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Thursday, December 1, 2011
What to watch in the ACC: Week 14

By Heather Dinich

There's only one game to watch in the ACC this week, but there are plenty of storylines within the game. Here’s a closer look at what to keep an eye on during the Dr Pepper ACC championship game on Saturday night:

1. The quarterbacks. They have been the focus leading up to this game, and they will be the difference-makers in the outcome of it. Clemson’s Tajh Boyd has struggled recently, throwing four touchdowns and seven interceptions since the eight-game winning streak ended, and Virginia Tech’s Logan Thomas has accounted for 23 touchdowns and just two turnovers since the Hokies last lost to Clemson.

Logan Thomas
Logan Thomas' performance helped vault the Hokies back into the Coastal Division race.
2. Third downs. Clemson’s defense hasn’t been stellar this year, but it’s been stingy on third downs. The Tigers are No. 1 in the ACC and No. 9 in the FBS in third-down defense, holding opponents to 31.52 percent. Virginia Tech, however, has converted 46.55 percent of its third downs this season, good for third in the ACC and No. 22 in the country. The last time these teams played, Virginia Tech was just 4-of-16 on third downs.

3. Clemson’s pass protection. The Tigers have allowed 11 sacks in the past two games, and Virginia Tech is No. 8 in the country and leads the ACC with 3.08 sacks per game. The absence of veteran left tackle Phillip Price, who has been out with an injury, hasn’t helped, and his status is still in question for Saturday. Boyd was sacked five times last week in the loss to South Carolina.

4. Turnovers. They have been an issue for Clemson over the past four weeks, with 12 in four games. It wasn’t the reason the Tigers lost to South Carolina, but they were major factors in the losses to NC State (four) and Georgia Tech (four). Virginia Tech enters the game leading the country in turnover margin. The Tigers were plus-nine in turnover margin in the season’s first eight games and minus-10 in the next four.

5. The all-purpose stars. This game will feature two of the nation’s top five leaders in all-purpose yardage in Virginia Tech’s Wilson and Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins. Watkins averages 174.55 yards per game to rank fourth in the nation, while Wilson is fifth at 173.58 yards per game. Watkins has 1,920 yards rushing/receiving and in kick returns in 11 games. He missed the NC State game due to injury. Wilson has 2,083 yards in 12 games for his 173.58 average. Both have a higher all-purpose average than Alabama Heisman candidate Trent Richardson, who averages 164.67 yards per game.