ACC: Will Gardner

ACC viewer's guide: Week 13

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
10:00
AM ET
Much of the drama is already gone from the ACC slate, and the SEC rivalry games are still a week away. But there is still plenty to watch for in Week 13.

12:30 p.m.

Virginia Tech at Wake Forest, ESPN3, #VTvsWAKE
The Hokies can wrap up bowl eligibility with a win against Wake Forest, which given the litany of injuries Virginia Tech has suffered this season -- including tailback Marshawn Williams, who tore his ACL last week -- is probably commendable. The Hokies are coming off their second road win of the season against a top-25 foe, so the trip to Winston-Salem against a Demon Deacons team still looking for its first ACC victory shouldn’t be a huge test. Wake hasn’t been able to run the ball on anyone this season, but Virginia Tech’s defense allows 5.64 yards-per-carry on non-sack rushing attempts this season -- 104th nationally.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesJameis Winston and Florida State will try to produce a rare fast start this week against Boston College.
3:30 p.m.

Boston College at No. 3 Florida State, ABC/ESPN2, #BCvsFSU
A year ago, it was the Eagles who gave FSU its toughest game of the regular season. Now, BC is the ACC’s last chance to send the Seminoles to a conference loss. The matchup isn’t ideal for an FSU defense that has been gashed by the run on a few occasions this season, and after escaping a physical matchup against Miami last week, it will be interesting to see how focused the Seminoles are for this one. But with a season of close calls already in their rearview mirror, Jimbo Fisher no doubt has emphasized the importance of a fast start this week, and for FSU, it needs to start thinking about earning some style points to impress the CFB playoff committee.

Syracuse at Pittsburgh, ESPNU, #CUSEvsPITT
Pitt has lost three straight despite 1,040 yards of offense from James Conner and Tyler Boyd. The Panthers have actually dropped six of their past seven after a 3-0 start to the season, and now they must win out to have a shot at a bowl game. Four of Pitt’s six losses have been by five points or less, however, and Conner and Boyd remain two of the most potent threats in the ACC. Whether Syracuse’s underrated defense can slow down Pitt’s stars might be paramount, but the Orange will also need to find some offense against a Panthers team that has allowed 147 points in its past three games.

No. 24 Louisville at Notre Dame, NBC
The Cardinals are back in the top 25, but they will go to battle in South Bend without starting quarterback Will Gardner. Reggie Bonnafon will take over at QB coming off his best game as a college player last week when he threw for 69 yards, ran for 76 more and scored three times against Boston College. But the real intrigue might come on the other side of the ball, where Everett Golson leads an Irish offense that leads all Power 5 teams in turnovers against Louisville’s stout defense, led by safety Gerod Holliman and his 13 interceptions.

Georgia State at No. 22 Clemson, ESPN3, #GSUvsCLEM
Since Deshaun Watson went down with a hand injury last month, Clemson’s offense has more turnovers (11) than touchdowns (7), and that downward spiral hit rock bottom last week when Cole Stoudt threw three interceptions, including two that were returned for touchdowns. But as bad as Stoudt’s performance was, Dabo Swinney and the Tigers believe he’s still a capable quarterback, and certainly the job gets a lot easier this week. The bigger question now is whether it will be Stoudt’s job in two weeks when Clemson looks to end a five-game losing streak against rival South Carolina.

7 p.m.

Miami at Virginia, ESPN2, #MIAvsUVA
The Hurricanes are coming off a physical and emotional loss to Florida State and looking to rebound. Virginia is still clinging to bowl hopes, and might need to win out to salvage coach Mike London’s job. The key to the game might be how well the Hoos’ defense can slow Duke Johnson and the Miami running game, but as FSU found out last week, quarterback Brad Kaaya is certainly capable of doing some damage. Virginia, on the other hand, has just 59 rushing yards combined in its past two games, and it has scored on the ground just once in its past five.
Louisville has already completed its first season of league play in the ACC, with two nonconference regular-season games remaining. The rise in competition level was part of what drew Reggie Bonnafon to the Cardinals. But not even the rookie quarterback could have possibly imagined having this much on his plate this soon.

Yet No. 24 Louisville is turning to the former four-star prospect once again this weekend after starter Will Gardner went down with a season-ending left knee injury. Bonnafon has gotten used to being on-call so far, starting three games and tallying 662 passing yards with four touchdowns and one pick. Now he is tasked with leading the program into its first ever matchup with pseudo-ACC member Notre Dame.

[+] EnlargeReggie Bonnafon
Jim Owens/Icon SportswireLouisville freshman quarterback Reggie Bonnafon has passed for 662 yards with four touchdowns and an interception in limited action this season.
"It's the reason I chose to come to a place like this: to compete in a conference that is as high-caliber as the ACC," Bonnafon, a Louisville native, said. "There's never a week that goes by that you don't have a tough opponent in the ACC. It's some of the best players in the country you're playing every week. So it's a great honor and privilege to play in the ACC and it's just a thing that I grew up wishing that I could do."

Bonnafon's locker is next to Gardner's, whom he said has remained a huge help despite the injury, regularly attending meetings and offering encouragement to the newcomer every step of the way. Bonnafon enrolled this summer, and he said his early behind-the-scenes efforts helped in winning over his offensive peers and earning their respect as a guy capable of leading the offense. He slowly grew acclimated to head coach Bobby Petrino's offense along the way.

"Once you first initially get here it's a tough adjustment for anybody," Bonnafon said. "But once you get enough reps and meetings and things like that with (offensive coordinator Garrick) McGee and Coach Petrino, things come easier and you realize it's not necessarily such a high-complex offense (that) it may seem to be. But it's a great offense to be in."

Bonnafon demonstrated his growth during Louisville's last outing, at Boston College. He came in for the injured Gardner in the second quarter and completed 4 of 5 passes for 69 yards with two touchdowns. He added 76 rushing yards and another touchdown on the ground. The Cardinals trailed 13-10 upon his entrance and ended up winning 38-19.

"I think Reggie has shown that he’s developed and matured," Petrino said. "Certainly the experience that he had early in the year, I thought, showed up in the second half of the Boston College game. I know he’s excited to get going and get ready to go play at Notre Dame."

Nothing has been easy for Bonnafaon, who endured tragedy shortly after his inaugural campaign got underway. His father, Wallace, died of a heart attack on Sept. 15, two days after Bonnafon's third college game. Bonnafon missed the following week's game at FIU to attend his father's funeral, and he has been overwhelmed by the support of his football family ever since.

With games against the Irish and rival Kentucky remaining, Bonnafon cannot help but think of how much he has grown in such a short, tumultuous period of time.

"I just think God's put me in a situation that he knew I was able to handle," Bonnafon said. "A lot of things have gone on this season. I don't think anybody but him could get me through that. The support from my family and also my coaches has really helped me a lot. They're always positive, trying to keep me upbeat. So I give all my credit to them."

ACC morning links

November, 12, 2014
Nov 12
8:00
AM ET
Louisville starting quarterback Will Gardner is out for the season with a knee injury, and it’s tough break for the Cardinals as they jockey for postseason position.

Gardner went through his growing pains early in the season, but he was beginning to play better and with much more poise as he gained experience. After throwing two interceptions against Virginia back in September, Gardner threw only one interception total in his final five games.

The Cardinals are a team built on the running the football this season, but Gardner was starting to give Louisville a passing threat that could draw some attention away from the rushing attack. He threw for 330 yards against Florida State and was at his best on play-action passes through the first half of the game. Last weekend against Boston College, Gardner was having another efficient game, completing 13 of 19 passes for 188 yards.

During the first half of the season, Gardner struggled and was hit often behind a leaky offensive line. He was pulled against Virginia and then was hurt against FIU. Although he was healthy to play two weeks later, he was benched in favor of freshman Reggie Bonnafon, who will once again be the starter.

Gardner rebounded so well from the adversity, however, that the Cardinals had an outside chance of making the Orange Bowl. The Cardinals are unranked, but Clemson, Duke and Georgia Tech remain fringe top-25 teams. If all three lose, Louisville could become the next highest-ranked ACC team, and thus would play in the Orange Bowl if No. 3 Florida State earns a playoff berth.

ACC colleague David Hale sees the Cardinals in the Hyundai Sun Bowl, while both Mark Schlabach and Brett McMurphy project the Cards to play in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl.

“I would like to thank everyone that has reached out to me, it really means a lot and God has a plan for everything!!” Gardner wrote on his Twitter account.

Gardner won’t be guaranteed the starting position next season, as the redshirt sophomore will likely have to compete with Bonnafon and two transfers that are sitting out the 2014 season, Tyler Bruggman and Tyler Ferguson.
On the first play against Florida State last week, Louisville fooled the Noles with a terrific play action pass from Will Gardner to DeVante Parker.

Parker got 5 yards behind the secondary and raced toward the end zone. But with his foot not quite 100 percent, Parker got tackled from behind at the 4 and ended up with a 71-yard gain. Louisville ended up with no points after failing to convert on fourth down, and the opening drive perfectly summed up the Cards to date.

What could have been ...

What could have been with a healthy Parker on that drive? Does he still get caught from behind, or does he score, changing the complexion of a game Louisville eventually lost?

What could have been with a healthy Parker the entire season? Does Louisville lose to Virginia and Clemson?

[+] EnlargeLouisville's DeVante Parker
Joe Robbins/Getty Images)DeVante Parker caught eight passes for 214 yards against Florida State.
When Parker broke a bone in his foot in August, many thought his injury would be a game-changer. It turned out to be exactly that. Louisville, with a new coach and new starting quarterback, never found a rhythm offensively through the first seven games of the season without its best player.

The Cardinals had no deep threat, nobody who could allow them to effectively use play action, nobody to stretch the field, nobody to cause a matchup headache. These last two games have been proof. With Parker back in the lineup, Louisville has resembled the offense coach Bobby Petrino hoped they would be when the season began.

Add a healthy Michael Dyer into the mix, and you see how much talent this offense had been missing. Parker and Dyer have combined for 653 yards, or 77 percent of the team’s total offense the last two games.

Against Florida State, Parker had 214 yards receiving -- the single-best performance of any ACC receiver this season; Dyer had three touchdowns.

“I have liked the way we have operated the last two weeks more than we did earlier in the year being able to mix the run, the pass, the play-action game,” Petrino told reporters in Louisville on Monday. “I think we are getting closer to what we like to do offensively, but it does start up front and we have a good challenge this week being able to handle their big guys up front and making sure we get some space, some room to run the ball.”

No doubt Louisville needs both players to continue the tear they have been on at Boston College on Saturday, especially since this is the Cards’ final ACC game of the season. Closing Year 1 in ACC play at 5-3 would be a nice accomplishment, given some of the offensive struggles.

They were particularly evident in losses at Virginia and Clemson, when Louisville combined to score 38 points and had less than 300 yards total offense in both games. The loss at Clemson was particularly tough to take. All they needed was 2 yards for the game-winning score with 21 seconds left.

You think Parker and Dyer would have made a difference?

Quite possible. As Gardner said after the loss to Florida State, “When you've got a guy like that making big plays, he changes the whole offense. He's a big playmaker for us.”

ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. has Parker rated the second-best receiver in the draft, and No. 19 overall on his 2015 Big Board, which came out before the Florida State game.

But even with two excellent games in 2014, we are still not seeing the best Parker has to offer.

"You can see him do that in practice sometimes where he really shows bursts and then pulls off a little bit the further he gets down the field and I’m sure he doesn’t feel like he is exactly where he would want to be," Petrino said. "He is a tremendous football player and he has done an unbelievable job the last two weeks for us, making plays and making great catches and getting open but I do think he continues to get better and last week in practice was a significant improvement from the previous week and I am hoping we see that again this week.”

Parker has been fantastic without being completely healthy. Imagine what a full-strength Parker will do in his final few college games.
The game of the week in the ACC happens on Thursday, when No. 2 Florida State travels to No. 25 Louisville. To preview the game, we caught up with Cardinals tight end Gerald Christian, who began his career at Florida and is well acquainted with the challenge in store against the Seminoles.

David Hale: You guys are finally getting healthy on offense with Will Gardner, Michael Dyer and DeVante Parker coming back, and you’ve had a bye week to prep for Florida State. How have things looked in practice?

Gerald Christian: The offense is doing good. We had a great week of practice coming off a bye week, and we’ve gotten some players back -- DeVante Parker, a great playmaker. Everybody just has had that chance to get their bodies some rest and we’ve had extra time to prepare, so we’ve been looking good.

[+] EnlargeGerald Christian
Jim Owens/Icon SportswireLouisville tight end Gerald Christian has 22 receptions for 256 yards and three touchdowns this season.
Hale: As far as regular season games go, this one has to be about as big as they get for Louisville. What has been the mentality of the locker room leading up to Thursday’s showdown with Florida State?

Christian: It pretty much speaks for itself. We’re playing the defending national champions, so there’s really not much you need to do to get pumped up for a game like that. I know everybody is ready to play, everybody is coming hard. We’ve been going hard in practice and I think everybody is going to come out there and leave it all out on the field.

Hale: You mentioned Parker’s injury, and that obviously affected the offense. But while he was out, you put up solid numbers. So did James Quick and a few others. Was it a good opportunity for some of the other pieces of the receiving corps to step up and take on a bigger role?

Christian: I feel like, it gave other people a chance to step up, knowing one of your better players on your team wasn’t playing. Other people have to step up, and definitely for younger guys and guys like Quick and myself, it gave us opportunities to make plays and step up into a bigger role. But having him back in also good. Nobody feels like there’s any pressure off them. We’ll all still play hard, but you’re just happy to have your teammate out there with you to help you win.

Hale: Has it been difficult bouncing back and forth between QBs this season with Reggie Bonnafon and Gardner both getting work?

Christian: I wouldn’t say it was that tough. Our offense has struggled a lot, and that’s not just our quarterback. We practice with both of those guys. They both take 1 and 2 reps. We get a feel for both of them, catch balls from both of them, so when either one of them is in there, they have different skill sets, but when one of them comes in we know what we’re getting. It’s not a surprise to us or anything.

Hale: You played high school ball with FSU tight end Nick O’Leary. Have you talked to him about this game coming up?

Christian: We talked before, just talking during the season, checking up on each other. But really, since this week has been coming, I haven’t talked to him. We’ve been getting ready for Florida State.

Hale: So wait until after the game to talk smack?

Christian: Hopefully I’ll see him on the field before the game warming up. I’m going to go talk to him, talk a little smack.

Hale: Besides just you and Nick, there are a ton of tight ends having good seasons in the ACC, including another Miami-area guy, Clive Walford. Do you enjoy being a part of a league where there are a lot of stars at your position, kind of comparing yourself to them?

Christian: Yeah, I’m glad to be a part of that. That’s a goal of mine is to be looked at as one of the better guys. It’s good. There’s a lot of people coming out of the conference, and me, Nick and Clive are all from the same city, so it’s good seeing you have a great set of tight ends all in the conference you’re in.

Hale: What was it like playing with O’Leary in high school? That must’ve been a nightmare for opposing defenses.

Christian: We were always on the field together. We always ran double tight and never came off the field, and I know teams had a lot of trouble with both of us out on the field. Our team, my senior year, was stacked. We had a lot of players in college now from that team that won the state championship. We had Matt Elam, who is in the NFL now, and Jacoby Brissett at NC State. Curt Maggitt at Tennessee. We had a lot of players at big-time programs from that team. I know teams hated playing us.

Hale: You played NC State earlier this year. Did you get to talk with Jacoby much about what has been happening there?

Christian: They’ve been struggling a little bit this season, but they’ve got a lot of young guys on their team, and he has another year, so they’re just trying to finish the season strong and get better every game. I talked to him before the game and wished him a good game. We were at Florida, too, before we transferred. I wish the best for him. I like seeing all my old teammates do well.

Hale: You’d certainly rather be undefeated than trying to hand FSU its first loss, but as you look ahead to the rest of the season, what’s the focus for Louisville?

Christian: The season hasn’t gone as we would’ve liked it to go, but you can’t get down on yourself. You just want to finish strong. I feel like we still have an opportunity to look good. We have some big games left. We have Florida State, Notre Dame, Boston College and Kentucky is a rivalry game. When you get a chance to beat the defending national champs and they’re still undefeated, I would love to do that, then go out and beat Notre Dame and finish the schedule strong. I would love to do that.
The last time Florida State and Louisville played, the game was at Louisville and on a Thursday night.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Louisville won that 2002 game, which of course will have no bearing when the No. 2 Seminoles visit the Cardinals this coming Thursday (7:30 ET, ESPN). Louisville (6-2, 4-2 ACC), however, may be the toughest remaining regular-season test for FSU (7-0, 4-0).

Matt Fortuna offers three reasons why Louisville will beat Florida State, while Jared Shanker provides three reasons why the Seminoles will remain unblemished and on track to earn one of the four College Football Playoff bids.

Fortuna’s three reasons Louisville wins:

1. This is an ideal matchup for Louisville’s defense.

[+] EnlargeLouisville
Jamie Rhodes/USA TODAY SportsLouisville's No. 1-rated run defense meets a Florida State rushing attack ranked 104th in rushing yards per game.
The Cardinals have probably the nation’s top defense. Just look at the numbers: No. 1 in total defense (245.8 ypg), No. 1 in raw and adjusted Total QBR (12.5/14.7), No. 1 against the run (2.31 ypc), No. 1 in first downs (13 pg) and No. 1 in red zone efficiency (30 percent). They are also No. 2 in yards per play (3.91), No. 2 in third-down conversion rate (24 percent), No. 4 in scoring average (14.6) and No. 5 in sacks (28). Lorenzo Mauldin (six sacks) and Sheldon Rankins (five) are among the ACC’s sack leaders. Three other Louisville players have at least three sacks. Gerod Holliman is tied for the nation’s lead in interceptions (eight). This defense is flat-out lethal, and moving the ball against Louisville will be no easy chore for Jameis Winston & Co.

2. The offense is coming together at the right time

No one is going to mistake this unit for Florida State’s, or for vintage Bobby Petrino offenses, for that matter. Still, Will Gardner is back healthy under center. More importantly, he has a quarterback’s best friend back in receiver DeVante Parker, who returned in Louisville’s last outing. All he did was haul in nine catches for 132 yards in his season debut, stretching the field and opening up the offense for a Cardinals unit that was in desperate need of some spice. The 6-foot-3, 208-pound Parker is, simply put, a freak. He will test an FSU secondary that has been -- let’s face it -- not all that it was cracked up to be coming into the season, ranking 62nd nationally against the pass. What’s more, running back Michael Dyer appears to have finally hit his stride when given the opportunity. Dyer broke out for 173 rushing yards and a touchdown last week against NC State. Together, Dyer and Parker make Louisville’s offense much more lethal than its season numbers indicate (30.9 ppg, 370.4 ypg).

3. Home atmosphere

Coaches and players can talk about it being just another game, but those of us outside that bubble don’t have to kid ourselves. This is a Thursday night home game, when the city is rocking. This is a chance to end the nation’s longest-active winning streak (23), and to ruin FSU’s chances at a repeat national championship. This is 12 years after Louisville upset the No. 4 Seminoles at home on a Thursday night. Sure, different players and coaches are on each sideline now, but we’ve seen the air thin around programs the more they hear about unfavorable history. Sure, no one has blocked out the noise while on the field better than the Noles have the past two years, but sooner or later the checks they had written for all of those recent close calls have to be cashed. (You don't break out fancy new uniforms for regular games, either.)

Shanker’s three reasons FSU wins:

1. The FSU offense will get its points

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Matt Cashore/USA TODAY SportsThe Florida State offense has put up at least 31 points in each game with Jameis Winston under center.
Louisville has the conference’s best defense and very well might have the best unit in the country. This is probably the best defense the Seminoles will face before the playoff. That doesn’t mean the Cardinals will be able to stop them, though. Winston has never been held to below 30 points, and the Seminoles should make a run at 30 again at Louisville. Although the offense has looked out of sync at times, the passing offense has been able to pick up yards in chunks and make the big plays when needed. The rushing attack can be best described as anemic, but it can push the ball into the end zone near the goal line. If Louisville is going to win, history suggests it will need to score in the 30s.

2. Louisville’s offense likely can’t score in the 30s

At least not without the help of an opportunistic defense that can give the Cards’ offense short fields with which to work. Gardner has been reinserted into the starting lineup, but the sophomore quarterback has taken his lumps this season. He is completing only 57 percent of his passes, and, while he’s thrown 11 touchdowns to just two interceptions, he’s had turnover issues. That’s thanks in large part to an offensive line that can’t protect its quarterback. Both teams are among the best in the country at scoring touchdowns in the red zone, but both are among the best at preventing teams from doing the same.

3. Nobody can beat Winston

Even though it looks now like Winston could've lost four of his last seven games, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner has pulled out the win each time. Until a team actually beats him, it’s not a smart move betting against him. He made all the right plays in the national championship, had a remarkable touchdown run and throw against Oklahoma State, and operated second-half comebacks against NC State and Notre Dame. Colleague David Hale had this remarkable stat on Winston last week: When tied or trailing, Winston is 144-of-199 passing (72 percent) for 1,860 yards (9.3 yards per attempt), 16 touchdowns and four interceptions. The 2013 Florida State team was among the most dominant in college football history, but in 2014 it has often been the Jameis Winston Show. And every new installment always ends the same.

What we learned in the ACC: Week 8

October, 19, 2014
Oct 19
1:00
AM ET
Week 8, including the biggest game of the season for an ACC team, is in the books. Here's what we learned:

Florida State is still unbeaten: For the third time this season, Florida State trailed at the half, but the Seminoles once again staged a dramatic comeback followed by a nail-biting defensive stand on their opponent's final drive to remain unbeaten and keep their playoff hopes alive. Jameis Winston was the star, as he completed 15-of-16 passes for 181 yards in the second half and lead the 31-27 comeback win, while Rashad Greene and Travis Rudolph both caught TD passes. It's clear Florida State isn't the same team it was a year ago, but the Seminoles' ability to continually fight back and find ways to win might be even more impressive.

[+] EnlargeTravis Rudolph
John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsTravis Rudolph and the Seminoles proved their ability to come back from a deficit once again.
The Coastal still goes through Duke: Last week, Georgia Tech looked like the favorite to win the Coastal, and then Duke beat them. Then it was Virginia's turn atop the conference, and once again, the Blue Devils took down the favorite. Duke averaged more than 5 yards per carry against Virginia's stout defensive front, and it didn't turn the ball over in a big 20-13 win in Durham. The end result? The defending Coastal champs are once again the team to beat in the division. The Blue Devils have head-to-head victories over two of the other one-loss teams, and they'll get their chance to take down Pitt, too, after a Week 9 bye.

A healthy Louisville is pretty good: We knew Louisville's defense was good. The offense, on the other hand, was a problem. But Saturday's 30-18 win over NC State was the Cardinals' first game with a full lineup of healthy stars on offense, including QB Will Gardner, running back Michael Dyer and receiver DeVante Parker. The trio injected some life into the proceedings, as Louisville scored 30 points for the first time in a month, and Dyer and Parker combined for 305 yards. Dyer racked up his first 100-yard rushing performance since 2011. It was a nice addition for Louisville but also a reminder of what might've been for the Cardinals, had the offense been this healthy from the start of the season.

Clemson can win ugly: The Tigers' offense has mustered just two touchdowns and averaged just 4 yards per play without star QB Deshaun Watson the past two weeks, but they've still managed to win both games. Chalk it up to a spectacular defense that once again stuffed an opponent's ground game. Boston College entered as the No. 5 rushing offense in the nation, but Clemson racked up 14 tackles for loss and surrendered just 120 yards on the ground in its 17-13 victory and held BC nearly 200 yards below its season average. Cole Stoudt won't be confused for Watson any time soon, but if he can continue to make a handful of plays a game, this defense should be enough to carry Clemson a long way.

Marquise Williams is UNC's QB: It's hard to believe there was a QB debate in Chapel Hill earlier this year. Williams has been unstoppable in his past two games -- which, coincidentally, were the first two games in which Mitch Trubisky wasn't given regular playing time. Williams set a North Carolina record with 38 completions, threw for four TDs and rushed for one more while leading a dramatic 48-43 come-from-behind win over Georgia Tech late in the fourth quarter. In his past two games, Williams has compiled 696 passing yards, 205 rush yards and nine touchdowns.

Pitt's not dead yet: Thursday's 21-16 win over Virginia Tech proved to be a resurrection for Pitt. The Panthers had dropped three in a row as their QB struggled and defenses ganged up to stop star tailback James Conner. Against Virginia Tech, however, Pitt looked much improved. Chad Voytik didn't have to do much with his arm (92 yards), but he racked up 118 yards on the ground, and the win further stifled Tech's hopes for a division title and rekindled Pitt's.

ACC viewer's guide: Week 8

October, 17, 2014
Oct 17
10:00
AM ET
Pittsburgh snapped a three-game skid Thursday by beating Virginia Tech. Here's the rest of the ACC action for Week 8.

Noon

Syracuse at Wake Forest, ESPN, #CUSEvsWAKE: AJ Long gets the start for Syracuse after Terrel Hunt and Austin Wilson both went down. The true freshman saw extended action last week against defending national champion Florida State, and he now faces a stingy Wake Forest defense that is coming off a bye. The Demon Deacons also start a true freshman under center, though John Wolford has been the guy for Wake since Day 1. Expect defense to rule the day in this contest.

12:30 p.m.

Virginia at Duke, ESPN3, #UVAvsDUKE: It is the current Coastal Division leaders against the reigning division champions. What gives? The Cavaliers are coming off a bye after looking impressive in wins over Pitt and, earlier this season, Louisville. Can the Hoos' defense deliver once again? The Blue Devils did hand Georgia Tech its first loss of the season last week, but their offense needs to play within themselves.

3:30 p.m.

[+] EnlargeWill Gardner
Jamie Rhodes/USA TODAY SportsWill Gardner is expected to get the nod at quarterback for Louisville, which hosts NC State on Saturday.
NC State at Louisville, ESPN3, #NCSUvsLOU: It's 11 straight ACC losses for the Wolfpack, who are still seeking that first league win under Dave Doeren. A team that looked so good so early this season has struggled immensely on the offensive side of the ball in the past two weeks against Clemson and Boston College. The Cardinals, meanwhile, are looking to erase the sour taste from their mouths after last week's heartbreaker against the Tigers. They will turn back to Will Gardner under center to try to get them back on track. Receiver DeVante Parker, who has yet to play this season, is questionable.

No. 24 Clemson at Boston College, ESPNU, #CLEMvsBC: Alumni Stadium holds a special place in Dabo Swinney's heart, as it was the site of his first career win as Clemson's head coach. The Eagles nearly shocked the Tigers last year back in Death Valley, and they did manage to knock off USC earlier this season, so they cannot be taken lightly. BC's run game has been simply astounding at times, with the Eagles outrushing their opposition 1,513-134 in their four wins. Clemson turns back to Cole Stoudt this week at quarterback after Deshaun Watson suffered a broken finger last week.

7 p.m.

Georgia Tech at North Carolina, ESPNU, #GTvsUNC: The Yellow Jackets lost their first game of the season last week, a delay-filled affair against Duke. But that option attack might still be tough to defend for a UNC defense that cannot seem to get out of its own way. Marquise Williams played a terrific game last week at Notre Dame, giving the Tar Heels a tremendous chance to win. But surrendering 50 points for the third time this season did the Heels no good, and, unless that changes, questions will remain about this team.

8 p.m.

No. 5 Notre Dame at No. 2 Florida State, ABC, #NDvsFSU: Everett Golson is 16-1 as a starter. Jameis Winston is 19-0. "College GameDay" is on hand for this game with huge College Football Playoff implications. Brian Kelly and Jimbo Fisher are both in their fifth season with the Fighting Irish and Seminoles, respectively, and [at least] one might have the chance to be in the national title mix for the second time in three seasons. Notre Dame lost in the title game in 2012; FSU won it all in 2013. Chaos has subsided with the Irish, who finally know the fate of the five players who were suspended back in August as part of an internal academic probe. FSU, meanwhile, has dealt with the circus that is Winston seemingly all season long, with the heat amped up this week amid news of a potential disciplinary hearing and an autograph controversy.

ACC morning links

October, 15, 2014
Oct 15
8:00
AM ET
We start today, like most other days, talking about quarterbacks.

Louisville is going back to Will Gardner as its starter against NC State after two games with Reggie Bonnafon taking the first-string snaps. Syracuse, meanwhile, is looking more and more like it will be starting AJ Long at Wake Forest.

Gardner missed the Cardinals' wins over Wake Forest and Syracuse with a knee injury. He relieved Bonnafon at Clemson, throwing for 150 yards and a touchdown. Bonnafon is still expected to play.

"Reggie came in and did a really good job and won us a couple games," offensive coordinator Garrick McGee said, according to the (Louisville) Courier-Journal's Jeff Greer. "Will is back healthy now, so we're going to put in Will first."

Long, meanwhile, is taking most of the first-team reps for the Orange, who lost Terrel Hunt on Oct. 3 for 4-6 weeks because of a broken fibula and lost Austin Wilson late in Saturday's loss to Florida State to a big hit that the school has deemed an "upper-body injury." Wilson had not been cleared to practice as of Tuesday.

"He's feeling a lot better, and we're just trying to be smart with him," Shafer said, according to the (Syracuse) Post-Standard's Nate Mink.

Here are the rest of your ACC links ...

ACC morning links

October, 14, 2014
Oct 14
8:00
AM ET
Virginia Tech heads to Pittsburgh for a big game on Thursday night, and will have to do so without two of its better players.

Defensive tackle Luther Maddy is out for the game, while super freshman running back Marshawn Williams is "very doubtful." Maddy has missed two straight games after having surgery on a torn meniscus, while Williams sprained his ankle in a win at North Carolina on Oct. 4.

The Williams injury may be tougher to overcome, considering the Hokies are getting thin at running back. Trey Edmunds and Shai McKenzie already are out, leaving J.C. Coleman as the probable starter against the Panthers. Joel Caleb and Sam Rogers will be in the rotation as well.

In other ACC injury news, Virginia coach Mike London was not yet ready to announce who would start at quarterback against Duke on Saturday. Greyson Lambert practiced on Sunday so if he is ready to go after an ankle injury, he will start. If he is not quite ready, then Matt Johns will.

Louisville coach Bobby Petrino also was mum on his starting quarterback against NC State. Both Reggie Bonnafon and Will Gardner played last week in a loss to Clemson. There also is still not decision on when receiver DeVante Parker will return from a foot injury. He has resumed practicing but was not quite ready to play last week.

Meanwhile, Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said quarterback Justin Thomas was OK after injuring his ankle in a loss to Duke.

Now let's take a quick look at what else is happening in the ACC:
There’s nothing Brandon Radcliff loves more than seeing a defender come high, arms splayed in hopes of wrapping up the 5-foot-9 sophomore without delivering a real blow. It’s a battle Radcliff knows he’ll win every time.

In practice, the Louisville tailback runs through them. On Saturdays, he runs through them. And through five weeks this season, only Pitt’s James Conner has averaged more yards after first contact among ACC running backs than Radcliff, who has been the spark Louisville’s offense has been desperate to find.

“Always trying to break those arm tackles when they throw those arms out there,” Radcliff said.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Radcliff
AP Photo/Timothy D. EasleyBrandon Radcliff has earned praise for his bruising running style.
On a team with an established veteran, a one-time BCS championship game MVP and a battering ram freshman also taking up residence in the backfield, Radcliff didn’t project as Louisville’s breakout candidate at tailback, but from the moment Bobby Petrino and his new staff arrived on campus, Radcliff’s energy and drive turned heads.

The system was new, and Radcliff battled injuries in spring ball, so the details of his game remained unrefined. But the way he ran -- hard-nosed, quick, and never going down on first contact -- was a thing of beauty.

“It’s his work ethic that’s given him an opportunity,” Petrino said. “He's a guy that goes out and practices extremely hard. He runs every run into the end zone when he touches the ball.”

Still, Dominique Brown was the centerpiece of Louisville’s offense in the early going. With a new starting QB and the team’s star receiver out with injuries, Brown had 33 carries in the Cardinals’ opening-week win over Miami. Radcliff had none.

Even in the tuneup a week later against Murray State, Radcliff had to share the spotlight with freshman L.J. Scott, who had 11 carries for 126 yards. But Radcliff showed in that game he’d begun to grasp the subtleties of the offensive game plan, running 15 times for 97 yards and two touchdowns. Most importantly, more than one-third of his yards came after first contact, showing he could find room even when there wasn’t much available.

As Louisville’s offensive struggles mounted and starting QB Will Gardner went down with an injury, Radcliff’s gift for shedding tacklers became an increasingly valuable asset. The Cardinals’ line hasn’t always cleared much space -- Louisville ranks 12th in the ACC in yards before contact -- but Radcliff didn’t need it. He just needed an opportunity.

“He's been very hard to bring down with the first tackler,” Petrino said. “He's given us a big boost because of his speed through the holes and his speed before he gets the ball, and he's seeing things real well.”

In his last two games, Radcliff has racked up 40 carries for 239 yards and four of the team’s five touchdowns.

He got his chance, and with the myriad options Louisville has in its backfield, Radcliff wasn’t interested in losing it.

“You don’t want to slack on any plays, because they’ll go to the next guy,” Radcliff said. “You want to show you’re ready to play and hungry every play you’re out there.”

The plan moving forward for Louisville’s backfield is that there really is no plan. That’s how Radcliff understands it anyway.

“We’re all competitive and push each other in practice,” he said. “We all feel we come to the table and bring every asset to the running game. It’s a competitive atmosphere in practice and in the game, because everybody wants to be that guy. We come out and push each other -- but in a good way, in a competitive way.”

Radcliff’s hot streak and his ability to break tackles should make him a prime option this week against Clemson’s ferocious defensive front -- one that’s unlikely to offer quite so many of those arm tackles. The team’s quarterback situation remains in flux, so there should be plenty of carries to go around, and the running backs have taken it upon themselves to make life a little easier for the guys taking the snaps.

Radcliff said he knows Louisville’s offense will continue to progress. It’s just been a matter of getting all the right pieces into place. Freshman QB Reggie Bonnafon has two starts under his belt now. Receiver DeVante Parker is working his way back to health. And six weeks into the season, the Cardinals appear to have found a legitimate weapon out of the backfield.

“We’re getting on the same page, ready to put it all together this week,” Radcliff said. “We’ve been working hard, and we still have more work to do, molding this team together to build it into a powerhouse offense. That’s what we’re planning on doing, and this will be the week we’ll put it all together.”

ACC morning links

October, 7, 2014
Oct 7
8:00
AM ET
Will Louisville receiver DeVante Parker make his debut at Clemson on Saturday?

Coach Bobby Petrino told reporters in Louisville on Monday there was a "good chance" Parker would return against the Tigers after missing the first six games of the season with a foot injury. Parker broke a bone in his foot in August, and the timetable for his return was initially six-to-eight weeks, putting him right on schedule to come back. He practiced with the team Sunday and is expected to practice again Tuesday.

His return would give the Louisville offense a desperately needed lift. Without him, Louisville has been unable to open up its passing game, because it does not have anybody as big, fast and physical on the outside. Parker averaged 16.2 yards per catch a season ago. Of the four Cards players with 10 or more catches this season, only James Quick is close to that average (15.1).

Even Petrino admitted he has been unable to call the offense as freely as he is used to because the offense has struggled so much. Louisville is only averaging 388 yards of offense per game, No. 13 in the ACC.

"We're not explosive. We're not a team that's going to go out there and rack up 700 yards," he said. "We're working to try to find a way to win the game, which is new for me. I haven't been in this type of situation where you're real strong on defense and offensively you're working just to make sure you score enough points to win."

Parker is not going to be a complete cure-all, not with offensive line problems and inconsistency quarterback. True freshman Reggie Bonnafon has started the past two games, though Will Gardner is expected to return to practice this week. Petrino has not made a decision yet on who will start.

Still, having an emerging running back such as Brandon Radcliff and now an all-conference receiver back in Parker at least gives the Cards a few more pieces to work with as they try to improve their offense.

Now let's take a look around the rest of the ACC:

ACC morning links

October, 1, 2014
Oct 1
8:00
AM ET
The situation in Michigan with the “probable mild concussion” of quarterback Shane Morris has brought head injuries back into the public consciousness. There was clearly a breakdown on the Wolverines’ sideline Saturday and, as a result, within the athletic department the last few days.

At Florida State, Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher addressed how the nation’s top-ranked team deals with in-game concussions. Defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. and running back Mario Pender missed Saturday’s game with concussions, and freshman Trey Marshall left the game with a concussion.

“If there’s anything it comes to me and then it’s up to [doctors] and they make a decision when a guy goes back in. It has nothing to do with me,” Fisher said. “We get [the player] directly to them and they come to me and say ‘It’s OK’ or ‘There’s no chance.’

“… That’s doctors. It has nothing to do with me, and I don’t want that responsibility. There’s no game or no situation that’s worth it, if a coach knows [of a concussed player]. I don’t know the circumstances [at Michigan]. A doctor, that’s his expertise. … I want to have the best for these guys and that’s an expert.”

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said the Tigers have a “monstrous medical staff. We have doctors for doctors.”

While the last few days in Michigan have not put the school or athletic department in a positive light, hopefully this leads to more knowledge and a better response for the future.

Here are a few more ACC links:

Planning for success: Syracuse

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
9:00
AM ET
When Scott Shafer met with his team last Tuesday, he did not harp on Syracuse's home loss to Maryland so much as what lied ahead for the Orange. The ACC scheduling gods seemed to do the second-year ACC program little favor, after all, with the slate in front of it.

From (a previously scheduled) game with Notre Dame this past Saturday, to Louisville and Florida State visiting the Carrier Dome in the next two weeks, to a trip to Clemson at the end of the month, Syracuse has its hands full as it tries to build off last year's surprising 7-6 campaign in Shafer's debut season.

But the second-year head coach has taken a big-picture approach with his program, now 2-2 after a 31-15 loss to the Fighting Irish at MetLife Stadium. And Shafer is hoping it serves them well, especially with ACC newcomer Louisville awaiting this Friday night.

[+] EnlargeTerrel Hunt
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty ImagesNotre Dame was just the start of a brutal stretch for Syracuse, which plays Louisville, Florida State and Clemson in the next month.
"How many times have you guys as a kid dreamt about being in this situation?" Shafer told ESPN.com, recalling what he asked his players last week. "You guys realize, 'Hey you're living the dream right now.' The daily grind can numb us and put us in a situation where we're not always in touch with our emotional state of 'Hey, we're doing exactly what we wanted to do ever since we were little, when we first put the pads on, and now it's right here, right now. It's real.'

"We're living in real time and we're living that dream, so let's go have a blast. Let's enjoy it. Let's make it a great dream. Let's go after it. Let's not worry about things the outsiders will ask us questions about. Let's focus in on each other and playing the best football that we can."

Syracuse is coming off a performance that can best be described as uneven: The Orange forced five Irish turnovers and scored a defensive touchdown, but also fell victim to 25 straight completions from Everett Golson. They failed to establish much of a rhythm offensively, but also were a highly-questionable spike/fumble call by the officials from entering halftime down just one possession, which would have given the second half a far different tone.

"After these first four games I know that we can compete with anybody, I will tell you that," running back Prince-Tyson Gulley said after the loss. "We just have to execute what we are doing. I do not think there is any team out there that is just so much better than us. I don’t see that out there. We really have to go back to work and go to the drawing boards and do what we have to do."

With a short turnaround, Shafer and Syracuse could take a cue from what they did in 2012. Back then, a 9-0, 11th-ranked Louisville team led by Teddy Bridgewater marched into the Carrier Dome and received a rude awakening. The Orange defense -- whose coordinator at the time was Shafer -- forced two turnovers, completely negated the Cardinals' ground game and watched Louisville's perfect season go up in flames en route to a 45-26 Syracuse win.

That contest was two years ago, two head coaches ago (Louisville's Charlie Strong's now at Texas, Syracuse's Doug Marrone's now with the Bills) and one old conference ago (both teams exited the Big East, which is now the American Athletic Conference). But Louisville hardly enters Friday as high as it did in November 2012. While Bridgewater was off dazzling in his first NFL start Sunday, the status of quarterback Will Gardner remains uncertain after he suffered a left knee injury in a Sept. 20 win at FIU. True freshman Reggie Bonnafon replaced him Saturday and was so-so in a win over Wake Forest, which sacked Bonnafon four times and pressured him on three other occasions.

The Orange will look to do the same regardless of who's under center for the Cardinals, who have surrendered 16 sacks through five games and who have been bailed out by a defense that ranks fifth nationally with 13 takeaways.

For Shafer, another primetime opportunity -- and the stiff tests afterward -- is something for his kids to get excited about.

"Now we're in it, man. We're in that environment that we all wanted to be in," Shafer said. "That's what it's all about. So let's enjoy the process. Let's have fun. Understand everything's really overrated except for playing the play in front of us, and let's see if we have the discipline and the pride to play at the highest level possible with the most effort and the most physicality that we can bring to the table, and let the cards fall where they may. But enjoy playing the game; that's what it's all about."

ACC morning links

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
8:00
AM ET
It appears things are getting a bit salty between a pair of ACC coaches.

Florida State's Jimbo Fisher fired back Monday at NC State coach Dave Doeren, two days after Doeren had accused the Seminoles of faking injuries in FSU's 56-41 win.

"Well, I accuse him of not knowing what he's talking about," Fisher said Monday, as our Jared Shanker wrote. "They're not fake injuries. No one faked injuries, and we wouldn't do that. We'll coach Florida State, and he can coach North Carolina State."

As Shanker writes, Eddie Goldman, Derrick Mitchell Jr. and Terrance Smith needed help off the field Saturday in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Doeren softened his stance Monday but did not exactly back down, saying that the issue is not specific to FSU and that a rule should be in place that a player has to sit out for more than one play if he leaves the game in such a situation.

None of this, of course, is particularly new to college football, which has publicly wrestled with the hurry-up, no-huddle debate going on three years now. There is no real clear answer yet.

Surprisingly, a poll embedded in Shanker's story shows fans are overwhelmingly OK with Doeren's suggestions, saying that he did not cross a line. But our David Hale likely had a point Saturday when he tweeted that if you're going to fake injuries to slow the offense's tempo, you probably don't do it with Goldman in the red zone.

On to the rest of your ACC links ...

SPONSORED HEADLINES

ACC SCOREBOARD

Saturday, 12/27
Saturday, 12/20
Monday, 12/22
Tuesday, 12/23
Wednesday, 12/24
Friday, 12/26
Monday, 12/29
Tuesday, 12/30
Wednesday, 12/31
Thursday, 1/1
Friday, 1/2
Saturday, 1/3
Sunday, 1/4
Monday, 1/12