After not playing Virginia for a six-year stretch, Clemson is preparing for a second game against the Cavaliers in a 10-month span.
The top-ranked Tigers (2-0, 1-0 ACC) take on Virginia (1-0, 1-0) on Saturday night at Clemson’s Memorial Stadium, where a masked and socially distanced crowd of approximately 19,000 is expected.
“It’ll be a great atmosphere for our guys,” said Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, whose team trounced Virginia 62-17 last December in the ACC Championship game. “Our guys are in a good place. We’ve got good momentum. We’re in a good place, but let’s turn the page and step into October here.”
Clemson has been in “a good place” for several years now. The Tigers are pursuing their record sixth consecutive ACC title and sixth straight trip to the College Football Playoff.
Clemson has won 23 consecutive games against ACC competition dating back to the 2017 season and 44 of its last 46 games against league foes.
Despite last year’s lopsided loss to the Tigers, fifth-year Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall is looking forward to the challenge once again.
“I’m thrilled to be able to get a chance to play Clemson again,” Mendenhall said. “Having earned the chance to play them in the ACC Championship last year, it just accelerated our program. It exposed deficiencies. We’re anxious to learn and apply and improve from what we showed a year ago.”
Virginia went 9-5 in 2019 and capped the season with a 36-28 loss to Florida in the Orange Bowl. It marked the Cavaliers’ first nine-win season since 2007.
Mendenhall’s team opened its season last week with a 38-20 victory over Duke.
“One game in, they look like the team that went to the ACC Championship game last year,” Swinney said. “They’re very experienced. Bronco has done an amazing job. This is a program and a culture that has been building each year. They’re one of the more experienced teams out there.”
But it was a couple of relative newcomers who shined against the Blue Devils. Sophomore quarterback Brennan Armstrong rallied the team from a 20-17 fourth-quarter deficit and finished with 269 yards on 24-of-45 passing.
“He’s a problem,” Swinney said. “He’s like a young Steve Young running around out there — a lefty, crafty, creative, extends plays, good runner, really has no fear. Trusts his guys to make competitive plays. This quarterback is savvy and tough, not afraid to run it. He can escape.”
Freshman Lavel Davis Jr., who ironically is from South Carolina, made the first game of his career a memorable one as the 6-foot-7 wide receiver made two highlight-reel plays for touchdowns on an afternoon that saw him catch four passes for 101 yards.
“He’s a long, long guy,” Swinney said. “He made some big plays against Duke. I think he was the difference in the game. Good start for him in his first game and he’s only going to get better as he gets stronger and develops.”
Clemson will counter with several veteran stars, including quarterback Trevor Lawrence and two-time ACC Player of the Year Travis Etienne, a senior running back.
Lawrence and Etienne have played sparingly in Clemson’s 2-0 start, but may see more time now that Clemson is entering the meat of its ACC schedule.
Mendenhall says the Tigers are a well-known quantity.
“There’s certainly an adjustment or a tweak here or there by their personnel, but Dabo’s record and Clemson’s record since he’s been there doesn’t warrant wholesale changes,” Mendenhall said. “It usually just means reloading. The next player has played usually significant amounts of time from the year before in games that have one-sided.”
–Field Level Media