#12 Virginia Tech vs. #2 Clemson Picks

By: Tim Thomas | @TimThomasTLP | Sep 30, 2017
Yes, gameday has finally arrived. The preparations have been made and the big stage has arrived. Virginia Tech and Clemson have arrived for the biggest regular season game in the ACC this year and the marquee matchup in college football this week. The winner of this game immediately becomes the ACC favorite and top playoff contender while the loser has no margin for error for their playoff hopes. This is the type of game where legends are born, and the best players step up on the biggest stage. These players committed to Virginia Tech and Clemson to play in big games that matter like these. Tonight presents Virginia Tech's chance to reassert themselves at the top of the ACC while Clemson looks to make a claim to be the nation's top-ranked team. With that said, here are our picks for the biggest game in Lane Stadium in a decade.

Tim Thomas

The stage is set for the biggest game in Lane Stadium in over a decade as Virginia Tech faces undefeated, defending national champions Clemson. The Tigers lost Deshaun Watson, but haven't missed a beat thanks to a dominant defense and solid play from Kelly Bryant. Meanwhile, the Hokies have improved despite the loss of Jerod Evans and company with Josh Jackson leading the offense, and the Hokies' defense shutting out opponents in 11 of their past 12 quarters. Jackson will face a significant challenge Saturday night going against the best defense he's faced yet and what likely is the best defensive line he'll face in his collegiate career. The Hokies may have their best offensive line in years, but this defensive line is loaded with future high NFL Draft picks and will cause Jackson some problems. However, Jackson will still be productive while Cam Phillips will show why he's one of America's best receivers. Kelly Bryant also hasn't faced a defense this tough or played in an environment this difficult and it will show at times Saturday night. Virginia Tech will need to find ways to contain Kelly Bryant and force him to beat them with his arm in this game. If the Hokies fail to do so as they did at times against ODU last week, Bryant will be able to take advantage of his legs to move the chains. The x-factor in this game for Clemson is true freshman RB Travis Etienne. Etienne is averaging an absurd 12.7 yards per carry and is looking like the best true freshman tailback in college football. Etienne is lightning in a bottle, and he'll give the Hokies some trouble on Saturday night. For Virginia Tech, the x-factor will be Lane Stadium in what should be one of the craziest environments in all of college football this year and the wildest Clemson will play in all season. Bryant has experience going against a tough defense or a tough crowd, but he hasn't had both. Saturday night, Bryant will face his toughest defensive competition yet in the toughest environment he's ever played in. This game should be a thriller that will come right down to the end, but Clemson's defensive line will make a big difference while Clemson's depth at the skill positions will shine through in this game. Virginia Tech is closing the gap quickly but for now, Clemson is still the kings of the ACC and will win a nail-bitter.

Prediction: #2 Clemson 24, #12 Virginia Tech 20

Robert Irby

You’ve heard it dozens of times this week; the defending national champion and #2 ranked Clemson Tigers are coming to Blacksburg this Saturday night. This is arguably the biggest game in the history of Lane Stadium, but you know all about that already so I’ll just cut to the chase. For the first time since November 12th, 2016, the Clemson Tigers will lose a football game. The #12 Virginia Tech Hokies are playing their best football in the last five years, and they are looking to keep that momentum going this Saturday. The Hokies clearly have the most to play for this weekend, with this being the opportunity for a program-defining win. It’s simple: win on Saturday, and Virginia Tech is back among the nation’s elite programs and is a real playoff threat. With the importance of a win coupled with the level of fan hype that will come from the 8 PM start time, College GameDay, and the level of opponent, the Hokies will surely come ready to play. The game will be a defensive struggle at the start, and points will be extremely hard to come by in the first half. Both of these defenses are among the best in the country, and they will both come out looking to prove why. However, as the game progresses, the offenses (which are elite in their own right) will begin to take over. I expect QB’s Josh Jackson and Kelly Bryant to struggle early, but each of them will find their rhythm in the second half and lead their teams to score points. Despite his rough start to the season, kicker Joey Slye will prove to be the hero of this game, as the Hokies will win by a field goal and show the rest of the country that they are contenders once again.

Prediction: #12 Virginia Tech 31, #2 Clemson 28

Dwight Lester

It the biggest game of the season Hokie fans. Number 2 in the country is coming into Lane Stadium. The Hokies are undefeated and looking strong. These two titans of the ACC are going to do battle in what many think may be a preview of the ACC Championship game. Don’t let the number 2 ranking fool you, Clemson is a team that could be number 1. As Justin Fuente states, their defensive line has "an embarrassment of riches". The Hokie offense is definitely going to have their toughest test of the season. It will be interesting to see if Josh Jackson can find other receivers to step up as his favorite target Cam Phillips will be well covered. Also look for the Hokie offensive line to be challenged as the Clemson front 4 are one of the best units in the country. This game could end up being a defensive battle as the Hokies also have a top notch defense. Clemson has a new quarterback, but it has been much of the same with Kelly Bryant. The offense hasn’t really missed a beat. Bud Foster will have a great game plan no doubt. Look for the Hokies to try to keep Bryant from hurting them with his legs. At the same time, the Hokies need to keep Hunter Renfrow in check. The best matchup on the field might be Mook Reynolds and Terrell Edmunds vs Renfrow. If the Hokies can keep these two in check, they have a fantastic chance at pulling the upset. The Hokies will have a chance in the game. However, unfortunately, I think the Tigers will prove to be too much. My heart wants to pick my beloved Hokies. I want them to make the fans proud, excite the alumni and firmly plant themselves in the college football playoff landscape. My head, however, says the Tigers are the better team and are going to win. The Hokies' first loss comes on Saturday 28-23. As always LETS GO HOKIES!!!!

Prediction: #2 Clemson 28, #12 Virginia Tech 23

David Cunningham

The Virginia Tech Hokies are 4-0 and the 12th ranked team in the country coming into this Saturday’s game against #2 Clemson, who is also 4-0. This is the biggest game in a long time in Lane Stadium, and the first ever matchup here between top-12 teams. College GameDay will be in attendance, along with a plethora of future Hokie recruits. The last time these two teams met was in the ACC Championship game in Orlando last year, where the Hokies lost by 7 to the Tigers. This time, I feel like it will be a little different.
Josh Jackson has completed 64.7% of his passes this season for 1156 yards, along with 11 touchdowns and one interception. Jackson threw his interception in his game last weekend against Old Dominion, but he still threw for 298 yards. He has been fairly consistent this season, averaging 282 passing yards a game. Cam Phillips leads the nation in reception yards with 523, and he has four touchdown catches this year. Jackson is starting to find different receivers besides Phillips, and the trio of Peoples, McMillan, and McClease, have been improving running the ball every game.
Clemson’s defensive line is excellent, possibly the best in the nation, but I think Tech’s offensive line will be up for the test. The Hokies have allowed 4 sacks all year, 1 in each game, and have been decently tested, but I think the offense will set a rhythm early and frustrate Clemson, tiring out their line. Jackson can get the mall around through the air, and I think play action passes will test the Clemson cornerbacks and force their defense to play the pass game, and Jackson will use his ability to run, as well as his running backs, to break down the Clemson defense. I think the offense can put some points on the board and relieve pressure on the defense, and I think the running game will play a big factor in the game.
The Clemson offense is led by Kelly Bryant, who does not have eye-opening stats when you first give him a glance. Bryant has thrown three interceptions and two touchdowns this season, and he has thrown for 873 yards. However, Bryant has 268 rushes on 66 rush attempts, and 7 touchdowns. The Hokies will have to stack the box against the Clemson offense, which will be a challenge. Running quarterbacks have always been difficult to play against for Bud Foster’s crew.
The Tigers have 17 rushing touchdowns total on the year, 4 coming from freshman Travis Etienne. Etienne did not play against Auburn, but the amount of yards he has rushed for has increased game by game. Etienne ran for 113 yards on 9 carries against Boston College, who the Hokies are playing in Chestnut Hill next week. Bryant has not proven he is a fabulous passer, and I think the defense can shut down the offense if they stack the box and force Bryant to throw. Tech’s secondary is tested and experienced, and I believe that they can hold the Tigers to less points than Jackson and his crew can put on the board.
Special teams will be interesting; Joey Slye has has 29 of his 30 kickoffs go for touchbacks, and I think the Hokies have the edge on special teams with Oscar Bradburn, who has played well to start the year. Clemson has only had to kick four field goals this season, but has a new kicker after Greg Huegel tore his ACL recently. Slye is 7-12, not his best start, but I think he will find his rhythm. Huegel has only kicked 9 touchbacks on 17 kickoffs this season. Hokies have the edge here, especially at home.
Overall, I think it will be a fantastic test for the Hokies, who have their hands full, although I think they can pull off the challenge and boost their status in Fuente’s second season.

Prediction: #12 Virginia Tech 24, #2 Clemson 20

Jackson Pugh

For the first time in a decade, Virginia Tech will be hosting College Gameday, with Rece Davis, Lee Corso and the gang. But there’s another glaring thing that hasn’t happened in the past ten years; Virginia Tech beating Clemson. Indeed, the Tigers have been one of college football’s elite, winning 74 games, three ACC titles, and one national title since 2011. Meanwhile, the Hokies did not find the same success during that span, as Tech failed to post a double digit win campaign from 2012-15. But that narrative is over; Virginia Tech is turning back into the proud, championship caliber program it once was. And that’s because the Maroon and Orange have finally found something that was missing in their grey days: an elite level quarterback. Freshman Josh Jackson has been one of college football’s most pleasant surprises of 2017. Despite Tech losing three of its top four receivers from 2016, Jackson has thrown for 1,127 yards, 11 touchdowns and one interception. Without question, his decision making has been excellent for the first third of the season. That will have to continue, however, against the Clemson Tigers, a much different animal than Tech’s first four opponents. The boys from Death Valley have the most ferocious front four in the country, as the Clemson defense ranks in the top 5 in sacks, scoring, and total defense. Although the Tech offensive line has been steady thus far in pass protection, it is hard to say how they will fare against the Alpha defense of college football. My prediction is that Virginia Tech will have a hard time finding the end zone, but they will still avoid the turnover bug, as Clemson ranks 103rd in the country in turnovers forced. With the way Tech has been playing on the other side of the ball, the Hokie offense may not need to do too much. Defensively, Virginia Tech has used the Enter Sandman crowd to its advantage, as the Lunch Pail Defense has not surrendered a single point at Lane Stadium this season. Although the two opponents were Delaware and Old Dominion, the Tech defense showed significant improvement from their week one performance against West Virginia. Given that Clemson has to bring out a first-year starting quarterback into a hostile environment, things look promising for the boys of Blacksburg. Tiger quarterback Kelly Bryant is a major threat on the ground, rushing for 268 yards and 7 touchdowns thus far. However, he will have a difficult time going up against one college football’s best linebacker trios in Tremaine Edmunds, Mook Reynolds, and Andrew Motuapuaka. Although Tech is having injury and suspension issues in the secondary, Bryant has not proven his ability to throw the ball; he has thrown for two touchdowns and three interceptions. The aspect of Clemson’s offense to fear is the running game. The Tigers have one of the nation’s best rushing attacks, using a running back by committee approach to rank 13th in rushing offense. This includes success against formidable defensives like Louisville, Auburn, and Boston College. Tech’s excellent front seven better put an extra sandwich in that lunch pail, and maybe an extra man in the box. This will be one of the great matchups to look for in this game. I would say that this will be a back and forth battle, with Clemson gaining 180 yards rushing. Perhaps the loudness of Lane Stadium will cause problems for the Clemson offensive line, which could help neutralize the running game even more. In a game of stellar defenses and inexperienced quarterbacks, this game will come down to who will make the fewest mistakes. Thus far, Josh Jackson has been the better decision maker, and that will not change on Saturday. One or two major hookups with elite wide receiver Cam Philips could be the difference, if the Tech defense plays the way it has thus far in Lane Stadium. However, while Tech’s front seven is talented enough to neutralize the run-game of Clemson, they may have to commit extra men to the box. With defensive backs Adonis Alexander and Divine Diablo out, Tech will have to put inexperienced corners on islands, something that will not make defensive coordinator Bud Foster too confident. Even with Bryant's struggles through the air, the Tech secondary surrendered almost 200 passing yards to ECU in the first quarter, which occurred the week after Alexander’s suspension. Needless to say, the Hokies will have to adapt fast on the back end, regardless of the opponent, or it could spell trouble. Clemson may win battles on offense with their stellar run-game, and with uncertainties in the Tech secondary. But Virginia Tech will ultimately win the war by not turning the football over, and by the difference making ability of Cam Philips. Although Jackson may not put up video-game numbers, he will likely be chased around by the Clemson front four, he will manage the game as well as he has all season, not forcing throws. Bryant’s lack of passing ability and experience will help the Tech secondary neutralize the Clemson passing attack. In a close one, Tech will avenge last year’s ACC Championship Game, and establish themselves as one of college football’s greats.

Prediction: #12 Virginia Tech 20, #2 Clemson 19

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