NCF Nation: Shaun Draughn

Spring preview: Coastal Division

February, 15, 2011
2/15/11
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We've already looked at who and what to watch in the Atlantic Division this spring. Here's a breakdown of three issues facing each program in the Coastal Division:

DUKE

Spring practice starts: Feb. 16

Spring game: March 26

What to watch:
  • Jim Knowles taking over as defensive coordinator. After coaching the safeties last season, Knowles was promoted in late January following the departure of Marion Hobby to coach Clemson’s defensive line. It’s not a complete overhaul on defense, but for the third time in as many seasons, a different person will be calling the plays. Knowles has also assumed the lead role with Duke’s practice scheduling and weekly preparation.
  • New faces at linebacker. Duke graduated its leading tackler from 2010, Abraham Kromah, and freshman All-American Kelby Brown is out while recovering from knee surgery. Those two slots will be wide open this spring and the competition will be among Austin Gamble, C.J. France, Tyree Glover and Kevin Rojas.
  • Offensive line shuffling. The Blue Devils return four starters up front, but they’ll be missing the glue of the line in Bryan Morgan, who graduated. Brian Moore, who has started the past two seasons at right guard, will make the transition to center. John Coleman and Laken Tomlinson are expected to compete for the right guard spot.
GEORGIA TECH

Spring practice starts: March 28 (tentative)

Spring game: April 23

What to watch:
  • Starting quarterback competition. Tevin Washington enters the spring at No. 1 on the depth chart, and it's his job to lose, as he has the most experience after taking over for injured starter Joshua Nesbitt in 2010. Synjyn Days will give him legitimate competition this spring, though, and it will increase this summer with the addition of standout recruit Vad Lee to the roster. For now, though, it’s between Washington and Days, as David Sims is expected to move to B-back.
  • Offensive line reshuffling. Georgia Tech will have to replace three starters in all-conference center Sean Bedford, right tackle Austin Barrick and left tackle Nick Claytor, who decided to leave early for the NFL draft. Phil Smith, Barrick’s backup last year, is the only one with any experience at tackle. The staff will likely have to move a player or two from guard to tackle, and only it knows who those candidates might be right now.
  • Revamped secondary. Jerrard Tarrant's decision to leave school early and enter the NFL draft left the Jackets without any returning starters in the secondary. Junior cornerback Rod Sweeting, sophomore cornerback Louis Young, redshirt freshman cornerback Ryan Ayers and sophomore safety Fred Holton are front-runners, but they all have a lot to prove this spring. Holton and Young played sparingly as true freshmen and combined for 21 tackles. Sweeting played in all 13 games and had one fumble recovery and eight passes defended, including one interception. Senior cornerback Michael Peterson may help, and safety Jemea Thomas played as a true freshman in 2009 but redshirted last year. There’s some talent, but the inexperience makes it a question mark.
MIAMI

Spring practice starts: March 5

Spring game: April 9 or 16

What to watch:
  • New staff, new schemes. Defensively, first-year coordinator Mark D’Onofrio will work with two other assistants who were with him and first-year coach Al Golden at Temple, so there is familiarity there. Linebackers coach Michael Barrow has to learn D’Onofrio’s system, but the players tend to pick it up faster if the majority of the staff is already acclimated to it. Offensively, everyone will be working together for the first time. Jedd Fisch wants to run a pure pro-style offense based on matchups, and the good news is that several of the assistants, because of their respective backgrounds, are already schooled in at least a version of it.
  • Quarterback battle. Golden has said he would like to name a starter by the end of the spring, making these practices critical auditions for both Jacory Harris and Stephen Morris. Harris has both flourished and flopped as a starter for the Canes, and his injury last year gave Morris the opportunity he needed to win the people’s choice award. Has a new era of quarterback begun, or will Harris finally have the breakout season Miami fans have waited for in his final year as a Cane?
  • Corner competition. Following the departures of Ryan Hill, DeMarcus Van Dyke and Brandon Harris, Brandon McGee is the only corner remaining on the roster with any significant experience. He played in 11 games, started one, and had 15 tackles. Redshirt freshman Devont’a Davis, sophomore Kacey Rodgers, and redshirt sophomore Jamal Reid will also compete for playing time. There are also several incoming freshmen who could be immediate contributors.
NORTH CAROLINA

Spring practice starts: March 16

Spring game: April 9

What to watch:
  • The rookie quarterbacks. There’s no guarantee that Bryn Renner will be the Tar Heels’ starter in 2011, but he enters the spring slightly ahead of the race, as he was No. 2 on the depth chart last season and was pushing T.J. Yates for the starting job at this time a year ago. The staff would also like to see what true freshman Marquise Williams, who enrolled in January, has to offer. Braden Hanson and A.J. Blue will also compete for playing time. Blue was injured two years ago and redshirted last season.
  • Running backs race. The Tar Heels graduated three key players from 2010: Johnny White, Anthony Elzy and Shaun Draughn. Ryan Houston is back for his fifth year after redshirting last year and is the most experienced of the returnees. Giovani Bernard was a true freshman last year and had been expected to get some playing time, but he tore his ACL on the third day of training camp. It’s not clear yet how much he’ll be able to participate this spring. Hunter Furr played sparingly last year and true freshman Travis Riley, who enrolled in January, are also in the mix.
  • Another strong defensive line. If Quinton Coples was an all-conference selection as a defensive tackle, he could be scary good at his natural position, defensive end. Coples played there as a freshman and sophomore, but switched to tackle out of necessity last season. The defensive line should once again be the strength of the team, but it will be reconfigured again, as Coples’ move will leave a defensive tackle spot up for grabs. Junior college transfer Sylvester Williams, who enrolled in January, could fill that role.
VIRGINIA

Spring practice starts: March 16

Spring game: April 2

What to watch:
  • The search for a new starting quarterback. With Marc Verica graduated, the lead contenders to replace him are the ones who saw the field last year -- Michael Rocco and Ross Metheny. Neither of them started, but Rocco played in six games and Metheny five. Nobody has thrown the ball more than Rocco’s 25 times. The staff will also look at Michael Strauss, who redshirted last year, Miles Gooch, and David Watford, who enrolled in January.
  • Competition at running back. With leading rusher Keith Payne graduated, the question becomes what can Kevin Parks do after redshirting last year? There’s a lot of depth at the running back position, but Parks, the No. 56 running back in his class by ESPN.com and national prep record-setter out of the state of North Carolina, came to Charlottesville facing high expectations. With Payne gone, this could open the door for him to meet them, but returning starter Perry Jones will also be competing for carries.
  • Development of the receivers. In January, Jared Green Tweeted that he had decided to transfer after finishing his degree in Charlottesville this spring, according to a school spokesman. His departure, coupled with the graduation of Dontrelle Inman, leaves the Cavaliers without two of their top wideouts from 2010. With Tim Smith coming off an injury, the development of other receivers will be critical -- especially with a new starting quarterback.
VIRGINIA TECH

Spring practice starts: March 30

Spring game: April 23

What to watch:
  • Quarterback Logan Thomas. The Tyrod Taylor era is over, and Thomas is the front-runner to succeed the winningest quarterback in school history. Ju-Ju Clayton is the only other quarterback on the roster who’s ever taken a snap, and he’ll push Thomas this spring. It’s Thomas’ job to lose, but the staff is looking for him to improve his accuracy. He played quarterback in only his final two high school seasons and was projected as a tight end. He’s still raw and learning the position, but physically, he’s a clone of Cam Newton. If he develops some poise in the pocket, look out.
  • Competition on the defensive line. The Hokies have to replace starters John Graves (defensive tackle) and Steven Friday (defensive end), who both graduated. They’ve got Antoine Hopkins and Chris Drager back, but it’s possible Drager could move back to tight end after starting 10 games at defensive end last year. Tackle Kwamaine Battle, who started the first two games before he tore his ACL and Hopkins took over, is another front-runner. Hopkins’ younger brother, Derrick, will also be in the mix, along with James Gayle and J.R. Collins. Redshirt freshman defensive end Zack McCray, the cousin of Logan Thomas, has also impressed the staff so far.
  • Tight end auditions. The graduation of Andre Smith leaves the Hokies with only one returning tight end who’s caught a pass in a game, Randall Dunn (one). Redshirt freshman Eric Martin was the second tight end when the Hokies used two-tight end sets, but he missed three games mid-season with an injury.

ACC and the NFL combine

February, 4, 2011
2/04/11
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The official list for the NFL combine has been released. A total of 48 players from the ACC have been invited to audition for the NFL from February 23 – March 1. When categorized by school, it's somewhat of a reality check to see how many of the best players in the conference are moving on, and which programs will take the biggest hit. It's impossible not to wonder how good North Carolina could have been had all of the following players remained eligible. The Tar Heels will send the most players to the combine with 11.

Here are the players who will represent the ACC:

BOSTON COLLEGE (3)
  • Anthony Castonzo
  • Rich Lapham
  • Mark Herzlich
CLEMSON (7)
  • Da'Quan Bowers
  • Marcus Gilchrist
  • Chris Hairston
  • Jamie Harper
  • Jarvis Jenkins
  • Byron Maxwell
  • DeAndre McDaniel
FLORIDA STATE (3)
GEORGIA TECH (3)
MARYLAND (3)
MIAMI (9)
NORTH CAROLINA (11)
NC STATE (2)
VIRGINIA (2)
  • Danny Aiken
  • Ras-I Dowling
VIRGINIA TECH (5)
UNC running back Shaun Draughn and tight end Ryan Taylor have been selected to play in the NFL Players Association Texas vs. The Nation game at 2 p.m. ET on Feb. 5 at the Alamodome in San Antonio. The NFLPA game matches some of the best college players from Texas against some of the best players from the rest of the country in a postseason all-star game. Draughn and Taylor join Carolina's T.J. Yates on the Nation squad.

A native of Tarboro, N.C., Draughn began his UNC career as a safety. He converted to tailback in his sophomore season and led the team in rushing that year. He was the starting tailback in 2009 until he fractured his shoulder blade in the eighth game of the year against Duke. Last season, he started two games, including the Music City Bowl victory against Tennessee, and rushed for 637 yards and six touchdowns. Draughn was named MVP of the bowl game after gaining 160 yards and scoring a touchdown.

A native of Winston-Salem, N.C., Taylor played a variety of positions at North Carolina, including wide receiver, linebacker and tight end. He had his most productive season as a senior in 2010 with 36 receptions for 330 yards and two scores. The 36 receptions were a single-season school record for catches by a tight end. Taylor was also Carolina's special teams captain in 2008 and 2010.
This morning we looked at the main recruiting needs for the Atlantic Division. Here are the priorities for each team in the Coastal Division:

DUKE

Offensive line: The Blue Devils will have to replace one starter in center Bryan Morgan, and it’s still a relatively young group, but with several redshirt sophomores on the roster, the staff wants to load up two grades behind them to fully stock the position for the future.

Defensive line: This has always been Duke’s deficiency, which means it will always be a priority to catch up and build depth. The Blue Devils will have to replace two starters in Wesley Oglesby and Patrick Egboh. Noseguard Charlie Hatcher will be a redshirt senior.

Cornerback: Duke only loses one starter, cornerback Chris Rwabukamba, but it’s another position that has been weak and needs better athletes.

GEORGIA TECH

Offensive line: The early departure of Nick Claytor to the NFL didn’t help the depth, but there were still several young players who gained valuable experience and others who redshirted to help the depth. While no true freshman is likely to make an immediate impact, the staff is still looking to build the numbers up front.

Linebacker/defensive line: The Jackets need to find more athletes who are suited for Al Groh’s 3-4 scheme. Fast athletes who are versatile enough to play a hybrid role, with the ability to move in space, will be a priority in this class.

MIAMI

Quarterback: With Jacory Harris being a senior, A.J. Highsmith moving to defense, and Spencer Whipple struggling in what little time he has played, the position needs a boost. It didn’t help that Teddy Bridgewater reneged on his commitment.

Linebacker: This is a position former coach Randy Shannon had put an emphasis on building, and there are young players and depth, but it was also a veteran group in the 2010 two-deep, with mainly juniors and seniors.

Wide receiver: The upperclassmen did all of the work in 2010, with Leonard Hankerson leading the way. Travis Benjamin, Aldarius Johnson and Laron Byrd will all be seniors. An influx of young talent is needed.

Defensive end: The staff is looking to improve the depth here, get stronger up front, and build upon the success from 2010. Marcus Robinson, Adewale Ojomo, and Micanor Regis will all be seniors.

NORTH CAROLINA

Tailback: Injuries depleted this group in 2010, and Anthony Elzy, Johnny White and Shaun Draughn were both seniors. Ryan Houston was able to redshirt and will return as a fifth-year senior, but the Tar Heels need more dependable runners and a foundation for the future.

Defensive line: The Tar Heels have to prepare for some departures, especially on the interior, where all four players on the two-deep roster in 2010 were juniors.

Secondary: UNC will have to replace three starters in the secondary this spring, and three backups this year were juniors. Because of the NCAA investigation, this is a group in which backups had to develop quickly, so there are some experienced younger players, but the group still needs to reload.

Tight end: The loss of Zach Pianalto and his backup, Ed Barham, leaves the position thin.

VIRGINIA

Offensive line: With starting right guard B.J. Cabbell gone, starting center Anthony Mihota a senior, and starting left guard Austin Pasztor a senior, the staff has to prepare for some departures. Morgan Moses and Oday Aboushi are talented young players, but the rotation needs more of them.

Defensive line: End Zane Parr’s decision to leave early for the NFL draft hurt the position’s depth, and the Cavs will also have to replace John-Kevin Dolce at tackle. Three other players in the two-deep will be rising seniors, and with Virginia switching back to a 4-3 defense under Mike London, the Cavs have to rebuild up front.

Secondary: Cornerback is of particular concern, as Chase Minnifield will be a senior, and starter Mike Parker will graduate.

VIRGINIA TECH

Running back: The early departures of Ryan Williams and Darren Evans to the NFL left David Wilson as the only tailback with any significant experience. Overall, the Hokies have four tailbacks on their current roster.

Defensive line: The Hokies will have to replace redshirt senior starters Steven Friday and John Graves, and starting left end Chris Drager will be a redshirt senior this year.

Wide receiver/tight end: Starters Jarrett Boykin and Danny Coale will be seniors, and tight end Andre Smith will graduate.

Secondary: Half the players on the two-deep roster against Stanford were either juniors or seniors, and the Hokies will have to replace rover Davon Morgan and cornerback Rashad Carmichael.

Best/worst of the ACC bowls

January, 13, 2011
1/13/11
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The 2010 bowl season has come and gone, which means it’s time to look back on the highlights and lowlights of the ACC’s nine games. Here’s your bowl edition of the best/worst:

[+] EnlargeShaun Draughn
Mark Dolejs/US PresswireShaun Draughn's 58-yard touchdown in the Music City Bowl was the longest run of his collegiate career.
Best backup: UNC running back Shaun Draughn. Filling in for suspended starter Anthony Elzy, Draughn rushed for 160 yards on 23 carries to earn MVP honors in Carolina's 30-27 double-overtime victory over Tennessee in the Music City Bowl. He had a 58-yard scoring run on Carolina's first possession. It was the longest of his career and the third-longest run by a Tar Heel this season. Other than Draughn, the Tar Heels rushed for minus-9 yards.

Best hit: FSU cornerback Greg Reid’s hit on South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore was clean, legal, and hard enough to end Lattimore’s game on the first series. Reid also caused a fumble with that hit.

Best run: Maryland running back Da'Rel Scott’s 91-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter against East Carolina was the longest in Maryland bowl-game history, the longest for a Maryland touchdown in seven years (80 by Bruce Perry versus Wake Forest, 11/28/03) and only the eighth 90-plus yard run in ACC history

Best quote: "People are concerned about my legacy, and my legacy is what it is -- 75-50 ... I gave it the best I had for 10 years, and obviously that's not good enough right now, and that's what hurts. ... I leave the job a lot better than when I got it, so if someone else can come in and do better, my hat's off to them." – Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen.

Best milestone performance: NC State. Coach Tom O'Brien earned his 100th win with the upset of West Virginia, and NC State’s ninth win of the season gave the program its second-highest win total in school history. O'Brien has now won seven of his last eight bowls. With 37 total touchdowns in 2010, Russell Wilson tied former Wolfpack quarterback Philip Rivers’ conference and single-season record.

Worst turnovers: Georgia Tech had three fumbles in the third quarter against Air Force, including two on punt returns, and a fumble by Tevin Washington on the Falcons’ seven-yard line. Washington’s interception with under a minute left to play sealed the win for Air Force.

Worst offense: Boston College. Of the ACC teams that suffered losses in their bowls, the Eagles had the fewest first downs (12), fewest total yards (185) and tied with Georgia Tech for fewest touchdowns (1).

Worst stat: Three teams -- Virginia Tech, Boston College and Clemson -- were all held to less than 67 yards rushing each.

Worst hit: The hit that North Carolina defensive end Donte Paige-Moss took without his helmet was hard to forget. The fact that he not only continued to play, but also had six tackles, 1.5 sacks, forced a fumble and blocked an extra point attempt was remarkable.

Worst milestone performance: The Hokies dropped to 1-27 against top-five competition, dropping the ACC to 2-11 in its BCS bowls.
Here’s a quick recap of North Carolina's 30-27 win in two overtimes over Tennessee in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl:

How the game was won:With instant replay. Thanks to an official review, the Tar Heels got one more chance and one second back on the clock in regulation -- just enough time for Casey Barth to tie the game at 20 with a 38-yard field goal. Regulation ended with terrible clock management by North Carolina, as the Tar Heels let about 11 seconds run off the clock before spiking the ball. The officials said “the game is over” and mass confusion ensued before they decided on putting a second back onto the clock. Tennessee imploded with three costly penalties in the final 30 seconds, including a 13-yard personal foul that landed the Heels on the 12-yard line to start overtime. UNC quarterback T.J. Yates scored with a 1-yard run in overtime, but Tennessee answered right back, sending it into a second overtime. Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray, who got a little brash in the first overtime, threw an interception in the second overtime and Barth kicked the game-winning, 23-yard field goal.

Turning point: With 25 seconds remaining in the game, Todd Harrelson’s catch for 28 yards was reviewed, upheld, and a 15-yard personal foul was tacked on, setting the Tar Heels up with a first down on the Tennessee 37-yard line. It was the play in regulation that kept UNC's hopes alive for a chance at a field goal to send the game into overtime.

Stat of the game: North Carolina held Tennessee to just 27 yards rushing.

Player of the game: UNC kicker Casey Barth. His 39-yard field goal tied the game at 20 and sent it into overtime, and his 23-yard kick gave the Tar Heels their first bowl win since 2001.

Unsung hero of the game:UNC running back Shaun Draughn. Filling in for suspended starter Anthony Elzy, Draughn ran for 160 yards and one touchdown with an average of 7 yards per carry.

What it means: UNC took the next step in the postseason under coach Butch Davis and won the close game, snapping a three-game bowl losing streak. It was a fitting end to a season defined by Carolina's relentlessness through the NCAA investigations. North Carolina hasn't been at full strength all year because of injuries and the investigations, but they've dug deep all season to find ways to win, and this game was a microcosm of that effort.

North Carolina enters the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl undermanned once again, but the Tar Heels are determined to win with what they have. With the game in Nashville, UNC will also have to overcome what should amount to a home-field advantage for Tennessee. Here’s a closer look at the Music City Bowl:

WHO TO WATCH: The backups. With North Carolina starting tailback Anthony Elzy suspended, Shaun Draughn is the only proven runner remaining on the roster. His backup will be Hunter Furr, whose career-high is 27 yards. Elzy will not compete because he failed to meet his obligations as a student-athlete at UNC. The Tar Heels will also be without starting offensive guard Alan Pelc and starting linebacker Bruce Carter, both of whom are injured. Travis Bond, a sophomore, is Pelc's backup at right guard, but the problem extends to center, where Pelc was the backup to Cam Holland. At linebacker, Herman Davidson, a career reserve, is No. 2 behind Carter. There could be some shuffling at linebacker and offensive line as a result, and the Heels can’t afford to have Draughn get hurt again.

WHAT TO WATCH: Turnovers. These teams are so evenly matched on paper that one slip-up could be the difference. The Tar Heels have committed 15 turnovers in five losses this year and turned the ball over just six times in their seven wins (three of those six were in the victory at Rutgers).

WHY TO WATCH: To see if North Carolina can squeeze one more win out of a roster that hasn’t been at full strength all year. This team has been ravaged by injuries and suspensions, yet somehow still found a way to win seven games.

PREDICTION: UNC 21, Tennessee 17. The experience of UNC quarterback T.J. Yates will be enough to overcome the Vols’ home-field atmosphere, and North Carolina’s defense -- even without Carter -- will be good enough to force true freshman quarterback Tyler Bray into some mistakes.

Pregame observations

November, 13, 2010
11/13/10
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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- North Carolina running back Shaun Draughn was running around during warm-ups catching passes and taking hand-offs, despite a nagging ankle injury. He didn't look in pain, but that doesn't mean he's not. He went over to Anthony Elzy, who is expected to start, and gave him an encouraging shake on the shoulder pads.

There are no lineup changes for Virginia Tech. For UNC, backup defensive tackle Jared McAdoo will get his first career start at left defensive end, and freshman Jabari Price will start over Mywan Jackson at corner.

UNC tailback situation update

November, 13, 2010
11/13/10
2:29
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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Anthony Elzy will start at tailback, Shaun Draughn will go out in warm-ups and see how much he can do despite his ankle injury, and Hunter Furr will be the first man off the bench. Ryan Houston is dressed, but he's not expected to play.

Many UNC fans are walking around Kenan Stadium wearing T-shirts that read "I support Butch." An airplane trailing the sign "Supportbutchdavis.com" also flew by.

Most coaches have their fans' support when they're winning, and so far -- despite a total of 31 players missing at least one game this year because of either injuries or the NCAA investigation -- Butch Davis has managed to win six games and stay in the hunt for the Coastal Division title.

Today will determine if the Tar Heels can continue their success without injured leading rusher Johnny White against a Virginia Tech team that is still undefeated in league play. I'm waiting for word on the status of Houston and Draughn. I'll post it as soon as I get it.

There's obviously a lot of interest here in the outcome of the Miami-Georgia Tech game, as a Georgia Tech win will help the Hokies clinch the Coastal title with a win over UNC here.

What to watch in the ACC: Week 11

November, 11, 2010
11/11/10
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Here’s a look at the top 10 things to keep an eye on this week in the ACC, in no particular order:

Pass-rushers in Tallahassee. Clemson at Florida State will feature two of the ACC’s top pass-rushers in Clemson defensive end Da’Quan Bowers and FSU defensive end Brandon Jenkins. They’re No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in the ACC in both sacks and tackles for loss. FSU’s offensive line has allowed 2.11 sacks per game (19 total), while Clemson has allowed nine total.

[+] EnlargeSophomore QB Tevin Washington will make his first career start against Miami.
Geoff Burke/Getty Imagestbd by editor
Rookie quarterbacks in Atlanta. Miami rookie Stephen Morris and Georgia Tech backup Tevin Washington will both take center stage Saturday in Bobby Dodd Stadium at the expense of injured starters. Morris already has one start under his belt and played well in last week’s win over Maryland, but Washington has been in the system longer and took the first-team reps this spring when starter Joshua Nesbitt was out with an ankle injury.

Replacements in Chapel Hill. There will be plenty of them. With UNC tailback Johnny White out for the rest of the season, the Tar Heels’ tailback situation remains a question as of now. Will Ryan Houston redshirt? Will Shaun Draughn (ankle) be cleared to play? The Hokies have their own problems, as defensive end Chris Drager, tailback/returner David Wilson and receiver Dyrell Roberts are all out. All of the backups will be forced into key roles.

Scoreboards in Chapel Hill and Atlanta. These are the two games to watch, as a Virginia Tech win coupled with a Miami loss will lock up the Coastal Division for the Hokies. The Atlantic Division race is more complicated, as no outcome will determine the division winner, but a Clemson win in Tally opens the door for a four-team race.

Turnovers in Durham. The one thing that’s been going right for Duke in its two-game winning streak is it hasn’t been turning the ball over like it was in its losses. That could change against a BC defense that ranks third in the country in turnovers gained with 26. The Blue Devils have turned it over just one time in the past two games compared with an average of three per game in the previous seven.

Virginia Tech’s secondary vs. T.J. Yates & Co. Yates has thrown for over 400 yards twice this season, and the Tar Heels are No. 33 in the country in passing offense (258.44 yards per game). Virginia Tech is No. 22 in the country in passing defense (187 yards per game).

Keith Payne and Perry Jones against Maryland’s rushing D. Virginia has two of the ACC’s top 10 leading rushers, as Payne is No. 7 (74.8) and leads the ACC with 14 rushing touchdowns, and Jones is No. 10 (61.9). Maryland is holding ACC opponents to just 2.6 yards per carry, the best in the league.

Virginia receiver Dontrelle Inman. Against Duke, he caught 10 passes for 239 yards and a touchdown. On the season, Inman is sixth in the ACC with 66 receiving yards per game. He’ll face an underrated Maryland secondary that features playmakers Kenny Tate and Antwine Perez.

Cursed kickers. Clemson missed two field goals last week, Florida State’s wide right curse continued in the loss to North Carolina, and NC State will be without senior Josh Czajkowski for the rest of the season after he injured his hamstring in the loss to Clemson. Sophomore Ellis Flint and freshman Chris Hawthorne were competing for the job this week.

Running back rotations. NC State’s Dean Haynes is back after missing the Clemson game with a head injury, but coach Tom O’Brien did not say which of his top three tailbacks will start against Wake Forest. At Miami, Lamar Miller had the best performance of any Miami running back this season against the Terps, but Damien Berry returned to practice. He is still listed as questionable, and Miller, Mike James and Graig Cooper should again carry the load. UNC’s running back situation remains a question, and Ryan Williams and Darren Evans will carry the load without No. 3 tailback David Wilson.

Tar Heels in midst of improbable run

November, 8, 2010
11/08/10
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It’s come to this: North Carolina walk-on running back Steven Hatley, who had never played in a game before and never even practicedwith the Tar Heels’ kickoff coverage team, was volunteering to do both against Florida State because UNC ran out of special teams players.

The totals are staggering -- 19 players on defense, including seven starters (the entire secondary) and 14 total from the preseason depth chart; 12 players on offense, including five starters, all three tailbacks from the preseason depth chart and both fullbacks.

The amount of tackles, interceptions, rushing and receiving yards North Carolina has missed out on because of the 31 players who have missed at least one game because of injuries and the ongoing NCAA investigations is incomprehensible.

So is the fact that North Carolina (6-3) is still winning.

And yet here they are, bowl-eligible and in contention to win the Coastal Division heading into Saturday’s game against Virginia Tech. UNC’s upset of Florida State this past weekend -- on the road no less -- was the program’s first win against Florida State in Tallahassee and just the second win all-time in the series. Carolina is now bowl-eligible for the third straight season. That's the longest such run since going to eight straight bowls from 1991 through 1998.

Six wins were inconceivable a week before the season opening kickoff against LSU, when the NCAA investigation derailed the careers of 13 players.

That, of course, was just the beginning.

There have been more reasons to count Carolina out this season than there are barbecue joints on Tobacco Road. Against Virginia last month, walk-on offensive guard Peyton Jenest lined up at defensive tackle for the Heels. At FSU, North Carolina literally had three healthy corners who could play. The Tar Heels were down to four defensive ends and two of them got hurt. Running back Hunter Furr, who was on the scout team a week ago, was suddenly instrumental in the game-winning drive. If starter Shaun Draughn (ankle) can practice this week, he’ll obviously play, but if not, it’s up to Furr and -- well, Hatley.

Doesn’t matter. Hasn’t yet.

With quarterback T.J. Yates rising to the occasion every week and receiver Dwight Jones racking up three 100-yard games in the past four weeks, North Carolina has a chance to upset Virginia Tech on Saturday.

What are the odds?

Probably as good as a walk-on seeing his first playing time.

For all of the reasons to doubt UNC before this season even started, the Tar Heels now have six good reasons not to.

ACC Helmet Stickers: Week 5

October, 3, 2010
10/03/10
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Here's a look at the ACC's top-five performers for Week 5:

FSU defensive coordinator Mark Stoops: He knew when he took the job what a project it would be transforming one of the worst defenses in the country into a respectable group. He has made significant progress in five games and Saturday's 34-14 win was further proof. FSU held Virginia to just 42 yards in the first half, and sacked quarterback Marc Verica three times before the break. FSU entered the game leading the nation with 19 sacks and got six more. They also had two interceptions.

Virginia Tech: It's too hard to single out one player, as Jayron Hosley accounted for all three interceptions, Tyrod Taylor tied for a career-high three touchdowns and ran for 100 yards, and Darren Evans ran for 100 yards and two touchdowns as the Hokies dug out of a 17-0 hole to beat No. 23 NC State on the road.

Georgia Tech quarterback Joshua Nesbitt: His nine-yard touchdown pass with 15 seconds remaining was the game-winner in a 24-20 comeback win over Wake Forest. He threw for 130 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 72 more yards.

UNC tailback Shaun Draughn: He scored three second-half touchdowns and finished with 137 yards on 27 carries in the Tar Heels' 42-17 win over East Carolina. He scored on a 13-yard run in the final minute, capping a drive in which he carried the ball on every play. He came up a yard short of his career high.

Miami: After losing on the road to No. 2 Ohio State, the Canes have now won back-to-back road games, including their first ACC game. Quarterback Jacory Harris threw four touchdown passes, receiver Leonard Hankerson had seven catches for 147 yards and three touchdowns, and cornerback Brandon Harris made the play of the game with a fourth-and-one stop from him own 20-yard line. The defense forced six turnovers.

What to watch in the ACC: Week 3

September, 16, 2010
9/16/10
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Here’s a look at what to keep an eye on in Week 3:

1. Upset alert. No, not the ACC being upset (there aren’t enough teams ranked anymore for the ACC to be upset this weekend), the other way around. But there are plenty of opportunities for the ACC to knock off a ranked opponent. Maryland at West Virginia, No. 1 Alabama at Duke, Clemson at Auburn and Wake Forest at Stanford. Can the ACC save face with any of these opportunities?

2. Clemson safety DeAndre McDaniel vs. Auburn quarterback Cam Newton. McDaniel is going to have to help in the run support, and he’s also got to be wary of Newton’s arm. Newton is the team’s leading rusher, and at 250 pounds, he’s not easy to wrap up. Expect McDaniel to line up all over the field to help contain.

3. The “New Storm.” Clemson’s running back duo of Andre Ellington and Jamie Harper have been on cruise control, but they’ll run into a defense that has allowed just 80 rushing yards per game so far.

4. North Carolina’s running game. After just one game, North Carolina is averaging 24 yards of rushing offense -- the worst in the country. The addition of running back Shaun Draughn should help, but Johnny White and Anthony Elzy are both ahead of him on the depth chart, and both White and Elzy injured their ankles against LSU.

5. Georgia Tech’s receivers. Coach Paul Johnson said there were five dropped balls against Kansas, contributing to Joshua Nesbitt’s 5-of-15 completions, but that Nesbitt also could have thrown it better at times.

[+] EnlargeTanner Price
Brian A. Westerholt/Getty ImagesWake Forest's Tanner Price will become just the third true freshman quarterback starter this Saturday against Stanford.
6. Freshman quarterback Tanner Price. It will be the first time a true freshman quarterback has started for Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe. When Price makes his debut against Stanford, he will become just the third true starting freshman quarterback in the country this year, joining, Penn State’s Rob Bolden, and Colorado State’s Pete Thomas.

7. Virginia Tech’s offensive line. East Carolina’s defense has been very generous, allowing almost 500 yards per game. If there was ever a time for the Hokies to gain some confidence up front and pave the way for Ryan Williams, this would be it. Maybe the starters are simply gassed. No backup has played a snap yet on the offensive line. Nick Becton (turf toe) is expected to return.

8. Turnovers in Raleigh. NC State’s defense forced a total of five turnovers in last Saturday’s win over UCF, including three interceptions. It was the most the Pack had forced since six against North Carolina in 2008. NC State enters tonight’s game with a plus-six turnover margin, the best in the ACC.

9. Maryland backup quarterback Danny O’Brien. He’ll definitely play, though coach Ralph Friedgen said this week he’s “not disappointed” in starter Jamarr Robinson. O’Brien threw three touchdown passes in the win over Morgan State, but West Virginia is holding opponents to just 10.5 points per game.

10. Florida State’s defense. The Seminoles should look much better this weekend against BYU, especially considering BYU is 101st in the country in scoring offense with just 18.5 points per game. The Seminoles had trouble lining up in the new zone scheme against Oklahoma’s no-huddle offense and Jimbo Fisher is looking for better tackling in open space.

UNC's Shaun Draughn cleared to play

September, 13, 2010
9/13/10
5:11
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UNC senior tailback Shaun Draughn has been cleared to play Saturday against Georgia Tech. Draughn was held out of the LSU game while the University worked with the NCAA to determine his eligibility status.

This is a much-needed addition to UNC's depleted backfield, and comes at an opportune time for the Heels, as they prepare to face the Jackets in a game that will help determine the Coastal Division winner. Draughn hasn't fumbled since the bowl game in 2008. He was the starter before he fractured his left shoulder blade against Duke last year and missed the rest of the season. At the time, he was leading the Tar Heels with 692 all-purpose yards and an average of 76.9 yards per game.
ATLANTA -- The Georgia Dome is a mammoth bubble that gives the vibe of a big-time college football atmosphere.

It's the kind of place where true freshmen dream of playing, and then throw up in the locker room once they get here and realize they have to.

The young players on North Carolina's revamped depth chart will undergo a rookie hazing today in the season opener against LSU. The disparity in starting experience is glaring. According to the North Carolina depth chart that was released in the press box, UNC's starting defensive linemen will have a combined five starts (and that's thanks in large part to four from defensive tackle Tydreke Powell). None of the four new starters in the secondary have ever started a game. At left defensive end, freshman Kareem Martin is backed up by another freshman, Tim Jackson.

The Tar Heels are still solid at linebacker, where Kevin Reddick, Quan Sturdivant and Bruce Carter are veterans. That trio will have to anchor the entire defense.

The offense will sorely miss its three leading rushers in Shaun Draughn, Ryan Houston and Greg Little, but Johnny White has eight career starts and can take advantage of this opportunity.

It's possible that the loss of 13 players -- including seven starters on defense -- could only bring this team closer together in an us-against-the-word mentality. But emotion can only overcome experience for so long.

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