After a somewhat light week in the ACC that only saw four games, we pick up a six-game slate for another pivotal week of conference play. One team will look to rebound from a stunning loss that sent them tumbling into the middle of the divisional pack, while another will look to continue its unlikely run atop its division. Let’s take a look at what to watch this week around the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Top of the Ratings
Virginia Tech (4-3, 2-1) at #14 Clemson (5-1, 2-1), noon ET, ABC/ESPN2 (reverse mirror)
Last week’s episode: Virginia Tech 41, Duke 20; Clemson 47, Georgia Tech 31 (10/6)
Program guide: This is an important game for a couple of reasons. Clemson looks to continue their winning ways and get the help they need to eventually reach Charlotte, while Virginia Tech tries to spend more time recreating the last three quarters of their 41-20 victory over Duke last week in Blacksburg than the first quarter. It is also Military Appreciation Day in Clemson, with freshman Tiger receiver/Purple Heart recipient Daniel Rodriguez carrying the American flag down the hill from Howard’s Rock before kickoff.
The Hokies glanced up at the scoreboard late in the first quarter last Saturday to find themselves trailing Duke 20-0. The Blue Devils amassed 150 yards of offense in that first 15 minutes, with 63 of those yards coming on a long hookup from Sean Renfree to Jamison Crowder. By the time Jordan Byas returned a Logan Thomas interception for a 19-yard touchdown, all seemed lost for Frank Beamer’s crew. Duke would only manage to gain 179 more yards the rest of the game, however, as Tech scored 41 unanswered points. Thomas completed 14-of-23 passes for 256 yards and two scores in a reasonably efficient performance, the Byas interception aside.
One of the key discoveries from Saturday’s game may be the key for Virginia Tech to escape Death Valley with a victory. Freshman running back J.C. Coleman scored twice in rushing for 183 yards on just 13 carries. The two touchdowns accounted for 131 yards of his total. Though offensive lineman Andrew Miller suffered a season-ending injury in the Duke game, Tech will look to piece together a line that can help exploit a Clemson run defense that allows 210 yards per game on the ground. That run defense allowed 339 rushing yards to Georgia Tech in the Tigers’ last outing two weeks ago.
Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd looks to have a voice in this game, as well. Boyd threw for a career-high 397 yards against the Yellow Jackets in a game that cost defensive coordinator Al Groh his job. The Tigers collected 31 first downs and 601 yards of offense in that victory, and Clemson’s potent passing attack will attempt to combine with the rushing trio of Andre Ellington (116 carries, 597 yards, 6 TD), Boyd and Roderick McDowell (5.1 YPC, 5 TD) to keep the Hokies on their heels. Though Florida State has suffered a conference loss, essentially evening them with Clemson, the Seminoles still hold the tiebreaker. Clemson needs to hold serve from here out, and while a Hokie victory squarely plants them back in the ACC bowl picture, the Tigers could help pave their path back up I-85 to the Queen City with a win here.
#12 Florida State (6-1, 3-1) at Miami (4-3, 3-1), 8:00pm ET, ABC
Last week’s episode: Florida State 51, Boston College 7; North Carolina 18, Miami 14
Program guide: If nothing else, the Hurricanes defense can claim one distinction. We have discussed the three 30-plus point outings Miami’s defense has allowed in ACC play, as well as the 41 Notre Dame dropped on them in South Bend. Though they fell to North Carolina last week, the Tar Heels only scored 18 points. Miami quarterback Stephen Morris struggled against Carolina, completing only 12-of-26 passes for 155 yards and two interceptions. He also hurt his ankle in last week’s outing. This led the Hurricanes to turn to Ryan Williams, who went 9-of-13 for 80 yards in relief duty. Williams should get the nod again this week against a stingy sixth-ranked Florida State pass defense. This sounds daunting, until you realize that the Seminoles’ run D is an even tougher nut to crack. The Seminoles are ranked fifth against the run, allowing a paltry 74.9 yards per game on the ground. A replacement quarterback and an 88th-ranked run game against that kind of defense may alone sound like a recipe for disaster.
The Seminoles are coming off a thrashing of a weakened Boston College club that saw them secure 30 first downs and 649 yards of total offense. Any question about how Florida State would respond after losing at NC State was quickly erased, as Jimbo Fisher’s club built a 28-0 lead midway through the second quarter, from which Boston College could never recover. E.J. Manuel completed 27-of-34 passes for 439 yards and four scores, despite being intercepted twice. Miami’s pass defense is ranked 90th in the FBS, allowing just under 253 yards per contest.
The numbers I cite may make this game seem quite one-sided, but keep one thing in mind while you watch. This is a rivalry game, and with all the history between these two teams and the battle for recruiting in the Sunshine State, anything can happen. The “throw out the records” cliche is drastically overused, but this game should be highly entertaining, if nothing else.
Set Your DVR
NC State (4-2, 1-1) at Maryland (4-2, 2-0), 3:30pm ET, ESPNU
Program guide: The first of an ACC doubleheader on ESPNU features an Atlantic Division tilt between the division-leading Terrapins and a Wolfpack club trying to stay in the conference and bowl pictures. Tom O’Brien’s Wolfpack last took the field in Raleigh two weeks ago, where they shocked Florida State 17-16. The word “shock” also applies to Randy Edsall’s Terps, as they are following up last year’s miserable campaign with a great start to the 2012 season. Maryland’s defense has keyed this turnaround, as they rank ninth in total and rush defense and 18th in passing defense in the FBS. This will present quite the challenge for State quarterback Mike Glennon, who has completed 60.2% of his passing attempts this season. It will cause even more of a problem for the running game, which has employed four different backs on the season. Tony Creecy and Shadrach Thornton could only muster 63 combined yards against Florida State, and the sledding appears just as tough in this one.
Do-everything Maryland freshman Stefon Diggs had another huge outing against Virginia last week, as he turned in a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown on the opening kick. He also caught four passes for 89 yards in a 27-20 victory over the Cavaliers. He and quarterback Perry Hills hope to combine for more freshman magic against the Wolfpack. As good as Maryland’s defense has been, the addition of Diggs to the return game and Hills’ dual-threat efficiency have sparked the Terrapins. Assuming Maryland’s defense can continue NC State’s rushing woes, the chances of Maryland moving to 3-0 in the ACC appear reasonably good.
North Carolina (5-2, 2-1) at Duke (5-2, 2-1), 7:00pm ET, ESPNU
Program guide: Remember when Duke was the flavor of the week, at the top of the ratings? It seems like last week…wait, it was last week. 41 points over the last three-plus quarters in Blacksburg has quickly changed all that. Though many of the facts we previously discussed haven’t changed — Duke is still one game away from bowl eligibility and their schedule still looks ridiculously tough — the dynamic around the Duke team has changed. Some of the post-game quotes from the Virginia Tech loss have to really scare Blue Devil fans.
We all know that strange things happen in rivalry games, but if Cutcliffe cannot right the ship before kickoff, it could be a long day for his troops. Quarterback Sean Renfree will play in his second game since returning from injury, and the club will truly need his leadership.
Carolina cannot lay claim to a tremendously impressive effort themselves last week, though they did escape with an 18-14 victory over Miami. Tar Heels running back Giovani Bernard followed up his 262-yard rushing effort against Virginia Tech the week before with a 177-yard outing against the Hurricanes. Quarterback Bryn Renner offered a somewhat pedestrian performance, going 25-for-40 for 214 yards and an interception. Larry Fedora’s crew will try to get back to their high-scoring ways, having defeated their previous two opponents 114-34. If Carolina gets ahead early, Duke’s toughness will again be called into question. After reading those quotes, one is left to wonder just how many more punches they can take.
Wake Forest (3-3, 1-3) at Virginia (2-5, 0-3), 12:30pm ET, ACC Network
Program guide: We spoke in the last preview of former flavors of the week, and these two teams certainly qualify. Wake Forest opened the season with wins over Liberty and North Carolina, only to get hammered 52-0 by Florida State in a battle of then-undefeateds at Doak Campbell. Virginia also started 2-0 with FCS and FBS victories over Richmond and Penn State, respectively. They were then rolled 56-20 at Georgia Tech, a loss that started a five-game tailspin for the Cavaliers.
These two teams are virtual mirror images of each other, records aside — so close, in fact, that they share their most recent opponent. Wake Forest lost to Maryland 19-14 two weeks ago, while Virginia lost to Maryland 27-20 last week. Virginia put up significantly more offense in their game than did Wake Forest (386 to 241), while they both allowed virtually the same amount of yardage on defense (Wake Forest allowed 244, Virginia 235). Virginia is considerably more powerful on offense on the season, as well (they rank 51st to Wake’s 104th), and they outrank the Deacons on defense (55th to 85th). The key may be turnover margin, as Wake Forest is actually positive in turnovers on the year (+0.3 per game), while Virginia is negative (-1.9 per game). Even that might be a bit tough to determine, as both teams turned the ball over twice in their last outings against the Terrapins.
While Virginia has had their concerns at quarterback, seeing Phillip Sims take over for Mike Rocco, keep an eye on the Deacons’ passing attack. Wake has hovered toward the bottom of the FBS in passing most of the year, and they account for 210 yards per game through the air. Quarterback Tanner Price has only completed 52.1% of his passes. Virginia’s pass defense nationally ranks in the middle of the pack, so Wake’s ability — or necessity — to pass may tell a tale here.
Boston College (1-5, 0-3) at Georgia Tech (2-4, 1-3), 3:00pm ET, FSN (regional)
It should be obvious to even the most uninitiated bystander that neither of these schools expected to find themselves in this position when starting the 2012 season. Georgia Tech has already taken a step to try to right the ship, relieving defensive coordinator Al Groh of his duties. At the time of Groh’s dismissal, the Jackets ranked 92nd in total defense, 102nd in passing defense, 72nd in rushing defense and tied for 91st in scoring defense. There is very little positive spin that can be applied to those numbers, and Georgia Tech took the somewhat unusual step of terminating a coordinator in the middle of the season.
Boston College actually finds itself in worse shape, ranking 83rd in pass defense, tied for 99th in scoring defense, 118th in total defense and 120th in rushing defense. 649 yards of offense from Florida State in a 51-7 whipping of the Eagles last week will certainly not help their defensive cause. Boston College looks across the field this weekend to find an opponent ranked 17th in the nation in total offense, averaging 487 yards per game. Frank Spaziani’s team finds itself averaging 104 fewer yards per game on offense. The ability to throw the football will be an absolute requirement for the Eagles. We have seen Georgia Tech throw themselves out of a quandary once already this year against Miami. Boston College’s ability to do the same – if required – might determine the outcome.
Brian Wilmer is a contributor to FBSchedules.com. Follow him @sportsmatters.