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What to watch in the ACC: Week 7

10/14/2011

There are only five games in the ACC this week as Boston College and NC State are off, and it's an all-conference lineup. Here are two things worth watching in each game, in no particular order:

1. Quarterbacks in College Park. Maryland starter Danny O'Brien was benched in favor of backup C.J. Brown last week at Georgia Tech. Neither of them passed very well, but Brown gave the offense the spark coach Randy Edsall was looking for with his 77-yard touchdown run. Who will start for the Terps? For Clemson, quarterback Tajh Boyd is expected to play after a hip injury knocked him out of last week’s Boston College game. Will his hip be a factor against the Terps?

2. Maryland defensive tackle Joe Vellano. If you haven’t seen him yet, now is a good time to tune in. He had 20 tackles last week in the loss to Georgia Tech. That’s almost unheard of for a defensive tackle. It was the most by a defensive lineman in the FBS since 2005. The Terps will need him to continue to be disruptive against Clemson’s offense.

3. Miami’s red zone defense. The Hurricanes’ defense has been a weak link this season, but they’ve been pretty stingy in the red zone, holding opponents to just 10 touchdowns in 23 drives. North Carolina, though, has flourished inside the 20-yard line and has scored 16 touchdowns in 19 red zone possessions.

4. Running backs in Chapel Hill. This game will feature two of the ACC’s best in Miami’s Lamar Miller and UNC’s Giovani Bernard. Miller has had 100 yards or more in all five games, and Bernard leads all FBS freshmen in rushing yards (109.50 a game) and rushing touchdowns (eight). Miller leads the ACC in rushing (135.4/game) and Bernard is third.

5. Wake Forest running back Josh Harris. Will he play? If he does, will he have another record-setting performance like he did last year against the Hokies with 241 rushing yards and two touchdowns? Harris has been bothered by a hamstring injury this week, but his chances of playing look good.

6. Virginia Tech’s replacements. This defense is banged up. Last week, true freshman Corey Marshall started for the first time in place of defensive tackle Antoine Hopkins and he had trouble lining up properly. Defensive end James Gayle’s status is still uncertain (sprained left ankle). The defensive line has been hit the hardest, but the Hokies also have concerns about linebacker Jeron Gouveia-Winslow (sprained left foot). How will their backups and depleted rotation fare against the nation’s No. 18 passing game?

7. Time of possession at Virginia. You would think that Georgia Tech’s offense has had an overwhelming advantage in time of possession, but the Jackets have scored quickly this year, so it’s a bit deceiving. There is only a 22-second difference between Georgia Tech and Virginia’s time of possession this year -- with the advantage going to the Hoos. Virginia’s best defense will be to continue that trend and keep the offense on the field as long as possible.

8. Third downs in Charlottesville: Georgia Tech leads the nation in third-down conversions (62.2 percent). Virginia is tied for third in the ACC in third-down defense (33.3 percent). Can the Hoos make the stops?

9. Turnovers in Durham. Florida State turned it over five times in its loss to Wake Forest last week, with four interceptions and one fumble. The Seminoles are 114th in the country in turnover margin (-1.40). Duke did not have a turnover in its road win over FIU. The Blue Devils have lost six turnovers this year. FSU has lost 11.

10. Pass defenses in Durham. Neither of these teams is running the ball very well this year, but both Duke and Florida State have passing games that rank among the top 16 in the country. How well the defenses fare against quarterbacks EJ Manuel and Sean Renfree will go a long way in determining the winner.