What I learned from the ACC (Oct. 1)
Posted on: October 2, 2011 12:29 am
Posted by Chip Patterson
1. Clemson is a contender, Virginia Tech is a pretender - The Tigers made ACC history on Saturday, being the first team to defeat three ranked opponents in consecutive weeks. Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech (well huh) have both accomplished the feat once in program history, but neither school was a member of the ACC at the time. Their win against one of the highest ranked team ended up being their most impressive, with Clemson holding Virginia Tech from the end zone at home for the first time since 1995. But as much attention as Chad Morris' offense has gotten under Tajh Boyd's direction, the Tigers had not gotten a performance like that from their defense yet this season. It all seems to be coming together for Clemson, and just at the right time. With the victory over Florida State, the Tigers are in the driver's seat for the Atlantic Division title. If they take care of business, they will find themselves back in the ACC Championship Game.
The Hokies, on the other hand, might not be back in the conference title game. The Coastal Division is much more difficult to project, but Georgia Tech has arguably replaced Virginia Tech as the frontrunner. The Yellow Jackets did allow a relentless N.C. State team to climb back into the contest twice, but you cannot expect any conference road game to be a breeze.
Frank Beamer's squad will have a chance to bounce back immediately, with a divisional showdown against Miami in Blacksburg. The Hurricanes' also have one conference loss, and some consistency issues of their own. A lot more to learn about the Coastal in the week ahead.
2. Georgia Tech is still very impressive, but not unstoppable - With N.C. State missing their leading rusher and severely depleted on defense, the Yellow Jackets were predicted to roll over the Wolfpack in Raleigh. But after jumping out to a quick 21-0 lead, N.C. State's defense clamped down on quarterback Tevin Washington. Middle linebacker Audie Cole directed the defense as they filled the gaps and cut the Georgia Tech lead to one touchdown in the third quarter. Georgia Tech then scored three more touchdowns in under three minutes of game time in the fourth quarter, which was followed by three more touchdowns from N.C. State. The entire period was sloppy on both sides, but the first comeback might provide some helpful insight for the rest of the conference.
3. Giovani Bernard is the real deal. North Carolina has not been known as a program that produces star running backs recently, but they may have one with redshirt freshman Giovani Bernard. Bernard continued his impressive rookie campaign in North Carolina's 35-20 win at East Carolina, picking up 146 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries. Bernard's numbers on the season rank among the nation's best for freshmen, but they are already good enough to earn him a spot in program history. On Saturday Bernard became the first North Carolina running back to rush for 100+ yards since Pro Bowler Natrone Means did it in 1992. His seven touchdowns on the season already match the count for last year's team leader, Johnny White - now with the Buffalo Bills.
4. Florida State and Virginia Tech should not overlook Wake Forest. Nowhere close to putting either team on "upset alert," but Wake Forest has continued their play that is significantly improved from 2010. Both Florida State and Virginia Tech will travel to Winston-Salem to face Jim Grobe's squad at home in the next two weeks. Few teams returned more starters than the Demon Deacons, and some assumed that would lead to similar results. But Grobe has once again lived up his "player development" reputation, taking basically the same lineup that went 1-7 in ACC play and already doubling that win count in 2011. Hitting the meat of their schedule at 3-1, the Deacons will need to find four more victories on the schedule in order to return to the postseason for the first time since 2008.
Wake Forest's success has been due to noticeable improvement on both sides of the ball. The defense, particularly the back seven, is communicating better and swarming to the ball in space. Tanner Price finally is leading an offensive scheme that fits the personnel with Josh Harris, Chris Givens, and Michael Campanaro all emerging as dynamic playmakers. The one weakness Wake Forest has displayed has been the inability to hold a lead late in the game. It cost them the season opening win at Syracuse, and nearly got them in trouble against N.C. State and Saturday at Boston College. But as far as the visits from the Seminoles and Hokies go, I wouldn't imagine a quick Deacs lead would be in the cards anyway.
5. Miami has consistency issues. Miami's consistency issues aren't just game-to-game, they seem to be half-to-half and even quarter-to-quarter at times this season. The dominant performance against Ohio State is sandwiched between frustrating losses to Maryland and Kansas State, while the first 22 minutes of Saturday's matchup with Bethune-Cookman was vastly different to the 45-3 blowout in the final 30+ minutes of play.
You could put some of the blame on the shifting personnel or distractions from the NCAA investigation. You could look at the new coaching staff, as they try to implement a new culture on a roster that is loaded with talented upperclassmen. But whatever the issues are, the Hurricanes need to get them straightened out quickly. The ACC Coastal is now wide open, and despite the rocky 2-2 start the Canes can still salvage their season with strong conference play.
Unfortunately for Al Golden's staff, those tests are coming now. Miami travels to Virginia Tech and North Carolina in the next two weeks before hosting Georgia Tech on October 22 in the comfy confines of Sun Life Stadium. In the next month Miami's season will be defined. The time to tighten up is now.
6. Duke to bowl game? Three straight wins is a start. Okay, maybe a bit of a stretch there. But the Blue Devils have won three straight games since starting the season 0-2. Most importantly, those three victories have all been against FBS opponents. Duke has nothing but conference games left, so three wins is the magic number to make David Cutcliffe's squad bowl eligible for the first time since 1994. Virginia is winnable, but on the road. Wake Forest is looking less winnable, but will be played at home. Steal both of those and one upset victory against Florida State, Virginia Tech, Miami, Georgia Tech or North Carolina and the Blue Devils are golden. Doesn't sound probable, but they've at least go the momentum to make it seem possible.
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Tags: ACC, ACC Rankings, ACC Standings, Al Golden, Andre Ellington, Audie Cole, Bud Foster, Chad Morris, Chip Patterson, Chris Givens, Dabo Swinney, David Cutcliffe, David Wilson, Duke, East Carolina, Everett Withers, Florida State, Frank Beamer, Georgia Tech, Giovani Bernard, James Washington, Jim Grobe, Josh Harris, Logan Thomas, Miami, Michael Campanaro, Mike Glennon, N.C. State, Natrone Means, North Carolina, Paul Johnson, Sammy Watkins, Tajh Boyd, Tanner Price, Tevin Washington, Tom O'Brien, Virginia, Virginia Tech, What I learned