Monday, September 1, 2014
ACC helmet stickers: Week 1
By Matt Fortuna
It was a fun-filled opening weekend of ACC football. Here are the players who made the biggest first impressions.
NC State safety Jarvis Byrd. Three tackles and a pass break-up on their own are not usually enough to earn recognition here. But Byrd playing and making an impact is certainly noteworthy, and it could be one of the early feel-good stories of the college football season. He considered giving up the game after suffering a third ACL tear last season. The NCAA granted him a sixth year of eligibility this season, but he barely practiced in camp and, as our David Hale noted last week, was hardly expected to play in the opener against Georgia Southern, let alone make an impact. Byrd ended up sealing the Wolfpack's 24-23 win with a fourth-down hit on the Eagles' BJ Johnson, forcing an incomplete pass that clinched the game with 1:02 left.
Virginia linebacker Henry Coley. If you told anyone before Saturday that alleged national-title contender UCLA would manage just one offensive touchdown against the reigning ACC cellar-dwellars, you'd probably think Virginia escaped with a victory. The Cavaliers' defense certainly deserved better in a 28-20 loss, as Coley led a charge that rendered the Bruins' offensive line rudderless, exposed just how difficult of a Heisman chase Brett Hundley will have and kept the Hoos alive all day. Coley matched a career high with 14 tackles, recorded a career-high two sacks and notched the second forced fumble of his career. UVa held UCLA to just 358 yards of total offense. The difference, of course, was Virginia's offense giving away 21 points through a pair of pick-sixes and a fumble recovery for a score. Still, this was a step in the right direction for a program that went 0-8 in league play last year, and the Hoos have to think they have the same chance everyone else does in a wide-open Coastal Division.
Pitt running back James Conner. At times it just looked flat-out unfair to see the 6-foot-2, 250-pound Conner barreling his way forward against an FCS team in Delaware. The sophomore finished the day with 153 rushing yards and four touchdowns on just 14 carries. The key words there may be "finished the day," as Conner's day rushing the ball was over at the 6:16 mark of the second quarter. The Panthers' 62-0 win over the Blue Hens marked their highest scoring game since Sept. 9, 1995, when they beat Eastern Michigan 66-30. Their 409 rushing yards marked their highest total since the Tony Dorsett era, when Pitt tallied 444 yards on the ground against Army in 1976.
Florida State wide receiver Rashad Greene. Greene was, expectedly, Jameis Winston's favorite target during FSU's 37-31 win over Oklahoma State. The senior had 11 receptions for 203 yards and a touchdown, a nifty 50-yarder with 3:58 left in the contest that proved to be the game-winner. It may be alarming that the Seminoles' other five pass-catchers combined for just 14 catches and 167 yards, but with FSU locked in a Week 1 dogfight, it only made sense that it turned to its most reliable pair of hands. Greene is also the Noles' punt returner, and though he returned just one for 2 yards against the Cowboys, his workload could be something worth monitoring as the season progresses.
Boston College quarterback Tyler Murphy. The Florida transfer made his presence felt in the Eagles' 30-7 rout of in-state rival UMass, showing a dimension that simply wasn't there for BC offensively a year ago. Murphy completed 17 of 24 passes for 173 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He carried the ball 13 times for a career-best 118 rushing yards and another score. He was never sacked. He hit six different receivers, including three for at least three catches apiece. BC totaled 511 yards of offense and dominated time of possession, holding the ball for 42:11. Friday night's home tilt with ACC foe Pitt should be a great litmus test for both teams after dominant opening-weekend performances.