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Yates, UNC win highlights ACC play.

Yates, UNC win highlights ACC play.

This season was supposed to be a special one for North Carolina, and it certainly has been. Just not in the way everyone envisioned. The program has made far more headlines for off-the-field transgressions, which have led to the resignation of assistant coach John Blake and the suspension and ineligibility of several key players, than on-the-field achievements.
But even without much of its star power, North Carolina quietly has started to shine. The Tar Heels extended their winning streak to four games with a 44–10 victory at Virginia on Saturday, snapping their 14-game losing streak against the Cavaliers at Scott Stadium.

“It feels good,” said senior quarterback T.J. Yates, who passed for 325 yards and three touchdowns. “We tried not to put much emphasis on it this week in practice because we found ourselves doing that a little too much in years past. It kind of got us out of the funk a little bit. Once we got back in the locker room, we acknowledged it, and it’s a good thing for this program to get out of the way.”

North Carolina had taken good teams, bad teams and average teams to Charlottesville since 1981, but none of them had managed to leave town with a victory. That streak ended in emphatic fashion, with the Tar Heels (4–2, 2–1 ACC) intercepting five passes and posting their highest point total at Virginia since 1946.

Wide receiver Dwight Jones, who entered the game with 12 receptions for 104 yards all season, played a big role in the offensive explosion. He registered career highs with seven catches for 198 yards and two touchdowns, including an 81-yard scoring grab on the first play of the game.

Jones originally was not expected to play a major role in UNC’s passing game this season, but the absence of starting wide receiver Greg Little (declared permanently ineligible for accepting improper benefits) opened a door for him. Similar stories of players producing in expanded roles — notably at tailback, on the defensive line and in the secondary — are prevalent throughout UNC’s roster.

“We’ve got good kids — this is a good group of football players,” UNC coach Butch Davis said. “They’ve got a lot of character, a lot of integrity. There’s a lot of good leaders on this team.”

Chief among them is Yates, who many expected to be a backup at this point. Yates was booed throughout last season and had to hold off a charge from redshirt freshman Bryn Renner in training camp to keep his job, but he has responded well. He leads the nation in interception percentage (one pick in 182 pass attempts) and ranks second in the ACC in passing efficiency.

Yates held together an offense that began the year without its leading receiver (Little) and top two rushers (tailbacks Shaun Draughn and Ryan Houston) because of the NCAA investigation, but the haze of uncertainty surrounding UNC’s team has become clearer each week. Draughn and Houston have returned. So have starting safeties Da’Norris Searcy and Deunta Williams.

Now that the Tar Heels have found out that Little and star defensive linemen Marvin Austin and Robert Quinn aren’t going to play at all this season, they have only a few major personnel questions remaining. The fate of All-ACC cornerback Kendric Burney, who finished serving his six-game suspension against Virginia, sits in limbo because of an unresolved issue related to the investigation. Two other defensive starters who have yet to play this season, cornerback Charles Brown and defensive end Michael McAdoo, also face uncertain futures.

The Tar Heels would be happy to have those players available when they play at Miami (4–2, 2–1) in a key Coastal Division matchup Saturday, but they’re not counting on such a development. They’re just happy that they can shift most of their attention to the remaining games on the schedule rather than which players might be participating in them.
“We’ve been through it all already,” Yates said. “It seems like it happened so long ago, but we’ve finally got the guys that we know we’re going to play with now. It doesn’t seem like the roster is going to change too much anymore. Now that we’ve got some confidence and we know which guys are going to go out there, we can focus more on football.”

Scoreboard
Clemson 31, Maryland 7
Florida State 24, Boston College 19
Miami 28, Duke 13
North Carolina 44, Virginia 10
Virginia Tech 52, Wake Forest 21
Georgia Tech 42, Middle Tennessee State 14
East Carolina 33, N.C. State 27, OT

Passing (un)fancy
Aside from Yates, the only other ACC quarterback who experienced much success throwing the ball in Week 7 was Tyrod Taylor of Virginia Tech (5–2, 3–0). Taylor tied a career high with three touchdown passes, completing 19-of-27 throws for 292 yards against Wake Forest’s young secondary.
Yates and Taylor combined to complete 36-of-49 passes (73.4 percent) for 617 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions for a pass efficiency rating of 219.6. The league’s other 10 starting quarterbacks combined to complete 143-of-298 passes (47.9 percent) for 1,693 yards, six touchdowns and 17 interceptions for a pass efficiency rating of 90.9. Ouch.

Harris bursts onto scene
Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe decided to give redshirt freshman tailback Josh Harris the first start of his career. Good thing Grobe did, too. Otherwise, the Demon Deacons’ blowout loss at Virginia Tech, their fifth defeat in a row, would have been even uglier.

Harris rushed for 241 yards, the most ever by one player against Virginia Tech, and two touchdowns on 20 carries. Harris’ 87-yard touchdown sprint in the second quarter was Wake Forest’s longest run since 1968 and the longest run the Hokies had allowed since 1987 in Frank Beamer’s first game as their head coach.
Virginia Tech dominated Wake Forest’s defense, racking up 605 total yards (the most allowed by the Demon Deacons since 2000) while building an advantage in possession time of 41:26 to 18:34. But Wake Forest (2–5, 1–3) could have an exciting future on offense if Harris and redshirt freshman quarterback Tanner Price continue to gain experience.

Oh, brother
C.J. Spiller used to refer to Andre Ellington as his “little brother.” It’s become obvious that Clemson’s star tailback of 2010 shares plenty in common with Clemson’s star tailback of 2009, even if that doesn’t include actual genes.

With Spiller back in town to have his No. 28 jersey retired at halftime, Ellington rushed for a touchdown in addition to returning a kickoff 87 yards for a score to help the Tigers (3–3, 1–2) beat Maryland. Spiller delivered one of his NCAA-record seven kickoff returns for a touchdown against the Terrapins last season, scoring on a 92-yarder.

First Noel for Eagles
Dominick LeGrande might need to have the best week of practice of his career to reclaim his position. Heck, even that might not be enough.

LeGrande, a starting safety for Boston College (2–4, 0–3), was suspended for the Florida State game because of a violation of team rules. All his replacement, sophomore Jim Noel, did in his first career start was make 10 tackles, intercept two passes and return one of the interceptions for a touchdown.
Gulp. Wonder if LeGrande has heard of Wally Pipp?

Sore elbow slows Ponder
Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder blamed his decision-making after he threw three interceptions and lost a fumble against Boston College, but his struggles appeared to be just as much physical as mental. Ponder had no zip on his throws to the outside, especially on the one Noel intercepted and returned 43 yards for a touchdown, likely because he popped a bursa sac in his right elbow in the first quarter.

Ponder, who completed 19-of-31 passes for 170 yards and two touchdowns, declined to use his elbow as an excuse for his poor performance. And FSU coach Jimbo Fisher declined to remove Ponder from the game as he struggled in the second half, calling Ponder a “winner” and a “champion.”

All of that is fine, of course. But the first-place Seminoles (6–1, 4–0), who have an open date this week, need to get Ponder healthy in time for their key Atlantic Division game at NC State (5–2, 2–1) on Oct. 28 if they want to continue being winners.

Extra points

• A couple of quarterbacks were on the receiving end of touchdown passes over the weekend. Danny O’Brien caught a 4-yard TD pass from tailback Da’Rel Scott on a trick play for Maryland, but Logan Thomas scored in even more unconventional fashion for Virginia Tech. Thomas, a backup quarterback who stands 6-6, had to take off his headset before running onto the field as a wide receiver on the Hokies’ first possession. He leaped over a Wake Forest defensive back to catch a jump ball for a 2-yard touchdown.

• Boston College tailback Montel Harris rushed for 191 yards on 26 carries against Florida State. Harris’ success was eye-opening, given that the Seminoles entered the game 12th nationally against the run, but maybe it shouldn’t have been so surprising. Harris has run for 491 yards in three games against Florida State, rushing for at least 121 yards in all three contests. He has averaged 6.5 yards per carry in his career against the Seminoles.

• Clemson defensive end Da’Quan Bowers is establishing himself as the most dominant defensive presence in the conference. Bowers had a career-high three sacks against Maryland — all on third down — and leads the nation in sacks (1.5 per game) and tackles for loss (2.5 per game).

• As usual, Georgia Tech is hitting its stride in the second month of the season. The Yellow Jackets, who have won three consecutive games after forcing six turnovers against Middle Tennessee State, are 11–1 in October under Paul Johnson.

• Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen was in a sour mood after his team’s loss at Clemson. In addition to saying that he would re-implement his old rule of requiring all injured players to practice by Thursday if they are going to play on Saturday, he talked about the Terrapins’ 10-game losing streak on the road. “I think sometimes that our guys think we’re on an amusement trip or something,” he said. “We’re on a business trip to win football games. We have to learn how to do that if we’re going to be the team we want to be.”

• Miami tailback Damien Berry is keeping some mighty good company in the aftermath of the Hurricanes’ victory at Duke. Berry rushed for 111 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries, becoming the fifth player in school history to record three consecutive 100-yard rushing games. The other four players on the list? You might have heard of them: Frank Gore, Edgerrin James, Willis McGahee and Clinton Portis. They have rushed for a combined 34,099 yards and 233 touchdowns in the NFL.

• In addition to its off-the-field personnel losses, North Carolina played without star linebacker Quan Sturdivant (hamstring) for the third game in a row. Zach Brown, UNC’s school record holder in the 60-meter dash, has filled in admirably. A week after making a career-high 14 tackles in a 21–16 win over Clemson, Brown tallied 10 tackles and an interception against Virginia.

• NC State had scored in 16 consecutive quarters — and 22 of 24 quarters overall this season — before getting blanked 21–0 in the first quarter at East Carolina.

• First-year Virginia coach Mike London had his players remain on the field after the loss to North Carolina. Why? “I wanted them to feel what it feels like to get beat like we did on your homecoming with the other team’s fans cheering them on,” London said, “and never forget that feeling, the feeling when somebody comes into your house and hands it to you like they did.”

• Wake Forest’s three touchdowns against Virginia Tech covered 198 yards. The Demon Deacons gained only 148 yards on their other 39 offensive plays.

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