As much as I wanted to see Virginia represent the Coastal Division in this game for the sake of seeing someone different, the suits that care more about ratings and attendance wanted Virginia Tech to be there, and they got their wish. The Hokies' opponent, Clemson, has become an enigma to figure out. The Tigers have lost three of their last four, and have done what is affectionately termed as "Clemsoned" themselves the last quarter of the season.
These two teams have headed down different paths since they met at the beginning of October. Virginia Tech has gone 7-0 and is beating opponents by an average score of 31-17 in that stretch. Clemson has gone 4-3 and has given up an average of 32 points per game in that stretch. Even before this stretch, Clemson's defense was a little suspect. They gave up 27 points and nearly lost to Wofford in the second game of the season. Imagine how this season would have gone had they lost that.
Before the October meeting, the two teams had only met five times since 1997, and the Hokies had dominated, winning all five, and allowing a grand total of 224 yards rushing in those five games. But the Tigers ran for 119 yards in that October game, and the Tigers defense was far more superior that day. Logan Thomas only averaged 4.6 yards per pass attempt, and only threw for 125 yards. The Hokies offense really couldn't get a lot going outside of David Wilson, and let's be honest, there hasn't been many instances this year where anyone has stopped him.
-Sammy Watkins The freshman wide receiver has been hobbled by injuries the last few weeks, and missed the NC State game. Watkins hasn't been on special teams in that time either, just to not risk more injury to the star receiver. Watkins had one return touchdown, but his returns seemed to put the Tigers in good field position.
Watkins receiving ability is what stood out. Watkins caught 72 passes for 1073 yards and 10 touchdowns. Watkins made his biggest mark on first down, as he caught 32 of those 72 passes on first down, and even ran the ball 18 times on first down. When the ball isn't being handed off to the running back, the ball is likely in Watkins hands.
One thing to keep an eye on with Watkins as well: he only has five receptions in the fourth quarter. Some of that can be attributed to a lot of games being blowouts, and he is likely on the sideline, but you have to wonder why he has disappeared so much in the fourth quarter. Is it a fatigue factor? It could be.
-Tajh Boyd In his first season as Clemson's starter, Boyd show a lot of maturity considering his lack of ,experience. For the season, Boyd completed just under 60% of his passes for 3338 yards, with 28 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Seven of Boyd's 10 interceptions have come in the last four games. At the same time, the offensive line has not done as good of a job protecting him, and Boyd has had to hurry his throws more. Boyd was sacked 27 times this season, in
Boyd's most success has occurred in the third quarter. The sophomore complete 66% of his passes for 1258 yards, with 12 touchdowns and three interceptions in that quarter. Boyd is also good in the first quarter, completing 59% of his passes. But he tends to struggle in the second and fourth quarters, making you believe that he can get out of the gates early, but when the defenses adjust, he tends to not counter those adjustments very easily.
-Logan Thomas The sophomore improved a lot as the season went along. After a couple of brutal outings to start the season, Thomas showed more confidence and poise. He still had a couple of off games throughout the year, but for the most part, showed he was a capable quarterback. Thomas completed 60.5% of his passes, and after the first two games of the season, completed nearly 63% of his passes. He is also a capable runner, finishing a distant second in rushing yards with 414.
Thomas is one of those players that got stronger as the game went on. His completion percentage went up each quarter, from 56% in the first quarter to nearly 70% by the fourth quarter. Thomas also ran more in the first half of games, as 72 of his 125 attempts came in the first half. When you break his stats down by downs, he was far better on first and second downs. Thomas completed nearly 67% of his passes on first and second downs, as opposed to third and fourth downs, when he only completed 44% in those situations.
-David Wilson In 12 games, Wilson failed to rush for 100 yards only twice, finishing with 1595 yards, which was third in the nation. Wilson averaged over six yards per carry as well, which showed how much of a force he was throughout the season. Wilson had at least 20 rushes in nine of the 12 games, and in the three he didn't rush 20 times, he still had over 100 yards in those games and averaged 8.6 yards per carry.
Wilson's carries by quarter were all pretty close together, but he was better in the second half, when he averaged 6.7 yards per carry as opposed to 5.7 in the first half. Of Wilson's 255 carries, all but 22 came on first and second down. Wilson averaged 6.1 yards per carry on first and second downs, and 7.4 yards on third down. Wilson only carried the ball once on fourth down for seven yards.
-Antone Exum Usually, when a member of your secondary is among your team leaders in tackles, it shows a weakness in front seven. This is not the case. Exum had a knack for finding the ball, leading the Hokies with 75 tackles, to go along with 2.5 tackles for loss, one sack, one interception, two forced fumbles, and 10 pass break ups.
I really wish I knew what to expect from Clemson. Could they be the team that came out and won their first eight games, or the team that lost three of their last four, and couldn't stop anybody defensively? My hunch is that they will be more like the latter. I think the Tigers have been exposed defensively, and it will be difficult for them to contain David Wilson at all. I could see Wilson rushing for 125 yards in this game, and the Hokies dominating the time of possession. While I think the Tajh Boyd to Sammy Watkins connection will be good for a touchdown, I don't think they will be able to do enough. I don't think Andre Ellington will get much accomplished on the ground either, as I believe the Hokies defense will be stout. Virginia Tech 31, Clemson 21