ACC: Virginia Tech Hokies
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.
Four games, nine picks, two losses.
“That’s on me, and I’ve got to understand that when you have a defense like [ours], it's OK to go three-and-out or take a sack,” Brewer said. “I have to get better in that aspect of the game.”
At North Carolina, the tape from the last two games should probably just be burned. The Tar Heels’ secondary has been a mess, and ECU and Clemson combined for 882 passing yards, 10 passing touchdowns and 120 total points against them.
Larry Fedora has watched the film, and there’s really not much left to say.
"Believe it or not, we don’t have defensive schemes where you turn a guy loose,” Fedora said. “But it may look like it."
And so it’s come to this for Virginia Tech and North Carolina: A date Saturday in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, that just six weeks into the season ostensibly serves as an elimination game in the crowded Coastal Division for two teams that dropped their ACC openers and are reeling from self-inflicted wounds.
Brewer’s 10 interceptions are tied for the most by any QB in the nation, and the opposition has scored 43 points off his turnovers.
“The frustrating part is that’s always been one of the best parts of my game is protecting the football, and it just hasn’t happened this year,” he said.
North Carolina has allowed at least 50 points and 500 yards in consecutive games. Only one other ACC team in the last decade has done that.
“Those are just mental mistakes,” Fedora said of the defensive lapses. “They’re base things. They weren’t something that was exotic that we put in for that game. They're just basic mental mistakes.”
It’s Virginia Tech’s resistible force vs. North Carolina’s movable object.
But perhaps it’s not all so bad.
The Hokies did topple Ohio State on the road just three weeks ago, back when it seemed they might be a dark horse for the College Football Playoff. Even in spite of Brewer’s turnovers, Virginia Tech was tied or ahead in the final minutes of both games it eventually lost.
More importantly, perhaps, Brewer’s offensive weapons are incredibly young and still improving. Freshmen account for 59 percent of Tech’s receiving yardage and 71 percent of its rushing. Even Brewer, a transfer from Texas Tech, just arrived on campus this summer.
In other words, there were bound to be growing pains.
“There’s a lot of young guys playing out there, a lot of new faces on the offense,” Brewer said. “We knew there’d be ups and downs coming in. But we feel at this point, we’re far enough along that we should be out there producing on a consistent basis and translating those into wins. It’s time to step up and the learning process is over.”
For the Tar Heels, it’s clear where the learning process remains ongoing.
UNC’s offense has averaged 41 points per game, tops in the ACC. Against Clemson, the defensive front was solid. The Tigers’ run game allowed just 92 yards on 44 carries, making the case that the big boys in the trenches did their job. The back end, however, has been boom or bust -- and mostly bust. Carolina’s seven interceptions rank tied for sixth among all Power 5 teams, but the Heels have also allowed 8.7 yards per pass, 353 passing yards per game and 17 passing plays of 25 yards or more -- all dead last among Power 5 teams.
"I think as a group as a unit, as a front seven, we did what we were supposed to do, we stopped the run,” tackle Ethan Farmer said. “We’ve just got to get better in the secondary."
Maybe Brewer does North Carolina a few favors Saturday. If he throws multiple interceptions, he’ll be just the fifth quarterback in the last decade to do so in five straight games.
Or maybe a date with the beleaguered Heels is just what Brewer needs to right the ship. UNC risks becoming just the second ACC team in the last decade to allow 500 yards in four straight games.
For one team, there’s a strong chance that Saturday marks its last flicker of hope in the Coastal Division. For the other, September’s struggles could finally begin to fade.
It’s not the matchup of the ACC’s best this weekend, but it’s a huge game for both sides.
“At this point,” Brewer said, “every game we feel like is a must-win.”
* Jameis Winston’s Heisman campaign shouldn’t be on life support just yet. His numbers are down from last year, but not by as much as you might think.
Last season, Winston led 137 drives and Florida State scored on 66 percent of them, averaging 4.1 points per drive.
This season, Winston has led 33 drives and the Seminoles have scored 61 percent of the time and averaged 3.7 points per drive.
It’s really a small blip, and given that Winston is breaking in a lot of new faces in new roles at the skill positions, it’s certainly not too surprising.
Winston also ranks 10th nationally in passing yards per game, 15th in yards per attempt and 19th in passer rating. Again, off a bit from last season, but certainly well within range of climbing back into the Heisman race by year’s end.
* In Florida State’s first eight quarters of action against Power 5 opponents, it had tallied just 131 yards and two TDs on 45 non-QB rushing attempts (2.9 yards per carry). Since the start of overtime against Clemson, however, those numbers have jumped to 194 yards and five TDs on 30 carries (6.5 YPC).
* Rashad Greene is FSU’s Mr. Reliable. Since he arrived in 2011, he’s responsible for 36 percent of all of the Noles’ receptions on third or fourth down (48). This season, he's been targeted on 11 of 21 third-down passes.
More Greene: He's played in 19 games decided by two touchdowns or less. In those games, he's caught 118 passes for 1,658 yards and 12 TDs. No other FSU receiver has had more than three touchdown catches in those games.
* The bad news for FSU is the defense. The Seminoles have allowed more than 400 yards of offense to ACC teams in consecutive games for the first time since 2009 — a season in which Florida State finished 108th nationally in total defense.
* Looking for a dark horse for the ACC’s top freshman? How about NC State’s Bo Hines, who has 24 catches for 312 yards already this season. Only three other true freshmen in the nation have more catches and only two have more yards than Hines, and no Power 5 conference receiver in the nation (min. 25 targets) has caught a higher percentage of his passes (87.5).
* Jacoby Brissett was exceptional against Florida State, with Jimbo Fisher comparing the NC State QB’s game to that of his own Heisman winner. But beyond the highlight plays, what’s perhaps been so impressive about Brissett so far this season is that he hasn’t made many mistakes. In fact, the NC State QB currently has a streak of 156 straight attempts without an interception — the longest streak by any quarterback since Baylor’s Bryce Petty went 229 straight throws from Oct. 5 through Nov. 30 of last season.
* While Brissett avoided picks, Virginia Tech’s Michael Brewer keeps racking them up. Brewer threw two more against Western Michigan, giving him 10 for the year, which is tied with Wake Forest’s John Wolford for the most in the country. Brewer has thrown multiple interceptions in four straight games. That’s the longest streak by a Power 5 QB since USC’s Matt Barkley tossed multiple INTs in four straight in 2012. In the last decade, the only Power 5 QB with two or more picks in five straight games was Oregon State’s Matt Moore in 2005.
* Speaking of Wolford, he threw three more picks Saturday, which Louisville turned into two touchdowns and a missed field goal. Overall, Wake Forest has allowed 59 points off turnovers this year, the third most by any Power 5 team. Those 59 points account for 59 percent of all the points the Demon Deacons have surrendered this season, third most of any team in the country.
Worse news for Wake: It has Florida State up next on the schedule. Last year, the Deacons turned the ball over seven times against FSU, leading to 38 points for the Seminoles. Ouch.
* Saturday marked the first time this season that Pitt’s James Conner failed to reach 100 yards rushing and the first time that Miami’s Duke Johnson topped the century mark. Still, Conner and Johnson are the only running backs in the nation to have exceeded 90 yards in every game so far this season.
For Johnson, Saturday’s win over Duke was his 14th career game topping 90 yards rushing. Only three other active Power 5 running backs have had more since the start of 2012: Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah (22), Georgia’s Todd Gurley (18) and Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon (15). That’s pretty good company.
* Of course Deshaun Watson is great, but here are a few numbers to illustrate how good he’s been: Watson leads the nation in yards per attempt (11.9). He’s second only to Oregon’s Marcus Mariota in passer rating (212.7). He’s third behind Mariota and Alabama’s Blake Sims in completion percentage (72.7). He has the third-best rate of TD-to-attempts in the country behind Mariota and Cal’s Jared Goff. And no QB in the nation has had a higher percentage of his passes result in plays of 20 yards or more than Watson (21.1).
* Impressive early work by Todd Grantham. Louisville currently leads the nation in total defense (208.5 yards per game) against FBS teams. Virginia is the next closest in the ACC, allowing more than 100 additional yards per game than the Cardinals (313.0). Louisville’s 18 sacks and nine interceptions against FBS teams are also tops in the nation, and only TCU has had a higher percentage of opponent drives end without gaining a first down (58%). ESPN’s metrics note the Cardinals’ defensive win probability added of 2.40 nearly doubles any other team in the country (Ole Miss and Utah State are next at 1.23).
* Virginia’s offense still won’t be confused with Oregon or Baylor, but the Hoos have scored 20 points or more in five straight games for the first time since Oct. 6, 2007. They haven’t hit that mark in six straight since 2002, but that could change Saturday against reeling Pittsburgh.
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.
All four Hokies touchdowns were scored by first-year players. Fifteen of the team's 19 touchdowns on the season have been scored by freshmen.
So the news that came down Sunday about freshman running back Shai McKenzie had to be discouraging. McKenzie suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, as our Jared Shanker wrote. This is the same knee that McKenzie injured in September of his senior year of high school last season. He had enrolled at Virginia Tech in the winter to help rehabilitate the knee.
McKenzie rushed for 87 yards Saturday before suffering the injury, helping a Hokies rushing attack as good as any in the last four years: Their 308 rushing yards were the most in a game since 2010, when they rushed for 317 yards against N.C. State.
Fellow freshman Marshawn Williams led the effort, tallying 119 yards on just 14 carries. He is also the team's leading rusher on the season, just edging McKenzie, 290-269, so Virginia Tech is not without weapons in the backfield.
Still, you have to feel for McKenzie after all the work he put in, and after all the early success he experienced in Blacksburg.
As for the rest of your ACC links ...
- BC laments missed opportunities against Colorado State, Kyle Brasseur writes on ESPNBoston.com.
- Clemson's aerial attack shadowed its ground game, Aaron Brenner writes in the (Charleston) Post and Courier.
- Duke was sloppy in its loss at Miami, Laura Keeley writes in the (Raleigh) News & Observer.
- Brandon Radcliff spent all week gearing up for his start, Jeff Greer writes in the (Louisville) Courier-Journal.
- Pitt tops USA Today's Dan Wolken's Misery Index following its home loss to Akron.
- Scott Shafer says the luck of the Irish went Notre Dame's way again, Nate Mink writes in the (Syracuse) Post-Standard.
- The (Newport News) Daily Press' David Teel says it's now time to see if Virginia's progress is authentic.
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.
Plenty of ACC teams wrap up their nonconference slate on Saturday, but there are several important league games, too, in addition to Notre Dame's foray into semi-ACC play. Here's what's on deck. Be sure to follow along on Twitter using the hashtags below.
Colorado State at Boston College, ESPN3, #CSUvsBC: A 4-1 start would be huge for the Eagles, with the heart of ACC play fast approaching. They are the nation's No. 2 rushing team, tallying 1,345 yards, a by-product of Florida transfer quarterback Tyler Murphy, who has tallied at least 99 rushing yards in each game so far. The defense hasn't been too shabby, either, surrendering less than 20 points per game despite plenty of new faces. Garrett Grayson and the Rams can throw the ball, but they'll need more to go their way if they want to escape Alumni Stadium with an upset.
Western Michigan at Virginia Tech, ESPN3, #WMUvsVT: Which Michael Brewer will the Hokies get? The transfer signal-caller was a tremendous ball distributor in Virginia Tech's Week 2 upset win at Ohio State, but last week he had three costly turnovers in letting a home tilt slip away against Georgia Tech for the Hokies' second straight home loss. Coach Frank Beamer liked what he saw out of his quarterback otherwise, and the Broncos should provide an opportunity for Brewer and the rest of the Hokies to shake out of their rut and gain some momentum heading into the rest of league play.
Akron at Pitt, ESPN3: Can Pitt bounce back from a tough home loss to Iowa? The Panthers probably let one get away, but the Zips are not to be slept on, as the 1-2 squad has had no shortage of early-season tests itself so far, losing to Penn State and Marshall. This is a homecoming of sorts for Akron coach Terry Bowden, a Morgantown, West Virginia, native who went to Pittsburgh regularly. The Panthers need this win more, though, as they look to get back on track before their first Coastal game next week at Virginia.
Wake Forest at Louisville, ESPNU, #WAKEvsLOU: This here is a battle of the ACC's two first-year head coaches, Dave Clawson and Bobby Petrino. It's also a rematch of the 2007 Orange Bowl, which Petrino was a part of with the Cardinals. Both teams will be starting true freshmen under center, with John Wolford showing plenty of growth in his fourth start last week against Army and Reggie Bonnafon returning to Louisville after the tragic loss of his father, and after starter Will Gardner suffered a knee injury that will keep him out of action against the Demon Deacons.
No. 1 Florida State at NC State, ABC/ESPN2, #FSUvsNCSU: We know all about how Carter-Finley Stadium has been a house of horrors for the Seminoles lately, as the Wolfpack have won three of their past four home contests against FSU. A win would be a very tall order for the still-growing Pack, who are in their second year under Dave Doeren. But this could be a great measuring-stick game for them after a 4-0 start against subpar competition. NC State has already topped its win total from last season, and Jacoby Brissett has been magnificent under center. The Noles, by the way, will trot out a certain Heisman Trophy winner at quarterback after surviving a one-game suspension without him.
Kent State at Virginia, ESPN3: First things first: How about those sharp throwback unis the Cavaliers will be wearing? As for who will be under center wearing them when things kick off, well, that appears less clear, as Greyson Lambert recovers from an ankle injury he suffered in last week's loss at BYU. The Hoos know the offense is in capable hands with Matt Johns regardless, and their defense will look to revert to its early-season form after stumbling in Provo, Utah.
North Carolina at Clemson, ESPNU, #UNCvsCLEM: The Tigers might be getting the perfect medicine following a heartbreaking overtime defeat at Florida State. They have a talented and growing offense, led by Deshaun Watson, who will be making his first career start. And they are facing a UNC team that laid a major egg defensively last week against East Carolina, surrendering 70 points and nearly 800 yards of total offense. The Tar Heels have given little indication through three games they are ready for the challenge that awaits them in Death Valley, but that's why they play the games, right?
Duke at Miami, ESPN2, #DUKEvsMIA: We should learn much more about both of these teams when they face off at Sun Life Stadium. The Blue Devils are 4-0 but were hardly challenged during nonconference play, while Miami struggled against the two good teams it faced. It will be interesting to see what kind of response the Hurricanes defense shows after Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah gashed it for 229 yards and two touchdowns last Saturday. Perhaps more importantly, Duke dominated the Canes' D to the tune of 358 rushing yards last year, running away in the fourth quarter. If Miami has any hopes of competing for the Coastal crown this year, it has to show more this time around at home.
No. 8 Notre Dame at Syracuse, ABC, #NDvsCUSE: The Irish unofficially kick off their ACC football alliance by taking on old Big East (hoops) foe Syracuse at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. It is the first "road" game for the 3-0 Irish, though they will likely have most of the home crowd on their side. One thing to watch out for is how Notre Dame's offensive line performs, as it used the bye week to shake up a so-so unit and will now take the field featuring four players in different spots than before. Can the Orange's aggressive defense take advantage of this? Ball protection is key for Syracuse if it wishes to pull the upset, as Terrel Hunt and the offense are capable of putting points on the board when they stay out of their own way.
Dave in Pa., writes: You tell HD, I am highly disappointed in her thought process ..... the nerve of her to say that FSU doesn't deserve anything. I 100% agree with you ....... things will shake out in the end ... (ACC championship). If FSU doesn't win, THEN she can say something. But nobody in the ACC, right now is better than FSU, so HD should totally support them 100 percent. You keep up the good writing and tell HD she can do better.
Duane in WPB, Fla., writes: How about giving some credit to FSU for making some plays on defense!! The ball didn't just fall out of the RB's arms. And the bad snap was a direct result of the center getting clobbered the play before, which by the way was not offsides.
Andrea Adelson writes: I love Heather Dinich, but how could she do better when she has to prove a false point? Through four weeks, every single team vying for a championship has flaws. Pretty big ones. As Moe points out, Florida State is not as good this year as it was last. But that does not mean the Noles deserve to be ranked lower than No. 1. They beat a good Clemson team with a backup quarterback -- and let's not forget defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. was knocked out of the game with a concussion as well. How can you get more impressive than beating the second-best team in your league without your best player? HD fought the good fight, but this was a layup for me.
Daniel in York, S.C., writes: Can't find HD's email so you'll have to do again. Please explain to me how "Clemsoning" can mean losing to a team in which they are favorites to win but lay an egg and then ESPN wants to use it when Clemson loses a game in which they were double digit underdogs? I believe you can't have it both ways. First off, the word is distasteful and disrespect when half if not more of big college programs do it. Georgia, Michigan, South Carolina, Florida State, Nebraska, Oregon, USC, Oklahoma, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and Florida plus a bunch more programs that get beat as much if not more in some cases against inferior teams. I know Clemson lost that game way more than FSU did to win it. It should have never made it to OT and if you anyone says that FSU won the game more than Clemson lost, you're a liar and shouldn't watch football much less cover it.
Adelson writes: We have taken that term into a different direction with this loss, because as you mentioned above -- Clemson found a way to lose the game. Forget about being an underdog and playing on the road. Clemson SHOULD have won, and did not. Is that not how the whole phrase originated?
Bryan Soukup in Roanoke, Va., writes: I'm a long time Hokie fan and year in and year out, all we hear is how Blacksburg/Lane Stadium is one of the toughest places to play. While I tend to believe this, I feel lately our team has gotten lazy at home and taken home field for granted, especially during the last few years. I also tend to lean toward the fact that VT is in fact a better road team than a home team. So I crunched some numbers and found out that, since joining the ACC in 2004, our home winning percentage (82.35 percent) and road winning percentage (77.55 percent) aren't that far off. Especially since you always play more home games than away games. If we narrow that time frame down to say, 2010 to the present, VT's home winning percentage (75 percent) and away winning percentage (76.2 percent) are about identical. My question/comment is: What constitutes home-field advantage and being a tough place to play? If you ask me, I would assume you should be winning 90 percent-plus at home. Obviously, you can't win every game, but would winning 82 percent of games at home constitute "tough place to play" and "home-field advantage?" ... Right now, I look forward to away games almost more than I do home games.
Adelson writes: You are not the only one to voice your concerns with this after what happened last weekend. Virginia Tech has now dropped back-to-back home games for the first time since 1995. The Hokies also have lost four straight at home against FBS competition. The slide in percentage has much more to do with the downward trend we have seen with the football program since 2012. Because in 2010-11, Virginia Tech lost a combined two home games. Between last season and this season, the number is at four and counting. Since the losses are happening with more frequency overall, it stands to reason the losses at home would also increase. But I also think night games at Lane Stadium are way more intimidating than noon starts. Of course, that is the case just about everywhere. But the reason Lane Stadium has the reputation that it is a tough place to play stems from three factors: Virginia Tech had historically won 10-plus games every year; its propensity for success in Thursday night games; and a long sellout streak. Virginia Tech had no Thursday night games last year; also had its 94-game sellout streak broken last year; and has not won 10-plus games since 2011. Bottom line: Lane Stadium still has one of the best atmospheres in the ACC. But clearly opponents are not as intimidated as they once may have been, because Virginia Tech is not as intimidating as it once may have been.
Well, maybe not everyone.
Meet Caleb Pressley, formerly a backup quarterback at North Carolina and now the Tar Heels' “supervisor of morale.” Pressley figured it was time to quit football when he skipped spring practice.
Here’s a good feature on Pressley from Nicole Auerbach of USA Today.
As Pressley puts it, his job is pretty easy.
"All I have to do is come in, signal plays, talk to my friends and dance around on the sidelines,” he told USA Today.
That has us thinking which other ACC players would make good “supervisors of morale” once their career ends. Karlos Williams could fill that role for the No. 1 Seminoles. The senior running back is affable and is never at a loss for supportive words. Duke safety Jeremy Cash knows a thing or two about keeping spirits up after originally transferring from Ohio State. Clemson could use a morale boost from defensive tackle Grady Jarrett after Saturday’s heartbreaking loss to Florida State.
But we all know no one will ever motivate as well as this guy. Hammocks!
- Louisville will go with freshman Reggie Bonnafon as its starting quarterback in place of Will Gardner, who injured his knee last weekend.
- Jerome Lane Jr. is a safety for Akron, which plays Pittsburgh this weekend. His father played basketball at Pitt and became famous with the help of Bill Raftery, who exclaimed "Send it in, Jerome!" after a glass-shattering dunk.
- UNC's defensive coordinator says tackling is the biggest issue for a unit that allowed 70 points to East Carolina last weekend.
- A breakdown of the four ACC teams that reside in the state of North Carolina: UNC, Duke, NC State and Wake Forest.
- Was Florida State's last visit to NC State a "turning point?"
- Virginia Tech has to "stop the bleeding" after two straight losses.
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.
After the Hokies fell to Georgia Tech last week on a last-second field goal that followed Brewer’s third interception of the day, Beamer gave lip service to the notion that there was real competition at quarterback, but mostly he had his starter’s back despite two bad losses in a row.
“Brewer played a great football game, probably his best football game since he’s been here,” Beamer said. “But three mistakes hurt deeply.”
Beamer isn’t simply sugarcoating a dreadful performance against Georgia Tech. Brewer really may have played his best game. He completed 72 percent of his throws and helped the Hokies to 424 yards of offense, and it was easy enough to envision a script in which Virginia Tech won this game without much stress.
But there were those three bad decisions, and those are hard to overlook because the ugly mistakes are an increasingly concerning aspect of Brewer’s game.
Through four weeks, no Power 5 quarterback in the nation has thrown more interceptions than Brewer (8). Only two have thrown seven, and both are true freshmen. Of Brewer’s eight turnovers, six have given the opposition the ball in Virginia Tech territory, and while Brewer’s offensive line hasn’t made his job particularly easy at times, none of the three picks against Georgia Tech -- which translated into 17 points for the Yellow Jackets -- came on plays when Brewer faced a blitz.
“It’s something I’ve got to get better at,” Brewer said after the game. “You take those three throws away, and we had a good football game. But the thing is I made those three throws, and it cost us the football game. But it’s over with, and you’ve got to move forward.”
The Hokies almost certainly will be moving forward with Brewer at quarterback, but if the results are to be different something has to change, and it's more than just three bad decisions by the quarterback.
In the past two games, only two Power 5 quarterbacks have attempted more passes than Brewer (95). For a player who just arrived in Blacksburg three months ago, he's being asked to do an awful lot.
Among ACC teams, only Florida State and Wake Forest have had more non-QB runs stopped for a loss than the Hokies (27.6 percent).
Only Tennessee’s quarterbacks have attempted more passes under pressure this season than Brewer, who is 12-of-28 with three interceptions on such plays.
Against Georgia Tech, Brewer was without two of his favorite targets -- tight end Ryan Malleck, who had 10 catches on 13 targets in the first three games of the year, and wideout Josh Stanford. As a result, 24 of Brewer’s 39 passes (62 percent) targeted freshmen.
In other words, Brewer has made some mistakes, but he hasn’t had much help either. And more than any change at quarterback, it’s the supporting cast that needs to make some adjustments if the Hokies are going to climb back into the thick of the ACC Coastal race.
“As you look at the video, there are so many times we could have won the game [against Georgia Tech], but the bottom line is that we didn’t,” Beamer said.
That’s been a common theme around Virginia Tech for the past three seasons. The Hokies are just 14-13 against FBS teams since the start of 2012, and seven of those losses came by a touchdown or less. Brewer played his part in the past two, but there are plenty of other questions Virginia Tech has to answer, too.
A billboard has popped up in Winterville, North Carolina, taking a shot at the North Carolina Tar Heels, after the Pirates demolished them for the second straight season.
This is reminiscent of what East Carolina did last year after beating NC State. The Pirates have room to brag considering their success recently. They also beat Virginia Tech this season.
By the way, if you're wondering what the #beneathwho is all about, it's a response to this quote from last week:
For North Carolina, there is absolutely nothing to brag about now. The loss was so ugly, it is being left on the cutting room floor. According to The Daily Tar Heel, linebacker Jeff Schoettmer said of the tape, "You know, we didn’t even watch it. Coach (Larry) Fedora left it up to the position coach to make that decision. Since we ran a little different scheme than we do normally, there’s no need to dwell on it, too.”
After stumbling early last season, North Carolina recovered to make a bowl game. But the looming stretch looks more challenging than anything the Tar Heels faced year, beginning Saturday at Clemson. As Fedora said, "The true test of a man is finding out who you are. Until you’re really tested, you don’t know. But when you are tested, the true man comes out. It’s who you are. You can’t hide it at that point. And why would you want to hide it?"
- Pat Forde of Yahoo! Sports calls the Coastal Division " more chaotic than rush hour in Rio."
- Boston College has taken some hits to its veteran offensive line.
- The Duke run game is key against Miami.
- Congrats to Duke's Laken Tomlinson and Syracuse's Sam Rodgers for being chosen to the Allstate AFCA Good Works Team.
- Florida State defensive tackle Eddie Goldman is a quiet riot on the field.
- Paul Johnson calls himself out, and it's pretty funny.
- Miami players are now defending defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio.
- Pitt runs the ball more than any team besides Navy.
- Syracuse's kicking job is up in the air.
- Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer has had it with the penalties.
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