Oct. 11 ACC Football Notebook: Laying It On The Line

Oct. 11 ACC Football Notebook: Laying It On The Line

Friday October 11, 2013


STRONG PLAY UP FRONT HAS HEPED BC'S WILLIAM SHINE

It might be pushing the point to say Boston College first-year coach Steve Addazio foresaw senior running back Andre Williams leading the nation in rushing at the midway point of the season. 

But Addazio definitely planned on the running game being the focal point of the Eagles’ offense. He will look for continued productivity from the ground attack and from Williams, who already eclipsed the 200-yard rushing barrier twice this season and is averaging 153.6 yards per game.

“For us to have success right now, that’s a big part of who we are,” Addazio said.

The Eagles travel to third-ranked Clemson on Saturday, and Tigers coach Dabo Swinney is braced for the challenge.

“Their running back is the heart and soul of what they do,” Swinney said. “He is about as tough of a guy as we are going to play, so we will have to do a great job of tackling.”

While Swinney sang Williams’ praises, he noted that the Eagles’ strong ground game has truly been a team effort. Boston College has a long tradition of solid offensive line play and has reaped the benefits this fall as that tradition continues.

“Their offensive line is strong and physical,” Swinney said. “They like to get their hands in the dirt and run the power and the counter and run it again and again.”

Addazio believes it all starts up front.

“I’m not taking anything from Andre, I’m just being honest,” Addazio said. “I (said) earlier in the season that we have a pretty good offensive line. There are a lot of people who would like to have this offensive line. They’re playing at a strong level and (quarterback) Chase (Rettig) is keeping them honest with some play actions here and there and managing the game the way he is. That’s a good combination.”

Starting tackles Ian White and Matt Patchan have been leaders on the offensive front, and were major reasons Williams piled up 263 yards – just one yard shy of the BC school record – in last weekend’s win over Army.

“Those two guys are playing at a very high level,” Addazio said. “They can run. They’re fast, they’re big, they’re physical and those guys have a great demeanor. They’re starting to impose their demeanor on the rest of the offense which is what we hoped would happen; it’s starting to happen. They’re giant guys. They kind of engulfed the guys from Army.

“That’s what I’m saying: Our line is a big-time line. That line is good.”

‘CORRECTABLE MISTAKES’

While Swinney is wary of the Eagles’ rushing attack, he is not panicking over the fact the Tigers have struggled to stop the run at times this season. Though Clemson’s 5-0 record speaks for itself, some are quick to note that the Tigers rank 12th in the ACC in rushing defense and gave up 323 yards in last weekend’s ACC win at Syracuse.

“I think the issues that we have had are very correctable, Swinney said. “We are always going to have mistakes.  I wish we could go out there and put up goose eggs every week, but other teams have good players, too.

“We are not perfect coaches and perfect players. On defense, when you make a critical mistake, then you usually pay for it. You have to give the other team credit for taking advantage of our mistakes.  It is not a major concern right now.”

Swinney believes the defensive unit has improved since last season, and continues to get better with each passing week.  And when all is said and done, the Tigers are yielding a modest 16.6 points per game, fourth fewest in the ACC.

“Defensively, I am very encouraged in every aspect,” Swinney said. “We are a totally different team defensively than we were this time last year. As long as we continue to improve, be coachable and learn from our mistakes, then we will be fine.”

BROWN DOUBTFUL

Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown, who suffered a concussion in last Saturday’s ACC road loss at Florida State, has been listed as doubtful for this weekend’s game against Virginia.

Maryland coach Randy Edsall has dealt with career’s worth of injuries to his quarterbacks over the past two seasons. The decision on Brown’s status for the Virginia game was out of his hands – and that’s the way the Maryland coach wants it.

“We have a process and a protocol that our players have to go through here, which is administered by our trainers and doctors,” Edsall said. “I’m not going into the exact protocol that they go through, but it’s pretty much similar to that of a NFL team. They have to pass certain tests and be cleared by the doctor.”

And that doctor has Edsall’s full support, regardless of the diagnosis.

“Believe me, we are never going to put any young man on the field with a concussion or any injury, unless they are fully able to play and our cleared by the medical staff,” Edsall said. “As a coach, I don’t have anything to do with any of those decisions. I just get the injury report from our trainers and doctors. They tell me who’s (able to play) and who’s not.

“We go by that standard. We always have a protocol with the concussions and with any injury that we go through. We are going to make sure that kid is ready to go and play at a high level before returning after an injury.”

EVALUATING THE TERRAPINS

Maryland’s 4-0 start opened a lot of eyes, and so did the margin of last week’s 63-0 loss to eighth-ranked Florida State. But Virginia coach Mike London isn’t putting a lot of stock in the latter as his team prepares to face the Terps on Saturday.

“Sometimes the scores get out of hand and what you try to find out, if they go back to just the nuts and bolts of what they do,” London said. “You don't want to get too far away from just evaluating what you see on tape and not sometimes trying to second-guess what they may or may not do.”

London said the problems the Terps faced against Florida State doesn’t change the fact they boast one of the conference’s most dynamic all-around players in receiver Stefon Diggs, the ACC’s second-leading rusher in Brandon Ross and an intimidating pass rusher in linebacker Marcus Whitfield.

“I think it will be important for us to understand that it's a very good offensive team, very explosive,” London said. “They play very well defensively. I think they are third in the country in sacks, in turnovers. They are athletic. They have skill position players at different positions that help them get the ball downfield.

“So we look more at that than we do a score imbalance, one way or the other, because we don't want to get caught looking at the scoreboard. We want to get caught looking at what they do.”

HOKIE NEMESIS

Virginia Tech holds a 7-5 lead in its all-time series with Pitt, but none of the Hokies’ wins have come lately.

Pitt won the last three meetings when both teams competed in the Big East (2001 through 2003), and then captured last year’s non-conference meeting at Heinz Field. When the teams meet Saturday in Blacksburg for the first time as fellow ACC members, Virginia Tech will attempt to defeat the Panthers for the first time since Oct. 28, 2000.

“This is a team that we’ve had a hard time beating; they’ve gotten us the last four times,” Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer noted. “When you go back and check, Alabama hasn’t done that, LSU hasn’t done that, Texas A&M hasn’t done that, Clemson hasn’t done that, Florida State hasn’t done that and Miami hasn’t done that. But Pittsburgh has.”

Beamer’s memories of last year’s game are the freshest, and the most painful in many ways.

“They had 537 yards against us, we turned the ball over four times and we only had 59 yards rushing,” Beamer recalled. “It’s just a team that we’ve had a hard time beating. Whether it’s matchups or something else, it’s a team that we haven’t had great success against.”

While the Hokies’ struggles against Pitt span more than a decade in terms of calendar years, Beamer believes there is one common denominator.

“I think they have good players,” Beamer said. “I remember (current Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry) Fitzgerald lining up for them in a few of those wins. They’ve always had good players, and I think Pennsylvania is a great state for football. Their players are always tough, and they’ve always had good coaches. You put those things together and you better get ready to play a heck of a ballgame.”

STAYING GROUNDED

Pitt (3-1, 2-1) has won three straight games and has a chance to make legitimate noise in the ACC Coastal Division race, particularly should it win on Saturday. Coach Paul Chryst, however, believes his players have kept themselves grounded.

“What’s written in the papers or rankings doesn’t matter,” Chryst said. “We’ve got guys working and gaining confidence, but I don’t think anyone feels like they’ve arrived yet. I would be really disappointed if that was the case. I don’t believe it at all. The game makes all of us honest.”

For Chryst, it is way too soon to be thinking in terms of division championships or possible postseason destinations.

“We talk about being the best you can be,” Chryst said. “We talk about playing good football. Winning is a byproduct of doing all of the little things right. It’s important to focus on things you can control. You can control your approach. You can control what you can improve on. If each individual gets better, we’re going to get better as a team. Right now, we need to live in the here and now.

“It’s … Virginia Tech week. It’s OK to see the big picture, but that’s the beautiful thing about sports: You focus on the now.”

ON THE REBOUND

Following last week’s 28-13 ACC loss at Wake Forest, NC State first-year head coach Dave Doeren and his team look forward to returning home this weekend for another conference test against Syracuse. But following the Wolfpack’s disappointing showing against the Demon Deacons, Doeren believes that would be the case regardless of opponent or game location.

“They’re sick of how they just played,” Doeren said. “We had a pretty open meeting on Sunday. We talked, and I told them when I got hired I am not going to lie to them. I don’t think our team played for each other (against Wake Forest). When the scheme was totally different, they went back to some old habits and that hurt us. One thing we take pride in defensively is playing the fundamentals and technique and we lost that at times in the scheme.”
As far as Doeren is concerned, this Saturday’s 3:30 p.m. kickoff cannot arrive soon enough.

“Usually, when you have eye-opening experiences like that good things can come from it and that is what we talked about,” Doeren said. “We have to get back to playing the fundamentals of the game, playing hard, being physical and tackling with leverage on the defensive side of the ball. As a team, not putting ourselves in the position where we have to beat NC State and our opponent.”

OLD FRIENDS

Saturday’s trip to NC State is special to Syracuse head coach Scott Shafer, and not only because it is the first ACC road game for his team, but also because it will be a reunion of long-time colleagues and friends. Six coaches between the Orange and the Wolfpack were on the staff together at Northern Illinois in the early 2000s.

"I've worked with a lot of these guys – (NC State offensive coordinator) Matt Canada, (offensive line coach) Mike Uremovich, (wide receivers coach) Frisman Jackson, (safeties coach and special teams coordinator Clayton White) … They are four of my good friends," Shafer said. "It will be great, it will be a backyard contest for us and we'll talk about it after the season for sure. I have a great respect for these guys and I'm looking forward to the matchup."

Shafer actually worked with Canada as far back as his graduate assistant at Indiana days, when he hired him as a student assistant. He worked with Canada again at Northern Illinois, as well as Uremovich, and he coached Jackson, who played quarterback for the Huskies. Shafer coached with White at Stanford during the 2007 season.

Orange offensive coordinator George McDonald<, defensive line coach Tim Daoust< and running backs coach DeAndre Smith also worked with Canada and Uremovich at Northern Illinois.

BOONE ON THE BRINK

Duke coach Anthony Boone continues to make a successful recovery from the broken collarbone he suffered in the Blue Devils’ road win at Memphis on Sept. 7. He has been upgraded to “questionable” for Saturday’s home game against Navy.

“Anthony is better,” said Duke coach David Cutcliffe. “He’s getting some work. We’re still on a hold as far as any full-speed work. That hold can change, as we all know, with medical exams. But we’re letting him practice. I think he’s gotten progressively better each week. and at this point maybe now every day. So I would talk in terms of day-to-day with Anthony Boone.”

Redshirt junior Brandon Connette has stepped in ably in Boone’s absence and enters Saturday’s game 75-of-117 passing (64.1 percent) for 1,022 yards and 11 touchdowns with just six interceptions.  Additionally, Connette ranked third on the teams in rushing with 224 yards and six TDs.

“As far as making a decision as to what quarterback you go with, normally it’s pretty easy when you have a starter and the guy’s ready to go, he just comes back and he’s the starter,” Cutcliffe said. That’s certainly what my inclination always is. I think the tribute that’s involved here would be to Brandon Connette and how well he’s performed. He’s consistently gotten better.”

Even if Boone returns to his previous role as starting signal-caller, expect Connette to continue to see action under center in goal-line situations and even occasionally on the field at another position. He has played that role successfully in the past, as his 24 career touchdowns – tied with Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas for most among active ACC players – attests.

“We don’t want to put Anthony in too early and get him hurt,” Cutcliffe said. “We have the luxury that we don’t have to rush him. But also I would see Connette continuing with some form of role, as we’ve kind of always done around here, upon Anthony’s return.”

HEADED WEST

Following back-to-back ACC losses to Virginia Tech and Miami, Georgia Tech journeys into a different time zone on Saturday night for a nonconference road test against BYU. The Yellow Jackets will be out to avenge last year’s 41-17 loss to the Cougars in Atlanta in addition to ending the current two-game skid.

“(We’ve) got a physical, tough opponent to go play on the road so it’s a challenge,” Tech coach Paul Johnson said. “But nobody likes to lose and you want to try to get that out of your system as fast as you can, so it’s a chance to go play another game.”

While the Yellow Jackets stand at a bit of a crossroads, Johnson is far from pressing a panic button.

“It’s like I told our football team: We still have more than half the season to go,” Johnson said. “We’re disappointed that we lost two games in the league, but also the two teams that beat us are combined 9-1 with their one loss coming to the number-one ranked team in the country (Alabama over Virginia Tech on Aug. 31).

“So you try to get better and see if you can win this game. You take it week by week. We can still have a pretty good season if we can get the thing turned.”