After the way Clemson embarrassed Virginia Tech last season in two meetings, it would make sense if just mentioning this Saturday's meeting in South Carolina against Clemson made Tech's players' blood boil in anticipation.
If that's the case, Tech cornerback Kyle Fuller and quarterback Logan Thomas put on their best poker faces Tuesday afternoon as they discussed the upcoming game. With Tech (4-3 overall, 2-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) heading on the road as a possible double-digit underdog for the first time since it lost in 2007 at LSU, Tech's offensive and defensive leaders were full of pre-programmed, no-bulletin-board-material commentary.
"No, it's just simply that they're the next game, which is the most important game," said Fuller regarding whether this weekend's game against No. 14 Clemson (5-1, 2-1) holds special meaning. "That's the only significance of this game."
Fuller's supposed impressions of the game are hard to believe given Tech's most recent memories of Clemson.
Though it finished last season just 71st in the nation in total defense (394.4 yards per game), Clemson had no trouble twice stifling a Tech offense that featured Thomas, running back David Wilson and wide receivers Jarrett Boykin and Danny Coale — winning 23-3 in Blacksburg and 38-10 in the ACC championship game in Charlotte, N.C.
Tech averaged 294 yards in the games, including just 2.7 yards per carry against a rushing defense that averaged 4.35 yards surrendered per carry on the season. Those numbers and results must come up in conversation this week around the Tech practice fields or football meeting rooms, right?
"We don't really need to talk about it," Thomas said. "All of us were here. We all understand. We know what we need to do. We know what's expected and what to expect when it comes to them.
"Yeah, we keep it in the back of our minds just so we can pull it up when we need it. It's extra motivation. Hopefully, we can go down there and steal one from their home turf like they did us last year."
This season, Clemson features new defensive coordinator Brent Venables, but the Tigers are struggling even more to stop opposing teams, giving up an average of 445.5 yards per game (10th in the ACC and 97th in the nation).
With a no-huddle offense led by Phoebus High graduate Tajh Boyd at quarterback, Clemson is unofficially living by a similar philosophy as the one it had last season — a porous defense won't be quite so obvious if you just keep scoring. Clemson, which had an off week to prepare for Tech, is second only to Florida State and 11th in the nation in scoring offense (41.33 points per game).
Fuller, who moved from field cornerback to boundary cornerback in last Saturday's 41-20 win against Duke for the first time this season, likely will see more of Clemson wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins on the boundary side. Hopkins leads Clemson with 49 catches, and he's second in the nation in receiving yards with 777.
With Fuller on Hopkins, Tech cornerback Antone Exum will draw the primary duty of trying to stick with receiver Sammy Watkins, who actually had a fairly modest eight catches for 118 yards and a touchdown to go along with 59 yards rushing and 22 return yards combined last season in Clemson's two wins against Tech.
Tech is tied in the loss column in the ACC's Coastal Division standings with Miami (3-1 in the ACC), Duke (2-1) and North Carolina (2-1), and UNC is ineligible for postseason play. It's conceivable Saturday's game still could be a preview of the ACC championship, but Tech's slow start has definitely taken some of the luster off the matchup.
"The damage is done," Tech linebacker Bruce Taylor said. "We've lost some games that we probably shouldn't have lost, and haven't played as well as we should have. … I think we're a lot better than what we've shown. It would be very nice if we went out against Clemson and actually played how we should've been playing all year — kind of what you saw in the second half of that Duke game."
Tech announced Tuesday it has extended its football scheduling agreement with East Carolina, beginning with a game Sept. 14 next season in Greenville, N.C. In addition to next season's game, the teams have added five more games to three they already had scheduled. Tech will host ECU in 2014, 2016, 2018 and 2020, and Tech will travel to ECU in 2015, 2017 and 2019.