What a weird week in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Virginia Tech and Marshall played three overtimes in the pouring rain in Blacksburg before the Hokies finally emerged with a victory. Pittsburgh defeated Duke in a game that elicited basketball reference jokes across Twitter. Three conference teams defeated FCS-level opponents by a combined score of 180-13.
Week five features four conference games, with Georgia Tech attempting to create some separation in the Coastal Division on Thursday night. The early part of the out-of-conference slate also winds down this week, with teams from Conference USA, the American Athletic Conference, the Sun Belt and the Mid-American Conference facing off against ACC teams. Before we break down these games, here’s this week’s trivia question!
ACC trivia, week 5 (answer at the end of the column): Virginia Tech defeated Marshall in triple overtime last week. In what year did Virginia Tech play its most recent triple-overtime contest prior to Saturday?
Top of the Ratings
Virginia Tech (3-1, 0-0 ACC) at Georgia Tech (3-0, 2-0 ACC), 7:30 pm ET Thursday, ESPN
Last week’s episode: Virginia Tech 29, Marshall 21 (3 OT); Georgia Tech 28, North Carolina 20
Program guide: A rainy day in Blacksburg eventually proved fruitful for the Hokies, as several opportunities for Marshall eventually went by the boards. Frank Beamer’s club has not necessarily won beauty pageants in winning three of its first four games, but an interesting test awaits in Atlanta on Thursday. The Hokie rush defense faced a tough foe in Marshall’s Essray Taliaferro (26 carries, 105 yards), but the Yellow Jackets present a considerably larger challenge.
Georgia Tech ranks fourth in the FBS in rushing, averaging 345.3 yards per game. The Ramblin’ Wreck ran the ball a staggering 71 times in their victory over North Carolina last week, going for 324 yards (4.6 yards per carry). Running backs David Sims and Robert Godhigh tallied 26 of those carries for 199 yards and two touchdowns, while quarterback Vad Lee ran the ball 24 times for 55 yards and another score. The Hokies rank fifteenth in rushing defense, allowing 96.5 yards per game.
The Hokie defense has carried the day thus far this season, with Virginia Tech ranking 76th or lower nationally in all offensive categories. Quarterback Logan Thomas struggled again last week, completing 18-of-34 passes for 181 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. Thomas’ struggles have continued this season under new offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler, as he has completed just 48.5 percent of his passes, throwing six interceptions against just four touchdowns. Georgia Tech’s defense ranks in the top 25 in every defensive category, so if Thomas struggles early, he may not be able to throw his way out of trouble.
Special teams will also play a large role in this contest. Virginia Tech blocked its first punt against an FBS team since 2010 and its first field goal since 2008 last week. Special teams struggles were the story of the day, as Marshall’s Justin Haig and Virginia Tech’s Ethan Keyserling combined to miss all five of their field goal attempts. Regular Hokie kicker Cody Journell was suspended for the game, but he has only converted two of four kicks on the season.
The game looms large for both teams as they move forward in the conference schedule. Georgia Tech looks to go to 3-0 in early conference play, while Virginia Tech has a chance to notch a “signature” win before three straight conference home games against North Carolina, Pitt and Duke.
Set Your DVR
East Carolina (2-1) at North Carolina (1-2, 0-1 ACC), 12:30 pm ET, ACC Network
Program guide: When last we saw East Carolina, they were walking off the field after a 15-10 loss to Virginia Tech in Greenville two weeks ago. Despite the Hokies’ best attempts to give the game to the Pirates through special teams miscues, the Pirates fell 15-10. Quarterback Shane Carden threw three interceptions against Tech, with a fourth turnover (of sorts) coming on a fumble in the end zone that led to a safety. ECU allowed just 53 rushing yards to freshman standout Trey Edmunds and the Hokies, though they only managed 46 rushing yards of their own. The high-flying Pirate offense from earlier in the year needs to return — and fast — to put points on the board against their regional rivals.
The Tar Heels fell to Georgia Tech last week, but tight end Eric Ebron is starting to heat up after a somewhat average start. Ebron has caught 10 passes for 168 yards and a score in the last two games, and he is starting to create matchup problems for defenses as expected. Star wideout Quinshad Davis has only managed four grabs for 54 yards during the same time period. Carolina needs to find ways to get their wide receivers more involved in the game, as East Carolina’s pass defense is ranked 96th in the nation. Larry Fedora’s squad has big, athletic receivers with the capacity to win one-on-one matchups every time off the line, and the Tar Heel offense needs to open up Bryn Renner to take those shots down the field.
#15 Miami (3-0, 0-0 ACC) at South Florida (0-3), noon ET, ESPNU
- First impressions: South Florida has struggled mightily under first-year head coach Willie Taggart. The Bulls are 121st in the nation in total offense, averaging just 264.7 yards per game. They barely fare better in scoring offense, ranking 120th (12.3 points per game). Though USF ranks 23rd in total defense, they are 102nd in scoring defense (34.0 points per game).
- Duke is Duke: Miami running back Duke Johnson ranks 35th in the FBS in rushing offense (101.33 yards per game) and 12th in all-purpose yards (168.3 yards per game). Johnson returned a kickoff 95 yards last week against Savannah State, his third kickoff return of 95 yards as a Hurricane.
- Winning the turnover battle: Miami owns the best turnover margin in the FBS (2.7), while South Florida is tied for 114th (-1.3). The Hurricanes bolstered their turnover margin in a 77-7 victory against Savannah State last week. The Tigers threw four interceptions in the game.
Virginia (2-1, 0-0 ACC) at Pitt (2-1, 1-1 ACC), 12:30 pm ET, RSN (regional)
- Move over, record holders: Pitt’s Tom Savage tied a conference record last week with six touchdown passes in the Panthers’ victory over Duke. Virginia and Duke also have passers with that record (Dan Ellis in 1999 and Steve Slayden in 1987, respectively), with Florida State’s Chris Weinke sharing the record. Weinke’s six-touchdown performance also came in 1999.
- Mad Man: Freshman Cavalier running back Daniel Hamm (Wytheville, VA/Fort Chiswell HS) had an outstanding debut against VMI last week. Hamm carried 21 times for 136 yards and two scores in his team’s 49-0 victory over the Keydets.
- Recent history: The two schools have played five times in their history, with three of those games being played in the last decade. The Cavaliers won two of those games (the 2003 Continental Tire Bowl and 2007 in Charlottesville), with the Panthers winning 28-13 in 2006. Before the 2003 bowl matchup, the teams had most recently met in 1955.
Troy (2-2) at Duke (2-2, 0-2 ACC), 3 pm ET, ESPN3
- Mirror images: Troy and Duke share more similarities than just their records. The two teams are nearly identical in points scored (Duke leads 142-141), first downs per game (Troy leads 23.3-22.0) and total offense per game (Troy leads 457-436).
- Throwin’ Trojan: Troy quarterback Corey Robinson ranks 41st in the nation in passing offense (243.8 yards per game). Robinson has completed 62-of-76 passes for 604 yards against Troy’s three non-conference opponents, finding the end zone six times against just one interception.
- Connette effect: Duke quarterback Brandon Connette continues to fill in for injured starter Anthony Boone. Connette completed 21-of-32 passes for 323 passes against Pitt last week, throwing for four touchdowns despite four interceptions. Connette has also provided a boost to Duke’s rushing attack, as he led the team in rushing last week, tallying 15 carries for 101 yards and two additional scores.
#8 Florida State (3-0, 1-0 ACC) at Boston College (2-1, 1-0 ACC), 3:30pm ET, ABC/ESPN2 (reverse mirror)
- Dre Day: Boston College running back Andre Williams leads the Atlantic Coast Conference in rushing. The senior averages 118.67 yards per game through the Eagles’ first three contests. Florida State running back Devonta Freeman ranks fourth, averaging 91 yards per game.
- Don’t fall behind early: BC has experienced their share of struggles throwing the football, even with Chase Rettig at the helm and star receiver Alex Amidon at the ready. The Eagles rank 106th in passing offense, averaging 163.7 yards per game. Complicating matters for Steve Addazio’s club is that they face the nation’s top-ranked pass defense on Saturday. Florida State allows just 115.7 yards per game through the air.
- It doesn’t get any easier: Florida State faces their toughest conference stretch of the year after this game. The Seminoles host Maryland, then get a bye before hitting the road to Clemson and facing NC State and Miami at Doak Campbell Stadium.
Wake Forest (2-2, 0-1 ACC) at #3 Clemson (3-0, 1-0 ACC), 3:30pm ET, ESPNU
- Losing the Battle: Clemson will face the Demon Deacons without the services of left tackle Isaiah Battle. Battle was ejected from last week’s game against NC State for punching defensive back Jarvis Byrd in the chin late in the Tigers’ 26-14 victory over the Wolfpack.
- Defending Death Valley: The Tigers are 35-7 all-time at home versus Wake Forest. Head coach Dabo Swinney has the second-best career ACC winning percentage at Memorial Stadium in Clemson history, winning 16 of 18 contests since becoming the Tigers’ leader (.889).
- Punishing the passing game: Wake Forest ranks eighth nationally in pass defense (143.3 yards per game). The Deacs will get a solid test from Clemson’s tandem of Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant in this game. Watkins and Bryant combined for 16 catches and 169 yards against NC State, scoring twice.
Central Michigan (1-3) at NC State (2-1, 0-1 ACC), 3:30pm ET, ESPN3
- Nixing the negative: Both teams carry a negative turnover margin into the game. Central Michigan is tied for 94th in turnover margin (-0.5), while NC State is tied for 88th (-0.3). The Wolfpack forced no Clemson turnovers last week, while throwing an interception and losing a fumble. The Chippewas turned the ball over four times last week against Toledo, losing two fumbles and throwing two interceptions.
- Universal struggles: Central Michigan’s highest ranking in any major category is 57th (passing offense – 239 yards per game). CMU ranks lower than 100th in the FBS in three categories (scoring offense, rushing offense and scoring defense). NC State’s lowest ranking, conversely, is 81st (scoring offense – 25.7 yards per game).
- Outside threats: NC State’s wide receivers Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Rashard Smith have provided quarterback Pete Thomas with two solid offensive options. The two rank 11th and 13th (respectively) in yards per game in the conference. Smith snagged five passes for 51 yards last week, including a 33-yarder.
Trivia answer: I asked earlier: Virginia Tech defeated Marshall in triple overtime last week. In what year did Virginia Tech play its most recent triple-overtime contest prior to Saturday?
The Hokies’ most recent triple-overtime game was played in the Carrier Dome in Syracuse in 2002. The Orange won the game 50-42.