NCF Nation: Jonathan Meeks

Meeks named Jim Thorpe DB of the week

October, 24, 2012
10/24/12
10:40
AM ET
Clemson safety Jonathan Meeks was selected the Jim Thorpe Defensive Back of the Week on Thursday after recording two key interceptions in a 38-17 win against Virginia Tech.

With Clemson leading 10-7 in the second quarter, Meeks intercepted a pass and returned it 74 yards for a touchdown to give the Tigers momentum and a 17-7 lead. The 74-yard return was the longest interception return for a score by a Clemson player since 2006.

Meeks also added four tackles, a pass breakup and had another interception earlier in the second quarter. Meeks jumped to fifth in Clemson history in total interception return yards with 192.
Clemson fans, players and coaches have been waiting for this since the second the Discover Orange Bowl ended on Jan. 4 -- the kind of defensive performance that indicates progress, some sort of a sign that things really are getting better.

On a day in which Clemson’s usually unstoppable offense had to punt seven times, fumbled twice and turned it over once on an interception, the Tigers’ defense accounted for a score and held Virginia Tech to just seven second-half points in a 38-17 win.

While Virginia Tech fans are quick to criticize their stagnant offense, Clemson’s defense deserved credit for putting pressure on quarterback Logan Thomas and holding the Hokies to just 60 yards in the third quarter. The closer Clemson’s defense gets to the top of the statistical standings, the further it distances itself from last year’s defensive debacle in a 70-33 loss to West Virginia in the Orange Bowl.

“I think it’s a step forward,” first-year defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. It was better for a lot of different reasons. The win is the biggest. To see them have more consistent success than they’ve had and come up with some big turnovers and a pick-six and a fourth-down stop early to take away the momentum, there’s a lot that was definitely more positive than negative for the first time in a while.

“I don’t take it lightly, either, in regards to the work,” he said. “They deserve to have success because they have worked all year. You feel better about where you’re going.”

There’s still a lot of work to do in Death Valley -- Clemson is No. 62 in the country in scoring defense at 25.86 points per game -- but Saturday was proof that if Clemson’s offense is having an off day, the defense is capable of picking up the slack. Clemson had three interceptions and four total takeaways in the win. It was the most interceptions and takeaways by Clemson in a game since last season against North Carolina.

"They had a great performance,” said Clemson coach Dabo Swinney. “From the sidelines, I believe it was their best game of the season. We struggled with some missed tackles, but they did really well at getting turnovers, including that pick-six.

"They had some big stops in the second half. They put a lot of pressure on the quarterback, which caused some hesitancy on his part and forced him to throw off target."

Safety Jonathan Meeks had two interceptions, including one he ran back 74 yards for a touchdown, and senior safety Rashard Hall had a game-high 12 tackles. The linebackers also played well, with Jonathan Willard and Spencer Shuey racking up 10 and nine tackles, respectively.

Meeks became the first Clemson player to have two picks in a game since DeAndre McDaniel against Miami in 2009.

"We have been growing up as a defense as a whole,” Meeks said. “Those guys [the offense] had our back all season. We had their backs today. It is a team win. It is a quick turnaround to next Thursday, so we have to put this one behind us right now and turn it over to Wake Forest."

Their next task is getting Wake Forest to turn it over to the Clemson D.

ACC weekend rewind: Week 8

October, 22, 2012
10/22/12
10:00
AM ET
Here’s a look back at Week 8 in the ACC ...

[+] EnlargeClemson defense and Virginia Tech
Joshua S. Kelly/US PresswireClemson's defense held Logan Thomas and Virginia Tech to just 17 points.
The good: Clemson's defense. This highly criticized group played arguably its best game of the season, forcing Virginia Tech into four turnovers, including one interception safety Jonathan Meeks ran back 74 yards for a touchdown. The Hokies’ 17 points were a season low by an FBS team against Clemson this year.

The bad: Maryland’s quarterback situation. It started when Danny O’Brien transferred, and the hits just keep on coming for the Terps’ quarterbacks. As if it weren’t bad enough to lose starter C.J. Brown to a season-ending knee injury this summer, his backup, Perry Hills, was injured and taken out of Saturday’s game against NC State. And then there were two -- Caleb Rowe and Devin Burns, a former receiver who switched positions this summer just to help out.

The ugly: BC and Virginia are a combined 0-8 in ACC play.

The ugly II: Two calls in the Clemson-Virginia Tech game. The first was a sack that was called on Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas. It appeared the official blew the whistle too quickly, and it didn’t look anything like a sack. Maybe it was intended to prevent an injury? It nullified what would have been a momentum-changing first down. The other was a questionable call on what looked like a fumble by Sammy Watkins in the third quarter.

The historic: Duke’s sixth win. The Blue Devils are bowl eligible for the first time since 1994 and they are leading the Coastal Division standings after a 33-30 win over rival North Carolina.

The improved: Georgia Tech’s defense. After a tumultuous bye week in which defensive coordinator Al Groh was fired and assistant Charles Kelly was named the interim, the Jackets regrouped and showed progress in a win over BC. Georgia Tech shut down Boston College in a 37-17 win, holding the Eagles to 296 total yards and 32 on the ground.

The stat: The Hokies have four losses before the end of October for the first time since 1992.

The stat II: Duke had 234 yards rushing -- the most ever on the ground by a David Cutcliffe-coached Duke team.

The quote: "I'm still pretty darn young, and I've got a long time to go," he said, "but I want to leave this place much better than when we walked into it. That's when you know you've done something right." – Duke coach David Cutcliffe, according to USA Today.

The play: Duke quarterback Sean Renfree threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to Jamison Crowder on fourth down with 13 seconds left to beat North Carolina 33-30.

The play II: With two seconds remaining against NC State, Maryland kicker Brad Craddock’s 33-yard field goal attempt hit the left upright to seal NC State’s 20-18 win.

The painful: Both Florida State and Miami lost their leading rushers to injuries on Saturday. FSU running back Chris Thompson suffered a knee injury and Miami’s Duke Johnson left the game in the second half with a foot injury and didn't return. Coach Al Golden said Johnson would have X-rays after the game, but had no update on the situation during his weekly Sunday afternoon teleconference, according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

What we learned in the ACC: Week 8

October, 21, 2012
10/21/12
10:00
AM ET
Here’s a look at the lessons learned in the ACC in Week 8, in no particular order:

[+] EnlargeSean Renfree
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesSean Renfree led Duke pas North Carolina on Saturday and to the top of the Coastal Division standings.
1. Duke is bowl eligible for the first time since 1994. This was the biggest story in the ACC this weekend, as Duke rose to the top of the Coastal Division standings with its 33-30 come-from-behind win over rival North Carolina. Duke finally reached the six-win mark, and it did it against a team that beat Miami and Virginia Tech. One week after getting shut out in the final three quarters of a 41-20 loss at Virginia Tech, the Blue Devils bounced back and proved this season is definitely different in Durham.

2. Losses in the Coastal Division? No problem. Virginia Tech could be 7-5 and win this thing. Miami still controls its own destiny, despite a three-game losing streak. Oh, and Duke is leading the division standings and UNC is ineligible. Any other questions? This race is going to come down to November, whether it’s the Virginia Tech-at-Miami game on Thursday night or, heck, even the regular-season finale between Miami and Duke in Durham. Virginia Tech and Miami both lost ACC games this past weekend, and as far as the Coastal Division race is concerned, it didn’t matter too much.

3. Maryland was relentless, and NC State was lucky. The Wolfpack barely hung on in a 20-18 win in College Park and allowed the game to come down to a missed field goal as time expired. The Terps lost quarterback Perry Hills to a knee injury late in the second quarter and had to use two other quarterbacks to get through the game. NC State is notorious for its letdowns after big wins but narrowly escaped falling into that trap again. Tom O’Brien snapped his 13-game road losing streak against Atlantic Division opponents -- just barely.

4. Clemson’s defense is getting better. The Tigers’ much-maligned group had one of its best games of the season against the Hokies. Safety Jonathan Meeks had two of the Tigers’ three interceptions, and Virginia Tech finished with four turnovers. The Tigers held the Hokies to 60 yards of total offense in the third quarter and came up with some critical fourth-down stops.

5. The official pecking order in the Sunshine State: 1. Florida. 2. Florida State. 3. Miami. For each of the past two years, Florida State has won the unofficial state championship, and it’s still possible to do it again. Based on what we saw this weekend, though, there is a new hierarchy. The Gators absolutely hammered South Carolina in a 44-11 win Saturday. Miami put forth a good effort in the first half against the Noles, who had some problems of their own with 12 penalties and five fumbles -- two of which were lost. The November game between Florida State and Florida will be the final answer on this, but as of right now? Will Muschamp owns the state.

ACC helmet stickers: Week 8

October, 21, 2012
10/21/12
9:00
AM ET
Here are your top five performers from Week 8:

Duke: The Blue Devils are going bowling for the first time since 1994. They did it with an improbable 33-30 come-from-behind win against rival North Carolina, the program's first win against North Carolina since 2003. It was also Duke's first home victory in the series since 1998. Sean Renfree threw the game-winning touchdown on fourth down with 13 seconds remaining. It was a wild game with a fantastic finish, and will keep Duke relevant beyond October for the first time in almost two decades. Duke is leading the Coastal Division standings.

Wake Forest kicker Chad Hedlund: In a game that lacked offense, Hedlund was the Deacs' top scorer. The redshirt freshman attempted and made his first career field goal at the end of the first half, giving the Deacons a 10-7 lead. The kick was 22 yards. He then made his second field goal, a 44-yarder, on the opening drive of the second half. Hedlund made a third field goal, a 24-yarder, with 4:15 to play in the third. That is the first three field goal game for the Deacons since Jimmy Newman made three fields in the 2011 season opener at Syracuse.

Clemson free safety Jonathan Meeks: He had two interceptions in the second quarter of the Tigers' 38-17 win over Virginia Tech, including one he returned 74 yards for a touchdown. It was the first interception return for a touchdown since last season when Kourtnei Brown took one 20 yards against North Carolina, and it was the longest return by a Clemson player since 2006. Meeks also became the first Clemson player to have two interceptions in a game since 2009 when DeAndre McDaniel had two interceptions against Miami.

Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson: Give the man some credit. He fired his defensive coordinator, moved his defensive assistants around, and dominated Boston College in a 37-17 win on Saturday. Talk about a productive bye week. The Jackets snapped a three-game losing streak, finished with 563 yards and held the ball for more than 43 minutes.

Florida State running back Devonta Freeman. Chris Thompson had carried the bulk of the rushing load for the Seminoles this season, so when he got hurt early against Miami, Florida State was forced to turn to a familiar face. Freeman delivered, running for 70 yards and two decisive fourth-quarter touchdowns in the 33-20 victory. After going three straight weeks with no carries while trying to overcome a family tragedy, he has now delivered back-to-back 70-yard games. He was the big difference late against Miami.

Video: Clemson's Jonathan Meeks

October, 20, 2012
10/20/12
5:20
PM ET

Heather Dinich interviews Clemson SS Jonathan Meeks after the Tigers' 38-17 win over Virginia Tech on Saturday.
The jokes about the Clemson defense began during the Orange Bowl and have kept on rolling.

The most stale line by far: "Wait. I think West Virginia just scored again."

The Tigers have heard them all after a 70-33 loss to the Mountaineers on the biggest stage of the season. But there is nobody laughing in Clemson.

With a new defensive coordinator in Brent Venables and a new season ahead, there would be no better way to make the jokes stop than with an impressive performance against Auburn in the opener Saturday. This group simply cannot afford anything less.

[+] EnlargeRashard Hall
Douglas Jones/US PresswireRashard Hall (31) and the Clemson defense are looking to move on from the Orange Bowl loss to West Virginia.
"I'm ready for a new beginning," safety Rashard Hall said.

He is not the only one. Questions about this defense have trailed Clemson since the final seconds ticked away in Miami, becoming a dominant storyline going into this season. Coach Dabo Swinney promptly fired Kevin Steele after the loss and brought in Venables, whose impeccable credentials at Oklahoma alone give the Tigers an upgrade.

The reviews so far have been extremely flattering.

"He brings a lot of excitement, a lot of energy. ... Brent Venables is one of the best coaches I've ever had," Hall said. "Just the way he leads, his enthusiasm. He is real purposeful and a get-after-it kind of guy. We have all really responded to that."

Linebacker Corico Wright told local reporters: "We love what Coach Venables has brought to the table for us, what he's asked us to do. He has a lot of energy. He's a teacher, he makes sure we know what we're doing. From a defense standpoint, you see guys attacking the football whether it's in the air or on the ground, that's going to be the biggest difference for us this year."

The first order of business for Venables is rebuilding up front. With Andre Branch and Brandon Thompson gone, Malliciah Goodman is the lone returning starter on the defensive line and must take the next step in his development to carry this team. He is just about the only certainty along the line.

Grady Jarrett, DeShawn Williams and Corey Crawford are all sophomores and expected to start, with Josh Watson and Vic Beasley also expected to be big contributors. There are going to be changes at linebacker, as well, with the emergence of Quandon Christian and true freshman Travis Blanks. Wright is playing outside behind Tig Willard, after Stephone Anthony emerged in the middle last year.

Then, in the secondary, Hall, Xavier Brewer and Jonathan Meeks will all play at safety, and Darius Robinson takes over for Coty Sensabaugh at cornerback. Swinney was asked this week for his thoughts on who would emerge as a defensive playmaker this year, and he essentially said that was a large unknown.

The answers will start to come Saturday.

"There’ll be some good, there’ll be some bad," Venables told reporters in Clemson. "That’s what this season is about. The best teams I’ve had have gotten better over the course of the year. You find out what your strengths and weaknesses are. Game day is part of that process. Putting guys in the right spots, hopefully we’ve been able to identify that but maybe after the first game it isn’t what you thought it was. Hopefully at the end of the day there’ll be more passing grades than not. That means you played well. You want to see your guys play with great discipline, toughness and effort. You have that, you have a strong foundation."

Weekend rewind: Scrimmage reports

August, 20, 2012
8/20/12
10:00
AM ET
Not every school in the ACC gives scrimmage reports, but for those that do, we will gladly post the highlights. Here's a look back at what happened in the ACC this weekend, according to each school's report:

Boston College

Offensive highlights: Junior receiver Alex Amidon had seven catches for 84 yards, including a 29-yard touchdown reception, in the situational scrimmage Sunday. The scrimmage featured six end-of-half/fourth-quarter situations with limited time on the clock and a limited number of timeouts. Chase Rettig went 18-of-32 for 168 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.

Defensive highlights: Justin Simmons had two interceptions off second-team quarterback Josh Bordner. Manuel Asprilla intercepted Rettig at the goal line, and linebacker Nick Clancy intercepted a Rettig pass that was deflected by Mehdi Abdesmad a few plays later.

Special teams: Gerald Levano punted four times and averaged nearly 48 yards per punt. His first punt landed at the 2-yard line, while his second attempt went 60 yards. Kicker Nate Freese made his only field goal attempt, from 40 yards, and is now 6-for-6 on field goal attempts in the preseason.

Quotable: “We got a lot of nice young guys on this football team, and if they come through and play well, good things can happen, and Justin [Simmons] is one of them,” coach Frank Spaziani said. “He’s as advertised. We did our homework and everything that you do on kids. He’s a good prospect.”

Clemson

Offensive highlights: Tajh Boyd threw for 218 yards and three touchdowns Saturday, while Martavis Bryant had four catches for 97 yards and had two touchdowns. Boyd was 13-of-22 for 218 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. Backup Cole Stoudt went 4-of-9 for 61 yards and led a touchdown drive on his first possession. Andre Ellington had an 8-yard touchdown run, while Roderick McDowell led all running backs for a second straight scrimmage with 65 yards on four carries.

Defensive highlights: Coach Dabo Swinney praised the defensive line, where Josh Watson, Grady Jarrett and DeShawn Williams made plays. Xavier Brewer made a brilliant breakup of a long pass and added five tackles. Jonathan Meeks added an interception. Tony Steward made a big play with a 25-yard interception return.

Special teams: Williams had a blocked a field goal. Backup kicker Spence Benton made a 53-yard kick that could have been good from 63 yards.

Quotable: “We have two weeks to get dialed in,” Swinney said. “We are going to turn the page on Monday after our last two-a-day (practices) and start getting ready for Auburn. We will have our guys penciled in on where they need to be.”

Duke

Offensive highlights: Quarterback Brandon Connette caught a 15-yard touchdown pass from Sean Renfree and ran for another in a 95-snap, controlled scrimmage Friday night at Wallace Wade Stadium. Renfree went 14-of-21 for 116 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Freshman Shaquille Powell had eight carries for 30 yards, while Jela Duncan had 28 yards on nine attempts. Garrett Patterson, who moved from defensive back to receiver this week during practice, had five receptions for 80 yards.

Defensive highlights: Cornerbacks Lee Butler and Tony Foster each had interceptions while linebacker Deion Williams recovered one fumble. Freshman defensive end Michael Mann had one sack and one forced fumble.

Special teams highlights: Freshman kicker Ross Martin made field goals of 43 and 48 yards and converted his only extra-point attempt.

Georgia Tech

Offensive highlights: Broderick Snoddy had a 70-yard touchdown run on the second series, while quarterback Vad Lee threw two touchdowns to A-back B.J. Bostic. Lee later added a touchdown run as he continues to work at quarterback and A-back. Synjyn Days and freshman Justin Thomas also took snaps at quarterback, and each led scoring drives.

Defensive highlights: Nick Menocal had an interception he nearly returned for a touchdown. Jimmie Kitchen recovered a fumble, while defensive lineman Anthony Williams had two sacks.

Special teams highlights: Justin Moore had a 29-yard field goal, while David Scully made a 31-yard field goal and all five of his extra-point attempts. There was no punting on Saturday.

Quotable: “The guys are ready to play someone else,” quarterback Tevin Washington said. “We’ve been hitting each other for two weeks and all summer doing drills against each other. Guys are just ready to go and get some new faces in front of us.”

Maryland

Freshman Stefon Diggs continued to impress, as he had three first-half touchdowns -- a 68-yard punt return, a 98-yard kickoff return and an 11-yard reception. Quarterback Perry Hills ran the first-team offense and led Maryland to scores on three of his five drives.

On the opening drive, Hills took the Terps on an 18-play, 76-yard touchdown drive, He went 5-of-6 for 27 yards on the drive and also rushed for 36 yards, including a 16-yard touchdown run.

"I thought Perry [Hills] had a good day," coach Randy Edsall said. "I thought he did some good things. Of course there's going to be plenty of things that he could learn from, and get better, but I think that we didn't have any issues with delay of game, really didn't have any false starts. When you talk about the mechanics and the operation of the offense I thought he handled it really well."

Miami

The Hurricanes' scrimmage Saturday was cut short in the middle of the second quarter because of lightning in the area. Among the highlights in the abbreviated scrimmage: Mike James and Duke Johnson each had touchdown runs, and Kelvin Cain recorded a sack in the end zone for a safety.

Virginia Tech

Offensive highlights: Logan Thomas went 8-of-15 for 112 yards and a score, while backup Mark Leal went 6-of-16 for 111 yards, with a touchdown and an interception. Kevin Asante led all receivers with four catches for 79 yards, while Corey Fuller caught three passes for 68 yards. The Hokies also rushed for 174 yards. J.C. Coleman played with a broken hand and had 54 yards -- 52 coming on one run -- and Trey Edmunds added 45. Tony Gregory rushed for 36 yards, including a 26-yard touchdown run. Projected starter Michael Holmes had three carries for 21 yards.

Defensive highlights: The projected first-team defense allowed a little more than 120 yards in four series (24 plays) and gave up just two field goals. Walk-on Zach Snell had six tackles, while Ronny Vandyke had five. Desmond Frye and Antone Exum each recorded four. The defense had five total sacks and Bruce Taylor had an interception.

Special teams highlights: Cody Journell made two field goals and missed one, while Brooks Abbott made one and had a 37-yarder blocked by Kyle Fuller.

Quotable: “I thought it was one of the more productive offensive first scrimmages we’ve had around here,” coach Frank Beamer said. “I think we did some good things, and I think we’ll see some things we can improve. Overall, I think the effort was good. I always say this, but it’s hard to come out pleased because if the offense makes plays, you’re worried about your defense. If the defense makes plays, you’re worried about your offense. Overall, I thought it was a good first scrimmage.”
With national signing day quickly approaching, we’re going to take a look at the recruiting needs of each school in the ACC, starting with the Atlantic Division. These needs are based on current rosters and anticipated departures in the near future. Here’s a look at who has what holes to fill in the 2012 class:

BOSTON COLLEGE

Linemen: The depth here continues to be a priority on both sides. The decision of defensive end Max Holloway to declare early for the NFL draft was an unexpected loss, and tackle Dillon Quinn will be a senior. Offensively, the Eagles will have to replace two veterans and leaders in center Mark Spinney and guard Nate Richman.

Linebackers: All-American Luke Kuechly’s decision to leave early for the NFL draft was expected, but the staff is looking for about two or three more linebackers in this class.

Receivers: This was a young group to begin with, as Alex Amidon and Bobby Swigert were both true sophomores, but the staff could use one or two more in this class.

CLEMSON

Linemen: The Tigers will lose three starters on the defensive line and three more on the offensive line from the 2011 ACC championship team. Center Dalton Freeman is a returning starter, but he will be a senior. Six players on the final two-deep depth chart on the offensive line were either seniors or graduate students in 2011, and four on the defensive line two-deep must be replaced.

Running back: Andre Ellington is entering his senior year, and while Mike Bellamy is back in school and in the good graces of coach Dabo Swinney, the future of the position is uncertain. Rod McDowell played well in the bowl game, and D.J. Howard has been a backup.

Defensive backs: The Tigers could start three seniors in the secondary in 2012: Xavier Brewer, Rashard Hall and Jonathan Meeks.

Kickers: The Tigers will lose punter Dawson Zimmerman, opening up an opportunity for a true freshman to play immediately.

FLORIDA STATE

Pick and choose: The Noles have built up enough depth that they can now be selective. Instead of building a class heavy on offensive linemen, Florida State can now pick and choose the best at each position. The Noles need at least one running back, one or two quarterbacks, a few offensive tackles, a linebacker to help replace Nigel Bradham and a safety or two.

Kickers: The Noles have big shoes to fill with the graduation of punter Shawn Powell, and kicker Dustin Hopkins is entering his final season.

MARYLAND

Running back: This is a position where a true freshman could see some playing time this year. Justus Pickett returns, along with Brandon Ross, who redshirted last year.

Quarterback: The Terps ended the 2011 season with only two scholarship quarterbacks on the roster in Danny O’Brien and C.J. Brown. Both will be juniors and nobody is behind them.

Cornerback. Maryland has to replace Trenton Hughes and Cameron Chism at cornerback, leaving Dexter McDougle the only one with any significant playing time.

NC STATE

Defensive line: The staff already has about six linemen committed and ends were a particular focus. Half of the linemen in the two-deep depth chart for the Belk Bowl were either juniors or seniors.

Secondary: This should be a strength for NC State in 2012, but the staff needs to prepare for the future here. Cornerback C.J. Wilson will be a senior, along with safeties Earl Wolff and Brandan Bishop.

Quarterback: Mike Glennon is already listed as a graduate student, and his backup, Tyler Brosius, redshirted this past season. The position is thin and the future uncertain behind Glennon.

WAKE FOREST

Offensive line: The Deacs will lose four starters up front, but coach Jim Grobe has only played one true freshman there in 11 years. He has several redshirt freshmen and sophomores who are expected to fill in, but the staff wants to continue to build the depth at the position.

Tight end: Wake Forest will graduate its top two tight ends and will turn to two redshirt sophomores in Neil Basford and Johnny Garcia who have yet to catch a pass. It’s possible this could be a spot where an exceptional freshman could see playing time.

Defensive backs: The Deacs have to replace starting free safety Josh Bush and starting strong safety Cyhl Quarles. Cornerback Kenny Okoro will be a redshirt senior.
Moving on to the safeties …

[+] EnlargeRay-Ray Armstrong
Marvin Gentry/US PresswireRay-Ray Armstrong is among the leaders of a strong Miami secondary.
1. Miami: Vaughn Telemaque and Ray-Ray Armstrong return, but JoJo Nicolas moved to corner. Even though Armstrong wasn’t a starter last year, he still ranked third on the team with 79 tackles and tied for the team lead with three interceptions.

2. Florida State: The Seminoles return both starters in Nick Moody and Terrance Parks. Moody had 79 tackles last season and Parks had 44 and six deflections. The group was strengthened with the addition of Lamarcus Joyner, who moved from cornerback and proved this spring he’s capable of being a safety.

3. NC State: The Wolfpack has two of the best in Earl Wolff, the team’s leading tackler last season with 95, and Brandan Bishop, who had 56 tackles and a team-high four interceptions. Dontae Johnson (22 tackles), also returns.

4. Virginia Tech: Eddie Whitley is the lone returning starter, but he should be one of the best in the ACC. Antone Exum, who was the No. 2 free safety last season, moved to rover this spring. He played in every game last season and had five starts when Tech went to its nickel defense.

5. Virginia: The Cavaliers return veteran starters in Rodney McLeod and Corey Mosley, who have combined for 41 career starts. Mosley had 52 tackles and two interceptions last season, and McLeod had 54 tackles and four pass breakups. Safety Dom Joseph (34 tackles) also returns.

6. Duke: The Blue Devils return both starters in Matt Daniels and Lee Butler. Daniels, a senior, has started 25 career games and is one of the top returning tacklers in the ACC. Butler had 58 tackles and nine passes defended last season.

7. Boston College: The Eagles return juniors Jim Noel, who had four interceptions in eight starts, and Okechukwu Okoroha, who started the final six games last fall. Noel, Okoroha, and Dominick LeGrande combined for 90 tackles last season.

8. Wake Forest: Both starters return in Daniel Mack and Cyhl Quarles. Mack had 45 tackles and two interceptions last season. Duran Lowe (30 tackles) could unseat Quarles, who is Wake’s leading returning tackler with 71 hits. Redshirt freshman Desmond Cooper is also competing for playing time.

9. Clemson: Rashard Hall has 19 career starts and made 62 tackles and two interceptions last season. Safety Jonathan Meeks (28 tackles, one start) also returns, along with Carlton Lewis.

10. Maryland: Just as Kenny Tate’s move to linebacker bumped the Terps up in the ranking in that category, his departure from safety drops them a few notches as they now don’t have any returning starters there. They do, however, have experience. Eric Franklin played in 11 games, with 23 tackles and three interceptions (tied for second on the team). Matt Robinson played in all 13 games and posted 29 tackles and forced a pair of fumbles. The Terps have plenty of depth with Austin Walker, Titus Till, Anthony Green and Desmond Haynes.

11. North Carolina: Matt Merletti had five starts and Jonathan Smith, who lettered in 2008 and 2009 but missed all of last season, are the projected starters. They will be pushed by junior Gene Robinson (four starts, 30 tackles, one interception) for playing time.

12. Georgia Tech: The Jackets had to replace both of their safeties in Mario Edwards and Jerrard Tarrant. Safety Fred Holton (11 tackles) and Isaiah Johnson (46 tackles, one interception) are the two most likely front-runners to start this fall.
Clemson fans saw more out of the Tigers' offense in this year's spring game than they did a year ago -- literally.

Last year, the Tigers ran 108 total plays in their spring game. On Saturday, the Tigers ran a total of 130. And yes, it was balanced, with 69 rushing and 61 passing plays. Clemson, which is under the direction of first-year offensive coordinator Chad Morris, snapped the ball with 16-20 seconds left on the play clock on most plays.

“People saw that we will run a fast paced offense this coming season, but we really would like to go faster,” coach Dabo Swinney said, according to the team's practice report. “I was pleased with what I saw in the running game today. All three of our backs ran well. And Tajh Boyd ran well. He made some good decision today and most importantly, he did not have a turnover.”

While Boyd was in the spotlight for the first time, Clemson's rushing attack was the highlight, as two players ran for at least 100 yards each. Demont Buice had 18 carries for 102 yards and Rod McDowell rushed 12 times for 100 yards for the Orange team. D.J. Howard had 11 carries for 97 yards and a touchdown for the White team.

Boyd threw for one touchdown (to tight end Dwayne Allen) and rushed for one. He completed 8 of 24 passes for 114 yards and had eight carries for 43 yards. His Orange offense averaged 6.2 yards per carry. DeAndre Hopkins, Clemson’s top receiver last year as a freshman with 52 catches, had four for 54 yards. Allen had three catches for 43 yards, including a 10-yard touchdown.

Freshman quarterback Cole Stoudt was 6-of-22 passing for 118 yards. Marquan Jones led the White team with three catches for 71 yards.

Desmond Brown led the Orange team with seven tackles. Spencer Shuey and Andre Branch each had two sacks. Justin Parker had the only interception of the game.

The White defense was led by Jonathan Meeks with seven tackles and two pass breakups. Garry Peters, a redshirt freshman, had six stops, a fumble recovery and a pass breakup. Quandon Christian had five tackles and a forced fumble. Freshman Corey Crawford, who entered Clemson in January, had two sacks.

Clemson offensive starters Andre Ellington (RB) and Antoine McClain (OG) were injured and did not play.

ACC's irreplaceable players

June, 8, 2010
6/08/10
10:00
AM ET
This week, ESPN’s “College Football Live” is revealing the most irreplaceable players heading into the 2010 season. These are the guys who are not only invaluable to their team, but have a question mark behind them. As good as NC State quarterback Russell Wilson is, he’s got a capable backup behind him in Mike Glennon, who took all of the first-team reps this spring while Wilson was playing baseball. Same can be said at Florida State, where E.J. Manuel was the MVP of the Gator Bowl in Christian Ponder’s absence. So who would they miss most?

Here’s a look at who the most irreplaceable players are on each roster:

BOSTON COLLEGE: Montel Harris, RB -- His health is of the utmost importance, as Harris IS the Eagles’ running game. Rolandan Finch, who had mononucleosis last year, tore his ACL in mid-April. Freshman Sterlin Phifer is an option, but it was hard to tell how much he might be able to help from spring scrimmages because there wasn’t a lot of rushing with the hopes of keeping everyone healthy. Phifer had 15 carries for 28 yards and a touchdown in the first two scrimmages.

CLEMSON: DeAndre McDaniel, CB -- Quick: name his backup. Exactly. Why would you take an All-American off the field if you didn’t have to? McDaniel is the star of a defense that lost two veterans in the secondary. If McDaniel goes down, sophomore Jonathan Meeks is the next man up. He had 54 snaps last year and played on special teams.

DUKE: Sean Renfree, QB -- Even though Renfree is only entering his first season as a full-time starter for the Blue Devils, there is even less experience behind him. Renfree has at least taken a snap in a game. Freshman quarterback Brandon Connette enrolled in January and Sean Schroeder was running the scout team offense a year ago.

FLORIDA STATE: Rodney Hudson, OG -- He didn’t allow a sack or quarterback pressure all season. Now there’s a guy Ponder won’t want to be missing this fall. Hudson only missed four assignments all season and had a team-high average grade of 88 over 11 starts. He missed the last two regular-season games with a knee sprain.

GEORGIA TECH: Joshua Nesbitt, QB -- The Jackets settled on Tevin Washington as their backup quarterback this spring, but there is still a significant gap between he and Nesbitt. Nesbitt has mastered the spread-option offense and the timing needed to perfect it. Washington has six carries and one pass attempt.

MARYLAND: Torrey Smith, WR -- He’s unmatched on the roster when it comes to all-around contributions. He’s a kick returner, a receiver and a team leader. He’s also the most explosive player the Terps have.

MIAMI: Jacory Harris, QB -- Coach Randy Shannon has said he can win a national title with Harris as his quarterback, but in order to have any chance at doing that, the Canes obviously have to keep him healthy. A.J. Highsmith played in three games last year, but road trips to Pitt and Ohio State are no places for introductions.

NORTH CAROLINA: Robert Quinn, DT -- It’s not easy to replace a guy who has 11 sacks and 19 tackles for losses. The players behind him are good -- Quinton Coples and Michael McAdoo -- but they have yet to start a college game and prove dependable for the number of plays the staff asks of Quinn.

NC STATE: Nate Irving, LB -- The Wolfpack saw how devastating it was to lose Irving a year ago, when he missed the whole season after injuries he sustained in a summer car accident. Some within the program say he is the best player on the roster, and the defense definitely wasn’t the same without him last year.

VIRGINIA: Marc Verica, QB -- There’s no shortage of quarterbacks for Mike London to choose from in his first year as head coach, but Verica is the only one who has attempted a collegiate pass. Ross Metheny and Michael Strauss were the only other quarterbacks available this past spring, and they were competing for the No. 2 spot.

VIRGINIA TECH: Tyrod Taylor, QB -- The Hokies will need their veteran healthy to keep their championship hopes alive this fall. The No. 2 job has yet to be solidified, but Logan Thomas made the strongest case this spring over Ju-Ju Clayton.

WAKE FOREST: Russell Nenon, C -- He has started 25 games, including the past 19, at center. Nenon is one of just two starters returning to an offensive line in need of some help. The Deacs were shorthanded up front this spring, as Nenon was injured.

video

SPONSORED HEADLINES