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Hokies Hope to Shut Down Tigers on the Ground
by Chris Coleman, TechSideline.com, TSLMail #504, September 30, 2011

Virginia Tech is hoping that their success against the Clemson Tigers continues tomorrow. Since 1998, the Hokies have defeated Clemson five times, and all of the games have been blowouts. Two of those beatings occurred in Lane Stadium.

Over those five games, Virginia Tech has defeated Clemson by an average score of 34.8 to 12.2. Games just haven't been close. The closest margin over the last five games has been Tech's 24-7 victory back in 2006, when the Tigers were ranked #10 in the country.

There is one main reason why the Hokies have had so much success against Clemson recently. They have been a much tougher team in the trenches, and they have dominated the Tigers on the ground.

Rushing Comparison
Year VT Yards Clemson Yards
1998 176 31
1999 286 17
2000 211 88
2006 224 80
2007 154 8


210.2 44.8

Rushing yardage in this series has been completely one-sided. Two Tech players in particular have enjoyed huge games against Clemson on the ground. Shyrone Stith ran for 162 yards and a touchdown back in 1999, while Branden Ore lit up the Tigers for 203 yards and two touchdowns in 2006.

Meanwhile, Clemson running backs have enjoyed very little success against the Tech defense.

Clemson Starting Tailbacks Against Virginia Tech
Year Player Att. Yards YPC
1998 Travis Zachery 10 15 1.5
1999 Travis Zachery 9 32 3.6
2000 Travis Zachery 5 15 3
2006 C.J. Spiller 10 41 4.1
2006 James Davis 12 30 2.5
2007 C.J. Spiller 6 3 0.5
2007 James Davis 6 9 15
Totals 58 145 2.5

That's pretty terrible production. Only one Clemson running back averaged over four yards per carry in that span, and that was C.J. Spiller in 2006. Travis Zachery had three straight seasons of getting eaten alive by the Virginia Tech defense from 1998 through 2000.

Stopping Clemson's running game will be very important for Virginia Tech yet again this season. The Tigers are averaging 187.3 yards per game on the ground, and tailback Andre Ellington has rushed for 371 yards on the year. Ellington has been somewhat banged up, but he has still been effective.

However, Clemson was only effective on the ground against Troy, Wofford and Auburn, three teams who have very questionable defenses. The best defense Clemson has faced, Florida State, held the Tigers to just 99 yards on the ground, and just under two yards per carry. Ellington averaged just 3.1 yards per carry in that game.

As we discussed earlier in the week in the game preview, it's very rare that a team beats Virginia Tech without establishing some kind of a running back. Not only must they establish something on the ground, but they have to stick with it, and not abandon it in favor of the pass.

The Tigers stuck with the run against Florida State despite not getting anything going, with 50 rushing attempts on the day out of 85 total plays. Look for them to do the same against Virginia Tech, unless the Hokies manage to build an early lead.


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