What to watch in the ACC: Week 9

October, 29, 2009
10/29/09
8:00
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com’s Heather Dinich

Did you know that UNC backup quarterback Bryn Renner’s father, Bill, was a punter at Virginia Tech (1979-82) before playing in the NFL with the Green Bay Packers? Yep. He led the Hokies in punting average in 1981 and 1982.

There’s nothing like kicking off the weekend with a Thursday night game in Lane Stadium, so let’s start there …

1. UNC’s rushing receivers. The Tar Heels have been looking for yards from everyone, and against Florida State last week, receivers accounted for 109 rushing yards. Greg Little had 48, Johnny White added 40 and Jheranie Boyd chipped in 21. The Tar Heels also got a spark in their running game last week from tailback Shaun Draughn, who ran for a season-high 126 yards, and the Hokies’ rushing defense has struggled this year compared to seasons past and is ranked 76th in the country.

2. UNC’s front seven vs. Tyrod Taylor and Ryan Williams. The Tar Heels had 22 sacks all of last year, and they already have 17 sacks this year. They’re also piling up the tackles for loss, and while FSU quarterback Christian Ponder had his way with what was the No. 1 ranked pass defense in the country, UNC held FSU to just 43 yards rushing last week. They’ve held five of their seven opponents to under 100 rushing yards, and the Hokies have the No. 17 ranked rushing offense in the country.

3. Miami’s linebackers without Sean Spence. The Canes will have a different look at Wake Forest this week without Spence, who will miss the game with a knee injury. Taking his place will be Ramon Buchanan, who filled in for Spence when he was hurt during the Clemson game. Most of Buchanan’s experience has been on special teams this year. Meanwhile, running back Kevin Harris is expected to return for the Deacs after missing the past five games with a groin injury.

4. Shootout in Raleigh. This game could look like a 2008 Big 12 matchup -- all offense. NC State quarterback Russell Wilson and FSU quarterback Christian Ponder have both done enough to win this season, but haven’t gotten the support from their defenses. If that’s the case again on Saturday, it could be a very high-scoring game, as both teams are averaging about 30 points per game.

5. Field position in Vanderbilt Stadium. Vanderbilt running back Warren Norman leads the SEC and ranks 13th nationally in all-purpose yards per game (157.5 ypg) and 16th nationally in kickoff returns (29.04 ypa). Georgia Tech sophomore Jerrard Tarrant leads the ACC in punt return average (19.9 ypa). Both teams have a plus-five turnover margin, and statistically, Vandy has fared well stopping the run. The Jackets will obviously present a different challenge, but Norman can help compensate by giving the offense a good starting point.

6. C.J. Spiller’s backups. One week after the biggest performance of his life, Spiller is likely to have a limited role Saturday against Coastal Carolina. There’s no need to risk getting him hurt against an FCS team the Tigers should be able to beat without him. It’s a great opportunity to rest Spiller for the FSU game and give Andre Ellington and Jamie Harper some more experience.

7. Duke’s receivers. Quarterback Thaddeus Lewis has been getting all the pub, and deservedly so, but he couldn’t do it without somebody on the receiving end. For the first time in school history, Duke has four wide receivers with 25 or more pass receptions in a single season. Austin Kelly, Conner Vernon, Johnny Williams and Donovan Varner have made it a much deeper group.

8. Virginia’s defensive adjustments. In a week’s span, the Cavaliers have had to study two completely different offensive schemes in Georgia Tech’s run based triple option and Duke’s high-flying passing attack that leads the ACC in passing offense with 322.57 yards per game. This is what UVA excels at, though, as the Cavs have the ACC’s top passing defense. Virginia ranks fifth nationally, allowing just 151.29 yards per game. They haven’t allowed more than 190 passing yards in a game this season.

9. A new interception streak. At the beginning of the season, it was NC State’s Russell Wilson. Now it’s Virginia quarterback Jameel Sewell who is on a roll without an interception. Sewell has not been intercepted in his last 141 pass attempts, dating to the Southern Miss game. The school record for consecutive passes without an interception is 231.

10. Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly. If you haven’t seen him play yet, it’s time, as he’s already drawn comparisons to Mark Herzlich and is currently the leading freshman tackler in the nation with 10.38 tackles per game. Kuechly leads BC with 51 solo tackles, 58 assisted. He had a game-high and career-tying 14 tackles against the Irish and had one pass breakup, and he’ll face another top quarterback this week in Central Michigan's Dan LeFevour.

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