The Terror Dome is back! Here we are. Hokies took care of business over the last four weeks and now they get an undefeated showdown against Clemson. Don’t kid yourself. Clemson is not overrated. They deserve to be ranked in the top two in the country. While the offense is still trying to get to the same level as last year’s, the defense might be even better than last year’s group. This team is for real and will pose a huge challenge for the Hokies.
Overall S&P+ ranking: 20th
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 56th
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 11th
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 58th
Overall S&P+ ranking: 6th
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 25th
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 3rd
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 108th
I’ve tried to think of a bigger home game than this one and you have to go all the way back to Boston College in 2007 to come up with anything as close to this one. Yes, the Hokies played the reigning national champs in 2015 but they weren’t ready to take Ohio State’s best punch. This time, the Hokies have a real chance to compete and win.
Let’s talk about the Terror Dome for a second. I can think of a few high-profile night games against top 5 teams since 2000 and this is how they have gone:
Miami 2003 31-7 Hokies
Miami 2005 27-7 ‘Canes
BC 2007 14-10 Eagles
The crowd was jacked up for each game but with very different results. For Miami 2003, the team fed off the crowd and Miami didn’t have a chance. The game snowballed on a super-talented ‘Canes team and the Hokies rolled to victory. That was a special night.
In the 2005 Miami game, the atmosphere was just as good or better than the 2003 game but it didn’t produce a winning result on the field. Whereas the 2003 team used the energy and momentum to ride to victory, the 2005 Hokies shrank when things started to go south. The crowd had almost no impact on the game. The ‘Canes controlled it from start to finish.
And in the 2007 BC game, the Hokies defense rode the electric crowd to an incredible defensive performance… until the last drive. All you can say about big games at Lane Stadium is that you never know what to expect or if the Hokies can use the crowd energy to their benefit. Sometimes it helps, sometimes it doesn’t. Most important is that the Hokies get off to a good start.
Now on to the game itself. The Hokies can have success against the Clemson offense if they can stack the box and force Kelly Bryant to beat them with his arm. They also can’t let Kelly Bryant beat them with his legs. Containing Bryant on the ground will be key.
The Clemson defensive line is the best the Hokies will play all year. The starting line features four players who will likely be selected in the first three rounds of the NFL draft in the coming years. They will pose a huge challenge for the Hokies to block. Look for the Hokies offense to use misdirection, screens and read option to keep them off Josh Jackson. Don’t expect a huge game from the running back position. Yards will be hard to come by against this defensive line.
If there is an area that may be a weakness for Clemson, it’s in the secondary. They are a banged up group. Cam Phillips and the other receivers may be able to find some space. If opportunities present themselves, it’s important for Josh Jackson to make them pay by connecting on his intermediate and deep passes. The Hokies need to get big chunk plays when they can find them.
More than most games, the Hokies must win the turnover, special teams and hidden yardage battle. If the Hokies play Clemson even in these areas, Clemson will likely win. Virginia Tech needs to exploit any advantages they have over Clemson because all things being equal, Clemson has more talent. That means winning in the kicking game and forcing turnovers. If the Hokies can win there, they can win this game.
This is a no-lose situation for the Hokies. Win and it’s an incredible accomplishment over a top team. Lose and it’s expected. That means the Hokies are playing with house money. The Hokies need to play loose and easy because they don’t have anything to lose. Win or lose, what’s most important is for the Hokies to look like they belong. Just like they did in the ACC Championship Game. That will go nearly as far as winning the game itself. Whether the Hokies win or not, we know that Justin Fuente is building something special whether we see the results on Saturday night or in the future. But winning this game on national TV in front of a ton of highly-ranked recruits would be a huge springboard for the program.
The Hokies have what it takes to win. They can play with Clemson but picking this game objectively, I have to go with Clemson. They just have too much firepower across the board. But it will be a good game and the Hokies should be able to keep it competitive all the way until the end. This game has all the ingredients of a classic. So sit back, relax and enjoy watching the Hokies in the national game of the week. And who knows? Maybe we’ll see some Terror Dome magic.
Prediction: Clemson 27, Virginia Tech 21