What I learned from the ACC (Sept. 24)
Posted on: September 25, 2011 3:01 am
Edited on: September 25, 2011 3:22 am
Posted by Chip Patterson
1. After stealing headlines in Week 3, the ACC (and future ACC) struggled in Week 4. A week ago, I was writing praises for commissioner John Swofford for taking action to ensure the ACC had a place in the uncertain future landscape of college football. The ACC was gathering praise for their off-field transactions and on-field victories over Auburn and Ohio State. In a fashion typical of this fluid college football world we live in - things have changed in seven days. Florida State was so beaten emotionally and banged up physically after their 23-13 loss to Oklahoma they could not play to their potential against Clemson in Death Valley. Maryland got embarrassed 38-7 by Temple at home, Virginia lost to Southern Miss at home, and Miami followed their defeat of the Buckeyes with a home loss to Kansas State.
Making the perception even worse, incoming members Pittsburgh and Syracuse both embarrassed the conference on Saturday. The Panthers could not muster a single fourth quarter score in their 15-12 loss to Notre Dame at home while Syracuse beat Toledo in an overtime that should have never happened. The week wasn't all bad - the games certainly revealed new legitimate conference contenders in Atlanta and Death Valley - but in comparison to the praises showered on the conference a week ago this was a pretty weak encore.
2. Georgia Tech ready to challenge Virginia Tech for Coastal Division. After gaudy victories against Western Carolina and Middle Tennessee, we were intrigued by Georgia Tech. After decisive victories against Kansas and a talented North Carolina team, we know Paul Johnson's team is back and ready to compete for an ACC title. When Josh Nesbitt broke his arm last season, Tevin Washington took over and the offense struggled to maintain the level of production due to a rough adjustment period and an unhealthy habit of turning the ball over. The changes in the offense which the coaching staff has discussed all offseason have been clearly visible in the Yellow Jackets' 4-0 start. Not only is the triple option sharper with less turnovers, but Tevin Washington has gotten comfortable throwing the ball as well. With the physical Stephen Hill as his favorite target, Washington actually leads the nation in passing plays of more than 50 yards.
The Yellow Jackets dominated the Tar Heels on Saturday, much more than the 35-28 victory would suggest. Virginia Tech, on the other hand, has not faced any opponents of note for comparison and has not looked particularly impressive offensively. While the Hokies defense seems to have found their grit back, holding teams basically no yards on the ground, Logan Thomas and running back David Wilson are still getting used to their new full-time starting positions. Virginia Tech is still the favorite to win the division thanks to a favorable draw, but the Yellow Jackets are right up there with a more convincing resume at this point for the strongest team in the Coastal Division.
3. Clemson's win does not put them in the driver's seat yet. Clemson's victory over Florida State in Death Valley was reaffirming. It was reaffirming to Dabo Swinney that his efforts to recruit players like sophomore Tajh Boyd and freshman Sammy Watkins would pay off for the program. It was reaffirming to offensive coordinator Chad Morris that his newly installed system could roll against the best defensive units in the nation when executed properly. It was reaffirming to a fan base who doubted their team's ability to beat two ranked opponents in a row, that the 2011 Tigers could compete for an ACC title.
But this "driver's seat" talk that is being tossed around? That's a little much.
Two wins over ranked opponents do not automatically erase several seasons of inconsistency within Clemson football in recent history. A 1-0 conference record with a win over Atlantic Division favorite Florida State does not pencil you in to the ACC Championship Game, but it does eliminate one of the most difficult obstacles on the schedule.
The Tigers faced Florida State at THE most opportune time. EJ Manuel out with a shoulder strain. Greg Reid and Bert Reed both out with injuries. The entire team coming down after losing the biggest game of the regular season 23-13 on the biggest stage. But those intangibles are not the sole reason the Tigers put up 455 yards of total offense on Florida State, in fact they are likely a small fraction. The Clemson defense, which has received very little attention so far this season, dropped back against a suddenly one-dimensional Florida State offense while the front four applied pressure to redshirt freshman quarterback Clint Trickett. They were able to come up with just enough stops to secure the 35-30 win and set up the Tigers with an incredible opportunity to jump ahead in the ACC Atlantic Division race.
Are the Tigers in the "driver's seat?" No. But if they can do it again at Virginia Tech, we might have a different conversation on our hands.
4. Jury is still out on Miami and Maryland. Maybe it is because they played a memorable season opener against each other on Labor Day, but Miami and Maryland both have started the season in different yet equally confusing fashions. Miami bounced back from the loss to the Terps with a defensive showcase against Ohio State with four of their suspended players back in the lineup. Maryland has come back from making headlines with the Miami win and shockingly memorable jerseys with two straight losses to West Virginia and Temple. As we saw on Saturday night, West Virginia is a formidable opponent and far from an embarrassing loss. Temple, on the other hand, should be a cause for concern for Terps' fans.
Additionally, Miami's win over Ohio State was supposed to be a signature win for Al Golden and this new attitude in the Miami football program. But the defense that looked so sharp against Ohio State gave up 265 rushing yards to the Wildcats, and forced the Hurricanes offense to scramble just to get back in the game. On paper both of these teams should be among the best in the conference. But their performances have been inconsistent and difficult to interpret, making it tough for any fan to judge exactly how good these teams could be come November.
5. Gio Bernard is ready to be the feature back in Chapel Hill. Entering the season, it was expected that redshirt senior Ryan Houston would be the starting running back. A big bruiser with an ability to withstand the first and second hit, Houston was going to be featured with sophomore Giovani Bernard as the change-of-pace back. It only took two games before interim coach Everett Withers started splitting the workload more evenly, and when the Tar Heels faced Georgia Tech in their first road test of the season it was Bernard who was the featured running back in the offense.
The 5-foot-10 shifty back from Florida answered the call with an impressive performance that basically kept the Tar Heels competitive for our quarters against the high powered Georgia Tech offense. Bernard rushed 17 times for a career high 155 yard and two touchdowns. He was also a threat in the screen game, with 5 receptions for 47 yards. As sophomore quarterback Bryn Renner has become more conservative against tougher defenses, Bernard's role has increased. If he can replicate Saturday's performance on a weekly basis, it would make life much easier for the first-year starter under center.
Keep up with the latest college football news from around the country. From the regular season all the way through the bowl games, CBSSports.com has you covered with this daily newsletter. | Preview
Tags: ACC, Al Golden, Bert Reed, Bryn Renner, Chip Patterson, Clemson, Clint Trickett, Conference Realignment, Dabo Swinney, David Wilson, EJ Manuel Jimbo Fisher, Everett Withers, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Giovani Bernard, Greg Reid, Jacory Harris, John Swofford, Josh Nesbitt, Kansas State, Logan Thomas, Maryland, Miami, Paul Johnson, Stephen Hill, Tevin Washington, Virginia Tech, What I Learned