensive line's shortest starter stands 6-5. Look for the Tigers to have their way upfront since they'll have lower pad levels. Jarvis Jenkins should continue building on their high tackle for loss totals. He and Ricky Sapp are tied for the team-high (10).
VIRGINIA PASSING VS. CLEMSON SECONDARY/PASS RUSH
Giving up over three sacks a game, Sewell will be running for his life early and often. Sapp, Bowers, Malliciah Goodman and Andre Branch will have a field day as they chase down Sewell. Although sacking Russell Wilson seemed to be a bit of a problem last Saturday, the same won't be said this weekend.
QB Jameel Sewell is third on the team in rushing with 106 yards. He also leads the Cavaliers with 109 carries and is tied for the lead with and five rushing touchdowns. (Getty Images)
Virginia quarterbacks are more efficient than those from Ball State, Vanderbilt and New Mexico State.
Like Clemson, Virginia likes to hit passes to running backs. Simpson and Jackson have 24 and 23 receptions, respectively. Kris Burd is the top wide receiver with 24 receptions.
At time this season, bigger receivers have given the Clemson corners trouble. Jarred Green is the tallest Virginia receiver who's played a significant role in the passing game. Though he's 6-2, he's not much of a vertical threat, as evidence by his 8.3 yards/reception.
Sewell has thrown seven interceptions this season. His efficiency rating (107.3) doesn't rank among the nation's top-100. As he runs to avoid pressure, look for safeties DeAndre McDaniel and Rashard Hall to actively pursue errant passes.
PREDICTION: Clemson 38 Virginia 0