CLEMSON — Clemson coach Dabo Swinney gave his players an extended break this weekend during their open date to rest, heal and take a general reprieve from football. Clemson players who tuned in to watch their next opponent, Virginia Tech, rather than spend Saturday at Lake Hartwell, saw a first half that played out as poorly as the first half of the season for the Hokies.
Who: Virginia Tech (4-3, 2-1 ACC) at No. 14 Clemson (5-1, 2-1) When: 12 p.m. Saturday Where: Memorial Stadium, Clemson Television: (ABC or ESPN2)Line: Clemson by 11
Virginia Tech, the preseason favorite in the ACC Coastal Division, found itself down, 20-0, to Duke. The Hokies (4-3, 2-1 ACC) entered the game losing three of their last four games, with losses to Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and North Carolina.
But if Clemson players watched the game to conclusion, they saw the Hokies regroup and score 41 unanswered points. Virginia Tech hopes the effort is the beginning of a second-half turnaround, a signal its offense is starting to improve, an offense returning only three starters from last season’s team that lost to Clemson in the ACC title game.
Virginia Tech will test its offensive improvement against suspect Clemson defense at noon Saturday at Memorial Stadium. The Tigers (5-1, 2-1) are seeking a third straight win against the Hokies and to tie a program record with an 11th consecutive home win.
Clemson’s defense should show some second-half improvement as it does not face another offense ranked in the top 40 of total yards the rest of the season. Virginia Tech ranks 69th in the nation in total offense. The Tigers have already played Florida State’s 12th-ranked offense and Georgia Tech’s 17th-ranked offenses. Still, many of Clemson’s defensive issues are internal in nature and have little to do with the opposition, said linebacker Tig Willard.
“The main thing is tackling,” Willard said. “That’s basically the biggest aspect of the game, to get the other person on the ground.”
Prior to the Boston College and Georgia Tech games, Swinney allowed his defenders to take first- and second-team offensive players to the ground in full tackling conditions in practice. It was the first time during his tenure Swinney allowed live tackling, an effort to improve game tackling.
The practice was curbed during Clemson’s bye week as Swinney wanted to heal the minor injuries which accumulated the first six weeks of the season.
“Guys are pretty beat up,” Swinney said. “(Georgia Tech week) was like three games.”
How much the extra tackling has helped might be known Saturday.
Virginia Tech is showing signs of offensive life, having scored 77 points in its last two games. The effort has been led by Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas, whom some projected as a first-round NFL draft pick prior to the season due to his 6-6, 240-pound size and athleticism.
Thomas has thrown for 610 yards and four TDs against two interceptions the last two weeks.
Maybe Tech and Clemson will meet again in 2012. If they play again in the ACC title game, it will likely be because the Virginia Tech offensive improvement is for real and improvement begins for the Clemson defense.