Coaches dish on all 14 ACC teams
It's not easy getting college football coaches to honestly comment on another coach, player or team. Most coaches don't want to give opposing teams billboard material, which is why there is a lot of coach speak or overused cliches used during the year.
In order to get an accurate assessment of teams heading into 2018, Athlon asked coaches in the ACC to talk anonymously about their opponents.
Note: These scouting reports come directly from coaching staffs and do not necessarily reflect the views of Athlon's editorial staff.
ACC Coaches Talk Anonymously About Conference Foes for 2018
"It’s just such a tough place to win. They were better, more formidable when they were in the Big East because it was easier to recruit against those teams. Steve (Addazio) is doing about the best he can do there."
"That team begins and ends with AJ Dillon. Holy cow, what a player he is. If he were running around in the backfield at Clemson, he’d be a top-five Heisman Trophy guy. Then again, he might not be getting the carries needed to be a Heisman guy in that backfield. Too much sharing going on there. BC, on the other hand, just feeds him game after game."
"I can remember at one point, our coaches were laughing when watching game tape of Dillon. Not laughing at him, laughing at how ridiculously good he is."
"They’re always if not the most, one of the top three, physical teams in our conference. Look, when you play that group, you’re going to get beaten up. That’s how Steve coaches those guys."
"They’ve got to get better at quarterback. (Anthony) Brown was just a freshman last year, and he has a chance to be better. He made a lot of poor decisions."
"At least once a year, they’re going to win a game they shouldn’t because they’re simply tougher than the other guy."
"There’s not a better example of the vital importance of recruiting than what has gone on at Clemson in the last six or seven years. Dabo (Swinney) knew from Day 1 it’s not about X’s and O’s, it’s about those Jimmys and Joes. They are so good and so deep and so talented at just about every position. What do they have, a couple five-star quarterbacks on that roster? We recruited Trevor Lawrence hard, and trust me when I say this: He’s the real deal. He may not be the starter in the first week of the season, but I’d be shocked if he’s not by the last."
"They didn’t throw the ball last year as well as they have in the past. They weren’t a threat downfield, and a lot of their stuff that was successful came on broken plays. Think about how good that team was when you aren’t really efficient in the passing game and still get to the playoff."
"You look at that defensive line, and I’m not kidding, there are NFL teams that would be pretty happy having that group. You’re looking at a two-deep of guys that will play in the NFL. Guys that are legitimate disrupters, like Dexter Lawrence and Clelin Ferrell and Christian Wilkins and Austin Bryant. It just never stops."
"They’re just so good on the lines of scrimmage. They maul you on the offensive line, then have the fast and deceptively strong tailbacks that run through creases and run over defenders in the second level."
"They have 14 starters returning. Dabo is not going to put up with an average passing game again."
"Folks might be getting tired of hearing about how fantastic a coach David Cutcliffe is, but he truly is one of a kind. When you can’t get the elite athletes like FSU and Clemson and Miami, you have to find a way to get your guys to play at top level — and give them the right plan to make it all happen. He has done that year after year at Duke, and has stayed loyal to that university. He could have left for other jobs numerous times."
"They struggled in the passing game last year, and it wasn’t just the quarterbacks. Cut will usually have one or two guys that can win on the outside, yet last year they really had no one that could do it. They didn’t have a receiver who could go up and get a ball, or a guy that could get physical and get open any time he wanted to. That was a big problem, and it certainly didn’t help (QB) Daniel Jones, who I think regressed from his freshman year."
"Look at their games last year; they could’ve won three or four other games where they just didn’t get enough offense — but their defense did enough to keep them in the game. That’s how they’ve played on that side of the ball during Cut’s time there."
"They almost have to be perfect on offense. That’s why Jones’ regression and the receivers’ struggles became so magnified."
"They’re very fundamental defensively. They’re not going to force you into mistakes and dictate a game, but they’ll wait you out until you make a mistake on your own."
"Sometimes these players just need to hear a new voice. Jimbo (Fisher) is a hard charger, a Nick Saban clone. He’s an in-your-face kind of guy, and I think that was beginning to wear on that team. So now you bring in (Willie) Taggart, and all of a sudden, it’s like the sun is shining again. But be careful what you wish for. Jimbo was a helluva coach."
"The big problem the new staff will face is the offense was recruited as a pro-style unit, and the new staff runs more of a spread, power-run type deal. Taggart likes to run his quarterback and likes to have that extra threat in the backfield. None of those quarterbacks on the roster are going be a run game threat. They can scramble and pick up first downs, but something is going to have to change."
"The biggest difference between the FSU that won it all (in 2013) and now is the defense. They don’t get after the quarterback like they used to, and as important, they don’t cover like they used to. They used to man cover as good or better than anyone in college football. The last couple of years, guys in our league have been running wide open on them."
"Watch Cam Akers this year. He’s going to have a huge season. A terrific talent and a guy who that staff will lean on – a lot like they did last year at Oregon with Royce Freeman."
"If you have a talent like QB Deondre Francois, you have to play with your system geared toward his abilities. If that means tweaking what you do offensively, so be it. He can really throw it, and he gives you the ability to make plays downfield. Why give that up?"
Related: ACC Football 2018 Predictions
"Paul Johnson is an acquired taste. I personally like him, and I think he gets a bad reputation as a curmudgeon. But he’s engaging and funny, and his players love him and play hard for him. And that’s really all that matters. You have to be a heckuva coach to use that triple-option at this level of the game — and win big like he has."
"A lot of the advantage of the Georgia Tech offense is the reality that you’re not practicing against it but for a couple of weeks. We tried to practice against it in spring practice, and in fall camp, and it just doesn’t stick as much as game week. It’s the element of surprise — and that Paul teaches it so well."
"(TaQuon) Marshall is about like most of the quarterbacks Paul has had. He’s really good in the run game and can do enough in the pass game to make you pay. They’ll just stick it in (KirVonte) Benson’s belly, just grinding away."
"They’re always so prepared on offense, and they’re going to get their rush yards and score on you. You just have to limit those third down conversion. If they keep stacking those up and the clock runs, you’re in trouble because it just snowballs. Your defense gets tired and they get more confident and you start arm tackling and then a simple dive becomes a 70-yard touchdown."
"When they’re really good on offense, when they protect the ball – fumbling is their biggest problem every year – it makes their defense better."
"They’re not going to blow you away with sheer talent on that side, but they play hard and if they’re winning the time of possession and staying close or leading, those guys are fresh in the second half and close out games."
"I wouldn’t worry too much about who’s playing quarterback for Louisville. Bob (Petrino) has few peers when it comes to coaching quarterbacks and getting them ready to play. It looks like it’s going to be (Jawon) Pass. The most interesting part about this is that Bob has now completely embraced the idea of the dual-threat quarterback. You’ll still see pro sets and still see them run under center, but he’ll keep using those dual-threat, spread, QB run concepts. He’s all in."
"We were looking at Pass the other day. Big kid, stands tall in the pocket, good arm. Bob will have him ready to play."
"They’re going to be really young on defense, and that might not be a bad thing. The front kind of underachieved last year. A majority of those guys had the experience and ability, and they should have been much more disruptive."
"They have to do something different on defense. They weren’t forcing turnovers, and they were average tacklers. Bob has another new defensive coordinator (Brian VanGorder), so they better hope that changes things."
"Jon Greenard was a part-time starter last year, and I thought he played the best of anyone on that defense. A real force as a pass rusher."
"Bob’s a tried and true pro-style guy. He loves the passing game and all that goes into it. But he has realized the value of a quarterback who gives you an extra run threat in the backfield. At the end of the day, it’s about winning, and he’s just finding another way to get it done."
"That team goes how QB Malik Rosier goes. When he’s on, they can play with anyone. When he’s struggling, they struggle. Those last three games there were ugly. I can definitely see why it’s an open competition now. A lot of it is accuracy. He’s one of those guys that needs to stay in the pocket just a little bit longer and the accuracy will improve. But that’s a feel thing. Most kids, when they know the open competition is on them, own it and get better."
"I know they like the young guy (N’Kosi) Perry. But you have a proven winner with Rosier. It’s a tough call."
"I love what Mark (Richt) has done at that place in such a short time. He has embraced the idea of ‘The U’ — but has put his own accountability and responsibility spin on it. And he’s recruiting his tail off. Anyone who thought he was just going to pack it in and ride off into the sunset doesn’t know the competitive fire in him. I wouldn’t be shocked in the least if they win the ACC this year or next. They’re that close."
"Richt has built Miami like all of those former Miami championship teams, starting with the offensive and defensive lines. They’re way ahead on the defensive front; they cause problems for you on the inside and on the edge. Offensively, they’re just not there yet."
"When Mark hired Manny Diaz to run the defense, I knew it was going to be a great fit. Manny loves it down there, and he’s a fantastic recruiter. He has such an energy about him, a positive vibe. Those kids play hard for him, and the more talent they get, the more dangerous they will become. His attacking style is perfect for the attitude and aura of that program."
"I wasn’t surprised at all that Dave (Doeren) was taking a hard look at Tennessee. Let’s be honest, it’s a better job than NC State. The potential to win big is greater there than NC State. I’d much rather deal with the SEC East than the ACC Atlantic."
"Doeren can win eight or nine at NC State and everyone is relatively happy. You win eight or nine at Tennessee, and you’re Butch Jones, you get fired. For some guys, it’s hopping to the next job. For others, it comes down to job security and what works for you."
"They’ve got it rolling on offense. Once they found their guy in (Ryan) Finley, it didn’t take long to put the pieces around him. They’re deep at receiver and always seem to have a couple of strong tailbacks, and the offensive line is solid. They’re going to be a pain in the butt for defenses in our league."
"Kelvin Harmon is such an impressive receiver. He’s big, he’s fast, he can go up and get it."
"They’ve got a whole new group of guys on defense, but they’ve done a really nice job with that group since Dave got there. He’s a defensive guy, and his philosophy hasn’t changed much since his days at Wisconsin. They physically whipped folks on the line last year, but that’s a whole new group this year. They’ve got a couple of guys who were backups last year and played some, but there’s a big difference between 10 snaps and 50, and when you’ve got to bring it play after play."
"There’s no secret to beating them. They can’t stop the run. Haven’t been able to do it for at least three years and maybe more. If you can run the ball and keep that offense off the field, that’s an easy formula. The problem has been stopping them on offense. Last year, when they were young on offense and the quarterbacks struggled, it was a different deal altogether. That’s why the record looked so bad. Want to know why they won only three games? They didn’t have the offense to make up for their annual struggle to stop the run."
"Last year might have been the first that Larry has had to deal with a rash of injuries. And when you’re young and you don’t have that experience waiting to play behind them, you take two steps back sometimes."
"They weren’t nearly as bad last year as their record indicated. They were in three or four of those games, and could’ve won six or seven games. When you’re that young in critical spots, including the quarterback, you’re going to have growing pains. I don’t think that’s an indictment on Larry Fedora and what he’s got going on there. It’s our game in general. The younger guys really just need to see what it’s like when the lights are on and they have to perform. How do they react?"
"They might have found something late in the season with Nathan Elliott at quarterback. Looks like they played harder with him in there, and he makes smart decisions. But I wouldn’t give up on Chazz Surratt. We recruited him and wanted him. He gives you that dynamic ability, and he has an impressive arm. He’s just such a smart kid who gets the game. He’s young and it takes time, and something like this might be exactly what he needs to focus on getting better."
Related: ACC Football 2018 Predictions
"Pat (Narduzzi) is one of my favorite guys in the business. A tough guy, a fair guy, a fun guy. That team plays exactly to his personality — and I mean that in a good way."
"They really started playing well on defense near the end of the season, and you really saw what they could do in the Miami game. They’re going to be very good on defense this year. That front seven is filthy. They look a lot like those Michigan State defenses he had that were the foundation of that program becoming elite."
"Hindsight is 20/20, but I think if you ask Pat, he’ll tell you he should’ve played QB Kenny Pickett a lot sooner. He played really well the last two games of the season against Virginia Tech and Miami, and in difficult spots. You watch the tape of those two games, and he’s a difference maker. When you’re completing 60 percent in your first two starts, that’s a big deal."
"They’re just average on the offensive line, and that was part of the problem early on last year. They have to get better. They’re not nearly as physical as they were in Pat’s first year, and they don’t have the players at tailback like they did."
"As good as Pickett can be, they have to find some pieces around him both in the run game and on the outside. Darrin Hall is a serviceable guy at tailback, but he’s not the elite that they’ve had their in the past. They don’t have that pile pusher, that guy that can get those third and short gains to move the sticks. That puts a lot of pressure on a young quarterback to be perfect."
"Dino (Babers) has made it fun to play there. He has given that program a little edge. I can’t think of a person in our league who wasn’t happy when they beat Clemson, other than Clemson. It’s the reward, the end result, we all crave. When you get that and see that and feel that, it’s hard to describe the emotions."
"This is the perfect example of what the right system with the right players can do. They play fast, they spread you out and they’re aggressive on offense. If you can do it, if it’s taught correctly, you can change everything. You can go from a stale program with no juice to a program that young kids see as hip or an up and comer. Believe it or not, a lot of young people would rather blaze their own trail."
"I don’t think Eric Dungey is the same quarterback if he’s not in this offense. The system is a perfect fit for him. Get the ball, get it out quickly and make good decisions. Dino is from that Baylor coaching tree, and we’ve all seen what those quarterbacks do in that system. Dungey is a senior now, and he has seen just about everything. He’s going to have a special season."
"Covering on defense has been a real problem for them. They’re experienced back there, but struggle. They play that Tampa 2 zone-based coverage, and I’m not sure that’s going to work in this league. That system is based on the ability of linebackers to get drops and support coverage. They’re not that good at linebacker, either. I wouldn’t be surprised if you see them play a little bit more man coverage this fall. Or at least mix more into it."
"It just feels like forever since Virginia has been relevant, doesn’t it? Bronco Mendenhall was such an important hire for them, but it’s got to be for the long haul there. This can’t be a thing where if it doesn’t work in a couple of years, you fire him. He has proven he can win under difficult circumstances. He’s a coach who does it the right way, and I’m telling you right now, they will become relevant again under him."
"They just lost their way as a program, and a lot of that was the lack of physicality. They made a big move from Year 1 under Bronco to Year 2 because of the way they played on the lines of scrimmage. But now that offensive line will be new again. This will be the true test of how they’re developing guys there, and if they’ve bought in."
"They’ve got some good young players on the defense, and Bronco has been a defensive guy all of his coaching career."
"They play smart, and they’re aggressive. They’ve got some good young guys on that defense like LB (Jordan) Mack, but those guys better make big strides quickly."
"They got better last year because they found a legitimate FBS quarterback for the first time in years. But Kurt Benkert is gone, and now what happens? They have a JC guy (Bryce Perkins) that a lot of big Power 5 programs were on."
"Offensive Coordinator Robert Anae was part of those BYU staffs for so long, and knows how to develop quarterbacks."
"Maybe it’s just me, but I think Justin Fuente did the best coaching job in our league last year. They won nine games without a consistent run game. And his teams are all about dictating tempo with that run game. They want to impose their will on you. If you’re averaging less than four yards a carry, there’s no way you should be winning nine games."
"QB Josh Jackson was really good last year as a freshman. Ran that offense really well. But he definitely wore down in November. That’s a direct result from a lack of a running game and him carrying the ball so many times in those third and short situations when the running backs weren’t getting it done. They have to find an answer there, because when Jackson is healthy and playing well, they’re really hard to beat."
"I’d love to have Bud Foster as my defensive coordinator. And I’m sure about 80 percent of the coaches in FBS would say the same thing. They’re going to do two things on defense: They’re going to get after you to force quicker decisions, and they’re going to challenge you on the outside. Bud puts those corners out there and tells them go make plays."
"They’re just as dangerous in the kicking game under Justin as they were with Frank Beamer. A majority of that is coaching and attention to detail, and then there’s the feel of when to do it. That can’t be overlooked. Justin definitely has that. That fake punt in the ACC Championship Game two years ago was a thing of beauty."
"Wake is one of the best stories in college football the last couple of years, and no one really has noticed. When (Dave) Clawson got there, it was a wreck. Now they’re at the point where they’re not just winning games, but the games they lose could’ve been won. The days of them getting embarrassed are long gone. That’s a testament to the work of Clawson, who has lost some coaches to bigger programs and continues to move forward."
"They’re so smart in the way they play defense. They’re never outcoached and never out of position. And they play hard, really hard. Their defensive line isn’t as talented as Clemson and Florida State and Miami, but they’re as productive. They’re replacing two really good ends, but they’re at the point now where they’re plugging and playing. Did you ever think you’d say that about a Wake Forest defense?"
"Want to know how QB Kendall Hinton will replace John Wolford? Watch the Clemson game last year. Didn’t turn the ball over, threw for a couple of scores and wasn’t intimidated in the least — on the road. There’s no doubt he has to be more accurate, but Clawson is a terrific teacher."
"They’ve got a young guy over there, Carlos Basham, who is a player. You’re going to hear about him the next couple of years."
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