03 Oct Jon Cartu Divulges: Clemson vs. Virginia: Prediction, pick, odds, spread, line,…
No. 1 Clemson returns this weekend after a week off in its first competition against an FBS opponent since the season-opening win at Wake Forest back on Sept. 12. The Tigers followed that victory with a 49-0 win against The Citadel, and now look to improve to 2-0 in ACC play when they play host to Virginia on Saturday night at home.
Virginia is playing its second game of the season after a schedule shuffle included the postponement of its ACC opener against Virginia Tech. The Wahoos got off to a great start in a 38-20 win against Duke, but face a far different challenge in this rematch of the 2019 ACC Championship Game. Clemson won that contest in Charlotte 62-17, and its combined score across the last two meetings with Virginia (the last regular season meeting coming in 2013) is 121-27.
Last year’s result is just one of the reasons the Tigers are heavy favorites in the contest, the others including Virginia still working into form on offense with Brennan Armstrong in for the departed Bryce Perkins and Dabo Swinney holding a 14-1 record against Coastal Division opponents — though no divisions are designated for this unique 2020 season — since 2015.
Of note for Clemson this week is the upcoming schedule, as the return to ACC action for the first time in three weeks comes one week before one of the toughest games on the schedule. Not many experts started the season circling Miami’s visit to Death Valley on Oct. 10 as one of the biggest games of the year, but after a 3-0 start that included putting up 47 points on Louisville and 52 on Florida State, it’s looking like that will be a top-10 matchup with College Football Playoff implications. To consider this a warmup game would be a mistake that has often been made in similar lookahead spots throughout college football history, but for fans, it’s impossible to dial into Clemson on Saturday night without acknowledging the growing hype for that Week 6 matchup.
Clemson: In a game where we expect Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne to continue their regularly-scheduled programming of excellence, the focus turns to the Tigers defense. There are so many talented pieces, particularly up front on the line, and yet it’s still a deep rotation without a real identity in this part of the young season. Defensive coordinator Brent Venables indicated there’s still a lot to learn about this group, and the steps to reaching that championship caliber will include getting tested by different kinds of offenses along the way. Even without Bryce Perkins, Virginia is still utilizing the quarterback run game and looking to stress its opponents with indecision in key situation. Yes, Clemson did win last year’s meeting by 42 points, but it allowed Virginia to convert on 10 of 18 third downs as it played keep away from Trevor Lawrence as best it could in defeat. I guarantee that third-down rate has been a key coaching point this week for a young group looking to improve with every game.
Virginia: Can the Wahoos make this more of a game than the last time out? Bronco Mendenhall has put the program on an upward trajectory since he arrived with few steps backward in that progression, but the final moves from “good enough to win the Coastal Division” to “good enough to compete with Clemson” are the toughest and can take the most time. The biggest key for Virginia will be trying to bring physicality on defense up front and avoid getting torched by Lawrence and Clemson’s athletes in quick-strike touchdown drives that can tilt the contest in the Tigers’ favor and force the Wahoos to press a little bit on offense.
Date: Saturday, Oct. 3 | Time: 8 p.m. ET
Location: Memorial Stadium — Clemson, South Carolina
TV: ACC Network | Live stream: fuboTV (Try for free)
Game prediction, picks
To me this pick — not the game, but the pick — comes down to Virginia’s offensive line. That group has come a long way since it was a glaring weakness at times for the Wahoos offense, where Bryce Perkins’ athleticism and escapability was not only a feature but a necessity for success. They are an experienced group in 2020, and the success they had against Duke suggests it’s improved in a way that makes running the offense a little bit easier for new starter Brennan Armstrong. But Duke’s defensive line is not Clemson’s defensive line, and if Myles Murphy, Bryan Bresee and the rest of that group dominate like they did against Wake Forest, it will be difficult to get any kind of rhythm going on offense or extend drives to keep the ball out of Lawrence’s hands. It might not be another 42-point win, but I feel pretty good about Clemson winning that position battle, Lawrence having three-to-four total touchdowns and the Tigers winning by at least 30. Pick: Clemson (-28)
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