NCF Nation: Anthony Chickillo

Miami Hurricanes season preview

August, 12, 2014
Aug 12
10:30
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Previewing the 2014 season for the Miami Hurricanes:

Key returners: RB Duke Johnson, WR Stacy Coley, TE Clive Walford, LB Denzel Perryman, DE Anthony Chickillo

Key losses: QB Stephen Morris, WR Allen Hurns, P Pat O'Donnell, DE Shayon Green

Most important 2014 games: at Louisville, Sept. 1; at Nebraska, Sept. 20; at Virginia Tech, Oct. 23; Florida State, Nov. 15.

Projected win percentage: 62

Over/under Vegas odds: 7 1/2

[+] EnlargeDuke Johnson
Richard C. Lewis/Icon SMIThe Hurricanes are holding out hope that running back Duke Johnson can stay healthy in 2014.
Instant impact newcomer: QB Jake Heaps or QB Brad Kaaya. With starter Ryan Williams out indefinitely while rehabbing a torn ACL and Kevin Olsen reportedly suspended for the opener, Heaps and Kaaya have emerged as the top two quarterbacks in the race to win the staring job. Heaps, a fifth-year transfer, has game experience that seemingly gives him an advantage over Kaaya, who has yet to play in a collegiate game. But Kaaya has impressed from the moment he set foot on campus, and coach Al Golden said Monday the race to start was "tight."

Best-case scenario for 2014: Miami avenges its embarrassing bowl loss to Louisville in the opener, then upsets Nebraska a few weeks later in Lincoln, setting the stage for a triumphant season. Confidence grows, and Miami goes into Blacksburg, Virginia, on a Thursday night in October and pulls the upset. Duke Johnson runs for over 1,500 yards, and Heaps does a terrific job holding down the fort until Williams returns. Miami finally hits double-digit wins and makes its first appearance in the ACC championship game.

Worst-case scenario for 2014: The messy quarterback situation derails the Miami offense, as teams stack the box to contain Johnson. The defensive line is unable to get push up front or pressure on the quarterback. Despite improvements in the secondary, the defense as a whole makes only modest gains. A tough schedule featuring 10 bowl teams takes its toll and Miami barely reaches bowl eligibility.

Best NFL prospects: Perryman and Johnson. ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. has Perryman listed as the No. 2 senior outside linebacker prospect Insider, and Johnson listed among his top five underclassmen at running back Insider. Perryman could have left school early for the draft but elected to return to improve his stock. He will be playing middle linebacker this year, so he should make even more plays than he did a season ago. The biggest key for Johnson this season is staying healthy. He has yet to play an entire season as the unquestioned starter. If he does that this year, he should be a virtual lock for 1,000 yards; then Miami fans will have to worry about losing him to the NFL.

They said it: "There's a standard of excellence at the University of Miami, and you're held to that standard, which we've all accepted by going to the University of Miami. The one thing I think that's different about this team is that they believe in who they are, so they certainly respect the past, but they want to represent who they are and their identity as a football team. There's been nothing about the 2014 team that even resembles the 2013 team. They wanted to be their own team, have their own leadership and really move forward. So I'm excited about these guys saying, 'OK, let's go out and make our own identity’ as opposed to relying on something that happened quite a while ago." -- coach Al Golden

Winston wows with physical play

November, 19, 2013
11/19/13
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The fact that quarterbacks don’t get hit in practice has never quite felt right to Jameis Winston.

Back in high school, he got a feel for when his head coach, Matt Scott, might whistle a play dead to keep his quarterback from getting pummeled. So, just before the whistle blew, Winston would turn upfield, find a defender and deliver a hit of his own.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Melina Vastola/USA TODAY SportsJameis Winston's diving block on Kermit Whitfield's touchdown run was the latest example of Winston's sometimes ill-advised physical play.
“It’s just his will, his competitive nature,” Scott said.

Not much has changed at Florida State. Winston dons a green non-contact jersey during practice, and Jimbo Fisher doesn’t take any risks when it comes to halting a play before a big hit, but on game days, all bets are off.

Opponents bring the blitz, and Winston laughs. He’s made a habit of shedding defenders, escaping tackles and chucking the ball downfield for a big play.

Put a defender in his face, and Winston is brilliant. For the season, he’s completing nearly 74 percent of his passes (at 13.6 yards per attempt) when being hurried or hit, according to ESPN Stats and Info.

Even when he hands off the football, there’s no guarantees Winston won’t find himself in the thick of the action, with his diving block of Syracuse defensive back Julian Whigham on a 74-yard touchdown run by Kermit Whitfield the latest example of his eagerness to mix it up downfield.

“That says a lot about his character and what type of player and person he is,” running back James Wilder Jr. said. “After a handoff, a toss, you can just chill back there, hold your hands up and say ‘touchdown.’ But it shows what type of determination and team player he is, 40 yards downfield making a block.”

Fisher understands the implicit message being sent, too, so it’s tough for him to be too upset when Winston puts himself in harm’s way for the good of the team.

“You’d like to say no and you’ve got to be smart about it, but when guys know you’re in the hunt with them and you’re in the fight with them, they’ll play really hard for you,” Fisher said. “That’s why they love him, because they know he’s full-board with them.”

The on-field scuffle between tackle Bobby Hart and Miami’s Anthony Chickillo a few weeks ago wasn’t any different. When the ruckus started, Winston was quick to jump to his teammate’s defense. Again, Fisher was less than thrilled to see his quarterback mixing it up, and again, Winston knew it wasn’t the wisest decision.

Still, it’s tough to keep those emotions at bay.

“Next time it happens, I might run full speed to the sideline and be like, ‘Coach Fisher, are you going to do something about this?’” Winston joked afterward. “It’s just in us to react when something like that happens.”

Of course, Winston's instincts kick in most often is in the pocket. Even that’s become a hot-button issue for the quarterback.

In the blowout win over Syracuse last week, Winston played just the first half, but he was still sacked three times. The problem, he said, was that he wasn’t playing physical enough.

“They brought a lot of pressure,” Winston said. “And on two instances I did hold the ball too long. But I’ve got to break those tackles.”

Winston has yet to chalk up a sack to poor blocking by his offensive line, but he’s actually been pretty good at keeping the pass rush at bay this year.

Winston has been sacked 17 times this season -- once every 18 drop-backs. That’s still a better rate than last year’s quarterback, EJ Manuel, experienced, and Winston has tallied 102 yards after contact, according to ESPN Stats and Info, more than 70 percent of his rushing total for the year. Overall, Winston goes down on first contact less than 40 percent of the time.

Still, all those hits don’t exactly sit well with his coach.

“You’ve got to be safe now,” Fisher said. “We have to talk about that.”

In the end though, all those talks probably won’t amount to much, and Fisher shouldn’t be entirely surprised.

The physical approach to the game is in Winston’s DNA, and that’s a big reason Fisher wanted him in the first place.

“I think it’s about the guys Jimbo recruits. They always have that edge,” running back Karlos Williams said. “Jameis is one of those guys. If it came down to it, and everything was live in practice, we’d see Jameis laying a few licks on guys.”

Freeman sparks emotional win for FSU

November, 3, 2013
11/03/13
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Devonta Freeman's voice is usually quiet, subdued. But when he speaks, his teammates listen.

Freeman provided a voiceover for a video Florida State watched in advance of its showdown Saturday against No. 7 Miami. He told his teammates he loved them, that he’d fight for them, that he’d carry them.

The message resonated with quarterback Jameis Winston, who pulled Freeman aside before the game to exchange an emotional embrace.

“From then,” Winston said, “I knew he was ready.”

Winston struggled early, throwing two first-half interceptions, but just as he’d suspected, Freeman picked up the slack. Freeman, a Miami native, finished with 176 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns, carrying the load in Florida State’s 41-14 win against the Hurricanes.

[+] EnlargeDevonta Freeman, Giorgio Newberry, Bryan Stork
AP Photo/Steve CannonFlorida State running back Devonta Freeman (8) celebrates with tight end Giorgio Newberry (4) and offensive linesman Bryan Stork (52) after scoring on a 5-yard touchdown run in the first quarter.
It’s the second win over a top-10 team in the past three weeks for No. 3 Florida State. The two victories have come by a combined score of 92-28, but they played out in far different fashion.

Against Clemson on Oct. 19, Winston was the star, throwing for 444 yards and accounting for four touchdowns. Against Miami, however, Winston stumbled early, misfiring on a handful of first-half throws, including two deep balls down the middle that the Hurricanes picked off, then turned into points.

“I was very high emotionally and sometimes you can’t let the emotions affect the way you play,” said Winston, who admitted he was eager to complete the deep ball rather than settling for shorter routes in the early going. “I was in the game emotionally and mentally, but the emotions took over the mental part of it.”

But if the emotions rattled Winston, they fueled Freeman.

The junior tailback grew up in one of Miami’s toughest neighborhoods, but he wasn’t heavily recruited by the Hurricanes until late in his senior season of high school. He never wavered in his commitment to Florida State, but he’s always held a grudge.

“Every time I get a chance,” Freeman said, “I want to destroy them.”

Freeman did plenty of damage Saturday.

His 5-yard touchdown run capped Florida State’s first drive. His 48-yard reception -- a dump-off pass followed by a long run -- provided the game’s biggest play, swinging momentum back in Florida State’s direction after Miami held tough early. But it was his powerful, punishing runs throughout the game that drained time off the clock and set the standard for how Florida State enforced its will against the overmatched Hurricanes.

“I wanted to let people know we’re hard-nosed,” Freeman said. “We’re coming.”

Freeman scored again late in the third quarter, effectively ending any comeback hopes for Miami. His 29 touches were a career high, and his punishing hits on Miami defenders provided a spark for his teammates.

"He's one of those guys, he's got the heart of a lion," defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan said. "We feed off him."

After each big run or physical hit, Freeman celebrated. He flashed the Miami “U” with his hands, signaled a “305” as a nod to Miami’s area code.

For Freeman, each play was personal, a message he wanted to send.

In three career games against the Hurricanes, Freeman has 343 total yards and five touchdowns.

“This game, I had more of a chip on my shoulder,” Freeman said. “Just to let everybody know, I’m from Miami -- including the kids in my neighborhood, to show them you don’t have to be in Miami to do something special. You can go anywhere and do something special and still rep your hometown. That’s kind of what it was.”

Freeman kept Florida State chugging along early, but Winston responded late.

At halftime, Winston promised his teammates he wouldn’t turn the ball over again. In the second half, he threw just two incompletions.

The turning point, however, may have been an on-field skirmish between FSU tackle Bobby Hart and Miami defensive end Anthony Chickillo. Clinging to a seven-point lead midway through the third quarter, Winston completed a pass to Kenny Shaw for 26 yards to the Miami 5. On the play, FSU tackle Cameron Erving blocked Chickillo to the ground. Hart then pounced on Chickillo, who ended up underneath the Florida State lineman. Chickillo grabbed Hart’s face mask without letting go, and as officials tossed flags, the two players argued. Eventually both teams were posturing on the field before coaches intervened.

Before Florida State lined up for its next play, Winston shouted at each of his teammates, pounding his fists in the air and slapping hands with his linemen.

“That’s me telling the guys, 'It’s on,'” Winston said. “We’re not taking no prisoners. We don’t care about those guys anymore. At first, we respected them because they’re a great team with great players. But after that skirmish, it was over. All that nice stuff, all the game day and that stuff of them being compared to us, it was over. We know we had one goal, and that was to beat them bad.”

Winston proved his point. What began as a close game ended as a 27-point victory. Miami’s only points came off turnovers, and Florida State dominated at virtually every level, nearly doubling the Hurricanes’ total yardage.

It was exactly what Freeman had predicted before the game. It was, Freeman said, a message delivered.

“I told them, [the Hurricanes] aren’t like us,” Freeman said. “We’re different. We grind different.”

Miami needs another comeback to win

October, 26, 2013
10/26/13
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MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- For the first time in three years, No. 7 Miami took the field Saturday without an NCAA investigation lording over the program.

Yet even still, Al Golden worried, given all the emotion spent throughout the week. “I was hoping we would have enough in the tank,” the Hurricanes' coach said. “Just because of how emotional it was to have that ordeal over.”

Miami did have enough in the end Saturday, rallying to beat Wake Forest 24-21 behind another terrific performance from Duke Johnson. But what happened Saturday cannot be blamed on the distractions presented during the week, nor the distractions that loom in the week ahead.

Especially since the NCAA investigation was never mentioned internally after athletic director Blake James broke the news to the team at 9:05 a.m. Tuesday.

Especially since Miami canceled all media availability, intending to keep players focused only on Wake Forest.

[+] EnlargeDuke Johnson
Mike Ehrmann/Getty ImagesDuke Johnson scored twice in the fourth quarter to spark Miami's latest comeback.
Especially since Golden said afterward he spent every moment over the previous 72 hours keeping his players on Wake Forest. Given all that, how could Miami be thinking about anything else once the game kicked off?

One reason.

What we saw out of Miami on Saturday is what we have seen out of Miami the past three weeks. Slow starts that have severely handicapped the Hurricanes, forcing a mad scramble to pull out a come-from-behind win. Essentially, Miami has been placed on #upsetalert at some point throughout each of its last three games.

Most recently, it happened last week on the road against a one-win North Carolina team. It happened again this week, against an improved Wake Forest team that held the lead until the very end. “They played their butts off,” defensive end Anthony Chickillo said. “We kind of got punched in the face and we had to respond.”

Miami gave up 14 quick points, but the offense could not find a rhythm until late. After Miami took a 17-14 lead in the fourth quarter, Wake Forest scored on its ensuing drive when Tanner Price threw a 44-yard touchdown pass to Dominique Gibson to take back a 21-17 lead.

All Wake Forest needed was a defensive stop to win. Instead, Johnson ended up scoring the game-winning touchdown with 53 seconds remaining -- his second TD of the quarter.

The relief was palpable. Indeed, relief should be the word of the week in Coral Gables. The Hurricanes remain unbeaten at 7-0, but provided more fodder for critics who believe their record is a mirage. Miami has not played like a top-10 team over the past two weeks, rising up the rankings at the expense of other teams that have lost.

None of that is Miami’s fault. And Miami does deserve credit for finding ways to win these games. Two years ago, the Hurricanes would have lost. Golden and players readily admit that. No doubt there are signs of growth.

[+] EnlargeMiami Celebrate
Doug Murray/Icon SMIMiami had reason to celebrate after surviving another scare, but will the Canes be as happy next week?
But here is the bottom line: Miami cannot afford to play from behind against No. 2 Florida State next week in Tallahassee. Not the way the Noles are playing. While Johnson gave his postgame remarks in an interview room in Sun Life Stadium, Florida State led NC State 28-0.

In the first quarter.

Last week, Clemson fell behind Florida State early and could never recover, losing 51-14. Pulling out games in the fourth quarter is all well and good, but Miami cannot play mismatched halves. Not against the No. 2 team in the nation.

The slow starts should be a concern moving forward.

“It’s all a concern,” Golden said. “Every game is its own chessboard and you have to make adjustments. We all know what this week is about coming up. We’ll regroup here tonight, tomorrow get healed up and get ready to go. I don’t think there will be any carry-over.”

There has been carry-over, though. We are not talking about a one-game sample size. Three games in a row, Miami has sleepwalked through the first half. Against North Carolina and Wake Forest, the sleepwalking continued until the third quarter. Yes, coaches have made adjustments at the half, but at this point, the biggest adjustment that needs to be made is the way Miami comes out of the gate.

“It’s like we get going in the second half and start figuring opponents out,” cornerback Tracy Howard said. “We have to do a better job with that. We’ll get it fixed.”

Miami faces its two toughest tests in consecutive weeks. After Florida State, the Hurricanes host Virginia Tech in a game that could determine the Coastal winner. Everybody in Miami agrees improvement must be made.

“We found a way to scratch and claw and win our seventh,” Golden said. “You can’t take any of the previous wins with you to Tallahassee next week. That’s over. We have to get better at the things we need to get better at, and we need some kids to step up.”

Or it could be a long night.

CORAL GABLES, Fla. -- Miami coach Al Golden can rattle off the names of just about every rookie who played defense for the Canes in 2012.

It’s not a quick conversation.

The Canes were the second-youngest team in the BCS behind Boston College, and a total of 21 freshmen played last year, including 16 true freshmen -- six of whom started at least one game on defense.

“There are so many,” Golden said. “There were so many young guys who had to play before they were really ready to play. Although there were some really tough moments on defense, everybody’s back, and everyone should be more mature and stronger and grown up. I expect them to really rise to the challenge now.”

They’re going to have to if Miami is going return to the top of the Coastal Division standings. Miami’s defense was one of the worst in the country last season, as it finished 116th in total defense, 112th in rushing defense and No. 82 in scoring defense, allowing 30.5 points per game. Those within the program are hoping last year’s growing pains pay dividends in experience this fall, as 10 starters return to the defense, including all four starters on the defensive line.

There were games last year in which Miami rotated about 27 players.

“We had to make a commitment to do that so we have an opportunity to win games in the fourth quarter and not get tired out,” said defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio. “In the long run, I think that will help us. I don’t see us having to be as deep this year, to be honest with you.”

There was also a significant increase in defensive plays last year. Some of that could be attributed to Miami’s offense scoring quickly, but it was also a product of Miami not getting off the field quick enough. The Canes were No. 82 in the country in third-down conversion defense. Miami was also one of the most penalized teams in the country (No. 107).

“We had more defensive penalties last year than any team I’ve ever been around as a defensive coordinator or a head coach,” Golden said. “A lot of that is just having too many young guys.”

That will change this year. Miami’s defensive line is expected to be a veteran group, led by junior defensive end Anthony Chickillo, senior defensive tackle Curtis Porter, junior tackle Olsen Pierre and senior defensive end Shayon Green. Golden said Pierre has developed physically, blocks well laterally and might be the most improved player of the group.

“We had so many guys that it was their first time playing,” Chickillo said. “College football is tough. We had a lot of guys making mental errors, not being in their gap when they were supposed to be there, blown coverages, too many things that really hurt us. Just not playing assignment football. It’s frustrating, but we’re going to be better for it in the future. So many guys got playing time and got to see what it’s like. Some young guys experienced success. We’re going to be better for it in the future.”

CORAL GABLES, Fla. -- Saint Augustine is a Catholic student center and church at the University of Miami where defensive end Anthony Chickillo’s parents were married when they were 19. Chickillo’s mother, Joan, worked in the Hecht Athletic Center, where Anthony now comes and goes as he pleases as a star defensive end for the Canes.

Anthony's father, Tony, and his grandfather, the late Nick Chickillo, both played for the Hurricanes, and almost every day he passes the dorms they lived in. Chickillo’s Miami roots don’t end there. Even his maternal grandfather played golf at Miami. The family room at their home in Tampa, Fla., is decorated with Miami’s history.

“I always knew I was going to come here,” Chickillo said. “It didn’t matter who was going to be the coach here. I got recruited by three different defensive coordinators, three different D-line coaches, two different head coaches. This was where I wanted to be. I truly am living my dream every day.”

Which is why it’s so important to him that Miami’s defense improve dramatically in 2013.

Last year, the Canes fell far from their rich history and tradition of putting pressure on quarterbacks, as Miami finished with just 13 sacks. As the school’s first third-generation Hurricane, Chickillo was all-too familiar with Miami’s reputation for its hard-hitting defensive lines.

“You’ve got to take pride in it,” he said. “We’ve just got to be better and we will be.”

And Chickillo, now a junior, said he plans on doing whatever he can to help the defense do that.

From the moment he stepped on campus, expectations have been high for Chickillo to be an immediate contributor. He was rated a four-star defensive end by ESPN.com and had offers from more than 50 schools as an Under Armour All-American. As a true freshman, Chickillo played in all 12 games and started the last nine. He finished third in the voting for the 2011 ACC defensive rookie of the year and finished tied for the team lead with five sacks.

Last year, he started all 12 games -- one of only three players on defense to do that. He finished eighth on the team with 45 tackles and third with 6.5 tackles for loss for a team-high minus-31 yards. He also led the team with 4.0 sacks for 24 yards lost.

Miami defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio said there was a lot of pressure put on Chickillo as a true freshman because he was such a highly touted recruit, but that he has evolved into a player capable of shouldering those expectations.

“Obviously we want to get pressure on the quarterback as a team, [but] we didn’t get enough sacks,” D’Onofrio said. “I don’t think that falls directly on him, nor should he feel that way. Sacks isn’t a defining stat for how good of a player you are. He’s been a guy who’s gotten better each year. He’s gotten bigger and stronger. He finished his freshman year at 238 pounds. I think today he weighed about 267. There’s a maturity there. He’ll continue to improve because he wants to. He’s got a really good work ethic, a high motor. He’ll continue to be a really good player for us.”

After all, it’s in his blood.
Buried beneath pounds of paperwork from the NCAA is the fact that Miami’s depth chart should be good enough to win the Coastal Division in 2013. With so much attention focused on the NCAA investigation, Nevin Shapiro has gotten more ink (unfortunately) than quarterback Stephen Morris. And Morris is going to be very, very good.

As Miami begins spring practices on Saturday, the Canes do so underneath a cloud for the third straight preseason under coach Al Golden. If those within the program, though, can focus on their on-field goals and avoid the distractions once again, Miami should pick up right where it left off in 2012 -- at the top of the division standings. Miami returns 10 starters on offense and defense. Golden and his staff brought in the No. 15 recruiting class in the country, coupled with the experience of 21 freshmen who played in 2012.

[+] EnlargeAl Golden
Kevin Liles/US PresswireAl Golden and the Hurricanes enter the spring with experience on the offensive and defensive lines.
This Coastal Division race is going to be tight. Expect every team in the division to be better. Trying to predict the division winner right now is like trying to predict when the NCAA will hand down its verdict. On anything. Miami fans, though, have reason to believe that if the program is eligible to play in the postseason, the pieces are in place to get them to Charlotte.

Here are three reasons why Miami is my way-too-early pick to win the Coastal Division:

1. QB Stephen Morris and running back Duke Johnson: This dynamic duo is going to be a highlight in the ACC. As a true freshman, Johnson had arguably the greatest freshman season in the program’s history. He was named the ACC’s Overall and Offensive Rookie of the Year after racking up 2,060 all-purpose yards and 13 touchdowns in 12 games. And Morris can be good enough to push Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd as the ACC’s best quarterback in 2013. Morris finished 2012 on a hot streak, as he threw for 1,131 yards and 11 TDs – with zero interceptions -- in his final four games. Morris finished the season with a program-record 3,415 yards of total offense, eclipsing the previous mark of 3,412 held by Bernie Kosar.

2. Experience up front: Miami returns all five starters on the offensive line (Malcolm Bunche, started 12 games at left tackle; Jon Feliciano, started 12 at left guard; Shane McDermott started 12 at center; Brandon Linder started 12 at right guard; Seantrel Henderson started seven at right tackle and Ereck Flowers started four at right tackle). Miami also returns all four starters on the defensive line (Anthony Chickillo 12 at defensive end, Curtis Porter the last three at defensive tackle, Olsen Pierre 11 at defensive tackle, and Shayon Green at defensive end). How many schools in the country can say they return every starter on both their offensive and defensive lines? Granted, the defensive line is Miami’s unit most in need of improvement this offseason, but considering the group only had 13 sacks a year ago, it should only be better.

3. A favorable schedule: Miami has an entire month to prepare for league play, as its first ACC game isn’t until Oct. 5 against Georgia Tech. It doesn’t even have to leave the state until Oct. 17, when it travels to North Carolina, and even then the Canes have a bye week to prepare for the Thursday night game against the Tar Heels. Yes, they have to play rival FSU on the road, but they do get Virginia Tech at home. Winning at Pitt on a Friday in November won’t be easy, but getting Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech at home helps compensate for it.

ACC weekend rewind: Week 4

September, 24, 2012
9/24/12
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Here's a look back at Week 4 in the ACC:

The good: Florida State remained in national championship contention after its come-from-behind 49-37 victory over No. 10 Clemson. The Seminoles went on a tear in the second half, erasing a 14-point deficit with 35 points -- including 28 straight. The last time FSU won after trailing by 14 or more points was at North Carolina on Oct. 22, 2009. In that game, the Seminoles trailed 24-6 before winning 30-27. In the win over Clemson, EJ Manuel got his Heisman campaign going and led Florida State to 667 yards of total offense -- its highest total since racking up 771 yards against Clemson in 2000. For those inquiring minds, West Virginia had only 595 total yards in the Orange Bowl against Clemson.

The bad: Clemson was not the only team that blew a double-digit second-half lead on Saturday. Georgia Tech lost a 17-point lead to Miami, blowing its biggest lead in a loss since the 2007 Toyota Gator Bowl, when Tech led 35-17 and lost to West Virginia. Georgia Tech has now lost two overtime games on the young season. The last time Tech played two overtime games in a season was 2001, when the Jackets lost to Clemson and Maryland. But if you want to know how bad it was on defense for Georgia Tech, let's move on to the next category.

[+] EnlargeStephen Morris
Robert Mayer/US PresswireStephen Morris' sizzling finish to this season is part of the reason why Miami coach Al Golden says he's so optimistic for 2013.
The ugly: Miami was the first team this season to have an offensive play longer than 46 yards against the Yellow Jackets, and the first team to score a rushing touchdown on this defense. Georgia Tech allowed more than 20 points for the first time this season. The Yellow Jackets allowed more than 500 yards in total offense for just the fourth time in Paul Johnson's five seasons and for the first time since 2010. And Miami's 609 yards of total offense is the third-highest total Georgia Tech has allowed all time and the second-highest total in an ACC game. Miami's 30 first downs are the most allowed under Johnson.

The ugly II: Virginia had its second straight disappointing performance, and in back-to-back losses, the Hoos have six turnovers and 650 yards of total offense. That is fewer than Florida State had on Clemson, by the way. In the loss to TCU, Virginia just hurt itself with all the mistakes, not to mention going 3-of-16 on third-down conversions.

The surprise: Miami pulled the biggest surprise of the weekend, winning its fourth straight on the Yellow Jackets behind inspired performances from Stephen Morris and Mike James. I would be remiss if I did not mention Anthony Chickillo, who was terrific up front for Miami. Chickillo recorded career highs with seven solo tackles and three tackles for loss. More on Miami below.

The surprise II: Maryland lost 31-21 to No. 8 West Virginia, but the Terps continued to show signs that they may be all right this year. First area of note: The defense held West Virginia to 1 yard per carry. The Mountaineers had averaged 226 rushing yards per game but against the Terps had only 25 yards on 25 carries. Demetrius Hartsfield, Joe Vellano and A.J. Francis got after Geno Smith, as the Terps totaled nine tackles for loss and two sacks on the day. Meanwhile, freshman quarterback Perry Hills had the best game of his career, going 20-of-29 for 305 yards and three touchdowns, all career highs. His lone interception came on a fourth-down desperation heave late in the fourth quarter. Fellow true freshman Stefon Diggs had his second straight game with 200-plus all-purpose yards. He had a team-high 113 receiving yards and two touchdowns on three receptions. Diggs also had 25 punt return yards and 63 kickoff return yards.

The stat: Miami is 4-0 in road overtime games since becoming a part of the ACC in 2004. In Miami, though, the Canes are just 1-4 for an overall 5-4 overtime record.

The stat II: Morris had a career-high 436 yards passing against Georgia Tech -- the second-highest total in the ACC this year. It was also the most yards by a Miami quarterback since Gino Torretta threw for a school-record 485 yards against San Diego State in 1991.

The stat III: Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd was unable to evade Florida State’s pass rush, completing 20 percent of his passes while throwing under duress. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Boyd completed 1 of 6 passes for minus-5 yards and an interception while facing pressure in the second half.

The record: North Carolina quarterback Bryn Renner threw for 321 yards in a win over East Carolina, and set a school record for most passing yards in consecutive games. Renner threw for a career-high 363 yards a week ago at Louisville, giving him 684 yards passing in two straight games. The previous record was 683, shared by T.J. Yates (2007, against East Carolina and Virginia) and Darian Durant (2002, against Arizona State and NC State). Renner also set the total yardage mark in back-to-back games with a total of 713 yards. The previous record was 712 by Ronald Curry against Marshall and Georgia Tech in 2000.

The runners: As noted Sunday, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest, NC State and Duke all had season highs in rushing on Saturday. The Deacs had Josh Harris and Deandre Martin go over 100 yards, while the Wolfpack relied on true freshman Shadrach Thornton, Duke got a season-high 88 yards from freshman Jela Duncan and Virginia Tech went for more than 200 yards rushing for the first time this season. Last year, the Hokies hit 200 yards six times, and won all six games.

The overmatched: The Citadel looked pretty strong headed into its game against NC State. But this team was no match for the Wolfpack, trailing 42-7 before losing 52-14. The Bulldogs had 12 first downs and 226 yards of total offense. The Citadel’s first third-down conversion came early in the third quarter. Dating back to the end of the Connecticut game, the Pack has kept opponents from converting on 16 straight third-down attempts.
Georgia Tech and Miami play an important Coastal Division game this Saturday with some pretty important implications for both teams.

While the Jackets looked great in a win over Virginia last week, they have fallen under a Miami spell of late. The Hurricanes have won three straight in the series, outscoring them 92-34. The highest point total Georgia Tech has put up in those three games -- 17.

Meanwhile, Miami sits 1-0 in the ACC but the Hurricanes are in major need of defensive improvement and consistency out of quarterback Stephen Morris, who has been up and down this season. Given the way both teams have played in three games, Georgia Tech has the edge on paper going into this one.

[+] EnlargeTevin Washington
Josh D. Weiss/US PresswireTevin Washington is looking to help Georgia Tech stop Miami's recent dominance over the Yellow Jackets.
Did I mention the Miami spell?

“I think they’ve played well and we haven’t," Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said this week when asked why Miami has won three straight. "We haven’t gotten off to good starts and have gotten behind. Down there a year ago, we kind of grinded it out and got back 14-7 on a long drive that took forever to get down there. In the last 50 seconds, they scored again to go up 21-7 at the half after they ran the kickoff back. We tried to play catch up. It’s important that we get off to a good start.”

That is exactly what Georgia Tech did last week in its 56-20 win over Virginia. When the first quarter was over, the Jackets led 21-7. At halftime, their lead grew to 35-7. Tevin Washington had three touchdown runs and a 70-yard touchdown pass to Zach Laskey, who has played well since entering the starting lineup a few weeks ago.

Johnson said David Sims will be back this week so both Sims and Laskey will see time at B-back. Orwin Smith played well last week, too, as Georgia Tech racked up 461 yards rushing. Consider Georgia Tech had 469 yards rushing the week before against FCS Presbyterian, and the Jackets have gained nearly 1,000 yards on the ground in two games.

Stopping the run has been a bugaboo for the Miami defense this year, as the Canes have allowed an average of 205.7 yards on the ground this season. The pass defense has not been much better, though priority No. 1 against Georgia Tech always is to stop the run, and Miami has done an excellent job of that in the past three games against the Jackets. Only once in those three games has Georgia Tech gone over 200 yards rushing -- in 2010. Last season, Georgia Tech had 134 yards on the ground and only 95 back in 2009.

But this Miami defense is young and depleted. Injuries have taken a major toll, and Miami will be without starting middle linebacker Denzel Perryman, who was hurt in the Bethune-Cookman game last week. Coach Al Golden knows how big this task is awaiting his team, but believes his players are up for the challenge.

So long as they step up to the challenge.

"What better challenge do you have than stopping the team that's the best at running the ball?" Golden said. "That's the way I approach it, I know that's the way the defensive coaches approach it. With Denzel down, we're going to need some guys to step up. Jimmy Gaines and Gionni Paul are going to have to step up. Some of those guys that have been on the field versus this look in the past -- Tyrone Cornileus, (Kelvin) Cain, Darius Smith, (Anthony) Chickillo, (Brandon) McGee are going to have to step up for us and play really well."

ACC's top freshmen in 2011

December, 13, 2011
12/13/11
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It was the Year of the Freshman in the ACC, as rookies were some of the league’s top players and made immediate contributions. Maryland’s defense wouldn’t have survived this year without its first-year players, and Wake Forest had the league’s defensive rookie of the year. Nobody, though, made a bigger splash nationally than Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins. Here’s a look at some of the top true and redshirt freshmen from 2011:

Offense:

[+] EnlargeSammy Watkins
Joshua S. Kelly/US PresswireSammy Watkins' numbers were off the charts for Clemson in 2011.
Clemson WR Sammy Watkins: He broke ACC freshman records for receptions (77), receiving yards (1,153) and touchdown receptions (11) -- the best totals in the nation among freshmen this season. His reception yardage total is the best in Clemson history regardless of class. Watkins had three games with at least 150 receiving yards, already a Clemson career record for 150-yard receiving games.

North Carolina RB Giovani Bernard: The redshirt freshman led North Carolina in rushing this year with 1,222 yards and 13 rushing touchdowns. He ranks third in the ACC in rushing and has more rushing yards than any other freshman nationally. With still one game remaining in his season, his yardage total is the third-best by an ACC freshman.

FSU WR Rashad Greene: Despite playing in only eight games, Greene finished as Florida State's leading receiver. He caught 33 passes for 497 yards and scored six touchdowns. An ankle injury derailed his season, but he could be one of FSU’s elite receivers in the years to come.

Defense:

Wake Forest CB Merrill Noel: The redshirt freshman currently is tied for the national lead in passes defended with 20, including one interception and 19 pass breakups. Noel finished the regular season with 59 tackles, including 48 solo stops.

FSU DE Tim Jernigan: He had six tackles for loss, including 2.5 sacks. He also had three quarterback hurries and recovered a fumble. Jernigan finished second in the voting for the ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year award.

Miami LB Denzel Perryman: He finished the season ranked first among ACC freshmen with 69 tackles and played in all 12 games. He finished his freshman season ranked second on the team in tackles (69) and tied for third on the team in tackles for loss (6.5).

Virginia CB Demetrious Nicholson: Nicholson started all 12 games and has 56 tackles (39 unassisted), eight pass breakups and two interceptions entering the Chick-fil-A Bowl against Auburn.

Ones to watch for 2012:

FSU S Karlos Williams: He was the No. 5 overall player in the ESPNU 150 Class of 2011, but his playing time this year came sparingly. He played in all 12 of the Seminoles' games and had eight tackles in a limited role. He made an impact on special teams, but he wasn’t on the field enough for FSU fans to enjoy his sheer speed and athleticism. Lamarcus Joyner has the free safety position locked up, but at strong safety, Williams was behind veteran Terrance Parks and junior Nick Moody. While Williams probably has more natural ability than both, his knowledge of coordinator Mark Stoops’ scheme could be the difference in how much more he sees the field next year.

Miami DE Anthony Chickillo: He started nine games and played in all 12. Of his 38 tackles, 6.5 were behind the line of scrimmage, including five sacks. Chickillo also forced and recovered a fumble and registered a quarterback hurry. He finished third in the media's vote for ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year.

Clemson OLB Stephone Anthony: He finished the year with 31 tackles, two sacks and two forced fumbles.

FSU TE Nick O'Leary: He caught 12 passes for 164 yards in 2011. He’s next in line behind senior Beau Reliford and could have a breakout season in 2012.

FSU RB James Wilder Jr.: He rushed 31 times for 150 yards and one touchdown as the third-string running back in a crowded backfield. His role should increase next year.

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