CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — There’s no arguing Virginia Tech has momentum on its side entering Saturday’s ACC championship.
The fifth-ranked Hokies (11-1) have won seven straight while Clemson has lost three of four, including a bitter 34-13 setback against in-state rival South Carolina last week. The Tigers also are dealing with a slew of distractions.
Add in the fact the Hokies have experience on their side when it comes to big games — they’ve won three of the last four ACC championships — and it’s easy to see why they’re a seven-point favorite.
All of that means little to Frank Beamer.
The Virginia Tech coach knows just how tough it is to beat the Tigers.
Virginia Tech’s only loss this season came against Clemson (9-3) — and it wasn’t even close. The Hokies were drubbed 23-3 in front of their own fans as the Tigers beat them at their own game with a tough, physical and relentless defensive performance.
But the two teams have gone in opposite directions since.
Virginia Tech has not lost since, advancing to the title game with a 38-0 thumping of Virginia last week, while Clemson’s defense has given up 32.4 points per game since the decisive win in Blacksburg, Va.
“There’s a thin line, such a thin line, between momentum and getting over a hump and not,” Beamer said Friday at Bank of America Stadium, site of Saturday’s game. “I think they just got on the other side of that thin line, and sometimes it’s hard once you get rolling the other way to get it back. But I think when you’ve got talent on your football team like they do you can get into a game, and all of a sudden things get rolling.
“We’ve experienced it firsthand.”
Beamer’s referring to the inaugural ACC championship game in 2005 when the Hokies, a two-touchdown favorite, seemed poised to roll over an unranked Florida State team that had lost three straight conference games for the first time ever.
Instead, the opposite happened.
The Hokies committed 17 penalties and lost 27-22 in Jacksonville, Fla.
The good news for Virginia Tech is Beamer’s teams normally excel in rematch games.
In both 2007 and ’08, the Hokies lost to Boston College during the regular season only to come back and win the rematch against the Eagles in the ACC championship. Virginia Tech’s other title came last year against the Seminoles.
Clemson has been to the ACC title game once, but lost in 2009 to Georgia Tech.
“I think what’s happened in the past is in the past, and you’d better get ready to play this one ballgame with everything you’ve got because they’re putting a lot into it, and we need to do the same thing,” Beamer said.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney is trying to salvage what was once a promising season after the Tigers began 8-0 and were ranked as high as sixth in the country.
But he’s had all sorts of issues to deal with.
He’s had to answer questions about first-year offensive coordinator Chad Morris potentially being a candidate to join Urban Meyer’s staff at Ohio State. He’s acknowledged quarterback Tajh Boyd has struggled recently with his confidence. And ACC rookie of the year Sammy Watkins is hampered by a shoulder injury, although he should play Saturday.
Swinney also got into a feud with South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier on Thursday night after hearing Gamecocks play-by-play broadcaster Todd Ellis said, “As Coach Spurrier says, ‘We may not be LSU or Alabama, but we ain’t Clemson, folks.'”
The quote was later posted on the Gamecocks football Twitter feed.
That prompted a four-minute eruption from Swinney on Thursday night that quickly made its way around the country via social media.
The Gamecocks have denied Spurrier made those comments.
“I heard today that it supposedly wasn’t said (by Spurrier), and that’s great,” Swinney said Friday. “It’s awful convenient on Thursday. I know this, that if my media put something out that I said and if it was nationally perceived that I said it, I promise you, I would correct it. I would make sure that it was made known that especially something that is derogatory that I wouldn’t want my name attached to.”
But Swinney said he’s put the issue behind him and his focus is on Saturday’s game against the Hokies, not last week.
In particular, it’s on stopping on stopping Virginia Tech sophomore quarterback Logan Thomas.
During Virginia Tech’s seven-game winning streak, Thomas has 23 touchdowns (14 passing and nine rushing) and only two interceptions.
He’ll have a chance to avenge his last outing against the Tigers in which he completed 15 of 27 passes for 125 yards and was picked off once. He was sacked four times.
“He’s been the real key for their football team,” Swinney said. “They’ve done a great job in using him effectively in the running game. You can see how his confidence has grown. They’ve done a few things different in the passing game, but he has really become an accurate thrower, and he’s gotten just a lot more confident. He’s got a big arm — a big, big arm — so he’s a problem for anybody that’s playing him, there’s no question.”
There’s also the matter of stopping tailback David Wilson, the ACC player of the year, whom Swinney considers “one of the best players in the country.”
For Clemson, the game could come down to taking care of the football. The Tigers are a combined minus-10 in the turnover category over their last four games.
“It kind of takes the air out of this side of the ball and it creates energy for the opponent, and it creates opportunities, hurts you in field position, and on and on and on,” Swinney said.
Virginia Tech will be relying on its experience in big games. But Beamer knows the Hokies have to come ready to play — or there could be a repeat of 2005.
“I think experience always matters,” Beamer said. “They’ve struggled a little bit down at the end here. But I know this, that when you’ve got talent like they have, they’re just a play or two away from getting that momentum back.”