The ACC has had some big, opening weekend conference matchups over the past several years but Monday night’s showdown between Virginia Tech and Florida State may be the biggest ACC matchup in several years. With that said, here is our by the numbers breakdown for Monday night’s showdown.
3-0: Justin Fuente’s Record vs. Willie Taggart
As head coaches, Justin Fuente has a 3-0 advantage over Willie Taggart with Fuente’s Memphis teams beating Taggart’s South Florida teams three-straight years from 2013 to 2015. Before then, Fuente and Taggart faced off as assistants and even in college as opposing QBs at Murray State (Fuente) and Western Kentucky (Taggart) with Fuente having the edge in all of those matchups.
Now Justin Fuente was slightly farther along in his rebuild of Memphis than Taggart was at USF, but Fuente twice beat USF teams with similar records to his Memphis teams. That record is likely something that both of these coaches know well and will likely be mentioned a lot in any pregame coverage of this game.
Those coaching records won’t mean as much as you think especially given how both of these teams aren’t at Memphis or USF anymore. However, the fact that both of these coaches have faced off recently as head coaches may help both of their defensive coordinators in trying to prepare for their opponent’s offensive strategy.
5.9: Average Yards Per Carry for Deshawn McClease Over His Final 3 Games in 2017
Deshawn McClease started to consistently receive a high volume of carries over the final three games of last season, and the former Oscar Smith star shined averaging 5.9 yards per carry while also averaging a minimum of 5 yards per carry in each of those 3 games. In addition, McClease averaged at least 5 yards per carry in every game last season in which he received at least 10 carries.
McClease gave the Hokies an explosiveness in the backfield that Virginia Tech was unable to find from anyone else. While McClease is more of a speed back, he showed during the closing stretch that he was a tailback who could take on a lead role and could be effective running between the tackles.
Going into this season, McClease and the Hokies’ running game should benefit from an offensive line that appears to be one of the Hokies’ best within the past decade or so with three returning starters and a strong two-deep full of players who have been at the top of the Hokies’ depth chart previously (D’Andre Plantin, Tyrell Smith).
Florida State also has some youth in their front 7 that could make this a great opportunity for McClease to make a name for himself. McClease’s importance on Monday night may be even more important if rumors about rough weather end up coming to fruition.
5.3: Average Yards Per Carry for Cam Akers Last Season
Cam Akers may not have been as productive as Wisconsin RB Jonathan Taylor as a true freshman, but the former five-star recruit showed why he was one of the top recruits in his class. Now, Akers returns as one of the top running backs on the East Coast and at the top of a deep stable of running backs.
Akers broke the 1,000 rushing yard mark last season while also rushing for over 100 yards in four games and 7 rushing touchdowns. Akers was inconsistent in big games rushing for 121 yards on 20 carries against Miami, but being held under 50 yards and 3.5 yards per carry by Clemson and Alabama.
Fortunately for Akers and the Seminoles, they aren’t facing last season’s Virginia Tech rush defense that was arguably the best in all of college football.
0: Number of Starts for Virginia Tech’s Cornerbacks
Virginia Tech’s lack of experience at cornerback has been well-documented but the simple fact that the Hokies don’t have a cornerback with a single collegiate start just shows how inexperienced VT is on the outside. While we don’t have an exact count of the number of defensive snaps that the Hokies’ cornerbacks have had, that number would likely be right near the bottom of all of college football.
For VT’s young secondary, they’ve drawn a tough challenge to start the season at the QB position in Deondre Francois. Francois and FSU seemed poised to be a national title contender until Francois suffered a season-ending injury late in their season-opening loss to Alabama. Though we haven’t really seen Francois in a year, you can’t forget about his strong debut season in 2016 with 20 touchdowns and 7 interceptions, a season in which he looked like the star QB of the future in the ACC.
However, two things that may help the Hokies’ young cornerbacks are the facts that Francois has a career average completion percentage under 60% and the Hokies are facing a FSU receiving corps that is almost as inexperienced. In addition, VT’s young starting CB pair of Bryce Watts and Caleb Farley may be one of the fastest starting cornerback pairs in college football with the type of speed that can cover up for small mistakes.
Virginia Tech’s young cornerbacks will face a massive challenge for what will be mostly all of their debuts with the Hokies’ first team defense, but they are fortunately not coming against an experienced receiving corps.
6: The Number of Florida State Defensive Starters Under 220 Pounds
One of the most interesting things about Florida State’s starting defense is the fact that six of their projected starters are under 220 pounds with all four of their defensive backs under 200 pounds. For the Hokies, Bryce Watts and Khalil Ladler are the only starters under 200 pounds with Caleb Farley joining that group under 220 pounds.
While size isn’t always a big factor, the stark difference creates some intrigue that makes you wonder if the Hokies should take a more physical, run-first approach than normal to try to wear down FSU’s linebackers and defensive backs given their size. The Hokies could also try to use some jet sweeps and screen passes to try to create some one-on-one blocking matchups between the Hokies’ bigger TEs and WRs (Damon Hazelton and Eric Kumah), and FSU’s smaller back 7.
Even if the Hokies don’t try to emphasize the run more than normal, the pair of Hazelton and Kumah will likely look to use their size to their advantage against FSU’s smaller cornerbacks. This could also lead the Hokies to use some two tight end sets in the passing game with Chris Cunningham and Dalton Keene, especially after an offseason in which the Hokies emphasized their hopes of incorporating their tight ends more in the passing game.