It almost seems an insult to call last week “as expected” in the ACC, but the conference essentially held serve. This does not mean, of course, that there weren’t lessons learned from last week’s action. Let’s take a spin through the top three storylines from last week’s ACC play.
- Clemson’s Pyrrhic victory: Clemson escaped a game Louisville squad in Death Valley, pulling off a 23-17 win. The Tigers managed 2.2 yards per carry, and that wasn’t even close to the worst news they got last Saturday. Star freshman quarterback Deshaun Watson will miss 4-6 weeks with a broken index finger. Backup Cole Stoudt finished 20-for-33 for 162 yards with no touchdowns and a rip, which likely earned him some non-index fingers from Tiger faithful.
- In Search Of…: NC State coach Dave Doeren is still trying to secure his first ACC victory. Doeren’s Wolfpack are 7-1 against non-ACC opponents since his arrival in Raleigh, but are 0-11 against conference foes after last week’s 30-14 thumping by Boston College. The Eagles enjoyed an almost inexplicable 310-to-43 advantage in rushing yards in the contest.
- Blistered Heels: North Carolina’s beleaguered defense surrendered greater than 500 yards for the fourth time in five games, as Notre Dame hung a “fifty-burger” (to use Twitter parlance) on Larry Fedora’s squad. Even more maddening is that four consecutive Carolina opponents have run 81 or greater offensive plays. The Irish return to ACC play this week in a game we may discuss a bit here.
We’ve got seven games to preview this week, but before we do, here’s your trivia question!
ACC Trivia, Week 8 (answer at the end of the column): North Carolina’s Marquise Williams became just the fifth FBS-level player to record a passing, rushing and receiving touchdown in the same game twice in a collegiate career since 2000. Name at least two of the other four.
Top of the Ratings (all times Eastern and rankings AP)
#5 Notre Dame (6-0) at #2 Florida State (6-0, 4-0 ACC)
8:00pm | ABC
Last week’s episode: Notre Dame 50, North Carolina 43; Florida State 38, Syracuse 20
Program guide: Ah yes, a second consecutive “kinda, sorta” ACC game for the Irish. Though last week’s game was a great one — if you love offense and not defense, anyway — there is obviously a lot more “heat” to this one. Gameday will be in attendance in Tallahassee, prompting fans to organize boycotts and direct anger at noted internet rabble-rouser Clay Travis. There’s so much I could say about all of this, but let’s just focus on the game, shall we?
The Irish had yet another prolific offensive contest last weekend against North Carolina, moving the chains 27 times and combining for 519 yards of total offense. Everett Golson completed 21-of-38 passes for 300 yards and three scores against a lone pick. Notre Dame also got solid balance from their rushing game, as four of their touchdowns came on the ground. This balance is going to be absolutely vital to lock down the Seminoles.
Of course, as of press time, we are embroiled in yet another controversy about mercurial FSU quarterback Jameis Winston. The uncertainty over his situation and whether or not Jimbo Fisher will discipline the quarterback over the autograph allegations floating around him has moved the line of the game — we don’t offer gambling advice here, dear readers, so if you ever lose a dollar, it’s on you — down almost seven points in the last week, before finally coming off some boards entirely. That said, the primary focus of many Florida State fans has been to call those who voted for their team anything other than number one in the polls and dared to report actual news “haters”, which is intellectually lazy, and something which most FSU fans should be above.
Sorry…back to the game!
The Seminoles come into this game after a somewhat pedestrian thumping — if such a being exists — of undermanned Syracuse. FSU amassed 482 yards against the Orange, with Winston completing a tidy 30-of-36 passes for 317 yards and three scores. Dalvin Cook added 122 rushing yards, with Rashad Greene snatching six passes for 107 yards.
This is the closest thing we’ve had to a “must-see” game in the ACC for quite a while, and everyone should be tuned to their sets. Of course…
Print that, tweet that, whatever: If Notre Dame wins, all hell is going to break loose, for a number of reasons. I want — and don’t want — for this to happen.
Virginia Tech (4-2, 1-1 ACC) at Pitt (3-3, 1-1 ACC)
7:30pm (Thursday) | ESPN
- Uh oh! Guess what day it is?: If you think you’ve seen Virginia Tech on ESPN’s Thursday Night Football package a disproportionate amount, you are correct. The Hokies will make their 28th Thursday appearance on the “four-letter”, having won 20 of their 27 such previous games. No other school has played that much on ESPN’s Thursday contests.
- Seeking a first: Virginia Tech, despite normally being a very successful road team, has never won in Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field. The Hokies have surrendered 30 points or greater in each of their three losses in the facility (2001, 2003 and 2012).
- This might explain the previous note: Pitt ranks fourth in the nation (second in the ACC) in total defense, with opponents gaining just 278.7 yards per game against the Panthers. The unit has been considerably more stingy at home, allowing nearly 53 fewer yards per game there (252.3) than on the road (305).
Print that, tweet that, whatever: Though Tech has been less than impressive at times this year, Pitt has lost three consecutive games. Tough road at home.
Syracuse (2-4, 0-2 ACC) at Wake Forest (2-4, 0-2 ACC)
Noon | RSN
- Predicting the future: Freshman Orange quarterback A.J. Long enjoyed some considerable playing time last week in place of Terrel Hunt, who missed the game with an injury. Long became just the second Syracuse freshman quarterback since 1975 to attempt greater than nine passes in his debut. Joe Fields was the other to accomplish this feat, completing 8-of-15 passes for 93 yards in his maiden voyage. Long went 16-for-27 last week for 167 yards, getting picked twice and throwing for two TDs.
- Grounded: Wake Forest is last in the nation — by quite a bit — in rushing offense. The Deacs average just 31 rushing yards per game and 1.04 yards per carry. Wake has finished two games (minus-3 against ULM and minus-22 against Louisville) with negative rushing totals. Dave Clawson’s club carried 39 times against Florida State last week, rushing for 40 yards.
- Going for three: A win by Syracuse would give them three consecutive victories in the series. Syracuse won in the Carrier Dome in 2011 and 2013, but has not played at BB&T Field — at least, not under that name. Wake Forest defeated Syracuse in then-Groves Stadium in Winston-Salem eight years ago.
Print that, tweet that, whatever: Woof. There’s not much else to say about this one.
Virginia (4-2, 2-0) at Duke (5-1, 1-1 ACC)
12:30pm | ACC Network
- This one’s for the Coastal…again: The latest in a seemingly never-ending series of games to determine who will take control of the Coastal Division rotates to Durham. Last year’s champion (Duke) hosts this year’s out-of-nowhere contender (Virginia), with the Blue Devils now back in the thick of things after a 31-25 win over Georgia Tech. The ‘Hoos still have a lot of doubters both in and out of Charlottesville, and — though it seems we say this every time out — could quiet a lot of skeptics about the team and coach Mike London with a win.
- Certainly Duke is Duke: A key part of the Blue Devils’ resurgence as a program has been beating Virginia. Repeatedly beating Virginia. Duke has won five of the last six contests between the schools, with Virginia’s only win in that stretch coming in 2011. A Duke win would even the all-time series at 33 wins apiece. That aforementioned 2011 game was Mike London’s only win against the Blue Devils in four tries.
- A fun matchup: Duke loves to run the ball, as evidenced by their 23rd-best rush game (228.5 yards per game). Virginia loves to stop the run, as evidenced by their sixth-best rush defense (91.5 yards per game). Duke has cracked the 200-yard mark in rushing four times this season, including a 242-yard effort last week against Georgia Tech. Aside from BYU’s season-high (against Virginia, anyway) 145 rushing yards, two teams have recorded 116 rushing yards in a game against the ‘Hoos, while the other three have finished well under 100.
Print that, tweet that, whatever: This is an ACC Network game, so be prepared for what seems like a 13-hour contest. The winner has the inside track to Charlotte.
#24 Clemson (4-2, 3-1 ACC) at Boston College (4-2, 1-1 ACC)
3:30pm | ESPNU
- Andre who?: Some likely wondered how BC’s run game would fare, with the nation’s leading rusher (Andre Williams) having moved on to the NFL. Those questions can safely be put to rest, as the Eagles rank fourth in the nation in rushing, averaging 315.7 yards per game. Quarterback Tyler Murphy is second in the ACC in rushing, toting the football for 711 yards and eight scores. However…
- Dominant rush defenses: BC and Clemson rank third and fourth, respectively, in the ACC in rush defense. Both teams allow around 100 yards per game. Clemson may be without star linebacker Tony Steward as he nurses an injury, but the Tigers held Louisville to just 52 yards last week without him. BC stuffed NC State on the ground last week, holding the ‘Pack to just 43 yards in a 30-14 victory.
- History: There is too much history to recap between these two teams, despite having played relatively few games against each other. Besides having played at Braves Field and Fenway Park in Boston in the 1940s, it was Boston College against whom Dabo Swinney got his first win as Clemson’s coach in 2008. There is also a trophy presented to the winning team, the O’Rourke-McFadden Trophy. The award memorializes BC great Charlie O’Rourke and Clemson legend Banks McFadden. Clemson has won five of the last six games between the two, with BC’s only victory in that stretch occurring in 2010.
Print that, tweet that, whatever: Clemson must contain Murphy and get their defense off the field. Their offense has struggled without Deshaun Watson.
NC State (4-2, 0-3 ACC) at Louisville (5-2, 3-2 ACC)
3:30pm | RSN
- Clipping the Cardinals: Though the teams have played just four times in their history (1951, 1993, 2007 and 2011), State has defeated Louisville just once, in the 2011 Belk Bowl. A win here would give State their second consecutive decision in the series, as well as giving ‘Pack coach Dave Doeren his first notch in the left-hand column against an ACC foe.
- Doing it on D: Louisville enjoys the top defense in the land in both rushing defense (60.3 yards per game) and total defense (230.7 yards per game). The Cards are third in the land in scoring defense (14.1 points per game). Conversely, NC State ranks no higher than 45th (rushing, 188.3 yards per game) in any major offensive category.
- Where there’s a Will…: Will Gardner is likely to draw the snaps under center again this week. After replacing a moderately ineffective Reggie Bonnafon last week at Clemson, Gardner completed 10-of-16 passes for 150 yards and a score in that contest. Gardner is 73-for-128 on the season, throwing for 948 yards and nine scores against just two picks.
Print that, tweet that, whatever: State hasn’t had a bad year, per se, but Louisville is so suffocating on defense that it’ll be tough for the ‘Pack to punch through.
Georgia Tech (5-1, 2-1) at North Carolina (2-4, 0-2 ACC)
7:00pm | ESPNU
- Time, time, time…see what’s become of me: Carolina play-by-play voice Jones Angell points out that Georgia Tech outperformed UNC in time of possession 40:38-19:22 in last year’s contest between the two. North Carolina also averages almost seven more possessions per game than Tech, while Georgia Tech is a top-twenty team in time of possession. North Carolina ranks 126th.
- Getting off the field: A large key to the time of possession stats rests in third-down stops. The Jackets are 43-for-73 (58.9 percent) on third down, which is the best percentage in the FBS. North Carolina ranks 117th in stopping third downs, allowing opponents to convert 48.5 percent (48-99) of such opportunities.
- Unwanted company: North Carolina finds themselves ranked 100th or worse among FBS teams in three of the four major defensive categories. The lone exception is rushing defense, in which they rank 95th (191.7 yards per game). Georgia Tech ranks seventh (294.7 yards per game) in that category.
Print that, tweet that, whatever: Carolina’s best and brightest hope is to get a big early lead and hang on for dear life. They have to stop someone sometime, right?
Trivia answer: I asked earlier: North Carolina’s Marquise Williams became just the fifth FBS-level player to record a passing, rushing and receiving touchdown in the same game twice in a collegiate career since 2000. Name at least two of the other four.
Dak Prescott and Jameon Lewis of Mississippi State accomplished the feat twice, as did former Rice (and Houston Texans) tight end James Casey. Former Browns kick returner Joshua Cribbs was the other player to do so, while playing at Kent State.