ACC Weekend Preview

NC State (3–0, 0–0 ACC) at Georgia Tech (2–1, 1–0 ACC)

Saturday, noon ET

NC State is off to a 3–0 start for the first time since 2002, but the team has yet to face a major challenge. That should change this week against reigning ACC champion Georgia Tech in the first meeting between the schools since 2006.

The Yellow Jackets, who bounced back from a loss at Kansas to win at North Carolina 30–24 last week, have won seven consecutive games against ACC foes dating to last season. Their unconventional option-based offense ranks third in the nation in rushing (345.0 yards per game) and will test an NC State defense that hasn’t seen the attack first-hand since Paul Johnson installed it in Atlanta in 2008.

Opposing teams usually need some time to adjust to Georgia Tech’s system, as evidenced by the fact that the Yellow Jackets have scored a touchdown on their opening drive in all three games this season. Quarterback Joshua Nesbitt is the key cog, ranking third in the ACC in rushing (89.0 ypg) while averaging more than 22 yards per pass completion.

NC State counters with a dangerous weapon of its own under center. Russell Wilson, who passed for 333 yards and three touchdowns last week in a 30–19 win over Cincinnati, has thrown eight touchdown passes and no interceptions this season. The Wolfpack also will look for room to run with freshman tailback Mustafa Greene against a Georgia Tech 3-4 defense that has allowed a 100-yard rusher in each game this season.

As explosive as NC State’s offense is, the team is undefeated thanks to improved play from its defense and the sixth-best turnover margin in the country. The Wolfpack need to be strong in those two areas again this week to keep their winning streak alive.

 

Florida International (0–2) at Maryland (2–1)

Saturday, noon ET

Maryland is looking to get back on track after suffering its first loss of the season, but that might be easier said than done against feisty Florida International.

The Terrapins, who fell at West Virginia 31–17 last week, are bruised and battered entering their final non-conference game of the season. Quarterback Jamarr Robinson will have to gut his way through a sore right shoulder, but backup Danny O’Brien could be out for this game after aggravating his high ankle sprain against the Mountaineers.

Perhaps of greater concern to Maryland is the absence of starting left tackle Justin Gilbert, who was lost for the season against West Virginia with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. R.J. Dill will move over from right tackle to take Gilbert’s place, and redshirt freshman Pete DeSouza will move into the starting lineup at Dill’s old spot.

The injury situation has made the Terrapins, who rank 108th nationally in total yards (286.3 per game), even more vulnerable to a potential upset. FIU has come close twice this season already, losing at Texas A&M 27–20 last week after dropping its opener to Rutgers 19–14. The Golden Panthers, who lost wide receiver Ariel Martinez to a season-ending knee injury last week, will try to get their offense going after converting just 6 of 31 third-down plays in their first two games.

 

Virginia Tech (1–2, 0–0 ACC) at Boston College (2–0, 0–0 ACC)

Saturday, noon ET

Virginia Tech finally picked up its first victory of the season last week. Now, the Hokies will look for their first ACC win against Boston College in the conference opener for both teams.

The Eagles, who had an open date last week, are off to a 2–0 start for the sixth time in the last seven seasons. They enter this game third nationally in run defense (54.0 yards per game), a ranking that will be tested against Virginia Tech’s hard-charging ground game.

The Hokies likely won’t be at full strength in the backfield, with starter Ryan Williams expected to sit out after suffering a hamstring injury in the 49–27 win over East Carolina last week. But Virginia Tech has two more big-time weapons in Darren Evans and David Wilson, who combined for 180 rushing yards and three touchdowns in relief of Williams against the Pirates. Plus, quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who leads the ACC in pass efficiency, always is a threat to run.

On the other side, Boston College needs quarterback Dave Shinskie to take a big step forward. Shinskie has been inconsistent in 2010 and was awful in the Eagles’ 48–14 loss at Virginia Tech last season, completing more passes to the Hokies (two) than he did to his teammates (one). His final line from that game: 1-for-12 for 4 yards.

The good news for Shinskie is that Virginia Tech has been vulnerable against the pass this season. The Eagles also will try to lessen the burden on their quarterback by getting the ball early and often to tailback Montel Harris, who leads the ACC in rushing (97.5 ypg).

 

VMI (1–1) at Virginia (1–1)

Saturday, 1:30 p.m. ET

Virginia was the surprise team in the ACC the first two weeks, playing far better than anyone could have imagined. The Cavaliers will try to keep that going when they welcome in-state rival VMI to Scott Stadium for the first meeting between the teams since 1991.

Both teams are coming off open dates, but it’s unlikely that the Keydets had enough time to fix all that ails them. VMI, coached by former Virginia assistant Sparky Woods, lost to William & Mary 45–0 in its most recent game.

The Cavaliers, meanwhile, are back in game action after a 17–14 loss at Southern California on Sept. 11. Bruising tailback Keith Payne already has five rushing touchdowns so far, equaling the most by a Virginia running back for the entire season in 2009.

Virginia shouldn’t have much trouble in this contest, but it’s worth noting that the team didn’t enjoy a distraction-free week of preparation. Backup running back Dominique Wallace, who entered training camp competing for major playing time, quit the team after getting a total of two carries in the first two games.

Also, speedy wide receiver Tim Smith no longer is on the two-deep depth chart after saying on a social-media site that he would miss the rest of the year with an ankle injury. Virginia coach Mike London said no final decision had been made on Smith’s status, but a medical redshirt is a possibility.

 

Army (2–1) at Duke (1–2)

Saturday, 3 p.m. ET

Duke failed its big test against top-ranked Alabama last week. The question now is whether the Blue Devils can bounce back.

A contrast of styles will be on display when Army rolls into Wallace Wade Stadium. The Black Knights, who defeated North Texas 24–0 last week to notch their first shutout since 2005, rank seventh nationally in rushing (283.7 yards per game) with their option-based offense. Duke, meanwhile, relies on an explosive passing game featuring quarterback Sean Renfree.

The Black Knights got an early look at Renfree last season and couldn’t have liked what they saw. As a redshirt freshman in the first action of his college career, Renfree completed 7-of-8 passes for 106 yards and two touchdowns to lead Duke to a 35–19 victory over Army. Renfree struggled last week — almost all of the Blue Devils did in their 62–13 loss to the Crimson Tide — but he should have time to find receivers Donovan Varner and Conner Vernon against Army’s defense.

The question is how often Renfree will have the ball in his possession. The Black Knights racked up nearly 35 minutes of possession time last week and will look to do the same against a Duke defense that allowed Alabama to average 9.0 yards per carry. The Blue Devils enter this game ranked among the nation’s bottom four teams in points allowed (47.7 per game) and yards allowed (510.7 per game).

 

North Carolina (0–2) at Rutgers (2–0)

Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET

A season that once held so much promise for North Carolina is in danger of slipping away. The Tar Heels, who have lost a pair of close games due in part to a roster depleted by an NCAA investigation, will look for their first win of the season at Rutgers.

The good news for UNC and coach Butch Davis is that they have thrived at Rutgers Stadium recently. The Tar Heels enjoyed a coming out party of sorts under Davis in 2008, going on the road to defeat the Scarlet Knights 44–12 on the national stage of a Thursday night telecast. Rutgers coach Greg Schiano, who served as Davis’ defensive coordinator at Miami from 1999-2000, would love to get some revenge.

The Scarlet Knights, coming off an open date after rallying to defeat Florida International 19–14 on Sept. 11, could take a step in that direction with improvements on offense. Quarterback Tom Savage has been disappointing so far — he has the lowest pass efficiency in the Big East — but he might be able to get going against a UNC defense that has played both games without its entire starting secondary.

UNC counters with quarterback T.J. Yates, who leads the ACC in total offense (310.5 yards per game) and has not thrown an interception in 70 pass attempts this season. Yates would like to find a way to get the ball to wide receiver Jheranie Boyd, who leads the ACC in receiving (110.5 ypg) despite not catching a pass in last week’s 30-24 loss to Georgia Tech.

It won’t be easy against a Rutgers defense that ranks second in the country in opponents’ third-down conversion percentage (.120) and third nationally in points allowed (7.0 per game).

 

Wake Forest (2–1, 1–0 ACC) at Florida State (2–1, 0–0 ACC)

Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET

Jimbo Fisher already has encountered several firsts this season as a head coach: first game, first win, first loss. This week he’ll experience his first conference game when Florida State plays host to Wake Forest.

Fisher’s Seminoles rebounded from their disastrous trip to Oklahoma with a 34–10 win over Brigham Young last week, and they have to be licking their chops in anticipation of taking a shot at Wake Forest’s porous defense. The Demon Deacons have allowed 116 points in their last two games, and they were helpless as Stanford scored touchdowns on its first eight possessions en route to a 68–24 win last week.

Wake Forest’s young secondary should provide a great opportunity for Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder to get on track. Ponder entered the season with Heisman Trophy hype, but he has yet to throw for more than 167 yards in a game this season. He suffered a triceps contusion against Oklahoma that hampered him against BYU, but he will start this week.

The problem for the Demon Deacons is that even if they contain Ponder and the passing game, the Seminoles have plenty of weapons on the ground. Florida State’s tailback trio of Jermaine Thomas, Chris Thompson and Ty Jones combined for 227 rushing yards last week and are averaging 6.9 yards per carry this season.

Wake Forest, which has won each of its last two trips to Doak Campbell Stadium, features an explosive offense of its own. True freshman Tanner Price has taken over as the starting quarterback, and he leads a unit that ranks seventh nationally in rushing (283.7 yards per game) and 12th in the country in scoring (43.7 points per game).

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