|No. 3 Clemson, No. 23 Virginia battle for ACC title|
No. 3 Clemson will be seeking its fifth consecutive conference crown when it faces No. 23 Virginia on Saturday night in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C.
The defending national champion Tigers (12-0, 8-0 ACC) have not lost a game in more than 700 days and are quite comfortable playing on college football's biggest stages.
The underdog Cavaliers (9-3, 6-2) are making their first appearance in the ACC title game and are more accustomed to watching high-stakes contests from the cheap seats.
"We don't intend just to take a trip to see what it looks like," Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall said after clinching the Coastal Division with a 39-30 win against rival Virginia Tech on Friday. "We're going to try to win the game. That's what our players want and that's what we're going to work to do."
Clemson, which owns a 27-game winning streak that doesn't include any games with Virginia (they last met in 2013), does not expect the Cavaliers to be content with a few souvenirs and selfies. The Tigers expect a fight.
"They're talented. You can tell they have chemistry," Clemson senior safety Denzel Johnson said of Virginia to The Greenville (S.C.) News. "They play hard, they play with passion, they're selfless. Looking forward to playing them."
The Tigers are coming off a record-filled 38-3 win at South Carolina on Saturday. It was their sixth straight win by at least 35 points, the longest streak in the Associated Press poll era (since 1936).
Sophomore quarterback Trevor Lawrence completed 26 of 36 passes for 295 yards and three touchdowns and tied an ACC record with 18 consecutive completions. Junior running back Travis Etienne ran for two scores to set ACC career records for touchdowns from scrimmage (57) and rushing TDs (53).
The nation's top-ranked scoring defense (10.1 points per game) gave up just 174 yards to the Gamecocks and has only surrendered one touchdown in its last 13 quarters.
When asked this week if Clemson's defense reminded him of any he has faced before, Mendenhall said Tigers defensive coordinator Brent Venables' unit is in a class by itself.
"No, it doesn't. Statistically, it's stronger. Schematically, I think it's better developed. Production-wise, it's at a higher level," Mendenhall said. "I have seen a lot of good defenses and been a part of a lot of good defenses. This one ... is just being done at a really high level."
Clemson has allowed only six touchdown passes all season but has not faced a dual threat quite like UVA senior quarterback Bryce Perkins, who leads the ACC and ranks 13th nationally in total offense (3,636 yards). He was responsible for 475 of the Cavaliers' 492 yards against the Hokies.
"He's one of those guys that makes everybody around him better," Tigers coach Dabo Swinney said. "That doesn't just happen. He's got the total respect of everyone. Kind of as he goes, they go."
Clemson is 38-8-1 all-time against Virginia, but just 9-8-1 since the Cavaliers beat the Tigers for the first time in 1990. UVA is 2-23-1 against AP Top 5 teams, with both wins against Florida State (1995, 2005).
--Field Level Media