Thursday, October 10, 2013
What to watch in the ACC: Week 7
By David M. Hale
The real fireworks come next week, when Clemson and Florida State face off in Death Valley in what figures to be the most compelling ACC game of the season. But there's a lot on the line this week, too, as the Tigers try to stay unbeaten and a host of once-promising seasons around the league are in need of salvaging after bad losses a week ago. Here are a few storylines to watch in Week 7.
For Boston College to have success against Clemson, it will likely need another big day from Andre Williams (right).
Clemson's focus: The Tigers have already been through one "game of the year" scenario, but that came in the opener against Georgia. Clemson had the luxury of planning well in advance for that one. To get to its second marquee matchup Oct. 19 against Florida State, however, Clemson still needs to get past Boston College. The Eagles would love for Clemson to look ahead, setting up a classic trap-game scenario. BC already gave FSU a major challenge two weeks ago, and it has proved it's capable of playing with the ACC's best. But if the Tigers are focused, they'll be tough to beat, and so far this week, Dabo Swinney, Tajh Boyd & Co. have made a point of avoiding questions about the Seminoles and making certain Boston College is the priority.
Williams' workload: Boston College has already won more games in 2013 than it did all of last season, and a big part of that success can be pinned on running back Andre Williams, who has been a workhorse. Williams leads the nation in rushing yards per game (153.6) and attempts per game (26.6). Only seven tailbacks have averaged that many carries over a full season in the past five years. Last week was Williams' finest performance to date. He carried 30 times for 263 yards and five touchdowns -- his second 200-yard game of the season. While Clemson figures to make things tough for BC this week, the Tigers' rush defense ranks 12th in the ACC, allowing an average of 171 yards per game on the ground.
Vad Lee's struggles: The season began with such optimism for Vad Lee and Georgia Tech, but after losses to Virginia Tech and Miami, in which Lee turned the ball over five times (three interceptions, two fumbles), the mood has changed. Last week, buzz circulated that backup quarterback Justin Thomas might supplant Lee as the starter, though that proved to be more of a social media rumor than an actual game plan for Paul Johnson, and when Thomas did get his shot against Miami, he didn't look much better. Still, Lee's struggles have directly correlated to Georgia Tech's consecutive losses, and the fans are getting restless. He'll have a chance to right the ship this week against BYU, which ranks 24th nationally in total defense.
Maryland's recovery: How does a team off to its best start in more than a decade recover from a 63-0 shellacking? That's the question facing Randy Edsall and the Terrapins this week. After they were pummeled by Florida State, the test figures to be a bit easier this week when Maryland hosts Virginia. The Cavaliers have scored just 59 points in their four games against FBS foes -- or four fewer than FSU scored just last week. Still, Maryland came out of last week's loss banged up, both physically and mentally. Whether QB C.J. Brown (concussion) will play remains a question, and just how focused the Terps will be after such a crushing loss will likely be a major factor in how well they rebound.
Pitt receivers vs. Hokies secondary: Believe it or not, the Panthers have actually beaten Virginia Tech -- their former Big East rival -- in four straight games, including last year's 35-17 victory. While the Hokies enter the game riding high and in command in the Coastal Division, Pitt still controls its own destiny in the division and has won three straight games. The Virginia Tech defense has been lauded as perhaps the nation's best, but Pitt boasts the ACC's top receiving tandem in Tyler Boyd and Devin Street -- one of just three sets of teammates in the nation averaging 100 yards per game -- giving the Hokies' talented secondary its biggest test to date.
Thomas' resurrection: Through the troubles of 2012 and the offensive struggles to open 2013, no one faced more criticism at Virginia Tech than QB Logan Thomas. Some of it was warranted. From the start of last season through Week 4 of this year, Thomas completed just 50 percent of his throws, averaged 6.5 yards per attempt and had 22 touchdowns and 22 interceptions. But Thomas has looked like a star the past two weeks. He has completed better than 65 percent of his throws in consecutive games for the first time in his career, averaged 9.7 yards per attempt, thrown four TDs and hasn't thrown an interception.
Duke's defense: The Blue Devils have allowed 30 points or more in three straight games, giving up an average of 6.4 yards per play during that stretch. That has overshadowed some solid offensive performances, as quarterback Brandon Connette has racked up 11 touchdowns in his past two outings. Duke gets Navy this week, and the Midshipmen rank eighth in the nation in rushing. When Duke faced a similar style of offense at Georgia Tech three weeks ago, the defense allowed 344 yards on the ground. The Blue Devils hope they've shored things up during a bye week, and Duke has won its past two meetings against Navy.
Virginia's offense: Against FBS teams, Virginia is averaging just 3.73 yards per play -- the third-worst rate in the nation. The passing game has been at the forefront of the struggles. Virginia ranks 13th in the ACC in passing offense, and QB David Watford's 37.5 adjusted QBR ranks 100th nationally. In a loss last week, the offense coughed up four turnovers, resulting in 17 Ball State points. On the upside, however, Virginia did put up 27 points in last week's loss, offering some hope that if it can cut down on the mistakes, things are headed in the right direction. UVA will get its shot to prove it against a Maryland defense that just coughed up 63 points to FSU last week.
Mitchell time in Raleigh?:Brandon Mitchell returned to the practice field and resumed throwing for the first time since breaking a bone in his foot in NC State's opener. It's still unclear whether he'll play Saturday against Syracuse, but the Wolfpack could clearly use a jolt after a frustrating 28-13 loss at Wake Forest. More than getting their starting QB back, however, the Wolfpack need to shore up a lot of details that eluded them against Wake, Dave Doeren said. He challenged his team to cut penalties and focus on fundamentals in this week's game as NC State tries to avoid an 0-3 start in ACC play.
Hunt's second chance: Optimism was ubiquitous and expectations were high as Terrel Hunt readied for his first ACC game last week against No. 3 Clemson. The outcome couldn't have been much worse. The talented Syracuse QB completed just 33 percent of his passes and threw three interceptions. Still, Hunt insists the performance hasn't rattled him and he'll make the necessary changes for a rebound performance this week against NC State. Prior to the Clemson game, Hunt had been 33-for-43 passing for 468 yards and accounted for nine touchdowns without an INT.