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How Virginia Tech’s early offensive game plan kept Clemson grounded

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Clemson at Virginia Tech football

Clemson's Baylon Spector tackles Virginia Tech's Braxton Burmeister (left) last month. Burmeister will be a huge favorite to lock up the starting quarterback job in 2021.

BLACKSBURG — Virginia Tech relied on a unique pre-snap look against Clemson on Saturday night.

The Hokies stayed within striking distance and limited Clemson to four possessions in the first half running the play clock down before every offensive snap.

“Our plan was to try to keep our defense off the field and try to hold the ball as long as humanly possible,” Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente said. “That didn't mean going into the game that we couldn't or wouldn't try and throw the ball, it just meant we were trying to limit the number of possessions. When you play it like that, you have a chance for it to go a bunch of different ways. I felt like it was the best chance for us to win.”

The strategy was also aimed at limiting the time defensive coordinator Brent Venables had to read the offense formation.

Tech’s quarterbacks would run to the sideline and get the play call from running backs coach Adam Lectenberg while the rest of the offense huddled up. They wouldn’t break the huddle until there was about 10 seconds left on the play clock.

Fuente pulled starting quarterback Hendon Hooker from the game to settle him down when he was breaking the huddle too quickly.

“The thing about the way Clemson calls their defense and the way Veneables does things is they want to see the formation and where the backs set and hold his call until late as possible, we eliminated all signals or most signals and tried to get up there a little bit later and shift a couple times and motion to try to negate some of that,” Fuente said.

That left little time for Tech’s quarterbacks to check out of plays, but Fuente was fine with the tradeoff and it worked until the second half when the Hokies lost three fumbles (one was returned for a touchdown).

Tech ran 7:14 off the clock on a 11-play, 34-yard drive in the first quarter. It was the offense’s second longest drive of the season in terms of time of possession. They ran more than three minutes off the clock on four straight possessions to open the game.

“It was definitely different, but we knew that’s what we wanted to do to give ourselves the best chance to be in a good position to win the game, but I don’t think it was anything too challenging,” Virginia Tech tight end James Mitchell said. “Definitely different because we like to go a little bit faster.”

Tech held onto the ball for a season-high 38 minutes and won the time of possession battle for the first time in four weeks. It was the longest the Hokies offense has held onto the ball since a win over Old Dominion in September 2017.

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