ACC Preview: Wk 11

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The Hokies try to stay unbeaten while Clemson and FSU battle in the Atlantic.

The Hokies try to stay unbeaten while Clemson and FSU battle in the Atlantic.

Miami (6-3, 4-2 ACC) at Georgia Tech (5-4, 3-3 ACC), Saturday, noon ET

This Coastal Division clash was supposed to feature a matchup of two of the ACC’s best quarterbacks: Jacory Harris vs. Joshua Nesbitt. But with Harris and Nesbitt injured, the game will feature a pair of near-unknowns: Stephen Morris vs. Tevin Washington.

Morris, a true freshman who planned to redshirt until Harris suffered a concussion at Virginia on Oct. 30, started the first game of his career last week in a 26–20 victory over Maryland. He threw a game-winning 35-yard touchdown pass to Leonard Hankerson with 37 seconds remaining, passing for 286 yards in the game.

Nesbitt is out for the regular season after breaking his right arm in Georgia Tech’s 28–21 loss at Virginia Tech last Thursday. Washington, a redshirt sophomore who almost was moved to running back early in his career, takes over control of the nation’s leading rushing attack (320.6 yards per game) as Georgia Tech tries to become bowl-eligible for the 14th consecutive year.

The Yellow Jackets, who have beaten the Hurricanes four of the past five years, could have an advantage in this game because Miami’s biggest defensive strength won’t be much of a factor against their spread-option offense. The Hurricanes lead the nation in opponents’ passing efficiency, rank fifth nationally in passing yards allowed (ACC-best 153.1 per game) and rank sixth nationally in sacks (3.0 per game). But Georgia Tech rarely throws the ball, so Miami’s No. 61 ranking against the run (150.7 ypg) could be the stat that matters most.

On the other side, the Hurricanes likely will be without their leading rusher for the second week in a row. Tailback Damien Berry has been hobbled by an unspecified leg injury and also battled the flu this week, so he’s doubtful to play against the Yellow Jackets. Berry’s absence should create more opportunities for redshirt freshman Lamar Miller, who rushed for 125 yards on 22 carries in his first start last week.

Boston College (4-5, 2-4 ACC) at Duke (3-6, 1-4 ACC), Saturday, noon ET

Neither Boston College nor Duke is going to play in the ACC championship game, but each team still has incentive to win their first meeting since 2006: the potential for a bowl game. The Eagles and Blue Devils have put together two consecutive wins apiece after suffering through losing streaks of five games and six games, respectively, and have new life coming down the stretch.
Boston College, which must win two of its final three games to become bowl-eligible for the 12th consecutive season, is making its second trip to the state of North Carolina in as many weeks. The Eagles handled Wake Forest 23-13 last week as tailback Montel Harris rushed for 183 yards and three touchdowns on 36 carries.

Harris, who leads the ACC in rushing (113.3 yards per game), will be a big factor again this week against a Duke defense that is among the worst in the country. The Blue Devils rank in the nation’s bottom six in points allowed (ACC-worst 38.9 per game) and total yards allowed (ACC-worst 457.3 per game).

Duke, which needs to win its remaining three games to become bowl-eligible, has overcome is defensive deficiencies the last two weeks thanks to a couple of stellar performances by its offense. The Blue Devils knocked off Navy 34–31 on Oct. 30 and came back last week with a 55–48 victory over Virginia in the second-highest scoring game in ACC history. The difference for Duke has been the play of quarterback Sean Renfree, who has not thrown an interception in the last two games after tossing 14 interceptions during his team’s six-game losing streak.

The status of Renfree’s top target is in question entering this contest. Wide receiver Conner Vernon, who leads the ACC in receptions (5.4 per game), suffered a head injury on a kickoff return in the third quarter against the Cavaliers. He did not return to the game and was limited in practice this week.

Wake Forest (2-7, 1-5 ACC) at NC State (6-3, 3-2 ACC), Saturday, 2 p.m. ET

Thanks to rival North Carolina’s victory at Florida State last week, NC State remained in control of the Atlantic Division after losing 14–13 at Clemson. The Wolfpack will try to get back on track on homecoming — in the final home game for the team’s seniors — against a Wake Forest squad that has lost seven consecutive games.

After amassing just 275 total yards against Clemson, NC State’s explosive offense should have more opportunities to succeed this week. The Wolfpack, who lead the ACC in passing yards (286.4 per game) and total yards (420.4), get to attack a Wake Forest defense that ranks among the nation’s worst 11 units in points allowed (38.8 per game), rushing yards allowed (ACC-worst 211.4 per game) and opponents’ passing efficiency (ACC-worst 150.0 rating).

On the positive side for the Demon Deacons, they did play better defensively last week in their 23–13 loss to Boston College. Wake Forest held the Eagles to 298 total yards after allowing a total 1,051 yards in its previous two games against Maryland and Virginia Tech. But quarterback Russell Wilson, who ranks sixth in the nation in total offense (ACC-best 312.4 yards per game), gives NC State a dual threat that Boston College’s offense lacked. The Wolfpack also might welcome back starting tailback Dean Haynes, who sat out against Clemson after suffering a concussion the previous week.

On the other side, Wake Forest must do a better job taking care of the ball with true freshman quarterback Tanner Price running the offense. The Demon Deacons, who have won four of their past five meetings with the Wolfpack, had five turnovers last week against Boston College. Starting tailback Josh Harris left that game with a concussion, so his status for this week is in doubt.

Maryland (6-3, 3-2 ACC) at Virginia (4-5, 1-4 ACC), Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET

Maryland came up short in a 26–20 loss at Miami last week, but the good news for the Terrapins is that Florida State and NC State also lost. That means Ralph Friedgen’s team, which limped to a 2–10 record last season, still needs no outside help to win the Atlantic Division. If the Terrapins win their remaining three games, they will play for the ACC championship on Dec. 4.

That stretch begins this week against a Virginia team that also needs to close the season with three consecutive victories to achieve bowl eligibility in Mike London’s first season as head coach.

Virginia, which has lost 11 consecutive games in November, has enjoyed plenty of success against Maryland in recent seasons. The Cavaliers have won 14 of the last 18 meetings, including the last three in a row. For that trend to continue, the Cavaliers need an improved performance on defense this week. Virginia struggled against the Blue Devils with starting cornerbacks Ras-I Dowling and Chase Minnifield missing all and most of the game, respectively, with leg injuries. The status for each is unclear entering this contest.

On the other side, Maryland will try to jump-start its offense. The Terrapins have been far from spectacular, ranking 11th in the ACC and 101st nationally in total yards (316.0 per game), but they rarely have beaten themselves this season. Maryland enters this game with the fifth-best turnover margin (plus-1.22 per game) in the country.

Virginia Tech (7-2, 5-0 ACC) at North Carolina (6-3, 3-2 ACC), Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET

Virginia Tech has built quite a cushion in the Coastal Division — to the degree that the team could clinch a spot in the ACC championship game this week. If the Hokies win this game at North Carolina and Georgia Tech knocks off Miami, they will claim their fourth division title in six years.

The Tar Heels, of course, have other ideas after becoming bowl-eligible for the third consecutive season. Fresh off an emotional 37–35 victory at Florida State, North Carolina can put some pressure on Virginia Tech with a victory in this contest. That’s no easy task against the Hokies, who have ripped off seven consecutive wins since their surprising 0–2 start, but the Tar Heels have some belief after winning 20–17 at Virginia Tech last season.

The key to this game could be the play of the senior quarterbacks, who are the first- and second-rated passers in the ACC, respectively. Virginia Tech’s Tyrod Taylor leads the conference in pass efficiency, orchestrating an offense that averages an ACC-best 36.0 points per game. Taylor became the Hokies’ all-time leader in total offense during last week’s 28-21 win over Georgia Tech.
On the other side, North Carolina’s T.J. Yates is coming off a performance in which he threw for three touchdowns, no interceptions and a school-record 439 yards at Florida State. Yates became just the second player in ACC history to pass for at least 400 yards against two ranked opponents in the same season, doing much of his damage on throws to wide receiver Dwight Jones. Jones, a junior who entered the middle of October with 125 receiving yards in his career, has totaled 612 receiving yards in the last four games after catching eight passes for 233 yards and a touchdown last week.

The Tar Heels need another big performance from Yates and Jones this week because their leading rusher, tailback Johnny White, suffered a season-ending broken clavicle against the Seminoles. White’s backup, Shaun Draughn, hurt an ankle against Florida State and might not be at 100 percent for this game.

Virginia Tech also will be down a tailback, with explosive sophomore David Wilson on the shelf with mononucleosis. That means the Hokies, who lost wide receiver Dyrell Roberts (thigh) for the season last week, will have to replace both of their kickoff returners. They also will be without defensive end Chris Drager, who is suffering from lingering effects from a hit he took against Georgia Tech.

Clemson (5-4, 3-3 ACC) at Florida State (6-3, 4-2 ACC), Saturday, 8 p.m. ET

Clemson, one win away from bowl eligibility, has new life as it tries to return to the ACC championship game for the second year in a row.

Florida State, meanwhile, is looking to get back on track after back-to-back losses. The Seminoles, who have lost five of their last seven meetings with Clemson, enter this game with questions surrounding the health of starting quarterback Christian Ponder. Ponder had his right (throwing) elbow drained Monday after experiencing swelling and soreness from a hit he took last week, and he didn’t practice early this week. The injury stems from a ruptured bursa sac that he suffered against Boston College on Oct. 16 in a game in which he threw three interceptions. If Ponder plays — and he likely will — it remains to be seen how much the injury and resulting missed practice time will decrease his effectiveness.

Clemson’s defense, which features NCAA sacks leader Da’Quan Bowers, ranks 12th nationally in points allowed (ACC-best 17.6 per game) after holding NC State’s high-powered offense to just 275 total yards last week. Ponder will want to keep an eye on Clemson safety DeAndre McDaniel, who is returning to his hometown of Tallahassee with 15 career interceptions (tied for second nationally among active players). McDaniel dealt Ponder a season-ending shoulder injury last season on an interception return in a game Clemson won 40-24.

The Tigers are dealing with a key offensive injury of their own. Tailback Andre Ellington will miss his second consecutive game with a strained ligament in his foot, leaving an underachieving attack without its most dangerous player. Led by quarterback Kyle Parker, who responded well after being benched briefly last week in favor of backup Tajh Boyd, Clemson’s offense ranks outside the nation’s top 60 in scoring (26.2 points per game), rushing (151.3 yards per game), passing (181.9 ypg) and total offense (333.2 ypg).

The Seminoles counter with a defense that leads the country in sacks (4.22 per game) and ranks fourth in tackles for loss (8.11 per game). Sophomore Brandon Jenkins ranks among the nation’s top 10 in sacks and tackles for loss, and fellow defensive end Markus White has recorded at least half a sack in five consecutive games.
 

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Athlon previews Week 11 in the ACC as Va. Tech tries to stay unbeaten and Clemson battles Florida State.