During offseason parsing of Virginia Tech’s football schedule, many fans sounded alarm bells: Six of the Hokies’ opponents – Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Clemson, Miami, Florida State and Virginia -- would have more than a week to prepare for them.
Red herring, I thought, even though Tech would have extended time before only two games: Miami and Boston College.
In hindsight, I still don’t believe open dates the week prior contributed significantly to Pitt’s and Cincinnati’s upsets of the Hokies. Indeed, the season is so young in September that extended time off can border on useless – better to establish rhythm and routine.
Clemson is different. The Tigers do not play this week, giving them 13 days to prepare for their Oct. 20 home date with the Hokies.
At 5-1, 2-1 in the ACC, 15th-ranked Clemson is halfway through the regular season. Some players are nicked, and many figure to be gassed after a six-game stretch that included taxing challenges from Auburn, Florida State (lone loss), Boston College and Georgia Tech.
“We're going to take advantage of some time hopefully to heal some guys up, get a head start on Virginia Tech, give our guys the weekend off, and then come back and have a full game prep week for next weekend,” Tigers coach Dabo Swinney said on the ACC’s media call Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the Hokies (3-3, 1-1) host Duke (5-1, 2-0) in a game that two months ago appeared benign. Uh, not so much given both teams’ recent performances.
So as Tech goes all in for Duke, Clemson coordinators Chad Morris (offense) and Brent Venables (defense) game plan against Tech.
Morris should be particularly worrisome to Hokies faithful. In just two years with the program, he has the Tigers executing his rapid-fire spread as if it were second nature.
Having elite skill players such as quarterback Tajh Boyd, tailback Andre Ellington and receivers Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins helps immeasurably, but Morris deserves beaucoup credit as well.
Clemson leads the ACC in passing offense (324.7 yards per game) and total offense (525.8 yards per game). The Tigers are third in scoring at 41.3 points per game, but have played a far more difficult schedule than Nos. 1 and 2: Florida State and North Carolina.
Ellington tops the conference in rushing (99.5 yards per game), Hopkins in receiving (129.5 yards per game and eight touchdown catches), and Boyd in total offense (328.7 yards per game). A graduate of Phoebus High, Boyd became Clemson’s career leader in touchdown passes last week against Georgia Tech. He has 51 in 27 games; Charlie Whitehurst (2002-05) had 49 in 44 games.
Virginia Tech slowed Boyd and Co., during the 2011 regular season, limiting them to 323 yards in a 23-3 Tigers victory. In the ACC championship game, Clemson gained 457 yards and rolled, 38-10.
Given the state of the Hokies’ defense, holding the well-rested Tigers to under 30 points would be surprising. North Carolina’s spread, not in Clemson’s league, gouged Tech for 48 last week, the most the Hokies have ever allowed in an ACC game.
(Look for much more on Boyd in Sunday’s Daily Press from comrade Norm Wood.)
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