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Saturday, September 21, 2013
Another bizarre day in the ACC

By Andrea Adelson

Duke coach David Cutcliffe greeted reporters at his postgame news conference with quite an opening line.

"That was a bizarre game."

More like a bizarre Saturday in the crazy Coastal.

Tom Savage
Pitt quarterback Tom Savage threw for six touchdowns and 424 yards in the win over Duke.
You thought North Carolina and Georgia Tech would repeat their high-scoring, record-setting game from last year? Nope. Duke and Pitt did their best to recreate that game in Durham, combining for 113 points and 1,130 yards of total offense in the Panthers' 58-55 victory.

What of Georgia Tech and North Carolina, you ask? Both defenses showed up today, but the North Carolina offense went missing after the second quarter as the Jackets reeled off the final 21 points to win 28-20 and jump to 3-0 on the season.

Then there was Virginia Tech. You want bizarre? A defense that held No. 1 Alabama to 212 yards of total offense gave up 21 points and 205 total yards in the FIRST HALF to Marshall before pitching a shutout the rest of the way in a 29-21 triple-overtime win.

Nothing ever seems to come easy in the ACC. Still, there were plenty of head-scratching moments for fans who have come to expect the unexpected.

They just so happened to play out in three early games going on at once, wearing out television remotes and Internet watchers toggling back and forth.

Let’s start with Pitt, Duke and this little nugget: Each quarterback -- Duke backup Brandon Connette and Pitt fifth-year senior/transfer Tom Savage -- had six touchdowns. Neither is known for his scoring proclivity. Pitt, in fact, went into the season with major questions on offense.

Savage had not taken a snap in three years, had questionable depth at running back and only one true playmaker in Devin Street. The defense, returning nine starters and a preseason awards candidate in Aaron Donald, was thought to be the strength.

But that is not how it is has played out for the Panthers this year. Against Duke, Savage made like Pitt great Dan Marino, tying an ACC record with a career-high six touchdown passes -- the first ACC QB to throw that many TDs in one game since 1999. Savage, mind you, had three touchdown passes to four interceptions and a mediocre Total QBR going into the game.

His performance may not have been the most impressive of the afternoon.

Freshman standout Tyler Boyd had 156 yards receiving and three touchdowns, while Street had a career-high 166 yards and two touchdowns. The two have formed the best receiving tandem in the ACC to date. Running back James Conner had a career day, too, with 173 yards and a touchdown.

And yet, Pitt very nearly blew the game. After taking a 58-41 lead with 8:30 to go, Duke reeled off two touchdowns to close the gap to 58-55. But the Blue Devils could not recover the onside kick and were out of timeouts, and Pitt closed out the win. Jamison Crowder had a career-high 279 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns in a losing effort for Duke; Connette had four passing touchdowns and two rushing touchdowns, but he also threw a crucial pick-six that was one of the only defensive highlights for either team on the afternoon.

Both coaches had a hard time explaining what they saw unfold. Cutcliffe said, “I can’t really tell you too many more particulars until I study this game. There are so many bizarre parts to it.”

Plenty of bizarre parts to the North Carolina-Georgia Tech game, too. The Tar Heels moved the ball up and down on Georgia Tech with ease in the early going, reaching 20 points at the 9:18 mark of the second quarter. But they could not get any consistency on offense after that, and had the ball for only 7:39 in the entire second half. QB Bryn Renner had only five second-half completions.

There were several critical calls made by the officials that impacted the result, too. David Sims’ first touchdown run was reviewed after he appeared to lose the ball as he crossed the goal line. The call was upheld because the ball appeared to come out after he crossed the plane.

On another play, officials signaled that Vad Lee fumbled and North Carolina recovered. But it was overturned on review when it appeared Lee regained possession before his knee hit the ground. North Carolina had a costly penalty of its own, trailing 20-14, as a holding call negated an 82-yard touchdown pass from Renner to Ryan Switzer.

The North Carolina defense actually held its own, and did better than most anticipated. It was the offense -- the strength of this team -- that failed to do its part.

The offense failed in many ways for Virginia Tech, too. You might end up seeing that same line typed into blog posts for the remainder of the season. What was unexpected was the way Marshall kept the Virginia Tech defense on its heels for the first half.

The Herd used their fast pace to keep Virginia Tech off balance. Kyle Fuller, the most experienced cornerback in the secondary, gave up several big plays. The front had a hard time getting after quarterback Rakeem Cato. But it tightened up in the second half to keep Virginia Tech in the game.

Still, the Hokies were in serious danger of losing all the way up to the end. They tied the game with three minutes to go off a tipped pass in the end zone on fourth-and-goal. Then, in -- what else? -- bizarre fashion, neither team scored in the first two overtimes. Virginia Tech, playing without suspended starting kicker Cody Journell, could not buy a field goal in a driving rain.

Logan Thomas finally got the game-winning touchdown and two-point conversion -- Virginia Tech's first lead since the first quarter -- and the Hokies exhaled.

“Usually the flags are against us, the bounces are against us,” Thomas told reporters after the game. “But when you keep fighting, keep bringing the effort every single time, luck doesn’t just appear for no reason.”

But for some reason in the ACC, bizarreness always seems to appear.