ACC: Austin Gamble

ACC upset watch: Week 2

September, 5, 2012
9/05/12
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I was shocked -- shocked I tell you -- that none of the teams on last week’s Upset Watch fell. Usually there’s at least one surprise in the ACC every week, but the conference pretty much stuck to the script, with Virginia Tech, Clemson and Maryland all winning. (I remind you the upset watch is not a list of predictions, rather it is a look at the teams with the best chance to be upset or cause one). With four FCS schools, one MAC school and two Big East schools on the schedule this week, there should be no reason for concern this week … right?

Wrong.

Here’s your Week 2 upset watch (and no, a Temple win against Maryland is no longer considered an upset. It’s expected):

1. NC State at Connecticut: The Wolfpack is notorious for its slow starts and strong finishes under coach Tom O’Brien. Was the loss to Tennessee an anomaly, or was it the continuation of that trend? We’ll find out when the Pack travels to Storrs, Conn. NC State had four turnovers on Friday, and Connecticut beat Massachusetts, 37-0. UConn linebacker Yawin Smallwood had seven tackles, including 3.5 for lost yardage, as the Huskies limited UMass to 59 total yards. Connecticut is one of the better teams in the Big East, but it’s still a game NC State should win.

2. Duke at Stanford: Considering the way Stanford played in its 20-17 win against San Jose State, Duke’s biggest obstacle might be the cross-country travel and 10:30 p.m. ET kick. The Blue Devils are confident after their 46-26 win against FIU last week. Duke receiver Conner Vernon became the school’s career leader in receptions last week with 208, and linebacker Austin Gamble had 11 tackles, a forced fumble and blocked kick.

3. Miami at No. 21 Kansas State: This is going to be an uphill battle for a team that played 12 true freshmen in its road win against Boston College, but that’s the point -- the Canes managed to win their ACC opener on the road with such a young team. It’s brimming with potential, but Kansas State is a better team than Boston College. Miami will need to improve quickly to pull this off. Watch the running backs in this game, as Miami freshman Duke Johnson scored on touchdown runs of 54 and 56 yards against Boston College, and Kansas State running back John Hubert rushed for 152 yards on 12 carries vs. Missouri State.

Duke spring wrap

May, 8, 2012
5/08/12
10:30
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2011 overall record: 3-9
2011 conference record: 1-7 (6th, Coastal)
Returning starters: Offense: 9; defense: 8; kicker/punter: 0

Top returners
WR Conner Vernon, WR Brandon Braxton, RT Perry Simmons, RG Laken Tomlinson, C Brian Moore, QB Sean Renfree, DE Justin Foxx, DT Sydney Sarmiento, DE Kenny Anunike, LB Kelby Brown, LB Austin Gamble, CB Ross Cockrell, S Jordon Byas, S Walt Canty

Key losses
WR Donovan Varner, LT Kyle Hill, NG Charlie Hatcher, CB Johnny Williams, S Matt Daniels, PK Will Snyderwine, P Alex King

2011 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: Juwan Thompson* (457 yards)
Passing: Sean Renfree* (2,891 yards)
Receiving: Conner Vernon* (956 yards)
Tackles: Matt Daniels (126)
Sacks: Kenny Anunike* (4)
Interceptions: Matt Daniels (2)

Spring answers

1. Sean Renfree keeps improving: Coach David Cutcliffe has talked about a pro future for Renfree. Getting to pick the brain of Cutcliffe's pupil, Peyton Manning, probably doesn't hurt. Neither does turning in another strong spring, as Renfree returns for his third year as a starter hoping, once again, to help the program take the next step.

2. Offensive line is cohesive: Much of the production from last season's unit is back, and the group will only grow closer with an offseason volunteer trip to Ethiopia, where 11 of Duke's offensive linemen currently are. The unit could help pave the way for a talented incoming running back class, along with returning starter Juwan Thompson.

3. Conner Vernon ready to make plays: Cutcliffe has said it will take playmakers for Duke to take the next step, and he certainly has one in Vernon, who enters 2012 within striking distance of the ACC receiving record. Having an experienced quarterback such as Renfree throwing to him should help him in the pursuit.

Fall questions

1. Will the defense step up? It is Year 2 under coordinator Jim Knowles and his 4-2-5 scheme, and plenty of talent is back. Still, the unit loses safety Matt Daniels and ranked near the bottom of most defensive categories among ACC schools last season.

2. Can the Blue Devils handle this schedule? FIU and Stanford aren't exactly nonconference cupcakes, especially for a school that has traditionally been an ACC bottom-feeder. Time will only tell if those first two games, regardless of outcome, serve the Blue Devils well before jumping into their conference slate.

3. Is this The Year? Duke holds the longest current bowl-less drought, having not played in the postseason since 1994. Three of Duke's nine losses last season came by a combined seven points, perhaps suggesting that the team was closer to breaking through than many would think. There is plenty of returning talent in key spots, but a tough schedule and recent history suggest that it will still take a huge effort for the Blue Devils to extend their season.

Spring shoes to fill: Duke

May, 6, 2011
5/06/11
2:00
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Biggest shoes to fill: Linebacker Abraham Kromah

In all three of coach David Cutcliffe’s years, Duke has had to replace its leading tackler, which has always been the starting middle linebacker. Kromah finished second in the ACC and 15th nationally with 10.8 tackles per game. He was the leader of the defense with 129 total tackles and 9.5 tackles for loss in 12 starts. He reached double figures in tackles in eight games with a career-high 20 stops against North Carolina in his final game with the Blue Devils.

Spring replacement: Austin Gamble

With Kelby Brown still sidelined from a knee injury he suffered last season, Gamble was the next man up. In 2010, he played in all 12 games and started three. He finished the season with 27 tackles and one sack in 378 total snaps.

Summer outlook: Brown is expected to be cleared to participate this summer and return to the starting lineup. As a freshman, Brown led the nation in fumble recovers (.44) despite starting only seven games.

More in this series:

Duke spring game rewind

March, 28, 2011
3/28/11
10:00
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While some other programs in the ACC are just beginning spring practices this week, Duke wrapped things up on Saturday with the White team's 21-14 come-from-behind win over the Blue team in the Blue Devils' annual spring game. Anthony Boone’s 32-yard touchdown pass to Tyree Watkins with 11:15 remaining in the fourth period clinched the win for the White team. Here are the highlights:

OFFENSE: Quarterback Sean Renfree completed 8 0f 14 passes for 105 yards and one touchdown while Boone was 7-of-15 for 94 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Desmond Scott led the White team with 56 rushing yards on 13 carries while Juwan Thompson gained 35 yards on nine rushes. For the Blue team, quarterback Brandon Connette completed 10 of 16 throws for 102 yards while rushing for 34 yards on eight attempts. Josh Snead had 54 yards on six carries. Watkins finished with six receptions for 67 yards while Brandon Braxton (21 yards), Cooper Helfet (64 yards) and Conner Vernon (19 yards) had three catches apiece.

DEFENSE: Jamal Wallace made a game-high seven tackles while Austin Gamble had six total stops. Issac Blakeney, Walt Canty, Matt Daniels, C.J. France, Tyree Glover and Jonathan Woodruff had five tackles each, with Blakeney also contributing two tackles for loss, one quarterback sack, one caused fumble, one quarterback pressure and one pass breakup. Charlie Hatcher, Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo and Tony Foster each recorded one quarterback sack while Garrett Rider’s interception in the fourth quarter was the game’s lone turnover.

QUOTABLE: “We’re going to have some fun on offense,” coach David Cutcliffe said, according to the team's spring game release. “Anthony Boone, you watched there at the end, as a redshirt freshman he is entering the picture. We’ll have a little unique package or two just to see where we are headed with it. Sean Renfree is our starter. These are dangerous words, but he’s come close to having a great spring. He’s really been good all spring.”

AWARD WINNERS: Juwan Thompson was named the spring's Most Improved Offensive Player, Ross Cockrell the Most Improved Defensive Player and Preston Scott earned the Blue Devil Heart Award.

Spring preview: Coastal Division

February, 15, 2011
2/15/11
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We've already looked at who and what to watch in the Atlantic Division this spring. Here's a breakdown of three issues facing each program in the Coastal Division:

DUKE

Spring practice starts: Feb. 16

Spring game: March 26

What to watch:
  • Jim Knowles taking over as defensive coordinator. After coaching the safeties last season, Knowles was promoted in late January following the departure of Marion Hobby to coach Clemson’s defensive line. It’s not a complete overhaul on defense, but for the third time in as many seasons, a different person will be calling the plays. Knowles has also assumed the lead role with Duke’s practice scheduling and weekly preparation.
  • New faces at linebacker. Duke graduated its leading tackler from 2010, Abraham Kromah, and freshman All-American Kelby Brown is out while recovering from knee surgery. Those two slots will be wide open this spring and the competition will be among Austin Gamble, C.J. France, Tyree Glover and Kevin Rojas.
  • Offensive line shuffling. The Blue Devils return four starters up front, but they’ll be missing the glue of the line in Bryan Morgan, who graduated. Brian Moore, who has started the past two seasons at right guard, will make the transition to center. John Coleman and Laken Tomlinson are expected to compete for the right guard spot.
GEORGIA TECH

Spring practice starts: March 28 (tentative)

Spring game: April 23

What to watch:
  • Starting quarterback competition. Tevin Washington enters the spring at No. 1 on the depth chart, and it's his job to lose, as he has the most experience after taking over for injured starter Joshua Nesbitt in 2010. Synjyn Days will give him legitimate competition this spring, though, and it will increase this summer with the addition of standout recruit Vad Lee to the roster. For now, though, it’s between Washington and Days, as David Sims is expected to move to B-back.
  • Offensive line reshuffling. Georgia Tech will have to replace three starters in all-conference center Sean Bedford, right tackle Austin Barrick and left tackle Nick Claytor, who decided to leave early for the NFL draft. Phil Smith, Barrick’s backup last year, is the only one with any experience at tackle. The staff will likely have to move a player or two from guard to tackle, and only it knows who those candidates might be right now.
  • Revamped secondary. Jerrard Tarrant's decision to leave school early and enter the NFL draft left the Jackets without any returning starters in the secondary. Junior cornerback Rod Sweeting, sophomore cornerback Louis Young, redshirt freshman cornerback Ryan Ayers and sophomore safety Fred Holton are front-runners, but they all have a lot to prove this spring. Holton and Young played sparingly as true freshmen and combined for 21 tackles. Sweeting played in all 13 games and had one fumble recovery and eight passes defended, including one interception. Senior cornerback Michael Peterson may help, and safety Jemea Thomas played as a true freshman in 2009 but redshirted last year. There’s some talent, but the inexperience makes it a question mark.
MIAMI

Spring practice starts: March 5

Spring game: April 9 or 16

What to watch:
  • New staff, new schemes. Defensively, first-year coordinator Mark D’Onofrio will work with two other assistants who were with him and first-year coach Al Golden at Temple, so there is familiarity there. Linebackers coach Michael Barrow has to learn D’Onofrio’s system, but the players tend to pick it up faster if the majority of the staff is already acclimated to it. Offensively, everyone will be working together for the first time. Jedd Fisch wants to run a pure pro-style offense based on matchups, and the good news is that several of the assistants, because of their respective backgrounds, are already schooled in at least a version of it.
  • Quarterback battle. Golden has said he would like to name a starter by the end of the spring, making these practices critical auditions for both Jacory Harris and Stephen Morris. Harris has both flourished and flopped as a starter for the Canes, and his injury last year gave Morris the opportunity he needed to win the people’s choice award. Has a new era of quarterback begun, or will Harris finally have the breakout season Miami fans have waited for in his final year as a Cane?
  • Corner competition. Following the departures of Ryan Hill, DeMarcus Van Dyke and Brandon Harris, Brandon McGee is the only corner remaining on the roster with any significant experience. He played in 11 games, started one, and had 15 tackles. Redshirt freshman Devont’a Davis, sophomore Kacey Rodgers, and redshirt sophomore Jamal Reid will also compete for playing time. There are also several incoming freshmen who could be immediate contributors.
NORTH CAROLINA

Spring practice starts: March 16

Spring game: April 9

What to watch:
  • The rookie quarterbacks. There’s no guarantee that Bryn Renner will be the Tar Heels’ starter in 2011, but he enters the spring slightly ahead of the race, as he was No. 2 on the depth chart last season and was pushing T.J. Yates for the starting job at this time a year ago. The staff would also like to see what true freshman Marquise Williams, who enrolled in January, has to offer. Braden Hanson and A.J. Blue will also compete for playing time. Blue was injured two years ago and redshirted last season.
  • Running backs race. The Tar Heels graduated three key players from 2010: Johnny White, Anthony Elzy and Shaun Draughn. Ryan Houston is back for his fifth year after redshirting last year and is the most experienced of the returnees. Giovani Bernard was a true freshman last year and had been expected to get some playing time, but he tore his ACL on the third day of training camp. It’s not clear yet how much he’ll be able to participate this spring. Hunter Furr played sparingly last year and true freshman Travis Riley, who enrolled in January, are also in the mix.
  • Another strong defensive line. If Quinton Coples was an all-conference selection as a defensive tackle, he could be scary good at his natural position, defensive end. Coples played there as a freshman and sophomore, but switched to tackle out of necessity last season. The defensive line should once again be the strength of the team, but it will be reconfigured again, as Coples’ move will leave a defensive tackle spot up for grabs. Junior college transfer Sylvester Williams, who enrolled in January, could fill that role.
VIRGINIA

Spring practice starts: March 16

Spring game: April 2

What to watch:
  • The search for a new starting quarterback. With Marc Verica graduated, the lead contenders to replace him are the ones who saw the field last year -- Michael Rocco and Ross Metheny. Neither of them started, but Rocco played in six games and Metheny five. Nobody has thrown the ball more than Rocco’s 25 times. The staff will also look at Michael Strauss, who redshirted last year, Miles Gooch, and David Watford, who enrolled in January.
  • Competition at running back. With leading rusher Keith Payne graduated, the question becomes what can Kevin Parks do after redshirting last year? There’s a lot of depth at the running back position, but Parks, the No. 56 running back in his class by ESPN.com and national prep record-setter out of the state of North Carolina, came to Charlottesville facing high expectations. With Payne gone, this could open the door for him to meet them, but returning starter Perry Jones will also be competing for carries.
  • Development of the receivers. In January, Jared Green Tweeted that he had decided to transfer after finishing his degree in Charlottesville this spring, according to a school spokesman. His departure, coupled with the graduation of Dontrelle Inman, leaves the Cavaliers without two of their top wideouts from 2010. With Tim Smith coming off an injury, the development of other receivers will be critical -- especially with a new starting quarterback.
VIRGINIA TECH

Spring practice starts: March 30

Spring game: April 23

What to watch:
  • Quarterback Logan Thomas. The Tyrod Taylor era is over, and Thomas is the front-runner to succeed the winningest quarterback in school history. Ju-Ju Clayton is the only other quarterback on the roster who’s ever taken a snap, and he’ll push Thomas this spring. It’s Thomas’ job to lose, but the staff is looking for him to improve his accuracy. He played quarterback in only his final two high school seasons and was projected as a tight end. He’s still raw and learning the position, but physically, he’s a clone of Cam Newton. If he develops some poise in the pocket, look out.
  • Competition on the defensive line. The Hokies have to replace starters John Graves (defensive tackle) and Steven Friday (defensive end), who both graduated. They’ve got Antoine Hopkins and Chris Drager back, but it’s possible Drager could move back to tight end after starting 10 games at defensive end last year. Tackle Kwamaine Battle, who started the first two games before he tore his ACL and Hopkins took over, is another front-runner. Hopkins’ younger brother, Derrick, will also be in the mix, along with James Gayle and J.R. Collins. Redshirt freshman defensive end Zack McCray, the cousin of Logan Thomas, has also impressed the staff so far.
  • Tight end auditions. The graduation of Andre Smith leaves the Hokies with only one returning tight end who’s caught a pass in a game, Randall Dunn (one). Redshirt freshman Eric Martin was the second tight end when the Hokies used two-tight end sets, but he missed three games mid-season with an injury.

What to watch: Week 13 in the ACC

November, 24, 2010
11/24/10
10:15
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As usual, here are your 10 things to keep an eye on this week, in no particular order.

Virginia Tech cornerback Jayron Hosley. He is one interception shy of tying the school record, set by Ron Davidson in 1967. Hosley leads the nation with eight. Coach Frank Beamer led the Hokies with four picks in 1966. Davidson was a junior in ’67 along with Beamer.

BC’s running game. Andre Williams is good, but he’s a true freshman and he’s not Montel Harris. Not yet, anyway. Harris injured his knee against Virginia and his status for Saturday’s game at Syracuse has yet to be determined. Syracuse has the No. 34 rushing defense in the country. If Harris plays, he is 125 yards away from becoming the leading rusher in school history.

The nonconference scoreboard. The ACC is 0-3 against its SEC opponents this year, but has enough chances this weekend to even the score with rivalry games against South Carolina, Florida and Georgia. Wake Forest is also playing at Vanderbilt.

[+] EnlargeJacory Harris
Steve Mitchell/US PresswireJacory Harris has been cleared to play, but whether he starts remains to be seen.
Miami’s quarterbacks. Jacory Harris has been cleared to start, but coach Randy Shannon wants to see what he can do in practice this week before he determines his starter. Freshman Stephen Morris is coming off a shaky performance in the loss to Virginia Tech in which he threw three interceptions in the final nine minutes. South Florida’s pass defense is No. 32 in the country, and has 10 interceptions this year.

Duke’s linebackers. The Blue Devils will be hurt by the loss of starting linebacker Kelby Brown, who is out with a torn ACL and MCL. Duke will look to sophomore Austin Gamble, who replaced Brown when he was injured at Georgia Tech, and finished with eight tackles. The Blue Devils will also get some help from Damien Thornton, Adam Banks, and Tyree Glover.

Georgia’s rushing defense vs. Paul Johnson’s offense. The Yellow Jackets lead the nation in rushing offense with 319.36 yards per game, but the Bulldogs are holding opponents to 125.36. B-back Anthony Allen has reached the 1,000-yard mark.

Clemson’s D vs. Marcus Lattimore. The Tigers have one of -- if not the best -- defenses in the ACC, but South Carolina’s Marcus Lattimore has had his way with half of the defenses in the SEC. He had over 200 yards rushing against Florida’s defense, and has topped the 1,000-yard mark this year.

Field position in Tallahassee. Florida leads the nation in punting and is No. 3 in the country in kickoff returns (26.41). FSU is No. 33 in the country in kickoff return defense (20.14).

Turnovers in College Park. Same as last week, and they were indeed a factor. Maryland had only turned it over eight times heading into the game against Florida State, but the Noles forced four turnovers. And in NC State’s three losses, the Wolfpack lost the ball a total of nine times.

NC State quarterback Russell Wilson vs. Maryland’s secondary. NC State has the nation’s No. 17 passing offense, and Maryland is tied for 12th in the country with 16 passes intercepted. The Terps are also No. 12 in pass efficiency defense, but they’re allowing over 200 passing yards per game.

Practice reports: Miami, Duke

March, 4, 2010
3/04/10
10:30
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There are only two teams practicing right now, but that will change soon. Meanwhile, here's a recap of what happened at Duke's scrimmage and Miami's practice on Wednesday, according to each school's sports information department.

DUKE

The defense led the way as safety Jordon Byas and defensive end Justin Foxx scored defensive touchdowns and the defense forced five turnovers in a 75-play scrimmage at the Brooks Practice Field. Byas intercepted Brandon Connette for a 41-yard touchdown return. Foxx later scooped up a fumble and ran 35 yards for a score. Duke will take a spring break before resuming practice on March 17.

Highlights

  • Defensive end Kenny Anunike had one fumble recovery while defensive tackle Sydney Sarmiento and cornerback Ross Cockrell carded one interception each.
  • Linebacker Abraham Kromah had four tackles for loss, including one quarterback sack. Anunike, Foxx, linebacker Austin Gamble and linebacker Tyree Glover also made sacks while noseguard Curtis Hazelton was credited with two tackles for loss.
  • Running back Patrick Kurunwune rushed 13 times for a game-high 82 yards with one touchdown while Josh Snead added 56 yards and two touchdowns on 10 attempts.
  • Quarterback Sean Schroeder completed 10 of 20 passes for 116 yards, including a 36-yard touchdown pass to wideout Conner Vernon. He was intercepted once and added a 7-yard touchdown run.
  • Austin Kelly caught a scrimmage-best four passes for 36 yards while Tyree Watkins had three grabs for 33 yards.
Quotable

“We had good work today; a lot of things happened. We made it very game-like; played field position; played the game. The best thing that happened was our defense taking the ball away. Jordon Byas intercepted a pass early, took it back for a score, and kind of set the tempo of the game.” -- Coach David Cutcliffe

MIAMI

The Canes went two hours in full pads and will practice again on Friday before having a closed scrimmage on Saturday. Miami finished practice working in 9-on-9 situations with some special teams work sprinkled in between the two periods. UM also worked on field goal protection before ending practice working in 11-on-11, blitz and third-down team situations.

Highlights

  • Senior defensive back DeMarcus Van Dyke had an interception during the blitz period.
  • Junior quarterback Spencer Whipple found Kendal Thompkins for a nice gain of more than 20 yards over the middle.
  • Junior wide receiver LaRon Byrd ended the blitz period with a grab as he snatched a ball thrown by Stephen Morris out of the air over three defenders.
Quotable

"We have more depth. I’m not worried about five offensive linemen making practice or seven offensive linemen or five defensive linemen. We have depth now. You feel good about your team. You feel good about the progress you’ve made. You also just feel good, because you have numbers to work with. You see guys that have grown and gotten bigger. You look at LaRon Byrd and how big he is. You look at offensive line with big physical guys. The defensive line is big and physical. When I first took over, we were very small. Right now, we can do the things we need to get done." -- Coach Randy Shannon

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