ACC: Virginia Cavaliers

ACC Week 10 predictions

October, 30, 2014
Oct 30
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Shanker: It's not as if this team has not dealt with media circuses before, and this week was no different with the news that police are investigating running back Karlos Williams for domestic assault. Whether Williams plays, the constant for FSU the past two years is Jameis Winston, and he will be on the field Thursday. While the Cardinals' defense ranks as No. 1 nationally, no defense has been able to stop Winston yet. History suggests the Cards will need to score in the 30s, and their offense has struggled to score at times this season. Florida State 30, Louisville 24

Fortuna: This is not a very favorable matchup for FSU, and it cannot come at a worse time: Thursday, the night before Halloween, the site of a major upset 12 years ago. Louisville's defense is relentless, especially against the run, and the Seminoles' already struggling ground game probably won't be turning a corner in this one, as Mario Pender (ankle) is out again and Williams has been engulfed in controversy all week. Who knows if Williams is as adept at blocking out off-the-field issues as Winston is, but it might not matter. The Cardinals finally have their weapons -- namely, DeVante Parker — back at full strength, and the offense might just look like what we all expected it to when Bobby Petrino took over. Can the underwhelming FSU defense step up? Getting pressure on Will Gardner will be key. Playing from behind is no way to live, though, and the Noles can overcome only so many slow starts (Clemson, NC State, Notre Dame) before paying a price. Louisville 23, FSU 17

Shanker: The Eagles run the ball very well and don't ask quarterback Tyler Murphy to do too much through the air. So that sounds like the same formula Miami used to beat Virginia Tech last week. Duke Johnson ran all over the Hokies, and Murphy and BC's stable of backs are capable of running for close to 300 yards combined. Defensively, the BC defense is stout, and it is hard to imagine the Virginia Tech offense finding much success. Boston College 17, Virginia Tech 14

Adelson: The Hokies played their worst game of the season last week against Miami and now have to face the best running quarterback in the country in Murphy, who is on his way to a 1,000-yard season. The matchup advantages seem to skew toward BC, but expect Virginia Tech to really place an emphasis on its run game. The Eagles have had trouble closing out games this season, so the Hokies will have a chance to survive in a slog. Virginia Tech 21, Boston College 20.

Hale: The simplest answer here is the Wolfpack have to win an ACC game eventually, right? Sure, we've been fooled into thinking the streak would come to an end before, but this seems like a must-win for the program. Dave Doeren has had a week off to prepare. Jacoby Brissett has had the bye week to get healthy. The defense gets back a handful of suspended players. Syracuse is coming off a tough, physical loss to Clemson and is playing with a true freshman at QB. Meanwhile, the fans in Raleigh are getting restless, and the goodwill engendered by NC State’s close loss to Florida State has all but evaporated. It’s time for a Wolfpack victory in conference play, and, really, it feels like now or never. NC State 21, Syracuse 14

Fortuna: A.J. Long finally looked like a freshman last week for Syracuse, getting sacked four times, but he was facing a nasty Clemson defense. He'll be better off for that test in the long run, including this week against an NC State team that averages less than two sacks per game. The Wolfpack have struggled against the run in ACC play, surrendering 217 rushing yards per outing, which give the Orange some opportunities to open up the offense and let Long breathe a bit. Brissett, meanwhile, has not looked like the same player in his three outings since the FSU game. A Syracuse defense that gave its offense a chance despite four turnovers should be strong enough to keep Brissett and the Pack offense from regaining its touch. Syracuse 24, NC State 13

Hale: Georgia Tech runs the football. Virginia is 10th in the nation in rushing defense (based on yards-per-carry). And if that strength-on-strength battle ends in something resembling a draw, the Hoos have a clear advantage nearly everywhere else. The Hoos can get after the quarterback, which should negate Georgia Tech’s big-play threat. Georgia Tech has struggled to affect the passing game, which should help Virginia’s inconsistent passing attack. The Yellow Jackets are allowing 5.4 yards per carry, meaning the Cavaliers should be able to run early and often. But perhaps most important, it’s an issue of motivation. Virginia needs this game desperately -- both for its bowl chances and for coach Mike London to keep his job. Virginia 30, Georgia Tech 27

Adelson: Though Virginia has been excellent against the run this season, the defense has been gashed for some big plays. It happened last week against North Carolina, and now the Hoos have to play a Georgia Tech offense that not only pounds the ball but has a nose for big gains. Georgia Tech has 48 offensive plays that have gone for 25 or more yards this season -- including 15 in the past two games. If Virginia cannot stop the big play or score off takeaways, the Jackets will win. Georgia Tech 30, Virginia 27.

Unanimous picks

Duke at Pitt: Both defenses are light years ahead of where they were since last season's meeting in Durham (a 58-55 Panthers win), but Pitt's offense needs to regroup in a hurry after its turnover-plagued performance against Georgia Tech. Facing a Blue Devils' offense that is coming off a bye is no easy task the week after defending the Yellow Jackets' attack, either. Duke 31, Pitt 27

North Carolina at Miami: There is something to be said for UNC's recent resurgence. Its defense has made several big plays lately, too. But Brad Kaaya has only grown as a passer, and Duke Johnson might be running as well as he ever has. The Hurricanes have just too much offensively for the Tar Heels to handle. Miami 40, UNC 35

Current Standings
Shanker: 51-12
Adelson: 50-13
Fortuna: 49-14
Hale: 48-15

ACC morning links

October, 30, 2014
Oct 30
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The game plan for Clemson’s offense with Cole Stoudt has been conservative to say the least.

As The Post & Courier writes, Stoudt isn’t looking downfield often. Of his 35 attempts last week against Syracuse, 21 were thrown to targets behind the line of scrimmage. Ten were thrown downfield at least 15 yards, and he completed just two. And that’s a big reason for the lack of real productivity for the Tigers.

As we noted in our weekly By the Numbers post, of the 93 quarterbacks with at least 150 pass attempts vs. FBS competition, Stoudt ranks 92nd in yards-per-completion at just 9.0.

Add to the lack of a downfield threat the fact that Clemson’s running game has been stagnant — just 3.5 yards-per-rush on non-sack plays, the worst among Power 5 teams save Wake Forest — and you’ve got a real problem.

The end result is that Clemson is averaging just 4.73 yards-per-play in the month of October, which ranks 105th nationally. Who would’ve thought we’d ever be saying that about a Chad Morris offense?

The good news is that Deshaun Watson continues to make progress from his broken finger, and while it’s unlikely he’s back for Wake Forest in a week’s time, the Georgia Tech game on Nov. 15 seems like a legitimate possibility. Meanwhile, Wayne Gallman ran for 101 yards on 28 carries last week against Syracuse, which marked the first 100-yard game by a Clemson tailback this season.

A few more links for your Thursday reading pleasure:

The Orlando Sentinel takes a look at what makes Louisville’s defense so dominant.

DeVante Parker should be an interesting challenge for Florida State’s secondary, writes the Tallahassee Democrat.

Karlos Williams will play against Louisville, according to Jimbo Fisher, but he’s the subject of a university inquiry, as Yahoo notes.

Tonight will be a major recruiting night for Louisville as it hosts the defending champs, writes The Courier-Journal.

Anthony Harris hasn’t racked up the interceptions for Virginia as he did a year ago, but he’s still playing at a high level, writes the Daily Progress.

Miami will be missing a key contributor on the offensive line against North Carolina, writes the Sun-Sentinel.

If AJ Long is going to turn things around from last week’s struggles vs. Clemson, NC State looks like the right defense to do it against, writes Syracuse.com.

Duke isn't getting distracted by its Top 25 ranking, writes the Associated Press.

In spite of Virginia Tech's struggles, Steve Addazio knows Lane Stadium is no easy place to win, writes BC Interruption.

ACC Show: Week 10

October, 29, 2014
Oct 29
10:15
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Join ESPN.com ACC reporters Andrea Adelson, Matt Fortuna, David Hale and Jared Shanker as they discuss the inclusion of four ACC teams in the College Football Playoff Committee's initial rankings, No. 2 Florida State's big road test and answer your questions live on screen.

ACC bowl projections: Week 9

October, 28, 2014
Oct 28
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Bowl eligibility in the ACC is locked up for five teams: Florida State, Clemson, Louisville, Duke and Georgia Tech. Boston College and Miami need just one more win to get in, and we like their chances. Wake Forest needs to win out, which seems unlikely. That leaves six teams still on the fence.

With a number of matchups between 3-5 and 4-4 teams on the docket this week, we should have more clarity in five days, but for now, here’s what we’ve got:

College Football Playoff: Florida State
Capital One Orange Bowl: Clemson vs. Notre Dame*
Russell Athletic Bowl: Duke
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Louisville
Belk Bowl: Georgia Tech
Hyundai Sun Bowl: Miami
New Era Pinstripe Bowl: Boston College
Military Bowl presented By Northrop Grumman: Virginia
Duck Commander Independence Bowl: Virginia Tech
Quick Lane Bowl: North Carolina
Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl: NC State

* Note: If Notre Dame is not invited to the College Football Playoff or a New Year’s Six bowl game, it will assume one of the ACC’s bowl spots.

ACC Upset Watch: Week 10

October, 28, 2014
Oct 28
3:00
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Everybody is on Upset Alert this week!

Thursday night

No. 2 Florida State (7-0, 4-0) at Louisville (6-2, 4-2), 7:30 p.m., ESPN. Line: Florida State by 3.5. Many believe this is the toughest game remaining on the schedule for the Noles. There are several reasons for that. Louisville brings the No. 1 defense in the nation to the game, a group that is holding opponents to 14.6 points per game. Not only have the Cards kept scoring down, they rank No. 1 in the nation in rushing defense, No. 2 in interceptions (15), No. 7 in sacks (29). Safe to say Louisville will be coming after Jameis Winston early and often. But do the Cards have enough offense with receiver DeVante Parker back in the mix to pull the upset?

Saturday

No. 24 Duke (6-1, 2-1) at Pitt (4-4, 2-2), noon, ESPNU. Line: Pitt by 3.5. These two teams played a wild game a season ago, with the Panthers prevailing 58-55. Duke comes into this one off a bye, while Pitt has to shake off a miserable game against Georgia Tech in which it turned the ball over on its first five possessions. Duke has been the better team this season, so it is a little surprising to see Pitt favored, especially off such a bad performance.

Boston College (5-3, 2-2) at Virginia Tech (4-4, 1-3), 12:30 p.m, ESPN3. Line: Virginia Tech by 3. Easy to envision a BC win in this one when you look at one key factor: Virginia Tech has been unable to stop running quarterbacks this season. Couple that with a terrible performance last week against Miami, and maybe the Eagles win again. Tyler Murphy has failed to run for 100 yards just once this season -- against USC.

North Carolina (4-4, 2-2) at Miami (5-3, 2-2), 12:30 p.m., ESPN3. Line: Miami by 17. The line in this game seems a bit high considering the Tar Heels are on a bit of a roll after two straight wins. There is no doubt Miami presents many more challenges to a struggling UNC defense -- both from Duke Johnson and its speedy receivers. But the North Carolina offense presents more challenges than Virginia Tech did. Marquise Williams and Mack Hollins are playing at a high level and will force Miami to have a different defensive plan this weekend.

NC State (4-4, 0-4) at Syracuse (3-5, 1-3), 3 p.m., ESPN3. Line: Syracuse by 3.5. The Wolfpack go into this game off a much-needed bye week, while Syracuse could be emotionally spent after losing a close game to Clemson last week. Both need this game to help their bowl hopes. While the Syracuse defense has looked impressive the last two weeks, Jacoby Brissett presents a tougher matchup than Wake Forest and Clemson did. If Syracuse cannot get its offense going, NC State could get its first ACC victory since 2012.

Virginia (4-4, 2-2) at Georgia Tech (6-2, 3-2), 3:30 p.m. ESPNU. Line: Georgia Tech by 3.5. This is another must-win Coastal game for both teams, trying to keep pace with Duke atop the standings. Virginia has now dropped two straight after its impressive start to the season and it does not get any easier from here. But its defense will have a chance to slow down the run game because it has one of the stronger front sevens in the league. If the Hoos can get back to forcing turnovers the way they did in their first six games, their victory chances improve greatly.

Planning for success: Virginia

October, 28, 2014
Oct 28
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Virginia's schedule was never going to give the Hoos any breaks this season, but it is safe to say this final four-game stretch is their most critical of the year.

Because their bowl hopes hinge on finding at least two wins against Georgia Tech (6-2), No. 2 Florida State (7-0), Miami (5-3) and Virginia Tech (4-4). Getting to six is not much of a certainty, anymore. Virginia has started to slide backward after jumping out to a 4-2 start, so the Hoos cannot afford to give away any more games the way they did against North Carolina last weekend.

[+] EnlargeVirginia's Mike London
Geoff Burke/USA TODAY SportsCoach Mike London said there is still time for Virginia to win out and achieve some team goals despite a 4-4 record heading into Week 10.
"Obviously, it doesn't look that well on paper but if we go out there and continue to win the rest of our games, we can finish up with a good record, so that's what we're looking forward to, adding more wins to the win column and trying to move forward," Virginia safety Anthony Harris said.

Aside from the coaching mishaps on the two most critical plays at the end of the North Carolina game, three other troubling issues should be addressed. In consecutive losses, Virginia has forced just one turnover; scored just six total points in the second half; and missed crucial scoring opportunities inside the 35-yard line.

Virginia got off to such a good start this season because its defense not only forced turnovers, the Hoos ended up getting points off them. In its first six games, Virginia gained 19 turnovers and scored 72 points.

That is a huge assist for an offense still struggling to find its way. Some of that can be attributed to Greyson Lambert's ankle injury, which forced him to miss three games. But whether Lambert or Matt Johns has played this season, Virginia has been unable to play consistently or avoid making mistakes.

In a 20-13 loss to Duke two weeks ago, Virginia had the ball with 7:23 remaining and a chance to tie the game. The Hoos made it down to the Duke 35 before turning it over on downs.

Then last week against North Carolina, Lambert threw two second-half interceptions inside Tar Heels' territory. The last one, on a screen pass attempt to Kevin Parks, led to the game-winning touchdown. The production inside North Carolina territory in the second half was disappointing to say the least. On three drives that made it there, Virginia ended up with one field goal. Against the worst defense in the ACC.

"We've got to execute," Lambert said. "The coaches are putting us in the right positions. We've got to execute, get the ball in the end zone. We've got to make tackles, and just play football. A lot of the time we're able to do that. Sometimes here and there it hurts us sometimes."

For those optimists out there, Virginia has been in nearly every game this season until the fourth quarter. Its two ACC losses have been by a combined eight points, which might make them a little tougher to take, considering there were opportunities to win both.

"We just want to be close, be in it, and have an opportunity to be competitive in the end," coach Mike London told local reporters Monday. "That's the main focus right now for us, is despite the two losses, there is still an opportunity to achieve some goals these guys have set for themselves."

In the cluttered, unpredictable Coastal, Duke stands alone atop the standings at 2-1. Five teams, including Virginia, have two ACC losses. So all hope is not lost just yet.

"If you keep sobbing on losses, you can't put your best foot forward going into your next game," Harris said. "With the Coastal being open, we're just going to focus on winning as many games as we can and seeing where we are at the end."

By the numbers: Week 9 recap

October, 27, 2014
Oct 27
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Digging into some of the weekend’s telling statistics…

Clemson’s ugly O, terrifying D

For the third straight game without quarterback Deshaun Watson, Clemson struggled to find the end zone Saturday, but for the third straight game, the defense did more than enough to secure the win.

[+] EnlargeVic Beasley
Ethan Hyman/Raleigh News & Observer/Getty ImagesVic Beasley and the Clemson defense have been carrying the Tigers' tepid offense.
Clemson beat Syracuse 16-6, getting into the end zone early in the fourth quarter for the game’s lone touchdown. It’s the fifth time this season the Tigers have failed to score at least 24 points, something that had happened just seven times in the previous three years with Chad Morris as offensive coordinator.

There are myriad issues for Clemson’s offense, but start with the red zone. The Tigers scored just one TD on five red-zone trips against Syracuse, and for the season, its 72.7 percent scoring rate in the red zone ranks 112th nationally, and its 45.5 percent TD rate is 111th.

Another huge concern has been the lack of a deep-ball threat in the passing game. Of the 93 quarterbacks in the nation to have attempted at least 150 passes against FBS competition, only SMU’s Garrett Krstich has averaged fewer yards per completion this season than Cole Stoudt. The lack of a downfield attack certainly hasn’t made life easier for the ground game either, with Clemson averaging just 3.48 yards-per-rush on non-sack plays vs. FBS competition, the fifth-worst rate in the nation.

That Clemson keeps winning is pretty impressive though. In the last decade, only Boston College won more than three games in a row in which it failed to crack 24 points. It won five straight in 2010.

Credit the defense, which has been spectacular. Since Week 1’s loss to Georgia, Clemson’s D is allowing just 3.55 yards per rush on non-sack plays (fifth-best nationally) and has generated 77 negative plays (tops in the nation). Overall, 208 of the 441 plays Clemson’s D has faced since that loss to UGA (47 percent) have failed to gain yardage. Opposing QBs have posted just a 13.7 Adjusted QBR against Clemson during that time, the second-best mark in the country behind Ole Miss.

Johnson, Conner cross 1,000 yards

Miami tailback Duke Johnson certainly hasn’t shown any rust from the ankle injury that cost him the final five games of last season. With his 249 yards against Virginia Tech on Thursday, Johnson is now the No. 8 rusher in the nation with 1,036 yards for the season.

Meanwhile, Pitt tailback James Conner ran for 120 yards and three touchdowns in a losing effort against Georgia Tech. He now has 1,079 yards on the ground this year, good for seventh nationally.

Prior to this year, just two other ACC running backs — BC’s Andre Williams last year and Virginia Tech’s David Wilson in 2011 — had topped 1,000 yards in their first eight games of the season.

For Johnson, it’s the continuation of a hot streak. Hes hahad at least 90 rushing yards in 10 straight games, which is the second-longest active streak in the nation behind Toledo’s Kareem Hunt (11). Overall, Johnson has had 17 games of 90 rushing yards or more in his career. Over that same time period, Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah, Georgia’s Todd Gurley and Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon are the only other active Power 5 running backs with more.

Georgia Tech capitalizes on turnovers

In the last decade, no Power 5 team had fumbled away the ball six times until Pitt did it Saturday. Only BYU (in 2011) and FIU (in 2005) had as many in a single game. That Pitt fumbled away so many balls is surprising. That Georgia Tech capitalized on them is not.

In seven games vs. FBS competition, Georgia Tech has scored 87 points off turnovers -- an average of 5.4 points per takeaway. Only Ole Miss, which has eight more takeaways on the season, has scored more points following turnovers. The 87 points off turnovers for Tech account for 34 percent of all its scoring this season. Tech’s +66 margin in points off turnovers vs. FBS foes is better than all but 10 other teams in the country.

Virginia Tech’s woes

Virginia Tech mustered just six points against Miami on Thursday, its lowest total since a 23-3 loss to Clemson in 2011. In the last decade, it’s just the third time Virginia Tech has scored six points or less.

On the ground, the problem has been far too many small plays and not enough big ones. Against FBS competition, 47.8 percent of Virginia Tech’s non-sack rushes went for 2 yards or less. Only three other Power 5 teams have a higher rate. Meanwhile, just 11.2 percent of its non-sack rushes have gone for 10 yards or more, which accounts for the 10th-lowest rate among Power 5 teams.

But if the Hokies have struggled to run the ball, they’ve been particularly generous to opposing runners. With Luther Maddy and Chase Williams out against Miami, Johnson and Gus Edwards each topped 100 yards rushing, and in five games vs. Power 5 competition this season, Virginia Tech has allowed six different players to run for at least 115 yards (not counting lost sack yardage). From 2011 through 2013, the Hokies had allowed just eight players to do that total.

Quick hitters

  • Only six Power 5 teams have turned the ball over in the red zone at least four times. Three of them — Miami, Virginia and Wake Forest — are in the ACC.
  • North Carolina’s Mack Hollins has 26 catches in his career. Six of them have gone for 30 yards or more.
  • In its 28-27 win over Virginia, North Carolina held the ball for the final 6:09 of the game to secure the victory. But prior to that, Virginia had an edge in time of possession of 37:35 to 16:14. For the season, UNC is averaging just 24:23 possession time per game against FBS foes. Only Temple has held the ball for less time.
  • Wake Forest is on pace for just 414 rushing yards as a team this season. In the last decade, only one Power 5 team has finished a year with fewer yards on the ground -- 2012 Washington State (349 yards on 252 carries). The Deacons’ 1.1 yards-per-carry average is easily the lowest of any Power 5 team in the last decade, with only two others (2012 Washington State and 2006 Baylor) averaging less than 2.0.
  • Boston College is 3-0 away from Chestnut Hill this season. In the previous five years, the Eagles were 9-22 in road/neutral-site games.

ACC morning links

October, 27, 2014
Oct 27
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A funny thing happened for the ACC in the final AP poll that will matter for the remainder of the regular season.

Florida State had the week off and yet it gained a little ground on No. 1 Mississippi State. The Seminoles are still No. 2, but the difference between first and second is slim.

Duke took the week off, too, but for the first time this season the Blue Devils snuck into the poll. They check in at No. 24.

But Clemson, which actually played and won on the back of a stellar defensive effort, took a step back in the poll from 21 to 22.

It was hardly a major shake-up for any of the three, and of course, the College Football Playoff committee will release its first rankings of the season on Tuesday, making all of this a moot point.

It will be interesting, however, to see how the committee evaluates the ACC’s few remaining contenders.

Does Florida State get credit for close wins over good teams, or does the national narrative of a flawed team carry sway with the committee?

Will the longtime perceptions of Duke as a second-tier program mean the Blue Devils, even at 6-1, are a long way from playoff consideration, or will last year’s success and this year’s strong start give the ACC a legitimate second option for the playoff?

And will the committee reward Clemson for two relatively close losses to top-10 teams or consider the eventual return of star QB Deshaun Watson? Or will the struggling offense and close game against Syracuse define the Tigers?

In other words, even in a league where there’s a clear favorite for the playoff, the release of the first committee poll still has some serious drama to it.

For what it’s worth, ESPN projects Florida State as the team best positioned for a playoff bid, while our FPI rankings have the Seminoles at No. 6 -- behind five SEC teams.

A few more links for your Monday reading pleasure…

The continued emergence of Boston College running back Jon Hilliman was one of the big bright spots of Saturday’s win over Wake Forest, writes BC Interruption.

Before the Clemson game, there was a QB controversy brewing at Syracuse. But against that Tigers’ D, A.J. Long looked like a true freshman, writes Syracuse.com.

The running backs played a big role in Georgia Tech righting the ship against Pitt, writes From the Rumble Seat.

Virginia’s late loss to North Carolina may have erased whatever safety net was left in Mike London’s quest to save his job, writes the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Former Clemson quarterback Chad Kelly is on Virginia Tech’s radar, writes the Fighting Gobbler.

ACC Power Rankings: Week 9

October, 26, 2014
Oct 26
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- North Carolina coach Larry Fedora had the right idea when he described the final five minutes against Virginia as wild and hectic.

Other adjectives that work: Improbable. Crazy. Insane. Head-scratching ...

You get the idea.

What went down Saturday was a microcosm of the way both North Carolina and Virginia have played recently: The Tar Heels are the team that won't go away; the Hoos are the team that cannot get out of their own way.

So it came to be that North Carolina came back to beat Virginia 28-27 to stay alive in the Coastal Division race. The game turned on four plays in the final 5:09, plays that are probably going to keep coach Mike London up tonight.

video
Play No. 1: Virginia had a 26-21 lead and began marching down the field, all the way down to the North Carolina 32. On second down, Virginia quarterback Greyson Lambert went back for a screen pass to Kevin Parks. Defensive tackle Nazair Jones read the play and leaped off the ground, snagging the interception. North Carolina took over at the Virginia 38 with a chance to win.

"I should have just done something different with the ball, thrown it in the dirt or something," Lambert said. "I thought that would have been a statement drive for us and a play here or there can always change that. We've got -- especially me -- to do a better job of executing."

Fedora said: "I was looking somewhere else at the time until everybody started yelling, and I saw him running and I saw the screen setting up and I mean he's 6-foot-5 and he's 290 pounds and he's mobile. That was big. Screens is a big part of what they've done on the past and our guys worked hard on it so it was good to see them execute that from their work in practice."

video
Play No. 2: North Carolina got down to the Virginia 11 after Marquise Williams threw a 27-yard pass to Ryan Switzer. On second down, Eli Harold tackled Williams to the turf. Williams' helmet popped off, sending backup Mitch Tribusky into the game.

Fedora considered calling a timeout, but decided to roll with it. Trubisky calmly delivered a 16-yard touchdown pass to a wide open T.J. Thorpe, pulling the Tar Heels ahead 28-27.

"I'm happy with what we've been doing with Mitch," Fedora said. I know a lot of people think we're idiots but it paid off for him in that situation. He was calm, he knew what he was running and he executed the play. He never blinked."

Trubisky said: "I saw his helmet come off and just knew I had to be ready. It was such short notice that I didn't have time to think about it."

Virginia safety Anthony Harris said, "It's tough to give up a play like that right in the middle of the end zone and give them the lead on that play."

video
Play No. 3: Fedora had a choice to make. With 4:05 remaining, he could kick to Virginia and hope his much-maligned defense would come through. Or ...

Assistant coach Ron West asked Fedora whether he wanted to go for an onside kick.

"Throughout the game, they were saying, 'Look, it's there, and then they said it again, and I said you know what? It's the right time to do it," Fedora said.

Kicker Nick Weiler, who missed two field goals in the game, lined up.

"We executed it in practice every time, so the coaches were confident in it," he said. "We had the look and we knew we had to make a game-changing play on special teams."

The signal went up, Virginia was unprepared, and Mack Hollins recovered the ball.

"Nick kicked a real good ball," Hollins said. "They were backing up while we were keeping it onside so by the time they turned around, they had no chance."

Virginia safety Quin Blanding said, "For them to cover it, it blew my mind."

video
Play No. 4: Williams returned to the field and made some plays by running with the ball -- getting North Carolina down to the Virginia 21 with 1:17 to play. The Tar Heels called a timeout, and elected to set up for a field goal.

Coming off the sideline, Virginia made a critical error. There was confusion among the linemen, and the Hoos ended up with 12 men on the field. The refs saw it and called the penalty.

Game. Over.

"There was an extra guy on the field who should not have been there," London said. "When we make those switches, one guy comes in and one guy comes out. It was not caught or noticed. That is coaching, that is us on the sideline watching what's going on."

Now both teams are 4-4, and 2-2 in Coastal play. This one could be a launching point for the Tar Heels to make a run at a division title; it could also spell doom for the Hoos.

ACC viewer's guide: Week 9

October, 24, 2014
Oct 24
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Miami silenced Virginia Tech's Lane Stadium fairly early Thursday night. Will we find more drama in the rest of the Week 9 slate?

Noon

North Carolina at Virginia, ESPN3, #UNCvsUVA: Marquise Williams is coming off consecutive career outings. Virginia is looking to get back on the winning track after losing to reigning Coastal division champion Duke last week. Can its defense make another big stand and make life difficult for the red-hot UNC offense? Or have the Heels found their second-half groove after a poor start, much like they did last year?

3:30 p.m.

Boston College at Wake Forest, ESPN3, #BCvsWAKE: John Wolford is good to go for Wake after leaving last week's 30-7 home loss to Syracuse. He'll face a BC team that gave Clemson all it could handle last week before falling just short. Still, the 4-3 Eagles are on the brink of back-to-back bowl games under Steve Addazio in his first two years, and their rushing game (No. 9 nationally) should be a handful for a Demon Deacons defense that has been stout this season.

Georgia Tech at Pitt, ESPNU, #GTvsPITT: Is it panic time in Atlanta? A 5-0 start has been met with consecutive losses, including a 48-43 defeat last week at North Carolina in which the defense simply could not make a stop late. Pitt hopes it turned the corner last Thursday in its win over Virginia Tech, but it needs more diversity on the offensive side of the ball, which has been too reliant on James Conner and Tyler Boyd. Its defense does not have Aaron Donald and his dominant performance last year against the Yellow Jackets, but it has been playing well so far this season, ranking 14th nationally in scoring average (18.6).

7 p.m.

Syracuse at No. 21 Clemson, ESPNU, #CUSEvsCLEM: Scott Shafer and Dabo Swinney have made up after last year's Tigers rout in the Carrier Dome. Both teams are in their second straight week with their current signal-caller, as freshman AJ Long led the Orange past Wake Forest in their first career start and Cole Stoudt returned as Clemson's starter in its win at BC. Will the Orange's offensive line give Long a chance against the Tigers' stout front? This game ends a brutal stretch for the Orange, who faced Notre Dame, Louisville and Florida State before Wake last week.

ACC Week 9 predictions

October, 23, 2014
Oct 23
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Fortuna: UNC's confidence is extremely high, coming off a close loss at Notre Dame and a last-second shootout win over Georgia Tech. Marquise Williams is playing the best ball of his life, hoping to turn the Heels' season around in the second half like he did a year ago. Virginia's defense will be challenged by the UNC tempo, and if that defense can't create scoring opportunities for itself, the Cavaliers' offense may not have the weapons to keep up if this contest turns into a shootout. Williams and the offense bail the Heels' defense out once again, signaling a recovery not unlike last year's for UNC.
North Carolina 42, Virginia 31

Hale: Yes, North Carolina got up off the mat last week to eek out a last-minute win over one of the most generous defenses in the ACC, but let's not assume all the Tar Heels' woes are behind them. They still allowed Georgia Tech to rack up 611 yards of offense, and they won't find nearly as many yards of their own against Virginia's stout D. The Hoos' pass rush should play havoc against UNC's work-in-progress O-line (remember what Virginia did to UCLA?). Virginia's improving passing attack threw for 325 yards last week against a good Duke secondary. What do you think the Hoos might do against those struggling UNC defensive backs? Kevin Parks has been waiting for a breakthrough performance, and North Carolina has nearly 600 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground in its past two games. Add a home-field advantage for the Hoos, and last week's momentum for UNC won't last long. Virginia 30, North Carolina 24


Adelson: The Jackets match up much better against Pittsburgh than they did against North Carolina a week ago. The Tar Heels did a majority of their damage offensively through the air, as Williams threw for 390 yards on the Jackets' D. Pitt does not have the same type of passing-game threat, and there will be room to run on the Pitt defense. Though the Panthers shut down Virginia Tech's ground game a week ago, the Hokies are the worst rushing team this group has faced. As long as Georgia Tech holds on to the football, the Jackets should be able to gain yards on the ground and hold on to the ball long enough to win. Georgia Tech 24, Pitt 21

Shanker: At least on paper, the Panthers look as if they could be Georgia Tech and the option offense's kryptonite. The Panthers get off the field on third downs (No. 7 nationally), stop the run (18) and limit the number of long rushes by an opponent. Pittsburgh is a ball-control offense, too, relying on James Conner to move the chains and wear out defenses. The Yellow Jackets are 95th in run defense, too. Pittsburgh has an average time of possession of 33:09, which should keep its defense fresh against Georgia Tech.
Pitt 28, Georgia Tech 27

Unanimous picks

Miami at Virginia Tech: Duke Johnson is a beast, and the Hokies will be without Luther Maddy and Chase Williams. Brad Kaaya has been a magician with the deep ball, and Virginia Tech has allowed 24 pass plays of 20-plus yards. The Hokies are used to Thursday night magic, but this offense might need more than that to get going. Miami 27, Virginia Tech 17

Syracuse at Clemson: Clemson's offense has been stuck in neutral since Deshaun Watson went down with a hand injury, but its defense has more than made up for it. Now, Syracuse sends true freshman AJ Long to deal with that dominant pass rush, and it could get ugly. Clemson 20, Syracuse 7

Boston College at Wake Forest: The Deacons have scored just one offensive touchdown and averaged just 2.2 yards per play in ACC games so far, with more than half their drives failing to garner a first down. Wake won't be able to keep Tyler Murphy and the BC offense off the field, and that's going to lead to a long day for the Deacons' defense. Boston College 31, Wake Forest 10

Current standings
Shanker: 48-10
Adelson: 46-12
Fortuna: 45-13
Hale: 44-14

ACC Show: Week 9 (2 ET)

October, 22, 2014
Oct 22
10:00
AM ET
Join ESPN.com ACC reporters Andrea Adelson, Matt Fortuna and Jared Shanker as they discuss the Week 9 slate and answer your questions live on screen.
UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley ranks 19th nationally in total offense. But against Virginia in the season opener, a game in which Hundley was supposed to formally announce his Heisman candidacy, the Cavaliers made him look like the 119th-ranked quarterback.

The Cavaliers will need another dynamite effort on defense Saturday as their bowl hopes hang in the balance. North Carolina quarterback Marquise Williams, who ranks 17th in total offense at 318 yards per game, is coming to Charlottesville and is playing the best football of his career.

[+] EnlargeNorth Carolina's Marquise Williams
Grant Halverson/Getty ImagesNorth Carolina quarterback Marquise Williams has rushed for 299 yards in his past three games and passed for more than 300 yards in his past two.
"He is a guy that is definitely, if you want to characterize a dual-threat guy, he can run the ball, he can escape from his pass drops, he can throw the ball," Virginia coach Mike London said. "… He's improved the last couple games for sure."

The Virginia defense has been among the best in the country, though, and Williams will have his hands full just as the Virginia defense will have its issues with Williams. The Cavaliers are ninth in total defense when playing FBS competition, and few teams attack the quarterback better than Virginia. The Cavs have 22 sacks, which ranks 12th in the nation.

Blitzing and wildly pursuing the passer could leave the Virginia defense susceptible to the 6-foot-2, 220-pound junior Williams' athleticism. Over his last three games, Williams, who has solidified his position atop the depth chart, has rushed for 299 yards. If Virginia gets out of its rushing lanes and does not try to collapse the pocket with discipline, Williams could take off.

"The biggest thing is break down before you tackle ... and not going in to take someone's head off," said linebacker Max Valles, whose four sacks ranks 10th in the ACC.

When Valles does blitz, he knows Williams won't afford him much time to freelance. Valles expects the Tar Heels to get the ball out of Williams' hands quickly on passing plays, so the Virginia defense will need to get into their pass rush right at the snap. As a passer, Williams has thrown for more than 300 yards in each of the last two games, which means the Cavs will need to make him uncomfortable in the pocket, even if it doesn't equate to sacks.

"We have to get in our moves much quicker and not waste any time," he said.

North Carolina looks like it could be on the same delayed linear trajectory it was a year ago -- abysmal first half of the season with marked improvements in the second half. The Heels nearly upset Notre Dame two weekends ago, and last Saturday they dealt Georgia Tech a painful blow in the Coastal Division.

As bad as North Carolina has been, it is only one game behind in the loss column in the division, and it has remaining games against all three Coastal teams with just one conference loss.

One of those teams is Virginia, although the Cavaliers have a brutal schedule -- not just in the second half of the season but overall. It is an especially tough stretch to close out the season, though, with road games at Georgia Tech, Florida Ste and Virginia Tech plus a home game against Miami.

Still two games from bowl eligibility, the Cavaliers understand every game is crucial. A win against UNC begins with stopping Williams.

"Every game from here on out is a must win," Valles said, "so we can get to where we want to be, which is to be on top of the Coastal."

ACC morning links

October, 22, 2014
Oct 22
8:00
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It's rarely a good sign when a defensive coordinator is imploring a fanbase to respect the job his defense has done, but that's what Miami assistant Mark D'Onofrio was doing this week.

"Give the guys some credit," D'Onofrio said in this article from Matt Porter of The Palm Beach (Florida) Post.

The truth is the Miami defense has played well this season. The problem is the defense is not stepping up in the games the Miami program needs it to.

Against Nebraska, the Hurricanes were torched on the ground and allowed the Cornhuskers to convert 70 percent of their third-down attempts. In the Hurricanes' three losses, all on the road, they are allowing opponents to convert nearly 60 percent of their third-down attempts. With the Miami offense improving each week, the defense needs to do a much better job of giving quarterback Brad Kaaya the ball.

There have also been two games already in which Miami allowed more than 300 rushing yards, and if the Hurricanes were able to get a few stops against Georgia Tech, there was a good chance they could have won the game.

But D'Onofrio is right in that the defense is seemingly taking steps in the right direction. The unit played well in the first half against Cincinnati, and it put the clamps on Duke at the end of September.

The problem is the Georgia Tech loss was sandwiched between those games, and that inconsistency is causing Canes fans to pull their hair out.

With a date against Virginia Tech on Thursday, the odds are the defense will limit the Hokies, who rank 83rd nationally in total offense. But what will happen the next two games against North Carolina and Florida State?
  • Virginia Tech's defense needs to be prepared on Thursday night, too.
  • Once North Carolina began racking up the points, the Georgia Tech defense began playing without discipline by trying to make the big play instead executing the called play.
  • For the Tar Heels to truly turn this season around, the defense will need to begin making strides.
  • Clemson is right where most people expected them to be at 5-2, but Dabo Swinney still sees greatness for this team.
  • Syracuse still expects its indoor facility to be ready in December.
  • Florida State linebacker Matthew Thomas, who was suspended the first six games, saw quite a bit of action in his first game back.
  • Miles Gooch was a productive high school quarterback, but like so many star athletes at the position, a change was needed in college. Now Gooch is Virginia's leading receiver.
  • Louisville will wear alternate uniforms for next week's game against Florida State. Do you like them? More importantly: does it matter? I don't buy the theory that alternate uniforms -- black, gray, turquoise -- have any impact on a game.
  • If you like Pittsburgh football and like math, here's a breakdown of James Conner's bounce back from a drop off. While Conner was better against Virginia Tech, he still wasn't the dominating runner Pitt fans saw the first few weeks.

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