Whenever Clemson or North Carolina scored in last year’s ACC Championship Game in Charlotte, the edges of a nearby building flashed the colors of the team that had added to its point total. The colors of each school flickered a lot throughout that evening before the Tigers escaped with a 45-37 victory.
It remains to be seen if there will be any flashing structures in Orlando on Saturday for Clemson and Virginia Tech’s championship showdown. If there are, it’s probably safe to assume they’ll be saving more on their electric bill.
This weekend’s ACC title matchup could go in a few directions, but a shootout is unlikely to be one of them. Even less probable, though, would be a blowout either way.
The Tigers’ defense has been stingy all season, surrendering only 4.53 yards per play, which is No. 4 nationally. A major reason why they allowed 37 points in last year’s league championship game was that they were facing a UNC offense that finished No. 1 in the country in yards per play (7.28).
While Clemson has remained one of America’s best defensive squads under coordinator Brent Venables this season, that doesn’t mean it will keep the Hokies from putting up a fight. In fact, regular-season results would suggest otherwise.
Virginia Tech’s offense — which has improved under first-year Hokie head coach Justin Fuente — ranks No. 66 in the nation in yards per play (5.8). That’s a far cry from what the Tar Heels achieved in 2015. Of Clemson’s five FBS opponents this season who rank lower in that category, the Tigers beat all but one by at least 22 points. However, against their six foes who have produced more offensive yards per play, Clemson lost once and won by only one possession four other times.
Venables’ group had its way with its last two opponents: Wake Forest and South Carolina. The only thing “offensive” about those two teams is that they’re both offensively bad. The Hokies’ offense poses a much greater threat. Quarterback Jerod Evans is among the ACC’s most efficient passers, completing 63.8 percent of his throws for 3,045 yards and 26 touchdowns to only five interceptions. Isaiah Ford is arguably the best receiver in Virginia Tech history. Tight end Bucky Hodges is a large, reliable target who just earned third-team All-ACC honors this week.
Clemson’s defense can hold Tech to fewer points than it gave up against UNC last season, but even that might not be enough to guarantee a win. The biggest key for the Tigers? Force turnovers.
The turnover margin is the most noticeable common denominator in the Hokies’ three losses this season. They were minus-4 against Tennessee, minus-1 against Syracuse and minus-3 versus Georgia Tech. Only once did they lose the turnover battle this fall and walk away victorious; that was against a pitiful Notre Dame team went 4-8.
The Tigers’ offense is potent enough to make Virginia Tech pay for any mistakes it makes. Evans and Co. are talented enough to make a game out of it, but if Clemson’s D makes the most of its opportunities, there will once again be plenty of orange and white at midfield during postgame ceremonies.