ACC: Zach Laskey

Story of the season: Georgia Tech

January, 21, 2015
Jan 21
The story of Georgia Tech's season can essentially be boiled down to the story of its head coach's career, a guy who has made a habit of proving others wrong by trusting his system and getting the proper pieces in place to buy into his brand of football.

For years now, the heat had been turning up on Paul Johnson, on his triple-option offense, on the Yellow Jackets' ability to compete for ACC championships.

Georgia Tech entered 2014 having lost more than a dozen non-seniors to a number of different factors. The Jackets had dropped five straight to in-state rival Georgia. They were picked to finish fifth in the ACC's Coastal Division in the league's preseason media poll.

[+] EnlargeSynjyn Days
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsSynjyn Days and the Yellow Jackets got the program pointed up in 2014.
Then they went out and won the division, beat the Bulldogs in Athens and routed Mississippi State of the once-vaunted SEC West to win the Capital One Orange Bowl and cap one of the more surprising 11-3 seasons in recent memory.

And yes, Johnson was handsomely compensated for this resurgence, winning ACC coach of the year honors and earning a four-year contract extension from athletic director Mike Bobinski.

Johnson and his Jackets stayed the course across 2014, despite all of the heat facing them as the season approached. In a preseason poll, 55 percent of fans said something needed to change around the program — and the voters were given three options.

The only thing that changed was the result of this season, one Georgia Tech accomplished by doing it Johnson's way. He was well-aware of the talk around his program, saying this offseason that the tone in the Atlanta area was too negative.

A close call early in the season against Georgia Southern did little to initially quell that talk, but week after week, it became apparent that Georgia Tech was onto something special. A 5-0 start here. Another five-game winning streak there. All the while, its quarterback — an unsung underclassman entering the season — continued to blossom.

Justin Thomas was thrust into the starter's role this summer on a whim, following the surprising departure of Vad Lee, who transferred to James Madison. Lee would have been the lone ESPN 150 recruit on the roster — and yes, even the recruiting came under fire this year, intentionally or not, in the form of an off-hand comment from David Cutcliffe about the triple-option that made for an entertaining back and forth leading up to Georgia Tech's matchup with Duke.

Thomas ended up at Georgia Tech after home-state power Alabama wanted him as a defensive back. At quarterback, the redshirt sophomore grew into his role, earning team captain recognition in the season's first month and making a national statement in the finale with a number of nifty moves that confounded Mississippi State defenders. Thomas proved to be the best quarterback of the seven-year Johnson era at Georgia Tech, finishing the season with 1,719 passing yards, 1,086 rushing yards, 26 total touchdowns and just six interceptions.

It often did not seem to matter who was near him running the ball, as the Jackets overcame stretches without Zach Laskey and Charles Perkins to remain dominant in the run game, with Synjyn Days in particular stepping to the forefront in his senior year. Georgia Tech finished second nationally in rushing yards (342.1 ypg). All the while the defense continued to create opportunities for the offense, tying for 17th nationally in turnovers forced, with 29.

Georgia Tech's final four games came against teams that were ranked in the College Football Playoff selection committee's top 20 at the time of their matchups. The Jackets finished 3-1, with the lone defeat a two-point loss to defending national champion Florida State in the ACC title game.

Whereas that could have slowed down the talk about Johnson's redemption, he instead got his team ready for a team that spent the earlier part of the season ranked No. 1 -- heavily favored Mississippi State. The result? A 49-34 domination that washed away tired narratives about the program.

Georgia Tech finished ranked No. 8 in the final AP poll and No. 7 in the final coaches' poll. All of a sudden next season cannot come soon enough in Atlanta.
Bowl season is over for the ACC. Here’s a run-through of some of the more intriguing statistical nuggets from the conclusion to the 2014 season.

ACC in nonconference play

It was not exactly a stellar bowl season for the ACC, with a final record of just 4-7. As we wrote last month, that’s far short of what the league needed to do to make any dent in what is a rather negative overall perception about its strength.

Two of its wins — Georgia Tech’s in the Orange Bowl and Clemson’s in the Russell Athletic Bowl — were over well-regarded foes, and Notre Dame -- using an ACC bowl tie-in -- also knocked off LSU. But beyond that, there were some not-so-impressive outcomes.

Of course, bowl season was just the last chapter in the season, and the full story was at least a bit more palatable for the league.

For the season (with the title game still pending), here’s how each league performed in nonconference games:

ACC: 46-21 overall, 12-13 vs. Power 5, 5-9 vs. ranked, 4-7 in bowls
SEC: 55-12 overall, 11-11 vs. Power 5, 4-9 vs. ranked, 7-5 in bowls
Pac-12: 37-8 overall, 13-4 vs. Power 5, 5-2 vs. ranked, 6-2 in bowls
Big 12: 24-13 overall, 6-11 vs. Power 5, 1-7 vs. ranked, 2-5 in bowls
Big Ten: 47-19 overall, 11-15 vs. Power 5, 5-6 vs. ranked, 5-5 in bowls

Add all that up, and what’s clear is that while the Pac-12 was head-and-shoulders above the rest of the Power 5 in nonconference play, the ACC held its own compared with the Big Ten and SEC and was well ahead of the Big 12. That’s probably not the progress the league wanted, but it’s at least credence for the ACC to be taken a bit more seriously moving forward.

Georgia Tech gets it done

[+] EnlargeSynjyn Days
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsGeorgia Tech and running back Synjyn Days knocked off Misssissippi State in the Capital One Orange Bowl.
Not only did Georgia Tech earn the biggest victory of the bowl season for the ACC, and not only did it finish with 11 wins for just the second time since 1990 — but the Yellow Jackets did so against one of the toughest schedules in college football this year.

For the season, Georgia Tech’s opponents had a combined winning percentage of .639 — the fifth-highest mark in the nation. Only Ole Miss (.697), Auburn (.666), Arkansas (.663) and UCLA (.640) had a tougher schedule overall. If only considering Power 5 opponents, no non-SEC team had a tougher slate than Georgia Tech, whose opponents had a combined winning percentage of .656.

The victory over Mississippi State in the Capital One Orange Bowl was the third of the season over a ranked foe for Georgia Tech. Overall, Tech was 3-1 vs. ranked opponents, with its only defeat a two-point loss to Florida State in the ACC championship game. The only other teams to win at least three games against ranked opponents while losing no more than one were Oregon, TCU, UCLA, Ohio State, Florida State and Baylor.

Hokies find ground game

At the end of Virginia Tech's 33-31 loss to Boston College on Nov. 1, the Hokies were ranked 93rd nationally in yards per rush and had just 36 runs of 10 yards or more (96th). Junior tailback J.C. Coleman had a grand total of 26 carries for 65 yards.

The next week, however, starter Marshawn Williams went down against Duke. Coleman stepped in and everything changed.

Coleman racked up 468 yards on 81 rushes in his final four games, including a 157-yard effort in the win over Cincinnati in the Military Bowl presented by Northrop Grumman. His 117 yards-per-game average was 21st nationally during that stretch, and he became just the third Virginia Tech running back in the last decade to have four straight games with at least 95 rushing yards.

Coleman averaged 5.8 yards per carry during that four-game stretch. For the season, all other Virginia Tech running backs averaged just 4.04 yards per carry.

Brissett finishes special season

[+] EnlargeJacoby Brissett
Grant Halverson/Getty ImagesJacoby Brissett had an under-the-radar great season at NC State.
Jacoby Brissett wrapped up his season at NC State with a win over UCF, and while he tended to float a bit under the radar in a league with star QBs such as Jameis Winston, Justin Thomas, Deshaun Watson and Brad Kaaya, he turned in an exceptional season.

Brissett threw for 262 yards and a touchdown in the Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl, bringing his season totals to 26 total touchdowns, five interceptions, and 3,135 yards of total offense. How’s that stack up nationally?

Brissett was one of just five QBs nationally to account for 25 touchdowns, 3,100 yards and throw five or fewer picks this season, and he’s one of just 10 Power 5 quarterbacks to do that in the last decade. The others: Matt McGloin (2012), Russell Wilson (2011), Tyrod Taylor (2010), Tim Tebow (2008 and 2009), Brett Hundley (2014), Marcus Mariota (2013 and 2014), Cody Kessler (2014), Bryce Petty (2013) and Jimmy Clausen (2009). That’s pretty elite company.

Clemson’s D historically good

Clemson’s defense won’t look the same next season, but stars Vic Beasley, Corey Crawford, Stephone Anthony, Robert Smith and Grady Jarrett all went out on top.

The Tigers led the nation in total defense, surrendering just 260.8 yards per game — 18 yards per game better than the next closest team.

Clemson held eight opponents to less than 300 yards of offense, including Oklahoma in the Russell Athletic Bowl. Only Penn State, Stanford and Wisconsin had more.

After a season-opening loss to Georgia -- played without Crawford in the lineup -- Clemson’s defense surrendered just 1,016 rushing yards (112 fewer than any other team in the country) and six rushing touchdowns (only Alabama allowed fewer). Meanwhile, the secondary finished the season allowing just 5.27 yards per attempt, tops in the nation.

Clemson’s opponents gained 10 yards or more on just 15 percent of their plays, the best rate in the country, and the Tigers’ defense racked up 131 tackles for loss, 17 more than any other defense. Clemson’s tackles for loss accounted for a total of 553 yards lost. For comparison, Wake Forest ran for just 479 yards this season.

Bowl bits:

  • The ACC finished with five 1,000-yard rushers after Thomas and Dalvin Cook crossed that mark in bowl games. That’s the most in the league since 2009, when the ACC also had five.
  • Duke’s Jamison Crowder and Clemson’s Mike Williams also crossed the 1,000-yard receiving threshold in bowl games. For Crowder, it was his third straight season with 1,000 receiving yards.
  • Georgia Tech’s Zach Laskey had 171 rushing attempts this season, and just four went for a loss or no gain. That rate of 2.3 percent was easily the best in the country (and less than half the next closest player) and is the lowest by any FBS running back with at least 150 carries in the last decade.
  • North Carolina fans have reason to be excited about the arrival of Gene Chizik as defensive coordinator. The Tar Heels’ D coughed up 40 points in its bowl game, the sixth time this season it allowed that many points. Texas Tech is the only other Power 5 team to allow six 40-point games this year.
  • Marquise Williams finished the season with two touchdowns in North Carolina's bowl loss. He ended with 35 touchdowns — one of just 10 Power 5 QBs to hit that mark and the only one from the ACC.
  • [+] EnlargeDuke Johnson
    Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesDuke Johnson accumulated more than 2,000 yards of offense at Miami.
    Duke Johnson had 183 total yards in Miami’s bowl loss to South Carolina, finishing the season with 2,073 yards from scrimmage. He’s just the second ACC player in the last decade with more than 2,000 scrimmage yards in a season (joining BC’s Andre Williams, who had 2,177 in 2013). Johnson is also one of just two Power 5 players with multiple games in which he ran for 100 yards and caught 50 yards of passes.
  • A missed PAT in overtime doomed Boston College to a bowl loss to Penn State — which was perhaps an appropriate ending for the Eagles. They missed a whopping eight PATs this season. The only Power 5 conference team to miss more in a season in the past 10 years was, surprisingly, the 2005 Texas Longhorns, who won the national title. The only Power 5 team to turn in a worse PAT percentage in a season in the last decade was Duke, which connected on just 75 percent of its tries in 2006.
  • DeVante Parker had eight catches for 120 yards in Louisville's Belk Bowl loss to Georgia, marking his fifth 120-plus-yard performance in just six games this season. Only four Power 5 receivers had more, and they all played in at least 12 games.
  • Jameis Winston threw for 348 yards and a touchdown in Florida State's Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual, a loss to Oregon. It was the seventh time in 13 games that he topped 300 yards with a touchdown. The only Power 5 quarterback to have more such games this year was the man who beat Winston in the Rose Bowl: Marcus Mariota (8).
  • Tyler Boyd had nine catches for 112 yards in Pitt’s loss to Houston. For the season, Boyd accounted for 52.2 percent of Pitt’s receiving yards, the third-highest percentage by any Power 5 receiver in the last decade. In fact, Boyd is one of just four Power 5 receivers since 2005 to account for at least 50 percent of his team’s receiving yards.

MIAMI -- The cowbells stopped clanging soon after halftime, drowned out by one punishing run after another by Georgia Tech's oft-criticized but rarely slowed option. The Yellow Jackets took their punches against Mississippi State, but they kept punching back. That's what made it fun.

For years, Synjyn Days has heard opponents say his team was too soft to play against the mighty SEC.

Adam Gotsis, Tech's Australian defensive lineman, was thrust into the narrative quickly, too. Back home, no one knows the difference between the ACC and SEC, but in Georgia, it was a constant asterisk on the work the Yellow Jackets were trying to do.

[+] EnlargeGeorgia Tech celebrates
AP Photo/Lynne SladkyIn manhandling Mississippi State, Georgia Tech was fast, physical and every other adjective usually reserved for SEC teams.
Quarterback Justin Thomas is from Alabama, the heart of SEC country. He had to keep his decision to play at Georgia Tech under wraps for a while because his family didn't want to endure the jeers of their neighbors.

Even after Georgia Tech toppled a top-10 Georgia team in the regular-season finale, the SEC hype machine didn't evaporate.

"They said to wait until we played an SEC West team," tailback Zach Laskey recalled. "Well, we just dominated."

They intercepted Dak Prescott on the opening drive, scored on their first four drives of the second half and racked up 452 yards on the ground and 577 of total offense. Wednesday's Capital One Orange Bowl was an emphatic statement by the Yellow Jackets that the old narratives no longer apply.

"I think we're a top-10 football team for sure," coach Paul Johnson said as his team celebrated the 49-34 win to cap an 11-3 season. "I'm proud of these guys, and for at least a week or two, we don't have to hear about the SEC."

Johnson is a coach with a chip on his shoulder, and his team has followed his lead.

The year opened with Georgia Tech picked to finish fifth in the ACC Coastal, and Johnson's future at the school seemed to be in doubt. After two losses midway through the year, the Jackets were quickly written off again.

"Same old Georgia Tech," Days said. Even after they wrapped up the year with wins over Clemson and Georgia -- both ranked in the top 20 -- and nearly toppled undefeated Florida State, the Yellow Jackets arrived in South Florida as a decided underdog.

It's old hat for a coach who's made his living proving people wrong.

"To be truthful, I was at a little bit of a loss as to what everybody was talking about [early in the year]," Johnson said. "We don't ever get picked to win the thing, so that doesn't bother me. Sometimes people want to be negative. You just go about your business."

Business was good Wednesday.

Georgia Tech set an Orange Bowl record with its 452 yards on the ground, just the second time in the last decade a team ran for more than 400 against Mississippi State, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The Yellow Jackets dominated the line of scrimmage, with 12 runs in which Mississippi State didn't make first contact until at least 10 yards downfield. They were physical and fast and everything the SEC gets credit for routinely.

Some players reveled in those comparisons.

"We got no respect, but that shows the ACC can play with anyone," Gotsis said.

Others shrugged it off. "I take pleasure in beating anybody," Thomas said.

But there was significance to this game for both the team and the conference. It was the fifth time this season an ACC team beat a nonconference opponent ranked in the top 10. The rest of the country has just two such wins. For the season so far, the ACC holds a 5-3 record against the mighty SEC.

For Georgia Tech though, this also felt like a turning point. At the start of the year, the option seemed a tired relic, the defense lacked playmakers, the energy seemed dulled. Now, Georgia Tech is riding high, with Thomas at the helm of an offense that looks nearly impossible to stop when he's clicking.

The quarterback is soft-spoken, careful not to say the wrong thing, but when the Orange Bowl was over, even Thomas admitted, "it felt like it was going really easy."

Before kickoff, former Tech linebacker Derrick Morgan addressed the team. He talked about building toward something, that this year's team could be the first step toward assembling a powerhouse.

"I think we crossed that border," A-back Deon Hill said afterward, "and we have a lot of room to grow."
The SEC-ACC rivalries have been entertaining all season, but this one may be the biggest. Georgia Tech won the ACC Coastal and enters the Orange Bowl with one of the nation's most prolific running games. Mississippi State spent time as the nation's No. 1 team and narrowly missed winning the powerful SEC West. So which team has the edge in this matchup? Here's what to watch for ...

Pressure against Prescott: In Mississippi State's 10 wins, QB Dak Prescott had a QBR of 81.4. In its two losses, his QBR was just 34.0. That makes the job for Tech's defense clear: Rattle Prescott. That job won't be easy, of course. Prescott was a Heisman favorite for much of the season, and he's one of the nation's top QBs. Moreover, Georgia Tech has struggled to consistently get pressure on the passer, ranking 105th nationally in sack rate. When it recorded two or more sacks in a game, Tech was 6-0 and allowed just 18 points per game. When it didn't, Tech was just 2-3 vs. FBS foes, allowing an average of 36 points per game. Of course, even if the Yellow Jackets can get to Prescott, they've still got Mississippi State running back Josh Robinson to deal with.

Deep ball for Thomas: Justin Thomas was exceptional in his first season as Georgia Tech's starting QB, and he's been a perfect fit for Paul Johnson's option offense. One of the keys was Thomas' ability to complete the deep ball, and his 9.1 yards-per-attempt average ranked fifth nationally, and he led the nation in yards-per-completion (17.9). But the problem for Tech is Thomas will be without star receiver DeAndre Smelter, who was responsible for 41 percent of the Yellow Jackets' receiving yards this season.

Stopping the option: Georgia Tech's option offense can frustrate even the best defenses in the country, and the Yellow Jackets averaged 6.6 yards per play this season. Mississippi State's D, led by linebacker Benardrick McKinney, had an up-and-down year against the run, allowing just 11 rushing TDs all season, but five of them came in the team's two losses, and in their last game against Ole Miss, the Bulldogs coughed up 205 yards and three TDs on the ground. Georgia Tech clearly has options in the rushing game, with Zach Laskey and Synjyn Days turning in exceptional seasons.

Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers: During its five-game winning streak to close out the regular season, Georgia Tech's D collected 17 turnovers. In its ACC title game loss to Florida State, the Yellow Jackets couldn't match that production, and the Seminoles moved the ball with ease. Quayshawn Nealy & Co. will look to get back to that ball-hawking play in the Capital One Orange Bowl, and it's worth noting Mississippi State had multiple turnovers in seven games this season -- but none in its final two.

Power of the SEC West: The ACC went 4-0 against the SEC in the final weekend of the regular season, which was a nice feather in the cap of the conference that has struggled to find much national love. Of course, the answer from the SEC was simple: Those wins came against the lackluster East. The West has the real power. So now Georgia Tech gets its shot to prove the ACC can play with the big boys, and Mississippi State gets its shot to erase that ugly final weekend for its league and secure conference bragging rights.
Military Bowl presented by Northrup Grumman: Virginia Tech (6-6) vs. Cincinnati (9-3)

Dec. 27, 1 p.m. ET, Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, Annapolis, Md. (ESPN)

Key matchup: Cincinnati run game vs. Virginia Tech defensive line

Why it matters: The most intriguing matchup in this game is certainly the Bearcats’ star QB Gunner Kiel going against a Virginia Tech secondary that has at times been exceptional and at times been vulnerable to the big play. But while that matchup certainly matters, it may not be the one that decides the game. Just look at Cincinnati’s season: During a woeful 2-3 start to the year, Kiel topped 300 yards passing three times and tossed 18 touchdowns, but the ground game was awful, mustering a mere 3.6 yards per carry and just three scores. What turned Cincy’s season around during a seven-game winning streak was balance. From Oct. 18 on, the Bearcats averaged 201 rush yards per game, 4.9 yards per carry and scored 15 rushing touchdowns. Finding that same success against Virginia Tech, however, won’t be easy.

Who wins: Not counting sacks, Virginia Tech surrendered 173 yards per game on the ground this year, good for 54th nationally. More concerning for the Hokies, seven different players ran for 100 yards or more against them this season. But here’s the nuance to those stats: Aside from Miami’s Duke Johnson and Gus Edwards in what was undeniably Virginia Tech’s worst defensive performance of the year, the other five 100-yard rushers were all quarterbacks. While Kiel has some mobility, the bulk of Cincinnati’s ground game revolves around Mike Boone and Rod Moore, and Virginia Tech has done a nice job of shutting down opposing tailbacks. James Conner, Zach Laskey, Kevin Parks and Ezekiel Elliott all failed to move the ball consistently against the Hokies, which should bode well for this matchup, too. Kiel figures to convert a few big plays down the field as Virginia Tech plays a hefty share of zero coverage schemes, but with Dadi Nicolas, Chase Williams, Ken Ekanem & Co. up front, the Hokies are in good shape to slow down Cincy’s ground game and come away with a win. Our prediction: Virginia Tech 20, Cincinnati 17.
The details from two years ago might be a little fuzzy, but the emotions remain pretty clear. Nobody who played for Georgia Tech or Florida State in the 2012 ACC championship game has forgotten how they felt.

It was the start of a 28-game winning streak for Florida State.

It was a plucky, near-comeback win for overlooked Georgia Tech.

Now that the teams are set for a rematch in the title game Saturday, several players on both sides looked back at what happened that night. Florida State was 10-2, the overwhelming favorite to win; Georgia Tech was 6-6, the third choice out of the Coastal Division after both Miami and North Carolina were deemed ineligible.

[+] EnlargeFlorida State Seminoles, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, David Sims, Timmy Jernigan
Mike McCarn/Associated PressTheir clash in the ACC title game two years ago helped build the foundation for Saturday's matchup between Florida State and Georgia Tech.
“I think then our team, we went into that game not as confident, I would say, until we realized that we could play with those guys,” said Georgia Tech guard Shaquille Mason, who started the 2012 game as a sophomore. “Then the second half, we kind of just flipped the switch. Opposed to this year, we're going into this game very confident. They're going to get our best shot from first snap to whistle.”

Indeed, both halves in 2012 were vastly different. Florida State jumped out to a 21-6 halftime lead, the yawner many predicted. The Seminoles scored touchdowns on three of their five possessions, racking up 147 yards on the ground.

Georgia Tech, meanwhile, stumbled around, gaining just 99 yards rushing with punts on its first three possessions, and two field goals after.

But the Yellow Jackets started looking like a different team in the second half. Florida State had trouble moving the ball and started turning the ball over. After Georgia Tech closed it to 21-9, EJ Manuel fumbled on a sack. The Jackets marched down the field and scored, grabbing momentum.

Florida State now held a 21-15 lead midway through the fourth quarter.

Florida State started marching down the field and looked to be back in control. But Manuel threw another interception with 2:17 left and hearts on both sidelines started racing.

Could the Jackets do the improbable?

The drive started on their own 15. Georgia Tech moved into Florida State territory with a little more than a minute to go. But Tevin Washington threw an interception of his own. The savior? Karlos Williams, now a running back for the Seminoles.

Somehow, Florida State survived three turnovers and zero second-half points.

“Our defense played phenomenal that game,” Georgia Tech B-back Zach Laskey said. “We had a couple opportunities we messed up on offense, where literally we score one touchdown and it puts us ahead. We had a lot of fight that game, and that’s what we’ve shown all season this year. We’re not a team that gives up, so it should be an interesting matchup.”

Florida State players remember the start of something special.

“It has a lot to with the whole streak we're on now,” defensive tackle Derrick Mitchell Jr. said. “It played a huge role. It was one of the first hats we did get. We liked the way it felt so we had to keep working.”

For Florida State defensive end Mario Edwards Jr., it was an eye-opener. Starting as a true freshman, Edwards had seven tackles and was instrumental in holding Georgia Tech to 183 yards rushing, less than what the Seminoles gained on the ground.

How did ’12 game v Ga Tech help you?

“I think that was my coming-out game,” Edwards said. “For me to do it in college was definitely big. Like I said, I came in overweight, so for me to get my weight down, come in and have a good game was definitely a confidence boost for me.”

Both teams have plenty of players still on the roster from the 2012 matchup. Florida State has six starters, including five on offense, and 20 on their two-deep who were on the team in 2012. Georgia Tech only has three starters, but 22 players on their two-deep were on the team in 2012.

“A lot of guys played in that game, so it gives you a little bit of extra fire and want to win that game,” Laskey said. “Any type of advantage is crucial in any championship game.”

ACC reporter Jared Shanker in Tallahassee, Fla., contributed to this report.
Of all the challenges the Georgia Tech offense presents, containing B-backs Zach Laskey and Synjyn Days could prove to be the most problematic for the Florida State defense in the ACC title game Saturday.

Laskey and Days have been an unstoppable force in the Jackets’ five-game winning streak. In four of those games, one of the backs has gained over 100 yards. Laskey did it most recently last week in an upset over rival Georgia, rushing for 140 yards and three touchdowns -- including the game-winner in overtime.

[+] EnlargeZach Laskey
AP Photo/David GoldmanZach Laskey is averaging 5.0 yards a carry and has eight rushing TDs this season.
He seemed to have extra drive against the Bulldogs, taking over the game when it was on the line. As right guard Shaq Mason said, “As I watched film, I was just seeing the things he was doing. I mean, I never saw him run that hard. He's always been a hard runner, but he just had the will to get it done.

“I have confidence in him that he's going to bring that again this week.”

Laskey humbly admitted, “Probably one of my best games I’ve ever had since I’ve been at Tech. I give a lot of credit to the guys up front. They were blowing guys off the ball all time. Every guy on the team, you could tell we all had that extra fire in our eyes, and we came out and it helped us tremendously.”

Laskey began the year as the starter, patiently waiting his turn behind David Sims. Davis joined the B-back group this season after shuffling around different positions in the offense. His size and athleticism made him the perfect fit.

The two became close, and started calling each other Ebony and Ivory. Their playing styles suit the B-back position, where a hard-nosed temperament is a must. Laskey is 6-foot-1 and 218 pounds; Days is 6-2, 231 pounds. Try bringing those guys down on first contact when they are running right up the middle.

“We have a pretty big D-line up front. We're going to need them to perform really well this game, get their people on the ground, keep them from gaining yards,” Florida State linebacker Terrance Smith said. “We faced a couple big backs this year, Boston College, to Florida, teams like that. It just comes down to tackling. You're going to have to man up, get them on the ground.”

That is something teams have had a tough time doing this year, whether Laskey or Days got the carries. Initially, it was only Laskey. But when he hurt his shoulder against North Carolina, Days stepped in and had three consecutive 100-yard games.

Last week against Georgia, both were particularly effective running up the middle. A combined 26 of their 42 carries went that direction, and they got stronger as the game went on.

“Me and Synjyn both bring a lot of power to the position,” Laskey said. “When we’re driving down the field having 10-, 12-play drives and we’re running right up the middle on the defense, they’re going to get worn out. It really helps wear down some defenses.”

Laskey and Days combined for 236 of the team’s 399 yards rushing against Georgia.

“Me and Zach, we definitely have similar running styles,” Days said. “We’re always falling forward, we’re always going to keep our feet moving to try to get the extra yards. We're definitely hard workers on and off the field, trying to be leaders. Being seniors, me and him, we wanted to go out there our last go-around, leave everything out on the field, to have no regrets.”

Beyond the 100-yard games Laskey has had, there is one stat the best illustrates how effective he is with the ball in his hands. On 150 carries this year, Laskey has lost a total of 2 yards.

“For me, I always just tell myself if I can fall forward and that’s going to be a couple yards right there,” Laskey said. “Really, I just try to win the one-on-one battles with the linebackers and soft shoulder them for a few yards.”

He and Days will try to do that again against the Seminoles. If they are as successful as they have been over the past five games, Georgia Tech will improve its chances at the upset.

ACC helmet stickers: Week 14

November, 30, 2014
Well, as rivalry weeks go, this is about as good as it gets for the ACC. And with that in mind, there’s plenty of competition for the helmet stickers.

Virginia Tech DL Dadi Nicolas: The Hokies needed a win to continue a decade-long streak of wins over rival Virginia, but more importantly, to get bowl eligible. Michael Brewer, Bucky Hodges and the offense did just enough to get the win in the end, but it was the defense that set the stage, and Nicolas was the star. He racked up nine tackles, including two for a loss, a sack and five QB hurries in the game, and Nicolas helped stifle the UVA running game to the tune of just 38 yards allowed.

Clemson QB Deshaun Watson and WR Artavis Scott: Watson’s passing numbers certainly looked a lot better Saturday thanks to his roommate. Scott took three short throws and raced downfield for big gains, finishing with seven catches for 185 yards and two touchdowns. Watson played on a torn ACL, as Dabo Swinney admitted after the game, but still accounted for four touchdowns. And most importantly, for the first time since 2008, Clemson toppled its in-state rival.

Georgia Tech RB Zach Laskey: The senior had never beaten Georgia, but he did his part to ensure it happened Saturday. Laskey ran 26 times for 140 yards with three touchdowns, including a 2-yarder that proved to be the difference in overtime. Of course, a big hat tip still goes to kicker Harrison Butker, whose 53-yard field goal as time expired sent the game to OT, and to D.J. White, who picked off Hutson Mason to seal the win.

Louisville WR DeVante Parker: Down both of its top two QBs, Louisville didn’t need to worry. Parker makes everyone look good. Kyle Bolin came on in relief of Reggie Bonnafon and connected with Parker three times for scores. Overall, Parker caught six passes for 180 yards to help the Cardinals knock off Kentucky. But a special helmet sticker also goes to Gerod Holliman, who sealed the game with an INT -- his 14th of the season, tying the NCAA record.

NC State QB Jacoby Brissett: Perhaps the biggest surprise of the day was the Wolfpack thumping North Carolina, and Brissett was the star. He completed just nine passes for 66 yards, but threw three touchdowns and added another on the ground, while rushing for 167 yards in the win. Teammate Shadrach Thornton chipped in with another 161 yards and a TD, too.

Florida State RB Dalvin Cook: The storyline is getting awfully familiar. FSU falls behind early. Jameis Winston coughs up some costly turnovers. And then the freshman tailback saves the day late. It was more of the same against Florida as Winston slumped through four INTs, but Cook was spectacular. He rushed 24 times for 144 yards and caught two passes for 28 yards. Overall, Cook had eight plays of 10 yards or more in the win.

Pitt receiver Tyler Boyd: The Panthers needed a win in Miami to get bowl eligible, and Boyd did all he could to ensure it happened. He caught five passes for 72 yards and scored on an all-out dive for the end zone. He also added 190 yards in the return game to set Pitt up with terrific field position throughout the game. The end result? Two 6-6 teams headed in completely opposite directions.
A thrilling renewal of the Georgia-Georgia Tech rivalry ended in overtime for a second straight year -- with Tech winning this time 30-24 on D.J. White's overtime interception.

Georgia (9-3) scored what it thought was the game-winning touchdown on a Malcolm Mitchell catch with 18 seconds left in regulation, only to have Georgia Tech (10-2) force overtime with a 53-yard Harrison Butker field goal at the buzzer.

Georgia was close to scoring the game-tying points on its first overtime possession when White picked off Hutson Mason at the 5-yard line to clinch the win.

Let’s recap the memorable meeting between the Bulldogs and Yellow Jackets:

How the game was won: Georgia Tech’s grind-it-out rushing attack dominated the second half, but the Yellow Jackets needed Butker’s miraculous field goal at the last second to force overtime. Once they got into overtime, the Jackets ran it five straight plays to post what would become the game-winning touchdown on a Zach Laskey dive.

Game ball goes to: Laskey. The Georgia Tech running back was a force, scoring the Jackets’ go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter and their winning touchdown in overtime. The tough runner finished the day with 140 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 26 carries.

What it means: Not only did Tech stop a five-game losing streak against Georgia, but it gained a measure of retribution. The Jackets blew a 20-0 lead against Georgia last season before losing in double overtime. Saturday they rallied in the final seconds to force overtime and spoiled senior day at Sanford Stadium with their victory.

Playoff implication: Probably none. Georgia is ninth in the College Football Playoff rankings, and Georgia Tech is No. 16. With Georgia not playing for the SEC title next week, its playoff chances were shot. And Georgia Tech is far enough back that even a win against Florida State probably wouldn’t help the Jackets crack the top four.

What’s next: Missouri’s win against Arkansas means that Mizzou, not Georgia, will play in the SEC title game next Saturday. Georgia’s next game will be its bowl appearance. Georgia Tech, however, gets one more game before bowl season. It faces FSU in the ACC title game next Saturday.
In Georgia, they call the Georgia-Georgia Tech rivalry “Clean Old-Fashioned Hate” because of the mutual dislike between the two schools.

The dislike remains as strong as ever, but the rivalry has lost some of its luster since Mark Richt became Georgia’s coach in 2001. The Bulldogs (9-2) are 12-1 against the Yellow Jackets (9-2) under Richt, and it will be an upset if they lose this week. Richt’s tenure is full of close games, however, and it wouldn’t be much of a surprise to see another hotly contested matchup between the two rivals.

ESPN football writers Matt Fortuna and David Ching break down the classic ACC-SEC rivalry below:

[+] EnlargeJustin Thomas
Daniel Shirey/Getty ImagesWhile Justin Thomas has shown an ability to throw the ball, Georgia Tech's offensive gameplan still involves pounding its opposition on the ground.
Key to victory for Georgia Tech:There is nothing fancy on the agenda of the Yellow Jackets entering Athens: They must win the turnover battle. Georgia Tech is tied for No. 9 nationally in turnover margin (plus-10); Georgia is No. 2 (plus-16). The difference between the two teams is that the Bulldogs have a pretty good defense, one that is ranked No. 13 nationally. The same cannot exactly be said for the Jackets (61st nationally), who have made up for that by regularly taking the ball away. The triple-option offense, of course, is only painful for the opposition to defend when it's efficient, as Georgia Tech can shorten the game and limit the other offense's scoring opportunities.

Key to victory for Georgia: Sure, Tech is more versatile on offense this season, but the No. 1 task in beating the Jackets is slowing down its option rushing game. Tech ranks third nationally with 327.9 rushing yards per game. Tech is better at passing -- Georgia learned that lesson the hard way last season -- but the Jackets won’t bother putting the ball in the air if their running game is moving the chains and eating clock. Georgia has to keep Justin Thomas, Synjyn Days and Zach Laskey on the sidelines as long as possible.

X-factor for Georgia Tech:Georgia Tech's offense is typically capable of beating you with its arm when you least expect it, but this year's outfit can do some serious damage in the passing game. Thomas has surprised everyone under center, and a big key to that has been his favorite target: DeAndre Smelter, a 6-foot-3, 222-pounder who is second in the ACC in yards per catch (21.0).

X-Factor for Georgia: It’s not only on the defensive front to slow down Tech’s running game and keep the Jackets’ offense on the sidelines. If the Bulldogs’ offensive line gives freshman sensation Nick Chubb (161 carries, 1,152 yards, 11 TDs) room to run and quarterback Hutson Mason can put together some long scoring drives, that would be another way to neutralize what Tech does best.

Fortuna’s favorite moment from the rivalry:It's not every day you lose the passing game battle by a 407-19 margin and still win, but that's exactly what happened to Georgia Tech in its 2008 trip to Sanford Stadium. The Jackets beat Matthew Stafford, the No. 1 pick in the following spring's NFL Draft, 45-42 behind 409 yards on the ground. It was coach Paul Johnson's first game in the rivalry, and his team came back from 16 down at the half to pull off the upset and break a seven-game losing streak in the series. It is Georgia Tech's only win in the rivalry in the last 13 years.

Ching’s favorite moment from the rivalry: I covered this game nine times and there were plenty of memorable moments on the field: Tony Taylor, Paul Oliver and Mohamed Massaquoi’s heroics in Georgia’s 2006 comeback win; the “We Run This State” game where Georgia backs Caleb King and Washaun Ealey combined for 349 rushing yards in 2009; a wild 2010 contest that Georgia eventually won 42-34; last year’s double-overtime classic where Tech broke out to a 20-0 lead and the Bulldogs rallied back to win 41-34. But the moment I remember most probably also came in the 2008 game. It was when beloved radio announcer Larry Munson -- who had retired earlier that season -- made his final appearance at Sanford Stadium and Georgia’s fans chanted the 86-year-old legend’s name during an in-game ceremony honoring his four decades as the Bulldogs’ play-by-play man. It was cool to see the fans show their appreciation to a man who had enriched their lives for so many years.

ACC morning links

November, 11, 2014
Mario Edwards Jr. was a force to be reckoned with against Virginia on Saturday, racking up a career-best nine tackles, four tackles for loss, a sack and a forced fumble in the Seminoles’ win.

The reason for the big game, writes the Tallahassee Democrat, is that Edwards is finally healthy after an injury-plagued season.

From the Democrat:
"I've been trying to get back healthy," Edwards, Jr. said. "From spraining my MCL (against Syracuse) and all that stuff and having a concussion, I couldn't do the things I needed to do to keep my weight where it is. So now I'm good and back healthy and I've got my weight where I want it to be."

A healthy and productive Edwards could be a crucial weapon this week against Miami, particularly given that the Hurricanes’ starting left tackle, Ereck Flowers, may not play due to an injury of his own.

For the season, Florida State has recorded a sack rate of just 4.9 percent — good for 90th nationally and down from 7.6 percent a year ago. But getting some pressure on Miami QB Brad Kaaya is crucial.

Kaaya has been sacked twice in each of his last three games and has been taken down multiple times in six of eight games this year. Making the true freshman uncomfortable — and ideally forcing him into a few mistakes — will be a priority for FSU. Miami QBs have six turnovers in the Canes’ four-game losing streak to the Seminoles.

A few more links:

ACC helmet stickers: Week 11

November, 9, 2014
Here are the players who stood out the most from Week 11 of ACC action:

Georgia Tech running back Synjyn Days. Days has continued to make the most of his opportunities, tallying a career-high rushing total for the third straight week since Zach Laskey went down with a shoulder injury. Days rushed 19 times Saturday for 157 yards and a touchdown, keying a 56-23 Georgia Tech win at NC State. Days has now rushed for 414 yards over the past three games.

Florida State wide receiver Rashad Greene. Mr. Reliable came through once again for Florida State, hauling in a career-high 13 catches for 136 yards and a touchdown on a night the Seminoles tallied just 376 yards of offense. Greene is five catches shy of last season's total, and 11 yards shy of 1,000. As our David Hale notes, Greene is now also 16 catches shy of breaking Ron Sellers' single-season FSU record, from 1968.

Florida State defensive end Mario Edwards. How can you not be impressed with Edwards' stat line from Saturday? The junior had nine total tackles, including four for loss -- which included one sack -- while forcing one fumble. Edwards forced a loose ball on a Kevin Parks run on Virginia's first drive, setting up the first score of the game for the Noles three plays later.

Louisville safety Gerod Holliman. What more needs to be said about Holliman? He had added three interceptions in Saturday's 38-19 win at Boston College, giving him a ridiculous 13 on the season. Through 10 games. Let that sink in. He easily leads the nation, as he is now four ahead of Ole Miss' Senquez Golson.

Louisville wide receiver DeVante Parker. It's easy to wonder where this Cardinals team would be had Parker not gotten hurt during camp. The senior turned in another brilliant performance on Saturday, notching eight catches for 144 yards to go along with his first touchdown of the season. All Parker has done in his three games back is tally 25 catches for 490 yards, topping 130 yards in each of his three contests.
Paula Days was talking on speakerphone Monday night about her son's recent breakout when her husband interjected.

"Right now we're breaking down the North Carolina State-Syracuse game," Calvin Days said. "She's looking at the line. We're looking at personnel, looking at techniques, looking at a particular linebacker getting pushed off the ball. Looking at opportunities and looking at tendencies."

Synjyn Days' parents do this for fun now, as a way of staying involved in their son's career at Georgia Tech, which travels to NC State this Saturday. And as a way of possibly getting back into their part-time careers.

"Really?" Paula cracked, after her husband suggested a return to the sideline upon Synjyn's graduation.

[+] EnlargeSynjyn Days
Mike Stewart/Associated PressSynjyn Days has rushed for more than 100 yards in back-to-back games for Georgia Tech.
Sure, many football players are the products of parents who coach. But how many grew up with two coaches in their households?

That was the situation Days was raised in, as both his father and his mother coached him at Osbourne Middle School in Hoschton, Georgia. They gave up coaching when Days got to high school, but their lessons — and their extra homework — have stuck with the redshirt senior. Days has stepped up in place of the injured Zach Laskey to tally career-best rushing efforts in each of his last two games, eclipsing the 100-yard mark in both. He ran the option as quarterback at Hillgrove (Ga.) High, served as a backup quarterback during his first two years with the Yellow Jackets and has played A-back and B-back since.

"Everyone on the team calls me the C-back because I've played A-back, B-back and quarterback," Days quipped. "So I pretty much know all the skill positions. But I just look to step in any role where the team needs me. That's the mentality I've always taken -- not really worried about myself but worried about the team's needs and other people. That's how my parents had raised me."

No kidding. His father said the only position Days has yet to play is punter.

"When we coach, the mindset is we had to understand the game," Calvin Days said. "Defensively, we wanted every defensive player to know the other players' responsibilities as well. Our guard could tell you what Cover 1 or Cover 2 or Cover 3 was, and even with Synjyn it was really important. Traditionally you get locked in a position and you just play that. But for us we thought it was important to really know and understand the game, because you never knew where they were going to be."

Calvin, whose dreams to play as a Florida State student were derailed by health issues, was coaching his son's team at Osbourne but longed for more time with his wife and family as a whole. So he invited Paula to join his staff. Her response — "I don't know anything about football" — was expected, but soon enough Calvin had his 5-foot-3, 110-pound wife in the trenches, barking orders as Osbourne's offensive and defensive line coach.

Calvin, a financial analyst, reasoned that the technical aspects of the positions would best suit Paula, an engineer. She would join the rest of the staff in film sessions and even invite players over to the house to help her get up to speed.

This was no ragtag bunch, either — pupils of the Days include current college starting quarterbacks Hutson Mason (Georgia) and Chandler Whitmer (UConn).

"In middle school, all kids are pretty much hard-heads then, but for some reason when a woman tells you to do something, you should probably listen to the woman more," Synjyn said, laughing. "It would hurt more to see my mom disappointed than my dad."

His parents are well aware.

"That's pretty accurate," Paula said. "That's not just for football, but I think life, period. It's interesting how that works out with kids. Dad was a disciplinarian in our house, but I can just give him a look and he goes to tears."

Added Calvin: "She's up at 4:30 every morning herself working out. Traditionally you would have the mom who's compassionate — 'Oh, it's OK' — and he just didn't get that break. [If] he got hurt during the game, she would always say, 'Don't let them see you hurt.' Everyone's like, Is he OK? She's like, 'You better get up.' "

Synjyn Days
Courtesy of Days familySynjyn Days' parents understand the X's and O's of football better than most.
Days' parents still harp on him now. The family has always preached the importance of a healthy lifestyle, regularly exercising together and helping Synjyn with agility drills in the offseason. (His brother, junior end Jabari Hunt-Days, is academically ineligible at Georgia Tech this season.)

Game days offer their own set of challenges for the family, as Paula insists on sitting behind an end zone so that she can get a better view of the offensive line. Synjyn does not need to be told that these last two performances are as much his blockers' doing as his own.

"Although Synjyn may be getting a little bit of recognition for his last two performances, he really can't make the plays if the offensive line doesn't do what they have to do and if the coaches don't make the right call and the quarterback doesn't make the right read," Paula said. "It's definitely a team sport, and I always have to take up for my offensive line.

"You tell them thank you when you make those long runs. He's like, 'Of course, Mom. Yeah, I do.'"

As for his parents' advice off film heading into Saturday?

"The funny thing is it's really more armchair entertainment, because the reality is Coach [Paul] Johnson could probably care less," Calvin said.

As their son thrives with a bigger workload now, though, the Days family's hard-nosed philosophy continues to pay off. Good thing Synjyn was paying attention all those years to his coaches — in the household and out of it.

Planning for success: Georgia Tech

November, 4, 2014
Justin Thomas' growth as a passer and DeAndre Smelter's success as a receiver have been headline-worthy storylines throughout Georgia Tech's 7-2 start this season. But the core truth about the Yellow Jackets still holds true: They remain pretty darn good running the football.

So good, in fact, that they have rebounded from losing their top running back the last two games to improve their rushing average and have done serious damage to their opponents' defensive stats, too.

[+] EnlargeSynjyn Days
Mike Stewart/Associated PressSynjyn Days (pictured) and Broderick Snoddy have picked up the slack in Georgia Tech's running game after Zach Laskey's injury.
Zach Laskey's status remains up in the air for Saturday's tilt at NC State because of a shoulder injury suffered Oct. 18 at North Carolina that has kept senior out of the past two games. All Georgia Tech has done without the bruiser -- who has rushed for 595 yards this season -- is tally 733 yards on the ground over its last two games, wins at Pittsburgh and against Virginia.

Synjyn Days has led the charge, with the former quarterback putting forth consecutive career-best outings. The redshirt senior rushed for 110 yards against the Panthers and 147 yards and a touchdown against the Cavaliers. Broderick Snoddy has excelled as well, going for 82 yards and three touchdowns in the Steel City before tallying 52 yards on just seven carries this past Saturday.

"He's got good speed," Yellow Jackets coach Paul Johnson said of Snoddy. "He's gotten more comfortable with what he's doing. He probably played better at Pitt than he played Saturday, but he's got a good skill-set. He can run fast."

Six Panthers turnovers aided a Yellow Jackets offense that put up 56 points two weeks ago, with the ground game proving relentless. Georgia Tech rushed for 465 yards on a Pitt defense that entered that game ranked 17th nationally against the run (111.14). That makes the 268 rushing yards compiled against Virginia seem ordinary by comparison. But consider that the output came against a Virginia defense that entered Atlanta with the nation's ninth-best rushing defense (100.38).

Georgia Tech has boosted its rushing offense these past two games (from 306.28 to 319.67) despite being down its top back.

Laskey, for his part, has tried to remain as involved as possible despite still not practicing as of Monday.

"He's a big help," Snoddy said. "He's just lifting us up. He's a happy guy. He's smiling, picks us all up, lets us all know what we need to do. We all say that we're playing for Zach."

Laskey's potential return would surely provide a boost against a Wolfpack team coming off its first ACC win in two years Saturday at Syracuse. The Wolfpack might be going for bowl-eligibility during these final three regular-season games, but there is plenty at stake during this same stretch for Georgia Tech, too.

"Right now we're just focused on NC State and getting this eighth win," Days said. "We haven't had (more than) eight wins since I've been here at Tech. So that's what our senior class is pretty psyched about, to try to have our best year since we've been here. It's looking good so far, but we've got to keep on plugging along."

ACC helmet stickers: Week 10

November, 2, 2014
It was another wild week in the ACC, with some of the league’s elite players turning in vintage performances while some young guns began to emerge. Here are our helmet stickers for Week 10.

Florida State’s freshmen: Jimbo Fisher has been bringing in big hauls on the recruiting trail for years, but it’s been rare that so many have paid such instant dividends as his 2014 signing class did against Louisville. Dalvin Cook, Ermon Lane and Travis Rudolph had 284 of FSU’s 574 yards of offense and scored three times. Cook’s 110 yards rushing on nine carries was the difference as the Seminoles pulled away late after trailing by 21 in the first half. Since Oct. 1, Cook leads FSU in rushing with 265 yards, and Rudolph is second on the team in receiving with 268 yards.

Miami RB Duke Johnson and Pitt RB James Conner: We’re lumping the two together not as a slight, but to point out that we’re witnessing two of the truly great seasons by ACC running backs at the same time. Conner was tremendous in a losing effort against Duke, racking up 263 yards -- the most by a Power 5 running back this season -- and three touchdowns. Meanwhile, Johnson had 226 yards from scrimmage and scored three times to lead Miami to a win. Through nine weeks, Conner has racked up 1,342 yards and Johnson 1,213. BC’s Andre Williams -- a Heisman finalist in 2013 -- is the only ACC running back to account for more rush yards through nine games in the past decade.

Duke WR Jamison Crowder: How crazy have the past two Duke-Pitt games been? The combined score of last year’s and this year’s game is Duke 106, Pitt 106. The Blue Devils managed to eek out the win in two overtimes this season after the Panthers botched a late field-goal try, but it was Crowder who kept Duke in the game all along. The senior had nine catches for 165 yards and two scores — his first touchdowns of the year against an FBS team. Add a 99-yard kick return for a score by DeVon Edwards, and Duke’s faint playoff hopes remain intact.

NC State DE Pharoah McKever: The Wolfpack offense continues to struggle to find the end zone, but the defense was up to the task against Syracuse. NC State forced three turnovers in the game, and none were more significant than McKever’s 82-yard interception return for a touchdown that turned a 14-9 deficit into a 17-14 lead. It was McKever’s first career INT, the first NC State defensive touchdown in an ACC game since 2012, and more importantly, it was Dave Doreen’s first conference win as the Wolfpack’s head coach.

Georgia Tech RB Synjyn Days: In the two games since Zach Laskey went down with an injury, Days has been a revelation. One week after racking up 110 yards on 22 carries - both career highs -- Days led the way to a win over Virginia by running for 147 yards and adding another 17 through the air, scoring twice. The Cavaliers entered the game with the No. 9-ranked rush defense in the nation, but Days became the first player to rush for 100 against them this season.

Boston College QB Tyler Murphy: The Eagles are bowl eligible for the second straight season, and Murphy is a big reason why. He threw for two touchdowns and ran for a third, racking up 122 yards on 18 carries on the ground. Murphy’s 57-yard TD run with 2:59 to play effectively sealed the win over Virginia Tech, and he’s now just 35 yards shy of becoming the first ACC quarterback to run for 1,000 yards since Georgia Tech’s Josh Nesbitt in 2009.