CHARLOTTESVILLE — Come on, now. Everybody has a weakness, right?
Achilles had his heel. Ned Stark was way too trusting. Mother Teresa smoked four packs of Marlboro Reds per day.
OK, that last one’s a lie. Maybe Mother Teresa didn’t have a weakness. And that, in the eyes of many, would give her something in common with the Clemson football team, which Virginia will face in Saturday’s ACC championship game.
“You’re not going to find better talent than this in the country,” UVa linebacker Charles Snowden said of the Tigers.
All the numbers back him up. Clemson enters this matchup as the only team in the country ranked in the top three in both total offense (third, 541.8 yards per game) and total defense (second, 232.8).
Eying their 28th straight victory overall, the Tigers have a 22-game winning streak against conference opponents, including postseason games.
And if we’re tempted to believe that’s merely an indictment of the quality of their league, the Tigers are also 23-2 against ranked foes since 2015.
But the No. 22 Cavaliers have to hope there is something. They have to at least look for something. They have to seek that Death Star exhaust port into which they can fire their proton torpedo, blowing up the whole establishment.
Any idea where it is?
“Any of the things that normally win football games are applicable against any team,” UVa coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “Some matchups require different things, but if you just say the basics — holding on to the football, taking it away — that matters. Extra possessions certainly matter. And that comes through turnovers.
“Field position matters. Playing well on third down matters. And ultimately, points determine outcome.”
Ah, yes, the points. Clemson has scored 543 of those this season, while allowing just 121. As you might expect, Virginia has the second-best points differential (plus-122) in the conference, but that’s not close to what the Tigers have done.
Clemson has blown out just about everybody, especially recently, but there was one scare on the schedule: a 21-20 victory at North Carolina on Sept. 28. The Tigers didn’t lead that game until less than 10 minutes remained in the fourth quarter, and they needed a late stop on a UNC two-point conversion attempt to prevent the upset.
So how did the Tar Heels keep it close? Surprisingly, neither team committed a turnover.
It started with a long UNC touchdown pass just 1:45 into the game, and then the Tar Heels held Clemson to a modest 125 rushing yards.
Rushing defense just happens to have been a primary focus for UVa all season. The Cavaliers set a goal to hold opponents to less than 3.5 yards per rushing attempt on average. Entering Saturday, they’ve allowed 3.48 per tote.
Maybe that’s not a proton torpedo, but given UVa’s injuries in the secondary, attempting to make Clemson one-dimensional would be a good place to start. Then the Cavaliers likely will need some good fortune — some deflections and interceptions, some Clemson fumbles — as well as another monster game from quarterback Bryce Perkins.
“I don’t think it really comes down to any magic or anything like that,” UVa linebacker Zane Zandier said. “I think all 11 of us just have to be dialed in. They have a great quarterback, they have a great running back, they have great receivers, good tight ends, and their O-line is obviously really good.”
In other words, that weakness is tough to spot. But the Cavaliers have no choice but to keep probing for it.