T he hardest hit Deshawn McClease has ever taken came in practice, and was laid on him by teammate Tremaine Edmunds.
“It felt like I got hit by a train,” McClease said this preseason.
He’s not alone. This week, running back Steven Peoples was asked to describe what it’s like to collide with Edmunds, Virginia Tech’s junior linebacker.
“Running head-on into Tremaine Edmunds is a big headache,” said Peoples.
“That’s all I can say.”
This time of year, the Hokies’ 6-foot-5, 250-pound defender saves his biggest hits for opponents. Going into Saturday night’s showdown with No. 2 Clemson, Edmunds leads Tech with 33 tackles, 4.5 tackles for losses and two forced fumbles.
Edmunds, whose brother, Terrell, is the team’s starting rover — and, McClease said, its second hardest hitter — registered 106 tackles, including 18.5 for losses, while starting all 14 games last season.
“The guy is an eraser out there on the field,” said Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster.
Foster has seen more than his share of standout linebackers in his 31 years with the Hokies, from Xavier Adibi, to Vince Hall, to Cody Grimm. Still Foster said this week he’s never had an athlete at the position quite like Edmunds.
“You’re just seeing a special guy that we just haven’t had here, in my time, particularly as a linebacker,” said Foster. “We’ve had some dynamic players in the Ben Taylors and Xavier Adibis and those guys, and they’ve been that 6-2, 6-3, but you haven’t had a 6-5, 250 pound linebacker that can make plays all over the field.”
Saturday night, No. 12 Tech (4-0) will need that range. Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant has been the 4-0 Tigers’ No. 1 running option, carrying 66 times through four games, easily the most rushes of anyone on the team. He also leads Clemson with seven rushing touchdowns.
Foster said the Tigers are calling more designed runs for Bryant than they did a year ago with Deshaun Watson. Watson ran for 85 yards and two touchdowns against the Hokies in Clemson’s 42-35 win in last year’s ACC championship game.
“They’ll see what you’re giving them and then they’re going to try to attack the other way,” said Foster. “Whether it’s with quarterback counters, quarterback powers, and they’ll run the quarterback counter and the quarterback power, the speed option. They’ll do a lot out of different looks. And I think that’s the one thing that’s a little bit different. I’m seeing a little bit more of them running the quarterback.”
Tech has struggled in recent years defending mobile quarterbacks.
The job could be a little harder because the Hokies might be without another of their better defenders in space in junior cornerback Adonis Alexander. Alexander has been suspended the past two games, and Wednesday, Tech coach Justin Fuente said no decision has been made on Alexander’s status for Saturday night against the Tigers.
“No final decision,” Fuente said. “Still kind of working through some things and should know more as we get a little bit later in the week.”
Edmunds, who had eight tackles against the Tigers in the last meeting, might be the player best suited to limit Bryant’s production.
“He’s very active,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said Wednesday. “He’s got a lot of experience. He’s big. I think their backers are outstanding, very experienced group. All those guys have played a lot of football for them. They understand the scheme, and we’ve got our hands full with those guys.”