The Final Breakdown

Tajh Boyd

CLEMSON - No. 8 Clemson looks to improve to 8-1 on the season with a win Saturday in Charlottesville.

WHAT: No. 8 Clemson at Virginia
WHERE: Scott Stadium - Charlottesville, Va.
WHEN: Saturday, Nov. 2 (3:35 p.m.)
SPREAD: Clemson by 17
TV: ABC

VIRGINIA AIR ATTACK VS. CLEMSON SECONDARY/PASS RUSH
David Watford owns three individual superlatives among ACC quarterbacks, all of which were set last week against Georgia Tech -- completions [43], passes [61] and longest passing play [70 yards].


On the season, Virginia QB Watford has completed 191 of 314 passes for 1,715 yards with seven touchdowns and nine interceptions. (Getty Images)
On the season, Watford has completed 191 of 314 passes for 1,715 yards with seven touchdowns and nine interceptions. No other league quarterback has attempted or completed as many throws, but his efficiency rating of 108.33 isn't among the top 10 in the ACC.

Look for Watford to throw the ball a lot on Saturday against Clemson. The Cavs have attempted 36 or more passes in five-straight games. Plus, the Tigers are a 17-point favorite, so we're predicting that they'll have a considerable lead into the second half.

And it certainly helps that the Clemson pass defense has fallen on hard times of late.

The Tigers are 11th in the league and allows an average of 230.6 yards through the air. The over 250-yard games have started to pile up. Maryland threw for 287 yards; a week after Florida State had 444.

While Bashaud Breeland and company will have to keep things in check in the back third, Virginia does a lot of its damage in the air with tight ends and running backs.

Tight end Jake McGee is first among Virginia pass catchers with 31 receptions. He's also got 265 yards receiving and two scores. Running back Kevin Parks is second on the team with 29 catches and 285 yards.

McGee could present a serious matchup problem for Clemson, probably the toughest one the Tigers' defense will see in the passing game.

At wide receiver, Darius Jennings has caught 28 passes for 247 yards and a team-high three touchdowns. Tim Smith, who has 23 catches, is first on the team with 350 yards receiving.

As a team, Virginia is 10th in the ACC in passing with 222 yards a game. So, even though they're throwing the ball a lot, it hasn't translated into an efficient, high-powered entity.

Though this matchup leans in the direction of a push, it's pushed in Clemson's favor because of Vic Beasley and the rest of the Tigers' pass rushers should be in for a big afternoon.

As noted above, we're anticipating Virginia to throw the ball a lot, probably in the range of 40 attempts. That could be bad news for Watford, who gets sacked pretty regularly. Though he more than capable as a scrambler, the Cavs are tied for 72nd in the country with 16 sacks allowed.

Clemson is first in the country with 29 sacks. The Tigers' pressure will probably result in an interception or two.

ADVANTAGE:

VIRGINIA GROUND GAME VS. CLEMSON FRONT SEVEN
Virginia is ninth in the ACC in rushing offense, averaging 162.8 yards per game. Though the Cavs played one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the country, they were able to pad the average with a 357-yard, five-touchdown output against VMI.


Virginia has rushed for over 125 yards just twice -- 236 against Ball State and 242 against Maryland. (Getty Images)
Aside from that, Virginia has rushed for over 125 yards just twice -- 236 against Ball State and 242 against Maryland.

Parks eclipsed the 100-yard mark in each of the three games against VMI, Ball State and Maryland. He's a solid back in this league. Fourth in the ACC with 76.8 yards per game, he's rushed 144 times for 614 yards and nine touchdowns.

Watford is second on the team in carries [75]. He's rushed for 121 yards and two scores. His total output would be higher if it wasn't for the high sack total, which counts against rushing yards in the college game. The numbers are deceiving. He's a threat to run.

Among Virginia running backs, Khalek Shepherd is second with 38 carries for 248 yards and a score. Freshman Tquan Mizzell has 30 rushes for 125 yards. Look for that duo to combine for about 10 carries on Saturday.

Whoever is running the ball for the Cavs won't have much room to operate. Clemson has been solid against the run this season -- save for that hiccup against Syracuse and the opening night encounter with Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall.

Speaking of Syracuse, since giving up 323 yards to the Orange, Clemson allowed 94 to Boston College, 121 to Florida State and 71 to Maryland.

At this point, it's like a broken record, but Stephone Anthony and Spencer Shuey are two big reasons why. Anthony is first on the team with 80 tackles and 5.5 tackles for loss [not counting sacks]. Shuey is second with 77 tackles.

Grady Jarrett continues to create havoc up front. The space-eating nose guard also has 5.5 tackles for loss.

We're calling a sub 100-yard performance from the Cavs' ground game.

ADVANTAGE:

CLEMSON AIR ATTACK VS. VIRGINIA SECONDARY/PASS RUSH
In an effort to take some of the pressure off of Tajh Boyd's shoulders, Chad Morris has taken some of the "window dressing" off of the Clemson passing game. There are far fewer shifts, hardly in any motion and very little misdirection after the snap.


One more touchdown pass [or run, for that matter] will make Tajh Boyd the ACC's all-time leader in touchdown responsibility. (Getty Images)
One more touchdown pass [or run, for that matter] will make him the ACC's all-time leader in touchdown responsibility. He and former N.C. State quarterback Philip Rivers are tied at 112. Boyd is six touchdown passes away from breaking Rivers' record of 95.

This season, Boyd has passes for 2,243 yards with 17 touchdowns and five interceptions. Three of those picks have been in the last three games.

Boyd's top target is none other than Sammy Watkins, who's up to 58 receptions for 813 yards and five touchdowns. Option No. 2 is Adam Humphries, who's second on the team with 30 catches. He's also got 368 yards and two touchdowns.

Coming off what may have been his best performance of the season, Martavis Bryant has 24 receptions for 450 yards and three touchdowns.

The Virginia pass defense looks good on paper. The Cavs are fourth in the ACC, giving up 211.8 yards per game through the air. But, once again, they'll be without one of their best cornerbacks, if not the best, in Demetrious Nicholson. The junior is still nursing a toe injury.

Strong safety Anthony Harris is tied for first in the ACC With five interceptions and is fourth with nine passes defended. Cornerback Maurice Canady is also on the passes defended list. He's got six pass breakups.

The Cavs' pass rush formidable, they average 2.25 sacks per game. Clemson continues to rank at the bottom in sacks allowed with 2.62 per game. Keep an eye on defensive end Eli Harold, who leads the team with 5.5.

Playing in his home state for just the second-time in his college career, look for Boyd to have a solid afternoon in Charlottesville. Not counting the Georgia Tech game, Virginia's pass defense had a rough month of October. Ball State, Maryland and Duke combined to pass for 970 yards with six touchdowns and one interception against the Cavs.

It's probably safe to assume that Boyd will pick up where Duke left off.

ADVANTAGE:

CLEMSON GROUND GAME VS. VIRGINIA FRONT SEVEN
The Virginia run defense gave up 350 rushing yards to Oregon and 394 more to Georgia Tech. But that's Oregon and Georgia Tech. Facing the nation's best offense and one of the few remaining triple-option teams will, more often than not, net those kinds of results.


The Virginia run defense gave up 350 rushing yards to Oregon and 394 more to Georgia Tech. (Getty Images)
The Cavs followed up that shellacking from Oregon by holding VMI to 41 yards and Pitt to eight. That's right, eight.

But Ball State had 160 yards and four touchdowns. Maryland posted 136 yards and two scores. And Duke, which usually does the job through the air, put up 180 yards on Virginia.

Fresh off his 161-yard, two-touchdown performance against Maryland, Roderick McDowell could be in store for another 100-yard output. Whether or not he approaches the 30-carry plateau could depend on how healthy Zac Brooks is. Brooks was running well against the Terps before exiting the game with a shoulder injury, but he's listed as probable for Saturday.

Virginia linebackers Henry Coley and Daquan Romero lead the team with 64 and 62 tackles, respectively. Harris is tied for second with Romero.

The Cavs are still without starting tackle Brent Urban, who's been dealing with a high-ankle sprain, so his absence is a sizeable hit to their efforts against the run.

We're calling back-to-back 100-yard performances for McDowell.

ADVANTAGE:


Clemson's Chandler Catanzaro is 9-of-10 on field goal attempts this season. (Roy Philpott)
SPECIAL TEAMS
Virginia does have a little bit of pop in its return game. Jennings averages 22.4 yards per kickoff return. Dominique Terrell is averaging 9.3 yards per punt return.

Clemson has struggled to put together a consistent level of production in the kickoff return game. But if Watkins continues to lineup deep on kickoffs, he's still a threat, despite his average of 18 yards. Humphries is still a quality weapon as a punt returner. He's averaging right at 10 yards per return.

Both punters are solid. Bradley Pinion averages 40.8 yards per attempt for Clemson. Virginia's Alec Vozenilek is .2 yards better at 41.

Chandler Catanzaro is 9-of-10 on field goal attempts while Vozenilek splits duties with Ian Frye. The Virginia kickers have combined to make 10 of 14 kicks.

We'll give Clemson the edge here since Catanzaro is a more consistent place kicker.

ADVANTAGE:

PREDICTION: Clemson 48 Virginia 14

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