Predicting the Tigers’ chances at Virginia Tech

The Clemson football team takes on Virginia Tech on Saturday night in Blacksburg, Va., in a top-15 matchup. College GameDay will be live from the site Saturday morning, and the Tigers are hoping this one turns out differently than their last trip there.

In 2011, Clemson played Virginia Tech when both teams were — like this season — ranked in the top 15. And according to coach Dabo Swinney, things looked bleak on the way there.

“We go up to Blacksburg and it was cold and rainy and … I remember it was a long ride to the stadium,” he said, per The Post & Courier’s Grace Raynor. “I’ll never forget it. It seemed like [it took] forever to get there. We went down some backroad, I just remember, the whole team’s asleep. I’m going, ‘We’re going to get our butts kicked.’ They’re all snoring.”

Turns out, the opposite happened. Clemson boatraced Virginia Tech, 23-3, and beat the Hokies again in December to win the ACC title.

This time around, things could be different.

Virginia Tech boasts an efficient, high-powered offense — the Hokies average 15.01 yards per completion and bulldoze opponents for 218.3 rushing yards per game. Tech also has Bud Foster’s smash-mouth defense, which is holding teams to a 24.2 percent conversion rate on third down.

But this game features an interesting wrinkle: two newly minted quarterbacks in what could arguably be the biggest test of the season for each.

Josh Jackson, Virginia Tech’s redshirt freshman signal caller, leads the ACC in passing efficiency. He’s thrown for 11 touchdowns and has been picked off just once.

Kelly Bryant, on the other hand, has yet to figure out how to be a consistent passer. The junior battled through his most trying game of the season last week against Boston College, but his ability to impact the game on the ground has been instrumental: Bryant’s 7 rushing touchdowns are tied for the third-most in college football, regardless of position.

Both defenses rank in the top six nationally in scoring defense, which could mean a low-scoring game awaits a national television audience (8 p.m., ABC).

If Bryant can do enough on the ground to keep an aggressive Virginia Tech defense honest, perhaps he can find passing lanes just wide enough to open up things. Conversely, the Clemson defense has to play tight coverage on Tech’s Cam Phillips — one of the country’s most dynamic receivers — and force Jackson into questionable decisions, even as the secondary deals with injuries to Trayvon Mullen and Mark Fields, both of whom are probable for the game.

I think Bryant steps up in an extremely hostile environment, and Dexter Lawrence, Christian Wilkins and the defensive line disrupt Jackson’s timing in the pocket enough to minimize his impact through the air.

Clemson pulls off a momentum-shifting win on the road, 24-14.


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