Saturday night, Virginia Tech and Clemson face off in the best regular season matchup in the ACC this season. The Tigers and Hokies have emerged as the ACC's top two teams through the first four weeks of the season, and now face off in a rematch of last year's ACC Championship.
With the talent and coaching being at such a high level on both sides, both teams know that they can't afford to make even the slightest mistake. Justin Fuente knows this and talked about that fact earlier this week.
"You don't even have to make a mistake," Justin Fuente said. "You can take one step in the wrong direction or hesitate for half a step. When you're playing the talent that we're going up to, it's like defusing a bomb. Just one small snip of the wire that's incorrect and boom, you blow your hands off. That's just how talented and good they are."
Part of the reason for this is the talent that is on both sides of the field, but a big reason for this is the fact that Clemson and Virginia Tech have two of the nation's best head coaches and coaching staffs. Dabo Swinney is obviously seen as one of the best head coaches in America while it would be hard to give more than 10 or 15 head coaches that are better than Justin Fuente, and the Hokies' second-year head coach is rising that list quickly.
Last season, the Hokies did have some problems early in the season with making big mistakes, especially with an extreme rash of fumbles. However, the Hokies have been significantly improved in limiting turnovers while also not giving away yards through penalties.
Virginia Tech has only had 2 turnovers through their first four games along with 16 penalties for 138 yards. Nationally, Virginia Tech ranks 13th in terms of the fewest penalty yards per game while their 2 turnovers are tied for the sixth least. The Hokies have also done a decent job at winning the turnover battle with 7 turnovers forced this season and a turnover margin of +5 that is tied for 15th in the nation.
Virginia Tech will have the advantage of playing at home on Saturday night, but emotions will be high given the magnitude of the game and stage. However, the Hokies have shown that they can play smart, disciplined football in these games as they showed in their win over West Virginia in which they only had two penalties and 0 turnovers, two factors that were critical in helping the Hokies beat West Virginia.
Justin Fuente also knows that there are plenty minor things that stats don't specifically encapsulate that will be critical Saturday night. The smallest of mistakes will prove costly against a Clemson team that is proven at the highest level, and knows how to take advantage of a team as they did in the fourth quarter against Boston College with 27 unanswered points.
Fuente also knows that the challenge will be immense and that everything will be difficult against a team of Clemson's caliber.
"Making sure that we're on point with everything doing, crystal clear in our directives and our assignment, being able to play well because everything will be difficult," Fuente said. "A first down will be difficult, a defensive stop will be difficult, punting the ball and covering the punt will be difficult. It's just all amplified."
The Hokies know the demands of playing in these big games and have had a big game warm-up of sorts already at FedEx Field against West Virginia. However, Clemson is the best team to come into Lane Stadium in a long time (yes, better than that Ohio State team), and everything will be magnified in ways that we rarely see outside of conference championships and the College Football Playoff.
Virginia Tech can't afford to make mistakes against Clemson Saturday night, but this is a Virginia Tech football team that has proven so far that it can minimize the big mistakes and not give opponents free yards. However, it will be about not making the little mistakes and not just avoiding turnovers or giving up penalties if they are going to upset the Tigers.
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