For the first time ever, Lane Stadium will host a game between two undefeated teams ranked in the top 12. This game is one of the biggest in the history of Lane Stadium as Virginia Tech looks to pull a huge upset and take down defending national champion Clemson.
However, the challenge will be huge against a Clemson team that has been on lots of big stages like this and won. The Hokies face a big challenge so with that said, here are the keys to the game for Saturday night.
Get the Ball Out Quickly
Clemson’s defensive line is one of the best in the past 20 years full of future NFL players. Justin Fuente knows it and said that Clemson’s defensive line has “an embarrassment of riches.” Virginia Tech has its best offensive line in years, but Clemson will be able to get pressure.
For the Hokies, facing this defensive line makes it critical for them to build an effective, quick passing attack.
The Hokies have the type of guys to do this especially with elite WR Cam Phillips and speedy freshman Sean Savoy. The Hokies have also been effective with their quick passing games especially on out, slant, and curl routes that have been particularly effective. Virginia Tech has also used some screen passes in the past and is likely to use their fair share again Saturday night.
Clemson knows this but their ability to defend this may depend in part on the health of their cornerbacks. Of their two-deep at CB, only starter Ryan Carter is healthy while starter Trayvon Mullen and backup Mark Fields are both probable, but not guarantees. Clemson’s situation at cornerback is one to watch and could have a big impact especially against a Hokie offense that will look to get the ball outside quickly due to Clemson’s absurdly talented defensive line.
Josh Jackson will need to move the ball quickly, but avoid making assumptions like he did on his interception against ODU. If Jackson can, he’ll be able to nullify Clemson’s pass rush throughout much of this game.
Contain Kelly Bryant in the Pocket
Kelly Bryant has been solid as a passer, but he’s proven to be a big threat as a runner. The Hokies have had issues with mobile quarterbacks over the past few years, and Clemson will definitely look to test and see if it’s still a weakness.
For the Hokies, it will be critical for them to keep him the pocket and make him beat VT with his arm. The Hokies were able to get lots of pressure on ODU QB Steven Williams last week but failed to keep contain, allowing Williams to get outside of the pocket. Williams wasn’t able to be effective throwing the ball, but was able to,run it some and if VT has issues with that Saturday night, Bryant will take advantage with his legs and may be able to find some open receivers.
It will be critical for the Hokies to keep containment and prevent Bryant from having the same space to make plays on the outside. Giving a guy of Bryant’s mobility along with the receivers he has a few extra seconds must be avoided at all costs. Virginia Tech’s secondary is one of America’s best, but it’s hard to cover the receiver talent that Clemson has for 7-10 seconds.
The Hokies have had issues against dual-threat quarterbacks in the past, and Bryant fits the stereotypical mold of the dual-threat QB that has given the Hokies’ problems. The Hokies have shown signs of improvement but if they are to take that next step, they must keep Kelly Bryant in the pocket and force him to make a play with his arm.
Taking Bryant’s running ability out of this game will be critical for the Hokies. If they can, it’ll create opportunities for the Hokies to rattle Bryant in the most hostile environment he’s played in, and to force some turnovers that would prove to be critical.
Play With Controlled Emotion
For anyone playing in this game, you should be fired up to play on this stage in this type of environment. However, you can’t play with uncontrolled emotion or else you will make some big mistakes that will prove quite costly at the end of the day. There is a need to play with controlled emotion and whoever does that better will be in a much better position to get the victory.
Virginia Tech has shown they can do that against West Virginia where they had a significantly lower number of penalty yards along with no turnovers. Virginia Tech played with lots of intensity while still playing disciplined football. The Hokies also did all the little things well and looked like a mature football team that can handle this type of stage.
The thing is, Clemson has tons of experience on even bigger stages than this, and knows what it takes to play with controlled emotion.
Saturday night will be an environment unlike any other in Lane Stadium over the past decade and will get these players fired up very easily. However, the Hokies can’t afford to allow their emotions to consume them. If they do, Clemson will leave Blacksburg with a win.