CLEMSON, S.C. (WSPA) – The Clemson Tigers are on the road for the regular season finale as they travel to Blacksburg to take on the Virginia Tech Hokies Saturday night.
Trevor Lawrence made his return to the lineup last weekend and didn’t appear to miss a beat. The junior threw for over four hundred yards and two touchdowns in the team’s 37-26 win over Pitt. A candidate for this year’s Heisman Trophy, Lawrence will look to end the regular season on a high note against a very vulnerable Virginia Tech defense. Head Coach Dabo Swinney and Lawrence discussed the quarterback’s Heisman odds as the season draws to a close:
While Travis Etienne has also put together a great season, he’s cooled off a bit since the hot start to the season. The Clemson rushing attack hasn’t been very effective as of late, although the passing game has more than made up for those deficiencies. And Etienne has still been very much involved in that aspect of the game out of the backfield. But the senior running back has only eclipsed the century mark twice this season, and hasn’t done so in the last four games. With the Hokie’s below average run defense, Etienne may have a good chance to return to form in Blacksburg.
Brent Venables has once again put together a top ten college defense, and these Tigers rank inside the top 15 in almost every meaningful category. They’ve put consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks, and have been extremely difficult to run against. They’ll get another chance to showcase that dominance against one of the better run teams in college football.
Quarterback Hendon Hooker (#2) runs the ball just about as often as he throws it. The 6’4” 228 lb junior is tough to bring down, and the Hokies dial up designed QB runs often. And he’s taken advantage, rushing for 627 yards and a team-leading nine touchdowns. He’s hasn’t been lighting up the stats sheet through the air, but they’re executing on big plays. Hooker averages 8.9 yards per attempt, is completing over 65% of his passes for nine touchdowns and five interceptions.
Senior running back Khalil Herbert (#21) is having an excellent season as he’s averaging over eight yards per carry to the tune of 925 yards six scores. He’s added nine catches for 178 yards and a touchdown receiving as well. They’re one of the best running teams in the nation and rank 8th in the FBS with 262.8 yards per game.
Receivers Tre Turner (#11) and Tayvion Robinson (#83) are the two top targets on the outside. Turner has a 31-503-3 line while Robinson has put together a 30-441-2 performance. Tight end James Mitchell, however, leads them all with four touchdown grabs. He’s the big play guys as well, averaging just under 18 yards per reception. When they do go to the air, they have a tendency to go deep.
Defensive linemen Justus Reed (#9) and Amare Barno (#38) have been the team’s most effective pass rushers this season with 6.5 and 5.5 sacks, respectively. Cornerback Chamarri Conner (#22) has been a tackling machine for the Hokies this year, and leads the team with 70 total tackles. He’s also grabbed two interceptions and added 3.5 tackles for loss. He’s an all purpose defensive back that routinely makes plays against the run. Rayshard Ashby (#23) is the leader of the linebacker corps. The senior has 6.5 tackles for loss and 3 sacks this season.
This will be the first time the Tigers and Hokies are matched up since 2017; Clemson won that game 31-17.
It’ll be a matchup of one of the best run defenses in the country against one of the best rushing attacks this Saturday night. Whoever wins that battle almost certainly wins the game. If Etienne can find room on the ground again, the Tigers should be able to consistently put together long scoring drives while keeping that Hokie ground game off the field. If Tech finds success in the run game they’ll likely attempt to drain as much clock as possible, putting Lawrence and company in danger of failing to establish rhythm early on.
But the Tiger’s passing attack paired with the defense’s dominance should equate to another victory for Clemson. A loss would likely keep them out of the ACC Championship and the College Football Playoff.