Miami's offense got rolling on Saturday night.
Randy Shannon’s critics probably don’t want to acknowledge this development, but it’s still true: Miami has put itself in position to make a run for the ACC championship. The Hurricanes, left for dead after their embarrassing 45–17 loss to Florida State on Oct. 9, responded with an uninspired victory at Duke the following week. But they looked more like their old selves in a 33–10 win over North Carolina on Saturday.
The Tar Heels, who entered Sun Life Stadium with a four-game winning streak, had beaten Miami in each of the last three seasons. Which, come to think of it, is one of the reasons why Shannon has so many critics.
“Real big win for us tonight — it was huge,” Shannon said. “We’re taking that next step in the ACC Coastal (Division). Playing North Carolina, it really was a big victory for myself and for this team and university. Being 0–3 against North Carolina and having an opportunity to come back on national TV and respond the way we did tonight was unbelievable.”
The Hurricanes dominated after getting off to a slow start, scoring the game’s final 30 points. The offense was efficient — quarterback Jacory Harris threw three touchdown passes while tailback Damien Berry posted his fourth consecutive 100-yard rushing game — and the defense was stingy with five sacks and three takeaways.
Miami also showed emotion, which hasn’t always been the case under the stoic Shannon, as players fired up each other on the sideline early in the game. The Hurricanes even picked up a penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct after intercepting a pass in the third quarter, showcasing a swagger the program once featured in surplus.
In short, the victory over North Carolina was the kind of performance that fans of the Hurricanes want to see more consistently. Miami, despite its location in the Sunshine State, has been a site for dark clouds and negativity for much of this season. Boosters and former players became irritated after the Hurricanes’ 36–24 loss at Ohio State on Sept. 11, and the intensity of the anger only grew after the beatdown at the hands of the rival Seminoles.
Those two losses took the Hurricanes (5–2, 3–1 ACC) out of the national championship picture — a photo they probably never belonged in, anyway — but the defeats didn’t rob the rest of the season of significant meaning. The Coastal Division title and a trip to Charlotte, N.C., for the ACC championship game on Dec. 4 are well within reach.
Miami’s remaining schedule is too favorable to think otherwise. The Hurricanes travel to Virginia this week and host Maryland the following week for what should be routine wins against overmatched competition. Then comes a trip to Atlanta to face a Georgia Tech team that clearly has dropped a few notches since winning the conference crown last season.
If the Hurricanes win those three games — no sure thing, but also no long shot — they could host first-place Virginia Tech on Nov. 20 with the division title on the line. And that, even Shannon’s critics have to admit, wouldn’t be so bad.
Clemson 27, Georgia Tech 13
Maryland 24, Boston College 21
Miami 33, North Carolina 10
Virginia Tech 44, Duke 7
Virginia 48, Eastern Michigan 21
Tigers also still alive
The big game in the Atlantic Division this week pits first-place Florida State (6–1, 4–0) at NC State (5–2, 2–1) on Thursday night. But this much is apparent, especially if the Wolfpack hand the Seminoles their first league loss of the season: Clemson will be a factor down the stretch.
The Tigers (4–3, 2–2) made sure of that with their victory over Georgia Tech in a rematch of last season’s ACC title game, which the Yellow Jackets won 39–34. “We all had a chip on our shoulder after the ACC championship game last year,” Clemson defensive end Da’Quan Bowers said, “and it feels good to get it off.”
Bowers picked up his 10th sack of the season as Clemson held the Yellow Jackets (5–3, 3–2) to 242 yards rushing, 86 yards below their average entering the game. The Tigers clamped down hard on quarterback Josh Nesbitt, who entered the game needing to run for just 44 yards to break former Clemson star Woodrow Dantzler’s ACC record for career rushing yards by a quarterback.
Nesbitt, who entered the game averaging 92.7 rushing yards per game, finished with a net of 2 yards on 15 rushing attempts. The Tigers simply weren’t going to let him get enough yards to break the record — their record — in Death Valley.
“He’ll have to get those (yards) elsewhere,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said.
As well as Clemson’s defense performed, it was tailback Andre Ellington who stole the show. Ellington rushed for a career-high 166 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries, and he also added the first touchdown catch of his career.
Quarterback Kyle Parker was unspectacular once again, passing for just 167 yards, but he was smart with his decisions. Clemson has gone three consecutive games without a turnover for the first time in school history, a span of 196 plays dating to the team’s 30–21 loss to Miami on Oct. 2.
That setback, along with the 21–16 defeat at North Carolina the following week, put the Tigers in a deep hole in conference play. But with both of those losses coming outside the division, Clemson has a chance to climb out. The Tigers already have defeated Maryland, and they will face the other four Atlantic Division teams over the next four weeks.
“Overall we’re getting better as a team,” Swinney said. “We have great leadership, and our team is full of determination. We’re finally getting our swagger back.”
Hokies’ offense rolling
Duke coach David Cutcliffe called Virginia Tech senior Tyrod Taylor the best dual-threat quarterback in the country. And that was before Taylor, now fourth in the nation in passing efficiency, shredded the Blue Devils on Saturday. In addition to rushing for 47 yards, Taylor completed 13-of-17 passes for 280 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions to lead his team to its sixth consecutive victory.
A week after scoring on seven of their first eight possessions in a 52–21 win over Wake Forest, the Hokies (6–2, 4–0) scored on eight of their first nine possessions against Duke. Virginia Tech scored at least 40 points for the fourth consecutive game for the first time since 2000, when a dual-threat QB named Michael Vick was under center.
Not that the Hokies needed it — they already have plenty of firepower — but they got back another weapon against Duke. Starting tailback Ryan Williams, who had missed the last 4½ games with a hamstring pull, returned to game action for the first time since Sept. 18. Williams carried six times for 10 yards and a touchdown in a reserve role, and he deemed himself 80-85 percent healthy after the game.
Virginia Tech gets an open date before entering the meat of its schedule. The Hokies have games against Coastal Division rivals Georgia Tech, North Carolina and Miami — the latter two on the road — before closing out the regular season with a home game against Virginia.
Lack of depth catches up to Tar Heels
North Carolina (4–3, 2–2) has scratched and clawed all season to try to overcome the personnel losses it has suffered as a result of NCAA and university investigations into its program. Already depleted, the one thing the Tar Heels couldn’t afford was a string of bad health. But that’s exactly what they got at Miami.
UNC’s players knew they would be without leading receiver Zack Pianalto, who suffered a season-ending leg injury the previous week at Virginia. Then starting linebacker Quan Sturdivant, questionable to play because of a hamstring injury, sat out for the fourth consecutive game. Bad stuff, to be sure, but nothing totally shocking.
The defensive backfield quickly became another story. Starting cornerbacks Charles Brown and Kendric Burney already were out as a result of the investigations, but backup LeCount Fantroy couldn’t play against the Hurricanes because of a shoulder injury. Starting safety Da’Norris Searcy and cornerback Mywan Jackson then left the game with injuries.
What remained in UNC’s secondary were All-ACC safety Deunta Williams and several other players who originally were supposed to play in limited roles, if at all, this season. Miami quarterback Jacory Harris took advantage.
“Well, I think it was obvious they tried to pick on us in the secondary tonight,” Williams said. “But at the same time, we haven’t had Kendric and C.B. all year. So it wasn’t like that was anything new for us. We were just down one corner, and we have young guys who can play. I was telling them how when we were freshmen, we would get picked on, too. The only way to get them to stop picking on you is to make them go away from you.”
Terps shuffle offensive line — again
Maryland received a startling jolt leading up to its game against Boston College. Starting right tackle Pete DeSouza suffered fractures in both of his legs in a motor-scooter accident Thursday night, putting him out for the season.
With less than 48 hours before kickoff against the Eagles, Maryland’s coaches didn’t have much time to figure out an alternate plan. They shifted center Paul Pinegar, who made four starts at right tackle in 2009, into DeSouza’s spot. Then they gave Bennett Fulper, who has split time between center and right guard this season, his first career start at center.
Not surprisingly, the Terrapins (5–2, 2–1) struggled offensively against a Boston College defense that entered the weekend allowing the 10th-fewest rushing yards in the country. Maryland gained 222 total yards while averaging just 3.1 yards per play, but quarterback Danny O’Brien was sacked just once and threw three touchdown passes behind the revamped offensive line.
“After we found out about Pete, everyone was visibly down,” Pinegar said. “After the game, everyone’s heart was lifted because we were able to go out and get a win for him.”
DeSouza’s injury is the second big blow to Maryland’s offensive line this season. The Terrapins lost starting left tackle Justin Gilbert to a season-ending knee injury in the third game of the season.
Bad break for BC
Boston College’s defense has been the strength of the team thus far this season, but that unit suffered some big-time losses against Maryland. Defensive end Alex Albright, a team captain who leads the Eagles (2–5, 0–4) with 4.5 sacks and nine tackles for a loss, went down with a fractured fibula in the first half and is out for the season.
Safety Wes Davis’ injury appeared even more serious. Davis, also a team captain, injured his neck in the third quarter and was taken to a hospital for evaluation after being carted off the field. Tests showed no fracture, and Davis was released Sunday after spending one night under observation.
A third key defensive starter, cornerback DeLeon Gause, left the Maryland game early with a right knee injury. Gause is not expected to require surgery, but his status for this week’s game against Clemson is questionable.
• Boston College tailback Montel Harris reached a milestone in his team’s fifth consecutive loss. Harris rushed for 116 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries against Maryland, putting him over 3,000 rushing yards for his career. He is the fourth player in school history — and the first junior — to achieve that feat.
• Leading up to the 3:30 p.m. kickoff against Georgia Tech, 10 Clemson players got stuck in an elevator at the team hotel in Anderson, S.C. The players got stuck on the way to the pregame meal at 11:30 a.m., and they remained in the elevator until fire fighters freed them at 12:15 p.m. “I told the guys to calm down,” Swinney said. “If we can get 33 miners out of a shaft in Chile, we can get 10 football players out of an elevator in Anderson, S.C.”
• Duke suffered its sixth consecutive loss, but wide receiver Conner Vernon caught six passes for 44 yards against Virginia Tech to become the first player in school history with at least 40 receptions in his freshman and sophomore seasons.
• Maryland snapped its 10-game road losing streak thanks in large part to the 3-0 advantage it enjoyed in turnover margin. The Terrapins, who scored 14 points off turnovers against Boston College, have a 52-7 advantage over their opponents in points of turnovers this season.
• North Carolina tailback Johnny White had just eight carries against Miami as he battled the flu, but he still ripped off a special run. White’s 76-yard touchdown sprint early in the second quarter was UNC’s longest run from scrimmage since Willie Parker’s 77-yard TD run against Maryland in 2001.
• A week after getting points on just two of six trips inside the red zone against North Carolina, Virginia was 5-for-5 against Eastern Michigan on the way to its first victory over a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent under Mike London. Too bad not many people saw it. The announced crowd at 61,500-seat Scott Stadium was just 36,600, the lowest turnout for a Virginia home game since 1997.