NCF Nation: Brandon Thomas's All-ACC team

December, 16, 2013
Florida State’s undefeated season is reflected in the Seminoles’ 10 all-conference selections by Quarterback Jameis Winston was the highlight of the group, along with Boston College running back Andre Williams, who was also a Heisman candidate this year. This list differs just slightly from the choices of the coaches and writers, with the toughest decisions coming on defense.

Special Teams
The ACC coaches have unveiled their inaugural All-ACC football team and award winners, and it looks nearly identical to the media winners announced last week.

Both the coaches and media are in agreement on the players of the year: Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd as player of the year and offensive player of the year; Florida State defensive end Bjoern Werner as defensive player of the year; and Miami running back Duke Johnson as rookie of the year and Offensive Rookie of the Year; Florida State cornerback Ronald Darby as defensive rookie of the year; and Duke coach David Cutcliffe as coach of the year.

Boyd won player of the year and offensive player of the year more comfortably on the coaches' ballots, getting four more votes than North Carolina running back Giovani Bernard. In media voting, Boyd beat out Bernard by one point.

Coaches were not allowed to vote for their own players. First-team selections earned two points; second-team selections got one.

Clemson, Florida State and North Carolina each had five players chosen to the first team, though the Tar Heels actually had six first-team picks as Bernard was named to the first-team offense as a running back, while also earning first-team specialist accolades. All of Clemson’s first-team honorees were on offense, while four of FSU’s five were on defense.

The coaches' All-ACC first-team differed from the Atlantic Coast Sports Media Association team only at three positions: choosing Duke receiver Conner Vernon over Boston College’s Alex Amidon; North Carolina offensive tackle James Hurst over Clemson’s Brandon Thomas; and Virginia Tech linebacker Jack Tyler instead of Virginia’s Steve Greer. Amidon, Thomas and Greer were all second-team picks.

In all, there were four unanimous first-team selections in Boyd, Bernard, Clemson receiver DeAndre Hopkins and Florida State defensive end Cornellius Carradine on defense.

Here are the complete teams.

Tajh Boyd headlines All-ACC team

November, 26, 2012
Clemson had the best offense in the ACC this season, so it comes as no surprise that the Tigers dominated the All-ACC first team released Monday.

Quarterback Tajh Boyd and five teammates won first-team honors on offense, the first time Clemson has ever place six players on the All-ACC first-team offense and the first time any team has done it since Florida State in 1995.

Florida State and North Carolina each placed five players on the all-conference team, determined by a vote of 46 members of the Atlantic Coast Sports Media Association.

Boyd is joined on the first team by running back Andre Ellington, receiver DeAndre Hopkins, tackle Brandon Thomas, center Dalton Freeman and tight end Brandon Ford. Boyd led the ACC with 34 touchdown passes while Hopkins had league-bests of 16 total touchdown catches and an average of 104 yards receiving.

Nine teams had at least one first-team selection. There were no unanimous picks to the first team, but North Carolina running back Giovani Bernard was chosen as a first-teamer on 45 ballots. Bernard, who had an ACC-leading 1,228 yards rushing and 12 rushing touchdowns, joins Boyd as repeat first-team selections.

Bernard, a punt returner who also was picked as the first-team specialist, was joined by guard Jonathan Cooper, linebacker Kevin Reddick and defensive tackle Sylvester Williams.

Four Florida State defensive players -- ends Bjoern Werner and Tank Carradine, cornerback Xavier Rhodes and safety Lamarcus Joyner -- join kicker Dustin Hopkins on the first team.

Boston College (receiver Alex Amidon and linebacker Nick Clancy), Virginia (offensive tackle Oday Aboushi and linebacker Steve Greer) and Duke (cornerback Ross Cockrell and punter Will Monday) were the only other schools with multiple first-team picks.

You also should note that Virginia Tech and Miami did not have a first-team selection for the first time since they joined the ACC in 2004. Defensive end James Gayle, linebacker Jack Tyler and cornerback Antone Exum made the second team for Virginia Tech; Miami's Duke Johnson made the second team as a running back and specialist.

The league coaches will announce their all-conference team next week.

  • QB-Tajh Boyd, Clemson
  • RB-Giovani Bernard, North Carolina
  • RB-Andre Ellington, Clemson
  • WR-DeAndre Hopkins, Clemson
  • WR-Alex Amidon, Boston College
  • OT-Oday Aboushi, Virginia
  • OT-Brandon Thomas, Clemson
  • OG-Jonathan Cooper, North Carolina
  • OG-Omoregie Uzzi, Georgia Tech
  • C-Dalton Freeman, Clemson
  • TE-Brandon Ford, Clemson
  • K-Dustin Hopkins, Florida State
  • Specialist- Giovani Bernard, North Carolina
  • DE-Bjoern Werner, Florida State
  • DE-Cornellius Carradine, Florida State
  • DT-Joe Vellano, Maryland
  • DT-Sylvester Williams, North Carolina
  • LB-Nick Clancy, Boston College
  • LB-Kevin Reddick, North Carolina
  • LB-Steve Greer, Virginia
  • CB-Xavier Rhodes, Florida State
  • CB-Ross Cockrell, Duke
  • S-Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State
  • S-Earl Wolff, NC State
  • P-Will Monday, Duke

For the second-team and honorable mention selections, you can click here.
Heading into this season, the offensive lines at both Florida State and Clemson were two of the biggest question marks in the ACC. The Tigers had to replace three starters up front, and the Seminoles were coming off a Champs Sports Bowl win against Notre Dame in which four true freshmen were in the starting lineup.

You’d never know it by looking at the stats so far this season, as deceptive as some could be.

As No. 10 Clemson and No. 4 Florida State prepare to face each other in Tallahassee on Saturday, both offensive lines have shown significant improvement through the first three games of the season. Florida State is No. 2 in the country in scoring offense, racking up its stats against two FCS opponents and an overmatched Wake Forest team. Clemson is No. 23 in the country in scoring offense, with its most impressive win coming against Auburn. Both Clemson and Florida State are allowing fewer than two sacks per game.

[+] EnlargeGifford Timothy
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesGifford Timothy and Clemson's offensive line could hold the key to victory against Florida State.
Both groups, though, still have something to prove -- particularly at Clemson. The Tigers’ offensive line will arguably get its biggest test of the season Saturday when it faces Florida State’s defensive line. The Noles are tied for No. 10 in the country with 3.67 sacks per game. How Clemson fares up front could be the key to the entire game.

“It’s going to be a tough challenge, no doubt about it,” said Clemson coach Dabo Swinney. “But we’re going to find out Saturday night one way or another.”

Clemson’s starting lineup against Auburn was Dalton Freeman, David Beasley, Gifford Timothy, Brandon Thomas and Tyler Shatley. Timothy was injured on the last offensive play of the game and missed the Ball State game. That opened the door for redshirt freshman Shaq Anthony to start and also play the first half against Furman.

Beasley was injured against Ball State, allowing Kalon Davis to play most of that game and all of the Furman game. Shatley was injured against Furman and missed the second half. Redshirt freshman Ryan Norton played the second half of that game.

Swinney said his offensive line was “pretty average” in last week’s 41-7 win against Furman.

“Nothing great,” he said, “just OK.”

“They are a question mark; they’re still a question mark,” Swinney said. “I don’t think that’s changed. … We’re a long ways away from being a great offensive line right now.”

The good news for Clemson fans is that the starting lineup used against Auburn should be healthy and ready to play at Florida State. And the backups have now had some significant experience. Entering the FSU game, Clemson has eight different offensive linemen who have played at least 98 snaps.

Florida State’s improved pass protection has been measurable. So far, the line has allowed three sacks in 194 snaps and 84 pass attempts. All three sacks, though, came against the best competition they’ve played -- a Wake Forest team that was missing one of its top defensive linemen in injured nose guard Nikita Whitlock.

It’s still a foreshadowing of improvement since last season, when the Noles allowed 41 sacks in 820 offensive snaps, which amounts to one every 20 plays. Only eight teams in the nation yielded more sacks than FSU in 2011.

There’s no question that FSU is also running the ball better. In 2011, the Seminoles produced just 112.2 rushing yards per game -- their lowest average since 2006 -- and managed 1,458 yards on the ground. Through three games the Noles are averaging 279 rushing yards.

The numbers are skewed because they’ve been racked up against unheralded FCS competition in Murray State and Savannah State, but FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said he likes what he has seen so far.

“I think they’re very good players,” Fisher said. “They’re all very talented. It took a little bit of time to learn, and that’s a position that’s very hard to adapt to, and we loved them because of their size and athleticism. I think that’s where you’ve got to control both lines of scrimmage -- that’s where it’s got to start.

“I’ve been very pleased with them, but I don’t think we are close to where we can be,” Fisher said. “I think each challenge is bigger and bigger each week.”

This one, of course, might be the biggest of the season.

Clemson's offensive line grows up

September, 4, 2012
Andre EllingtonScott Cunningham/Getty ImagesClemson's offensive line performed well against Auburn, allowing Andre Ellington to run for 231 yards.
When Clemson opened its game against Auburn, some of the major concerns about a revamped offensive line were played out.

Missed assignments. Pre-snap penalties -- one that cost the Tigers a fourth-and-goal attempt at the 1. Way too many Auburn defenders coming free, forcing Tajh Boyd to avoid the pressure on numerous occasions. At the end of the first half, Clemson had given up four sacks -- that only happened twice all of last season.

But a funny thing happened on the way toward writing off the offensive line. All five guys started playing much better, together. And their superior conditioning in the spread hurry-up started paying off. Center Dalton Freeman, tackles Brandon Thomas and Gifford Timothy, and guards David Beasley and Tyler Shatley had their way with the Auburn defensive front, which was clearly exhausted and having a hard time keeping up.

The end result? No second-half sacks allowed, no more procedure penalties and a hard-fought victory.

"We knew coming in that we were inexperienced but we weren’t going to let that be an excuse for us," Freeman said after the game. "I was impressed with our poise. We did a good job of handling adversity. We’re very happy with where we were … Early on, we were beating ourselves, probably trying to do a little too much. Once we calmed down, we played pretty well.”

Freeman and Thomas are the only two starters returning from a year ago. Beasley, Timothy and Shatley had a combined 75 plays on the offensive line entering the Auburn game. (Shatley played 317 snaps in 2011, but all were on defense.)

After the rough start, the offensive line helped Andre Ellington run for 228 yards, and a 320 total yards on the ground. That was the highest rushing total for Clemson since gaining 323 against Georgia Tech in the 2009 ACC Championship game. Clemson is now 107-4-1 when it gains at least 200 yards rushing and 200 yards passing in the same game.

What's more, all five starters played every single snap but the final one -- only because Timothy got banged up and had to leave the game. Freeman was so good, he was selected as one of the ACC Players of the Week on Tuesday. Coach Dabo Swinney said during his news conference Tuesday he expects Timothy to play Saturday against Ball State, and he also hopes to get some of his reserves more involved.

Still, it was an impressive performance after a shaky start. Despite the result, both Swinney and Morris cautioned there is plenty more work to do.

“I think we all saw same thing, they’ve still got a lot of room for improvement,” Morris told reporters in Clemson on Monday. “We’re not ready to name them the ‘Seven Blocks Of Granite’ or ‘Four Horsemen’ yet. Those guys have earned some respect on this football team.”
1. Auburn will have two new starters on its offensive line and will start two freshmen and two sophomores up front when it plays No. 14 Clemson in Saturday night's Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game at Atlanta's Georgia Dome. And Auburn won't even have the youngest offensive line on the field.

After setting a school record with 440.8 yards of offense per game in offensive coordinator Chad Morris' first season in 2011, the Clemson Tigers are undergoing a facelift up front. Senior center Dalton Freeman (36 career starts) and left tackle Brandon Thomas (10 career starts) are the only returning offensive linemen with any starting experience. Left guard David Beasley, a sophomore, played 30 snaps in five games last season, and right tackle Gifford Timothy played 45 snaps, mostly blocking on placekicks. Junior right guard Tyler Shatley is a converted defensive tackle, who signed with Clemson as a fullback.

Auburn is expected to start redshirt freshman Greg Robinson at left tackle, and freshman Avery Young is a top candidate to start at right tackle. Sophomore Tunde Fariyike will probably start at center after expected starter Reese Dismukes was suspended following his arrest on public intoxication charges.

2. Remember that frustration you felt when the scoreboard operator refused to show you the replay of a controversial play in a game? Well, if you're the fan of an SEC team, you might get to see those plays over and over again this season.

The SEC announced Monday that its member schools are no longer limited in use of replays, except when a stoppage occurs for an official review. The new SEC rule allows a replay to be shown on the video board from the end of a play until the beginning of the next play. During an official review, replays from TV network video feeds can be shown between the referee's announcement to stop play and when he announces the replay outcome. In the past, SEC schools were only allowed to show a replay once.

“The change in policy will allow our fans to see more of the action, including great plays and close calls,” SEC Commissioner Mike Slive said in a statement. “Fans in the stadium now can see many of the same views of a play seen by fans watching on television. This should add to the overall game experience for fans inside our stadiums.”

The SEC changed the rule in part because it didn't want fans staying at home, where they could watch replays time and time again on TV.

3. Some college football coaches, like Florida State's Jimbo Fisher, have banned their players from using Twitter during the season.

But USC's Lane Kiffin seems to be embracing social media. The Trojans have included players' Twitter handles on their respective bios on the school's website and even next to their names on the depth chart released on Monday. Right guard John Martinez was the only offensive starter who didn't use Twitter, and all but three defensive starters also had Twitter handles.
I know, I know, Clemson overload today, but coach Dabo Swinney had a teleconference this morning to preview spring practices, which begin on Wednesday in Death Valley. Here are a few quick highlights from the call:

  • Swinney said the main point of emphasis this spring will be the offensive and defensive lines, where the Tigers have to replace a total of six starters. The goal is to find a two-deep up front. He said offensive lineman Brandon Thomas has been like an MVP this offseason and has embraced a leadership role. “He has been great this offseason,” Swinney said. “He has really stepped up in a role he wasn’t necessarily in last year, and we need that.” Thomas can play tackle or guard effectively, and gives the Tigers some options up front. Swinney said Tyler Shatley, a former defensive tackle, looks “totally different” on the offensive side of the ball. “He goes from being an OK athlete to a really, really good athlete.” Shatley will start off at right guard.
  • The only two injured players out this spring are linebacker Tony Steward and safety Rashard Hall. Steward, who tore his ACL in October, was denied a medical redshirt, Swinney said. “That’s the rule and that’s the way it is,” Swinney said. Steward will be a true sophomore.
  • The punter situation is a question going into spring. Spencer Benton will go in as the starter. Swinney said the staff will experiment with a few things on special teams this spring.
  • Clemson’s staff took a trip to Nevada this offseason to study the pistol offense, but Swinney said the Tigers were in the pistol some last spring and fall. The staff just wanted to learn a little more about it. As for how much of it will be incorporated this year, Swinney said he’s not going to give out a blueprint. “We’re going to do what we did last year, hopefully a little bit better.”
  • Swinney said running back Mike Bellamy is “hanging in there” and will practice with the team while trying to improve himself on and off the field. Swinney said Bellamy has gained some weight and gotten stronger. The goal for this summer is about 180 pounds, well over the 160 he came in at.

Clemson injury update

January, 4, 2012
MIAMI -- Clemson left tackle Phillip Price is out of the game with a knee injury and won't return, according to an announcement here in the press box. Price is a redshirt senior. Brandon Thomas, a redshirt sophomore, is his backup.

Pregame notes from Death Valley

September, 24, 2011
CLEMSON, S.C. - A few quick lineup changes for you:

For Florida State, freshman Nick O'Leary will start in place of senior Beau Reliford at tight end, noseguard Anthony McCloud got the start of Jacobbi McDaniel, and Mike Harris will start at corner instead of Greg Reid. I am told receivers Kenny Shaw and Bert Reed are still game-time decisions. I expect an announcement here in the press box shortly before kickoff. Both are out on the field right now, dressed and running practice routes.

Truth? It would be stunning to me if Shaw -- after the viscious double helmet-to-helmet hit he took last week from Oklahoma -- played in this game and starting quarterback EJ Manuel didn't, but hey, I'm not a doctor and FSU has already confirmed that backup quarterback Clint Trickett will start. Manuel didn't even warm up. His receivers at least look like they're ready.

For Clemson, Brandon Thomas will start at left guard instead of Mason Cloy, and running back Andre Ellington (hamstring) is cleared and back in the starting lineup.

As early as three hours before the game, traffic into Death Valley was slower than a crawl, and the tailgating scene was in full force long before then. There have been a few sightings of Florida State fans, but this is Clemson's home and the Garnet and Gold is hard to find. Most of the fans are still outside the stadium at this point, but the Hill is starting to fill up.

This is one of the toughest venues in the ACC. We'll find out soon enough if Trickett is ready for it.

What to watch in the ACC: Week 3

September, 15, 2011
For the first time in conference history, the ACC is hosting four ranked teams. That alone is enough to keep you busy this weekend. But you're going to need more than four TVs. We've got the South's oldest rivalry in Chapel Hill, and somebody has to get a win in Chestnut Hill. There's plenty to watch. Here are a few that top my list, in no particular order:

[+] EnlargeRyan Broyles
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireOklahoma receiver Ryan Broyles had a huge day against the Noles last season, catching 12 passes for 124 yards and a score.
1. Florida State’s secondary against Oklahoma’s receivers. Ryan Broyles and Kenny Stills make one of the best wide receiver duos in the country. The Seminoles’ secondary also has been billed as one of the best. They were out of position in this game at times last year, though, and got beat. Will this year be a more favorable matchup for FSU?

2. FSU’s running game and offensive line. Florida State won its first two games convincingly, but if there were any areas that showed some need for improvement, it was up front and in the running game. The offensive line needs to do a better job of sustaining its blocks, and the running backs need to work harder to create their own yards.

3. Miami quarterback Jacory Harris. All eyes will be on Harris as he makes his first start since a forgettable performance in the Sun Bowl last year. Harris threw four interceptions against Ohio State last year, but first-year coach Al Golden is confident enough in him to name him the starter ahead of Stephen Morris.

4. Turnovers in Chapel Hill. UNC turned the ball over five times last week, and Virginia had five turnovers – all interceptions – the last time these two teams met. UNC’s secondary is still looking for its first interception of the season, and UVA quarterback Michael Rocco threw one in last year’s meeting.

5. Virginia Tech’s punters. There’s a competition still going on. Scott Demler won the starting job this summer, but has punted 10 times for an average of 35.1 yards, with a long of 44. Danny Coale is still an option, and coach Frank Beamer said they could give true freshman Michael Branthover a look.

6. NC State’s defense. South Alabama is in a transitional phase to FCS status, and will become full members in 2013. You would think that even with a few injuries, the Wolfpack could show some improvement. NC State has allowed an average of 422 yards of total offense, and 27. 5 points per game.

7. Maryland’s pass defense. West Virginia has yet to really find a replacement for Noel Devine and the running game has struggled, leaving too much depending on the arm of Geno Smith. Fortunately for West Virginia, he’s good enough to get it done. Smith has completed over 66 percent of his passes and will challenge Maryland’s secondary.

8. Defense in Death Valley. There hasn’t been much of it for either Clemson or Auburn, so somebody will have to show improvement. Clemson ranks No. 90 in the nation in total defense, and Auburn is 111th. Both teams are allowing over 200 yards rushing per game.

9. Clemson’s offensive line: The Tigers allowed four sacks against Wofford, and failed to pick up a fourth-and-1. The pass protection has to improve, and earlier this week, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said left guard David Smith struggled, and fans could see more of Mason Cloy and Brandon Thomas at the guard positions.

10. BC’s secondary vs. the ‘Killer V’s’: The Eagles’ depleted secondary could have its work cut out for it against Donovan Varner and Conner Vernon. BC learned this week that cornerback C.J. Jones will miss the rest of the season with a knee injury. Jones is the third player in what was projected to be BC’s starting secondary who won’t be in the lineup for various reasons.
Clemson starting left guard David Smith will undergo arthroscopic shoulder surgery today and will miss Clemson’s game against Auburn on Saturday, the school announced. Smith suffered the injury at practice on Tuesday.

Smith had started the first two games and has 16 career starts. Mason Cloy will start in his place. Cloy is a veteran with 19 career starts entering Saturday’s game.

Smith’s injury adds even more concern to an offensive line that coach Dabo Swinney has not been entirely pleased with. The Tigers allowed four sacks in their win over Wofford, and failed to get a critical fourth-and-1. On Swinney’s Sunday teleconference, he publicly called out Smith’s poor play, and said that fans could see more of Cloy and Brandon Thomas at the guard positions.

Ironically, Smith was injured in the closing moments of last year’s overtime loss to Auburn when he suffered a high-ankle sprain and missed the next two games.