Gameday preview: Clemson vs. Virginia

November 21, 2009 

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Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney sends in calls during the second quarter as Clemson defeats N.C. State 43-23 at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh, N.C., on Saturday, Nov. 14, 2009.

RICH GLICKSTEIN/RGLICKSTEIN@THESTATE.COM

  • CAVALIERS AT TIGERS

    WHO: Virginia (3-7, 2-4 ACC) at Clemson (7-3, 5-2)

    WHEN: 3:30 p.m. Saturday

    WHERE: Memorial Stadium

    TV: ABC

    RADIO: ESPN Radio 93.1 FM

    LINE: Clemson by 21

    THESTATE.COM/TIGERS: Live chat with Paul Strelow, 3 p.m. Thursday

Over the hump

A Boston College loss in its final two games also would clinch the Atlantic Division title for Clemson. But the Tigers would clearly prefer to get there on their own terms.

Dabo Swinney has done his best to steer Clemson away from overlooking Virginia, even evoking Buster Douglas to hammer home the idea that champions come prepared to take care of business.

Over the hill

It will be the last pre-game run down "The Hill" for 19 seniors, nine of whom are starters.

So the juices will be flowing for a number of key components to this team, including lineman Thomas Austin, tight end Michael Palmer, receiver Jacoby Ford and defensive end Ricky Sapp. But seeing how the Death Valley crowd greets running back C.J. Spiller for the final time figures to rank among the day's most memorable moments.

Over the hill, part 2

Swinney celebrated his 40th birthday Friday, but the ACC's youngest coach will have waited until today to see if he got the gift he wanted. A conference title game berth would be pretty fair validation that Swinney was not a bad hire, not to mention trigger an extra $1 million of salary for each of the final four years of his contract.

The pose

Analysts suggest Spiller's Heisman Trophy candidacy has gained steam the last month, but he will probably need to continue weekly splashes to stay in the mix. That said, about all that is left for Spiller to accomplish is an eye-catching rushing performance.

Turning the page

It has been strange for there to be no consideration of the USC rivalry game to this juncture. Win or lose, that will change promptly. Should the Tigers clinch, there will be legitimate concern for an emotional letdown in next week's preparations, and it will be interesting to see how long Swinney allows the Tigers to celebrate their accomplishment. Should Clemson fall on its face, Swinney will have his work cut out for him.

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Five questions with Kavell Conner

Did Virginia recruit you?

They recruited me a little. But my high school coach told me they said I wasn't fast enough to play running back. So that's always been a little motivation, I guess. I came in here as a safety, but they always told me I had a body to gain weight. So I expected to move.

It's a personal rivalry game. Just being from there, you want to go there and play well.

You were recruited by John Lovett, who was was fired before you signed. Why stick with your pledge?

When I committed, it was never about who was recruiting me. It was about coming down here and forming a relationship with the players, and it felt like a family atmosphere. So I felt comfortable here.

If you win to reach the ACC title game, what would be the defining moment you reflected on?

The defining moment would just be clinching. After the game, just seeing the happiness all the fans could feel and all the players' faces, seeing how our hard work has paid off. But we have to go out and complete the job and finish strong.

Which game had more of an impact, the collapse at Maryland or the overtime victory at Miami?

I'd say both games impacted us in different ways. The Maryland game, we hit that low, and everybody came out of that game refocused where we wanted to go as a team. Then the Miami game just showed us how good we could really be, and that got everybody motivated.

You're regarded as the most punishing hitter on the team. What was the hardest hit you've levied?

It was actually not even a tackle. It was when Crezdon (Butler) got an interception last year against South Carolina State. I got the chance to hit a lineman pretty good, and that was a great feeling. There was quite a celebration on the sideline.

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GAME WITHIN A GAME

Clemson RB C.J. Spiller vs. Virginia LB Steve Greer

About Spiller: The Heisman Trophy candidate needs 140 all-purpose yards to become the fifth player in NCAA history to reach 7,000 for his career and 103 to set the ACC record.

How he'll win: Clemson's offensive line is better than last year, and Virginia's defense is statistically worse against the rush. Moreover, the Tigers have improved in finding ways to get him the ball. Prior to this season, he had logged 18 carries just twice. He has done so five times this year and averaged 22.6 offensive touches in games he has not been pulled.

Key number: 25. Career plays of 50 yards or more, only five of which have not gone for touchdowns

About Greer: The 6-2, 220-pound freshman looks the part of Virginia's next linebacker NFL prospect. He ranks fifth in the ACC with 8 tackles per game and is a chief reason the Cavs' defense has not appeared as porous as its numbers might indicate.

How he'll win: Virginia held Spiller to 18 yards on 14 carries last season, taking away the perimeter and forcing Clemson to hammer with James Davis inside the tackles. The Cavaliers are the only ACC team that incorporates a true 3-4 scheme, which could present trouble with the combo-blocks Clemson must execute in different gaps up front.

Key number: 300. Virginia is 3-0 when holding opponents under 300 yards of total offense; the Cavs are 0-7 when they don't.

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INJURY REPORT

Virginia: QB Marc Verica (concussion) is doubtful.

Clemson: DE Da'Quan Bowers (sprained MCL) and OL Thomas Austin (sprained foot) are doubtful.

PREDICTION: CLEMSON 27, VIRGINIA 14

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