Virginia Tech Football: Clemson Q&A Preview

The Hokies seek their first ACC Championship since 2010 and a coveted Orange Bowl berth on Saturday night in Orlando.

Deshaun Watson does the dab during Clemson's rout of South Carolina. [Clemson Athletics]

Virginia Tech is back where it belongs. After a five year hiatus that felt more like ten, Justin Fuente has lifted the Hokies to the ACC's grandest stage in just his first season in Blacksburg. No. 3 Clemson awaits in Orlando, a daunting challenge for Fuente's unit that will test this team in all three phases of the game. Led by 2015 Heisman finalist Deshaun Watson, the Tigers will almost certainly land in the College Football Playoff with a victory on Saturday evening.

While losses to Syracuse and Georgia Tech erased any far-fetched playoff aspirations for the Hokies, the Orange Bowl remains an appealing prize should Jerod Evans and company pull off the upset at newly remodeled Camping World Stadium. To get Clemson's perspective on their second-straight appearance in the ACC Championship Game, I spoke to David Hood, senior writer at TigerNet.com. You can find my answers to David's questions here.

JC: Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson has enjoyed another standout year for the Tigers, but Lamar Jackson has been on the receiving end of the majority of the Heisman hype around the ACC. Despite all the hoopla surrounding Jackson, Dabo Swinney has raved about Watson all season, going as far as calling him "the best player in the country" this past week. Would you agree with Dabo? Has Watson somehow gotten better as a junior?

DH: I think he has gotten a lot better. People will point to the 14 interceptions as proof that he has maybe regressed, but I can count at least seven of those that are the fault of his receivers - they let a ball hit them in the hands or chest and it bounces out and a defender makes a grab on the jump ball. His passing numbers are up even though wide receivers have dropped an astounding 30 passes. And, all you have to do is look at some of the game-winning drives he's had this season - at Auburn, Louisville, NC State, at FSU - he's done his best work this season.

JC: This weekend will mark the first time the Hokies and Tigers have met since 2012, an alarming gap that frustrates a fair share of Tech fans. Sparing us a timeless #GoACC scheduling rant, do you get the sense that the Clemson contingent would like more of this matchup as well?

DH: Yes! Let's face it, Virginia Tech and Clemson have, in my opinion, the two most rabid fan bases in the ACC. Both schools operate in cities that aren't big, they have stadiums that always have a great atmosphere and both are able to recruit at a very high level. I think most Clemson fans look at Virginia Tech and see a kindred spirit, and I know that when the Tigers were given Georgia Tech as the cross-division rival Clemson fans were angry. Virginia Tech wound up with Boston College - a nod to the old Big East days - and Clemson wound up with Georgia Tech because they've been playing since the early 1900's. But let's face it - Clemson and Virginia Tech have more in common than their cross-division rivals, and it would be a lot of fun to see these two in either Lane Stadium or Death Valley every year. What a win that would be for the ACC.

JC: The Tigers have a plethora of weapons offensively, highlighted by ultra-talented receivers Mike Williams and Deon Cain (and that's not even mentioning first-team All-ACC tight end Jordan Leggett). What's the recipe that teams like N.C. State and Auburn have used to slow down such an elite group of skill position players?

DH: Those teams sold out to stop the run and dared the Tigers to win the game through the air. Most of the time, that is a recipe for disaster but there is a common theme in those close games - Clemson turnovers. Watson threw for a bunch of yards, but Clemson had three fumbles inside the Auburn 10 and had three more inside the NC State 20. Take away the turnovers and those games are routs. But you can't, so....

JC: As a self-admitted college football addict, I've grown to admire the way Dabo runs the Clemson football program over the past several years. In a modern college football landscape that often feels contrived, where coaches like Ed Orgeron are the exception, not the rule, Dabo just seems real. Do you see that helping the Tigers on the recruiting trail, or better yet, in the athletic department's checkbook?

DH: Dabo doesn't just seem real, he is real. When he first arrived at Clemson I didn't quite understand his approach (when he was a wide receivers coach) and I often wondered if it was all an act. It wasn't, and his demeanor just resonates with the families of recruits. He sometimes irks Clemson fans because he is quick to suspend or punish a player, but he goes in the living room and tells momma that he will make her boy into a man if nothing else, and he stands by that promise. When he took the job in late 2008, he made the administration promise that they would build first-class facilities, and the new football operations center (slated to open in late January) will be the best of its kind in the country. And yes, it helps to have a charismatic coach who can go out to fundraisers and kiss babies and talk to everyone like he's known them his entire life.

JC: Brent Venables has rolled out yet another top-10 defense for the Tigers despite replacing seven starters from a 2015 team that ultimately fell to Alabama in the National Championship game. What's surprised you most about the performance of Venables' unit, and who should Hokies fans be keeping an eye on Saturday night?

DH: The group that has surprised me the most is the defensive line. Both defensive ends from last season went in the top 32 picks in the NFL draft, and then they lost a presumptive starting defensive end to injury in fall camp. What did they do? Moved freak athlete and defensive tackle Christian Wilkins out to end and all they've done is once again finish in the top three nationally in tackles for loss and sacks. They are finally healthy and playing like one of the nation's best units. Even scarier - they lose exactly one player off of their defensive line three-deep to the NFL this season, and that's tackle Carlos Watkins. All the rest will be back.

JC: Where do you see the Hokies giving Clemson the most problems?

DH: Tight end and fullback in space. Clemson has made average tight ends look like All-Americans the last few seasons, and we all know Bucky Hodges is far from average. Wheel routes and sideline routes with athletic tight ends have been a nightmare for Venables.

JC: Time to put you on the spot: who wins Saturday, and why?

DH: I think this game is close. I love Justin Fuente and I think he's a great coach at making adjustments when he has to. There is also the fact that Jerod Evans is a baller but hasn't gotten the respect he deserves because he plays in the same conference as Watson and Lamar Jackson. I think the Hokies will have a lot they want to prove Saturday night. But...this Clemson team has responded after the loss to Pitt and is playing its best football of the season, and Watson is on a tear. Tigers win late.

Comments

Nice write up. Actually a very measured and informative response from the Clemson side in my opinion. And I agree, an annual Clemson - VT match up would be a big win for the ACC and probably for our recruiting, given that this game would probably always be a prime time televised game. Assuming both programs maintain current trajectories, we're looking at a ranked, cross division rivalry pretty much every year. Or we can just keep going to Boston...

Thanks for taking the time to put this together Joey.

What would it take to have TWO cross-division rivalry games? We could drop an FCS team or even the special games at the beginning of the season.

Would there be any traction to this?

A 9-game conference schedule. Which ESPN demanded when we got the ACC network. And which ACC officials refused to implement, costing every school $500,000 a year.

A 9-game conference schedule. Which ESPN demanded when we got the ACC network. And which ACC officials CLEMSON refused to implement, costing every school $500,000 a year.

Great write up and some great answers from clemsons side. We will just have to win the coastal every year now to make Clemson as a cross division rivalry ! I've been intrigued about how the Hokies would matchup against Clemson , can't wait till tomorrow !

Thanks David! I enjoyed these responses. So if we disregard tipped INTs, where does that put Jerod? 3? 2?

___

-What we do is, if we need that extra push, you know what we do? -Put it up to fully dipped? -Fully dipped. Exactly. It's dork magic.

Great write up - thanks!

Dabo sux

GO HOKIES!

I have a few friends that are Clemson alums, and they all say that they would love to play VT more often. It would definitely be a boost to each school's SOS most years.

I just sit on my couch and b*tch. - HokieChemE2016

Same boat. Of my four good friends who go to CU, one has a little brother at VT, and another has a little sister who played soccer at VT (was on the team that went to the final four). Really wish tomorrow's game was still in Charlotte; it's really a halfway point for both schools.

Twitter me

both are able to recruit at a very high level.

Aww this guy is too kind. Otherwise a pretty on the money interview. I am terrified of their DL

Wow Joey, great interview. I'm glad you didn't use this guy in the below link for the interview.

Hokie Hater

I found his article to be pretty funny. Obviously, I agree with none of it, but he's offering up a product to his readers, and I have to give him credit; he did a pretty good job.

I hate feline mascots more than this guy hates bird mascots.

I did think the Vick bashing was distasteful; he let that one get personal. I guess this guy doesn't believe in second chances, and that anyone he views as a "human piece of garbage" should just be completely ostracized, disregarded, and left behind by society. That just isn't a very realistic approach to life. Vick actually is in my opinion one of the greatest examples of second chances. I don't think Virginia Tech embraced Vick or his actions, as much as they've embraced the example he has set when given a second chance by society.

--
"It's time to go play Virginia Tech Football longer and harder than anybody else in America!!" -- Justin Fuente
"I put a brick in Sacksburg today." -- Cam Phillips

I think he meant '"The Black Album" is the impetus' not '"The Black Album" is the impetuous'

Those words do not mean the same thing. Just sayin

Overall I thought the Hokie Hate article was very good, but this sentence...ugh:

Justin Fuente just won ACC coach of the year, an award that rightfully belongs to Dabo Swinney.

I know it's a joke article, but if the guy really, honestly believes Swinney deserves to be ACCCOY over Fuente (and I guarantee there are people who do), he isn't good at sound logic. Yes, Fuente and the Hokies lost to GT and Syracuse and yes Clemson has the better record. Our two losses are terrible and honestly should not have happened. He's 100% right about that. But to say that Fuente is less deserving than Swinney for COY is plain wrong. This Tech team was picked to finish FOURTH in the Coastal, so we weren't even supposed to be sniffing the ACCCG. Clemson is right where everyone predicted they would be, Tech is not. And that's why Fuente deserves COY more than Swinney, because he did more than was expected of him. Like I said I know it's supposed to be a joke article, similar to FOErensics or the Hatin' On thread...but he honestly can't think Swinney was the COY. /rant

"It's a miracle in Blacksburg, TYROD DID IT MIKEY, TYROD DID IT!"

I'm honestly surprised at how reasonable this interview is, one of my favorites this season. Tigernet is the Clemson website that many Clemson fans don't even want to claim. Doesn't mean the people who run it aren't solid, good people, but the community is certainly Clemson's most aggressive, defensive, and haughty bunch.

Did you do a similar Q&A for their forum? Didn't see it mentioned in the article. Regardless, well done and GO HOKIES!!!

Yeah, I'll link to it once they publish over at TigerNet.

Good stuff, Joey.

Warning: this post occasionally contains strong language (which may be unsuitable for children), unusual humor (which may be unsuitable for adults), and advanced mathematics (which may be unsuitable for liberal-arts majors)..

Good read, thanks for linking!

AND THANKS TO TKP FOR DESIGNING THIS SITE THE WAY YOU DID.

Agree with everybody on playing them more. The more big games per year the better.

I like it when the prediction goes against us.

Hokies, Local Soccer, AFC Ajax, Ravens

I like the Hokie Hater article. If that is the dirt they can dig up on us, that dude is digging a long way back and very deep. Clemson and VT are two class programs that do athletics right. We will be right where they are very soon in football. We have surpassed them in many other sports. Go Hokies, let's crush these tigers. We have nothing to lose, let's have fun, and win the next two and arrive back into big boy football!

SCHokie

Clemson and VT are two class programs that do athletics right.

Yes, this is exactly what I was thinking when I read that the new football facility at Clemson would have a laser tag area.

Warning: this post occasionally contains strong language (which may be unsuitable for children), unusual humor (which may be unsuitable for adults), and advanced mathematics (which may be unsuitable for liberal-arts majors)..

I don't want to be classy if it means I can't play laser tag.

Clemson/ Virginia Tech every year would make for some amazing tv. Their atmosphere is awesome despite riding on a bus and skipping down a hill. Lane and Death Valley alternating years would be the best thing and would certainly make our conference schedule stronger.

"...When we step on that field, they bleed like we bleed and we're gonna show the world."
-Corey Marshall

Take away the turnovers and those games are routs. But you can't, so....

Wait, you can't take away turnovers? What about hurricanes, can you take away those?

LMAO, at least he understands that you CAN'T!

"Hey Bud, you wont have to hold the opponent to 17 points anymore."

Great interview and write-up Joey. I was a little suprised at how realistic and reasonable the responses were. This a damn, fine read!

Let's Go

HOKIES

Great responses. The thought of playing every year has me salivating. I've always enjoyed Clemson as a team (when not playing us, of course!)

Great level headed article! The hate piece was fantastic until he got onto the politics of Vick. Maybe should of saved it for another blog. As I understand it MV did not run anything but did the financing. So he's wrong there.

I believe it all comes down to can we move the ball. Can't wait for the game and yes I would love to play them more often.

"Hey Bud, you wont have to hold the opponent to 17 points anymore."

Ugh. Orange juice and cookies? Best way to simulate throwing up in your mouth...

Warning: this post occasionally contains strong language (which may be unsuitable for children), unusual humor (which may be unsuitable for adults), and advanced mathematics (which may be unsuitable for liberal-arts majors)..

I'm so confused.

Another white bronco? The first one didn't go too far.