Oct. 5 ACC Football Notebook: Out Of Their Shell

Oct. 5 ACC Football Notebook: Out Of Their Shell

Friday October 4, 2013


FSU’S FISHER NOT SURPRISED BY TERRAPINS' EARLY SUCCESS

Not many have failed to notice Maryland’s 4-0 start to the 2013 college football season.

Not the Associated Press, which bumped the Terrapins into the Top 25 of this weekend’s national rankings. Not high school prospects on the recruiting trail, who third-year head coach Randy Edsall says are giving him warmer receptions than ever before.

And not Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher, whose eighth-ranked team welcomes Maryland to Tallahassee this Saturday at high noon for a matchup of unbeaten ACC Atlantic Division teams.

The Terrapins, coming off a 4-8 finish to a 2012 campaign that was derailed by season-ending injuries to every scholarship quarterback, were tagged for a fifth-place Atlantic Division finish in the ACC media’s preseason poll this past July. Fisher didn’t take stock then, and he doesn’t now.

“I’ve learned in this game – you never know,” Fisher said. “I don’t ever listen to those preseason polls, and everybody has good players. Randy (Edsall) is a heck of a football coach and (Brian) Stewart their defensive coordinator is a great coach. (Mike) Locksley does a great job on offense. You know they’ve got good coaches. They’ve got great players. (Maryland’s 4-0 start) doesn’t surprise me.”

The FSU-Maryland matchup is one of several intriguing games within the ACC, which enters the weekend with four teams unbeaten and ranked among the nation’s Top 25, including two among the top 10.

The Terrapins’ fastest start since 2001 has showcased the talents of healthy quarterback C.J. Brown, who leads the ACC in total offense, and sophomore speedster Stefon Diggs, who leads the conference in yards per catch (22.2) with three touchdowns on 18 receptions.

But Maryland has done it on the opposite side of the ball as well, leading or ranking second in the conference in scoring defense, rushing defense and total defense. The Terps have allowed 10.2 points and 263.8 yards per game thus far. Linebacker Marcus Whitfield has led the charge with 5.5 quarterback sacks and 6.5 total tackles for lost yardage.

“(They are) doing a lot of different things with coverages and blitz packages – playing great football,” Fisher said. “Special teams are doing a good job, (and they have) got great returners because they’re dynamic and athletic. It’s going to be a great game. We’ve got to get better this week and improve and try and win another conference game because it’s a double whammy game … a divisional game.”

GOOD TO SEE YOU

While Maryland’s Edsall is focused on this week’s challenge against the Seminoles, he acknowledged his team’s recent success seemed to have made an impression as he made the rounds last week and met with college prospects.

“It was great to be 4-0 and go out recruiting,” Edsall said. There was a better reception to us being out there and people taking notice.”

There even seems to be a trickle-down positive effect in games not involving the Terps. One week after Maryland whitewashed West Virginia by a 37-0 score, the Mountaineers defeated No. 11 Oklahoma State in a 30-21 stunner to make Maryland’s earlier win even more eye-opening.

“I think (the positive perceptions) even ramped up a little bit after West Virginia beat Oklahoma State,” Edsall agreed. “People see what we’ve done so far this year, and now all we have to do is go out and play and continue to get better each and every day. If we do that, people will take more notice. So we just have to go out and keep on getting better and play the way that we played against West Virginia.”

NEW – AND TOUGH – TERRITORY

Third-ranked Clemson makes its first-ever trip to the Syracuse on Saturday, and head coach Dabo Swinney made note of recent history.

When the Orange welcoms Clemson to the Carrier Dome for Syracuse’s first-ever ACC game, it will do so at a venue in which it has recorded six straight wins while outscoring opponents by a 150-point margin. In home wins over Wagner and Tulane in its last two outings, Syracuse scored at least 50 points in two straight games for the first time since 1997.

“They only lost one game at home last year,” Swinney said. “Teddy Bridgewater (Louisville quarterback) has been in there and gotten beat with a top-10 team. Geno Smith (former West Virginia quarterback) has been there with a top-10 team and gotten beat. It will be a big challenge for the Clemson Tigers as we go up there.”

At the same time, Swinney welcomed the Orange’s addition to the ACC and the beginning of a new Atlantic Division rivalry.

“I am excited about this trip,” Swinney said. “I think it is going to be a new experience for our team. It is good to have Syracuse join our league. They are going to be a quality opponent for many years to come, and there will be some great competition. It is not just an ACC game for us because they will be in our division as well. I¹m sure it will be a great game.”

Swinney does not anticipate a problem for his team in adapting to one of college football’s few domed facilities.

“I think it would be a challenge if it weren't for the experience factor,” Swinney said. “For us, we played in the (Georgia) Dome twice last year. We are fortunate to have an indoor practice facility here at Clemson that we practice in all the time. The only difference is the sight lines and where the lights are and the background when you look up for punts and for receivers.

“The noise will be a little more compact, but we play in a lot of loud places. Defensively, it will be very quiet for our guys. Offensively is the challenge. We have been in loud situations before and we have a lot of experienced guys. Hopefully it is not a factor. It could be a factor, but that's only we let it become a factor.”

WHAT IF?

Terrel Hunt, who took the reins as Syracuse’s starting quarterback two games ago, has completed nearly 77 percent of his passes (33-of-43) for 468 yards, seven touchdowns and no interceptions. Interestingly Syracuse first-year head coach Scott Shafer once had fleeting visions of Hunt as a defensive back.

Shafer, then defensive coordinator for the Orange, was wowed by Hunt’s overall athletic ability when he attended the Orange’s football camp as a high school player.

“I heard he was a good basketball player, too,” Shafer said. “So being a defensive guy, I like multi‑talented kids.  Those kids are always my best defensive players. We had this air ball tournament where it's kind of just a run around, chuck-and-duck game we played.  He was making interception after interception.

“It's like, ‘Hey, you know, you can always come over and have a home on defense too,’ and he laughed.  We laugh about that to this day.”

LEARNING A LESSON, MOVING ON

Miami running back Duke Johnson wore a second string jersey earlier this week as 14th-ranked Miami began preparation for Saturday’s key ACC Coastal Division game against visiting Georgia Tech.

That doesn’t often happen to a player who ranks second among ACC rushers and who has scored at least one touchdown in each of the last eight games. But after watching Johnson lose the ball as he stretched to reach the end zone on a first-and-goal carry during last Saturday’s 49-21 win at South Florida, head coach Al Golden decided to send a message.

“You can’t fumble the ball inside the five,” Golden said. “It wasn’t an aggressive mistake - it was a careless mistake. It was going against what we teach. We do not teach to reach the ball unless it’s fourth down, last play of the half or the last play of the game.”

Golden said Randy – he referred to Duke Johnson by his given first name – acknowledged the mistake and remains upbeat. The Miami coaching staff simply wanted the sophomore to learn from last weekend’s teachable moment.

“When we’re through learning, we’re through,” Golden said. “Randy’s talent and his sensational plays kind of precede him a little bit. He has to continue to learn and grow. The only thing we have to do in this is discipline the correct habit in this situation. Randy’s been great – he has a great attitude. He’ll grow from it and learn from it. He always does.”

SHORT MEMORIES

Georgia Tech’s home game against Miami last season proved the ultimate roller-coaster ride for the Yellow Jackets, who fell behind 19-0, rallied to lead 36-19 and then saw the Hurricanes score the final 23 points of the game to claim a 42-36 overtime win.

Saturday finds Georgia Tech traveling to Miami for the rematch, but head coach Paul Johnson isn’t certain memories of last year’s game – if there are many – provide his players with any sort of emotional edge.

“It’s an important game because it’s a conference game, but our guys haven’t said anything about ‘Circle the wagons, this is it,’ “ Johnson said. “I mean, 18-to-22 year olds sometimes can’t remember yesterday much less last year. They do know that Miami has a really good team and that it’s a challenge to go down there and play. It’s always exciting and fun to match up against them because they are good athletes. It’s a conference game and it’s a division game, so it’s definitely important. No question about that, especially after we lost a division game last week.”

Last week’s game – a Thursday night 17-10 loss to visiting Virginia Tech – came after a 3-0 start that included two ACC wins. After the bump in the road against the Hokies, Johnson was asked if he had a feel for where his team stood four games into the season.

“I’ve got a handle on it, but I’m hoping and thinking that the game last Thursday was an enigma where we didn’t play very well,” Johnson said. “We’ve done that a couple of times against Virginia Tech, but you’ve got to give them credit. They caused some of it because we seem to self-destruct when we play them. But I think the team is changing. I mean, you’re always getting better or worse, you never stay the same.”

LOOKING FOR A TURNAROUND

North Carolina head coach Larry Fedora discarded the notion of looking for silver linings in the aftermath of last week’s loss to East Carolina, particularly after viewing the game film.

“You know the old saying: ‘It’s never as bad as you think it is, and it’s never as good as you think it is?’“ Fedora asked. “Well, it was as bad as I thought it was so I proved that wrong. The film didn’t show us anything to make us feel any better about it, I can tell you that. It was, like I said after the game, we played poorly in all three phases. We got out-coached in all three phases. We’ve got to do a much better job (by) each and every person that’s associated with the program, including myself.”

The Tar Heels will try to take the first positive steps on Saturday when they return to ACC play at Virginia Tech.

“I do realize the task at hand – it will be very difficult,” Fedora said. “But right now I am more focused on the Tar Heels than I am Virginia Tech because we’ve got to get better as a football team. It doesn’t really matter who the opponent is right now … I don’t want to say it doesn’t matter because it matters who you play, but we’ve got to get better at what we do.”

GUARD STILL UP

The last time Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer paid close attention to North Carolina’s football team was last October 6, in the aftermath of the Hokies’ 48-34 loss in Chapel Hill. That – and not the Tar Heels’ 1-3 start to the current season – is Beamer’s point of reference as he looks ahead to this Saturday’s game in Blacksburg.

“We only have to remember to last year and how we got pounded down at North Carolina,” Beamer said. “They rushed for 339 yards, which was the most anybody rushed against us all year. We rushed for only 40 yards, which was the least that we rushed all season. Regardless of what happened last week, I know how things can happen. This is a good football team that is very capable and we only have to look to last year to know that.”

Despite North Carolina’s struggle against East Carolina last Saturday, Beamer believes the Tar Heels are fully capable of righting the ship in a week’s time. He noted West Virginia’s bounce-back from a 37-0 loss to Maryland to win last week against No. 11 Oklahoma. Beamer also noted that Pitt shut down Virginia offensively in Saturday’s 14-3 ACC win, one week after giving up a whopping 55 points in a win at Duke.

“I think North Carolina can have a miserable game against ECU (and play well this Saturday), just like West Virginia and Pittsburgh after their bad weeks – it’s unpredictable,” Beamer said. “I can’t tell you the reason, but you better be ready to play every Saturday. We learned that last year. When you think things are about right, that’s when they’re getting ready to go wrong, so you better get ready to play each and every week.”

TACKLING A TREND

NC State will be looking for its first win at Wake Forest since 2001 on Saturday. First-year head coach head coach Dave Doeren wasn’t around for any the previous games in which the Wolfpack came up short, but he doesn’t discount the streak’s significance.

“I do believe in studying in what has been going on,” Doeren said. “This streak is hard to absorb. There have been some very good football teams from State that have gone there, some really good quarterbacks (Philip Rivers, Russell Wilson and others) that have come home not feeling good.”

Doeren noted that Wake Forest has actually won seven of its last eight home games against the Wolfpack. As he prepares to take NC State on the road for the first time, Doeren wants his team to embrace the challenge.

“I do take pride in being a good road coach,“ Doeren said. “You can’t be a great program and lose the road games and win the home games. You’ve got to be able to take your show on the road, and I think that is the thing: I take pride in being able to do. This will be my first opportunity, and we will see how it goes with our guys. I think if we had lost two in a row (at Wake Forest), I probably wouldn’t have cared too much, but seven out of eight, you can’t ignore that.”

HOME FIELD ADVANTAGE

The NC State-Wake Forest series has broken both ways when it comes to home field advantages. While Wake Forest has won the last five and seven of the last eight against the Wolfpack in Winston-Salem, NC State has won all but one of the meetings in Raleigh since 1984.

“The guys in the press conference (Tuesday) talked about it, and I had not realized how it been such home and home,” Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe said. “We've had great give-and-take with NC State.  It's been a good rivalry since I've been here, but I didn't realize the difference between home field and away until it was pointed out.

“Obviously, we've got some kids on our team that either went to school with some of these guys or played against them in high school.  So I think that breeds a little bit of a rivalry, but I didn't realize that the home field advantage had been so great.”

Saturday’s meeting will be the 107th between schools. They have met every year since 1910, making their series the longest continuous one in the ACC.

“I think any time you play a team every year, it becomes a rivalry, and that's what we've been doing,” Grobe said. “When we went to divisions in the ACC and NC State and Wake ended up in the same division, we continued to play each other every year. I think the crossover teams that you play once every four or five years don't have the same meaning.”

GAME ON

The government shutdown threatened the status of Boston College’s homecoming game against Army, but it was announced on Thursday that the game would be played at 1 p.m. on Saturday as scheduled.

"I'm pleased to announce we will host the U.S. Military Academy this Saturday," Boston College athletics director Brad Bates said. "I'm thrilled our students and those from the service academies will get to play their games this weekend. Thank you, fans, for your patience and understanding the past couple of days. Also, thanks to Army AD Boo Corrigan, who has been terrific through this process."

When the game seemed in limbo at midweek, Eagles coach Steve Addazio did not want to comment extensively and tried instead to take a business-as-usual approach.

“Whatever happens, happens,” Addazio said during Wednesday’s ACC coaches teleconference.  “I'm preparing for a game on Saturday, as I'm sure they are.  I just hope you respect the fact that I wouldn't know where to begin to have a commentary other than the fact that I'm sure those kids want to compete and play on that field because they're competitors, just like our guys do.  But there's more to it than that.  Out of respect for that, I think I leave it right there.”

Addazio said his team went through its normal practice routines throughout the week.

“I didn't know anything was going on until yesterday afternoon,” Addazio reiterated during Wednesday’s call.  “I really haven't even paid any attention to it.  In my mind, we're playing on Saturday.  That's not trying to talk myself into something; that's really how I feel … I'm totally prepared and anticipate playing.  I haven't spent one second thinking of anything different.”

Student-athletes, coaches, alumni and fans on both sides were happy on Thursday when Addazio’s gut feeling proved correct.

LOOKING FOR PRODUCTION

In the aftermath of last week’s 14-3 loss at Pitt, Virginia coach Mike London and his staff are busily looking for solutions to their offensive struggles as they prepare to host a solid Ball State team on Saturday.

“You never want to get three points,” London said. “You always want to have the opportunity to score given the opportunities you make for yourself at the time. Not only that, you want to have the opportunity to score when the defense gives you the ball to do that.”

London cited the offensive line and inconsistency by Virginia’s wide receiving corps as two areas of major concern. Earlier this week, he announced plans to open up the competition for the receiver spots in pracitce after witnessing a number of dropped passes in the Pitt game.

“You can't have 10 drops in a game,” London said. “There's a lack of production … and there needs to be accountability for that. It's kind of a culmination of things, but at the same time it's about putting those right people (into the game), giving those guys opportunities to be productive and help us play and win.”

London didn’t rule out shuffling in-game coaching responsibilities, be it on the sidelines or in the upstairs coaching box.

“We're discussing everything,” he said. “We're going to do whatever is best for the football team, for the players to get that coaching, teaching, whatever they need, when they're coming off the field.”

On a lighter note, London was asked to address rumors that he was spotted at a Taylor Swift concert when the singer played in Charlottesville on Sept. 14 (Virginia’s open date).

“I was there picking up my daughter – not there for any other reason,” London replied. “Let's go on record for that.”

SHOUT OUT TO HELTON

Todd Helton’s retirement from Major League Baseball was duly noted by Duke head coach David Cutcliffe on Tuesday.

Before Helton earned batting titles, gold gloves and All-Star game appearances during his 17-year stint with the Colorado Rockies, he toiled under Cutcliffe’s watchful eye as a quarterback at Tennessee.

Cutcliffe worked as the Vols’ offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in the mid-1990s, and Helton was his starting QB before a knee injury – along with the emergence another Tennessee quarterback by the name of Peyton Manning and Helton’s baseball talents – prompted him to turn his full attention to the latter sport.

“He got a hit on his last day as a major leaguer, which was important to me,” Cutcliffe said. “He was in the city of Los Angeles, and I was texting back and forth with him (Monday) night. That’s a ballplayer and an athlete that was a great teammate and great competitor. He played the game with a bunch of enthusiasm. I’m happy that Todd walked away with getting a hit on his last day.”