ACC Football: Virginia Tech not taking slumping Clemson lightly

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 2, 2011

By Steve Reed
Associated Press
CHARLOTTE ó Thereís no arguing Virginia Tech has momentum on its side entering Saturdayís ACC championship.
The fifth-ranked Hokies (11-1) have won seven straight while Clemson has lost three of four, including a bitter 34-13 setback against in-state rival South Carolina last week. The Tigers also are dealing with a slew of distractions.
Add in the fact the Hokies have experience on their side when it comes to big games ó theyíve won three of the last four ACC championships ó and itís easy to see why theyíre a seven-point favorite.
All of that means little to Frank Beamer.
The Virginia Tech coach knows just how tough it is to beat the Tigers.
Virginia Techís only loss this season came against Clemson (9-3) ó and it wasnít even close. The Hokies were drubbed 23-3 in front of their own fans as the Tigers beat them at their own game with a tough, physical and relentless defensive performance.
But the two teams have gone in opposite directions since.
Virginia Tech has not lost since, advancing to the title game with a 38-0 thumping of Virginia last week, while Clemsonís defense has given up 32.4 points per game since the decisive win in Blacksburg, Va.
ěThereís a thin line, such a thin line, between momentum and getting over a hump and not,î Beamer said Friday at Bank of America Stadium, site of Saturdayís game. ěI think they just got on the other side of that thin line, and sometimes itís hard once you get rolling the other way to get it back. But I think when youíve got talent on your football team like they do you can get into a game, and all of a sudden things get rolling.
ěWeíve experienced it firsthand.î
Beamerís referring to the inaugural ACC championship game in 2005 when the Hokies, a two-touchdown favorite, seemed poised to roll over an unranked Florida State team that had lost three straight conference games for the first time ever.
Instead, the opposite happened.
The Hokies committed 17 penalties and lost 27-22 in Jacksonville, Fla.
The good news for Virginia Tech is Beamerís teams normally excel in rematch games.
In both 2007 and ë08, the Hokies lost to Boston College during the regular season only to come back and win the rematch against the Eagles in the ACC championship. Virginia Techís other title came last year against the Seminoles.
Clemson has been to the ACC title game once, but lost in 2009 to Georgia Tech.
ěI think whatís happened in the past is in the past, and youíd better get ready to play this one ballgame with everything youíve got because theyíre putting a lot into it, and we need to do the same thing,î Beamer said.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney is trying to salvage what was once a promising season after the Tigers began 8-0 and were ranked as high as sixth in the country.
But heís had all sorts of issues to deal with.
Heís had to answer questions about first-year offensive coordinator Chad Morris potentially being a candidate to join Urban Meyerís staff at Ohio State. Heís acknowledged quarterback Tajh Boyd has struggled recently with his confidence. And ACC rookie of the year Sammy Watkins is hampered by a shoulder injury, although he should play Saturday.
Swinney also got into a feud with South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier on Thursday night after hearing Gamecocks play-by-play broadcaster Todd Ellis said, ěAs Coach Spurrier says, ëWe may not be LSU or Alabama, but we ainít Clemson, folks.í î
The quote was later posted on the Gamecocks football Twitter feed.
That prompted a four-minute eruption from Swinney on Thursday night that quickly made its way around the country via social media.
The Gamecocks have denied Spurrier made those comments.
ěI heard today that it supposedly wasnít said (by Spurrier), and thatís great,î Swinney said Friday. ěItís awful convenient on Thursday. I know this, that if my media put something out that I said and if it was nationally perceived that I said it, I promise you, I would correct it. I would make sure that it was made known that especially something that is derogatory that I wouldnít want my name attached to.î
But Swinney said heís put the issue behind him and his focus is on Saturdayís game against the Hokies, not last week.
In particular, itís on stopping on stopping Virginia Tech sophomore quarterback Logan Thomas.
During Virginia Techís seven-game winning streak, Thomas has 23 touchdowns (14 passing and nine rushing) and only two interceptions.
Heíll have a chance to avenge his last outing against the Tigers in which he completed 15 of 27 passes for 125 yards and was picked off once. He was sacked four times.
ěHeís been the real key for their football team,î Swinney said. ěTheyíve done a great job in using him effectively in the running game. You can see how his confidence has grown. Theyíve done a few things different in the passing game, but he has really become an accurate thrower, and heís gotten just a lot more confident. Heís got a big arm ó a big, big arm ó so heís a problem for anybody thatís playing him, thereís no question.î
Thereís also the matter of stopping tailback David Wilson, the ACC player of the year, whom Swinney considers ěone of the best players in the country.î
For Clemson, the game could come down to taking care of the football. The Tigers are a combined minus-10 in the turnover category over their last four games.
ěIt kind of takes the air out of this side of the ball and it creates energy for the opponent, and it creates opportunities, hurts you in field position, and on and on and on,î Swinney said.
Virginia Tech will be relying on its experience in big games. But Beamer knows the Hokies have to come ready to play ó or there could be a repeat of 2005.
ěI think experience always matters,î Beamer said. ěTheyíve struggled a little bit down at the end here. But I know this, that when youíve got talent like they have, theyíre just a play or two away from getting that momentum back.î
The Associated Press
12/02/11 17:45