WHAT WE ARE HEARING: PREVIEW & PREDICTION FOR NO.1 CLEMSON vs. UVA
- 2020-10-02 18:49:19
Welcome to another edition of What We Are Hearing!
After an early but well-timed bye week, the top-ranked Tigers are ready for an ACC Championship rematch with 1-0 UVA at 8:00 in Death Valley. The Tigers dominated the Wahoos 62-17 in Charlotte last December, and yet Dabo said that he wasn’t pleased with the defensive performance that night. With a win this week, the Tigers would set the all-time record with their 46th consecutive Saturday win, formerly held by the 1953-57 Oklahoma Sooners! Coincidentally, those Sooner teams were coached by Bud Wilkinson, the only man other than Dabo to win a national title as both a player and head coach.
Virginia got off to a late start, opening its season against Duke at home on Saturday, but the Hoos forced 7 turnovers and got the win over Chase Brice 38-20. The Tigers, meanwhile, were able to get some guys healthy after an impressive 2-0 start. They were dominant in all three phases against Wake and The Citadel, pitching their first shutout in 4 years in the home opener. For a complete breakdown of the Tigers’ last game against The Citadel, CLICK HERE. On to this week’s game!
This is the 125th season of Clemson Football….The Tigers look to win at least 10 games for the 10th straight year under Dabo Swinney, joining Alabama and Florida State as the only programs ever to do so….Clemson is the only program to have won 5 consecutive outright ACC titles and the only program in the nation to win 5 consecutive conference championship games….If Clemson goes 14-0 this season (they play one less regular season game than normal), the senior class will tie last year’s group with the at 55-3, the best record of any senior class in history….At 71-5, Clemson has the best record in the nation over the last 5 years; 4 wins better than Alabama and 10 wins better than Ohio State. Clemson has the second-most wins since 2011, trailing Alabama by just one win….Clemson has the most wins versus Power Five opponents since 2013; 8 more than Ohio State and 8 more than Alabama….Dabo now has the nation’s best active win percentage at .807. Nick Saban’s is .788. Dabo also holds the best all-time ACC win percentage at .828. Bobby Bowden’s was .813….Clemson and Alabama are tied for the most consecutive weeks in the AP Top 10 at 79 weeks. That is tied with USC for the fourth-longest streak all-time and 2 weeks behind Florida for 3rd all-time. Clemson has been ranked in the AP Top 5 for 42 consecutive weeks, by far the longest active streak and tied with USC for ninth-longest streak all-time. The next-longest active streak is Georgia at 9 weeks. Ohio State had 14 consecutive weeks before their exclusion due to the Big Ten’s season postponement. If Clemson remains in the Top 5 all season, it will tie Miami for the second-longest streak all-time and could break Alabama’s record next season. If the Tigers remain in the Top 5 from now until the ACC Championship next season, they will pass Alabama for the longest such streak all-time….Clemson’s run of 5 straight top-5 finishes is tied for the sixth-longest streak all-time. One more, and the Tigers will tie Oklahoma; two more and they will tie three other schools for the second-longest. FSU has the record at 14 straight top-5 finishes….Clemson and Alabama are tied for the most consecutive 12-win seasons (5) since Penn in 1892. One more would move Clemson ahead of Alabama, which won 11 games last season….Clemson has won 24 straight home games dating back to 2016, the longest active streak in the nation. Only 9 fifth-year seniors on the 120-man Clemson roster have experienced a loss in Death Valley. The Tigers are an FBS-best 42-1 at home since 2014….Clemson is now 96-17-8 all-time in home openers and has won 17 straight. David Pollack and Georgia were the last to beat Clemson in a home opener back in 2003….Clemson is 39-8-1 all-time versus Virginia dating back to 1955. The Tigers won the first 29 meetings before losing in 1990. It remains the longest win streak for the Tigers against any opponent and is the sixth-longest in NCAA history….
Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall is in his fifth season, and it’s amazing how he has transformed the program at Virginia, but not surprising if you’ve followed Bronco over the years. Despite it being their first game last Saturday, the Hoos looked well-coached right out of the gate.
Most of the off-season talk about UVA, and rightfully so, revolved around what they lost—especially on the offensive side of the ball. Starting quarterback Bryce Perkins, the face of the program over the past couple years, is gone as well as receivers Reed and Dubois, their two best play-makers a season ago. Perkins had 1,046 rushing yards—more than double the amount of their returning starting running back—and 11 rush TD’s. However, the Hoos didn’t seem to miss a beat offensively against Duke. The new starter at QB, sophomore Brennan Armstrong, is a 6’2, 215-pound lefty who showed the ability to both run and pass against the Blue Devils. He doesn’t have blazing speed but is shifty and savvy enough to pick up chunks of yards with his legs. He ran for 47 yards and a touchdown against Duke and was 24-45 for 269 yards and 2 touchdowns throwing the ball with 2 interceptions. What’s more is that he showed a tremendous amount of poise and confidence for a QB making his first start. In the opener, UVA went with a faster tempo on offense than they typically displayed last season, and you can expect to see that on Saturday night in an attempt to mitigate the Tigers’ talent and depth on defense. Venables and company are used to tempo, however. They see it every day in practice, and no one goes faster than Wake Forest.
At running back, junior returning starter Wayne Taulapapa (#21) is 5’9 and 210 pounds. He has ample speed but is more of a between-the-tackles bruiser. He rushed for 95 yards and 2 touchdowns last week, averaging 5.9 yards per carry. He also has a big and experienced offensive line to run behind, probably the most experienced group the Tigers will see this season with all five starters returning.
The one WR the Hoos do return is 5’9, 170-pound junior slot receiver Billy Kemp (#4). He had 7 catches for 70 yards last week. Joining him is true freshman Lavel Davis, Jr. (#81), who had a big college debut last week. The 6’7, 210-pound South Carolina native from Dorchester had 4 catches for 101 yards and 2 touchdowns in the opener against Duke, and you know he can’t wait for this game against the Tigers, who did not recruit the 3-star prospect. It may be way too early to start comparing Davis to Calvin Johnson, but I was at Johnson’s coming out party as a true freshman against the Tigers in 2004, and Davis certainly has similar measurables. His size will be a challenge for the Tigers’ corners to deal with. The Hoos also have a big 6’7, 265-pound tight end in senior Tony Poljan (#87), who had 4 catches for 44 yards last week.
Defensively, the Hoos run a 3-4 scheme, return 8 starters and tackle extremely well. Their strength is at linebacker, where they are led by senior LB Zane Zandier (#0), who had 15 tackles, including 2 tackles-for-loss, last week. Look out for another senior linebacker, 6’7 Charles Snowden (#11), who had 5 sacks last season. Yet another leader in the middle of the defense is 6’5, 225-pound junior LB Noah Taylor (#7), who had 7 sacks last season, half a sack shy of the team lead. He contributed 1.5 sacks toward the 5 sacks they recorded in the opener. As mentioned, the Hoos forced an astounding 7 turnovers in the opener, including 5 interceptions by 4 different players in the secondary. 4 of the INT’s came from Chase Brice. Free safety Joey Bount (#29) had 3 interceptions last season to lead the team and had one of the five last week. Let’s hope the law of averages kicks in this week! The Hoos had 12 interceptions in 2019.
Finally, senior kicker Brian Delaney was 20-24 last season with a long of 49 yards. 2 of his attempts were blocked last season.
The biggest news of the last couple weeks broke on Thursday when true freshman RB Demakcus Bowman’s name showed up in the transfer portal. Dabo has not yet commented on it, and I can only surmise that Bowman’s unhappy with all the competition in the running back room, where the Tigers are 7 deep. He saw significant playing time in the opener with Dixon, Mellusi and Dukes out, but he only had 3 carries for 10 yards against The Citadel. Or who knows, he could just be homesick for Florida. It's a little strange, though, that he wouldn't just play out the season since it doesn't count toward his eligibility anyway. Whatever the reason, this is the type of thing that happens when you recruit at the level the Tigers do and have the depth that they have. It’s actually pretty remarkable that the Tigers don’t see this type of thing more often. It just opens the door for another RB recruit, and the Tigers have a couple very talented ones committed in the 2021 class in Will Shipley, the No.2 ranked RB in the nation, and 4-star Phil Mafah. They will join Dixon, Dukes, Mellusi and Pace next season, so there will still be plenty of depth and competition without Bowman.
The Tigers are in great shape from a health standpoint, and CB co-starter Mario Goodrich will finally make his season debut on Saturday. He’s been somewhat snake bit throughout his career and missed the first two games due to COVID. Tyler Davis sprained his MCL against Wake and should be back this week as well. The Tigers will also get Mason Trotter back with the second offensive line group. Justin Foster is still out, and Dabo told me last week that he is day-to-day. Xavier Thomas is still out but could potentially make his return against Miami. As I reported last week, Ruke Orhorhoro will be out until late in the season after undergoing surgery on his meniscus. Other than that, the Tigers will be ready to go!
Trevor Lawrence was absolutely in the zone in the first two games, and hopefully he will just pick up where he left of. He has now thrown 276 passes without an interception and needs 104 more to break Russell Wilson’s ACC record. He is playing better right now than at any point in his career.
Travis Etenne just keeps doing what he does, albeit in limited playing time. He had 123 all-purpose yards against The Citadel, including a 44-yard punt return that set up a touchdown. Travis failed to score, however, so he’ll hope to break Tim Tebow’s record for most career games with a TD this week. I’m looking forward to seeing him again in the punt return game as well. Between Amari, DK and now Travis, the Tigers are more dangerous than they’ve been in quite some time at punt return—maybe since they had Spiller and Ford patrolling the open field.
Frank Ladson had a breakout game against The Citadel with 2 touchdown catches. Ngata didn’t record a catch, so hopefully he will bounce back this week. Brannon Spector missed the last game due to COVID, and I’m hoping to see him pick up where he left off on Saturday night after a nice game at Wake. I expect the tight ends to have an impact on the passing game like we saw in the opener. They didn’t record a single catch against The Citadel, although Sage Ennis dropped a perfectly thrown ball by Phommachanh down the seam for a big gain that night. Perhaps the Tigers were withholding a little in their play calling, or maybe the opportunities just didn’t present themselves, but I expect Galloway, Allen and company to make some plays against the Hoos.
Defensively, the Tigers are humming. It’s hard to believe they went 4 years without pitching a shutout, but that demonstrates how difficult it is to do in today’s game. They managed to break the streak against The Citadel, though, and are looking forward to seeing if they can rattle the new quarterback with one start under his belt. Freshmen Bresee and Murphy have been wreaking havoc in the backfield, and I can’t wait to see what they do on Saturday night. In fact, the Tigers’ freshmen have been impressive across the board. They had 4 sacks against The Citadel, and 3.5 of them came from freshmen, including DeMonte Capehart with the first of his career. Trenton Simpson, Kevin Swint and redshirt freshman Greg Williams also recorded their first.
Finally, don’t forget to check The Valley forum HERE a couple hours before kickoff on Saturday for a final player availability update!
It’s too bad UVA and its new quarterback won’t have 82,000 fans to contend with on Saturday night, but you can bet the Tigers are excited about being under the lights in Death Valley, even with 19,000 in attendance. It will be interesting to see how Armstrong deals with the pressure that will be in his face all night. The Hoos had a good season debut against struggling Duke, but this is a whole other monster they are dealing with. UVA has a strong, experienced offensive line, but I still think the Tigers will be too much for them, and the Hoos’ defense can’t stop Trevor Lawrence, Travis Etienne and the Tigers’ explosive offense, which comes at you from every angle. This one won’t be much prettier than the ACC Championship if you’re a UVA fan. The Tigers will be the first to win 300 ACC regular season games while setting the all-time record for consecutive Saturday wins.
The Prowl toward a 6th consecutive ACC Championship, 6th consecutive College Football Playoff, 3rd consecutive National Championship Game and 4th National Title continues……
CLEMSON 59 Virginia 10
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