Another week, another leader in the ACC Coastal division. The next batter up is Georgia Tech, ascending to the throne after a 68-50 shootout in Chapel Hill. The Coastal still has three teams who could make it to Charlotte, and two of those play each other this weekend. The Atlantic almost saw a new leader itself last week, but Florida State managed to hold on to defeat a game Virginia Tech squad in Blacksburg. The scenario remains the same for both the Seminoles and Tigers as it has been ever since Florida State lost in Raleigh. Clemson has to beat NC State in Death Valley, then hope for the seemingly impossible in a Maryland victory over Florida State.
If there is one thing this ACC season has taught us, though, it is that anything can — and will — happen in this conference. This week’s slate contains some key conference matchups and a few non-conference tilts, and the virtual car is full of gas for our regular trip around the ACC. Before we turn the key and hit the accelerator, though, we have one more bit of business to complete. Ladies and gentlemen, it’s trivia time!
ACC trivia (answer at the end of the column): Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher won his 28th game as the Seminoles’ leader in last Thursday’s victory over Virginia Tech. Which three coaches in ACC history had more victories than Fisher in their first three seasons?
Top of the Ratings
Duke (6-4, 3-3) at Georgia Tech (5-5, 4-3), 3:30pm ET, ESPNU
Last week’s episode: Clemson 56, Duke 20 (11/3); Georgia Tech 68, North Carolina 50
Program guide: “Whoa.” This was the reaction of the crowd at the game I was covering on Saturday shortly after the Georgia Tech final was announced, and that one word says it all. It is surely fair to say most people were expecting an entertaining game in Chapel Hill, but no one could have anticipated the output they saw.
The Jackets put together the second-highest scoring output by an ACC club this season (Florida State scored 69 against Murray State on September 1), and combined with Carolina to post the highest total score in ACC history. The only higher total this year was 123, courtesy of West Virginia and Baylor. The Yellow Jackets scored 40 of their 68 points in the second half last week, paced — as expected — by their tremendous ground game. Georgia Tech tallied 380 of their 588 offensive yards on the ground, and the run accounted for 21 of their 28 first downs. A staggering seven of Tech’s touchdowns came via the run, with Vad Lee and Robert Godhigh having two each. That run game set up the occasional pass, with Jacket quarterbacks combining for a 7-for-12 performance for 208 yards. The Tech defense even achieved a moral victory of sorts, holding North Carolina’s star back Giovani Bernard to just 78 rushing yards and a touchdown.
The trip to Atlanta couldn’t be more ill-timed for the Blue Devils, as they are allowing 182.5 yards a game on the ground, good for 10th in the conference. Clemson knifed through the Duke rush defense their last time out, rushing for 339 yards and two touchdowns. Duke has allowed 167 yards or more on the ground in every ACC contest this year, and their last two opponents (Florida State and Clemson) have rushed for a combined 600 yards. To make matters worse, the Blue Devils have allowed 869 rushing yards in their three ACC losses. Sure, Duke gave up 718 yards of offense to Clemson their last time out, but the knowledge that they can throw on Georgia Tech is a bit of a comfort.
The Jackets allow 256.3 passing yards a game (ninth in the ACC), and North Carolina quarterback Bryn Renner threw for 350 yards in last week’s game. Though a lot of his offensive output came with the game very much sealed, Blue Devil signal-caller Sean Renfree turned in a 23-for-39 performance against Clemson, throwing for 240 yards and a score. That score came to Jamison Crowder, who registered a seven-catch, 167-yard performance of his own. That passing game will have to be clicking against Georgia Tech for the Blue Devils to have a realistic shot at Grant Field. Duke has run for just 210 total yards in their last three losses.
Set Your DVR
North Carolina (6-4, 3-3) at Virginia (4-6, 2-4), 7:30pm ET (Thursday), ESPN
Program guide: The ACC gets their fourth straight Thursday showcase, and this game features the two schools who have faced off the most of any in ACC history. Thursday will mark the 117th matchup between the Tar Heels and Cavaliers, as the rivals first met 120 years ago in the same city where this year’s installment takes place. Virginia, seemingly all but dead two weeks ago, suddenly sees only Carolina and Virginia Tech — arguably their two most bitter rivals — standing between their team and a second consecutive bowl bid. The platoon quarterback system seems to be working for Virginia, as the Sims/Rocco connection has brought two straight victories to Mike London’s squad, and efficiency has been the key. Rocco was 29-for-37 for 300 yards and four scores against Miami last weekend, including the game-winning 10 yard strike to Jake McGee with 17 seconds remaining. Sims contributed an 11-of-14, 88 yard performance of his own, including a rushing touchdown. Virginia’s defense had their troubles with Miami’s main offensive weapons, as quarterback Stephen Morris went 17-for-25 for 179 yards and three scores, while running back Duke Johnson carried 16 times for 150 yards and threw for a touchdown of his own.
North Carolina’s tandem of Bryn Renner and Giovani Bernard have been well-chronicled in this space, but it should be noted that the Tar Heels’ lowest offensive output of the year was 410 yards in a 39-34 loss to Louisville earlier this season. Virginia’s offense has reached that total just five times this year, two of those in their last two victories. The thing that has to truly frighten Tar Heel fans, though, is that the Carolina defense has allowed 2047 yards of total offense in their last four games. This averages 6.11 yards per play over that stretch. Virginia will continue their somewhat unconventional quarterback rotation in the hopes of producing a third straight win, and this just may be the defense to make that happen.
NC State (6-4, 3-3) at #13 Clemson (9-1, 6-1), 3:30pm ET, ABC/ESPN2 (reverse mirror)
Program guide: NC State became the league’s fourth bowl-eligible squad last week, by virtue of a 37-6 thrashing of Wake Forest in Raleigh. The Wolfpack hung 428 yards of offense on Wake, limiting the Deacons to just 185 in the process. Even more impressive is that State held Wake Forest to just nine first downs, only two of which came on the ground. Mike Glennon found his form, going 25-for-41 for 258 yards with two scores and an interception, while the shaky Pack ground game got 110 yards from Shadrach Thornton in the victory. State also forced the Deacs to punt twelve times in last week’s outing.
Tom O’Brien’s club will need every bit of that output and more to calm a blistering Clemson club. The Tigers stretched their conference record streak of 37-plus point outings to nine in pounding Maryland 45-10 at home last weekend. Clemson now leads the conference in total offense at just over 513 yards a game, and they have eclipsed the 500-yard mark in four of their six straight victories. Tajh Boyd has registered 13 passing touchdowns in the last three games, and he will get to square off against a Wolfpack passing defense that ranks 10th in the conference, allowing 259.2 yards per game. Though all the attention was on star Sammy Watkins before the season, DeAndre Hopkins has stolen the show. Hopkins’ 1096 receiving yards place him second in the conference behind BC’s Alex Amidon’s 1157, while his 14 touchdowns rank fifth among ACC totals for a single season. Clemson will eventually meet the defense that ends their streak, but it seems unlikely that it will happen this week.
Virginia Tech (4-6, 2-4) at Boston College (2-8, 1-5), 12:30pm ET, ACC Network
Program guide: I would like to proudly offer a handshake to anyone who called this battle of last-place ACC teams in week 12. Boston College has spent a lot of their season in this predicament, but the Hokies joined them after their loss to Florida State and Virginia’s victory over Miami. Logan Thomas will look to end a somewhat dubious streak in Chestnut Hill this weekend. Thomas has thrown at least one interception in eight straight games, dating back to his three-pick effort against Pittsburgh on September 15. He has been intercepted more than once in five of those games, with two each in his last three games. Thomas’ touchdown and interception totals are now even at 14 on the season.
The Eagles have allowed under 400 yards on defense to just two of their FBS opponents (Maryland and last week’s 393 yards to Notre Dame), making for a somewhat less hostile environment for Thomas and the sputtering Hokie offense. The Virginia Tech run game has been uncharacteristically anemic, putting four performances of under 100 rushing yards on the board in 2012. Tech will look to better last week’s 87-yard rushing output in this one, and having Thomas revert back to the zone read look he successfully utilized against Clemson and several other opponents may be the secret.
South Florida (3-6) at Miami (5-5), 3:00pm ET, FSN (regional)
Program guide: This battle of Sunshine State schools composes one of the two non-conference games on this week’s schedule, and there could be some fallout on both sides. Miami is playing for bowl eligibility — assuming they allow it without imposing a ban — while South Florida may soon be searching for a new coach for the second time in three seasons. Skip Holtz has put up a paltry 4-14 conference record in his time at the Big East school, and though this is not a conference game, it could hold dire consequences for Holtz. The Bulls did defeat Miami in Holtz’ first year at the school, notching a 23-20 overtime victory. This victory seems as though it were decades ago to fans in Tampa, however.
The Bulls have experienced their share of struggles in 2012, ranking sixth in scoring offense among Big East teams at 25.3 points per game. USF’s run game may be where they look to make a stand against Miami. We have chronicled Miami’s struggles with the run, and with a number of Miami defensive starters out this week due to injury or suspension, the 170.22 rushing yards the Bulls average per game may be the way to go in an attempt to pull out a victory here. USF allows over 397 yards per game in total defense, good for next-to-last in the conference. They rank sixth in the conference in both rush and pass defense. This appears to be the best spot for Miami to get that elusive sixth win and gain bowl eligibility, even if only on a temporary basis.
Wake Forest (5-5) at #4 Notre Dame (10-0), 3:30pm ET, NBC
Program guide: We broke down Wake’s offensive struggles earlier in the column, and they will certainly stand to fare no better against the nation’s eighth-ranked defense in South Bend. The Irish allow just 295.2 yards per game in total defense, though they have allowed over 300 yards in each of their last three outings. The Deacons had their share of struggles against a much lesser NC State defense last week, so Manti Te’o and crew look to present a virtually insurmountable challenge. Tanner Price went from a 39-for-57 effort two weeks ago to a sluggish 18-for-33 last week, throwing for just 113 yards with an interception. Wake Forest has spent virtually the entire year in search of an offensive identity, between Tanner Price’s struggles, Michael Campanaro’s injury and other concerns. If they don’t quickly establish one on Saturday, this contest could get ugly in a hurry.
For their part, the Irish have broken the 300-yard mark in total offense each of the last six weeks, with three of those being over 400. Notre Dame has put up 980 yards of total offense in victories over two ACC opponents in 2012, and facing this Demon Deacon team, Brian Kelly’s squad would look to be in line for another huge day on the offensive side of the ball. Notre Dame has scored at least one rushing touchdown in each of the last four games, and Wake Forest is a middle-of-the-pack team against the run. Look for Theo Riddick, Cierre Wood and Everett Golson to try to slash through the Wake defense early and often in this one.
Trivia: I asked earlier: Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher won his 28th game as the Seminoles’ leader in last Thursday’s victory over Virginia Tech. Which three coaches in ACC history had more victories than Fisher in their first three seasons?
Answer: Bobby Bowden (33), Frank Beamer (31) and Ralph Friedgen (31) are the only three ACC coaches with more victories than Jimbo Fisher in their first three years.