NCF Nation: Josh Harris

Meyer looks for more memories at NU

October, 4, 2013
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The motivational techniques were working even then, regardless of how well they were nationally known.

The spread offense was putting up crazy numbers, despite the fact Bowling Green didn’t settle on one starting quarterback until near the end of the season.

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer
AP Photo/Cal Sport MediaUrban Meyer remembers clearly and fondly a win at Northwestern while at Bowling Green
And Urban Meyer was already coaching aggressively and unafraid to get a little creative with the game on the line, though that reputation was only just being established as he took his Falcons to Northwestern in mid-November 2001.

But the Meyer trademark was all over his first team, and in hindsight it’s plain to see.

In spite of the conference affiliations and a late comeback, his quarterback didn’t consider Bowling Green an underdog then and doesn’t remember the win as an upset now. In just his second start in the spread offense, Josh Harris set a school record for total offense and the Falcons scored 43 points on the road. And perhaps most important of all, those last 2 points not only came after a gutsy decision to play for the win, Bowling Green scored them on a reverse to a converted wide receiver who had the option to throw and the outcome in his hands.

“Not only was it a huge game, but it was also an opponent that we, quote unquote, weren’t supposed to beat,” Harris said. “Even if they weren’t a super name-brand [program], they were in the Big Ten and we were the little guys from the MAC.

“We went and put it down on them. It was definitely one of those defining moments of my career.”

The dramatic victory also set the stage for Meyer’s career, giving him the first of what would become many shining moments on the sideline and offering an early glimpse at his potential leading a program.

Now 12 years later, he’s leading a different team to Northwestern under far different circumstances as the No. 4 Buckeyes hit the road as clear favorites in the Big Ten and a potential threat to win the national title. But even three programs and more than a decade removed from Bowling Green, the memories of his debut season and a signature win still come back easily.

“Coaches are weird ducks, man,” Meyer said. “I don't know my address but I can tell you every play in that game.

“We had a sixhour bus ride, and we refused to leave the locker room for about two and a half hours. Those kids wouldn't leave, and I wouldn't leave with them. We were just crying and enjoying it.”

There was a real possibility the tears of joy could have been for disappointment after trailing for nearly the entire game and facing long odds down 14 points in the final four minutes.

But Harris operated a pair of flawless hurry-up drives sandwiched around a Northwestern fumble, capping an outing with 402 yards passing with a short touchdown pass to pull within a point with 36 seconds to go. Meyer kept the offense on the field after that, dialed up a bit of trickery and trusted Cole Magner to make the right decision with the football as the outcome -- and Northwestern’s chances to earn a bowl bid -- hung in the balance.

“What was unique about it was the guy whose hands he put the ball in,” Harris said. “I mean, you’re talking about a true freshman from Alaska, quarterback-turned-wide receiver. At the time he was probably 150 pounds, and we called a little reverse pass with an option to run, and I don’t think he ever even thought about throwing the ball. He caught the pitch and just booked it for the pylon.

“It didn’t end up being unique [for Meyer], but at the time it was still pretty unprecedented.”

That first visit to Northwestern, though, did wind up helping set the standard for Meyer and his teams. Now he’s returning to the scene of the crime, looking to add to his memory bank.

ACC weekend rewind: Week 4

September, 23, 2013
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Here is one last look back at the week that was in the ACC.

The good: Perhaps Clemson teams of the past would have faltered when adversity struck early Thursday in Raleigh, N.C. But the defensive line stood up, and the offense made plays when it needed to, turning a close contest into a more comfortable 26-14 win, allowing the Tigers to remain the ACC's most likely national title contender.

[+] EnlargeTravis Blanks
Ethan Hyman/Raleigh News & Observer/MCT via Getty ImagesThe Clemson defense played well in the win over North Carolina State.
The bad: Pitt's defense avoids this distinction only because Duke's was worse. The Panthers escaped Durham, N.C., with a 58-55 win Saturday for their first ACC victory. The Blue Devils surrendered 598 yards of offense and did not force a single turnover, while committing four themselves. Duke coach David Cutcliffe said Sunday that he had never been a part of any game like it before.

The ugly: Virginia Tech beat Marshall 29-21 in three overtimes to get to 3-1. The first two overtimes featured no scores. The game had five total turnovers. Marshall committed 11 penalties. Oh, and both kickers combined to go 0-for-5 on field goal attempts, with the Hokies' Ethan Keyserling going 0-for-3 while replacing Cody Journell, who was suspended for an unspecified violation of team rules. The one bright spot was Derrick Hopkins coming oh-so-close to a walk-off fat guy touchdown after a Rakeem Cato fumble in overtime No. 2.

The wake me when it's over: The fourth quarter of Miami's 77-7 win over Savannah State was shortened to 12 minutes, as mutually agreed upon by both coaches. What more needs to be said about this matchup?

The wake me when it's over, Parts 2 and 3: In case one FCS beatdown wasn't enough for you, Virginia beat VMI 49-0 and Florida State beat Bethune-Cookman 54-6. For those keeping count, that's a combined 180-13 margin for the three ACC squads against FCS foes this past weekend.

The rebound: Wake Forest needed a win in the worst way, and the Demon Deacons came through Saturday at Army. Josh Harris had two second-half touchdowns and Nikita Whitlock notched 14 tackles, giving the Deacs a 25-11 win before they prepare to head to Clemson this week.

The statement: Nice little stories don't force six turnovers and beat West Virginia 37-0. They don't hold the Mountaineers to six first downs and 175 total yards of offense. And they don't start 4-0. It may be time to take Maryland seriously after its rout of WVU, as the Terrapins are two wins shy of their previous two-year total under Randy Edsall, who refused to call the win a signature one but is surely pleased with his team's start this season.

The what-could-have-been: Hindsight is 20/20. We don't know how ready Terrel Hunt would have been to start for Syracuse in the season opener. And Wagner and Tulane are not as good as Penn State and Northwestern. That said, the loss to the Nittany Lions was a winnable game. And Hunt's two starts after the Orange's first two losses with Drew Allen under center have been great, as he completed 16 of 21 passes Saturday against the Green Wave for 181 yards and four touchdowns. He added 39 yards and another score on the ground, and he did not turn the ball over. Hunt, as Anish Shroff pointed out, has the highest Total QBR rating in the country, though he has not played enough yet to qualify for the top spot.

The stand: Georgia Tech improved to 2-0 in the conference with a 28-20 home win over North Carolina, and it did it with its defense. The Yellow Jackets trailed by 13 twice in the first half. But they held the Tar Heels without a point over the game's final 39-plus minutes and held UNC to just 319 total yards of offense.

ACC predictions: Week 1

August, 29, 2013
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The most anticipated post of Week 1 has finally arrived: Prediction time! Heather and I both got out our crystal balls and looked into the future. Here is what each of us sees for opening week in the ACC:

Thursday

North Carolina at No. 6 South Carolina, 6 p.m., ESPN. #UNCvsSC. The headliner in this game is Jadeveon Clowney, for obvious reasons. If North Carolina still had its offensive line from a year ago, I would like its chances in this game more. But with two redshirt freshmen starting on the offensive line and a new starting running back, the Tar Heels have major questions at the two strongest positions on the team in 2012. Defensively, North Carolina is thin at linebacker, so that is a concern, along with replacing Sylvester Williams up front. Bryn Renner will be able to keep North Carolina in the game, but South Carolina will ultimately win because it is stronger on the offensive and defensive lines.

AA picks: South Carolina 34, North Carolina 21

HD picks: South Carolina 24, North Carolina 21

Presbyterian at Wake Forest, 6:30 p.m., ESPN3. #PREvsWAKE. Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe goes into the season needing four victories to become the all-time winningest coach in school history. After this game, that number should shrink to three. Presbyterian won only two games last season, so I am not sure how much of a challenge a bad FCS team will present. Still, a few things to keep an eye on: the Wake Forest running game -- both Josh Harris and the offensive line. How much more will Tanner Price be used in running situations? Wake has a big game in Week 2 against BC, so Grobe is going to want to see what he can build on.

AA picks: Wake Forest 50, Presbyterian 3

HD picks: Wake Forest 45, Presbyterian 10

Friday

FAU at Miami, 8 p.m., ESPNU. #FAUvsMIA. The Hurricanes open the season without a resolution from the NCAA. Shocking, right? But that should not be a distraction. The bigger distraction could be the "look-ahead factor," with Miami playing rival Florida the following week. FAU has a long way to go if it wants to compete with Miami. Simply put, this won't be much of a test for the Hurricanes. The talent gap is too wide. Coach Al Golden just has to make sure his team remains focused on FAU.

AA picks: Miami 45, FAU 10

HD picks: Miami 42, FAU 17

Saturday

Elon at Georgia Tech, noon, ESPN3. #ELONvsGT. This is the schools' first meeting in football. It is not much of a matchup, either. Elon only won three games last year, so the Jackets should not have many problems in this game. They do have some injuries at a few spots, but with a bye the following week, Georgia Tech should be much healthier for its Sept. 14 game at Duke. It will be good to see how Vad Lee plays, what type of backs rotation Paul Johnson uses and how Ted Roof's new defense looks.

AA picks: Georgia Tech 55, Elon 3

HD picks: Georgia Tech 55, Elon 0

Villanova at Boston College, noon, ESPNews. #VILLvsBC. Coach Steve Addazio is pretty familiar with Villanova. When he was head coach at Temple in 2011 and 2012, the Owls opened the season against Villanova and won both games easily. This will be a good early test for the Eagles with Addazio in charge. First priority is to see how much better the offensive line and running game do. Second priority is to see more physicality from both sides of the ball. Both will be important, with the league opener against Wake Forest the following week.

AA picks: Boston College 35, Villanova 13

HD picks: Boston College 35, Villanova 17

FIU at Maryland (12:30 p.m., GamePlan/ESPN3. #FIUvsMD. Maryland has a very favorable nonconference schedule to open the season and kicks things off against an FIU team that took a big step back in 2012. The Panthers have a new head coach and only eight returning starters, to boot. Maryland, meanwhile, has a healthy C.J. Brown ready to open the season and the best player on the field in Stefon Diggs. Three keys to watch for the Terps: 1. How does the retooled offensive line hold up? 2. Will the running game be better? 3. How does the retooled defense with six new starters fare?

AA picks: Maryland 33, FIU 10

HD picks: Maryland 38, FIU 21

Louisiana Tech at NC State, 12:30 p.m., GamePlan/ESPN3. #LATECHvsNCST. The Dave Doeren era begins against one of the better teams from outside the power conferences a year ago. Louisiana Tech has a new coach in Skip Holtz and a first-year starting quarterback, but it also returns 1,000-yard rusher Kenneth Dixon and defensive end IK Enemkpali, a first-team WAC selection a year ago. NC State has not named a starting quarterback yet, and running back Shadrach Thornton is suspended for this one. Plus, the Wolfpack will have new offensive and defensive schemes and return only 11 starters. I expect for it to take some time to work out the kinks. Louisiana Tech upset Virginia a year ago, so this is not a team to overlook. This will be a good first test for Doeren.

AA picks: NC State 35, Louisiana Tech 24

HD picks: NC State 42, Louisiana Tech 7

Syracuse vs. Penn State, 3:30 p.m., ABC/ESPN2. #CUSEvsPSU. Neither team plans on naming a starting quarterback going into this one, so the big unknown is who will be under center when the game kicks off. What is known is that Syracuse should have a powerful running game going into the season with 1,000-yard rusher Jerome Smith returning, along with Prince-Tyson Gulley. There are definite questions for the Orange not only at quarterback, but at receiver, offensive tackle and along the defensive line. But I like what coach Scott Shafer has preached so far. His team is going to be hard-nosed and physical, and I believe it will be able to eke out a very close win.

AA picks: Syracuse 24, Penn State 21

HD picks: Penn State 31, Syracuse 21

BYU at Virginia, 3:30 p.m., ESPNU. #BYUvsUVA. There is no doubt the Cougars go into the game with a stout defense, led by outstanding linebacker Kyle Van Noy. But I am going with the Hoos in this game for a few reasons. First, they are at home and should have an advantage with BYU traveling from the Mountain time zone. Second, I think they will be a much more sound team on offense and defense. David Watford's mobility should help against the Cougars' D. Third, BYU has not been as good on offense in recently. If the Hoos can establish the run the way they did in 2011 and be more aggressive on D, they win. One more note: In his career as a head coach, Mike London has won all five of his openers. This will be his first as UVa coach against an FBS team.

AA picks: Virginia 21, BYU 20

HD picks: BYU 28, Virginia 21

NC Central at Duke, 4 p.m., ESPN3. #NCCUvsDUKE. The Blue Devils should have a relatively easy time against NC Central, the way they did last season. What they want to see is how Anthony Boone plays in his first game as starting quarterback and what types of strides the defense has made since last season. Both are going to be big keys for Duke if it wants to get back to a bowl game.

AA picks: Duke 48, NC Central 13

HD picks: Duke 48, NC Central 10

No. 1 Alabama vs. Virginia Tech, 5:30 p.m., ESPN. #BAMAvsVT. A few months ago, I thought the Hokies might have a fighting chance in this game. But I just don't think they have the personnel to do so now that game week has arrived. Given the uncertainty on the offensive line, at running back and in the secondary, it is going to be tough sledding for Virginia Tech to score more than two touchdowns against one of the best defenses in America. If Virginia Tech finds a way to win, it will be because it was able to establish the run, control the clock and pressure AJ McCarron into mistakes. Not out of the question. But it appears improbable at this point.

AA picks: Alabama 31, Virginia Tech 13

HD picks: Alabama 45, Virginia Tech 20

No. 5 Georgia at No. 8 Clemson, 8 p.m., ABC. #UGAvsCLEM. The game of the year, or at least the game of the week, has finally arrived after months and months of buildup. We finally get to see whether the Tigers can continue the momentum they established in the bowl win over LSU last season. Georgia has a veteran quarterback and the best rushing duo in the country. How Clemson handles Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall is the biggest key for an improving defense. But this is why Clemson wins the game: Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins and a veteran offensive line have the upper hand over a defense that only returns three starters, including just one up front.

AA picks: Clemson 35, Georgia 31

HD picks: Clemson 38, Georgia 35

Monday

No. 11 Florida State at Pitt, 8 p.m., ESPN. #FSUvsPITT. A big opening week concludes with a huge game for both teams. Pitt begins its first season in the ACC with a marquee opponent at home, while Florida State begins its quest for another ACC title with a freshman starting at quarterback. Heather put Florida State on preseason upset watch last month, but it's hard for me to see the Panthers pulling the upset for two reasons: 1. They are banged-up at running back and have no depth at the position. 2. Florida State has a big-time advantage on the offensive and defensive lines. Pitt will give Florida State all it can handle, but the talent disparity is too wide for the Panthers to overcome in the opener.

AA picks: Florida State 27, Pitt 17

HD picks: Florida State 31, Pitt 21

Most to prove in the ACC

August, 28, 2013
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Heading into the season, everyone has something to prove -- some more than others, of course. Here’s a look at which coaches, players and position groups have the most to prove in the ACC heading into Week 1:

[+] EnlargeLogan Thomas
Rob Foldy/USA TODAY SportsQB Logan Thomas and the Virginia Tech offense will face a stiff test from Alabama in Week 1.
1. Virginia Tech’s offense. Hands down, no other group in the conference is facing more doubt, especially going up against Alabama’s defense in the season opener. The Hokies were No. 81 in the country in scoring offense last year at 25.08 points per game. Quarterback Logan Thomas returns and has made strides under first-year coordinator Scot Loeffler, but questions remain with a young supporting cast.

2. Clemson’s secondary. This is one group that has remained a concern for coach Dabo Swinney through the summer, and rightfully so, especially with Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray coming to town on Saturday. Only Duke (29) and Maryland (24) gave up more passing touchdowns in the league last season than Clemson (23).

3. Miami defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio. The Canes’ defense was one of the worst in the country in 2012, ranking No. 116 in total defense and No. 82 in scoring defense. And ranking No. 113 in the country in sacks was well below Miami’s standards. With all four starters returning on the defensive line and such high hopes for the Canes this fall, the pressure to show major improvement is on.

4. Florida State’s staff: Despite the loss of 11 players to the NFL draft, Florida State still abounds with talent, but there are six new assistants on staff tasked with developing it. All of these hires will eventually be a reflection on coach Jimbo Fisher. The Noles will start 2013 with a new defensive coordinator in Jeremy Pruitt, new running backs coach, new quarterbacks coach, new tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator, new defensive ends coach and a new linebackers coach.

5. UNC’s offensive line: Two redshirt freshmen will be in the lineup when the Tar Heels open on Thursday night against South Carolina, which will have arguably the best defensive line in the SEC. While James Hurst has received plenty of preseason hype, he’s going to need some help, especially with so much inexperience around him. How UNC fares without Jonathan Cooper will help determine how it will do without Giovani Bernard, too.

6. Wake Forest running back Josh Harris: He has been plagued by injuries his whole career, and his durability has become a question both inside the program and out. Harris also struggled academically but received a waiver from the NCAA so he is eligible to play. The Deacs could use a big season from Harris to get their running game going.

7. Pitt’s running backs: It went downhill when Rushel Shell decided to transfer. Now, the lead candidate to replace him, Isaac Bennett, has spent most of the summer with an injured knee. Pitt is missing its top two rushers from last fall -- and now the next two in line are question marks heading into the season. The situation is in limbo as the Panthers get set to make their ACC debut against Florida State on Monday, as freshman James Conner was also injured. Malcolm Crockett, who had 12 carries last year, could be the solution.

8. Duke’s defense: This has been the Blue Devils’ Achilles' heel, and it has to improve if Duke is to make back-to-back bowl appearances. It’s a veteran group, and last year was the second season in the 4-2-5 scheme. Still, Duke ranked No. 107 in the country in scoring defense in 2012, No. 105 in total defense and No. 101 in rushing defense. The only way to go is up.

9. Virginia coach Mike London: One year after being named the ACC’s Coach of the Year and taking the team to the Chick-fil-A Bowl, London led the Cavaliers to a 4-8 finish last fall. London made sweeping changes to his staff, including the hires of new coordinators. There have been some critics who have questioned whether the program is still heading in the right direction, but those within the program insist it is. Now is the time to prove it.

10. Maryland coach Randy Edsall: He’s won a total of six games in the past two seasons, and this fall, he has healthy quarterbacks to work with and more playmakers on offense, including one of the best in the country in receiver Stefon Diggs. Maryland also has a favorable schedule -- much more forgiving than the one it'll face next season as members of the Big Ten. There’s no reason Maryland fans shouldn't expect at least six wins.
You want to find a good quarterback in the ACC? Plenty of places to look.

A solid receiver? Plenty of places to look.

A game-changing running back? Well, let's just say this is not a position of strength for the ACC headed into 2013.

Both 1,000-yard rushers from a year ago are gone. So are five of the top 10 rushers in the league. Now factor in recent developments from the offseason:

  • Virginia Tech back Michael Holmes was kicked out of school following his arrest after the spring game.
  • Pitt Rushel Shell decided to transfer, to hated rival West Virginia no less.
  • Maryland back Wes Brown has been suspended for the season after an offseason arrest.
  • Wake Forest leading rusher Josh Harris is not with the team while the Deacs wait for an answer from the NCAA on his eligibility.
  • NC State running back Shadrach Thornton was suspended one game after being charged with misdemeanor assault on a female following a June 6 arrest.
[+] EnlargeRushel Shell
Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports Running back Rushel Shell left Pitt for rival West Virginia.
Holmes and Brown were expected to be significant contributors this year; Shell and Harris were expected to start; Thornton led the Wolfpack in rushing last year.

So let us take stock of who remains. Essentially, the ACC has one big-time headliner in Duke Johnson at Miami, and several teams with talent and depth.

Take Florida State. The Noles have a great duo in James Wilder Jr. and Devonta Freeman. Syracuse has a 1,000-yard rusher returning in Jerome Smith, plus more depth than nearly everyone in the league. Duke has its top six rushers back from a year ago.

Still, the league overall has improving to do in this important category. In 2012, the ACC had the fewest 1,000-yard rushers of the five biggest conferences. It also only had two teams ranked in the Top 30 in rushing offense (Georgia Tech and Florida State), tied with the SEC for fewest among the top five conferences.

But here is the big distinction between the two. The SEC only had one team ranked in the bottom 30 in rushing offense last season: Arkansas. The ACC had a whopping six -- Virginia, Duke, NC State, Maryland, Wake Forest, Boston College -- the most among the power five.

Will fortunes improve this season? Let us take a look at one key statistic that could have some bearing. I broke down how many returning carries there are per team headed into 2013.

DUKE

  • Top returners: Jela Duncan, Josh Snead
  • Percent carries returning: 87 percent
  • What it means: Duke has perhaps the best opportunity of any team in the league to boost its rushing numbers this year, with its top six rushers back, a more mobile quarterback in Anthony Boone and four starters returning on the offensive line.
SYRACUSE

  • Top returners: Jerome Smith, Prince-Tyson Gulley
  • Percent carries returning: 82 percent
  • What it means: Syracuse has had a 1,000-yard rusher in five straight seasons, and has pretty terrific depth going into the season. It is a pretty safe bet the Orange will make it six straight 1,000-yard rushers.
BOSTON COLLEGE

  • Top returners: Andre Williams, Dave Dudeck
  • Percent carries returning: 75 percent
  • What it means: Though the Eagles don’t have much in the way of depth, they do have experienced players returning in Williams and Dudeck. Given the way Steve Addazio likes to run the football, expect to see the Eagles much better than No. 115 in the nation in rushing.
VIRGINIA TECH

  • Top returners: Logan Thomas, J.C. Coleman
  • Percent returning carries: 70 percent
  • What it means: Even though this was a weak spot for the Hokies, they do return their top rushers even with Holmes gone. Thomas led the team in carries and rushing last season. Virginia Tech wants to change that this year.
GEORGIA TECH

  • Top returners: Zach Laskey, David Sims
  • Percent returning carries: 68 percent
  • What it means: Tevin Washington and Orwin Smith take nearly all the missing carries (176), meaning the Jackets have plenty of experienced players and depth to fill all their running back spots. Shouldn’t be a drop-off here.
NC STATE

  • Top returners: Shadrach Thornton, Tony Creecy
  • Percent carries returning: 63 percent
  • What it means: Once he returns from suspension, Thornton will carry the load with Creecy, the way they did last season. Given the emphasis Dave Doeren puts on the run in his offense -- Northern Illinois ranked No. 12 in rushing offense last season -- the Wolfpack should not be in the bottom 30 again.
CLEMSON

  • Top returners: Tajh Boyd, Rod McDowell
  • Percent returning carries: 62 percent
  • What it means: Interesting stat here, considering the Tigers lose 1,000-yard rusher Andre Ellington. He is one of the biggest losses this team has to replace on offense. Having Boyd run as much as he does certainly helps these numbers, but there’s no question Clemson has to find a way to replace Ellington’s production.
MIAMI

  • Top returners: Duke Johnson, Eduardo Clements
  • Percent returning carries: 59 percent
  • What it means: Miami loses Mike James, but that just means Johnson moves into a starting role and will get more carries. If he continues the work he did last season, Johnson should be the leading rusher in the ACC this season.
WAKE FOREST

  • Top returner: Deandre Martin
  • Percent returning carries: 57 percent
  • What it means: Wake Forest is still waiting to see whether Harris will be eligible this season. There are serious concerns about this position right now, as coach Jim Grobe has said he still hasn’t seen anybody step up and prove they can be an every-down back.
NORTH CAROLINA

  • Top returners: A.J. Blue, Romar Morris
  • Percent returning carries: 56 percent
  • What it means: The prevailing storyline in Chapel Hill has centered around replacing Giovani Bernard, the other 1,000-yard rusher in the ACC last season. Blue and Morris combined for 151 carries a year ago, so there might not be as big a drop-off in total production as some might anticipate. Each averaged more than 5 yards per carry.
MARYLAND

  • Top returners: Brandon Ross, Albert Reid
  • Percent returning carries: 48 percent
  • What it means: The Terps lost significant carries from Brown (90) and Justus Pickett (69). I also did not count Shawn Petty’s 58 carries, because he went back to defense. Overall, Maryland feels good about Ross and Reid being able to carry the load, but questions still remain about whether this group can be consistent.
FLORIDA STATE

  • Top returners: James Wilder Jr., Devonta Freeman
  • Percent Returning carries:45 percent
  • What it means: This one is the most misleading among all ACC teams, because the Noles do return two terrific talents and expect contributions from a third in Mario Pender. Those lost carries are from Lonnie Pryor and EJ Manuel, along with Chris Thompson (who was out for the second half of the season anyway). Florida State should continue to be an excellent running team.
VIRGINIA

  • Top returners: Kevin Parks, Khalek Shepherd
  • Percent carries returning: 44 percent
  • What it means: UVa lost carries from Clifton Richardson, Perry Jones and Phillip Sims, but the Hoos believe they will be better running the ball this season -- especially if Taquan “Smoke” Mizzell is as good as advertised. He could be a breakout star.
PITT

  • Top returners: Isaac Bennett, Malcolm Crockett
  • Percent returning carries: 9 percent
  • What it means: I thought this number would be low with Shell and Ray Graham gone. But this is actually worse than anticipated. Pitt has little in the way of experienced players or depth at running back, and we are talking about a team that relies heavily on the run.
Wake Forest could be without leading returning rusher Josh Harris this season because of academic issues.

Coach Jim Grobe said Monday from the ACC Kickoff that he didn't know whether Harris would be eligible to participate when fall practice opens Aug. 2. Grobe said Harris didn't make grades at the end of the spring semester, and now he is awaiting word from the NCAA on Harris' eligibility.

As for when he would have an answer, Grobe said, "Stay tuned."

Harris led the Deacs with 608 yards and five touchdowns last season and was penciled in to start once again. Wake Forest has struggled to run the ball consistently over the past several seasons, and last year was no exception as Wake Forest ranked No. 113 in the nation. Coaches pushed Harris to improve his work habits this past offseason, hoping he could take the next step and be more effective.

Now, the entire running back position is up in the air. Deandre Martin would be next in line, but Grobe says the entire group has a lot of growing up to do. Grobe also said he's still searching for the guy who can be the next Chris Barclay, somebody who can handle the lion's share of the load without any doubts from the coaching staff.

"We've got some guys that aren't showing a lot of maturity right now as far as the workout habits, the classroom habits," Grobe said. "That running back group is probably the biggest disaster we've got right now. We don't have a dependable guy right now. We'll see how it sorts out. We've got a guy in Deandre Martin that could be that guy. He's physically capable of being that guy. But he's got to show us a little bit more resolve off the field to have confidence with him on the field."
The ACC’s leading active career rusher does not play for heavyweights Florida State or Clemson.

Surprise: That distinction belongs to Wake Forest, which had one of the worst running games in the country last year.

[+] EnlargeJosh Harris
Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY SportsCoach Jim Grobe said Wake Forest will be relying heavily on Josh Harris and the run game in 2013.
Senior Josh Harris enters this fall as the league’s leading active career rusher with 1,760 career rushing yards and a 4.8 per-carry average. Needless to say, the Deacs are still looking for more this fall from both Harris and the entire running game. Wake Forest ranked No. 113 in the country last season in rushing offense.

While Harris has been a highlight for the Deacs’ offense, his success has been fleeting and his durability questioned, thanks in part to a nagging hamstring injury. This spring, emphasizing the run was a priority in the playbook, and offensive coordinator Steed Lobotzke said three running backs the staff thinks it can count on have emerged.

Heading into fall camp, Harris is leading the depth chart as expected, followed by Deandre Martin and Josh Wilhite, who redshirted last year. Lobotzke compared Wilhite to former Deac and all-time leading rusher Chris Barclay in that he’s quick, shifty, and can stop and start. The staff is also willing to give Dez Wortham from Texas a shot at playing time.

"Last year we were just abysmal at running the ball, from start to finish," Lobotzke said. "We really couldn’t get much going. We dedicated most of the spring to trying to run the ball better in different ways to get them between the tackles, get them in space, one-back sets, two-back sets, gun, pistol, everything, just trying different things and studying every good running team that’s out there in college football, trying to steal stuff from people."

They’ve also asked quarterback Tanner Price to get more involved in the running game.

“We've really got to get back to running the football,” coach Jim Grobe said. "The key to that is having him run the football. We did that as a freshman, then we got him knocked out at Florida State running the football. It panicked us a little bit. Then we went back to being more of a pocket football team and making him throw the football all the time. You know, you really need a good offensive line and a great group of receivers to do that.

"But this past year when we weren't as strong at receiver and had all those issues with injuries and whatnot on the offensive line, we just put too much on Tanner to throw the football," he said. "So we've got to get back to where we know Tanner can throw the football, but we've got to get back to where we don't live and die with the throw game. I think asking him to run the football more is going to be the thing that our offense needs.”

Q&A: Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe

March, 19, 2013
3/19/13
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Wake Forest opens spring practice today after a disappointing 5-7 season marked by injuries and off-the-field issues. I had a chance to catch up with coach Jim Grobe to review what happened last season and take a quick preview of how spring ball looks for his team. Here is a little of what he had to say.

After the season ended, there were some players who described the negativity that surrounded the team toward the end of the year. What do you make of their frustrations?

JG: I’ve never been on a team that didn’t have a winning record that didn’t have negativity. If anybody’s happy that you’re not winning then you’ve got the wrong guys on your football team. It’s overblown that a football team that doesn’t win has negativity because I think disappointment is maybe a better word than negativity. This is a team last year, I told our athletic director, Ron Wellman, that was a bowl-caliber team. A couple things affected that. We had more injuries than I’ve ever had in my coaching career. Not an excuse, but a fact. And we had some behavior problems that hurt our chances of winning a game, so we just were one of those teams that was real, real close. We won five games, played three top-10 teams. It’s a broken record here about how tough our schedule is. I felt like last year was an underachieving year for us and I was as disappointed as the rest of our players were.

[+] EnlargeJim Grobe
Jeremy Brevard/US PresswireCoach Jim Grobe expects his team to improve upon last season's disappointing 5-7 record.
You return a lot of guys off that team so how do you feel they will be able to channel the disappointment of last season as you get ready for the spring?

JG: Every team, every coach, every player wants to feel like every year you’re capable of making a run at a championship. Last year, I really felt like we had the talent to be a bowl team and I was very disappointed that didn’t work out, but I also told our athletic director I thought this year was a year we would have an opportunity to maybe have an opportunity to play for an ACC championship again. Those pieces are still in place. The biggest problem we have, aside from playing other good teams, is we had so many injuries last year, so we’ve had so many offseason surgeries. A big key for us is can we get all these guys healthy and back on the field and not just get them back on the field, but get them playing at a high level? That’s going to be huge for us. Getting a guy like Steven Chase, our left tackle, to recover from his knee surgery and come back full speed. Get Antonio Ford back from serious surgery to repair a broken leg. Those are things that will be really important to us. A lot of our guys have missed winter workouts with surgeries. Some of our guys will miss spring practice with surgeries. If you look at our depth chart, we feel good about our starting 22 if all the guys we have penciled in are healthy.

We know about some of the offensive guys who are going to be limited during spring. How about some of the defensive guys who were hurt last year. Will they be back for spring?

JG: Two of the guys we counted on that were mentioned preseason last year for All-ACC honors stayed hurt most of the year -- Merrill Noel stayed banged up most of the year and had shoulder surgery in the offseason. I don’t think they’ll let him go for spring practice. He’s healing nicely and should be fine for the fall. With Nikita Whitlock, he got hurt in the North Carolina game and came back and had good games but stayed banged-up most of the year. I think getting him healthy is going to be really important. He’s pretty healthy right now. He broke his hand during winter workouts, but we’ll pull him out of the cast, so I think he’s going to be in spring practice. That will be important. Zach Thompson, he’s back full speed and ready to go, so for the most part we’re going to be fairly healthy. Zach Allen is not going to be in spring practice; he had shoulder surgery after Christmas. We will have a chance to plug some young guys in that need more work than Zach does. Defensively, we’re probably a little bit like the offense. We have a chance with the talent we’ve got coming back to improve defensively, I don’t think there’s any question.

When you have guys you are counting on who aren’t going to be out there, how do you view the spring?

JG: One of the issues we have to deal with is that there are probably 15 or 20 guys on our football team that we know hands down are good enough to play and win in this league. Now they’ve got to do it. We just know they can, we know they’re capable of it. Several of those are injured guys that we probably don’t need to beat them to death in spring practice, but we probably do need to work out the young guys more than the old guys. We redshirted a lot of our kids last year. There were five or six true freshmen we kept on the shelf that we should have played. Down at the end of the year we were just a terrible football team because we had all these freshmen redshirting, we had so many injuries, we just couldn’t go back and pull a shirt off all these freshmen. But some of them we felt were very capable of going out and helping us win games. Those are the kids we have to push this spring, we’ve got to get a lot of reps for a bunch of young players. The key for us is developing these young guys as quickly as possible to try and find out where our depth is going to come from next fall. That’s what caught us last year. The depth really got us late last season. When we needed a win late, we couldn’t come up with one.

Who are some of those freshmen you’re looking at?

JG: Josh Banks is a defensive end; he’s put on some weight and looked really good this spring. Depth up front is important for us, so he’s a guy we have to look at pretty hard. Kevis Jones is an outside linebacker, and Stevie Donatell is a guy that we have to look at, two young outside linebackers that I think are guys we have to look pretty hard at. Ryan Janvion, a safety, we thought could have been on the field last year. Dominique Gibson is another safety, he had some knee surgery early in the year last year and that precipitated a redshirt year for him, but he’s another safety we probably need to take a good look at. On the offensive side, we’ve got a couple young offensive linemen we weren’t able to get on the field, a guy like Ty Hayworth is a kid we need to take a look at. Probably at running back, we had Josh Harris who had a pretty healthy year last year. He pulled a hamstring running indoor track. I don’t know if he’s going to be able to go for us. We have to find some of those young running backs that might be able to help us in the spring. As you go through our lineup, there’s so many of these kids that we kept on the shelf last year that may have to jump up and be good players for us this spring.
Wake Forest wants to go retro on offense this season, all the way back to the days when it featured a dual-threat quarterback able to mix the run with the pass.

The Deacs shied away from that philosophy over the past several seasons, but not anymore. Thanks to better depth behind starter Tanner Price, they are going to try to expand what he can do when spring practice opens next week.

[+] EnlargeTBD
Bob DeChiara/US PresswireQuarterback Tanner Price hopes some designed running plays will help him in the passing game.
"We got this way with Riley Skinner, and we did a lot of things to try and protect him," coach Jim Grobe said in a recent phone interview. "We just got too cautious with Tanner, trying not to put him in a position where he might get dinged. We’ve got to be a little more aggressive with him. One of the things we liked about him out of high school was that he was a dual-threat quarterback. We haven't really used him in that capacity, but in watching some of the breakdowns the last few weeks, one of the things we noticed was his ability to scramble out of the pocket. We will put Tanner in some situations where he has to run. We can’t just hang our hats on throwing the football."

Wake Forest did have those dual-threat guys in Ben Mauk and Cory Randolph, but Skinner was a guy who was a much stronger passer and not exactly adept at running the ball. When Price played as a freshman, he did run but offensive coordinator Steed Lobotzke recalls, "We overdid it." Price ended up getting hurt in 2010. A lack of depth behind him made Wake Forest even more cautious.

But as Grobe said, toward the end of last season the Deacs had some success with designed quarterback draws. Now, Lobotzke is interested in integrating standard spread-option runs, zone reads and quarterback draws.

"We're not going to do what Georgia Tech does," he said. "But we are looking for ways to expand what Tanner can do. He's a decent runner. At least now if he does get hurt, we have a stable of guys behind him."

Though Wake Forest does return leading rusher Josh Harris, the ground game hasn't exactly been the envy of the ACC. Coaches hope getting Price more involved will give a boost to the ground game as well. Of course, how much Wake can do and how successful it can be depends on the guys up front. This spring, Wake Forest will not have its full complement of linemen.

But at least the Deacs will get a bigger glimpse at what Price can do with the ball tucked under his arm.

"I want to be more of a threat running the football," Price said. "I’ve been working on my speed a little bit, try to put on weight to be more of a threat and that will, in turn, set up the passing game."
Wake Forest offensive tackle Colin Summers' career is in jeopardy because of a continuing problem with blood clots, coach Jim Grobe told ESPN.com on Wednesday.

Summers, expected to start at right tackle, was rushed to the hospital over Christmas break with blood clots in his lungs. Grobe described what happened as a "life-threatening situation," saying Summers has been through a roller coaster of emotions while doctors tried to pinpoint what was causing the clots.

"I wouldn’t say he’s been ruled completely out, but I think there’s a good chance he may not play football again," Grobe said in a phone interview. "He’s been up and down. At first the doctors said, 'You can’t play. Then they said, 'We’re not sure if the blood clots were caused by an injury.' They’ve been doing tests on him, and the last thing I heard was they believe there’s a blood disorder causing those blood clots."

Summers started 11 games last season, but he did suffer a concussion at the end of the year, and also played through a lower leg injury. It was that leg injury that doctors thought was the culprit behind the clots, but recent tests revealed that not to be the case. Summers is being treated with blood thinners. If he must remain on them, he would no longer be allowed to play contact sports and his career would be over.

"It's just really sad because he’s a guy we felt like was an All-ACC caliber player," Grobe said. "But our No. 1 thought is on his health. As much as we need him as a football player, it's much more important that we’ve got a healthy kid."

Wake Forest, hit by injuries last season, still has a list of walking wounded this spring. Among those who will be limited or out when spring practice opens March 19 are projected starters Steven Chase and Antonio Ford on the offensive line, cornerback Merrill Noel, linebacker Zach Allen, running back Josh Harris, receiver Matt James and receiver Michael Campanaro. But Grobe did say he is hopeful Campanaro will get in a few practices before the Deacs wrap up in April.
Wake Forest stood one win away from bowl eligibility last November but turned in a nightmare finish, losing three straight to end the year.

The truth is, the season began unraveling well before then. Injuries cost the Deacs heavily, and multiple suspensions embarrassed coach Jim Grobe, who publicly apologized for the incidents.

Thrown into the mix were negative attitudes that permeated the program, a toxic mix that ended up spilling over once the year ended. Players vented their frustrations to the media. Some former players questioned whether Grobe was the right man for the job.

[+] EnlargeTanner Price
Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY SportsQuarterback Tanner Price threw for 2,300 yards and 12 touchdowns last season.
But the page has turned to a new year, and with that has come new attitudes and new expectations. Wake Forest returns 16 starters and just about all of its key contributors from a year ago. The question now is whether so many returning starters off a dysfunctional team can find a way to function together.

"The biggest lesson I probably learned from last year is just the importance of staying positive and making sure there’s not any negativity within the team," Wake Forest quarterback Tanner Price said, "because as soon as that negativity creeps in, it’s like a cancer and it’s easy for everybody to become negative. It hurts the team and affects the outcome on Saturdays."

Did that happen last season?

"At times we struggled with that," Price said.

How did he feel about players venting publicly about Grobe and the final outcome of the season?

"At the end of the day, guys were just frustrated with the outcome of the season for a number of reasons," Price said. "What we had was coaches blaming players and players blaming coaches, and at the end of the day, we’re all at fault. What happened requires us to all come together to do some self-evaluation. That’s what we’re doing right now in the offseason.

"I’m excited about where we’re headed. I think this is a close group of guys, and we’ve built a solid relationship with the coaching staff. I really do believe it will be a much different season, and I’m really excited to see how turns out."

Price returns his No. 1 target, Michael Campanaro, one of the top receivers in the ACC. The young offensive line, decimated by injuries last season, will be better and much more experienced. Leading rusher Josh Harris is back, and so are leading tackler Justin Jackson, noseguard Nikita Whitlock and cornerback Merrill "Bud" Noel, just to name a few.

With so many experienced returning starters, expectations will grow. Price, for one, is embracing them.

"I’m very optimistic about this upcoming season," Price said. "We have an unbelievable amount of talent on offense and defense. I really do believe this team will be back in a bowl next year and I think we can have seven-plus wins. I’m excited and I think this is going to be a fun offseason to get working with these guys and start building momentum to carry into the season."

The senior class, Price says, "Since we got here as freshmen, we’ve been talking about how this senior season is going to be our year to make an impression and leave our legacy here so we’ve come together as a group of seniors and said, 'Let’s take advantage of this opportunity we have in front of us.'"

So far, he has noticed results.

"There already is a different energy within the team and the entire program," Price said. "It’s for the better. Everybody is really committed and really ready to create some change and leave an impact."

Wake Forest downs Boston College

November, 3, 2012
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It was the Michael Campanaro show early, and the defense show late.

Campanaro caught three first-half touchdown passes, and the Wake Forest defense came up with huge stops down the stretch to help the Deacs to a 28-14 win over Boston College on Saturday.

Campanaro ended with 123 yards, and tied an ACC single-game record with 16 receptions -- showing once again how much he was missed while he sat out with a hand injury. He was largely ineffective in his return last week against Clemson, but that was not the case against an Eagles defense that has struggled all season.

The Eagles (2-7, 1-5) had their share of chances to win. A bit of trickeration closed the deficit to 21-14 early in the third quarter, when a double pass had receiver Bobby Swigert throwing the touchdown to tight end Chris Pantale.

On the following Wake Forest possession, Spenser Rositano intercepted a pass from Tanner Price deep into Wake territory. But a flag pushed Boston College back further. Still, the Eagles appeared to be in good shape. But the always reliable Nate Freese missed a 43-yard field goal -- his first miss under 50 yards this season.

Wake Forest (5-4, 3-4) then went up two touchdowns when Josh Harris ran for a 23-yard score.

After that came the big Wake stops -- or the missed BC opportunities, depending on your perspective. The Eagles were stopped on fourth-and-short near the goal line to kill one drive. Interestingly enough, they called for two straight running plays -- even though they could not run a lick on Saturday.

On the following BC possession, Chase Rettig threw his third interception of the day. The Eagles ended up with four turnovers and squandered any momentum they may have had after beating Maryland a week ago, and were officially eliminated from bowl contention.

Wake Forest is now one win away from bowl eligibility.

Ohio State coach Urban Meyer made it clear Monday: he's not going to change Braxton Miller.

"You let him be him," Meyer said.

It could result in more moments like the one late in the third quarter Saturday against Purdue, when Miller writhed in pain on the turf after being slammed on his neck. While no one hopes it results in another trip to the hospital, the quarterback's style of play as a runner keeps the ambulance team on alert.

Miller has taken fans' breath away with his dynamic running skills in Meyer's spread offense this season. He also has had Buckeye Nation holding its breath a few times.

It's hard to have one without the other, especially as Ohio State tries to develop more reliable offensive weapons around its best player. Meyer noted Monday that if other offensive players step up, Miller will have to do less, thereby reducing his injury risk. Interestingly enough, Ohio State got several out-of-nowhere contributions -- notably from wide receiver Chris Fields -- after Miller left Ohio Stadium in an ambulance.

[+] EnlargeBraxton Miller
AP Photo/Sam RicheWhile Ohio State coach Urban Meyer is concerned with Braxton Miller taking heavy hits, he said he won't change the QB's aggressive running style.
Fortunately, Miller is OK. Meyer said the sophomore quarterback has a "very, very sore neck," and had a whiplash-like feeling at the time. But after all the tests came back negative, Miller will return to the practice field Tuesday. He's expected to start Saturday night against Penn State.

"We are trying to balance it," Meyer said. "We don't go crazy with him running the ball. At some point, though, you have to try to move the ball a little bit. We're very cognizant of that."

Meyer is still "very concerned" about Miller taking big shots, as the quarterback has in games against Michigan State, Nebraska and Purdue to name a few. Asked if the trend is symptomatic for quarterbacks in his offense, Meyer noted that former Florida star Tim Tebow took some shots, while Chris Leak, Alex Smith and Josh Harris did a better job of staying out of harm's way.

"He doesn't go down very easily, and he's a competitive guy," Meyer said of Miller. "The good thing is, he usually bounces right back up. This one was a tough one. … He just is a dynamic athlete. He's more difficult to bring down."

The Ohio State coaches can tell Miller to keep his well-being in mind -- to run out of bounds after getting a first down, maybe even to slide once in a while. They can limit him to 12-15 carries rather than 18-20. But it's not in Miller's nature to go down easily. Miller's natural ability to break tackles and find running room when none seems to be available also leads to fewer safe plays.

Asked if Miller's injury issues will have any impact on his play calling against Penn State, offensive coordinator Tom Herman said, "None. We've got to win the game. ... That won't factor into any of our decisions."

This is Ohio State's reality in 2012 as it tries to build scoring threats around Miller. For long stretches, he has been the Buckeyes' offense.

If that's the case going forward, there will be more breathtaking runs -- and more breath-holding hits. Bring your oxygen.

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.

ACC helmet stickers: Week 4

September, 23, 2012
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Time to give out a few helmet stickers for a job well done.

EJ Manuel, QB, Florida State. Manuel had the best game of his career in a 49-37 win over No. 10 Clemson. Manuel had 482 yards of total offense -- 380 yards passing and 102 yards passing -- to become the first FSU quarterback to throw for 300 and rush for 100 since former Heisman winner Charlie Ward did it against Maryland in 1992, throwing for 395 yards and rushing for 111. He led the team flawlessly when it trailed headed into the second half, kept his cool, and made no bad decisions. It was the third 300-yard passing game of his career, and he most certainly boosted his Heisman buzz after this performance.

Mike James, RB, Miami. What a day for James, who scored a career-high four touchdowns to key a 42-36 overtime victory over Georgia Tech. James had the game-winning 25-yard run in the extra period for his third rushing touchdown of the afternoon. His 10-yard touchdown reception with 27 seconds remaining in regulation sent the game into overtime. James also set new career highs with 89 yards rushing and 15 carries.

North Carolina defense. The Tar Heels did a fantastic job in shutting down East Carolina in a 27-6 win, and a big reason was because of its reinvigorated pass rush. North Carolina recorded seven sacks after tallying six combined in the opening three games of the season. The seven sacks ties the top mark in the ACC this season after NC State posted seven against South Alabama. Kevin Reddick deserves special mention for his performance, as he finished with nine tackles, a sack and a forced fumble.

Shadrach Thornton, RB, NC State. Thornton started the 52-14 win over The Citadel and finished with 145 yards on 21 carries with two touchdowns. He is the first NC State running back to go for more than 100 yards this season, the first freshman to gain at least 100 yards in a game since Andre Brown had 248 against Southern Miss in 2005, and the first freshman to go over 100 yards in his very first collegiate game since Joe McIntosh had 131 yards against Richmond in 1981.

Josh Harris and Deandre Martin, RBs, Wake Forest. Harris and Martin each rushed for more than 100 yards in a 49-37 win over Army. Harris finished with 129 yards on 12 carries and two touchdowns while Martin posted 115 yards on 13 carries and two touchdowns. They are the first Wake Forest tandem to rush for more than 100 yards in a game since Chris Barclay (210) and Micah Andrews (142) each ran for more than 100 yards against East Carolina on Sept. 17, 2005.

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