BLACKSBURG, Va. — Virginia Tech defensive line coach Charley Wiles would love it if his four linemen contributed to a shutout in Saturday night's ACC opener against Clemson — or even if they helped hold the Tigers' spread-the-field, fast-paced offense to 14 points or so. But he knows there is a big difference between idealistic and the realistic this week.
"It seems to me that you've got to score if you're going to beat this crowd," he said.
Tech's defense has performed well this season, holding four non-conference opponents to an average of 231.3 yards per game. No opposing player has run for more than 46 yards against the Hokies. But Clemson's Andre Ellington will be the best running back they have seen in 2011, and the Tigers' offense will test their defensive progress much more than any of their opponents to this point.
So Tech's offense must take advantage of scoring chances — something it failed to do in the past three games — and sustain drives in order to keep Clemson's offense off the field. The Tigers are averaging 37.8 points and 502.8 yards. They have 22 plays of at least 20 yards and seven of at least 50 — the third-most plays of 50-plus in the nation.
Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris wants to reach 80 snaps a game in his no-huddle system. Two weeks ago, the Tigers had 92 snaps and 624 yards in a 38-24 win over Auburn. Last week, they had 85 snaps and 443 yards in a 35-30 win over Florida State. The number of plays alone can wear out a defense — to say nothing of how Clemson's offense leaves opposing offenses trying to keep up on the scoreboard.
"We haven't talked about it, but I know it's in the back of everyone's heads," Tech quarterback Logan Thomas said of needing enough points to win a shootout.
Said running backs coach Shane Beamer: "All the talk this week has been about Clemson's offense, and I'd like to think that we've got a pretty good offense here, too. Hopefully, we'll play well [tonight] and have people leaving here talking about our offense."
That will happen only if Tech cashes in opportunities to score.
"This week, it's critical," Beamer said. "When you get down there, you've got to put points on the board. And you better get touchdowns and not kick a bunch of field goals."
In the past three games — a 17-10 win at East Carolina, a 26-7 win over Arkansas State and a 30-10 victory at Marshall — the Hokies have come away scoreless on eight drives with legitimate chances to get at least a field goal. Those drives reached the opposing 6, 13, 14, 20, 23, 31, 35 and 37. The results of each: interception, missed field goal, lost fumble, missed field goal, lost fumble, interception, interception and punt.
The Hokies are banking on tailback David Wilson not losing another fumble for the rest of the year, after he lost two in the first four games. And head coach Frank Beamer, who oversees the kickers, believes Cody Journell isn't far off from making those field goals.
Thomas has as many touchdowns as interceptions this year (four), but two were the result of nice plays by the defensive back, said quarterbacks coach and play caller Mike O'Cain. On the other two — including one on that aforementioned list — Thomas threw the ball to the right receiver, but just didn't throw it precisely enough, O'Cain said.
"Yeah, it's a concern, but at the same time, the concern is making the right throw," O'Cain said. "It's not a jump off the ship or beat your head against the wall [concern]. The decision making is fine."
• Read Darryl Slater's Virginia Tech blog at VTeffect.com