Saturday marks the second time this football season that Virginia has hosted a top-10 opponent quarterbacked by a future NFL draft choice orchestrating a rapid-fire spread offense reinforced by an underrated defense.
"I would say they're not as fast as Oregon," Virginia coach Mike London said of the Tigers, "but they're comparable in terms of the athletic skill and what their offense allows them to do with those players."
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No team may be as fast as Oregon, and the second-ranked Ducks wasted no time flashing that speed at Scott Stadium in September. Quarterback Marcus Mariota sprinted 71 yards for a touchdown on the game's opening series to ignite a 59-10 victory.
Oregon averaged one play per 18.62 seconds time of possession against the Cavaliers. Clemson plays only a tick slower, averaging one snap per 20.47 seconds — by comparison, Virginia's rate is 24.38 seconds.
Third-year offensive coordinator Chad Morris brought that hair-on-fire attitude to Clemson from Tulsa, and he inherited an ideal, dual-threat quarterback in Tajh Boyd. A fifth-year senior from Phoebus High, Boyd is scheduled to start his 36th consecutive game Saturday, one shy of the school record for quarterbacks set by Charlie Whitehurst from 2002-05.
First-team All-ACC the last two seasons, and the 2012 conference player of the year, Boyd has been responsible for 112 career touchdowns, 90 passing and 22 rushing. His next will break the league standard set by North Carolina State's Philip Rivers from 2000-03.
But as with Oregon, there's far more to Clemson than an offense that's equally deceptive and productive.
The Tigers average a Bowl Subdivision-best 3.6 sacks per game, and defensive end Vic Beasley leads the country with 10. Sure, Georgia dinged Clemson for 35 points in the opener — the Tigers survived by three — and yes, undefeated Florida State silenced Death Valley with a 51-14 rout last month. But otherwise, Clemson's defense has been excellent.
The Tigers rebounded from the FSU defeat with a 40-27 victory last week at Maryland, their 15th straight double-figure margin versus an unranked opponent, their seventh consecutive road victory, neutral sites included.
"I thought our guys did a tremendous job last week," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. "We responded defensively, handled some adversity in the game. We had three turnovers (on offense), which is disappointing, but they got negative 9 yards off of those three turnovers, so for your defense to go out there and respond like that is impressive.
"And then offensively scored 40 points and (gained) 550 yards, and first time in school history to have a 160¿yard rusher (Roderick McDowell) and a 160¿yard receiver (Sammy Watkins). I would say they responded in a big way going to a place and beating a team that has a winning record and was undefeated at home. I was proud of them."
Virginia's offense also had a first last week, albeit in a 35-25 loss to Georgia Tech, the Cavaliers' fifth in a row. Darius Jennings (13 receptions) and Tim Smith (10) became the program's first tandem with double-figure catches in the same game. This after both had been demoted to reserve roles.
"I knew Tim and Darius were going to have big games (last week)," said quarterback David Watford, who passed for 376 yards against the Yellow Jackets. "I saw it before it even happened, because in practice you could just tell their intensity, how focused they were, how sharp they were with their routes, how they caught the ball. Passes that were too low, too high, behind them, they were just making great plays every practice and every period."
London: "That's how we must get better as a team. You can't feel complacent. You've got to find a reason why you're (not) playing and those two decided that they were going to turn up their efforts. …
"We talked about making some changes because of the lack of production. Ever since those changes, those two young men have taken it personally."
Considering Clemson's potent attack and Virginia's depleted defense — tackle Brent Urban and cornerbacks Demetrious Nicholson and Maurice Canady remain sidelined by injury — the Cavaliers need Jennings, Smith, Watford, indeed the entire offense, to continue that progression if they're to have any hope.