ACC: Syracuse Orange

ACC morning links

September, 23, 2014
Sep 23
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Virginia kicker Ian Frye went through quite a harrowing ordeal during the BYU game last weekend.

When the team started to walk to the locker room at halftime, Frye noticed his mother coming down a set of stairs toward him. She yelled to Frye that his dad, Mark, was having chest pains. Frye went into the locker room briefly before finding his dad, who was seated just outside the door having a hard time breathing. He spoke with his dad and the paramedics, before his parents urged him to go back to his team.

Mark Frye, 58, was transported to a local hospital after suffering a heart attack. Ian Frye was left to play the rest of the game, worrying about his dad. But that did not keep him from nailing a 46-yard field goal in the fourth quarter.

"Just sitting there on the sideline was tough," Frye told local reporters Monday. "But I wanted to be there with my team, support them, and do what I needed to do. I was called out for a 46-yard field goal. That was probably one of my hardest kicks that I've ever had to do, just knowing about my dad and what he was going through and having to perform still for the team. I kicked it for him."

After the game ended, BYU police escorted Frye to the hospital to see his dad, who had undergone successful surgery. BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe visited in the hospital and brought Ian a meal. Ian Frye stayed overnight in Utah and returned to Charlottesville on Monday after a lengthy flight delay in Atlanta.

Mark Frye remains in a Provo hospital but is expected to recover. He has taken great pride in Ian's career, never missing a game. The 46-yard field goal Frye nailed was the first kick Mark Frye had ever missed his son attempt.

But he is not completely out of the loop. He was the first one to text Ian on Monday and let him know the ACC named him its Specialist of the Week after making all four field goal attempts in the game.

He is now 10-of-11 on field goal attempts this season.

Pretty amazing story.

In some other Virginia news, quarterback Greyson Lambert had a walking boot on Sunday and will be evaluated throughout the week. Matt Johns and David Watford will get increased reps at quarterback in case Lambert is not ready to go against Kent State this weekend. He is not the only ACC quarterback who is day-to-day.

Louisville quarterback Will Gardner is having his knee examined after he tweaked it against FIU. Coach Bobby Petrino told reporters Monday that it was too early to tell whether Gardner will be able to play against Wake Forest. If he can't, Reggie Bonnafon will be ready to go after missing last week following his father's death.

Now a quick look around the ACC:

ACC Power Rankings: Week 4

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
2:05
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ACC viewer's guide: Week 4

September, 20, 2014
Sep 20
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The best day of the week is finally here. Is the best league game of the year here as well? Probably. Here's a primer on all of the action throughout the day. Be sure to follow along on Twitter with all of the hashtags below.

Noon

Georgia Tech at Virginia Tech, ESPN, #GTvsVT: The Yellow Jackets have gotten to 3-0 in the most wayward of fashions. The Hokies are coming off a home loss to East Carolina, one week after upsetting a top-10 Ohio State team on the road. Could their trouble be on defense? Brandon Facyson has been playing hurt all season, sure, but Virginia Tech has surrendered 22 plays of 20 yards or more this season, fourth-most in the nation and half its total from last season (44). The big-play threat might not exactly be there with Georgia Tech, but as Jared Shanker noted this week, the visitors do bring with them a knack for converting third downs. Virginia Tech has won the past four games in this matchup.

Iowa at Pittsburgh, ESPNU, #IOWAvsPITT: Third-year Panthers coach Paul Chryst hosts a familiar foe this weekend, as he faced the Hawkeyes six times while he was offensive coordinator at Wisconsin, going 3-3. Pitt is looking for its first 4-0 start since 2000, and it will likely turn to the nation's leading rusher, James Conner, to try to get there, despite Iowa's stingy run defense (No. 7 nationally). Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz, by the way, will experience a homecoming of sorts, as he went to Upper St. Clair High in Pittsburgh.

12:30 p.m.

Maryland at Syracuse, 12:30, ESPN3, #MDvsCUSE: The Terrapins are in their first year away from the "basketball" conference that is the ACC, as coach Randy Edsall said this summer, and the Big Ten newcomers will look to avenge last year's 20-3 home loss to the Orange, which came without receivers Stefon Diggs and Deon Long. Syracuse, meanwhile, looked like a new team in last week's 40-3 win at Central Michigan, as it came off a bye and had quarterback Terrel Hunt back running the show on offense. Syracuse is looking to get to 3-0 for the first time since 1991, which would provide a big boost to a team that will embark on a difficult three-week stretch against Notre Dame, Louisville and Florida State.

Tulane at Duke, ESPN3, #TULNvsDUKE: Has there been a more overlooked team than Duke recently? All the Blue Devils have done is take care of business, coming off a 10-win, division-title season and starting 3-0 this season in methodical fashion (albeit against bad competition). In any event, the unranked Blue Devils close their nonconference slate against American Athletic Conference newcomer Tulane, which is no stranger to the ACC this season, having lost to Georgia Tech two weeks ago. Here's one interesting stat surrounding Duke quarterback Anthony Boone, courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information: The Blue Devils have lost yardage on just three percent of Boone's snaps, the lowest percentage of any Power Five quarterback with at least 150 plays.

[+] EnlargeTyler Murphy
Winslow Townson/Getty ImagesTyler Murphy and Boston College hope to avoid a letdown after their upset of USC when they face FCS Maine on Saturday.
1 p.m.

Maine at Boston College, ESPN3, #MEvsBC: It's all about avoiding a letdown this week in Chestnut Hill, where the Eagles produced one of the young season's greatest upsets last weekend against USC. The Black Bears should hardly pose a huge challenge to BC, which, with Tyler Murphy under center, has been able to stretch the field much more than last season, even if the run game is still its bread and butter. Murphy leads all quarterbacks in rushing yards this season with 401, 40 more yards than he has tallied passing the ball (361).

3:30 p.m.

Louisville at FIU, Fox Sports 1: The Cardinals are looking to rebound from their first defeat of the second Bobby Petrino era, while the Golden Panthers welcome their second straight ACC foe to Miami. FIU gave Pitt a handful last week before the Panthers pulled away, but Louisville will probably not be so kind coming off the loss at Virginia. Louisville beat FIU 72-0 a year ago, and while there are plenty of new faces, quarterback Will Gardner will try to bounce back after getting pulled a week ago. His offensive line will look to get its act together as well.

Virginia at No. 21 BYU, ESPN, #UVAvsBYU: Speaking of the Cavaliers, they should serve as one of the toughest tests the Cougars face all season, as the home team has the best chance of anyone in the nation at running the regular-season table (21.7 percent, per ESPN's FPI). We'll see just how good this Virginia defense really is after strong showings through the first three weeks, as BYU quarterback Taysom Hill and his home field will be a handful to handle. Virginia beat BYU last year in the season opener, one of just two games it won all season.

Army at Wake Forest, ESPN3, #ARMYvsWAKE: The Demon Deacons' defense has actually been pretty good through three games despite a 1-2 record. And while the offense showed signs of life late in last week's loss at Utah State, it cannot afford to give away points, and it would help to develop some form of a ground game. The Black Knights were shut out last week at Stanford. They also boast, at this point, the nation's slowest offense at 31.1 seconds per play, according to data from ESPN Stats & Info.

North Carolina at East Carolina, ESPNU, #UNCvsECU: The Pirates came awfully close to beating a South Carolina team that is probably better than we initially gave it credit for, and they went into Blacksburg, Virginia, last week and took down the Hokies. Now they get the Tar Heels in a rematch of last year's 55-31 ECU rout in Chapel Hill. The Tar Heels have looked underwhelming through two games, and they will be without starting guard Landon Turner. But their offense is still capable of putting plenty of points on the board, and this is a team that certainly has not forgotten about the way it was embarrassed by the Pirates last season. A shootout between Marquise Williams and Shane Carden could be on the horizon. And given UNC's upcoming slate -- at Clemson, Virginia Tech, at Notre Dame -- it better hope it can keep up this time around before league play starts. One thing to keep in mind: With Brian Walker's 100-yard interception return for a touchdown two weeks ago at San Diego State, UNC now has 10 non-offensive touchdowns since last season, according to ESPN Stats & Info. That is tied with North Texas for the second-best mark in the nation during that span, trailing only Florida State's 11.

6 p.m.

Presbyterian at NC State, ESPN3, #PREvsNCSU: The Wolfpack's laughable nonconference slate concludes, and a win here would make them 4-0 after a disappointing 3-9 mark last season. Still, it should do wonders for a young team looking to go bowling in Dave Doeren's second year at the helm, especially if it can replicate its dominant performance from last week at USF. Like its rival in Chapel Hill, NC State needs to do itself a favor, with back-to-back games against FSU and Clemson awaiting in the next two weeks to open conference play. As David Hale notes, quarterback Jacoby Brissett has been invaluable so far for the Pack, leading the ACC in touchdowns and yards and second only to Georgia Tech's Justin Thomas in passer rating.

8 p.m.

Miami at No. 24 Nebraska, ESPN2, #MIAvsNEB: Andrea Adelson and Mitch Sherman did a wonderful job recapping some of the great matchups between these old rivals. What might be the difference at Memorial Stadium, however, is the ground game. Duke Johnson has rushed for at least 90 yards in each of his past five games dating back to last season, while Ameer Abdullah has eclipsed the 100-yard mark in 12 of his past 14 games and has tallied more than 100 yards from scrimmage in 16 straight games, the longest active streak in the nation. The ACC is 6-3 against the Cornhuskers in the past nine meetings, though the Hurricanes are just 1-6 in their past seven games against AP-ranked teams, with an average point margin of minus-22.4.

8 p.m.

No. 22 Clemson at No. 1 Florida State, ABC, #CLEMvsFSU: Here's the matchup we've all been waiting for, but it won't include Jameis Winston. The reigning Heisman Trophy winner will sit out the entire game, the school announced late Friday, after reportedly making profane remarks in public. It will be Sean Maguire's turn to run the show. Maguire has not started a game since Nov. 12, 2011, his senior year at Seton Hall Prep (New Jersey). Coach Jimbo Fisher is 3-1 against Clemson since arriving in Tallahassee, but the lower-ranked team has won two of the past three meetings. The Tigers, meanwhile, are 0-4 all time against AP No. 1 teams, with the last such game coming in the 1999 "Bowden Bowl I" against FSU, a 17-14 Seminoles win. Coming into this contest, ESPN's FPI ranks Clemson 19th, FSU 2nd, and it gives the Seminoles a 77 percent chance to win.

Maryland-Syracuse: Tale of the tape

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
11:00
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Saturday's Maryland-Syracuse game at the Carrier Dome has all the makings of a delicious matchup -- if it were taking place on a basketball court.

So, OK, these two schools are known more for their basketball. But the relative new ACC member and the recently departed ACC member do have some gridiron legacies as well. Here we present a tale of the tape:

ACC morning links

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
8:00
AM ET
Louisville is still waiting on running back Michael Dyer to get healthy, hoping he can give its ground game a jolt.

The bigger question is whether it matters who is carrying the ball given the issues the Cardinals have had on the offensive line.

Dyer has yet to play in a game this season after bruising his thigh during a scrimmage in mid-August. He was able to practice this week, and coach Bobby Petrino said Thursday there was "definitely" a chance Dyer could play against FIU. According to the Courier-Journal, Petrino said:
"We saw some really good things from him. The thing that's hard on that is it's not only the injury that he's overcoming, it's the soreness from not doing those things for five weeks -- not running hard and cutting and doing all that. The rest of his body is sore."

Dyer has had a difficult time staying healthy since he arrived at Louisville and has yet to recapture the form that he displayed during his first two seasons at Auburn, when he ran for over 1,000 yards as a freshman and a sophomore. Given his talent and past production, he is the best running back on the roster, and Louisville could absolutely use his help.

Would he be an absolute difference maker? Petrino said this week he had opened up the competition on the offensive line to try and shake things up among a group that has struggled both in the run and pass game. With Dyer out, Louisville has relied primarily on Dominique Brown and L.J. Scott at running back. If you throw out the game against FCS Murray State, Louisville is averaging just 104.5 yards rushing. Some of that has to do with sacks allowed but even if you add in the yards lost by quarterbacks, Louisville is averaging just 123 yards per game on the ground.

Essentially, Louisville has not been as explosive as it wants to be out of the backfield. Brown had over 100 yards in the opening win against Miami but averaged 4.3 yards per carry. Against a much better Virginia defense, Brown averaged 3.7 yards per carry. As we discussed in an earlier mailbag, Petrino needs an effective run game for his offense to run smoothly.

By the numbers: Atlantic contenders?

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
4:00
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Two ACC Atlantic Division teams went on the road last week and thumped an overmatched opponent with impressive performances on both sides of the ball. The surprise, perhaps, is that those two teams were NC State and Syracuse.

Why were those strong performances such a revelation?

Syracuse lost three of four true road games last year. Each of the losses was by at least three touchdowns, and the Orange allowed 48 points or more in all three. Syracuse’s opener this season was a double-OT win over FCS Villanova.

NC State hadn’t won a road game by more than a field goal since 2011. It needed furious second-half comebacks in each of its first two games against Georgia Southern and Old Dominion — two teams that were playing FCS ball as recently as 2012.

Neither team was heavily favored last week, yet the Orange thumped Central Michigan 40-3 and the Wolfpack upended USF 49-17. In both cases, it was cause for ample optimism for two beleaguered fan bases.

But here’s the question: As FSU and Clemson do battle for the title of Atlantic favorites this weekend, are either NC State or Syracuse ready to take a step up in class and join the fray atop the division?

For Syracuse, the narrative is fairly straightforward. Terrel Hunt missed the majority of the opener, but once he was back on the field against CMU, the Orange offense looked sharp. The up-tempo style worked well, Hunt was decisive in the pocket, and the ground game appeared varied and dynamic. The defense, meanwhile, has nine sacks in two games, marking the best two-game stretch for the Orange since 2009.

Syracuse has also won six of its past eight games dating back to last season, with one loss to eventual national champion Florida State and the other coming by just a single point to Pitt.

At NC State, the bulk of the excitement comes from quarterback Jacoby Brissett, who has been exceptional so far. Since his first-half interception in the opener against Georgia Southern, Brissett has been other-worldly, completing 72 percent of his throws, averaging 8.8 yards per attempt and tossing seven touchdowns without a turnover. Brissett leads the ACC in touchdowns and yards and is second only to Georgia Tech’s Justin Thomas in passer rating.

More encouraging still for NC State: Only Pitt, with Heisman contender James Conner at tailback, has a higher rate of rushing touchdowns than the Wolfpack.

In other words, it’s hard to blame fans for being excited about the prospects for both programs right now. But all those impressive numbers so far should also be placed into context.

In fact, it was just last year that NC State started the season 3-1, with the lone loss a close game against eventual Orange Bowl champ Clemson. The three others were nonconference games against lower-tier teams. The results looked a lot like this season’s.

First three nonconference games, 2013: 3-0, combined score of 111-49
First three nonconference games, 2014: 3-0, combined score of 119-74

What followed for the Wolfpack was an 0-8 finish to the season.

Similarly, Syracuse looked awfully dominant against teams outside the Power 5 last year, too, beating Wagner and Tulane by a combined score of 106-17. In those games, Hunt was exceptional.

Hunt vs. Wagner and Tulane: 31-of-39 (80%) for 440 yards (11.3 ypa), 7 TD, 0 INT
Hunt in all other 2013 games: 136-of-234 (58%) for 1,192 yards (5.1 ypa), 3 TD, 8 INT

That’s not to rain on anyone’s early season parades, of course, but rather to add a pinch of reality to the proceedings. Road wins are nice and rarely come easily, so Syracuse and NC State deserve credit. It’s true, too, that Brissett has the Wolfpack offense running at a much more efficient pace than it did a year ago, and Hunt appears miles ahead of where he was in ACC play last season.

But bigger tests await. Syracuse gets Maryland this weekend and NC State gets Presbyterian. Neither game has gotten much traction in a week that features a host of intriguing ACC matchups. After that, though, things get interesting.

Syracuse’s next three are against Notre Dame, Louisville and Florida State.

NC State’s next three are versus Florida State, Clemson and Boston College.

Much more so than last season, there is reason to believe those six games could provide a signature win or two for programs on the rise rather than lopsided losses for teams that can’t measure up with the cream of the crop.

We’ll know more by mid-October, of course, but the fun of September is that there are still plenty of places to find optimism, and with the way Syracuse and NC State performed last weekend, you don’t even have to look too hard.

ACC Week 4 predictions

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
9:00
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The ACC has a full slate of interesting games in Week 4. Andrea Adelson, Matt Fortuna, David Hale and Jared Shanker give their takes on who will win and why.

Andrea Adelson: If East Carolina quarterback Shane Carden can rack up 417 yards on one of the best secondaries in the ACC, what hope does North Carolina have in this game? North Carolina can talk revenge all it wants, hoping for a little payback for its embarrassing loss last year. But the Tar Heels have come out flat in both of their games this season, have had problems on the offensive and defensive lines and have been inconsistent in their run and return games. Just about every matchup arrow points in East Carolina's favor. East Carolina 31, North Carolina 21.

David Hale: If we learned anything from last week’s game, it should be this: In September, momentum swings quickly. Virginia Tech was riding high, ECU was overlooked and the end result was a dramatic win for the Pirates. Fast-forward to this week, and we have an overlooked North Carolina against an ECU team with an increasingly crowded bandwagon. The Tar Heels have a chip on their shoulder, remembering what happened last season. UNC’s secondary is solid, and Carden completed just 15 of 36 passes last week after ECU’s first two drives. The Pirates won’t sneak up on North Carolina this time around, and that’s the biggest advantage for the Heels. North Carolina 28, East Carolina 24.

Hale: It was just last year that Virginia’s underrated defense helped knock off BYU in Charlottesville, and those Hoos certainly weren’t as good as this year’s group. Yes, BYU has improved, but the Cougars still don’t have the most explosive offense. More importantly, BYU has thrown four interceptions and fumbled six times (four lost) in its first three games, and UVa’s defense will be by far the best the Cougars have seen so far. The onus will be on the Cavaliers’ offense to put a few points on the board -- no easy task against BYU -- but this could be a game in which the first team to find the end zone twice wins. Virginia 20, BYU 17.

Matt Fortuna: UVa is clearly a much-improved squad from last season and shouldn't need a two-hour rain delay to pull off the upset, as may have been the case last season. But the Hoos will still have their work cut out for them in Provo, Utah. Taysom Hill is a much better quarterback than he was a year ago. He has rushed for 356 yards through three games, second most nationally. Further complicating matters is the altitude of LaVell Edwards Stadium, which will test the depth of the UVa defense. The BYU defense has been flat-out salty against the run, and too much will be put on the Hoos' passing attack. BYU 30, Virginia 27.

Adelson: The Deacs showed some signs of life on offense in the second half against Utah State a week ago. Now the trick is to limit the turnovers and get the run game going. The bet is that will happen this week against Army, which has a run defense that ranks 84th in the nation, allowing 176 yards per game. The Wake Forest defense has played well for the most part, ranking 17th in the nation in total D, and will do enough to slow down the Black Knights. Wake Forest 21, Army 20.

Jared Shanker: It is not the sexiest matchup in Week 4, as both Army and Wake Forest have struggled in recent seasons. Army has not had a winning season since 2010, and Wake Forest is considered by many to be the worst Power 5 team in 2014. It isn't as much a case of having confidence in Army as it is questioning what Wake Forest will bring to the table. Stanford shut out Army last weekend, but the Black Knights were able to score 47 points against Buffalo, a team much more comparable to Wake Forest than the Cardinal. Wake Forest is playing a true freshman at quarterback and Army has a more experienced player leading the offense, and I think that will be the deciding factor. This will be a game decided in the final four minutes. Army 13, Wake Forest 10.

Fortuna: The Tigers know they are better than what they showed last season in a humiliating home loss to Florida State. Jameis Winston's declaration that Memorial Stadium is his house this past spring only fueled that fire, and now Winston won't even be around for the first half. All of that plays perfectly into the formula for a Tigers upset. Their highly touted defensive front has not lived up to expectations through two games, but if Clemson can create pressure early, get to backup QB Sean Maguire and force him to throw to someone other than Rashad Greene, the Tigers will give themselves a chance. Clemson 31, Florida State 27.

Shanker: It's almost as if this whole Winston half-game suspension sets up for the reigning Heisman Trophy winner to add to his legacy. Maguire is a solid backup, so the smart money is on him keeping the game close heading into halftime. At that point, the offense's keys are handed back to Winston, who torched the Tigers last season. The Florida State defense stifled Clemson's offense last season, and this version of Chad Morris' offense is not quite as talented as last season's. If the Florida State defense is motivated, it certainly could give Cole Stoudt and Deshaun Watson fits. Florida State 24, Clemson 17.

Unanimous predictions

Georgia Tech at Virginia Tech: The Hokies have won four straight in the series, as defensive coordinator Bud Foster seems to always find a way to slow down the Jackets’ triple-option offense. Though Virginia Tech is coming in off a loss, it has looked like the stronger team in the first three games. Virginia Tech 20, Georgia Tech 17.

Iowa at Pitt: If there is anyone in the ACC who should be familiar with the Hawkeyes, it is coach Paul Chryst, who coached against them during his time at Wisconsin. Though Iowa ranks No. 6 in the nation in rush defense, James Conner will find a way to get his 100 yards and lead the Panthers to a 4-0 start for the first time since 2000. Pitt 28, Iowa 17.

Maryland at Syracuse: The Orange beat the Terps 20-3 last year in their first meeting as ACC members, though Maryland was missing several of its best players in the game. In a battle of mobile quarterbacks, Terrel Hunt will better C.J. Brown and get Syracuse to 3-0 for the first time since 1991. Syracuse 28, Maryland 24.

Tulane at Duke: The Blue Devils have gone through their nonconference schedule with ease, but cannot get caught looking ahead to a looming showdown with Miami. The big question is whether Shaun Wilson can duplicate his 245-yard performance against the No. 94 rush defense in the country. Duke 41, Tulane 10.

Maine at BC: BC has to guard against a letdown after an emotional win over No. 9 USC last week. Coach Steve Addazio kept the intensity going at practice this week, hoping his team can carry on the momentum it has gained. Bank on that, behind another 100-yard rushing game from Tyler Murphy. Boston College 34, Maine 7.

Louisville at FIU: FIU put a scare into Pitt last week, so Louisville has to ward against overconfidence. Of course, the last time these two teams met a season ago, Louisville won 72-0. This should be a bounce-back game for the Cards’ offense, which struggled a week ago in a loss to Virginia. Louisville 45, FIU 0.

Presbyterian at NC State: The Wolfpack looked good last week in a road win over USF, and need to build off that win against Presbyterian, with a showdown against Florida State set for next weekend. The nonconference schedule has been weak, but after winning three games all of last season, NC State will take win No. 4. NC State 42, Presbyterian 10.

Miami at Nebraska: The Cornhuskers have a big edge on the Hurricanes in the trenches, and that is where this game will be decided. Miami’s defense has played better, but it will have a tough time slowing down Heisman contender Ameer Abdullah on the road in a nationally televised game. Nebraska 35, Miami 24.

Records this season
Shanker: 32-3
Adelson: 29-6
Fortuna: 29-6
Hale: 29-6

ACC morning links

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
8:00
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We start today with Jameis Winston, because the reigning Heisman Trophy winner dominated conversation Wednesday, again for all the wrong reasons.

Florida State suspended Winston for the first half of Saturday's primetime game against No. 22 Clemson. But is that enough? Our Mark Schlabach thinks the consequences could have a reverse effect if a certain scenario plays out.
Some might argue that Winston's punishment for the latest incident isn't severe enough. In fact, FSU officials might have set him up to return to the spotlight once again after getting a slight slap on the wrist. What if backup quarterback Sean Maguire, who has attempted only 26 passes in his college career, struggles against Clemson, only to have Winston come into the game after halftime and lead the Seminoles to another victory? Winston will be the hero once again.

Others have expressed similar sentiments, including USA Today's Dan Wolken. Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman, meanwhile, wonders if Winston has learned anything at all, especially in light of comments both the player and head coach Jimbo Fisher made this summer. Yahoo Sports' Pat Forde also thinks Winston's half-game suspension is a half-measure taken by FSU.

SI.com's Zac Ellis says the message from the school to Winston to shape up is loud and clear.

How any of this affects the Noles in their chase to repeat as national champions remains unclear. But it is more evident than ever before that Winston needs to grow up, and grow up fast. Incident after incident figured to show him that, but it appears that has not been the case just yet. Now he has let down his teammates as they prepare for their biggest game of the season so far. How they respond -- and whether that will teach Winston a lesson -- remains to be seen.

Elsewhere in the ACC …

ACC morning links

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
8:00
AM ET
When operating out of an option-based offense, it is no secret converting third downs -- preferably third-and-short -- is of pivotal importance. So the Georgia Tech offense's ability to sustain drives is a priority in every game as long as Paul Johnson is the Yellow Jackets' coach.

Through three weeks, few teams are better than Georgia Tech at converting third-down attempts. Only one team, in fact. The Yellow Jackets rank No. 2 nationally with a 64 percent conversion rate, according to a post from Ken Sugiura of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The Georgia Tech offense, however, has done that against the likes of FCS Wofford, Tulane and recent FBS addition Georgia Southern. The unit will get its first test Saturday against Virginia Tech, which has been terrific at getting off the field; the Hokies are No. 3 nationally, allowing opponents to convert only 23.3 percent of third-down attempts.

If the Yellow Jackets find success moving the chains, they face another test once they near the Virginia Tech goal line. The Hokies are No. 15 nationally in red zone defense, allowing opponents to score on 66.7 percent of its trips. They are No. 35 in red zone touchdown percentage at 50.

The Tech-Tech showdown has traditionally been a heated game, as five of the last six games have been decided by a single score. The last two meetings have been low scoring, too, so third-down and red zone defense will be of critical importance Saturday.
  • The quarterback situation at Miami might not be any clearer without Kevin Olsen. Freshman Brad Kaaya is starting, but senior Ryan Williams, who tore his ACL in the spring, is nearing a return. Miami coach Al Golden would not commit to sticking with Kaaya once Williams is ready to play.
  • Florida State offensive tackle Cam Erving stymied Clemson's Vic Beasley last season, and that will once again be a one-on-one battle that figures to play an important part in deciding Saturday's winner between the two nationally ranked teams.
  • Clemson coach Dabo Swinney still feels Clemson would beat Florida State five out of 10 times. He initially said that after last season's disaster in Death Valley.
  • Virginia Tech has struggled mightily to run the football the last two weeks, so the Hokies are hoping Trey Edmunds comes back sooner rather than later from a tibia injury.
  • It initially looked bleak for two Duke linemen, but coach David Cutcliffe said Lucas Patrick and Dezmond Johnson avoided serious injuries Saturday. However, the offensive and defensive lines are preparing as if they will not have either this coming weekend.
  • Louisville quarterback Will Gardner was pulled in the loss against Virginia, and Gardner is putting the blame squarely on his own shoulders. And keep Reggie Bonnafon, who replaced Gardner on Saturday, in your thoughts as he deals with the death of his father.
  • After a loss to ECU a season ago, North Carolina coach Larry Fedora would be shocked if his team had the audacity to overlook the Pirates a second straight season. ECU, of course, upset Virginia Tech last weekend.
  • NC State coach Dave Doeren offered coachspeak when asked if the Wolfpack already had its eyes on No. 1 Florida State. He insists Presbyterian has his focus.
  • Syracuse coach Scott Shafer might have talked with Doeren, too. He offered a similar response, although the Orange have former member Maryland before a game against Notre Dame.
  • Boston College coach Steve Addazio had an out-of-character week of practice leading up to Pittsburgh because of a short week. He lightened the intensity. He learned his lesson in advance of the USC game, and it clearly paid off as the Eagles manhandled the then-No. 9 Trojans.
  • Canaan Severin was buried on the depth chart last season, and many of those players ahead of him returned for 2014. However, Severin has started two games already this season.
  • Pitt has not decided who will play center against Iowa.

ACC Upset Watch: Week 4

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
3:00
PM ET
Two teams we had on upset watch last week ended up losing: Louisville and Virginia Tech. That is all the warning needed for this week's edition.

Eds note: We are including ACC underdogs with a chance to pull upsets, too.

1. Maryland (2-1) at Syracuse (2-0), 12:30 p.m., ESPN3. Line: Syracuse by 2. The Orange posted a 40-3 win against Central Michigan last week. That counts as a big win considering the double-overtime scare they survived in Week 1. Still, how much do we really know about Syracuse right now? Is Terrel Hunt as good as he was last week or as average as he was in the first half against Villanova? Is the defense as feisty as the one we saw against the Chippewas or the one that was not very physical against Villanova? Maryland has not exactly impressed anyone with a close win over USF and then a 40-37 loss to West Virginia last week in which the Mountaineers ran 108 plays and Clint Trickett passed for 511 yards. Still, the Terps have a veteran quarterback in C.J. Brown and top-notch receiver in Stefon Diggs -- two players who missed Syracuse's 20-3 win against Maryland a year ago.

2. Army (1-1) at Wake Forest (1-2), 3:30 p.m., ESPN3. Line: Army by 2. Wake Forest has not exactly given its fans reason for hope but the Deacs did show signs of life last week in a loss to Utah State. After trailing 29-7 at halftime, Wake Forest cut the deficit to 29-21 before losing 36-24. Turnovers have been a huge killer in both losses. Last week, the Aggies scored on a pick-six and a fumble return for a touchdown. ULM also scored on a pick-six in the opener to win 17-10. If Wake Forest can limit such damaging mistakes, then they will be in some games down the road. Because the defense is respectable. Better than respectable, actually, ranking in the top half of the ACC in total defense, scoring defense and rushing defense. Wake Forest beat Army last season and has won seven straight in the series. The Demon Deacons are 6-0 vs. Army at BB&T Field and have not lost to the Black Knights since 1989.

3. North Carolina (2-0) at East Carolina (2-1), 3:30 p.m., ESPNU. Line: East Carolina by 2. The Pirates are riding high after their win against Virginia Tech, and have something else going for them, too -- they embarrassed North Carolina in Chapel Hill one season ago. So if Shane Carden and company had a huge day against the Tar Heels last season, what will prevent them from having a big day against the Tar Heels this year? North Carolina ranks No. 94 in the nation in passing yards allowed (average 265 per game) and has been in a dogfight with its first two opponents -- neither of them as good as East Carolina. Meanwhile, the North Carolina offense will be without starting guard Landon Turner, and is expected to start true freshman Jared Cohen in his place. But not all is bleak. North Carolina can score with the best of them, and the Tar Heels will not overlook the Pirates the way they did a season ago. With a week off to prepare, North Carolina will be ready.

4. Virginia (2-1) at BYU (3-0), 3:30 p.m., ESPN. Line: BYU by 15. The Cougars have looked the part in the early going, but Virginia has not been a walkover for anybody. Virginia was not even a walkover for BYU last season -- the Hoos beat the Cougars to start the season before everything else went south. So how can Virginia pull the upset? Follow the same blueprint it did last week in a win over Louisville. Virginia totally shut down dual-threat quarterback Brett Hundley so the Hoos will have that experience under their belts when they take on dual-threat Taysom Hill. The Hoos also have been terrific at creating turnovers. Their nine turnovers gained is tied for second in the country. The offense still has to find some consistency and a ground game, but with a take-charge defense leading the way, Virginia will be a threat to pull off the upset.

By the numbers: ACC Week 3 recap

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
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A look around the league at some of the more interesting statistical performances from Week 3.

* Saturday's win over FIU marked James Conner’s second straight game with at least 31 rushing attempts. Since the start of 2012, only five other running backs have had consecutive games with as many attempts.

Conner also racked up a whopping 177 yards on the ground against FIU, his fourth straight game with at least 150 rushing yards. In the last decade, here’s the complete list of Power 5 conference backs who’ve had at least four games in a row of 150-plus rushing yards:
  • BC’s Andre Williams, 5 games (2013)
  • Arizona’s Kadeem Carey, 5 games (2012-13)
  • Wisconsin’s Montee Ball, 4 games (2011)
  • Pitt’s Dion Lewis, 4 games (2009)

Among non-Power 5 runners, only NIU’s Garrett Wolfe (11), UCF’s Kevin Smith (7) and UConn’s Donald Brown (5) have had streaks longer than Conner’s current one.

* Conner leads all ACC players in rushing yards for the season (543). Next up is BC QB Tyler Murphy (401) and Duke’s Shaun Wilson (334).

Wilson set the Duke school record Saturday, rushing for 245 yards on just 12 carries. Overall, Wilson is averaging a whopping 15.9 yards per rush so far this season — 6.2 yards per rush more than any other player in the nation (min. 20 attempts).

Wilson had three touchdowns against Kansas on Saturday — runs of 69, 68 and 45. Since the start of the 2004 season, only two other players have had three touchdown runs of at least 45 yards against a Power 5 conference team: Maurice Jones-Drew (9/18/04 vs. Washington) and Nebraska’s Roy Helu Jr. (10/30/10 vs. Missouri).

* Murphy averaged 4.2 yards per pass attempt and 14.7 yards per rush against USC. Only three quarterbacks have rushed for more yardage against a Power 5 team since the start of last season: Daniel Sams (199 vs. Baylor, 11/23/13), Nick Marshall (214 vs. Tennessee, 11/9/13) and Taysom Hill (259 vs. Texas, 9/7/13).

And for what it’s worth, the only Power 5 teams averaging fewer pass attempts per game than Boston College this year: Georgia Tech, Pitt, Arkansas, Minnesota and LSU.

* More from ESPN Stats & Information: This was the first time an unranked Boston College beat a top-10 opponent since knocking off Notre Dame in 2002. (Remember those green Irish jerseys?) Moreover, ESPN’s Football Power Index says this was the biggest upset in an FBS vs. FBS game so far this year. The Eagles had a 9 percent chance to win.

* Duke's Anthony Boone has thrown seven touchdowns without an interception through three games. How significant is that? Last year, Boone didn’t throw his seventh TD pass until Nov. 23 against Wake Forest, and nationally, the only QBs with at least seven TDs and no interceptions is short: USC’s Cody Kessler, along with Heisman candidates Everett Golson, Kenny Hill and Marcus Mariota.

Overall, Duke QBs have combined for eight touchdowns on 119 attempts without a pick. No other team in the nation has attempted more passes without a pick this year.

* Syracuse’s easy win over Central Michigan was lost in the shuffle a bit Saturday, but two weeks after struggling against Villanova, the Orange had no trouble in their first road test of the year.

What was particularly encouraging was that QB Terrel Hunt played well — something he didn’t do away from the Carrier Dome a year ago. In six games away from home last season, Hunt completed 57.8 percent of his throws, averaged 5.2 yards per attempt, threw four interceptions without a TD. Against CMU, he completed 20-of-30 for 175 yards with a touchdown and no picks. Hunt also added three touchdowns on the ground.

* Virginia Tech clearly isn't completely past the troubles of 2013.

Lost in the shuffle of the win over Ohio State was another troubling performance by the Hokies’ ground game. Its three tailbacks — Shai McKenzie, Marshawn Williams and J.C. Coleman — had 22 rushes for just 43 yards. Those troubles showed up again against ECU. While McKenzie and Williams did combine for 92 yards on 24 carries, 21 of those yards came on a single run. On the other 23 attempts, the Hokies mustered just 3.1 yards-per-rush.

Virginia Tech is averaging 3.5 yards per carry on first down this year — the second lowest tally among ACC teams (Wake Forest, 1.65).

* Another relic of last year’s problems for Virginia Tech: Hokies receivers were credited with seven drops against ECU. No other ACC team has had more than four in a game this season. Only West Virginia, in its opener against Alabama, had as many among all Power 5 conference teams. The seven drops also came after Tech had just two combined in its first two games.

* Silver lining for Wake Forest: The 24 points scored by the Demon Deacons against Utah State on Saturday were the most against an FBS opponent since Oct. 19 of last year — a span of seven games. It was the second most in a road game against an FBS team since the start of the 2012 season (25 vs. Army on 9/21/13).

The 110 attempts by QB John Wolford are the most by any true freshman in the country (conference-mate Brad Kaaya is second at 75), and while the results haven’t been terrific, he has shown some signs of progress. After a brutal first half against Utah State, Wolford was decent enough in the second half, completing 14-of-31 attempts for 179 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. And, of course, he’s been asked to do all of this while his ground game is averaging 0.8 yards-per-rush. Only SMU has been worse on the ground.

ACC morning links: Kaaya's big step

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
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Miami knew there would be bumps in the road for true freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya, and so it wasn’t entirely surprising when he started off the year looking like, well, a true freshman. But the upside for Kaaya was always obvious, and against Arkansas State on Saturday, all that potential was on display.

As the Miami Herald noted, Kaaya set a Miami record for true freshmen, throwing for 342 yards -- just 9 less than his total from the first two games of the season. After the game, wideout Phillip Dorsett told the Sun Sentinel that Kaaya “grew up a lot.”

Kaaya certainly looked like a veteran against Arkansas State, but as significant as his comfort in the pocket was his ability to make some big throws when given the chance.

Miami fans were more than a bit displeased with the play calling in the first two games, noting that Kaaya wasn’t exactly given much of a chance to make many big throws. On the other hand, his success rate on those throws provided little encouragement.

On Saturday, however, things were much different.

Below are Kaaya’s numbers on throws of 10 yards or more.

Weeks 1 and 2: 7-of-17 for 187 yards, one TD and four interceptions
Week 3: 3-of-4 for 132 yards, two TDs and no interceptions

The opportunities for deep balls actually declined against Arkansas State, but Kaaya’s accuracy on those throws was much improved. Two of those completions went to Dorsett, who had receptions of 63, 63 and 51. He became just the second ACC receiver in the last decade to have three catches of 50 yards or more in a single game, joining Clemson’s Sammy Watkins (Oct. 25, 2012, against Wake Forest).

Kaaya was sacked three times, and Miami’s shaky offensive line continues to be a concern, but the freshman showed plenty of poise, including going 3-of-4 for 106 yards and two touchdowns against the blitz. And all of this without star receiver Stacy Coley, who missed the game with a shoulder injury.

There will be bigger tests and more bumps in the road ahead for Kaaya, but Saturday was a good reminder of why the Hurricanes liked the kid so much in the first place and a great chance for him to build a little confidence for the future.

A few more links:
  • We're back to blaming the offense at Virginia Tech after the Hokies lost to ECU and dropped out of the polls, writes the Richmond Times-Dispatch. To be fair, though, the defense has allowed 11 pass plays of 25-plus yards in three games, the most of any Power 5 team. It allowed just 18 all of last year.
  • We’re three weeks into the season and we’ve already seen two starting QBs pulled when struggling, with Will Gardner the latest to ride the bench. The Louisville Courier-Journal wonders if Reggie Bonnafon should be the starter for the Cardinals.
  • Saturday’s thrashing of Kansas was a good reminder that Duke has a lot more weapons on offense than Jamison Crowder, writes the Raleigh News & Observer. Crowder had just two catches for 14 yards against the Jayhawks, his lowest production since a 2/10 performance in a loss to Georgia Tech in 2012.
  • BC Interruption relives the many things for the Eagles to be excited about after Saturday’s upset of USC.
  • For NC State, there were a lot of numbers from Saturday’s thumping of USF that could be followed with the phrase “first time since” and a date from at least two years ago. Backing the Pack looks at a few, including a stretch for the Wolfpack defense that was particularly encouraging.
  • With Terrel Hunt getting his first extended action of the season, we finally got a look at the up-tempo Orange offense, and the numbers show Syracuse looked comfortable working quickly, writes The Post-Standard.
  • The schedule makes it tough to get too excited at Virginia, with the Hoos set to face down another big challenge in Week 4, writes The Roanoke Times.
  • Georgia Tech’s collapse against Georgia Southern probably speaks less to the team’s talent than its focus, writes the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
  • Life’s not easy at Wake Forest right now, and a short turnaround before Army comes to town won’t help, writes the Winston-Salem Journal.

ACC Power Rankings: Week 3

September, 14, 2014
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ACC helmet stickers: Week 3

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
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Week 3 was chock full of big plays on both sides of the ball, meaning there were plenty of contenders for ACC helmet stickers. Here are the top performers.

Syracuse LB Cameron Lynch: Two weeks after a discouraging opener against Villanova, the Orange looked much improved against Central Michigan in their 40-3 win. Quarterback Terrel Hunt was exceptional, accounting for four touchdowns, but it was the defense that really set the tone. Syracuse had five sacks in the game, led by Lynch, who recorded eight tackles, 3.5 for a loss and 2.5 sacks while helping to hold CMU to just 34 yards rushing on 23 carries.

Georgia Tech QB Justin Thomas: There are concerns for the Yellow Jackets, who’ve been tested against three lower-tier opponents early this season, but Georgia Tech has to be pleased with the performance of its new starting quarterback. Thomas rushed for a team-high 137 yards on 20 carries with a touchdown while throwing for four more scores, including the game-winning 13-yard pass to Deon Hill with 23 seconds remaining, as Georgia Tech rallied past Georgia Southern 42-38. Thomas already has six TDs on the year — halfway to the team’s total through the air from 2013.

Virginia LB Henry Coley: The Hoos got their first ACC win since 2012 thanks to another dominant defensive effort. Coley helped lead the charge in the 23-21 victory, racking up seven tackles, including two for a loss, one sack and a pass breakup. The Virginia front seven tormented Louisville throughout, while the secondary came up with two big interceptions. Overall, UVA had three takeaways, and all three led to points.

Pitt RB James Conner: Another week, another helmet sticker for the ACC’s most prolific runner. Conner had 31 carries — his second straight week with 30-plus — for 177 yards and three scores, leading Pitt to a 42-25 road win over FIU. Conner has topped 150 yards in four straight games dating back to last season, just the fifth Power 5-conference runner to do that since the start of 2009.

Miami QB Brad Kaaya: In the first two games of his career, Kaaya looked every bit a true freshman, completing 57 percent of his passes, throwing just three TDs to go with four picks and racking up 351 yards. In his third start, Kaaya made a huge improvement, throwing for 341 yards and four touchdowns while playing without star receiver Stacy Coley. With Coley out, however, Phillip Dorsett shined in Miami's 41-20 win with four catches for 201 yards, including a pair of 63-yard scores.

Duke RB Shaun Wilson: The true freshman had just nine career carries on his resume entering the weekend, but he finished Saturday’s 41-3 win with the Duke school record for yards by a running back. Wilson had TD runs of 69, 68 and 45 yards and finished the game with 245 yards on just 12 carries — but it was an 8-yard carry on the game’s final play that set the record. The 245 yards were the 10th most by an ACC running back since 2004, and he was just the third player with three touchdown runs of 45 yards or more against a Power 5 team in the past decade.

And rather than a helmet sticker, how about a red bandana to everyone at Boston College? The Eagles looked fantastic in upending No. 9 USC while wearing red bandana designs on their uniforms to honor 9/11 victim and former BC lacrosse player Welles Crowther. It was a group effort for the Eagles. Quarterback Tyler Murphy was electric in the 37-31 win, accounting for 244 yards of offense. Freshman RB Jon Hilliman had 89 yards and two touchdowns. The ground game racked up 452 yards, while the defense had five sacks and held USC to just 20 yards rushing. And for the second time in as many weeks, an ACC team knocked off a Top-10, nonconference foe.

What we learned in the ACC: Week 3

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
1:03
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Here’s what we learned in the ACC following the Week 3 slate of games. One thing we already knew -- and which the ACC proved again Saturday -- is that this can often be a befuddling league.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Smith celebration
Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY SportsEast Carolina's stunning upset of Virginia Tech knocked the Hokies out as a College Football Playoff contender.
1. Two more ACC schools are knocked from the College Football Playoff discussion.
And that could change again by the end of next week, as No. 23 Clemson travels to No. 1 Florida State on Sept. 20. With Saturday’s results, the ACC turns its eyes to you, Clemson, Duke, Florida State and Pittsburgh. And to be honest, most aren’t considering Duke or Pitt legitimate contenders just yet, considering each school’s nonconference schedule. Virginia Tech offered hope that a Coastal team might be able to crack the playoff four, but the Hokies laid an egg in the first quarter against East Carolina and were knocked off. Considering it came a week after their big road win at Ohio State, it leaves a sour taste in ACC mouths. Louisville was loading up the hype train after a nice win against Miami in a prime-time setting, but the Cardinals’ offense was suffocated by upset-minded Virginia. Pittsburgh has a manageable schedule and would almost certainly get in if undefeated, but the Panthers don't have the look of a team destined for a spotless record just yet. So once more, the ACC is looking to you, Clemson and FSU.

2. The ACC Coastal: 'Bring your brooms, because it’s a mess.'
Marty Huggins from “The Campaign” said it best, and there’s really no need to compound on what he said as far as the ACC Coastal goes. Following last week, it seemed Virginia Tech was the team to beat in the division. It certainly could still be that team as the East Carolina loss was out of conference, but there isn’t nearly as much confidence in the Hokies any longer. Pittsburgh was the flavor of the hour last week after a dominating win on a Friday night, but the Panthers struggled against a terrible Florida International team. Georgia Tech is 3-0 but has been less than impressive in all three wins. North Carolina hasn’t looked great, either. Right now, it is only Duke quietly taking care of business, which is what it did last season, too.

3a. Boston College was a bunch of Dudes on Saturday. So was the Virginia defense.
That is Steve Addazio’s motto for his team, and that is an apt way to describe what we saw from the Eagles against No. 9 USC. Many felt the Eagles had a chance to keep it close, but few felt they would be able to upset a USC team coming off a win at Stanford. Boston College followed the lead of its quarterback, Tyler Murphy, beating up the Trojans on the ground to the tune of 452 rushing yards. After a lopsided loss to Pittsburgh last week, it seemed Boston College was destined for a down year, but now the Eagles have the look of a bowl team. They’re not going to win the Atlantic, but that defense is nasty, and with Murphy running the option, the offense is efficient enough that this might not be the last upset the Eagles pull off in 2014.

In the aftermath of the BC win, we almost forgot the effort from Virginia, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Virginia deserves the recognition, and while it doesn’t use the same "Be A Dude" motto, you can certainly apply it to that Cavaliers defense after its performance against Bobby Petrino’s Louisville offense. All afternoon, quarterback Will Gardner was harassed and made uncomfortable. He was hit, chased and had passes batted back into his face. Eventually, Petrino turned to his backup quarterback. And just like Boston College, the Virginia offense never gave Louisville the ball back in the final minutes after forcing a Cardinals punt. If the Cavs can get any help from their offense, this is a bowl-worthy team. Good for Mike London and his team, which went winless in the ACC last season.

3b. The ACC owns prime time.
Virginia Tech last week. Boston College this week. Just let us have this one.

4. Speaking of Pitt and Georgia Tech, what do we make of their scares?
That one depends on the team. First, there is something to be said to still being undefeated at this point even if the competition is not very good. Now that that is out of the way, I’d be much less concerned with Pitt’s first-half struggles in its 42-25 win than Georgia Tech’s second-half nightmare against Georgia Southern. The Panthers were playing in a noon game against a dreadful FIU team. They came out flat. It happens in college football, and it happens a lot. Ideally, a coach never has those performances, but they’re hard to avoid. Expect a much more focused Pitt team against Iowa. As for the Yellow Jackets, this is becoming a trend. They did not look great against FCS teams Wofford or Tulane, and Saturday they blew a 25-point second-half lead to Georgia Southern. Georgia Tech needed an 11-play, 72-yard drive to score the game-winning touchdown with 23 seconds remaining and earn a 42-38 victory.

5. Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya can sling it.
The Hurricanes opened up the playbook a little more for Kaaya, and he responded with 342 passing yards, a school record for a true freshman. The Miami offense was balanced on first down, which allowed Kaaya to throw in situations in which defenses weren’t always expecting it. What really stood out to coach Al Golden in the Hurricanes' 41-20 win over Arkansas State was how Kaaya audibled into a new play at the line of scrimmage several times, including on two touchdowns. “Brad hits the quick out that Phillip [Dorsett] ends up taking. That’s all him. The other check that we ended up scoring on, the run, [it was] the same thing there. That was all him on the line of scrimmage,” Golden said. And the first touchdown was a deep throw, which Kaaya struggled with in the first two games. On throws of at least 10 yards in the first two weeks, he was 7-of-17 for 188 yards with one touchdown and four interceptions.

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