What to watch in the ACC: Week 8

October, 22, 2009
10/22/09
8:00
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Posted by ESPN.com’s Heather Dinich

Just because the Hokies aren’t playing doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty to keep an eye on in the ACC …

1. Georgia Tech on third-downs. The Yellow Jackets have the best third-down conversion percentage in the ACC (52.6), but Virginia has the best defense on third downs in the ACC, holding opponents to 29.3 percent. The Cavaliers’ defense hasn’t been the problem this year, but it will face a different challenge in the triple-option offense.

2. Virginia inside the red zone. The Cavaliers have been successful inside the 20-yard line on 17 of 20 chances, but Georgia Tech’s defense is second in the ACC in red zone defense at 75 percent. The Jackets played much better defensively against Virginia Tech last weekend, but will have to continue to clamp down when it counts against quarterback Jameel Sewell, who has shown improvement the past few weeks.

3. Kevin Steele vs. Mark Whipple. The two first-year coordinators will likely get into a chess match in Miami, as both of them have made immediate impacts for their teams. Under Steele, Clemson has the No. 17 scoring defense in the country, holding opponents to just 15.33 points per game. Under Whipple, Miami is averaging 29 points per game and 16 different players have caught a pass this season.

4. Clemson left tackle Chris Hairston. He suffered a knee injury late in the win over Boston College and missed the TCU game and played just nine snaps at Maryland. Clemson lost both of those games and averaged just 99 yards rushing and 15.5 points in the two contests. With Hairston back in the lineup, Clemson had 195 yards rushing against Wake Forest -- the second best by the Tiger this year. Clemson is 3-1 this year when Hairston is in the lineup and 0-2 when he is not.

5. FSU’s passing offense vs. UNC’s pass defense. Quarterback Christian Ponder has the Noles ranked 13th in the country in passing offense with 297.5 yards per game, but UNC’s stingy pass defense is No. 1 in the country with 125.17 yards per game. Most teams have shied away from veteran cornerback Kendric Burney this season, giving him few opportunities for pass breakups and interceptions, but that could change tonight.

6. Ponder’s first-down success. Of his 26 pass completions against Georgia Tech, 16 went for first downs. That was even better than his performance at Boston College,when 16 of his career-high 29 completions moved the chains. Ponder’s pass completions have accounted for better than 60 percent of the Seminoles’ first downs in each of the last three games.

7. Boston College senior kicker Steve Aponavicius. The former walk-on kicker, nicknamed “Sid Vicious,” is five points away from setting BC’s career scoring mark. He has accumulated 258 points in his three-plus seasons, hitting 40 field goals and 138 extra points. Aponavicius is the ACC active leader in both field goals (40) and PATs (134).

8. The Eagles’ streak. Boston College has won six straight against Notre Dame, including the last three on the road. If the Eagles win, the senior class will graduate having gone undefeated against the Irish. But this is an improved team under Charlie Weis, as quarterback Jimmy Clausen leads the nation’s No. 7 passing offense.

9. The scoreboard in Durham. No, seriously, aside from the fact Duke might win its second conference game, the winner in this series has scored at least 41 points in six of the last 11 games. Considering Duke is averaging 31.83 points per game, and Maryland is allowing about 33, it’s not out of the question for Duke quarterback Thaddeus Lewis to continue that trend -- especially considering the Blue Devils just put up 49 against NC State.

10. Turnovers in Annapolis. In Wake Forest’s loss to Navy last year, the Deacs committed an uncharacteristic season-high six turnovers. This year, Wake Forest trails its opponents in turnover margin with 10 takeaways and 13 turnovers.

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