ACC NEWS

ACC Notebook: 5 remain unbeaten after Tech falls

Sports Xchange

September 20, 2015 at 9:24 pm.

Sep 19, 2015; South Bend, IN, USA; Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets running back Patrick Skov (7) is tackled by Notre Dame Fighting Irish linebacker Jaylon Smith (9) and linebacker Greer Martini (48) in the fourth quarter at Notre Dame Stadium. Notre Dame won 30-22. Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Sep 19, 2015; South Bend, IN, USA; Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets running back Patrick Skov (7) is tackled by Notre Dame Fighting Irish linebacker Jaylon Smith (9) and linebacker Greer Martini (48) in the fourth quarter at Notre Dame Stadium. Notre Dame won 30-22. Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Atlantic Coast Conference teams wobbled at times and excelled at times in several intriguing non-conference matchups.

Aside from a pair of notable results for nationally ranked teams in league games, the week’s schedule resembled a version of the ACC / Big Ten Challenge that’s normally associated with part of the basketball slate.

In the football edition, the ACC came out with a 3-2 edge for the weekend.

The victories were turned in by North Carolina (defeating Illinois), Virginia Tech (winning at Purdue) and Miami (upending Nebraska in overtime).

The ACC losses came by Duke (falling at home to Northwestern) and Pittsburgh (losing on a last-play field goal at Iowa).

Yet the most disappointing loss of the week from an ACC angle probably came with Georgia Tech’s setback at Notre Dame in a matchup of nationally-ranked teams.

Three weeks into the season, the undefeated ACC teams are Florida State, Clemson, Miami, North Carolina State and Syracuse. Miami and Syracuse needed home overtime outcomes to remain unscathed.

BOSTON COLLEGE (2-1, 0-1)

Game: Florida State 14, Boston College 0. The Eagles made it into Florida State territory only three times in suffering a home loss in their ACC opener. Boston College’s offense picked up 195 yards of offense and committed two turnovers, with one of those returned for a Florida State touchdown.

Takeaway: The Eagles went from the top to the bottom from an offensive standpoint and the level of competition figured to have quite a bit to do with that.

Boston College couldn’t rarely budge Florida State’s defense less than a week after steamrolling past undermanned Howard in one of the biggest offensive displays in school history. Then the Eagles became shutout victims in the matchup with Florida State.

There could be quarterback questions brewing, particularly with one of the candidates with the last name of Flutie. That’s QB Troy Flutie, nephew of Boston College legend Doug Flutie.

The Eagles lost QB Darius Wade to an ankle injury and ended up using Troy Flutie as the third quarterback of the game. If nothing else, the name will bring a level of intrigue to the Boston College plight as that quarterback situation is sorted out.

Wade is expected to miss the rest of the season.

Either way, the Eagles will have their share of questions after the offense repeatedly stalled against the first major-college opposition on the schedule.

Next: vs. Northern Illinois, Sept. 26

CLEMSON (3-0, 1-0)

Game: Clemson 20, Louisville 17. QB Deshaun Watson threw two touchdown passes and the Tigers overcame a second-half deficit to win their road opener. Clemson needed a couple of defensive stops when Louisville moved into Tigers territory twice in the waning minutes.

Takeaway: The Tigers have shown quite a bit on defense and they’re counting on their offense clicking into gear at a higher rate than they showed at Louisville.

Aside from the kickoff return for a touchdown by Louisville’s Traveon Samuel, the Tigers were pretty stout in keeping the Cardinals in check. The defense was definitely the key for this victory, not to mention coming away unscathed on Louisville’s final two possessions.

It was a satisfying result for Clemson, which will have a string of challenging assignments in October. The Tigers passed their first test on the national stage, though they’re aware there are plenty of areas that need to be cleaned up.

Watson had some struggles, but this was the first time he has been put in a pinch this season by facing a quality defense and a road environment. Watson threw two interceptions, but it’s reasonable to point out that he has been a starter for less than a full season of work and he’s still encountering new experiences.

Next: vs. Notre Dame, Oct. 3

DUKE (2-1, 0-1)

Game: Northwestern 19, Duke 10. Duke managed only 152 yards of total offense in the second half and couldn’t contain No. 23 Northwestern’s suddenly potent rushing attack in the home loss. The Blue Devils gave up a touchdown on the second-half kickoff to trail for the first time this season and they never regained the lead.

Takeaway: The Blue Devils found the physical nature of the game against Northwestern troubling in many ways.

Duke couldn’t control the line of scrimmage in the second half and that was its downfall. The offensive line struggled throughout the game, even though QB Thomas Sirk wasn’t sacked.

But that was mostly because he dodged trouble, though it also meant the Blue Devils rarely had time to look downfield in the passing attack.

The defensive problems were evident in the second half because Duke’s top four tacklers in the game were all defensive backs.

Duke had a regular-season streak of 12 consecutive victories against non-league competition snapped.

For the Blue Devils, they’ll encounter another taste of the smash-mouth football in their next game against visiting Georgia Tech. And that’s another nationally ranked team that Duke must deal with.

Next: vs. Georgia Tech, Sept. 26

FLORIDA STATE (3-0, 1-0)

Game: Florida State 14, Boston College 0. CB Jalen Ramsey returned a second-half fumble for a touchdown as the Seminoles won their road opener, which was also their first ACC game. Florida State ended up with its first road shutout since 2003.

Takeaway: The Seminoles have a 25-game winning streak in ACC competition, but they’ll likely have to have better performances to maintain that throughout this season.

Granted, playing against Boston College was a bit of a mystery because the Eagles had tangled with a pair of Football Championship Subdivision.

Florida State found out that it could win without a substantial outing from its quarterback, and that might be a benefit if the Seminoles don’t have to be so reliant on quarterback play. They became accustomed to that the past couple of seasons with Jameis Winston taking snaps.

QB Everett Golson threw for only 119 yards on 24 attempts, though one of those went for a touchdown. It was the only time the Seminoles scored on offense.

The Seminoles compiled only 217 yards of total offense. RB Dalvin Cook will look to get loose again after a 54-yard rushing performance against Boston College followed a total of 422 yards in the first two games.

Next: at Wake Forest, Oct. 3

GEORGIA TECH (2-1, 0-0)

Game: Notre Dame 30, Georgia Tech 22. Notre Dame RB C.J. Prosise rushed for three touchdowns and 198 yards, giving the visiting Yellow Jackets a dose of rushing dominance. Georgia Tech scored the final two touchdowns — both in the final minute — to make the score more respectable.

Takeaway: The Yellow Jackets failed their first major test of the season after a pair of home blowouts. Most startling was that the Yellow Jackets couldn’t general more on offense considering they were nearly unstoppable in their first couple of games.

Georgia Tech’s vaulted rushing attack produced 216 yards — or one more yard than Notre Dame racked up.

The Yellow Jackets trailed for most of the game and QB Justin Thomas connected on only 8 of 24 passes, creating a tough situation. The good thing for Georgia Tech was it held the ball for more than 32 minutes, but that also demonstrated the need for sustaining time-consuming drives when opposing defenses limit big plays.

The Yellow Jackets are the favorites in the ACC’s Coastal Division and their next outing at Dukes marks the beginning of league play. That game is a matchup of the past two divisional champions and it’s also against an opponent that defeated Georgia Tech last season.

Because of that schedule set-up, it should help the Yellow Jackets look ahead to the next assignment and not dwell on the demise against Notre Dame.

Next: at Duke, Sept. 26

LOUISVILLE (0-3, 0-1)

Game: Clemson 20, Louisville 17. Louisville failed to score on its final two possessions that were in Clemson territory. The Cardinals took a second-half lead, and then began a comeback from a 10-point hole with freshman Traveon Samuel’s 100-yard kickoff return into the fourth quarter.

Takeaway: The Cardinals might appear in disarray considering the three losses (not to mention the season-ending bowl defeat last year) and an unsettled quarterback situation.

Louisville is 0-3 for the first time since 1984, with two of the losses coming at home.

For now, it seems like the duties running the offense have been turned over to QB Kyle Bolin, who was the third starter in three games. Bolin was intercepted twice, though the final time came on a desperation throw on the game’s last play.

The rotation of quarterbacks hasn’t provided much stability considering the Cardinals were limited to 272 yards of total offense against Clemson.

In order to create some sort of comfort for the quarterbacks, establishing a rushing attack is going to be a top priority.

The Cardinals had the good and bad with special teams. After Samuel’s kickoff return re-ignited a spark, a chance to tie the game went awry when K John Wallace was wide left on a 38-yard field goal attempt with 2:28 remaining.

Next: vs. Samford, Sept. 26

MIAMI (3-0, 0-0)

Game: Miami 36, Nebraska 33, OT. K Michael Badgley’s 28-yard field goal gave the Hurricanes a victory after an interception of Nebraska in overtime. The Hurricanes held a 33-10 lead before Nebraska came storming back in the fourth quarter.

Takeaway: The Hurricanes needed a significant outcome, and it’s a matter of time before determining whether defeating Nebraska in overtime will count on that front. Still, it can’t hurt matters for a program under Al Golden that seems to stutter too often.

Because of a fourth-quarter collapse, much of the good stretches in building a 23-point lead were put by the wayside.

The Hurricanes let loose on offense, largely with QB Brad Kaaya throwing for 379 yards and two first-quarter touchdowns. RB Joe Yearby added 125 rushing yards.

If Miami can maintain that type of varied production, they’ll be in good shape in many games. Yearby could use some help in the rushing attack because he was the only player consistently picking up yards on the ground.

Miami’s defense held Nebraska to three first-quarter points in the type of defensive performance that the Hurricanes once counted on. The problem was that the late-game shortcomings are bound to overshadaow some of that.

Next: at Cincinnati, Oct. 1

NORTH CAROLINA (2-1, 0-0)

Game: North Carolina 48, Illinois 14. RB Elijah Hood and QB Marquise Williams both rushed for more than 100 yards and the host Tar Heels rolled. North Carolina scored 31 consecutive points during one juncture as Williams had three touchdown passes.

Takeaway: The Tar Heels showcased many of their scoring weapons in one of their most complete performances against a major-college opponent in several years.

After it looked like North Carolina might turn to more of a quarterback rotation, this was clearly Williams’ show and he came through in big ways. His touchdown passes went to three different receivers.

One of those was WR Quinshad Davis, a senior who set the school’s all-time touchdown receiving record with his 22nd scoring catch.

Another record was set by WR Ryan Switzer, who gained a single-game school record 168 yards on punt returns. One of those went for a touchdown and he also made a touchdown catch.

North Carolina’s defense gave up almost 400 yards, but the Tar Heels kept the Illini out of the end zone with a couple of red-zone stops that proved big in the game and also could signal a change of fortunes in that category.

The Tar Heels will play a second Football Championship Division opponent in a three-week period next when they take on Delaware.

Next: vs. Delaware, Sept. 26

N.C. STATE (3-0, 0-0)

Game: N.C. State 38, Old Dominion 14. RB Matt Dayes eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark for the third game in a row and QB Jacoby Brissett had a rushing touchdown and passing touchdown. The Wolfpack scored three touchdowns without yielding a point after host Old Dominion tied the game at 7-7 early in the second quarter.

Takeaway: The Wolfpack’s underwhelming early schedule has gained some scrutiny but the team has certainly taken care of business.

The game against Old Dominion was a road assignment so some kudos should go to N.C. State for taking on such a task.

The offense continues to be mostly in fine form and Brissett, despite dealing with some illness earlier in the day, appears to be in control. There was another added element for N.C. State in this game because RB Shadrach Thornton returned from a two-game, school-related suspension to gain 92 rushing yards and score a touchdown.

N.C. State’s defense seemed honed in on Old Dominion’s Ray Lawry, who entered the game as the country’s top rusher but was limited to 15 yards on 11 carries.

This marked the second year in a row that the Wolfpack defeated Old Dominion. This was a marked improvement from a defensive perspective.

Next: at South Alabama, Sept. 26

PITTSBURGH (2-1, 0-0)

Game: Iowa 27, Pittsburgh 24. It took a 57-yard field goal on the last play by K Marshall Koehn to pin on a loss in the visiting Panthers. It wiped out the good vibes of Pittsburgh’s tying score on WR Tyler Boyd’s 8-yard touchdown catch with 52 seconds remaining.

Takeaway: The Panthers could have used a victory against a Power 5 conference opponent to validate some of their early success. Instead, they lost in a gut-wrenching way.

It didn’t help matters that they called timeout to ice the Iowa kicker, whose boot that didn’t count wasn’t close to being good. Then when it mattered, he drilled a kick.

But Pittsburgh might have been fortunate to be in a situation where it could win. The offense was stagnant for much of the game. The Panthers are trying to sort out their quarterback situation along with revive a rushing attack that no longer includes standout RB James Conner, who’s out for the season with a knee injury.

Nate Peterman’s first Pittsburgh start was somewhat difficult to assess. He threw for two touchdowns, but with only 219 passing yards and a rushing attack trying to find its legs that wasn’t enough.

The hope might be that under first-year coach Pat Narduzzi, who specializes in defense, that the Panthers can find enough ways to lock down opponents until an identity is established on offense.

Next: at Virginia Tech, Oct. 3

SYRACUSE (3-0, 1-0)

Game: Syracuse 30, Central Michigan 27, OT. RB Jordan Fredericks ran for a game-winning 4-yard touchdown run after the host Orange squandered a lead in regulation. Syracuse didn’t score in the second half, allowing a 24-10 halftime lead to eventually disappear with seven seconds left in regulation.

Takeaway: The Orange is forced to dig deeper on the offensive depth chart and it’s unclear if much more of that can be taken before there’s a negative fallout.

Syracuse used three quarterbacks in the game. QB Eric Dungey, a true freshman making his first starter, was efficient in the early going until he exited with an injury.

The Orange was already in a bind when veteran QB Terrel Hunt was lost for the season in the first quarter of the opener. So now there’s more strain on the position even as others have picked up some experience along the way.

The concerns were evident in the second half against Central Michigan when the points dried up.

Syracuse defense toughened in overtime with a goal-line stand that forced a Central Michigan punt. That at least showed that the Orange had something left in the tank.

The task level rises significantly in the next game for Syracuse, which welcomes nationally ranked LSU to the Carrier Dome.

On the plus side, there has been something to savor for Syracuse, which is 3-0 for the first time since 1991. Still, there are plenty of traps ahead with Florida State, Clemson and unbeaten North Carolina State still out there among the Atlantic Division opposition.

Next: vs. LSU, Sept. 26

VIRGINIA (1-2, 0-0)

Game: Virginia 35, William & Mary 29. QB Matt Johns threw for three touchdowns and held on for a home victory. Maurice Canaday returned a punt 74 yards for a touchdown to help avoid the upset.

Takeaway: These are the types of games that have become problematic for the Cavaliers, who need to something to regain the faith in the fan base.

The Cavaliers couldn’t shake William & Mary, holding a 21-20 halftime lead. This came a week after Virginia nearly knocked off Notre Dame.

The Cavaliers had 263 passing yards from Johns, who hurt his cause by a pair of interceptions. Virginia failed to score in the fourth quarter.

Virginia allowed 371 yards of total offense to a FCS opponent.

This was supposed to be the breather during the opening month of the schedule for Virginia. The opening lineup included UCLA and Notre Dame and the month ends with a visit from Boise State.

Next: vs. Boise State, Sept. 25

VIRGINIA TECH (2-1, 0-0)

Game: Virginia Tech 51, Purdue 24. QB Brenden Motley had two touchdown passes and a scoring run as the visiting Hokies put up some big numbers. Coach Frank Beamer won his 233rd game at Virginia Tech, breaking a tie with former Alabama coach Bear Bryant for the sixth-most at the same school.

Takeaway: The Hokies are becoming more comfortable with Motley at quarterback and he seems capable of churning out some impressive numbers.

Virginia Tech put up 233 yards through that air against Purdue and that’s a good sign for an offense that might have been limited after the loss of QB Michael Brewer to an injury that will sideline him for more than a month.

At least for a day, the Hokies looked like a team capable of dominating in a fashion that they had become accustomed to several years ago.

There could be concerns on the defensive side because Purdue produced 17 first-half points. But overall, the Hokies limited the Boilermakers to 265 yards of offense.

The Hokies are in an unusual situation of playing back-to-back non-conference road games. The trip to Purdue is followed by a visit to East Carolina, which enters the game on a two-game losing skid.

Next: at East Carolina, Sept. 26

WAKE FOREST (2-1, 0-1)

Game: Wake Forest 17, Army 14. Mike Weaver’s 47-yard field goal on the game’s final play sent the Demon Deacons two their first road victory in two seasons under coach Dave Clawson. Freshman QB Kendall Hinton ran for a pair of touchdowns.

Takeaway: The Demon Deacons paid a price for the victory because they played most of the game without QB John Wolford, who exited with an ankle injury.

Wake Forest turned to Hinton, who offered a change of pace from Hinton because of his dynamic rushing abilities. But he also doesn’t have nearly the experience with the offense, so that’s an issue for the Demon Deacons.

Hinton threw two of the three interceptions by Wake Forest in the Army game.

Wake Forest hadn’t won a road game since winning at Army two seasons ago, so that skid is put aside and it marks another accomplishment for the current coaching staff.

But with potentially fewer options available on offense depending on how long Wolford is out, that could put the Demon Deacons in yet another bind. They’re still prone to stalling on offense even with a full roster at their disposal.

Next: vs. Indiana, Sept. 26

NOTES, QUOTES

–Winning conference road games becomes precious and a couple of expected front runners in the ACC already have done that.

On back-to-back nights, Clemson defeated Louisville and then Florida State beat Boston College. Those might not resonate as breakthrough accomplishments, but they count for something in September.

“I’m very proud of our team,” Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said, figuring his team did enough in a 14-0 victory to prevail without much happening from an offensive standpoint.

Clemson had to show its defense as well in a 20-17 outcome at Louisville.

“When you go on the road, you find out what type of mental toughness you have,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said.

Even in the first ACC game of the season, Wake Forest led host Syracuse into the second half before the Orange responded to win. So far in a limited sample, road teams seem up the task of competing at ACC venues.

Georgia Tech, which fell at Notre Dame, will be next on the clock in terms of ACC road assignments. The Yellow Jackets open conference play by going to Duke on the last Saturday in September.

–Teams in the ACC with quarterback questions, largely developing because of injuries, have encountered mixed results.

Syracuse, which has used four different quarterback this season, has made it through three games without a loss but that could largely be a byproduct of the Orange’s schedule to date.

Louisville is at the opposite end of the spectrum because the Cardinals haven’t seemed to be able to settle on the quarterback and they’ve lost all three of their games.

Virginia Tech has come out on top in two games with Brenden Motely as the starting quarterback after Michael Brewer’s injury in the opener against Ohio State.

Boston College is entering a phase of uncertainty at quarterback after losing Darius Wade for the season. The Eagles have used three quarterbacks, and if Troy Flutie, the nephew of Boston College legend Doug Flutie, emerges as the next starter that will create storylines in itself.

Pittsburgh has used multiple starters at quarterback. Wake Forest might join that list after John Wolford exited the game at Army and didn’t return.

–North Carolina WR Ryan Switzer, who had five punt returns for touchdowns two seasons ago as a freshman, could be back in the mix after a drought in 2014. He made a return for a touchdown against Illinois, moving within two of the NCAA career record.

Switzer cracked the North Carolina record book again with 168 yards on punt returns for a single-game school record against Illinois. The previous record had been on the books since 1951.

“That’s a long time,” Switzer said. “… I’ll have to do my homework a little bit (to find out more about that).”

While certainly opponents were paying close attention to Switzer last year, part of his lack of notable punt returns a year ago probably stemmed from the Tar Heels’ defensive struggles that didn’t result in as many opportunities in general to take back punts.

Switzer also has more chances for big plays, though, because he has evolved into one of the primary receivers for the Tar Heels.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “What you see generally, not always, on Saturday are a product of your habits.” — Coach David Cutcliffe of Duke, which like Georgia Tech is coming off a loss before the teams meet in the first league game any Coastal Division teams this year. Duke and Georgia Tech are the past two Coastal Division champions.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

FIVE BIGGEST TAKEAWAYS FROM WEEK 3 IN THE ACC:

1. Florida State might be relying on its defense this season if the ACC opener against Boston College is an indicator. Only one touchdown from the offense might be tough to live with on a lot of days.

2. Georgia Tech had a chance for the biggest splash but the Yellow Jackets couldn’t come through at Notre Dame. It began a potentially brutal stretch for the Yellow Jackets.

3. Louisville is hurting with a 0-3 record, but at least the Cardinals are only 0-1 in the ACC.

4. Miami won a notable matchup against Nebraska, but much of the discussion comes because of the way the Hurricanes coughed up a late-game lead against a Nebraska team that now has two losses.

5. Virginia was on the verge of upsetting Notre Dame in Week 2, then had everything it could handle in fending off FCS member William & Mary in a puzzling performance in Week 3.

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