CLEMSON TIGERS (4-0)
at VIRGINIA TECH HOKIES (4-0)
Lane Stadium – Blacksburg, VA
Kickoff: Saturday, 8:00 p.m. ET
Line: Clemson -7, Total: 51.5
Another week, another high profile matchup for the defending national champs.
Despite having beaten Alabama to claim the 2016-17 national title in college football and returning a large number of players, the Clemson Tigers faced large questions this season due to the departure of already-successful NFL quarterback Deshaun Watson. But through four weeks this season, Clemson has arguably been the most impressive team in the country—beating top-15 teams in back-to-back weeks will do that. First, the Tigers beat Auburn at home 14-6 in a defensive slugfest (CLEM -6). Then, in a rematch of one of last season's best games, Clemson made quick work of Louisville on the road by a 47-21 score (CLEM -3). After something of a letdown against Boston College (but still a 34-7 win, BC +33), the 4-0 Tigers (3-1 ATS) get yet another big game this week at Virginia Tech. The Hokies are 4-0 (3-1 ATS), but have faced no big-name competition since a 31-24 Week 1 win against West Virginia (VT -5). Since 1992, road favorites allowing 2.75 yards per carry or less (CLEM) are 12-37 ATS after gaining at least 5.5 yards per carry themselves in two straight games. On the other hand, over the last five seasons, road favorites of 3.5 to 10 points that have gone under the total by 35 or more total points in their last three games (CLEM) are 31-8 ATS.
QB Kelly Bryant (67.9 CMP%, 873 yards, 2 TDs, 3 INTs; 66 carries, 268 yards, 7 TDs), the successor to Watson as Clemson's signal-caller, has shown flashes on the same dynamism that made Watson such an effective offensive centerpiece. His seven rushing touchdowns are second among all players in the ACC, and three more than Louisville's Lamar Jackson has punched in. He still has work to do through the air, as evidenced by his negative TD-INT ratio, but his 8.0 yards per attempt (6th in ACC) are respectable for an inexperienced starter. He had a tough passing outing with only 140 yards and two interceptions last week against BC, and will look for a bounce-back this week. WR Hunter Renfrow (21 catches, 202 yards) was the preferred target in that one, catching six balls for 53 yards. He leads the team in receptions on the season. WRs Ray-Ray McCloud (18 catches, 218 yards, TD) and Deon Cain (11 catches, 151 yards, TD) are his other go-to guys; McCloud leads the team in receiving despite catching two balls for -2 yards against BC. Bryant has been able to make a couple big plays, as both McCloud and Cain's TDs have been on receptions of over 60 yards. On the ground, the Tigers spread their carries pretty evenly. RB Travis Etienne (23 carries, 292 yards, 4 TDs) has been dynamite when he gets the ball, averaging 12.7 yards per carry so far this season. RB Tavien Feaster (39 carries, 249 yards, TD) was the lead back against BC, but RBs Adam Choice (21 carries, 110 yards, 3 TDs) and C.J. Fuller (22 carries, 106 yards, 2 TDs) get regular action, as well.
One of the nation's most overlooked players thus far this season has been Virginia Tech QB Josh Jackson (65.2 CMP%, 1,127 yards, 11 TDs, INT), especially considering the fact that he's a true freshman. He is fourth in the ACC in passing yards, but is first in touchdown passes, yards per attempt (9.8) and passer rating (177.4). Admittedly, he hasn't faced as stiff competition as some of his counterparts, but he had arguably his best game of the young season in the opener against West Virginia: He completed 15 of 26 passes for 235 yards and a touchdown, and showed himself to be a threat on the ground with 11 carries for 101 yards and a score. He hasn't rushed for 30 yards in a game since, but the fact that he can keeps opposing defenses honest. He's fortunate to have one of the nation's best wideouts in WR Cam Phillips (34 catches, 523 yards, 5 TDs) who has been nothing short of dominant in leading the country in receiving yards through four weeks. He has more than twice as many catches as anyone else on the team; freshman WR Sean Savoy (14 catches, 163 yards, TD) is the only other player with double-digit receptions. On the ground, RB Travon McMillian (32 carries, 162 yards, TD) is still yet to regain the form that made him a 1,000-yard rusher two seasons ago. He seemed to sustain a minor injury early against Old Dominion last week, but appears to be mostly fine. RBs Steven Peoples (36 carries, 133 yards, 2 TDs) and Deshawn McClease (31 carries, 148 yards, 2 TDs) have joined him to form an RB committee in the backfield.