Virginia Tech’s preseason is over and the No. 11 Hokies are about to find out if they really are one of the elite programs in the Atlantic Coast Conference. It starts Saturday night.
That’s when the Hokies (4-0) open their ACC schedule at home against No. 13 Clemson. The Tigers (4-0) have yet to play on the road, but boast victories against Auburn and No. 23 Florida State.
“This is probably my most anticipated game since the Stanford game last year, seeing that Clemson has already knocked off Florida State and they beat Auburn, who were the national champions last year,” defensive end James Gayle said. “I feel like it’s a huge step (up) in competition. I feel like the first four games were kind of getting us ready for ACC play.”
The Hokies have taken some heat for a non-conference schedule that started with Championship Subdivision power Appalachian State and also has included East Carolina, Arkansas State and Marshall. They rank second nationally in rushing defense, allowing just 43 yards per game, fourth in overall defense, allowing just 231 yards, and sixth in scoring defense, allowing 10 points per contest..
Coach Frank Beamer disputed that they have played a weak schedule to date, but said the Tigers will arrive having shown already what it can do against major-level competition.
“I think they should feel good about their two wins against Auburn and Florida State. Those are quality wins, and they’re for real,” he said of the Tigers. “They’re a legit team. People might at this point question how legit we are, but it is what it is. I think we’ve made enough good plays to give us hope that we can be a good football team, and that’s where we are right now.”
And Beamer isn’t the only coach in the game piling plaudits on the opponent.
Tigers coach Dabo Swinney said the Hokies are the best team in the ACC, citing their 12 consecutive victories in conference play dating to November 2009, and their 2010 ACC title. And while the Tigers’ profile improved with the last two victories, they won’t have the comfort of home.
“Anxious to take this bunch on the road and see where we are,” Swinney said. “We’ve been a good home team. Now we have to win on the road and we start at the top.”
Recent history also suggests they won’t be impressed by the Hokies’ defensive credentials. Last week, against a Seminoles team then sporting the nation’s No. 5 defense, first-year starting quarterback Tajh Boyd threw for 344 yards and three touchdowns as the Tigers rolled up 443 yards in a 35-30 victory. Florida State came into the game allowing just 195 yards per game.
Boyd has passed for 1,255 yards, the most in any four-game stretch in Tigers history.
Hokies quarterback Logan Thomas will be making just his fifth career start for the Hokies, and his 761 passing yards pale in comparison, but he said he’s confident with his progress to this point.
“I know where I need to go with the ball and I think that’s kind of what I wanted to get out of the first four games — just get a confidence level and an ease about it, and I think I’ve succeeded thus far,” he said. “It’s time to separate the men from the boys and I think we have the team to do it.”
Swinney said it hardly matter who the Hokies have played thus far:
“They are 4-0 and they have played some solid teams. They’ve gotten it done regardless of who they have played. We’ll get their best, the very best they got. It’s going to take our best as well.”