Saturday’s ACC Championship Game in Orlando will be the first time new Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente has faced Clemson under Dabo Swinney, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of familiarity between the programs and coaching staffs.
Fuente was a finalist for the offensive coordinator position at Clemson back in 2008, a job that ultimately went to current SMU coach Chad Morris. Fuente, who was then the offensive coordinator at TCU, has also gone head to head with Tigers defensive coordinator Brent Venables, a former DC at Oklahoma.
Yet, the man in Blacksburg who best knows Swinney and Clemson is Hokie defensive coordinator Bud Foster.
The elite coordinator is, of course, the biggest link to the previous Virginia Tech regime under legendary coach Frank Beamer.
“Obviously, Coach Foster will delve into that defensive game plan and do a great job giving our guys a chance to have success,” Fuente said. “Having guys with experience is a good thing and we have guys with experience on both sides of the ball.”
Foster was once thought to have been a candidate for the Clemson job before the interim coach tag was removed from Swinney’s title in 2009. Since then the Hokies and Tigers have met just three times, but Swinney has gotten the better of Foster’s defense each time.
That includes the last time the two programs met in the ACC Championship Game. The 2011 title game was an upset victory for Clemson and in many ways marked a turning point for both programs and a shift in power in the ACC.
Virginia Tech entered the game ranked No. 5 and favored by a touchdown, but the Tajh Boyd-led Tigers pounded the Hokies, 38-10. Tech then lost the Sugar Bowl to Michigan and never reached those heights again under Beamer, while Clemson has since become one of the top programs in the ACC.
The Hokies lost to Clemson again in 2012 and haven’t faced the Tigers since, meaning they haven’t seen quarterback Deshaun Watson up close, but given the similarities between Watson and Boyd, his predecessor, Foster will need to come up with some new tricks to slow down the current version of Clemson’s offense.
Boyd threw for 604 yards and six touchdowns with one interception in three games against Foster’s defense. He also rushed for three touchdowns while leading the Tigers to victory by at least 20 points each time.
Few people, if any, would argue that Watson has been an upgrade from Boyd, which means the Hokies know the challenge in front of them.
“Obviously they are very talented and very well coached,” Fuente said.
“Coach Swinney, I have a tremendous amount of respect for him. He’s done a fantastic job down there. They have athletes all over the field on both sides of the football and they play together. They’ve been in some close ballgames and found a way to win them and obviously came darn close to winning the whole thing last year.”
The challenge is obvious, but the Hokies hope this time they can flip the script from 2011 and move back to the top of the ACC.
Bud Foster, torched by Clemson in an ACC title game five years ago, is the man who must make it happen for Virginia Tech.