ACC championship game preview: Virginia Tech vs. Clemson
By — Mark Giannotto,
8 p.m. at Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte TV: ESPN. Radio: WJFK (106.7 FM). Records: Hokies 11-1, 7-1; Tigers 9-3, 6-2.
Luster Gone, but Stakes still high
A month ago with Clemson undefeated and Virginia Tech hitting its stride after losing to the Tigers back in October, this year’s ACC championship game appeared poised to be a marquee matchup between two top-10 teams. The Hokies have held up their end of the bargain, entering Saturday with a seven-game winning streak. But Clemson has lost three of its past four games and, despite its win over Virginia Tech, is the underdog in this rematch. The Hokies’ motivation is simple: A win would avenge their only loss of the season, give them 12 wins for the first time in school history and put them in the Orange Bowl for the fourth time in five years. The Tigers, on the other hand, can eliminate the sting of another late-season collapse with their first ACC title in 20 years.
Logan Thomas vs. Tajh Boyd
Both teams’ seasons have mirrored the progress of their redshirt sophomore quarterbacks. Clemson’s Tajh Boyd threw 24 touchdowns and just three interceptions as the Tigers started the year 8-0, but he has just four touchdowns and seven interceptions since. Thomas, meantime, looked timid against the Tigers on Oct. 1, but he has since developed into Virginia Tech’s most valuable offensive weapon, accounting for 23 touchdowns and throwing just two interceptions. Boyd won the first battle of the week when he took home all-ACC first team honors over Thomas, but the quarterback who can avoid turnovers Saturday likely will be crowned league champion.
Slowing down Sammy Watkins
Clemson’s dynamic freshman wide receiver Sammy Watkins has 72 catches for 1,073 yards and 10 touchdowns this year, but Virginia Tech is one of the only teams in the country that gave him trouble. Back in October, Watkins had a season-low three catches for 38 yards while being covered mostly by Hokies senior Cris Hill, and it was a big reason why the Tigers’s high-powered attack was able to gain just 323 total yards. Can the Hokies do it again, particularly when wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins and tight end Dwayne Allen make it difficult to focus solely on Watkins?
— Mark Giannotto