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Virginia Football: 5 Keys for the Cavaliers in the ACC Championship Game

Virginia Football: 5 Keys for the Cavaliers in the ACC Championship Game

Virginia Football: 5 Keys for the Cavaliers in the ACC Championship Game

For the first time since the beginning of the title game in 2005, the Virginia Cavaliers will play for the ACC championship.

On Black Friday, Virginia defeated the Virginia Tech Hokies to win the ACC Coastal Division for the first time. Now, the 9-3 Cavaliers will turn their attention to trying to do the unthinkable — upset the undefeated Clemson Tigers, the defending national champions.

Since 2015, not only have the Tigers have played in every ACC Championship Game, they've also won the December game in Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina. Many aren't giving Virginia much of a chance to win, but the Cavaliers have an opportunity to make the game interesting.

Here are the five keys to Saturday's game against Clemson.

5 Keys for Virginia in the ACC Championship Game

1. Get off to a fast start

Starting fast is important in any game, but especially against a team like a talented, explosive team like Clemson. During their last five games, The Tigers are averaging 18.8 points per game in the first quarter. On the flip side, Virginia has averaged 11 points per game in the first quarter over their past four games.

After their early-season struggles, the Tigers have been impressive offensively as they're averaging 45.3 points per game, which is fourth in the nation. Virginia has scored more than 45 points just three times this season.

The Tigers are on a 27-game winning streak with 17 of those victories coming by 30 or more points. Clemson has won only three games by fewer than 10 points during this same span.

Simply put, the Cavaliers can't let the game get away from them early. If Clemson is able to score a couple of touchdowns in the first quarter, Virginia could be in trouble.

2. Bryce Perkins using his arm and his legs

Most will categorize Perkins as a running quarterback. But, he also has used his arm to win games for the Cavaliers this season.

Perkins will have a tall task in facing the Clemson defense, one of the stingier units in all of college football. The Tigers are ranked second in the FBS in total defense (232.8 ypg), 11th in rushing defense (106.3) and first in passing defense. Clemson also averages 2.92 sacks per game, which is 18th nationally.

In the win over Virginia Tech, Perkins accounted for 475 of the team’s 492 yards as he was named ACC Quarterback of the Week.

However, the Tigers haven't played a quarterback that presents the challenges that Perkins does with his dual-threat ability. Virginia just has to be able to use both skills if the Cavaliers are going to pull off the upset.

3. Finding success running the football outside of Perkins

Not only is Perkins the Cavaliers' leading passer, but he is also the team's leading rusher with 687 yards on the ground. But Virginia hasn't had a lot of success running the football outside of Perkins and that will be important in a matchup against Clemson.

The Tigers will make a point to try and slow down Perkins and contain him inside of the pocket. That's why Wayne Taulapapa will need to play a more significant role on Saturday night.

On the season, Taulapapa has 416 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns. With the Clemson defense expecting to key on Perkins, a big game from Taulapapa will help the Cavaliers hang around.

4. Joe Reed's impact on special teams

Not enough attention has been paid to the contributions Reed has made this season for the Cavaliers on special teams. He has been one of the best returners not only in the ACC but in all of college football.

Reed has returned two kickoffs for touchdowns and is averaging 34.7 yards per return. Playing with a short field will not only help Virginia's offense but also the defense.

Even if the Cavaliers are forced to punt, they will at least have a chance to pin Clemson deep in its own territory, forcing the Tigers to drive the length of the field to score a touchdown. Having a weapon on special teams like Reed could be an equalizer.

5. Virginia's defense will need to play its best game of the season

The Cavaliers have allowed 29 points per game over their last four contests. That will need to improve if they want to beat Clemson.

In their 21-20 win against the North Carolina back on Sept. 28, Tigers running back Travis Etienne was held to just 67 rushing yards and a touchdown. Limiting Etienne and Clemson's running game will be one of the keys for Virginia's defense as it could open up opportunities to come after quarterback Trevor Lawrence.

The Cavaliers are averaging 3.58 sacks per game, which is sixth in the country. Putting Clemson in long-yardage situations, especially on third down, could at least keep things interesting in Bank of America Stadium on Saturday night.

— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post and is a reporter for Pro Player Insiders. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.