David Hood: Clemson vs Virginia Prediction

by - Senior Writer -
Harper turned in his best performance of the season last week against the Blue Devils, playing in just 2 ½ quarters.

On homecoming weekend, this Pigskin Prognosticator got back above the .500 mark with a correct pick in Clemson's win over the Duke Blue Devils. That was an easy pick - Duke came in on a little bit of a slide, and when quarterback Thaddeus Lewis got knocked out in the first quarter, the Bob Bradley Press Box at Death Valley became a much more relaxed place for yours truly. This week will prove to be a much bigger challenge for me, and Virginia might prove to be a much bigger challenge for the Tigers. On to the pick:

Clemson at Virginia

When Clemson Has the Ball

Clemson quarterback turned in his best performance of the season last week against the Blue Devils, playing in just 2 ½ quarters. His throws were right on the money, and the only criticism I had of his play was that on two of his sacks, he held the ball too long. The sacks turned out to be a non-factor, however, as the offensive line made another step forward and Aaron Kelly set a record. Oh, and there was that C.J. Spiller guy, donning the Superman cape. Superman will have to be present again this weekend, as the Tigers are in must-win mode in order to have a postseason. The Cavaliers rank near the bottom of the ACC in most defensive categories, except for sacks, where they are second in the league. However, Clemson has found a proven formula over the past several weeks, and that is to get Spiller as many touches as possible. The formula that worked last week for the Tigers, no turnovers, and limiting their penalties, should be enough to keep up the scoring pace they've had since Dabo Swinney took over.


When Virginia has the Ball

Nothing that the Cavaliers do on offense really jumps out at you - they simply take what the defense gives them, limit their turnovers and sacks, and rely on winning the low-scoring, close ball games. The key for Clemson in this game won't be getting sacks, but getting enough pressure to force a turnover or two in key spots, and also getting the Cavaliers off the field after third down. Except for the hiccup at Florida State, in what defensive coordinator called a "deer in the headlights" game, the Clemson defense has looked dominant the last several weeks. Clemson has to limit the underneath routes thrown to the backs and tight ends, which keep drives alive and drive defensive coordinators into retirement. If Clemson's slightly smaller defensive line can keep from being manhandled by Virginia's big offensive line, the linebackers continue to mature, and use their speed, it might be hard for Virginia to dent the scoreboard.


Special Teams

This might be one of those weeks when Clemson breaks another huge special teams play. The Seminoles and Blue Devils held Jacoby Ford and Spiller pretty well in check in the return game, but kicker Mark Buckholz is pretty much automatic this season. Jimmy Maners has been adequate, but he might play a huge part in the field position game if the Tigers struggle to score points on offense. I am also going to use this space to give special props to special teams coach Andre Powell - his group has been outstanding in kickoff and punt coverage. Clemson has the advantages here.



This one is easy for me, even being objective. I simply hate the way Al Groh coaches, but I know I'm not the only one. He goes back to the old school days of playing possession football, fight for field position, and kick a field goal at the end. Yes, it works. But even the king of old school, Joe Paterno, has loosened the reigns up in Happy Valley. Groh's style, in today's college game, is perfect for ensuring seven wins a year, but nothing more, unless he has the one exceptional season every six years or so. Be thankful, Clemson fans, that he is not coming to Clemson. I am not sure Tiger fans could take 10-7 games every week (unless he was winning 10-12 games a year, which he isn't.) Dabo Swinney has certainly energized the players, and they seem to be responding with a passion not seen on the field at Clemson in a few years. Sure, Groh has NFL experience, and was probably diagramming plays when Dabo was still in diapers, but it doesn't mean he is a great coach now.

ADVANTAGE – Slight to Clemson

Bottom Line

This week is different, simply because this Virginia teams looks big and nasty and physical, and we all know what has happened in the past to Clemson teams in that environment. Throw in the fact that Virginia has had two weeks to prepare for the Tigers, the fact that they have a coaching staff with professional experience, and their seniors are playing their last home game, and a lot of that negates the advantages Clemson has in personnel. The home crowd is not a rowdy lot, but they can get a little loud if the Cavaliers get ahead early, so Clemson needs to make sure they get on top first and keep the pressure on. If the Tigers get behind, they become one-dimensional and the offensive line could struggle against a defense that is pinning their ears back. Get ahead and stay ahead has to be the game plan for the Tigers. I think Virginia gets an early score, but the Tigers come back and break open a close game in the third quarter.

Clemson 27, Virginia 17

David's Picks

Clemson at Boston College19-17 W27-21 W
Clemson at Florida St23-22 W27-41 L
Duke at Clemson34-23 W31-7 W
Clemson at Virginia27-17 W

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