Each game, we'll get the inside look at Virginia Tech's opponent by talking with the opposing team's beat writer. This week, we spoke with
Article Continues Below
Watkins missed the Boston College game and lost a bunch of weight as a result of an illness. The open date helped him, and by all accounts he's ready to roll now heading into the second half of the season.
When he's full strength, Watkins is a tremendous weapon because defenses have to account for him horizontally and vertically. Hopkins doesn't present that sort of versatility, but he's almost impossible to cover one-on-one because he has such good strength, ball skills and explosion.
Hopkins has easily been the better and more valuable receiver thus far, but I'm not going to discount the possibility of a healthy Watkins doing a bunch of mind-blowing things the rest of the season.
As a passer, I think Boyd is less prone to making reckless decisions. He forced things a lot more last season, and that's to be expected with a first-year starter. You're seeing him spread the ball around to a lot of different places this season, and I believe that's the result of patience and increased grasp of the system.
His pocket awareness has been really good. He's extended a number of drives by squirting free from pressure and picking up yards on the run.
Boyd was off his game against Georgia Tech, and it'll be interesting to see what happens Saturday. I tend to think that was just a hiccup and he'll be fine.
They really have issues at all three levels -- no dominant player on the defensive line, hesitation at linebacker, and poor angles/bad tackling/poor pass coverage at defensive back.
The tackling has been really bad, and that's something we're seeing across college football. Swinney tried to improve it by going to full-contact practices two weeks in a row, and we saw some positive signs against Boston College and Georgia Tech but still way too many instances of poor tackling fundamentals.
You can cover up weaknesses elsewhere if you're good on the defensive line, and the Tigers lost two good ones in Branch and Thompson. The line has been more disruptive in the second half of the past two games, and not coincidentally the defense made more stops during those stretches.
I did think the linebackers would be better this season. Aside from Tig Willard, it's been a struggle.
But I don't detect much anger or friction from the offensive guys. I really think they're just stoked to be so powerful and potent. They're having a lot of fun putting up big numbers against just about everyone they play.
I'd bet Swinney has played up the angle of Virginia Tech being the kings of the ACC for the better part of the last eight or nine years, trying to motivate his team to knock the Hokies from their throne for good.
In that context it's a game potentially rich in symbolism. A Clemson win would end Tech's streak of eight 10-win seasons in a row, and that would send a strong message that Virginia Tech is no longer the class of this conference. The loss at Florida State keeps Clemson from staking a claim as the king of the ACC (at least for now), but the Tigers could take a big share of the responsibility for knocking the Hokies from their long-held perch.
The two spankings of Tech last season seemed almost apocalyptic because we were so used to the Hokies thriving in those two settings (Blacksburg and the ACC title game). A convincing Clemson victory in this one would reinforce a new hierarchy in the ACC.