ACC: Virginia Tech Hokies

Miami welcomes aboard Carter Hucks

October, 23, 2014
Oct 23
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videoCarter Hucks was on the sideline Thursday night in Lane Stadium for Miami's game at Virginia Tech. The Make-A-Wish child was wearing a beanie and, of course, an orange No. 8 jersey, for his favorite player, running back Duke Johnson.

The third-grader, who is fighting a life-threatening disease, was the Hurricanes' special guest at an Oct. 8 practice, spending some time around the program before its Oct. 11 home game against Cincinnati. He wore the pads, helmet and jersey that the rest of the players did. He had his own locker. The band and cheerleaders welcomed him to practice, which he entered through a smoke-filled entrance. He was carried off the field, and he was carried on the field Thursday before the Canes' game against the Hokies.
Johnson, his favorite player, impressed, rushing for 249 yards and a touchdown in Miami's 30-6 win.

Kudos to Miami for making Carter's dream come true. If he has his way, it may not be the last the program sees of him.

"I was making a joke that hopefully by the time this whole procedure is over the next time he's in Coach Golden's office he's here to commit to playing his next four, five years at the University of Miami," his father, Derrick, told a local TV station, per Yahoo.

Check out Carter's day with Canes below.

The anticipation builds throughout the week. Students around campus start talking about it. Coaches start preaching about it, busting out some hype videos to truly get the players amped up and ready.

Then Thursday rolls around. The team bus nears Lane Stadium, and players can see the lights already on. Tailgate lots are full. When players walk off the bus, they can feel the buzz in the atmosphere even though Lane Stadium sits mostly empty.

"There's just something about playing underneath the lights and know it's Thursday night," senior Virginia Tech receiver Willie Byrn said. "You feel it in pregame. You feel it on the walk in. It's special. You get riled up for it."

[+] EnlargeFrank Beamer
Ivan Pierre Aguirre/USA TODAY Sports"They're great for your program," coach Frank Beamer said of Thursday night games. "If you can be successful, it's great for recruiting."
Virginia Tech has become synonymous with ESPN Thursday night football, so tonight's game against Miami comes with more anticipation than most. After a one-year hiatus, the Hokies resume their Thursday night home tradition. And as always, the stakes are high.

Both Miami (4-3, 1-2) and Virginia Tech (4-3, 1-2) need a win to stay in the hunt for the Coastal Division title. A loss would not eliminate them from contention, but it would make their efforts to win the division much more difficult.

Since the ACC championship game began in 2005, the Coastal champ has finished 5-3 just twice. Every other season, the division rep had a better record than that.

"I don't think I would pick anyone over Miami to play Thursday night here," Byrn said. "Both teams are in dire need of a win. We did a good job last year. We played them Saturday night at their place. We played pretty well and made them a little mad, so I know they're going to want some payback. We all want to get their best shot and they're going to get ours."

Virginia Tech has more appearances than any ACC team on Thursday night, going 11-4 at home in those games. For 11 straight seasons, the Hokies made it a habit of hosting Thursday night games, but that changed in 2013. Then-athletic director Jim Weaver asked the league not to schedule a home Thursday night game, as a way to help fans who cannot travel to games midweek.

But an outcry ensued, because this was one tradition fans were not willing to give up. Weaver asked the ACC to give Virginia Tech a Thursday night home game this season.

"They're great for your program," coach Frank Beamer said. "If you can be successful, it's great for recruiting. Those recruits are watching, and your fan base, if they're not in the stadium they're watching. We like Thursday night games."

Running backs coach Shane Beamer said Virginia Tech will have a large number of recruits at the game even though it is in the middle of the week because "they want to attend a game in Blacksburg on Thursday night."

"I know as soon as the schedule came out, there was a lot of excitement around Virginia Tech and Hokie Nation about this game, so the atmosphere will be awesome," Shane Beamer said.

Byrn said there was excitement from the players, too, when the schedule came out in January. Though Virginia Tech is young this season, with freshmen contributing the majority of the scoring on offense, Byrn can share his Thursday night home experiences with his teammates.

During his redshirt freshman season in 2010, Byrn was on the sideline when David Wilson returned a kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown with 2:23 remaining to give the Hokies a 28-21 win.

"The place went absolutely haywire. It was ridiculous," Byrn said. "Then they played 'Enter Sandman' and 'Zombie Nation' and everyone was rocking. I was freaking out. I was going nuts celebrating with my teammates. It was pretty insane, probably top three loudest I've ever heard it."

Virginia Tech must be hoping to top that later Thursday night.

ACC Week 9 predictions

October, 23, 2014
Oct 23
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Fortuna: UNC's confidence is extremely high, coming off a close loss at Notre Dame and a last-second shootout win over Georgia Tech. Marquise Williams is playing the best ball of his life, hoping to turn the Heels' season around in the second half like he did a year ago. Virginia's defense will be challenged by the UNC tempo, and if that defense can't create scoring opportunities for itself, the Cavaliers' offense may not have the weapons to keep up if this contest turns into a shootout. Williams and the offense bail the Heels' defense out once again, signaling a recovery not unlike last year's for UNC.
North Carolina 42, Virginia 31

Hale: Yes, North Carolina got up off the mat last week to eek out a last-minute win over one of the most generous defenses in the ACC, but let's not assume all the Tar Heels' woes are behind them. They still allowed Georgia Tech to rack up 611 yards of offense, and they won't find nearly as many yards of their own against Virginia's stout D. The Hoos' pass rush should play havoc against UNC's work-in-progress O-line (remember what Virginia did to UCLA?). Virginia's improving passing attack threw for 325 yards last week against a good Duke secondary. What do you think the Hoos might do against those struggling UNC defensive backs? Kevin Parks has been waiting for a breakthrough performance, and North Carolina has nearly 600 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground in its past two games. Add a home-field advantage for the Hoos, and last week's momentum for UNC won't last long. Virginia 30, North Carolina 24


Adelson: The Jackets match up much better against Pittsburgh than they did against North Carolina a week ago. The Tar Heels did a majority of their damage offensively through the air, as Williams threw for 390 yards on the Jackets' D. Pitt does not have the same type of passing-game threat, and there will be room to run on the Pitt defense. Though the Panthers shut down Virginia Tech's ground game a week ago, the Hokies are the worst rushing team this group has faced. As long as Georgia Tech holds on to the football, the Jackets should be able to gain yards on the ground and hold on to the ball long enough to win. Georgia Tech 24, Pitt 21

Shanker: At least on paper, the Panthers look as if they could be Georgia Tech and the option offense's kryptonite. The Panthers get off the field on third downs (No. 7 nationally), stop the run (18) and limit the number of long rushes by an opponent. Pittsburgh is a ball-control offense, too, relying on James Conner to move the chains and wear out defenses. The Yellow Jackets are 95th in run defense, too. Pittsburgh has an average time of possession of 33:09, which should keep its defense fresh against Georgia Tech.
Pitt 28, Georgia Tech 27

Unanimous picks

Miami at Virginia Tech: Duke Johnson is a beast, and the Hokies will be without Luther Maddy and Chase Williams. Brad Kaaya has been a magician with the deep ball, and Virginia Tech has allowed 24 pass plays of 20-plus yards. The Hokies are used to Thursday night magic, but this offense might need more than that to get going. Miami 27, Virginia Tech 17

Syracuse at Clemson: Clemson's offense has been stuck in neutral since Deshaun Watson went down with a hand injury, but its defense has more than made up for it. Now, Syracuse sends true freshman AJ Long to deal with that dominant pass rush, and it could get ugly. Clemson 20, Syracuse 7

Boston College at Wake Forest: The Deacons have scored just one offensive touchdown and averaged just 2.2 yards per play in ACC games so far, with more than half their drives failing to garner a first down. Wake won't be able to keep Tyler Murphy and the BC offense off the field, and that's going to lead to a long day for the Deacons' defense. Boston College 31, Wake Forest 10

Current standings
Shanker: 48-10
Adelson: 46-12
Fortuna: 45-13
Hale: 44-14

ACC Show: Week 9 (2 ET)

October, 22, 2014
Oct 22
10:00
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Join ESPN.com ACC reporters Andrea Adelson, Matt Fortuna and Jared Shanker as they discuss the Week 9 slate and answer your questions live on screen.

ACC morning links

October, 22, 2014
Oct 22
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It's rarely a good sign when a defensive coordinator is imploring a fanbase to respect the job his defense has done, but that's what Miami assistant Mark D'Onofrio was doing this week.

"Give the guys some credit," D'Onofrio said in this article from Matt Porter of The Palm Beach (Florida) Post.

The truth is the Miami defense has played well this season. The problem is the defense is not stepping up in the games the Miami program needs it to.

Against Nebraska, the Hurricanes were torched on the ground and allowed the Cornhuskers to convert 70 percent of their third-down attempts. In the Hurricanes' three losses, all on the road, they are allowing opponents to convert nearly 60 percent of their third-down attempts. With the Miami offense improving each week, the defense needs to do a much better job of giving quarterback Brad Kaaya the ball.

There have also been two games already in which Miami allowed more than 300 rushing yards, and if the Hurricanes were able to get a few stops against Georgia Tech, there was a good chance they could have won the game.

But D'Onofrio is right in that the defense is seemingly taking steps in the right direction. The unit played well in the first half against Cincinnati, and it put the clamps on Duke at the end of September.

The problem is the Georgia Tech loss was sandwiched between those games, and that inconsistency is causing Canes fans to pull their hair out.

With a date against Virginia Tech on Thursday, the odds are the defense will limit the Hokies, who rank 83rd nationally in total offense. But what will happen the next two games against North Carolina and Florida State?
  • Virginia Tech's defense needs to be prepared on Thursday night, too.
  • Once North Carolina began racking up the points, the Georgia Tech defense began playing without discipline by trying to make the big play instead executing the called play.
  • For the Tar Heels to truly turn this season around, the defense will need to begin making strides.
  • Clemson is right where most people expected them to be at 5-2, but Dabo Swinney still sees greatness for this team.
  • Syracuse still expects its indoor facility to be ready in December.
  • Florida State linebacker Matthew Thomas, who was suspended the first six games, saw quite a bit of action in his first game back.
  • Miles Gooch was a productive high school quarterback, but like so many star athletes at the position, a change was needed in college. Now Gooch is Virginia's leading receiver.
  • Louisville will wear alternate uniforms for next week's game against Florida State. Do you like them? More importantly: does it matter? I don't buy the theory that alternate uniforms -- black, gray, turquoise -- have any impact on a game.
  • If you like Pittsburgh football and like math, here's a breakdown of James Conner's bounce back from a drop off. While Conner was better against Virginia Tech, he still wasn't the dominating runner Pitt fans saw the first few weeks.
Notre Dame and the ACC announced their playing dates Tuesday through 2025, which rounds out the average of five league opponents a year for the Irish for 12 years.

"The football partnership between the ACC and Notre Dame is a terrific enhancement for all parties," ACC commissioner John Swofford said in a release. "Notre Dame not only adds to our league's already highly ambitious schedules, it also provides the opportunity for almost all of our student-athletes to play against Notre Dame during their careers. When you add in the excitement that it brings to our fans, there's no question that this partnership is significant."

Dates were finalized through 2019, with opponents and sites set up for the six years after that. The full 2015 and 2016 schedules had already been announced last December, when this season's schedule -- the first of the ACC football agreement for Notre Dame -- was released.

"Nine additional seasons of games against Atlantic Coast Conference opponents again adds both variety and quality to future University of Notre Dame football schedules," Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said in a release. "Over those nine years, four ACC programs that have never played in Notre Dame Stadium (Louisville, NC State, Virginia and Virginia Tech) will come to South Bend, and two others that have only played at Notre Dame one time (Wake Forest and Clemson) also will travel to our campus.

"On the other side of the coin, during that period we will take our team to four ACC campuses at which Notre Dame never has played football (Louisville, NC State, Virginia and Virginia Tech), plus three others (Clemson, Duke and Wake Forest) where our team has played only once."

Some notes on the Irish's future schedules:
  • Notre Dame will get its shot at redemption against Florida State in four years, when the Seminoles visit South Bend on Nov. 10, 2018 -- three days shy of the 25th anniversary of the 1993 "Game of the Century" between these two. The Irish will return to Tallahassee on Sept. 6, 2021, Labor Day, before the Noles go back to Notre Dame Stadium sometime in 2024.
  • That holiday date at FSU is actually the second of two Labor Day road games for the Irish, who travel to Louisville on Sept. 2 (Labor Day) in 2019. As of now, it does not look like Notre Dame will play any Thursday night games.
  • That 2019 opener at Louisville is the first of a strenuous slate of road games for the Irish in 2019: They also go to Georgia (Sept. 21), Georgia Tech (Oct. 19) and Duke (Nov. 9). They are also expected to travel to Stanford that year, since it is an odd-number year, though no official date has been set. You can bet the Irish staff will point out this year to Peach State recruits, who will get a pair of trips back to their home state in a span of a month.
  • Notre Dame gets six ACC games in 2019 and 2023, while playing just four in 2022 and 2024. The Irish, of course, have just four ACC games this year, but will play six next season.
  • Notre Dame will play seven of the ACC's 14 teams in consecutive years: Miami in 2016 and 2017 and 2024 and 2025; NC State in 2016 and 2017; Wake Forest in 2017 and 2018; Virginia Tech in 2018 and 2019; Duke in 2019 and 2020; UNC in 2021 and 2022; Clemson in 2022 and 2023.
  • There remains no clarity on Notre Dame's Shamrock Series game -- in which it moves a home game off-site to a metropolitan area -- beyond 2016, when it faces Army in San Antonio. Next year's game against BC is at Fenway Park.
  • Not pictured in the graphic (and not-ACC related): As of this past summer, Notre Dame and Michigan State had a verbal agreement for two games in the 2020s, though they have said they may look at a single neutral-site contest.

Hokies search for offensive answers

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
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Shane Beamer walked into the door of his home at 2:45 a.m. Friday. He was up in time to drop his daughter off at school before getting to the office by 9. By lunchtime, he was through with film of Virginia Tech's 21-16 loss at Pitt from the previous night. It was on to Miami, on to another Thursday night ACC game, a schedule quirk that broke somewhat favorably for the Hokies, especially as the Hurricanes come off a bye week.

As for what awaits the Virginia Tech running backs coach in the lead-up to this game, well, that's where the breaks end. The Hokies have been down three running backs --- Trey Edmunds, Shai McKenzie and Marshawn Williams -- and have little experience around them. They mustered just 26 yards on the ground in the loss to the Panthers, putting plenty of pressure on quarterback Michael Brewer to deliver.

Problem is, of course, that most of the guys Brewer is throwing to are not as well-versed in the team's offensive lexicon as the staff would like them to be. And Brewer, of course, arrived just this past summer from Texas Tech, so his veteran presence can only go so far.

[+] EnlargeMichael Brewer
Peter Casey/USA TODAY SportsMichael Brewer and the Hokies hope to turn things around against Miami.
"I can't recall, not just at the running back position, but any position that I've been around. To lose your top three guys in the first six games of the season, that's tough," Beamer said. "It makes it tough when you feel like a guy's getting a feel for it and then gets hurt."

Williams could provide some reinforcements Thursday, as he is expected back after missing two games with a right ankle sprain. He remains the team's leading rusher with 337 yards. McKenzie, the man right behind him with 269 yards, suffered a season-ending ACL tear in his right knee in a Sept. 27 win, this after suffering an injury in the same knee last year as a prep senior. Edmunds, the leading rusher last year (675), broke his clavicle in the same game Williams went down in after battling back from his recovery from a leg fracture last season.

The elder statesmen of the trio as a sophomore, Edmunds will not be back for another month. Joel Caleb and J.C. Coleman were the go-to guys entering the Pitt game. They never gained much traction last Thursday but remain confident that they can turn things around.

"I think we had self-inflicted mistakes that hurt us a lot," Caleb said. "I feel like a lot of those thing we can correct, a few of them have been hurting us the last couple of weeks, just with like false-start penalties and things like that. So they're things that we can correct, and we've just got to go to work and fix them and go in the right direction."

The offense looked sharp in a Week 2 upset at Ohio State, with Brewer hitting seven different targets and looking like he would shake the unit out of the rut that played a large part in limiting Virginia Tech to just 15 total wins over the last two seasons.

Fast-forward to last Thursday, and Cam Phillips hauled in the Hokies' only touchdown, meaning 17 of the team's 23 touchdowns this season have come from freshmen. The starting receiver opposite him, Isaiah Ford, is also a freshman, while Virginia Tech's top two tight ends are Ryan Malleck, who missed all of last season with a shoulder injury, and Bucky Hodges, who is a redshirt freshman.

The offensive line has not been immune to change, either, as Wyatt Teller will get his first start at left guard Thursday and David Wang will shift to center in place of Caleb Ferris, adjustments that were made during the loss to the Panthers.

The future may be promising, but the present, at times, can be maddening.

"For all these guys, everything that you do as an offense, it's new to them," said Beamer, also the program's associate head coach. "It might be something that we did last year, that some guys have some familiarity with. For example, we put in something this week: Offensively, just a play that we had done last year. Well, it's the first time for the majority of our offensive guys to hear it -- Michael Brewer, all these guys. So you've got to be careful as far as what you're doing offensively from a scheme standpoint, it is a lot of new faces.

"And then when you add injuries it makes it tough, but at the same time we're over halfway done with season, we're almost into November. In our mind these young guys aren't freshmen anymore. They've played almost a full season of college football now and we've got to take another step."

ACC Upset Watch: Week 9

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
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No favorite is ever safe in the Coastal Division. ...

Thursday night

Miami (4-3, 1-2) at Virginia Tech (4-3, 1-2), 8 p.m., ESPN. Line: Miami by 2.5. A little surprised Miami is favored in this game, considering the history. Virginia Tech has won four of its last five meetings with the Canes, and is 11-4 in Thursday night home games. Plus, Miami is 0-3 on the road this season. But on the flip side, the Hokies have not inspired much confidence since their upset win over Ohio State in Week 2. After that victory, Virginia Tech is just 2-3, including a loss at Pittsburgh last Thursday night. The Hokies have an ineffective run game and a quarterback that makes too many mistakes (sound familiar) plus a defense that is missing several injured players. Maybe all that works in Miami's favor. Or maybe Virginia Tech bears down at home, jump starts its run game with Marshawn Williams back in the lineup and uses an aggressive, physical defense to flummox freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya.

Saturday

North Carolina (3-4, 1-2) at Virginia (4-3, 2-1), noon, ESPN3. Line: Virginia by 7. We saw Virginia in a nutshell last week in a loss to Duke. If its defense cannot create pressure or turnovers, the offense cannot win games on its own. So how the defense handles suddenly unstoppable Marquise Williams is going to be the biggest key in this game. Williams has 901 yards of offense and nine total touchdowns in the last two games and now, the Tar Heels have a bit of confidence going for them. They have won four straight in the series. And oh by the way, Williams had a rushing, passing and receiving touchdown in a 45-14 win in this game a season ago. That victory got UNC to four wins. A win here could get UNC to four wins.

Georgia Tech (5-2, 2-2) at Pitt (4-3, 2-1), 3:30 p.m., ESPNU. Line: Pitt by 3.5. Georgia Tech has dropped two straight, while Pitt had a big win over Virginia Tech -- does that mean the script has been flipped and the Panthers are now one of the favorites in the Coastal? Nobody can be declared a favorite in the most unpredictable division in America. Georgia Tech handled Pitt well in a 21-10 victory a year ago, and brings a far more effective run game to Pittsburgh than Virginia Tech did. Meanwhile, the Tar Heels did far more damage through the air in a win over the Jackets last week. Pitt has no real passing game outside Chad Voytik to Tyler Boyd, ranking No. 13 in the ACC in pass offense. So the matchups here could work in Georgia Tech's favor.
Two stats paint a bleak picture as Miami prepares to hit the road to play Virginia Tech on Thursday night.

The Canes are winless away from home this season; and they have not won in Blacksburg since 2005. In order to change that narrative and get back into the Coastal Division race, the objective seems pretty simple. Play better on the road.

[+] EnlargeBrad Kaaya
Brett Davis/USA TODAY SportsTaking care of the ball will be key for Brad Kaaya and Miami on Thursday night at Virginia Tech.
How do the Canes do that? Miami lost each of its games at Louisville, Nebraska and Georgia Tech for different reasons. Against Louisville, the Canes limited their playbook and ran a conservative offense, contributing to stalled drives; in Lincoln, Miami could not stop the run; in Atlanta, Miami ran less than 50 plays.

However, one common thread emerged in each -- close games turned into double-digit losses thanks to untimely turnovers that turned momentum the other way. Of the eight turnovers Miami has committed on the road, seven came in its opponents’ territory.

Among the costliest:

  • With the game tied at 7 against Louisville in the second quarter, Miami forced Will Gardner to fumble deep inside his own territory. The Canes faced a first-and-goal at the 7, the perfect opportunity to quiet the hostile road crowd. But Stacy Coley fumbled on the first play. Miami never got closer to the end zone.
  • Down 24-21 against Nebraska late in the third quarter, Duke Johnson fumbled inside Nebraska territory. The Cornhuskers picked up the ball and returned it 57 yards for a score.
  • With the game tied at 14 against Georgia Tech midway through the second quarter, Brad Kaaya threw an interception from the Jackets 27. Miami scored a field goal the rest of the game.

Turnovers always hurt, but giving the ball away in such critical situations is painful, especially with a freshman behind center. Kaaya has thrown nine interceptions, third worst among ACC quarterbacks who have started every game this season. He has not thrown an interception in two games this year -- his last two home games against Duke and Cincinnati.

The good news for Miami, though, is that Kaaya already has played in front of two electric prime-time crowds at Louisville and Nebraska. Virginia Tech is known for its wild Thursday night atmospheres, but there may not be a full crowd at Lane Stadium. Since he already has been road tested, Kaaya should not show many jitters.

Even better news rests with the Coastal Division, where every team has at least one loss. At 1-2 in ACC play, Miami is only one game behind Duke, Virginia and Pitt -- all 2-1. Miami already has a head-to-head win over the Blue Devils, which could help if there is a tiebreaker down the road.

“Maybe when we got back from Atlanta, we had some guys that maybe didn’t understand how early it was in the race,” coach Al Golden told reporters in Miami on Monday. “Based on what’s transpired since then, maybe they’re believing now. Maybe they have a little more faith that this thing is far from over. We’ve got to take care of our business and not worry about anything else. It’s a one-game season right now and when we get back from Blacksburg, it’ll be another one game season. That’s all that matters.”

Winning on the road matters, too. Miami will have a tough time winning the division if it keeps falling flat away from home.

ACC morning links

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
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It appears as if Virginia Tech will lose its second defensive starter to a medical redshirt this season.

Starting defensive tackle Luther Maddy said Monday night on Twitter that he needs a second surgery on his knee and will sit out the rest of the season.
Maddy initially tore the meniscus in his right knee against East Carolina in Week 3, but played 48 snaps with the injury against Georgia Tech. He underwent surgery last month, and the timetable for his return was listed as two-to-four weeks. Though he was listed as probable to play against Pitt, Maddy did not and was not scheduled to play against Miami on Thursday night.

His loss is a big one for the Hokies, who have had to make do without him for the last three games. Nigel Williams replaced him in the lineup, but it's tough to make up for Maddy's experience and skill-set. The four-year starter was a preseason All-ACC team selection after he had 6.5 sacks and 16 quarterback hurries a season ago. In four games this season, Maddy had seven hurries.

Virginia Tech also plans on redshirting Brandon Facyson, who started the season at cornerback opposite Kendall Fuller. Facyson has been slow to heal from a stress fracture to his shin and has not played since Week 3.

In one other Virginia Tech injury note, running back Marshawn Williams is expected to play against the Hurricanes after missing last week with a sprained ankle.

Over at Georgia Tech, the Jackets got some tough injury news of their own when coach Paul Johnson said that starting B-back Zach Laskey probably won't play at Pitt on Saturday. Laskey hurt his shoulder late against North Carolina last week and was in a sling Monday. Laskey has been terrific this season, with a team-high 120 carries for 595 yards and five touchdowns.

He gained 70 or more yards in each game this season.

Now let's see what else is making headlines in the ACC:

By the numbers: Week 8 recap

October, 20, 2014
Oct 20
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Digging into some numbers from Week 8 in the ACC ...

Winston is the comeback kid

Amid all the off-field chaos, it's easy to forget how good Jameis Winston is on the field, and he's been particularly impressive when his team needs him most. Winston is awfully good at rallying his team. In the second-half comeback against Notre Dame on Saturday, Winston was a sterling 15-of-16 for 181 yards, leading two touchdown drives.

This is nothing new. While Winston hasn't been tested often, his numbers when playing from behind are off the charts. Since the start of last season, Winston has completed 81-of-109 passes (74 percent) for 1,104 yards (13.6 yards-per-attempt) with 12 touchdowns and one interception when FSU is trailing. That's absurd.

Winston also excelled against the blitz Saturday. In 2013, he completed 69 percent of his throws, averaged 11.8 yards-per-attempt and tossed 21 TDs to just three picks vs. the blitz, but to start this season, his YPA dropped to 8.1 and he had just three TDs on 54 attempts. Against the Irish, however, Winston was 9-of-11 for 113 yards with two TDs and no picks when facing the blitz.

Noles' ground game struggling

On Saturday, FSU mustered just 50 yards on 26 rushing attempts -- a dismal 1.92 YPC. Last season, FSU averaged 5.6 yards per rush, but it has yet to hit that mark in any game against an FBS foe this season.

It's not all on the tailbacks, however. The biggest difference appears to be the O-line.

.

FSU's runners are averaging roughly the exact same number of yards after first contact as they did in the previous two seasons, but they're getting more than two yards-per-carry less before contact than they did in 2012.

Boyd and nothing else

Pitt toppled Virginia Tech on Thursday despite QB Chad Voytik completing just 10 passes (on 17 attempts). What's perhaps even more noteworthy about Pitt's passing game, however, is that the only wide receiver to catch a pass was Tyler Boyd, who had six receptions on nine targets.

That's hardly a surprise. For the season, Boyd has 34 catches against FBS teams. The rest of Pitt's receiving corps has 22.

Overall, Boyd has accounted for 41.4 percent of Pitt's targets and 49.7 percent of its receiving yards vs. FBS foes -- both the highest rates in the nation.

Clemson stuffs the run

Remember in the opener when Todd Gurley ran all over Clemson's defense? Georgia racked up 328 rushing yards and five TDs on 41 carries. It was ugly.

Since then, however, the Tigers have surrendered just 395 more yards in six games. Clemson is allowing just 2.0 yards-per-carry since the opener, the best rate in the nation. Against Boston College on Saturday, it held the Eagles to nearly 200 yards below their season rushing average, and the Tigers racked up 14 tackles for loss. It was the fourth time in the last six games Clemson has had double-digit TFLs, and since that opening game against UGA, no defense in the country has created a higher percentage of negative rushing plays than Clemson's (36.5 percent).

Marquise the magician

For the second straight week, North Carolina QB Marquise Williams was terrific. Williams enjoyed his third 300-yard game of the season (Winston is the only other ACC QB with as many), chucking four TD passes and adding a fifth score -- along with 70 rushing yards -- on the ground in a win against Georgia Tech.

It's the second straight game Williams had 300 passing yards, 70 rushing yards and at least three total touchdowns. In the past decade, the only other Power 5 conference QB to do that in back-to-back games was Heisman winner Robert Griffin III.

Heels, Jackets struggle on D

Entering Saturday's game, the only Power 5 conference team allowing more yards-per-play than Georgia Tech (6.3) and North Carolina (6.2) was South Carolina (6.35), so it was no surprise that the two defenses coughed up 1,190 yards and 91 points when they faced off.

For Georgia Tech, it's the continuation of a downward trend. In Ted Roof's first eight games against FBS teams as Tech's defensive coordinator, the Yellow Jackets allowed 5.5 yards-per-play and held five opponents below 101 yards rushing. In his last nine, opponents have rushed for an average of 173 yards per game and are averaging 6.5 yards-per-play overall, good for 115th in the nation in that span.

But things are even worse for the Tar Heels. In the last decade, just five Power 5 conference teams have allowed more yards in their first seven games than UNC (3,659) and only four have allowed more touchdowns (40).

Quick hitters
  • Entering the game, Virginia QBs were completing 63 percent of their throws to wide receivers this season, but against Duke, the Hoos completed just 45 percent. Matt Johns targeted wideouts on 70.2 percent of his throws in the game — the second-highest percentage of throws to WRs for Virginia quarterbacks this season. Cavaliers wideouts haven't caught a touchdown pass in their past three games after hauling in six in the first four.
  • Johns did hit running back Khalek Shepherd for a passing touchdown. It was just the third one Duke has allowed this season. Only San Jose State and Ole Miss have allowed a lower rate of touchdown throws in the nation.
  • Ryan Switzer in 13 games last season: 32 catches, 341 yards, three TDs. Switzer in seven games this season: 34 catches, 429 yards, three TDs.
  • The two highest completion percentages for Power 5 wideouts (min. 30 targets) reside in the ACC, and both are true freshmen: Clemson's Artavis Scott (38 catches on 46 targets) and NC State's Bo Hines (28 catches on 35 targets).
  • UNC's defense has struggled, but it has also been opportunistic. The Heels have 80 points off turnovers this year, the third-best total in the country. On the flip side, the Heels have allowed 77 points off turnovers, the second-worst total in the country.

ACC morning links: A loss for Clemson

October, 20, 2014
Oct 20
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The last thing Clemson needed was more bad news on offense, but that's exactly what was in store Sunday.

The Tigers' leading rusher, freshman Adam Choice, is done for the season with a knee injury, as the Charleston Post & Courier writes.

Choice suffered a torn ACL in Saturday's 17-13 win against Boston College, adding more grim news to a running game that has struggled to find any footing this season. Through seven games, Choice was Clemson's leading rusher with 218 yards and also averaged a team-best 4.4 yards per carry.

Choice actually would have redshirted this season, but he was thrust into the tailback mix when Zac Brooks went down with a season-ending injury in fall camp. Choice's injury leaves the trio of Wayne Gallman, C.J. Davidson and D.J. Howard to pick up the slack in the Tigers' backfield.

In fairness, the bulk of Choice's production this year came against South Carolina State. Against FBS foes, he's carried 38 times for 144 yards -- an average of 3.8 per carry -- good for 38th among ACC tailbacks.

Still, his replacements don't offer much alternative. Howard, Davidson and Gallman have averaged a woeful 3.6 yards-per-carry against FBS foes and just seven of their 113 rushes (6 percent) went for 10 yards or more. Add the fact the Tigers will be without dual-threat QB Deshaun Watson for at least another few weeks, and the offensive struggles of the past two games don't seem like they'll diminish any time soon.

A few more links:

Jameis Winston is a near lock to enter the NFL draft, according to CBS Sports. Well, yeah. Of course. The whole “will he or won't he” discussion has been silly for a while, and when I spoke with Winston's father, Antonor, in August, he said the talk about returning was entirely dependent on Jameis' draft status. And that was before all the new off-field chaos.

Matthew Thomas, who had been suspended for the first half of the season, added some much-needed athleticism to Florida State's defense, writes the Orlando Sentinel.

Georgia Tech's defense was a complete disaster against North Carolina, writes the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Virginia Tech is shaking up its offensive line after another ugly offensive performance against Pitt, writes the Roanoke Times.

More from the Roanoke Times: Matt Johns should've run more often against Duke, according to Virginia coach Mike London.

Marquise Williams has been tremendous over the past two games, including leading a comeback win for North Carolina on Saturday, writes the Charlotte Observer.

After A.J. Long led Syracuse to a much-needed win over Wake Forest, is Terrel Hunt still the starting QB when he's healthy? It's an interesting question, writes Syracuse.com.

Duke Johnson has been a crucial mentor in the development of fellow Miami tailback Joseph Yearby, writes the Sun-Sentinel.

ACC bowl projections: Week 8

October, 19, 2014
Oct 19
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The win over Notre Dame certainly wasn’t the final piece to Florida State’s playoff puzzle, but it was clearly the biggest hurdle the Seminoles had remaining on the schedule. That has secured FSU’s spot in our postseason projections, but for now, we’re still predicting the Irish will get a bowl game shot at another ACC power.

College Football Playoff: Florida State
Capital One Orange Bowl: Clemson versus Notre Dame*
Russell Athletic Bowl: Duke
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Louisville
Belk Bowl: Virginia
Hyundai Sun Bowl: Miami
New Era Pinstripe Bowl: Boston College
Military Bowl presented By Northrop Grumman: Georgia Tech
Duck Commander Independence Bowl: Virginia Tech
Quick Lane Bowl: Pittsburgh
BITCOIN St. Petersburg Bowl: NC State

* Note: If Notre Dame is not invited to the College Football Playoff or a New Year’s Six bowl game, it will assume one of the ACC’s bowl spots.

ACC Power Rankings: Week 8

October, 19, 2014
Oct 19
2:00
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ACC mailbag

October, 17, 2014
Oct 17
4:00
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Since the ACC Black Cat has nearly jinxed all of you, I am doing my best to reverse the fortunes of the ACC by (temporarily) seizing control of the mailbag.

Anonymous Eagle from California writes: Boston College total rushing yards allowed: 599. Clemson total rushing yards allowed: 603. Seems pretty even to me. And with Clemson’s main QB out with an injury, Clemson might have to depend more on the run. That Louisville game was messy. BC has issues -- they dominated USC then completely failed to contain Colorado State -- but I think this game will be a lot closer than everyone thinks.

Shanker: OK, so you’re really not asking a question Anonymous Eagle, but your analysis that 599 and 603 are “pretty even” is an accurate assessment. I agree the game will be close, but I’m not sure anyone sees this as a blowout with the Tigers reeling from the loss of star freshman Deshaun Watson. This is obviously an entirely different team with Cole Stoudt at quarterback, and I’m not sure anyone would be shocked if Boston College, a five-point home underdog, pulled off the upset. The Clemson rushing attack has been ineffective much of the season, and now the Eagles will be able to load the box, although they still need to do so at their own peril as the Tigers are loaded at receiver. However, Boston College is one dimensional on offense, too, which means Clemson can also focus on just stopping Tyler Murphy as a runner and daring him to throw. You can talk about rushing numbers all you want, but this game probably comes down to which quarterback can make enough plays through the air. And enough plays might mean just one or two.




Jeff Miller from Perry, Georgia, writes: What are Georgia Tech’s chances of winning the Coastal?

Shanker: I’d say very good, it is probably in the second-best position to win the division. The loss to Duke is a real buzz kill, though. With wins against Virginia Tech and Miami the previous two weeks, the Yellow Jackets were putting some distance between them and some of the other Coastal contenders. Now Duke owns the head-to-head tiebreaker, and the Blue Devils' schedule is soft. I’ll spell it: s-o-f-capital T ... sofT. If they clear these next two games against Virginia at home and at Pittsburgh, it’s hard to find another loss on their schedule. Pitt’s schedule sets up nicely, too, but the Panthers are not convincing anyone they are legitimate contenders yet. Miami has to play at Virginia Tech on a Thursday, at Virginia and against No. 2 Florida State. Though Virginia might be the best Coastal team, it’s an uphill battle for the Cavs to clinch a berth in the ACC title game with road games against Duke, Georgia Tech, Florida State and Virginia Tech, plus a home game against Miami to end the season.




Tyler from Athens, Georgia, writes: Hey, Andrea, I was wondering if this could be the year, even with the struggles on offense, that the Hokies get back to 10 wins?

Shanker: I’m not Andrea, which is bad news for the Hokies. Stick with me here. Virginia Tech is 4-3 after Thursday’s loss and needs to win out and either play in and win the conference championship, or their bowl game. With a decently tough second half of the schedule (by ACC standards) and a conference title game almost certainly against FSU, the odds are the Hokies don’t get 10 wins. Alas, if Andrea was answering this question, she certainly would say Virginia Tech won't get 10 wins, thus Black Cat-ting that prediction and causing Virginia Tech to win out.

But seriously, there was an outside chance if Virginia Tech beat Pittsburgh, but now the best they can finish the regular season with is nine wins. I think best-case scenario is they close out the regular season at 4-1, which still puts them at 8-4 going into a bowl game as the odds of making it to Charlotte are slimming by the week.




Wayne from Tallahassee, Florida, writes: Andrea, I think your black cat is worse than HD's Kiss of Death. Please no black cat for my Noles this weekend..........PLEASE!!!!!

Shanker: The Black Cat nickname actually originated in the press box of the Clemson-Florida State game, and it took an all-time Clemsoning effort for the Seminoles to stave off the curse that night. So far the Seminoles have been impervious to the Black Cat spell, but Notre Dame could be the toughest opponent they face all season. If Florida State loses, though, it won’t be because of Andrea, although feel free to blame her.

It’s a pseudo cop out to say this game comes down to turnovers, because a lot of games do, but it is especially key Saturday given the recent history of the teams. Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson is making critical mistakes that are either costing his team points or directly putting points on the board for the opponent. Though the Seminoles’ defense has been susceptible to big plays and a lot of yards, they squeezed Syracuse in the red zone last week. Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston has had a few costly turnovers this season, too, and Florida State’s defense is not good enough this season to continuously bail out an offense that puts it in a bad situation. The Seminoles have been great at doing that so far this season -- colleague David Hale with a stat that has their defense allowing just three touchdowns on drives beginning in their zone -- but it’s not the kind of situational football FSU coach Jimbo Fisher wants to continue playing.

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