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Florida State missed a chance to gain control of the Atlantic division.
David Cutcliffe rarely finds himself at a loss for words. But after Duke’s coach watched his team rally for a 55–48 victory over Virginia — in a game it led five separate times by double digits before falling behind late in the fourth quarter — he hardly knew where to begin.
“There were so many plays to talk about that I’m almost in shock and don’t know what to talk about,” Cutcliffe said after watching the second-highest scoring game in ACC history.
It was that kind of week across the conference. Five of the six games were decided by seven points or fewer, and all five of those contests featured at least one lead change in the fourth quarter. Three of the games featured game-winning scores in the final minute of play.
The result of all that jockeying was a clearly defined picture in one division and a muddied mess in the other.
Virginia Tech (7–2, 5–0) extended its winning streak to seven games by rallying from a 14–0 deficit to beat Georgia Tech, strengthening its grip on the Coastal Division race by maintaining a two-game lead in the loss column. The Hokies have a tough stretch remaining with games against division rivals North Carolina, Miami and Virginia on tap, but they have margin for error that their pursuers lack.
In the Atlantic Division, things have gotten so crazy that NC State fans actually were rooting for rival North Carolina on Saturday. The Wolfpack already had blown a 10–0 third-quarter lead in a loss at Clemson, so they needed the Tar Heels to beat the Seminoles to prevent Florida State from regaining control of the division race. FSU kicker Dustin Hopkins missed two field-goal tries in the fourth quarter, including a potential game-winning 40-yarder with 2 seconds left, and NC State’s fans got their wish.
The biggest winner of the week, though, was Clemson. With their division title hopes on life support, the Tigers (5–4, 3–3) benefited from losses by all three teams ahead of them in the standings: Florida State (6–3, 4–2), Maryland (6–3, 3–2) and NC State (6–3, 3–2).
Clemson still sits a game behind all three in the loss column, but it already owns head-to-head victories over the Terrapins and Wolfpack. If the Tigers win at Florida State this week, they’ll have plenty of tiebreakers in their favor if the division is knotted at the end of the regular season.
Virginia Tech 28, Georgia Tech 21 (Thurs.)
Clemson 14, NC State 13
Duke 55, Virginia 48
Miami 26, Maryland 20
Boston College 23, Wake Forest 13
North Carolina 37, Florida State 35
Injuries to Nesbitt, others impact final month
Georgia Tech had a chance to climb back into the Coastal Division race before it lost at Virginia Tech — and lost its quarterback in the process. Senior Joshua Nesbitt is out for the rest of the regular season after breaking his right forearm in the second quarter while trying to tackle Davon Morgan on an interception return.
If Nesbitt’s college career is finished, at least he left a mark. He led the Yellow Jackets to the conference championship last season en route to being named to the All-ACC first team. Plus, he became the league’s career rushing leader for quarterbacks (2,806 yards) on his career-long 71-yard touchdown run in the first quarter against the Hokies.
The Yellow Jackets (5–4, 3–3) now turn to sophomore Tevin Washington as they attempt to become bowl-eligible for the 14th consecutive season. In addition to completing 2-of-7 passes for 80 yards and an interception in relief of Nesbitt against Virginia Tech, Washington rushed for 45 yards on 11 attempts. He lacks Nesbitt’s leadership, experience and proficiency running the option, so Georgia Tech’s defense must show continued improvement to help out the offense.
Georgia Tech suffered the biggest blow this week, but plenty of other teams also were affected by injuries to key players. A roundup:
• Boston College: The starters on the right side of the offensive line — guard Thomas Claiborne (back) and tackle Rich Lapham (left knee) — sat out against Wake Forest because of injuries they suffered the previous week against Clemson. Redshirt freshman Ian White and sophomore Emmett Cleary started at right guard and tackle, respectively.
• Clemson: Tailback Andre Ellington sat out against N.C. State with a torn foot ligament that will require surgery in the off-season. Ellington won’t play this week at Florida State, but the Tigers have not given up hope that he can return for the last two games of the regular season. Jamie Harper moved into the feature-back role against the Wolfpack, rushing for 60 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries in addition to catching three passes for 34 yards.
• Duke: Wide receiver Conner Vernon, who entered the weekend as the ACC leader in receptions and receiving yards, suffered a head injury on a kickoff return against Virginia. Vernon was examined on the sideline after taking a big hit in the third quarter, and he was transported to the locker room shortly thereafter. He did not return to the game and will be limited in practice this week.
• Florida State: The team started its third-string right guard against North Carolina, going with sophomore Rhonne Sanderson because starter David Spurlock (concussion) and backup Bryan Stork (illness) were unavailable.
• Miami: Quarterback Jacory Harris (concussion) wasn’t the only starter in Miami’s backfield who was sidelined against Maryland. Tailback Damien Berry missed the game with an unspecified injury. Coach Randy Shannon informed reporters late in the week of his decision to hold out Berry, so his absence wasn’t a surprise. Freshman Lamar Miller filled in admirably, rushing for a career-high 125 yards on 22 carries in his first start.
• North Carolina: Starting tailback Johnny White broke his right clavicle in the second quarter against Florida State in the second quarter and is out for the season. White has a team-high 720 rushing yards this season and is sixth in the ACC in rushing (80.0 yards per game). Backup Shaun Draughn left with a sprained ankle in the third quarter and didn’t return. With Ryan Houston planning to redshirt and not on the trip, fullback Anthony Elzy moved to play tailback. Then when Elzy started cramping in the fourth quarter, the Tar Heels were left with scout-teamer Hunter Furr as their only remaining player with experience at the position. Furr carried three times for 27 yards, stringing together runs of 4, 12 and 11 yards on UNC’s game-winning drive.
• NC State: Starting tailback Dean Haynes, who suffered a head injury in the team’s 28–24 win over Florida State on Oct. 28, did not play against Clemson. Mustafa Greene and James Washington split the running chores in his place. Also, kicker Josh Czajkowski suffered a leg injury on his final kickoff of the game and would not have been available for a potential game-winning field-goal attempt had the Wolfpack been able to get in position for one. Backup Ellis Flynt would have tried the kick.
• Virginia: Landon Bradley, whose broken right hand had healed enough for him to start at right tackle against Duke, left the game early in the second quarter with what appeared to be an injury to his left leg. He didn’t return, causing true freshman right guard Morgan Moses to shift to tackle for the rest of the game. Cornerback Chase Minnifield, who entered the weekend tied for the national lead in interceptions, left the game in the first quarter with an injury and played sparingly.
• Virginia Tech: Wide receiver and kick returner Dyrell Roberts is out for the rest of the regular season after suffering compartment syndrome in his left leg. Roberts bruised his thigh on the opening kickoff against the Yellow Jackets and had surgery Friday. He was scheduled for a second surgery Sunday and will remain in the hospital for several days.
• Wake Forest: The team lost a pair of starters on offense when tailback Josh Harris and right guard Michael Hoag left the game against Boston College with concussions.
Morris leads Hurricanes to win
Stephen Morris made the most of his first start, keeping his team in the Coastal Division race by helping Miami (6–3, 3–2) rally past Maryland. Morris, a true freshman who had planned to redshirt before Jacory Harris’ concussion at Virginia, delivered the game-winning score with a 35-yard touchdown pass to Leonard Hankerson with 37 seconds remaining. Morris wasn’t sensational statistically — he completed 18-of-30 passes for 286 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions — but he impressed his teammates with his poise.
“Throughout the game, he was very calm,” Hankerson said. “He was like, ‘Let’s go. Let’s make plays.’ The last drive he was the same way he was at the beginning of the game. He started off strong, he finished the game and he had fun.”
UNC, Virginia passing duos enjoy big days
North Carolina’s T.J. Yates and Virginia’s Marc Verica each passed for more yards than any player in the history of their respective schools, and each got help from a wide receiver who posted the second-biggest receiving day in school history.
Yates completed 24-of-35 passes for 439 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions against Florida State, notching his second 400-yard passing day of the season. Dwight Jones, who has recorded all three of the 100-yard receiving games in his career in the past four weeks, made eight catches for 233 yards and a touchdown as the Tar Heels (6–3, 3–2) became bowl-eligible for the third year in a row.
Verica didn’t play as well as Yates, throwing three interceptions that led to two touchdowns and a field goal for Duke, but he still became the first Virginia player to pass for more than 400 yards in a game. He completed 24-of-46 passes for 417 yards and four touchdowns, hooking up with Dontrelle Inman for several big plays. Inman made a career-high 10 receptions for 239 yards, just two yards shy of Ken Shelton’s school-record total against William & Mary in 1974, and a touchdown.
BC’s Harris runs to records
Boston College junior tailback Montel Harris enjoyed a big day at Wake Forest, rushing for 183 yards and three touchdowns on 36 carries. Harris churned out his school-record 18th 100-yard rushing game and also set the ACC record for most career rushing yards by a player in his junior season. Harris has 3,377 rushing yards, surpassing the previous record of 3,273 yards set by North Carolina’s Amos Lawrence.
“He’s a heck of a running back — he really is,” Boston College coach Frank Spaziani said. “Some guys come free, and he’ll make them miss and then he’ll make a run.”
Harris, who leads the ACC in rushing (113.3 ypg), has carried more than 25 times in each of Boston College’s last four games. He has 126 rushing attempts during that span, including 73 in the last two games.
“He carries the ball a lot, and he took some shots out there,” Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe said. “We ran into him a bunch. He just kept coming back. The good thing about him is that he’s not only very talented, but really tough and durable.”
• Boston College’s win over Wake Forest was the first game in the Football Bowl Subdivision this season that featured two freshman starting quarterbacks: Chase Rettig for the Eagles and Tanner Price for the Demon Deacons.
• Clemson had allowed just six sacks, fewest in the ACC, all season before allowing sacks on three consecutive plays against N.C. State. The Wolfpack got no other sacks in the game.
• Chandler Catanzaro might have regained his job as Clemson’s kicker by default. Catanzaro, who missed two field-goal tries at Boston College, was replaced by Richard Jackson against NC State. But Jackson misfired on kicks from 37 yards and 32 yards, and Catanzaro replaced him to kick what proved to be the game-winning extra point.
• Despite getting outgained 643-489 by Virginia, Duke snapped an eight-game losing streak against ACC opponents and ended a 20-game losing streak in the month of November that dated to 2004. In the process, the Blue Devils handed the Cavaliers their 11th consecutive November defeat.
• Florida State tailback Ty Jones, normally part of a three-back rotation with Jermaine Thomas and Chris Thompson, did not play against North Carolina despite being healthy. Jones rushed for 108 yards the previous week at NC State.
• Georgia Tech lost consecutive games for the first time under coach Paul Johnson. The Yellow Jackets had been 9–0 in the first game following a loss with Johnson at the helm.
• Against Miami, Maryland’s Torrey Smith broke the ACC record for career yards on kickoff returns. Smith now has 2,724 career yards on kickoff returns, surpassing the previous mark of 2,688 yards set by Brandon Tate of North Carolina.
• Virginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor broke the school record for career total offense on Thursday. Taylor finished the night with 137 passing yards and 57 rushing yards, giving him 8,134 total yards in his career. The previous mark of 8,034 yards was held by Bryan Randall.