Virginia Tech has fallen short of its preseason hype, but it still has the chance to compete for an ACC title with an upset on Saturday against the Clemson Tigers.
The stakes will be raised in what is already one of the most hostile environments in college football at Clemson, thanks to the Tigers' No. 19 spot in the initial BCS Standings. Preseason Heisman hopeful Logan Thomas will need to have his best game of the season and take care of the football, or else this one could get ugly early.
There is an inherent revenge factor on the Hokies' side, since they were beaten twice by Clemson in 2011.
Aside from the quarterback needing to severely step up his play, here are some other keys for Virginia Tech to pull off a shocker in South Carolina.
Feed J.C. Coleman
The freshman running back may be small, but he is a home run threat if there ever was one. Coleman proved that much against Duke last week in his most significant game action to date, carrying 13 times for 183 yards and two touchdowns, including an 86-yarder.
With Thomas getting heavily pressured to the tune of 17 sacks in the team's first five games, Coleman can help relieve pressure on the dual-threat signal-caller. Lesser pass protection and a regression in decision-making has plagued Thomas in a disappointing junior season.
Another fantastic performance by the freshman against a ranked opponent would prove he's not just a flash in the pan. It would also justify him leapfrogging fellow freshman Michale Holmes and senior Martin Scales on the depth chart.
It also might be the key for the Hokies to become a legitimate factor in the ACC race for the remainder of the season.
Shut Down DeAndre Hopkins or Sammy Watkins
Or both, really.
This is among the scariest tandem of receivers in the nation, and the Tigers have a QB in Boyd who is more than capable of delivering the ball down the field to utilize their speed.
Virginia Tech is among the best pass defenses in the nation, giving up just 210 yards through the air. The secondary hasn't faced an aerial assault of this magnitude, though.
Longtime coordinator Bud Foster is sure to have a few complexities up his sleeve to throw at Boyd, but the Clemson junior is well-seasoned and has shaped into one of the premier QBs in the nation. No matter what Foster throws at the Tigers, it may not be enough to prevent an offensive outburst.
David Teel of the Daily Press pointed out how Clemson actually runs the ball more than they throw it, which is part of what prompted a great quote from Foster:
"They are, Foster told reporters after Monday's practice, 'a booger to prepare for.'"
Unfortunately for the Hokies, Boyd is mobile and can extend the play with his feet, making it that much more difficult to cover Hopkins and Watkins for an any amount of time.
Who will win Saturday's game?
Hopkins already has eight touchdowns and 777 yards receiving on the year, while Watkins and his seemingly limitless talent is dying to break out at any moment in 2012. The Hokies should key on Hopkins primarily since Watkins has yet to prove himself this season.
Either way, it's a tall task to shut down either of these players—much less both of them—but it will take that kind of herculean effort to keep Virginia Tech close.
Impact Plays on Special Teams
Head coach Frank Beamer has been known for consistently getting the edge on special teams in his long tenure at Virginia Tech. Some of that magic needs to be rediscovered against the Tigers.
According to Andy Bitter of the Virginian-Pilot, the Clemson coverage units are mediocre at best. That could turn out to be a huge advantage for the Hokies.
Whether it's shutting down Watkins on kickoff returns, blocking kicks, or getting big gains from safety Kyshoen Jarrett when he runs back punts, the Hokies need something. As Bitter notes, Jarrett leads the nation in punt return average at over 20 yards per return.
One play may or may not have caused a big bump in the average.
Perhaps something like this from Jarrett will be enough to inspire the Hokies to pull off the improbable in Death Valley.