Wow, week 11 kind of snuck up on us, didn’t it? It seems as though just yesterday it was 95 degrees and we were wearing shorts and t-shirts to games. Fast forward a couple of months, and we had snow on the ground in parts of South Carolina last Saturday. Time flies.
Clearer — seemingly — than the weather picture in the southeast is the championship picture in the ACC. It looks as though Duke and Florida State are on a collision course to meet in Charlotte and again decide who will hoist the conference gold. However, if this year of ACC football has left us with one thing we know, to paraphrase an old statement, it is that we know nothing.
We’ll take a spin through the somewhat sparse five-game ACC slate, but before we do, here’s last week’s Three Big Things:
- Duke and Pitt might still be playing: Chris Blewitt became the latest recipient of the #collegekickers hashtag — and a number of moronic puns — after duffing a 26-yarder from the right hash to send the game to overtime. A Thomas Sirk run found the end zone and gave Duke the eventual winning margin in two overtimes. More baffling than the missed kick was the play call that set it up, however. Panther quarterback Chad Voytik scrambled to set up the kick, but ended up on the far right hash, setting up the odd angle for the miss. The teams combined for greater than 1000 offensive yards, continuing the wacky recent series between them.
- North Carolina quickly returned to earth: There was a lot of energy around North Carolina’s program after their victory over Virginia, getting the Tar Heels back to 4-4 on the season. That excitement quickly vanished at the hands of the Miami Hurricanes. The ‘Canes issued a 47-20 beatdown to Carolina, outrushing the Tar Heels by a staggering margin of 295-6. That’s 0.2 yards per carry. Carolina is now 4-5 (2-3 ACC), and now needs to take two of three — more likely all three — on their remaining schedule to secure a bowl berth.
- Dave Doeren finally has a winning streak: After taking an 0-fer in his ACC coaching career, Doeren’s Wolfpack finally put one in the left column last week, taking down Syracuse. This leaves Wake coach Dave Clawson as the only active winless ACC coach. State is still in okay shape for a bowl bid, which we will discuss later in the column.
Now, about that five-game slate…it’s on the way, right after trivia!
ACC Trivia, Week 11 (answer at the end of the column): Boston College and Louisville last played in 1998. One of the performers set a single-game school record in that contest. Who was that performer, and which record did he set?
Keyword Search (all times Eastern and rankings AP)
#19 Clemson (6-2, 5-1 ACC) at Wake Forest (2-6, 0-4 ACC)
7:30pm (Thursday) | ESPN
- Not in any rush: This looks to be a mismatch of epic proportions on the ground, as the nation’s statistically worst rushing offense (Wake Forest, averaging just greater than 34 yards per game) matches up against a top-ten rush defense in Clemson. The Tigers average just over 100 rushing yards surrendered per game. The Demon Deacons had another horrendous rushing effort in their last contest against Boston College, carrying 33 times for 19 yards, though they did double their rushing touchdown output for the year in the game. The Deacs scored twice on the ground.
- Unfavorable precedents: Clemson and Wake Forest teed it up on a Thursday for ESPN’s cameras in Winston-Salem in 2012. That didn’t end well whatsoever for the Deacs, as they ended up on the receiving end of a 42-13 hammering by the Tigers. Worse still, Clemson has won 51 of the 61 ACC contests played between the two, including five consecutive victories.
- No-fly zone: The Deacs, despite their struggles, are quite adept at defending the pass. Wake allows just 179.8 passing yards per game, good for tenth nationally (third in the ACC). Conference opponents throw for just 211.5 yards per game against the Wake defense, a number that may come in handy should, as rumored, Deshaun Watson be up and able to play for Clemson on Thursday.
Print that, tweet that, whatever: This game could very well be a grind for Clemson without Watson. If Watson plays, Wake is in serious trouble.
Georgia Tech (7-2, 4-2 ACC) at NC State (5-4, 1-4 ACC)
12:30pm | ACC Network
- Doing it on D: Georgia Tech’s defense flexed its considerable muscle in curb stomping Virginia 35-10 last week. The Jackets allowed just 22 rushing yards to Virginia, while their suffocating defense picked off two passes and forced four fumbles. None of those fumbles were lost by Virginia, however. The Ramblin’ Wreck also got off the field on defense, holding the ‘Hoos to just 3-for-12 on third downs. That was a big accomplishment for Georgia Tech, as they rank 12th in the ACC in that category. 49.06 percent of third-down attempts have been converted against Georgia Tech’s defense this season, with 50.7 percent of ACC teams lodging successful conversions.
- Back where you belong: State is shooting to become the eighth bowl-eligible club in the ACC. This would give coach Dave Doeren his tenth bowl berth as a coach, while returning the ‘Pack to a bowl game after last season’s struggles. NC State has appeared in a bowl game in four of the last six seasons. The Wolfpack host Wake Forest next week, then get an open date before traveling across the Triangle to Chapel Hill, where they will close the season against rival North Carolina.
- Beating them at their own game: Though Georgia Tech is astoundingly successful at rushing the ball (third in the FBS in rushing offense), they are surprisingly pedestrian in defending the run. Tech ranks just 70th among FBS rush defenses, allowing 170.6 rushing yards per game. That number improves against conference teams, with ACC teams carrying for slightly greater than 147 yards per game. NC State averages just over 114 rushing yards per game in conference action, though they have faced most of the conference’s toughest rush defenses. Amazingly, their lowest rushing total of the season came last week against Syracuse (38 yards), though the game resulted in Dave Doeren’s first ACC victory at State, a 24-17 decision.
Print that, tweet that, whatever: If Georgia Tech plays like they did last week, it’s tough to see anyone beating them. Tech has won 11 of the last 14 against State.
#22 Duke (7-1, 3-1 ACC) at Syracuse (3-6, 1-4 ACC)
12:30pm | RSN
- Putting things in perspective: Blue Devil quarterback Anthony Boone has won 17 of the 20 games in which he has led his team onto the field. It took Duke seven seasons to get to 17 total wins as a team before their Belk Bowl bid in 2012.
- Two decades: The last time Duke started the season 8-1 came 20 years ago, as the Blue Devils got off to an 8-1 start on the way to an 8-4 finish. Wisconsin defeated Duke 34-20 in the now-defunct Hall of Fame Bowl. Duke has started 8-1 on just two other occasions in school history (1941 and 1943).
- I don’t even know your name: These teams have not played — on the gridiron, at least — since a 33-6 Duke victory in Durham in 1939. One name with which David Cutcliffe’s team will need to quickly familiarize itself is Orange quarterback AJ Long. Long set a Syracuse true freshman record last week, throwing for 307 yards in a 22-for-42 performance. Long has completed 56.8 percent of his passes (72-for-128) in relief of injured Terrel Hunt this season.
Print that, tweet that, whatever: It’s been 25 years since Duke has had back-to-back winning seasons. With that done, could they secure back-to-back Charlotte trips?
Virginia (4-5, 2-3 ACC) at #2 Florida State (8-0, 5-0 ACC)
6:30pm | ESPN
- Just one generation ago…: Everyone familiar with ACC football likely has a clear memory — or at least a good connection to the ACC Digital Network — of Virginia’s thrilling 33-28 victory over Florida State in 1995. The Seminoles were ranked second at the time, and the win sent shock waves throughout college football. Since then, though, Virginia has defeated Florida State just twice in 13 outings, with one of them a 14-13 victory in their most recent meeting in 2011. After this game, UVa and FSU will play just once in the next decade.
- It was also a generation ago…: Florida State’s sports information department mentions that the Seminoles’ overcoming a 21-point deficit was the first time that has happened in 20 years. FSU trailed 31-3 against Florida in the fourth quarter on November 26, 1994, before surging back to complete a 31-all tie against their in-state rival.
- The roaring twenties: Virginia, as we mentioned earlier, was held to 22 rushing yards by Georgia Tech last week. Does anyone remember the last time the ‘Hoos posted a rushing total in the 20s? That would be their 25-yard total in a 2010 34-14 loss to — you guessed it — Florida State. Those 22 yards represent the fewest gained by Virginia on the ground in at least the last seven seasons.
Print that, tweet that, whatever: Most national skeptics expect(ed) FSU to lose a game they should win. It won’t be this one.
Louisville (6-3, 4-3 ACC) at Boston College (6-3, 3-2 ACC)
7:15pm | ESPN2
- Ground grumbles: Louisville’s top-ranked rush defense took a bit of a hit last week against Florida State, tumbling two spots to number three after the game. (Writer’s note: I didn’t mean to sound like Casey Kasem there. Promise.) Freshman Dalvin Cook gashed the Cards for 110 yards on just nine carries. The Seminoles gained 173 rushing yards (5.8 per carry), scoring three times. Their “reward” — such as it is — is getting to face the conference’s second-ranked (among ACC teams) rushing offense. The Eagles run for 274.89 yards per game, having gained 120 yards or greater against every opponent this season. Quarterback Tyler Murphy rushes for nearly 108 yards per game, which puts him on a conference-record pace for quarterbacks.
- We’ll run, but you won’t: Along that same path, BC’s sports information department points out that the Eagles are the only team in the FBS whose rushing offense and rushing defense rank in the top ten among national teams. BC has held six opponents to fewer than 100 rushing yards in a game this year, including season lows against FCS Maine (16 yards) and Wake Forest (19). Aside from Pittsburgh’s 303 rushing yards, no opponent has rushed for greater than 162 yards against the Eagles this season. Louisville’s rushing offense is ranked 87th nationally, tallying 146.1 yards per game. Well-traveled senior running back Michael Dyer has enjoyed considerable success in the last two games, carrying for 307 total yards against NC State and Florida State.
- Catching on: Louisville wide receiver DeVante Parker has provided a much-needed shot in the arm to the Cardinal offense since returning from an early injury. Parker posted an ACC season-high 214 yards last week, hauling in eight passes. That effort followed a nine-grab, 132-yard performance against NC State in his first game back from the injury.
Print that, tweet that, whatever: This should be a fun game. Having to keep extra help home for Murphy’s running could open up the mid-to-long passing game for BC.
Trivia answer: I asked earlier: Boston College and Louisville last played in 1998. One of the performers set a single-game school record in that contest. Who was that performer, and which record did he set?
Former Louisville, Baltimore Ravens and Atlanta Falcons quarterback Chris Redman set a single-game Louisville record, throwing for five touchdowns in a 52-28 victory that opened Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. Redman threw for 362 yards in the game. The five touchdowns gave Redman a record that he would hold for just shy of two months…until he broke it by throwing for six scores in a 63-45 victory at East Carolina.