ACC: Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
That is why nearly the entire league is on Upset Watch headed into Week 6. Florida State gets a reprieve at home against Wake.
Louisville (4-1, 2-1) at Syracuse (2-2), 7 p.m., ESPN. Line: Louisville by 4. The last time the Cardinals took a trip to the Carrier Dome, they were unbeaten and ranked No. 9 in the country. They promptly lost, as Scott Shafer completely befuddled Teddy Bridgewater and company while serving as defensive coordinator. Shafer is now the head coach, though Louisville looks radically different than the team that came to town in 2012. The offense has been running in starts and stops, and quarterback remains up in the air. Meanwhile, Syracuse had some highlights on defense in a loss to Notre Dame that it can perhaps build upon headed into its league opener.
Virginia Tech (3-2, 0-1) at North Carolina (2-2, 0-1), 12:30 p.m., ESPN3. Line: Virginia Tech by 1. As colleague David Hale points out, no Power 5 teams have allowed plays of 20-plus yards at a higher rate than Virginia Tech and North Carolina. Perhaps East Carolina has a little bit to do with that, a common opponent both teams lost to earlier in the season. North Carolina has allowed 120 points over its last two games, but nobody will ever confuse Virginia Tech's offense for East Carolina or Clemson. Given some of the shaky play in the Virginia Tech secondary, the Tar Heels will have an opportunity to make some plays in the pass game. Marquise Williams showed he could do that against the Tigers. We are still waiting to see that consistently out of Michael Brewer and Virginia Tech.
NC State (4-1, 0-1) at Clemson (2-2, 1-1), 3:30 p.m., ESPNU. Line: Clemson by 14. Based on Jacoby Brissett's performance against Florida State, the Wolfpack cannot be counted out against the Tigers -- especially after North Carolina exposed some flaws in the Clemson pass defense. North Carolina threw for nearly 400 yards last week. Now comes Brissett, who threw for 359 yards and three touchdowns – without an interception -- on Florida State The Wolfpack generally play Clemson close, too, and this one could end up being a shootout, just like the last time NC State visited Death Valley.
Miami (3-2, 1-1) at Georgia Tech (4-0, 1-0), 7:30 p.m., ESPN2. Line: Miami by 1. The Hurricanes put forth a far better defensive effort in a win over Duke, though they will be put to a far bigger test against the Jackets. Can Miami continue to tackle as well as it did last week against Duke, especially given the way Georgia Tech runs the ball? Brad Kaaya has shown the ability to make some plays, and has improved each passing week. The opportunities against an inconsistent Georgia Tech D will be there, but the Jackets have proven to be a team that has the most resilience in the ACC. Justin Thomas also is an upgrade over Vad Lee, so the Miami D must remain on alert.
Pitt (3-2, 1-0) at Virginia (3-2, 1-0), 7:30 p.m., ESPN3. Line: Virginia by 5. Bet nobody expected the Hoos to be favored in this game when the season began. While Virginia has looked like the better team to date, Pitt has played extremely well at times this season. Yes the Panthers are coming in off two straight losses, but they do have one of the top running backs and receivers in the ACC. If James Conner can get going and Chad Voytik can make some plays to Tyler Boyd, Pitt will have an opportunity to pull the upset.
Still, it is hard to get a gauge on just how good these Jackets are, considering how they have gotten to 4-0. They looked uninspired in a win over Wofford. They trailed early to Tulane. They needed a last-ditch rally to beat Georgia Southern. And they needed a last-second field goal to beat Virginia Tech.
Are they lucky or good?
We may have an answer Saturday, when the Jackets face Miami in a crucial Coastal Division game. Their overall defensive performance to date may not inspire much confidence, but a big reason Georgia Tech has remained undefeated has been its ability to make game-changing plays.
Quarterback Justin Thomas marched the Yellow Jackets 72 yards for the winning score, capping the drive with a 13-yard touchdown pass to Deon Hill with 20 seconds remaining.
Then against Virginia Tech the following week, D.J. White got an interception with 1:58 to play, setting up Harrison Butker's 24-yard field goal to win.
“I think we've gotten better each week. I wouldn't sleep too much on Georgia Southern,” coach Paul Johnson said during the ACC coaches call last week. “They got a pretty good football team. We got off to a big lead, 35-10 at halftime. As a young team, we relaxed. They got the momentum and it was hard to get it back. To our credit, we found a way to get it back.
“We've got a young team. Hopefully they're going to get better each week. We're going to have to play better than we played.”
Doomsday scenarios and dark clouds seemed to hover around the program headed into the season, as Johnson had to deflect questions about fan discontent and his own future as head coach after four straight seasons with mediocre results.
Yet the Jackets have found ways to win. Sometimes, that means getting a little lucky.
Like all teams, they are a work in progress. Johnson wants to see more consistency, especially on defense. For all the big plays the Georgia Tech D has made, the Jackets rank No. 11 in scoring defense in the ACC, No. 14 in rush defense, No. 12 in total defense, last in sacks and No. 12 in opponents’ third down conversions.
They have fit the "bend-but-don’t-break" motto this season. As for the offense, Thomas has been an upgrade over Vad Lee. Thomas ranks No. 3 in the ACC in rushing, and Georgia Tech has gone from No. 9 in the ACC in pass efficiency to No. 2 because Thomas is better throwing the football.
His connection with DeAndre Smelter finally gives the Jackets the type of passing combination they need to keep defenses off balance. Still, improvements must be made there. Georgia Tech missed on several big pass plays against Virginia Tech and Thomas is completing just under 50 percent of his passes.
But there are plenty of reasons for encouragement. In addition to scoring off the takeaways, the Jackets have been able to hold onto the football. Georgia Tech only has four turnovers -- second fewest in the ACC. Last year, Georgia Tech turned the ball over 24 times.
And beating Virginia Tech was big, considering it ended a four-game losing streak in the series. So now that they have ended one losing streak, the Jackets have a chance to break a five-game skid against the Canes on Saturday. Johnson has never beaten Virginia Tech and Miami in the same season.
The last time Georgia Tech did that was 2006, the year they lost to Wake Forest in the ACC title game. There is little doubt, then, that a "prove it" moment awaits this weekend.
Florida State's Jimbo Fisher fired back Monday at NC State coach Dave Doeren, two days after Doeren had accused the Seminoles of faking injuries in FSU's 56-41 win.
"Well, I accuse him of not knowing what he's talking about," Fisher said Monday, as our Jared Shanker wrote. "They're not fake injuries. No one faked injuries, and we wouldn't do that. We'll coach Florida State, and he can coach North Carolina State."
As Shanker writes, Eddie Goldman, Derrick Mitchell Jr. and Terrance Smith needed help off the field Saturday in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Doeren softened his stance Monday but did not exactly back down, saying that the issue is not specific to FSU and that a rule should be in place that a player has to sit out for more than one play if he leaves the game in such a situation.
None of this, of course, is particularly new to college football, which has publicly wrestled with the hurry-up, no-huddle debate going on three years now. There is no real clear answer yet.
Surprisingly, a poll embedded in Shanker's story shows fans are overwhelmingly OK with Doeren's suggestions, saying that he did not cross a line. But our David Hale likely had a point Saturday when he tweeted that if you're going to fake injuries to slow the offense's tempo, you probably don't do it with Goldman in the red zone.
On to the rest of your ACC links ...
- With BC entering its bye, ESPNBoston.com's Jack McCluskey takes a look at where the Eagles stand after a disappointing loss.
- Georgia Tech's Shaq Mason has some new motivation, Ken Sugiura writes in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: He became a father last month.
- Will Gardner returned to practice but his status remains unclear, Jeff Greer writes in the (Louisville) Courier-Journal.
- Larry Fedora is going about correcting UNC's mistakes, Andrew Carter writes in the (Raleigh) News & Observer.
- Pitt is looking for answers after its latest loss, Jerry DiPaola writes in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
- Syracuse is trying to develop green cornerbacks during a tough stretch, Nate Mink writes in the (Syracuse) Post-Standard.
- The (Newport News) Daily Press' David Teel says Virginia's clash with Pitt is important and intriguing for the Coastal division.
Miami was picked to finish No. 1. Virginia was picked to finish No. 7. Duke coach David Cutcliffe, whose team was selected second, described the randomness we all expected to see out of the division when he said:
"If you look at the Coastal Division, you could really do a real serious one through seven and then for fun, right on the other piece of paper, flip it, make seven to one and go right back down. It would be interesting to see which one was the most accurate."
Time for some fun.
It is pretty clear the Noles are carrying the flag for the entire ACC, a league that suffered a little more embarrassment over the weekend when Pitt lost to Akron and Boston College lost to Colorado State. Florida State has not looked unstoppable, but thankfully for the league, the Noles remain in the thick of the College Football Playoff discussion.
To make an undefeated run and secure their spot in the final four, they will have to win the ACC championship game. Who are the two most likely teams take them down in Charlotte?
None other than Virginia and Pitt, the two teams picked to finish last in the Coastal. As of Monday morning, Pitt's chances of winning the ACC were 3.7 percent, based on 10,000 simulations of the rest of the season. The Hoos -- the only team that failed to receive a first-place vote to win the Coastal -- have been given a 2.8 percent chance to win the ACC.
Looks like Cutcliffe may have been on to something.
We will have a chance to see just how well Virginia matches up with Florida State when the two play in the regular season Nov. 8 in Tallahassee. But the Hoos will not be penciled in as an automatic W for anyone, not based on the way their defense has played. They are relentless, an opportunistic group that has 19 sacks, 39 tackles for loss and 18 takeaways in five games.
Based on the defense alone, Virginia should be in each of its Coastal games this season. That includes Virginia Tech, which has won 10 straight and 14 of the past 15 in the series. But that is getting way ahead. First, the Hoos are in one of three critical Coastal showdowns this weekend against Pitt. Miami-Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech-North Carolina are the others.
Would it surprise you to know that nobody is favored by more than five in any of these games? Miami and Virginia Tech are each one point favorites; Virginia is the biggest favorite, with the five-point line over the Panthers. The line makes perfect sense based on what we have seen out of Pitt the past two weeks.
Plus, Virginia has one big advantage against Pitt. Its run defense is giving up less than 100 yards a game; Pitt’s strength is its run game behind James Conner. As Akron showed this past weekend, neutralizing Conner means relying on quarterback Chad Voytik to be a difference maker. Voytik, as we have seen, has been unable to deliver the past two weeks late in games.
It is obviously way too early to start crowning any Coastal champs. It may be too early to crown anybody until the final week of the regular season. Nothing can be counted on, not even these percentages.
Expect them to fluctuate wildly from week to week based on the inevitable upsets and unpredictability that come with Coastal life.
But headed into a big weekend for the division, it seems pretty safe to say there is no way Virginia should be overlooked the way it was in July.
College Football Playoff: Florida State
Capital One Orange Bowl: Clemson versus Notre Dame*
Russell Athletic Bowl: Louisville
TaxSlayer Bowl: Georgia Tech
Belk Bowl: Virginia Tech
Hyundai Sun Bowl: Miami
New Era Pinstripe Bowl: NC State
Military Bowl presented By Northrop Grumman: Virginia
Duck Commander Independence Bowl: Duke
Quick Lane Bowl: Pittsburgh
BITCOIN St. Petersburg Bowl: Boston College
* Note: Notre Dame is eligible for a bid to any ACC tie-in game unless it is selected for a New Year’s Six game, which can include playing an ACC team in the Orange Bowl.
Gardner missed practice again Wednesday following an unspecified knee injury suffered in this past weekend's game at FIU, the (Louisville) Courier-Journal's Jeff Greer writes, and the Cardinals are prepared to go with Reggie Bonnafon against the Demon Deacons if need be.
Bonnafon returned to the team Sunday after the funeral for his father, Wallace. The true freshman missed the win over the Golden Panthers.
The former ESPN four-star quarterback saw meaningful time in the Cardinals' Sept. 13 loss at Virginia, completing 6 of 9 throws for 39 yards. He is 14-for-20 on the season with 151 yards and one touchdown. The local product was the No. 2 player in the state and No. 8 quarterback in the country from the class of 2014.
The quarterback situation for Virginia this weekend also remains unclear, as Greyson Lambert suffered a right ankle injury in the Cavalier's 41-33 loss at BYU.
"Tuesdays are first days of practice, and Wednesday, he was out here today, took some limited reps," coach Mike London said during Wednesday's ACC coaches' teleconference. "The ACC's requirement of turning in the probability of players is (Thursday), and I would say that although he looked OK, if he's not 100 percent, he's not going to play, but we feel really confident about Matt Johns being the guy, even in a backup role or a situation where David Watford can go in the game, as well.
"Again, it's tentative, and after (Thursday's) practice we'll release his status for the game. But we feel good about whoever the quarterback is going to be to be able to go in and lead the team. "
Here are the rest of your ACC links ...
- Former Clemson kicker Chandler Catanzaro encourages Ammon Lakip to kick for an audience of one, Aaron Brenner writes in the (Charleston) Post and Courier.
- The Raleigh News & Observer's Laura Keeley and the Palm Beach Post's Matt Porter preview the Duke-Miami game.
- Lost in all the hoopla of the last week: FSU has a new president, Sen. John Thrasher.
- The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Ken Sugiura breaks downD.J. White's fourth-quarter interception from Saturday.
- Rori Blair made his first start after a miraculous recovery, Jerry DiPaola writes in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
- Syracuse players and coaches have plenty of thoughts about playing this Saturday's game against Notre Dame at night, Nate Mink writes in the (Syracuse) Post-Standard.
- Al Groh returns to Virginia to call the Hoos' game against Kent State.
- Virginia Tech is considering using a medical redshirt for ailing cornerbackBrandon Facyson, Mike Barber writes in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
After a brutal Saturday for the league, the best hope the ACC has is that the remaining chapters of that story are remarkably impressive, because we’re not through September, and the playoff picture is already awfully bleak for some teams.
Where the ACC stands: Week 4 was so bad for the ACC that its marquee team won a drama-filled game over a ranked foe — and fell two spots in ESPN’s Football Power Index. The league now ranks fifth in ESPN’s conference power rankings, tumbling past the Big Ten, and Florida State and Clemson remain the only ACC teams ranked in the FPI top 30.
Top playoff contenders: Florida State (No. 1 AP, No. 4 FPI), Pitt (NR, 31), Duke (No. 23 USA Today Poll, No. 38 FPI)
Nonconfernece record: 32-10 overall (5-5 last week), 18-7 vs. FBS, 4-5 vs. Power 5.
Week 3 recap: The ACC had a chance to put a nail in the Big Ten’s coffin and virtually lock up at least the No. 4 spot in the conference power rankings. All it had to do was avoid disaster.
The result? Disaster.
Miami fell to Nebraska as Ameer Abdullah ran for 229 yards against an overwhelmed Hurricanes defense. Syracuse’s disastrous second quarter meant the Orange never had a chance against Maryland. Pitt watched as a 17-7 halftime lead slowly disappeared as Iowa’s previously hapless offense converted one big play after another. And when the dust cleared, any ACC bragging rights against the maligned Big Ten had vanished.
But that wasn’t the worst of it.
North Carolina became the second straight ACC victim for East Carolina, and it was as ugly as a game can get. The Pirates torched the Heels’ defense for 789 yards, 39 first downs and 70 points and made a relatively compelling case that they ought to win the ACC Coastal by default.
Add in a road loss for Virginia and a devastating collapse for Clemson, and the end result of Week 4 is that the ACC once again has only one real contender for the playoff: Florida State.
According to ESPN’s College Football Playoff Eliminator, UNC, Virginia Tech, Syracuse, Virginia and Clemson are officially goners. But before we crown FSU, there is one more team worth discussing.
Georgia Tech was largely overlooked in the much-debated Coastal, but the Yellow Jackets have routinely staved off disaster and, after a come-from-behind win against Virginia Tech on Saturday, stand at 4-0 and in control of their own destiny. Tech’s next two games are against Miami and Duke, and with wins, Paul Johnson’s crew would have the inside track in the Coastal. The Jackets will also get in-state rival Georgia (currently No. 4 in FPI) with a chance to boost its profile at year’s end, then perhaps a date with FSU in the ACC title game.
It’s a long shot, of course, but other than Florida State, that’s what the ACC is left with at this point.
Week 5 preview: It’s hard to know what to make of Duke and NC State so far this season. Both are 4-0, but neither team has played an opponent ranked higher than 68th in FPI (Georgia Southern). But that changes this week, as Duke travels to Miami and NC State hosts the Seminoles. If either one still has a spotless record on Sunday, they’ll start being taken much more seriously.
Of course, it was just two years ago that NC State knocked off Florida State in Raleigh, and Jacoby Brissett has the Wolfpack thinking upset again. It would, no doubt, be a stunning development if it happened, but after three games, it’s still hard to know what to make of FSU. The defense has looked shaky, but it’s buckled down when it’s had to. The offense has been up-and-down, but it’s hard to build rhythm without your star QB. In other words, while NC State wants to prove it belongs, the best thing for Florida State — and probably the ACC as a whole — would be for the Seminoles to finally turn in one of those dominant performances that they made look routine a year ago.
* Florida State’s Rashad Greene was a hero yet again Saturday night. His 74-yard touchdown grab with 6:04 to play tied the game at 17 and gave the Seminoles a chance to win in overtime.
The big catches are nothing new for Greene. In fact, you could argue that he’s been on the receiving end of the most significant throws in the college career of four different quarterbacks:
2014: Sean Maguire, 74-yard touchdown to tie game versus Clemson
2013: Jameis Winston, 49-yard completion with less than a minute to play to set up a game-winning touchdown in the BCS national championship
2012: EJ Manuel, 39-yard touchdown with 40 seconds left to beat Virginia Tech, keeping FSU’s hopes alive for Jimbo Fisher’s first ACC championship
2011: Clint Trickett, 56-yard touchdown with 9:32 left to tie Oklahoma
The last one occurred in a game FSU eventually lost, but it’s a play many Noles fans recall as the loudest Doak Campbell Stadium has ever been.
Beyond Greene’s contributions historically though, he’s on an immensely hot streak right now. In his last three games against Power 5 teams, he has 29 catches for 485 yards and two touchdowns. Nineteen of those 29 receptions have gone for first downs.
Currently Alabama’s Amari Cooper is the only receiver in the nation with a longer active streak of 100-yard games against Power 5 teams.
* Georgia Tech is 4-0, and a big reason for that success thus far has been quarterback Justin Thomas, who ranks 10th in ESPN’s Total QBR so far this season. The presumption is the Yellow Jackets are finally embracing the passing game, and therefore the offense is more dynamic.
But that’s not entirely true. Georgia Tech has had the QB drop back to pass on 27 percent of its plays this year, which is just a mild uptick from 2013, when the QB dropped back on 26 percent of its plays.
What’s different is the success Thomas has enjoyed on those dropbacks. Tech is averaging more yards per dropback, been sacked less often and those plays are accounting for a greater percentage of its total offense than it did a year ago with Vad Lee at quarterback.
* While Thomas has been sharp as a passer, DeAndre Smelter is blossoming into a star as a receiver. The former baseball player has three 100-yard games already this season (only Cooper and West Virginia’s Kevin White have more) and only Cooper, Pitt’s Tyler Boyd and Air Force’s Jalen Robinette have been responsible for a higher percentage of their team’s targets than Smelter (40.3 percent).
* Yes, Boston College’s game Saturday was only against Maine, but here’s a ridiculous stat for you: The Eagles rushed for 413 yards, while only allowing 16 yards on the ground.
More ridiculous: A week earlier, against USC, Boston College ran for 452 yards and allowed just 20.
In the past 10 seasons, there were just eight other examples of a team rushing for more than 400 while allowing 20 or fewer yards on the ground in a game, and BC managed to do it in back-to-back weeks.
* Panic time for some other ground games around the ACC?
Virginia Tech’s rushing game was bad last year and is again in 2014. Overall, the Hokies rank 10th in the ACC in yards-per-carry on non-QB rushes (4.29) and their running backs are averaging just 3.2 yards-per-carry against FBS teams.
North Carolina and Virginia (with 1,000-yard rusher Kevin Parks) are 12th and 13th, respectively, in non-QB yards-per-rush.
Clemson is 11th (4.02), and even with FSU’s best defensive lineman, Mario Edwards Jr., out for much of the game Saturday, the Tigers mustered just 3.2 yards-per-carry. Take away the Clemson QBs, and the ground game had just 47 yards.
Then there’s Louisville. Two weeks ago at Virginia, the Cards’ ground game averaged fewer than 4 yards per rush, and on Saturday against FIU, things were even worse. Set aside Dominique Brown’s 18-yard scamper on the first play of the game, and Louisville had just 34 yards on its final 30 attempts.
* Virginia Tech’s once-stifling defense has really struggled so far this year. Part of it is the game plan Bud Foster has implemented, but the big plays have killed the Hokies. In four games, Tech has coughed up 32 plays of 19 yards or more (once every eight plays). Last year, it allowed just 53 all season.
* Plenty of credit for Georgia Tech’s win should go to Ted Roof’s defense, which rattled Michael Brewer into three turnovers that translated to 17 points. So far this season, the Yellow Jackets have racked up 45 points following turnovers, tops in the ACC.
* And finally, here’s a number that pretty much sums up Clemson’s season so far: In two games against FBS teams, Clemson is averaging 2.37 yards-per-play in the fourth quarter and overtime (fourth-worst nationally) and has picked up just three first downs (worst in the nation).
College Football Playoff: Florida State
Orange Bowl: Duke versus Notre Dame*
Russell Athletic Bowl: Clemson
TaxSlayer Bowl: Georgia Tech
Belk Bowl: Virginia Tech
Hyundai Sun Bowl: Louisville
New Era Pinstripe Bowl: Pittsburgh
Military Bowl presented By Northrop Grumman: Virginia
Duck Commander Independence Bowl: Miami
Quick Lane Bowl: Boston College
BITCOIN St. Petersburg Bowl: NC State
* Note: Notre Dame is eligible for a bid to any ACC tie-in game unless it is selected for a New Year’s Six game, which can include playing an ACC team in the Orange Bowl.
Duke safety Jeremy Cash: There were a handful of players to choose from on a Blue Devils defense that turned in an excellent performance in Saturday's 47-13 win over Tulane, but Cash gets the nod here. The redshirt junior tied for the team-high with 11 tackles, 1.5 for loss, and had the first of four Duke interceptions on the day, and the fifth of his career. Duke is 4-0 for the first time since 1994, when it started 7-0, and it has looked sharp on both sides of the ball as it readies for conference play next week at Miami.
Pitt running back James Conner: At this point we'll call it a ho-hum day for the bruising sophomore back: 29 carries, 155 yards and two touchdowns. (He had one catch for 9 yards as well.) Those early-season Heisman prospects likely go out the door with a 24-20 loss to Iowa, given Pitt's underwhelming schedule, but a fifth straight 150-yard rushing outing is nothing to overlook. Conner is at 699 yards and nine touchdowns on the season, a school-record to start a season, crushing Tony Dorsett's 564 yards through four games during his 1973 freshman season.
Florida State wide receiver Rashad Greene: There may not be a player in the country who is more important to his team than Greene. The senior delivered again Saturday night in FSU's 23-17 overtime win over Clemson. He had nine catches for 135 yards and a touchdown, in addition to a 28-yard punt return. He came up huge on a night the Seminoles needed him to, proving to be a huge help to first-time starter Sean Maguire.
Boston College quarterback Tyler Murphy: Stop the presses: Murphy failed to rush for 100 yards. He did net 99, though, along with two rushing touchdowns, including a 71-yarder in the first quarter. And he completed 11 of 18 throws for 130 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Murphy has proven to be an invaluable addition to the Eagles, as he stretches the field and makes them so much less predictable. BC rushed for 413 yards in its 40-10 win over Maine, eclipsing the 400-yard rushing mark for the second straight game and eclipsing the 300-yard mark for the third time in four games. The Eagles' 549 yards of total offense marked the third time they eclipsed that mark this year as well. So much of that comes back to the man under center.
Georgia Tech quarterback Justin Thomas: Thomas' numbers will not jump off the page as a passer: He completed 7 of 18 throws for 125 yards and a touchdown during the Yellow Jackets' 27-24 win over Virginia Tech. His rushing numbers were much better: 22 carries for 165 yards and another touchdown. But Thomas made plays when it mattered most, leading yet another game-winning drive and helping the Yellow Jackets snap a four-game losing streak against Virginia Tech. Thomas bounced back from a rough start throwing (he lost a fumble as well) and completed 4 of his final 7 passes, relying heavily down the stretch on DeAndre Smelter (5 catches, 101 yards, TD), who himself deserves plenty of recognition in this space now. For all of its troubles, Georgia Tech is now 4-0 and in great position in the Coastal race, having fended off the Hokies on the road. (Special recognition in this game also goes to Virginia Tech linebacker Chase Thomas, who had the insane line of 17 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and two quarterback hurries.)
The ACC didn’t have bragging rights for long. Remember when the Big Ten was a laughingstock and the ACC was comfortably in the No. 4 spot in the conference power rankings? Well, that didn’t last long. The ACC went 0-3 against the upstart Big Ten on Saturday, including home losses by Pitt (to Iowa) and Syracuse (to Maryland). The Pitt loss is particularly galling, as the Panthers were on the brink of hitting the Top 25 and might have established themselves as a Coastal favorite with a win. Now? It’s tough to see a team that’s going to gain any national respect in this conference beyond FSU.
North Carolina isn’t a contender. The Tar Heels rolled over for ECU a year ago in an ugly loss. They saw the Pirates upset Virginia Tech last week. They had an extra week to prepare for Shane Carden and Co. before Saturday’s showdown. The result? A brutal 70-41 loss that offered a long, long list of embarrassments. The 789 yards of offense by ECU is the most against an ACC team in at least a decade, and the most any team has racked up so far this season. The 70 points is the most scored against an ACC team since Clemson’s Orange Bowl loss to West Virginia in 2012. Carden’s 438 passing yards were the second most against UNC in the last decade. After three games, UNC hasn’t looked ready to stop anyone on defense, which certainly doesn’t bode well for the ACC slate to come. Up next? Clemson.
Jacoby Brissett took care of the little guys. No one will mistake NC State’s early-season schedule for a murderer’s row of talent, so it’s way too early to buy in on the Wolfpack’s ACC chances. But the bottom line is that they’re 4-0, need just two more wins to become bowl eligible, and a year after enduring chaos at the quarterback position, Brissett has appeared to have all the answers. Through four games, he’s completing 70 percent of his throws and has tossed 10 touchdowns with just one pick -- and that came early in the opener. He’s now thrown 108 straight passes without an interception. Of course, the task gets tougher in Week 5, when Florida State comes to town.
We were high on the wrong Tech. OK, it was tough to hype Georgia Tech too much. The Yellow Jackets have trailed in each of their four games thus far, and even against Virginia Tech on Saturday, they were outgained (424 to 375), had fewer first downs (24 to 19) and converted just 4-of-12 third downs. But the Georgia Tech D made plays when it had to, and the offense cashed in with 17 points off turnovers. So maybe instead of nitpicking the Jackets’ flaws thus far, we should’ve been noting how well they’d overcome them. Justin Thomas has Georgia Tech at 4-0, and with home dates against Miami and Duke, there’s a perfect opportunity for the Jackets to take command of the Coastal.
QBs of the future took a step forward. OK, so Miami lost, Clemson lost and Wake Forest barely escaped Army. That’s not ideal, but fans have to at least be excited about how the freshman QBs performed. We already mentioned Watson, who has immense talent, and Miami's Brad Kaaya looked markedly better than he did in his Week 1 performance against Louisville, and John Wolford continues to improve in spite of very little help from the rest of the Deacons’ offense. Overall, the three true freshmen combined to complete 69 percent of their throws, averaged 8.2 yards per attempt, tossed five touchdowns and ran for a sixth while largely limiting any killer mistakes. On a brutal weekend in the ACC, the kids at least offered a reasonable silver lining.
12:30 PM ET Virginia Tech North Carolina 3:30 PM ET North Carolina State Clemson 3:30 PM ET Wake Forest 1 Florida State 7:30 PM ET Miami (FL) Georgia Tech 7:30 PM ET Pittsburgh Virginia