#12 Virginia Tech vs. #2 Clemson Picks
Tim ThomasThe 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 IrbyYou’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 LesterIt 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
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.