NCAA Saturday Night Football: Clemson/Virginia Tech Preview

by Big Al Staff

The Saturday night game on ABC features a must-win game for the Clemson Tigers. A victory for Dabo Swinney’s team clinches their spot in the ACC championship game in a rematch with Notre Dame, who handed them their only loss this season. But a talented yet underachieving Virginia Tech team still stands in their way in this showdown in Blacksburg.

The Tigers rebounded from their 47-40 loss to the Fighting Irish in South Bend last week by defeating Pittsburgh by a 52-17 score as a 24-point favorite. Clemson generated 581 yards of offense while holding the Panthers to only 246 yards. The Tigers also benefited from a +4 net turnover margin.

Junior quarterback Trevor Lawrence did not miss a beat returning to the field after missing the last two games after testing positive for COVID. Lawrence completed 26 of 37 passes for 403 yards with two touchdowns passes. He is completing 70.6% of his passes this season for 2236 yards with 19 touchdown passes and only two interceptions.

Virginia Tech started the season with a 4-2 record after losing at North Carolina and Wake Forest. Yet they have since endured three straight upset losses to Liberty, Miami (FL), and then at Pittsburgh two weeks ago by a 47-14 score as a 6.5-point favorite. The losses to the Flames and Hurricanes were by only four combined points before things fell apart against the Panthers.

Expectations were very high this year for head coach Justin Fuente in the fifth year with this program. With 18 starters back from the team that finished 8-5 while winning six of their last eight games after Fuente tapped Hendon Hooker as his starting quarterback, some observers considered this Hokies group to be his best yet in Blacksburg. COVID outbreaks and player defections have been unexpected obstacles for the program.

The Virginia Tech defense has been the biggest disappointment for this team. Long-time defensive coordinator Bud Foster retired while seemingly leaving the cupboard full with ten starters back from a unit that allowed 363.3 yards-per-game, which ranked 42nd in the nation. Rather than improving on those numbers, this defense has taken a step or two back by allowing their opponents to score 32.6 points-per-game and average 462.1 yards-per-game, with the latter number ranking 109th of the 127 competing FBS teams.

Virginia Tech could salvage something positive this year if they could spoil Clemson’s season by pulling the upset. The Hokies are ninth in the nation by averaging 250.9 rushing yards-per-game led by Hooker and Kansas grad transfer Khalil Herbert at running back. Virginia has won all four of their games this season when they rush for at least 260 yards. Yet this Tigers’ defense is third in the nation by holding their opponents to 102.6 rushing yards-per-game. The last time Clemson allowed 260 rushing yards was against Louisville in October of 2016.

BookMaker lists Clemson as a 22-point road favorite with the total set at 67.  The ABC broadcast begins at 7:30 PM ET.

All photographic images used for editorial content have been licensed from the Associated Press.

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