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Thursday, October 1, 2009
What to watch in the ACC: Week 5

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com


Posted by ESPN.com’s Heather Dinich


Last week it was the Coastal Division that highlighted the conference play. This week it’s the Atlantic, with everyone in the division playing each other and no nonconference games to speak of. Two teams -- NC State and Maryland -- will be playing their first ACC games. While the Atlantic Division standings are worth watching this weekend, so are the following items:

1. Florida State in the trenches. FSU’s offensive line was humbled by South Florida last weekend, and that’s putting it kindly. The defensive line should get deeper with the expected return of two defensive tackles. Justin Mincey, who has missed the first four games with a knee injury, came back in full pads Tuesday and is expected to suit up Saturday. So is defensive tackle Moses McCray, who sat out the USF game with an elbow injury. They’ll face a veteran BC offensive line.

2. Dueling quarterbacks in Winston-Salem. NC State quarterback Russell Wilson proved against Pitt he hasn't lost a step, and he has yet to throw an interception, but Wake Forest quarterback Riley Skinner is a veteran who has continuously put his team in position to win this season. Wilson has thrown four touchdown passes in each of his last three games and accumulated 413 yards of total offense in Saturday’s win over Pitt. Skinner piled up a career-high 354 yards passing last Saturday in the overtime loss to Boston College.

3. Turnovers and penalties in College Park. They’re the two things that have hindered Maryland the most this month. The Terps had 10 penalties for 85 yards, two lost fumbles and three interceptions. Maryland has 13 turnovers this season which have contributed to 61 points. Coach Ralph Friedgen brought officials to practice this week to help with the penalties, and made the offense do 10 up-downs for each turnover.

4. UNC receiver Erik Highsmith. The Tar Heels have found a receiver. Now if only they could find the rest of their offense. The true freshman accounted for 107 of the Tar Heels’ 154 yards of total offense with six receptions and the lone touchdown in North Carolina’s 24-7 loss at Georgia Tech. Highsmith has posted 100-yard games in each of the last two outings and has 12 catches for 220 yards in the last two weeks. The rookie made catches of 40 and 30 yards to give him four of Carolina’s five pass receptions of at least 30 yards on the season.

5. Miami’s pass protection. The Canes’ offensive line had done so well in the first two games at keeping quarterback Jacory Harris on his feet, and then he was sacked three times by Virginia Tech. Right tackle Matt Pipho could use some help. Oklahoma’s defense might be the best the Canes will see all season. Pipho alone will be overmatched against defensive ends Auston English and Jeremy Beal, who have combined for 27.5 career sacks and four through three games this season.

6. Miami’s defense against Oklahoma running back DeMarco Murray. Regardless of who is starting at quarterback for the Sooners -- Sam Bradford or Landry Jones -- Murray will play an integral role. Jones, who could be making his first collegiate road start, won’t be asked to win the game by himself, and Murray is the best option on the Sooners’ offense. Murray is just 15 yards shy of reaching 2,000 for his career and has 32 carries for 219 yards and two touchdowns this year. One thing Miami’s defense couldn’t do last week was stop the run.

7. Virginia’s offense. The word “tweak” isn’t in Al Groh’s vocabulary because he thinks it’s “too cute,” so that’s not what he’s done to the offense. Let’s call it “altered,” for the sake of argument. The Cavaliers relinquished some aspects of the spread offense and it resulted in 390 yards of total offense and something positive to build on heading into the bye week, despite a loss to Southern Miss. UNC coach Butch Davis said it’s a “guessing game” as to what UVA will look like on Saturday.

8. Duke’s injured running backs. In order for the Blue Devils to look competitive against the Hokies, they’re going to have to get their running game going, and their top three backs have been injured, including budding freshman star Desmond Scott, who tweaked his hamstring. Re’quan Boyette (leg) and Jay Hollingsworth (ankle) played sparingly or not at all against NC Central. We won't know their status updates until the injury report comes out later today.

9. Georgia Tech’s defense against Mississippi State running back Anthony Dickson. Dickson ran for 106 yards and two touchdowns last weekend against LSU. The Yellow Jackets rank second in the ACC and 30th nationally in rushing defense (106.0). Last year, Dixon ran for 94 yards on 13 carries against the Yellow Jackets.

10. Virginia Tech’s secondary vs. Duke quarterback Thaddeus Lewis. The Hokies have allowed just one touchdown pass this season -- one. Lewis has thrown five so far this season, and he completed 17-for-25 for 189 passing yards and two touchdowns last week against NC Central. It was his 15th career multi-touchdown game.