October 22, 2020

Independent analysis and commentary on UVA athletics

Gameday Guide – Clemson

The Hoos opened their season successfully with a 38 to 20 win over Duke. The win stretched UVA’s winning streak over the Blue Devils to six games in a row.

UVA (1-0, 1-0) hits the road in their week two where they’ll play perennial national title contender Clemson (2-0, 1-0).

The Tigers will be a heavy favorite in this 2019 ACC Championship Game rematch. The Hoos are hoping to build on that 2019 experience. They’ll look to apply the lessons learned with the ultimate goal of upsetting Clemson.

Game Uniforms

The Hoos will wear their classic blue-white-blue uniform set for the road opener. 

The big twist here will be the orange number on the football helmet opposite the V Sabre logo. In the past, the player’s number has been white on this helmet. The orange number should pop nicely.

There’s also a #SetTheExpectation sticker on the back of the helmet too.

Set The Expectation is an organization “dedicated to combating sexual and physical violence through raising awareness, giving back, education, and direct engagement with coaches, students, and athletes in high school, collegiate and professional athletic programs.

Series History

This is the most infamous of all long-term series in UVA football history. Clemson owns a substantial margin in the overall win-loss record at 39-8-1.

As most Wahoos are aware, Clemson jumped out to a 29-0 lead in the series before the Hoos finally won in 1990. Since then, the series is mostly even with Clemson holding a slim 10-8-1 lead including their 62 to 17 victory in the 2019 ACC Championship Game.

The Tigers currently own a four-game winning streak over the Hoos.

And while the 1990 game is the most famous win in the series for UVA, the last win at Clemson from 2001 was featured by the UVA Football Twitter account this week. Quarterback Bryson Spinner and wide receiver Billy McMullen featured prominently in the Wahoos’ win including a connection on the game winning touchdown pass.

Media Coverage

UVA is back on the ACC Network for the second week in a row. But they’ve graduated to the prime time 8:00 PM time slot this week.

Dave O’Brien will handle play-by-play duties for the game. He’ll be joined by former Boston College QB Tim Hasselbeck as the color analyst. Katie George will be reporting from the sidelines.

As usual, Dave Koehn and Tony Covington have the radio call for the Virginia Sports Radio Network. You can find their affiliates list at the link.

Finally, satellite radio coverage can be found at these channels: Sirius – 137, XM – 385, SiriusXM Internet Streaming – 975.

What Worries Me About Clemson…

Everything! If you’ve watched college football in the last decade, that is the appropriate answer.

To lessen the Tiger induced anxiety a bit, we’ll narrow it down to just Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne. The duo are arguably the two best offensive players in the ACC this year.

Etienne is the reigning, two-time ACC Offensive Player of the Year. Last year, he rushed for over 1,600 yards for the second consecutive season. He averaged 7.8 yards per carry and scored 19 rushing touchdowns. As incredible as those stats sound, they were down slightly when compared to his 2018 numbers. In last season’s ACC Championship Game, Etienne rushed for 114 yards on 14 carries (8.1 yards per carry) and 1 touchdown. He also caught 1 pass for 9 yards.

In two games this year, Etienne has just 25 carries as Clemson has easily defeated both Wake Forest and The Citadel. In those 25 carries, Etienne has 170 yards (6.8 yards per carry) and 1 rushing touchdown. He’s also caught 4 passes for 58 yards (14.5 yards per catch).

In Lawrence, Clemson has the returning First Team All-ACC QB from 2019. Lawrence won the same honors for the 2020 preseason team. And he was voted the ACC Preseason Offensive Player of the Year. Lawrence is also the odds-on favorite to be the top pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.

Looking at his numbers, it’s easy to see why as they’re outrageous. Entering his junior season, Lawrence has passed for over 6,900 yards and 66 touchdowns while completing approximately 65% of his passes. He has thrown only 12 career interceptions as well. Against UVA last season, Lawrence shredded the Hoos for 302 yards on just 16 completions. He threw for 4 touchdowns as well.

On the early season, Lawrence has completed 30 of 37 passes (81.1%) for 519 yards and 4 touchdowns. He’s yet to throw an interception on the season.

Clemson’s attack on offense is predicated on the interplay between Etienne and Lawrence. Etienne’s versatility really opens the entire field for Clemson. He’s a constant threat to score every time he touches the football as a rusher or receiver out of the backfield. As a result, he opens rushing lanes for Lawrence who is a deceptively effective runner. 

The marriage between Etienne’s talents and Clemson’s offensive scheme also serve to open the middle of the field in the passing game. And it forces you to try to cover their talented receivers one on one with your corners. 

What Worries Me For UVA…

In two games to date, Clemson has given up zero first half points. And they’ve surrendered just 13 points the entire season. The Citadel was overmatched from the start. It’s no surprise they were shut out. But Wake Forest has a competent offense even if it is not built for shootouts. 

After playing a good deal of 3-3-5 as their base defense last year, Clemson is mostly using a 4-3 on this season. Their defensive line features two tackles in the middle that tip the scales in excess of 300 pounds. Junior Jordan Williams, a Virginia Beach native, is listed at 310 pounds. And sophomore Tyler Davis is listed at an even 300 pounds. Davis missed Clemson’s most recent game against The Citadel, but he’s expected back for the Hoos. 

Clemson’s defensive line, led by their stout tackles, has controlled the point of attack with ease this year. They’ve been able to get after opposing quarterbacks predominantly with their front four. That leaves defensive coordinator Brent Venables seven bodies to cover the rest of the field. 

And while there’s no transcendent player like linebacker/safety Isaiah Simmons the year, the Tigers’ defense has still given the opposition fits.

Why I Should Worry Less

The players know all the accolades attached to this group of players at Clemson. And they’re well aware of the overall reputation of Clemson as a team and program. 

But when the ball kicks off Saturday evening, all of that goes out the window. 

This group of UVA football players will not back down from a challenge or fight. What looks daunting on paper to fans is an exciting opportunity for the players.

The Hoos will use their veteran offensive line to try to control the ball Saturday night. Against Clemson last year, they were able to open enough holes to allow Wayne Taulapapa to rush for 5.4 yards per carry. There’s no reason they cannot do something similar this year if the Hoos commit to the run.

And UVA’s veteran defense will be well schooled in Clemson’s attack.

The Hoos came to South Carolina to compete for four quarters. They didn’t make the trip to crown the Tigers. The Hoos will make sure Clemson earns everything on the field. It’s not in their DNA to back down without a fight. And if the players aren’t daunted by the challenge, then the fans should not be either.

Prediction

No one expects UVA to win this game.

The betting line favors Clemson by about 28 points.

ESPN’s Football Power Index gives Clemson a 97.2% chance to win the game.

And I find it difficult to disagree with those sentiments.

But, the UVA players will be disappointed with a loss no matter the margin of victory. As fans, it’s okay for our expectations to be different. Fans can feel justified pulling for a competitive game, especially one where the outcome is still technically in doubt late into the game.

I think that’s UVA’s best-case scenario against Clemson. The Tigers play in a different universe than UVA right now. Bronco Mendenhall’s rebuild is still too new to be able to expect to challenge a college football juggernaut like Clemson, in their home stadium no less, unless the Tigers fail to show up.

Clemson is usually good for one stinker per season. Last year it was a 21 to 20 win at North Carolina. Prior seasons have seen Clemson struggle against Syracuse. If Clemson is not ready to play. If they aren’t ready to scratch and claw for every first down against the Hoos. Then we could see a similar outcome. The Hoos will be looking for Clemson to open that door. They won’t be afraid to walk right in if the opportunity presents itself.

I think the most likely outcome is somewhere in the middle of that scenario and a runaway Clemson victory. The Hoos will ultimately fall short. But they’ll play Clemson tougher than all but the most diehard of UVA fan is expecting.

Clemson wins 42 to 24.

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