WHAT WE ARE HEARING: ACC CHAMPIONSHIP PREVIEW & PREDICTION FOR NO.3 CLEMSON vs. NO.23 UVA
- 2019-12-07 14:24:37
Welcome to the ACC Championship edition of What We Are Hearing!
Finally, the long regular season is over, and we are about to begin the post-season. For the second straight year and third time in the last five years, the Tigers are 12-0 heading into the ACC Championship Game. This team has been breaking records on a weekly basis, and it has a chance to become the first ever to win five consecutive conference championship games. It’s also the first team to hold all 12 regular season opponents to less than 300 total yards since the mid-90’s and the first team to win 7 straight games by 30 points or more since WWI!
The Tigers will face, of course, No.23 UVA, their fifth different ACC Championship opponent in 5 years and 6th different opponent overall. The only team the Tigers have not faced in the ACC Championship is now Duke. Many of you who have been following Clemson for a long time will recall that the Tigers beat UVA 29 straight times before finally losing to the Wahoos for the first time in 1990. The Tigers’ 38-8 record against UVA is an even better win percentage than they enjoy against Wake Forest or South Carolina.
On to the matchup!
Clemson leads the all-time series with UVA 38-8-1….The last time UVA beat Clemson was in 2004 in Charlottesville…. Clemson has won 37 of its last 40 games away from home and 25 of its last 26 true road games….Clemson and Alabama are tied for the most consecutive weeks in the AP Top 10 at 74 straight weeks, although Alabama dropped to No.12 in the CFP Rankings this week. Georgia is 3rd at 43 weeks… Clemson has won its last 41 straight Saturday games, the longest streak in the nation….
I was one of those in the ACC Media who voted for UVA to win the Coastal preseason, and it looked like 3 or 4 other teams might win the division at various points in the season, but we have come full-circle back to the ‘Hoos thanks to their 39-30 win over nemesis VA Tech last week. That finally snapped a 15-game losing streak to the Hokies and sent UVA to its first ACC Championship Game. The ‘Hoos should have beaten the Hokies last year and ended their nation-long bowl streak, but UVA choked at the end of the game, and I wasn’t sure if they were going to get over the psychological hump this year, but they did. Who knows how much confidence they will derive from that, but belief is a powerful thing!
The ‘Hoos go as quarterback Bryce Perkins goes. The transfer from Arizona State has had a tremendous season for fourth-year Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall. He has completed 64.2% of his passes for 2,949 yards, 16 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. He’s also one of the more dangerous running QB’s in the country, rushing for 687 yards and 11 TD’s on 3.5 yards per carry, net of sacks. Perkins is a great leader with a ton of moxie, and he won’t get rattled, although he’s never seen a defense like Clemson’s or a defensive coordinator like Brent Venables.
Perkins has a couple very good play-makers to throw to at the receiver position. 6’3, 215-pound senior Hasise Dubois (#8) is great at making acrobatic catches on 50-50 balls. He leads the team in yards per catch. 6’1, 215-pound senior Joe Reed (#2) leads the team with 70 catches and 6 touchdowns. Aside from Reed and Dubois, no other player has more than one TD catch this season. 6’4, 240-pound senior TE Tanner Cowley (#44) averages a couple catches per game and has one TD this season.
The ‘Hoos don’t have a formidable running game aside from Perkins. Their leading running back is 5’9, 210-pound sophomore Wayne Taulapapa (#21), who has just 416 yards on 4 yards per carry. He leads the team with 12 rushing touchdowns this season. UVA has the No.2 scoring offense in the ACC behind the Tigers.
Defensively, the ‘Hoos are very sound tacklers and are well-coached. Their top-3 sack leaders are linebackers, which is obviously unusual. Jordan Mack leads the team with 7.5 sacks, Noah Taylor has 6.5 and Zane Zandier has 5. As a team, UVA has 43 sacks on the season, which is even more than the Tigers and No.6 nationally. UVA has 11 interceptions as a team but just 6 fumble recoveries, so they are No.58 in turnovers forced.
Junior kicker Brian Delaney is 19-23 on field goals this season with a long of 49. He is 4-5 from over 40 yards.
The Tigers are in great shape physically and mentally after a bye week and another blowout at South Carolina last week, in which they cleared their bench in the third quarter. Clemson is a well-oiled machine right now on both sides of the ball. The offense is significantly better than it was at this time last year—in large part because of Trevor Lawrence’s development as a runner. He is making great decisions both in the passing game and when to run the ball. That is probably the one part of his game that was lacking last season as a true freshman. The Clemson offense is a nightmare to defend right now because if you commit a defender to spy Trevor, you lose a defender against the numerous weapons in the passing game. If you don’t spy him, he will take off for a first down when all the receivers are covered. On top of that, Travis Etienne and Lyn-J Dixon have become very viable options in the passing game. Simply put, it’s pick your poison.
Defensively, the Tigers are also remarkably ahead of where they were last year. Dabo told me back in July at his house that he thought this could be the best back seven he has ever coached, and that raised my eyebrows. Sure enough, that has played out to be the case. The Tigers have the No.1 pass defense in the nation, and that has allowed the young, inexperienced front to develop. The Tigers lead the nation in stops and three-and-outs, and they are No.1 in scoring defense, just like last year, allowing just 10.1 points per game.
BT Potter made a 46-yard field goal last week, but he ended on a sour note, missing from 32. Potter has struggled from short distances all season—especially from the right has—and I asked Dabo if he would allow Potter to work through it this time rather than use Sawicki on shorter kicks. Dabo said Potter has made 3 of his last 4, which is consistent enough, so he will see how Potter does with his next few kicks.
The Tigers are 29-point favorites over the ‘Hoos, and they have run roughshod over the ACC in the last 7 games since the close-call at UNC, winning by more than 30 points in each. In fact, the Tigers have blown out 21 of their last 22 opponents going back to last season! Think about this: Clemson is 70-4 in its last 74 games going back to 2014. Those 4 losses? A close loss to Alabama in the National Championship that the Tigers should have won, another loss to Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, a last-second field goal against Pitt and a Friday the 13th road loss at Syracuse without a starting quarterback or starting kicker, losing by 3 with 2 missed easy field goals. That might be the most incredible, dominant stretch of 74 games in the history of college football!
This game will be no different than the last seven for the Tigers. It’s not about the opponent. It’s about the Tigers playing to their championship standard. UVA is a sound, well-coached football team, and they don’t beat themselves, but they are simply outmanned by the uber-talented Tigers. The only chance the ‘Hoos have to stay in the game is for the Tigers to turn the ball over several times, and that is something they have managed to avoid over the past several games. The Tigers are No.8 in the nation with a +11 turnover margin this season.
I expect this ACC Championship to resemble the last two, with the Tigers jumping out to a big early lead and playing all the reserves in the second half. Expect to see QB Taisun Phommachanh play in his fourth game of the season. Dabo has been saving that fourth game so they can redshirt him this season, and he has not played in the last several games.
The Tigers extend their win streak to 28 and make history again as the first team to win 5 consecutive conference championship games, and they tie West Virgnia for No.14 on the all-time win list. Make it 19 ACC Titles for the Tigers, 4 more than FSU! Hope for a UGA win over LSU because I believe that if Ohio State is No.1, there is a good chance they will opt to play in Arizona—especially if it’s LSU in the 4 spot. They won’t want to play the Bayou Bengals in Atlanta. Most people don’t realize that the Buckeyes’ biggest alumni base is in Arizona of all places. They had an enormous crowd there for the semi against Clemson in 2016. If LSU is No.1, however, we will almost certainly have to go to Arizona instead of Atlanta, just like 2016. While that worked out great for the Tigers last time, I am really hoping to play in Atlanta on the 28th!
The Prowl toward a 5th consecutive ACC Title and College Football Playoff appearance conclude. The Prowl toward a 4th National Title continues…..
CLEMSON 48 Virginia 13
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