Saturday, September 28, 2013
ACC keeps expecting the unexpected
By David M. Hale
In the days leading up to Virginia Tech's Thursday night showdown with Georgia Tech, Logan Thomas could hardly throw. An abdominal injury limited him in practice, which figured to be bad news for the Hokies, given how poorly Thomas and the offense had played when healthy.
So, of course, the senior quarterback went to Atlanta, played his best game of the season, and the much-maligned Virginia Tech offense helped lead an upset over the Yellow Jackets.
It was a harbinger for the weekend to come in the ACC. Just when it seemed we had things pegged, the expectations got turned upside down again.
How else to explain what happened in Pittsburgh, where the Panthers' defense completely shut down Virginia just seven days after coughing up 532 yards and 55 points to Duke? Certainly Virginia's offense didn't present the same test, but the Cavaliers mustered just 188 yards of offense in the game. Of course, the most surprising thing might have been that high-flying Pitt managed only 11 more.
Who could have possibly predicted Boston College's near upset of Florida State? It wasn't so much that the Eagles came out quickly against an unprepared Seminoles team. They did, of course, jumping out to a 17-3 lead. What was perhaps more surprising, however, was that BC kept coming back even after Jameis Winston and Florida State delivered what seemed like one final dagger after another. BC fought to the end, riding a power running game to 34 points against the bigger, faster Seminoles. Florida State knew BC's game plan was to run the ball, and yet Andre Williams still racked up 149 yards on the ground -- the most by a runner against FSU since 2010.
And what happened to North Carolina? Sure, the Tar Heels hadn't opened the season with many fireworks, but this was a team that tied for the Atlantic Division title a year ago, looked at least reasonably capable against South Carolina in its opener and was up early on Georgia Tech a week ago before faltering late. So did the Heels take out their frustrations against East Carolina? Not even close. UNC allowed 603 yards and 55 points, of course.
After a rough start to the season, Pete Thomas stepped up with his best game in a win against Central Michigan.
Or how about NC State's Pete Thomas? The backup QB forced into the starting role in Week 1 had looked dreadful during his first three games, tossing four interceptions without a TD. He looked much improved against Central Michigan on Saturday, including an 80-yard touchdown pass to Bryan Underwood, helping NC State to nearly 500 yards of total offense.
Then there was Logan Thomas, who had completed 70 percent of his passes in a game just once in his career, but managed to find receivers on 19 of his 25 attempts against Georgia Tech, racking up 279 yards of offense and two touchdowns in the win.
If the slate didn't provide myriad upsets, it certainly provided plenty of surprises in just how those outcomes came to be.
And yet, not every game was a shocker. Clemson scored an easy win on Wake Forest, and Miami ran up the score against USF. Some outcomes were so secure, there was no wiggle room for surprises.
But so much of what seemed clear a week ago -- that Georgia Tech was in the driver's seat in the Coastal, that Florida State was gearing up for its showdown with Clemson, that the Hokies couldn't move the football and Pitt couldn't stop it -- those assumptions all seem a bit silly now.
Instead, the Seminoles must go back to work and try to figure out how their defense has been gashed by both of the ACC opponents it has faced this year. With Maryland and Clemson up next on the slate, such shortcomings won't be so easily overcome by Winston's heroics.
Georgia Tech's plans for a second straight trip to the ACC title game may be dashed already, but the Jackets can help themselves stay alive with a win over Miami next week. They’re going to need some outside help, though, as they’ll lose the head-to-head tiebreaker with Virginia Tech, should it come to that.
Clemson and Miami are rolling, Pitt and NC State appear resilient, North Carolina and Wake are reeling. And Duke? Well, there's always hope the Blue Devils' D can rebound as well as Virginia Tech's offense.
"That locker room feels real good about ourselves," Hokies linebacker Jack Tyler said after their big win. "But like [defensive coordinator Bud] Foster says, when you start feeling good about yourself, that’s when you get knocked off."
That's a warning worth remembering around the ACC after this week.
After all, for all we thought we learned, the one overriding revelation could be that those lessons may last only until the games of Week 6 kick off and the whole set of assumptions is flipped upside down once again.