Thursday, September 24, 2009
ACC: What to watch
Posted by ESPN.com’s Heather Dinich
Here are 10 things worth keeping an eye on this weekend:
1. The Coastal Division standings: The winner of the Virginia Tech-Miami game will be the team to beat in the division, but the winner of the Georgia Tech-North Carolina game won’t be far behind. If the Yellow Jackets lose, though, it will put them in a serious hole early with two losses to division opponents. That’s never good for a tiebreaker situation.
2. Struggling offenses. Clemson, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and Boston College all have fallen below expectations offensively (though the Eagles knew breaking in a new starting quarterback would be difficult). And NC State has yet to show offensive improvement since the 7-3 loss to South Carolina against anyone other than a non-BCS opponent. All of those teams have capable, talented running backs. Can they get the help they need up front to make the most out of them?
3. Russell Wilson’s streak. Now that the Pack are playing a formidable opponent, it’s time to start watching “the streak.” Wilson has now thrown an NCAA-record 329 passes without an interception. He ranks ninth in passing efficiency. Pitt has intercepted three passes so far this season.
4. North Carolina’s young receivers. After a breakout game against ECU, can Erik Highsmith and Jheranie Boyd build upon their success? The UNC offense appeared to turn the corner last week, and how the young playmakers fare against an experienced secondary will help determine whether that will continue.
5. How many times Tyrod Taylor and Ryan Williams carry the ball. It’s been one of the offense’s biggest strengths, but it also functioned in limited capacity against Nebraska. Virginia Tech’s passing offense is 106th in the nation, and the passing efficiency is 93rd. And yet Taylor has thrown the ball 63 times so far and run 26 this season. Williams is one of the top running backs in the country, yet had six carries in the second half last Saturday.
6. Georgia Tech b-back Jonathan Dwyer. He needs just 1 rushing yard Saturday to become the 10th player in Georgia Tech history to reach 2,000 yards. He’s been nicked up with a stinger since last Thursday night’s game, and when he has been healthy, defenses have done a good job of keeping him in check. Dwyer has been limited to 168 yards rushing and two touchdowns, but he sat out almost the entire second half of the Jacksonville State game and missed all of the second half last week against Miami because of a shoulder injury.
7. Maryland cornerback Cameron Chism. The loss of Nolan Carroll, the Terps’ top cornerback, was a huge setback, but it opened the door for Chism, who made the most of his first career start on Saturday against Middle Tennessee. He had 12 tackles and made his first career interception in the first half. With 4:52 remaining and Maryland clinging to a 31-29 lead, Chism made his second interception of the game.
8. Georgia Tech’s offense vs. UNC’s rushing defense. Georgia Tech leads the ACC and ranks 16th nationally in rushing offense (243.7 yards per game). North Carolina leads the ACC and ranks seventh nationally in rushing defense (52.3 yards per game). The Tar Heels have held all three opponents to 72 yards rushing or less, including just 30 yards rushing by The Citadel in the season opener.
9. Clemson’s running game in the red zone. The Tigers have been inside the 20-yard line nine times this season, and have one touchdown to show for it -- a passing touchdown. Clemson is going to have to start punching it in, and TCU’s defense will make that difficult on Saturday.
10. Christian Ponder on third down. It's remarkable, really. Ponder was a perfect 6 for 6 passing for 75 yards and three touchdowns on third-down conversions in Florida State’s 54-28 victory over Brigham Young. He has also completed 65.5 percent of this third-down passes for 263 yards and four touchdowns in the first three games of the season. And he has rushed for 62 yards on eight carries and has converted 6 of 9 third-down opportunities in the first three games of the season.