No. 12 Virginia Tech can make a strong case that it is an Atlantic Coast Conference title contender when the Hokies face No. 2 Clemson on Saturday night.
The game is a rematch of last year’s ACC title game, won by the Tigers 42-35, and while Clemson went on to win the national championship, the Hokies were left to stew over coming up just short. Virginia Tech had the ball at the Tigers’ 23 late in the game before a fourth-down interception ended their hopes of a tying, or winning, touchdown.
The Hokies (4-0), unbeaten through its nonconference schedule for the first time since 2011, are eager to see how they measure up this year.
“They have a new team. We have a new team,” Hokies wide receiver Cam Phillips said. “It’s a different year, but I’m really excited for Saturday for those guys to come in here and for them to get the chance to play us.”
Clemson (4-0, 2-0 ACC) has won its last four meetings with the Hokies, and has already notched a pair of impressive victories, beating No. 13 Auburn 14-6 and No. 17 Louisville 47-21. The Hokies opened the season with a 31-24 victory against No. 23 West Virginia, and have outscored their next three opponents 129-17.
“Auburn and Louisville were really, really good teams,” Tigers receiver Hunter Renfrow said. “We feel like we’re battle tested and we have some confidence. This is like our third prime-time game in five weeks.
“For us, it’s just another game.”
The victory at Louisville, coach Dabo Swinney said, was a good primer for playing at Lane Stadium.
“Anytime you can draw from experience, it can kind of give you an understanding of what to expect,” Swinney said. “When you take a team to Louisville early in the season, bunch of new guys that haven’t played on the road, that’s really good experience.”
Here are some things to watch when Clemson visits Virginia Tech:
BALL SECURITY: Virginia Tech is an ACC-best plus five in turnovers with seven takeaways and only two giveaways. The Tigers are 11th in the league with only three takeaways and five giveaways.
VENABLES’ WORRIES: Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables has a great respect for the way Virginia Tech has developed quarterbacks in a hurry. He’s very impressed by redshirt freshman Josh Jackson’s poise and talent in leading the Hokies. Jackson has thrown for 1,127 yards and 11 touchdowns with just one interception in four games. “They have a great system that has answers,” Venables said.
GROUND CONTROL: Virginia Tech has rushed for more than 250 yards in consecutive games for the first time since 2005. The Hokies also have scored 95 unanswered points in victories against East Carolina and Old Dominion.
NEW KICKER: Clemson kicker Alex Spence had made peace with spending his football career on the sidelines behind national championship kicker Greg Huegel with the Tigers until Huegel was lost for the season with an odd-ball ligament tear in practice last week. Spence said when he got the call from Swinney about his new role, he was both edgy and excited. Spence has not yet tried a field goal. He went 4 of 5 on PATs last week against Boston College.
CORNERBACK PROBLEMS: Swinney was unsure if any of his injured cornerbacks will play against Virginia Tech. He expected Marcus Edmond to remain out with a foot injury sustained against Auburn three weeks ago. Trayvon Mullen is in the concussion protocol after a hit against Boston College. Mark Fields sustained a glute injury against the Eagles. Fields is the only one of the trio who practiced early in the week.
By HANK KURZ Jr., AP Sports Writer