- Heather Dinich, ESPN Staff Writer
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Here’s a look at five lessons learned in the ACC this week, in no particular order:
1. Virginia Tech is still a contender. Quarterback Logan Thomas, who was playing through an abdominal strain, had one of his best games in years in the 17-10 win at Georgia Tech and, in the process, helped validate the program as a contender again in the Coastal Division. Virginia Tech’s offense had played so poorly that the Hokies needed three overtimes to beat Marshall the previous week. There was plenty of doubt surrounding the team as it headed to Atlanta to take on an undefeated Georgia Tech team that was No. 4 in the country in rushing offense. The Hokies were just 2-of-10 on third-down conversions and ran for just 55 yards, but it didn’t matter. They got what they needed from Thomas -- 19 of 25 passes for 221 yards and a touchdown and 16 carries for 58 yards and a touchdown -- and another stellar performance by the defense. The Hokies have won titles with that recipe before, and showed they can do it again.
2. North Carolina is on the bowl bubble. The Tar Heels were playing ECU, not Clemson, but you’d never know it by the score. UNC lost 55-31 in embarrassing fashion on their home field. ECU finished with 603 total yards, the second-highest total ever allowed by UNC at home. North Carolina quarterback Bryn Renner had another subpar performance, but the players around him didn’t help out much, either. There was plenty of blame to go around as UNC dropped to 1-3. They’ve got to win five more games to become bowl eligible, and they’re not going to win again anytime soon if they continue to play the way they did against ECU. Six straight conference games await, starting with a road trip to Virginia Tech on Oct. 5 and followed by Miami. The loss to ECU could be the beginning of a downward spiral for the Heels. Or, it could be a much-needed wake-up call. Either way, the margin for error is nearing nonexistent.
3. Florida State’s defense needs work. As expected, Boston College was well-prepared, well-coached and gave the Noles its best shot despite a 48-34 loss. As expected, BC relied on its running game and Andre Williams. Not expected: FSU didn’t seem ready for it. It was the most points FSU had allowed BC in the series' history. The Eagles jumped out to a 14-point lead, scored on all three of their opening drives, ran for 200 yards and converted 2 of 3 fourth downs. Williams finished with 149 rushing yards -- the most by a runner against FSU since 2010. If FSU’s defensive line struggled against BC, expect more of the same next week against Maryland, and certainly on Oct. 19 against Clemson.
4. Virginia’s offense looks worse than last year. Pitt’s defense played better, but it’s hard to believe the Panthers improved that much just a week after allowing Duke 55 points. Virginia was simply inept on offense in the 14-3 loss, finishing with just 188 total yards, 3 of 18 third-down conversions and 1 of 4 fourth downs. Pitt’s Aaron Donald and the D had a little something to do with that, but so did quarterback David Watford, who completed just 15 of 37 passes. Last year, UVa’s passing offense was No. 37 in the country. This year, it’s one of the worst in the country. Watford has taken much of the blame for the team’s offensive struggles, as he is in his first year as a full-time starter, but there was plenty of blame to go around on Saturday.
5. Pitt is at home in the ACC. The Panthers now have won back-to-back games in their new conference and have a chance to move into a tie for the top spot in the Coastal Division if they can win at Virginia Tech next week. Pitt’s lone loss was to Florida State in the season opener. If they can escape Blacksburg with a win, the Panthers could be 6-1 heading into Atlanta on Nov. 2 for another key divisional game against Georgia Tech. With the win over Virginia, Pitt put itself right in the mix in its first season in the ACC. We’ll see how long the Panthers can stay there.
21hMatt Fortuna and Andrea Adelson