ACC Weekend Preview

Miami travels to Clemson to take on the Tigers.

Miami travels to Clemson to take on the Tigers.

Florida State (3–1, 1–0 ACC) at Virginia (2–1, 0–0 ACC)

Saturday, noon ET

First-year Virginia coach Mike London wants to prepare his team for all challenges, and he might never see a wider range of competition than this two-week stretch on the schedule. The Cavaliers played an opponent last week that hasn’t had a winning season since 1981, but they will play an opponent this week that hasn’t had a losing season since 1976.

Florida State rolls into Scott Stadium for its first meeting with Virginia since 2006. The Seminoles, who shut out Wake Forest 31–0 in their ACC opener, have made huge strides on defense since getting embarrassed at Oklahoma 47–17 on Sept. 11. Florida State, which leads the nation in sacks (4.75 per game) and ranks third nationally in tackles for a loss (9.25 per game), held the Demon Deacons to 185 total yards a week after limiting Brigham Young to 191 total yards.

The Cavaliers also have been strong on defense in the early going, ranking seventh nationally in points allowed (12.3 per game). Virginia, which routed VMI 48–7 last week, will get a stiff test from a balanced Florida State offense led by quarterback Christian Ponder.

The good news for the Cavaliers is that their secondary is returning to full strength in time for conference play. All-ACC cornerback Ras-I Dowling and strong safety Rodney McLeod, who each missed the first two games of the season with leg injuries, made their season debuts against VMI. Neither player started, but both could be ready for expanded roles against the Seminoles after a week of practice.

The Cavaliers, who are just 2–13 against Florida State all time, would love to keep the game close early. Virginia has played its best football in the second half, outscoring its opponents by a combined 44-6 after halftime.


Miami (2–1, 0–0 ACC) at Clemson (2–1, 0–0 ACC)

Saturday, noon ET

The ACC opener for Miami and Clemson could turn out to be a preview of the league’s championship game. If nothing else, this matchup should offer some big-time drama. The Hurricanes and Tigers have gone to overtime in each of their last three meetings, including Clemson’s 40–37 victory last season, with the visiting team prevailing each time.

The No. 16 Hurricanes head to Death Valley fresh off a 31–3 thrashing of Pittsburgh. Quarterback Jacory Harris suffered an injury to his left shoulder in the second half of that victory, but he practiced this week and will start against the Tigers. Harris could have a new offensive lineman in front of him, with highly touted true freshman Seantrel Henderson expected to make his first career start at right tackle in place of struggling Joel Figueroa.

The Tigers, who had an open date last week after their 27–24 overtime loss at Auburn on Sept. 18, also have done some shuffling up front. Starting left guard David Smith is out this week with an ankle sprain, and he will be replaced in the starting lineup by junior Mason Cloy. The Tigers have provided strong pass protection for quarterback Kyle Parker so far — Clemson has allowed just two sacks all season — but they will be tested against a Miami defense that leads the country in tackles for a loss (11.3 per game) and ranks second nationally in sacks (4.67 per game).

The Hurricanes, who rank eighth in the nation in total defense (252.0 yards per game), will try to put the onus on Clemson’s inexperienced wide receivers to make plays. The Tigers have relied on tailbacks Andre Ellington and Jamie Harper, who are averaging more than 140 rushing yards per game between them, and tight end Dwayne Allen for the bulk of their production.


East Carolina (2–1) at North Carolina (1–2)

Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET

North Carolina has played its first three games without six projected starters on defense, yet still has impressive statistics against the pass. This week the Tar Heels will find out just how accurate those numbers are.

In-state rival East Carolina travels to Kenan Stadium with an offense that ranks ninth nationally in scoring (42.3 points per game) and 13th in passing (299.3 yards per game). The Tar Heels, who have played all season without their entire starting secondary because of an NCAA investigation into their program, rank fourth nationally in passing yards allowed (128.0 ypg). But UNC’s opponents have been LSU, Georgia Tech and Rutgers — three teams that run better than they throw.

ECU quarterback Dominique Davis and wide receiver Dwayne Harris are more dangerous than any duo the Tar Heels have seen so far. Davis ranks sixth nationally in total offense (321.0 ypg), and Harris leads Conference USA in receptions (7.7 per game) and receiving yards (98.0 per game). Making matters worse for North Carolina, the team might be without another defensive starter. Linebacker Quan Sturdivant, UNC’s leading tackler, is questionable for the game after leaving last week’s 17–13 win at Rutgers with a hamstring injury.

On the flip side, North Carolina’s offense has to be salivating at the thought of going against ECU’s defense. The Pirates rank among the nation’s bottom seven teams in points allowed (41.7 per game), total yards allowed (480.0 ypg), passing yards allowed (303.3 ypg) and opponents’ pass efficiency (180.4). Quarterback T.J. Yates will look for wide receiver Jheranie Boyd, who had a 59-yard touchdown grab in a 31–17 win over the Pirates last season and ranks second nationally in yards per catch (28.7) in 2010.


Virginia Tech (2–2, 1–0 ACC) at NC State (4–0, 1–0 ACC)

Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET

Upstart NC State has started attracting some national attention. The team’s task now is to continue playing well enough to keep it. The No. 23 Wolfpack, ranked in The Associated Press Top 25 for the first time since the third week of the 2003 season, look to give Tom O’Brien his first 5–0 start as a head coach.

That goal won’t be easily achieved against a Virginia Tech team that has gotten on track after opening the season with losses to Boise State and James Madison. The Hokies, who recorded their first shutout since 2006 when they won at Boston College 19–0 last week, have their eyes on the ACC championship now that their national title hopes are dashed.

The question for Virginia Tech this week is who will be dashing with the ball against NC State’s defense. Starting tailback Ryan Williams, who rushed for 120 yards and scored four touchdowns in his team’s 38–10 victory over the Wolfpack last season, missed last week’s game with a hamstring injury. Williams was not full speed at practice this week, so don’t be surprised if Darren Evans and David Wilson share the load again. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who leads the ACC in pass efficiency, might not have much time to throw against an NC State defense that ranks sixth nationally in sacks (3.5 per game).

Virginia Tech has made huge progress on defense the last two weeks, allowing a total of three points and 333 yards in its last six quarters, but will get a stiff test this week from the Wolfpack’s explosive offense. Quarterback Russell Wilson passed for a career-high 368 yards in NC State’s 45–28 victory at Georgia Tech last week, and true freshman tailback Mustafa Greene has rushed for a touchdown in all four games of his young career.

At issue for NC State could be its placekicking, which was thought to be a strength entering the season. One week after missing an extra-point attempt, Josh Czajkowski missed two 31-yard field-goal tries against the Yellow Jackets. The Wolfpack need him to be sharp against Virginia Tech, which got four field goals on as many tries from Chris Hazley against Boston College.


Duke (1–3, 0–1 ACC) at Maryland (3–1, 0–0 ACC)

Saturday, 6 p.m. ET

Maryland navigated its non-conference schedule as well as its fans realistically could have hoped. With some momentum on their side, the Terrapins face an important ACC opener as they try to erase the memory of last season’s 2–10 debacle.

Duke is heading in the opposite direction, bringing a three-game losing streak on its first trip to Byrd Stadium since 2003. The Blue Devils were not even competitive in their last two contests, getting drilled by top-ranked Alabama 62–13 and then losing 35–21 to an Army team they were supposed to beat.

Duke, which knocked off Maryland 17–13 last season, has struggled all year on defense. The Blue Devils rank 118th nationally in points allowed (44.5 per game), 110th nationally in total yards allowed (466.3 per game) and 114th nationally in rushing yards allowed (229.3 per game). Throw in their No. 115 ranking in opponents’ pass efficiency, and the Terrapins have plenty of room for optimism.

The question for Maryland is which quarterback will take aim at Duke’s vulnerable defense. Junior Jamarr Robinson, who started the first three games, sat out last week’s 42–28 win over Florida International with an injured right shoulder. Redshirt freshman Danny O’Brien filled in admirably, passing for 250 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Both quarterbacks will play if Robinson is healthy, but there’s no telling how head coach Ralph Friedgen and offensive coordinator James Franklin will divide the snaps.

No matter who lines up behind center, that player will look first to wide receiver Torrey Smith in the passing game. Smith leads the ACC with five touchdown catches, and he ranks third nationally in yards per catch (23.7) after delivering scoring grabs of 60, 68 and 80 yards in the last two weeks.

Quarterback Sean Renfree and the Blue Devils counter with a star wideout of their own in Conner Vernon, who has posted three 100-yard receiving games this season. Vernon leads the ACC and ranks seventh nationally in receiving yards (112.3 per game) this season.


Georgia Tech (2–2, 1–1 ACC) at Wake Forest (2–2, 1–1 ACC)

Saturday, 7 p.m. ET

Georgia Tech and Wake Forest have more in common than some gold on their uniforms. The teams enter this game with identical records (overall and conference), great ground games, struggling passing attacks and porous defenses. All of that adds to the intrigue as the Yellow Jackets, who are 8–0 in games after a loss under Paul Johnson, make their first trip to Winston-Salem since 2005.

The major difference between the teams is that Georgia Tech has no uncertainty at quarterback. Joshua Nesbitt, a first-team All-ACC selection last season, leads the ACC in rushing touchdowns (six) and ranks third in the conference in rushing (90.5 yards per game). Nesbitt has completed just 32.6 percent of his passes this season, including a 5-of-18 showing in a 45–28 loss to NC State last week, but he orchestrates a spread-option offense that ranks fourth in the country in rushing (320.5 ypg).

The Demon Deacons have started true freshman Tanner Price at quarterback in their last two games, but that could change this week. Price left Wake Forest’s 31–0 loss at Florida State last week with a concussion and is questionable for Saturday. Sophomore Ted Stachitas, who started the first two games of the season, will play if Price is unavailable. The Demon Deacons rank 15th in the nation in rushing (238.5 ypg), but they are just 110th in passing (130.8 ypg).

The big issue for Wake Forest is finding a way to get Georgia Tech’s offense off the field. The Demon Deacons have a standout defensive end in Kyle Wilber, who is second nationally with 11 tackles for loss, but his pass-rushing ability could be negated by the Yellow Jackets’ reluctance to throw.

Georgia Tech, meanwhile, could be without its top offensive lineman. All-ACC center Sean Bedford left last week’s game in the first quarter after being kicked in the shin, and he didn’t return. Bedford is questionable for this week, as is backup center Jay Finch. If neither of those players is available, redshirt freshman Ray Beno would move into the starting lineup.


Notre Dame (1–3) at Boston College (2–1)

Saturday, 8 p.m. ET

Boston College coach Frank Spaziani originally said he might wait until just before kickoff against Notre Dame before revealing the identity of his starting quarterback. But he wasted no time offering the Fighting Irish one clue: It wouldn’t be Dave Shinskie.

Shinskie, who took over the starting job as a freshman last season and started BC’s first three games this season, has struggled in 2010. He made so many poor decisions in the Eagles’ 19–0 loss to Virginia Tech last week — BC’s first game with no points since 1998 — that Spaziani decided to make a change. The coach reportedly has chosen true freshman Chase Rettig, who has yet to take a snap in his college career, over sophomore Mike Marscovetra to start against the Fighting Irish.

Either way, Boston College will lean heavily on junior tailback Montel Harris against a Notre Dame defense that ranks 98th in the nation against the run (189.8 yards per game). Harris averages an ACC-best 102.0 yards per game on the ground and rushed for more yards in his first two seasons than any player in league history.

While the Eagles will depend on the run, the Fighting Irish will go to the air. Notre Dame, which has dropped three consecutive games after last week’s 37–14 loss to Stanford, is seventh nationally in passing (315.5 ypg). Combine that with Boston College’s stingy run defense, which ranks sixth in the country (71.3 ypg), and quarterback Dayne Crist likely will keep his receivers busy.

The Eagles, who have won six of the last seven meetings against the Fighting Irish, will receive a boost up front with the return of starting defensive tackle Conor O’Neal from a one-game suspension for a violation of team rules. That said, fans who love defense will want to keep their eyes glued on the linebacker position. Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o leads the nation in tackles (13.5 per game), while Boston College’s Luke Kuechly ranks fifth in that category (12.3 per game).

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