NCF Nation: Jermaine Johnson

What to watch in the ACC: Week 6

October, 7, 2010
Here are 10 things to keep an eye on this week in the ACC, in no particular order:

1. Miami freshman offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson. He made his first career start last week in the win at Clemson, and impressed coach Randy Shannon. He’s likely to continue to see more playing time, sharing snaps at right tackle with Jermaine Johnson.

2. Defenses in Miami. Florida State and Miami are among the nation’s best at getting pressure on their opponents. FSU leads the nation in sacks and is second in tackles for loss, while Miami is first in tackles for loss and second in sacks. Quarterbacks Christian Ponder and Jacory Harris will be playing under pressure. Harris has thrown eight interceptions in the past three games while Ponder and E.J. Manuel have been interception free over the past 89 pass attempts.

3. Ailing quarterbacks. Wake Forest is hoping Tanner Price (concussion) is healed in time for Saturday’s game against Navy and the status of Boston College quarterback Chase Rettig (ankle) is expected to be learned today. The injury-laden position has been a disaster for the Deacs, as three have been sidelined. Just when the Eagles seemed to find someone who could manage the offense without turning it over, Rettig hurt his ankle and they’re “back at square one.”

[+] EnlargeAndre Ellington
John Reed/US PresswireClemson's Andre Ellington has rushed for 380 yards and seven touchdowns this season.
4. Clemson sophomore running back Andre Ellington. He needs 129 more yards in his next 19 rushing attempts to break C.J. Spiller’s school record for fewest rushing attempts to reach 1,000 yards. Ellington leads the ACC in rushing (95.0) and touchdowns (7) so far this season. For his career he has 871 yards in 122 carries. It took Spiller 142 carries to reach that milestone in 2007.

5. NC State’s third-down defense. NC State leads the ACC and ranks seventh nationally in third-down conversion defense. The Wolfpack is allowing opponents to convert on just 26.6 percent of third-down attempts (17-of-64). The Wolfpack has also forced opponents into 23 three-and-outs this season, an average of 4.6 per game. That mark ranks sixth in the nation.

6. North Carolina’s secondary. The Tar Heels will have both starting safeties in the lineup against Clemson with the return of strong safety Da’Norris Searcy and free safety Deunta Williams. Searcy, who missed the first three games of the season, came back last week with a 46-yard interception return for a touchdown. Williams ranks third at UNC with 12 career interceptions.

7. Virginia’s offense vs. the 3-4 defense. The Cavaliers should be well-prepared as they face their former coach in Georgia Tech defensive coordinator Al Groh. Groh said this week that Virginia has the advantage because of coach Mike London’s familiarity with Groh’s philosophies.

8. Clemson’s receivers. Coach Dabo Swinney made a change this week. Out: Xavier Dye, Terrance Ashe and Brandon Clear. In: DeAndre Hopkins, Bryce McNeal and Jaron Brown. Why? It took nine minutes into the third quarter until a Clemson receiver caught a pass against Miami. The Tigers will face a similar challenge against the Tar Heels.

9. BC’s running game. Or lack thereof. Despite a veteran offensive line and one of the most productive running backs in the ACC in Montel Harris, the Eagles rank 108th in the country in rushing offense at just 87.5 yards per game. NC State’s rushing defense took a hit against Virginia Tech and is now allowing 164 yards per game. The Hokies ran for 317 and 8.6 yards per carry.

10. Virginia Tech’s secondary. Nine different players have broken up passes this season, and Jayron Hosley is coming off an impressive performance in which he tied a single-game school record with three interceptions against NC State. Central Michigan has the No. 19 passing offense in the country with 290.8 yards per game.

Posted by's Heather Dinich

Virginia Tech hasn't even started spring practices yet (Wednesday is the Hokies' first) and Miami has already wrapped things up. What's next in Coral Gables? The Canes will get back in the weight room for six more weeks, but coach Randy Shannon said the staff won't push them too hard physically. They'll meet for 45 minutes twice a week to help the players retain everything they learned from their new coordinators. The staff will now use the mornings to watch practice tape and the afternoons to watch recruiting tape.

Shannon said both coordinators, Mark Whipple and John Lovett, brought a lot of excitement, enthusiasm and confidence with them, and the staff is on the same page. They kept some of the same terminology. The two areas they'd like to see more improvement in summer camp are building the depth on the offensive line and at linebacker. Colin McCarthy will be back in the fall, but Shannon is looking for four or five linebackers that are interchangeable.

As expected, there were a few bumps in the road, but overall the players picked things up quickly.

"Are we better than we were last spring? Definitely," Shannon said. "Are we better than we were at the end of the season last year? Definitely."

Here were a few highlights from spring ball at Miami:

• Taylor Cook finished the spring with a bit of an edge over Cannon Smith at backup quarterback.

• C.J. Holton's move from safety to linebacker should give him a better chance to get on the field and was a step in helping the depth. Sean Spence and Arthur Brown played well this spring and Shannon said Jordan Futch came around the last two weeks.

• Brandon Washington became an offensive lineman the staff can depend on. They've got seven guys they're comfortable with up front, but Shannon said he is still looking for the eighth guy. That could be Ben Jones, Jermaine Johnson or Tyler Horn.

• Tight end Richard Gordon did a great job while all of the other scholarship tight ends were out with injuries. Shannon said the staff put a lot of pressure on him, and he got a lot of reps. "He should be in great shape," Shannon said. "He responded. When those guys come back, there will be a great competition to see which guy is going to step to the forefront and be that guy."

• Shannon said the media is making too much of Miami's lack of interceptions last year (they had four, the fewest of all 119 FBS schools). Shannon said their priority is to stop the run first, which they got better at this spring as a result of depth and maturity. He also said the Canes had about eight to 10 interceptions minimum this spring. He was particularly impressed with the "unbelievable" transition Sam Shields made from wide receiver to the secondary and considers him a starter who can "step in and play right away."

• The players who made a big impression on Shannon this spring were: Shields, Brown, Washington, Mike James, and Olivier Vernon. He said Vaughn Telemaque and Kendal Thompkins "put their stamp on where they want to be." Also, running back Damien Berry did a "tremendous job."

"Those guys have really taken that next step," Shannon said. "That's the biggest improvement, when you see guys who didn't play last year, see if they can really take that next step and be a guy we can say wow, he's going to be a guy we can depend on. That group of guys has really taken that next step of doing what we want them to do."