Oct. 18 ACC Football Notebook: ACC Football Takes Center Stage
Friday October 18, 2013
NATION'S EYES TURN TO CLEMSON-FSU MATCHUP
Third-ranked Clemson and fifth-ranked Florida State have spent the week basking in college football’s national spotlight, and Tigers quarterback Tajh Boyd is happy to include the Atlantic Coast Conference as whole.
The two unbeaten Atlantic Division powers, which will play before an electric crowd of over 82,000 and a national ABC television audience on Saturday night, have company when it comes to ACC football storylines.
With Miami earning a No. 10 ranking this week by the Associated Press, the conference boasts three teams ranked nationally among the nation’s top 10 for the first time since 2005. The Tigers, Seminoles and Hurricanes are a combined 17-0 following Miami’s come-from-behind win on Thursday night at North Carolina. It marks the latest point ever in a season that three ACC teams have remained unbeaten, and the ACC is the only FBS conference this season with three remaining unbeaten teams.
“You know, it's good to be in a situation like this where the spotlight is on the ACC,” Boyd said. “You've got three teams in the top 10. The U (Miami) is finally back. We've been waiting for this for five years, man. It's good to have those guys in the top 10, have us and Florida State in that same situation.
“It's a really good for the conference. Virginia Tech jumped back up in the top 20. So it's good for those guys, good for us as a conference, and you've just got to love it at the end of the day.”
Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher seconded that emotion.
“I think it’s something we’ve been wanting,” Fisher said. “The other conferences have had those games, and now it’s up here and you get to bring some notoriety to this conference.
“We feel like we have great football in the ACC, and now we get a chance showcase it, and it’s great for the country to understand we have two top-five teams that have national championship contender aspirations and abilities. I think it’s great for our league.”
While Saturday’s 8 p.m. kickoff for the Clemson-FSU game assures prime TV ratings and an unbelievable atmosphere, Boyd in some ways wishes the action could start at high noon.
“The only thing that's kind of bad about a night game is you have to wait around all day to play,” Boyd said. “You love just to wake up and go and put your gear on and get ready to play. You know, you just have to sit around and just keep on thinking about the game. You kind of overplay things in your head sometimes because instead of just going out there and just reacting, you have to wait the whole day to get ready for it.”
All eyes will be on Boyd and freshman counterpart Jameis Winston of Florida State. Each has established himself as legitimate Heisman Trophy contender, and an elite performance by either on Saturday night would greatly enhance his candidacy.
But Fisher said neither quarterback – nor any of the other talented players involved in the game – should lose perspective.
“It’s not a pressure time,” Fisher said. “You can’t look at it as pressure. This is fun and this is why you come. You can’t worry about ‘Oh, my Lord I can’t play well.’
“(You say), ‘I’m going to have fun and work hard playing this big game, I’m going to play well and be successful’ – that’s the way you’ve got to look at it.”
And let the final score fall where it may.
“You can’t worry about outcome, because then it becomes no fun,” Fisher said. “There’s going to be a winner and a loser, and there are going to be six other games after this, but you have to appreciate these games and enjoy these games.
“That’s why I say to those guys ‘Do your work in the offseason, do your work during the season, so when those opportunities come and you’ve put yourself in that position, you’re ready to take advantage of it.’“
Syracuse plays it second consecutive road game this Saturday when it travels to Georgia Tech. Coach Scott Shafter is hoping for a repeat performance of last weekend, when the Orange traveled to NC State for their first-ever ACC test away from home.
Buoyed by a rushing attack that churned out 362 yards, the Orange finished strong with a pair of touchdowns in the final 6:13 for a 24-10 victory. Defensively, Syracuse limited NC State to 129 rushing yards and a modest 355 yards total.
““I was so proud of the way the kids came out and played,” Shafer said. “They knew we had to have a tough mentality going down into North Carolina State. They always have a big crowd down there; they have supported their program for years. We knew we had to not only defeat the 11 guys across from us, but the 12th man in the stands and the kids kept plugging away and I was extremely pleased with the result.”
After an 0-2 start in Shafer’s first year as head coach, the Orange have won three of four and carry a .500 overall record (3-3) into Saturday’s game.
“I think the team is in a good place, and they got there because they didn’t worry about down the road they just worry about focusing in on one game and one play at a time,” Shafer said. “It sounds like coach-speak but the reality is if they focus on small targets and attack them with vigor, they’ll like the results. That’s the one thing that these kids have done on both sides of the ball.”
GIVE HIM TIME
Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said sophomore quarterback Vad Lee continues to learn as he goes through his first full season as a starter. Part of the maturation process, Johnson said, is reading opposing defenses – particularly on plays in which Lee keeps the ball.
“The guys you can get away from in high school, you can’t get away from (in college games),” Johnson said. “You can’t reverse out and outrun everybody. You have to trust your teammates.”
Johnson cited a series of plays from last weekend’s 38-20 road loss at BYU.
“Every time they would pop up a guy backside, he would want to stop and go back that way,” Johnson said. “You can’t do that.”
But Lee stands to get better as he gains experience, and that is happening with each passing week.
“I think Vad Lee is a very talented guy,” Johnson said. “He’s going to be a good player. As I said before, people made him Superman before he ever played a game, and then they kill him because he can’t live up to their expectations. He’s getting better every week and he’s going to be a good player. You have to give the kid some time. He’s got to have some help. He can’t do it himself.”
TAKE IT TO THE BANK
Maryland has a chance to earn bowl eligibility for the first time under third-year head coach Randy Edsall with a win at Wake Forest on Saturday, but that has not been one of Edsall’s talking points as his team prepares for the trip to Winston-Salem.
“It is no different than game one,” Edsall said. “We look at the season in its entirety. We don’t look at only five, seven, or two games. We look at each game separately and what we have our focus on is to get the win.
“If we get the win, we put it in the bank and let it draw interest. Hopefully at the end of the 12, we’ve put enough wins in the bank to achieve the goals that we’ve set for ourselves. That’s really our only focus. It is to go out and play better this week, get a win, and try to make sure we do everything we can to do that. It will be no different this week then it has been for all the other weeks so far.”
When Wake Forest takes the field against Maryland, the Demon Deacons will be seeing their first action since their 28-13 win over NC State on Oct. 5. While some fans might fear the off week will result in a loss of momentum, freshman safety Ryan Janvion believes the Deacons (3-3, 1-2) will head into the second half of their season recharged.
“I felt like the bye week came at the perfect time,” Janvion said. “Coming off a big win over NC State, we were pretty banged up because the season taxes your body. We were all dealing with some minor injuries, not injuries that would keep us off the field, but things that just kept nagging us. We needed those few days off to refresh our bodies and get that mentality and spirits going for the next half of the season.”
As practice picked up in earnest for this week’s game against Maryland, head coach Jim Grobe was asked what his team needed to do in order to make sure the positives from the NC State game carry over.
“I think our guys just have to stay focused and realize that our energy level has to be high to beat anybody,” Grobe said. ”That was the best energy level we’ve had in four quarters (against NC State).
“It wasn’t all good; we had some ups-and-downs. But I thought we came out to start the game ready to play. I felt really good about our team heading out of the locker room at halftime. That’s the way we’ve got to be. If we’re not a four-quarter football team, then we can’t beat anyone on our schedule.”
(RECENT) ADVANTATGE DUKE
Virginia holds a slight 33-31 edge in all-time games against Duke, but the Blue Devils have enjoyed some of their greatest success in the series since head coach David Cutcliffe took the reins prior to the start of the 2008 season.
The Blue Devils recorded a 31-3 win in Cutcliffe’s first season and have won four of five games against Virginia under his watch, including a 42-17 victory at home last season.
“Our first one against Virginia, we played extremely well,” Cutcliffe said. “I don’t know if that set a tone with the young guys that were on that team. All I care about is playing well in this one coming up. I’m glad we’ve played well in the past, but I don’t think it’s been any kind of streak or anything like that. We’ve played well enough to win.”
With a 4-2 overall record at midseason, the Blue Devils have postseason bowl aspirations. But with an 0-2 record so far in ACC play, Cutcliffe said the recent trend against Virginia needs to continue if the Blue Devils hope to climb back into the Coastal Division race.
“I think these guys know that we’re capable of winning when we play a conference game,” Cutcliffe said of his team.” But we’ve got to play well. And so really it doesn’t matter who the opponent is. We didn’t play well enough to beat Pitt, we didn’t play well enough to beat Georgia Tech. Now we’ve just got to play well enough to beat the next six opponents, starting with Virginia.”
Virginia’s Jake Snyder was a busy guy after fellow defensive lineman Brent Urban left last week’s game at Maryland due to a leg injury.
Snyder, a 6-foot-4, 270-pound senior who normally starts at defensive end, spent part of the game at the tackle spot vacated by Urban’s departure.
“You know, Jake is a veteran player,” Virginia coach Mike London said. “When Chris Long was here and I coached Chris, Chris was an inside/outside player. Because he was an older player he could handle those things. Jake's level of understanding and knowledge is like that. He understands the position, the inside and outside part of playing a defensive end and tackle. You may see more of that.”
Those watching Saturday’s Virginia-Duke matchup most likely will see more, since Urban has been ruled out of that contest as well.
“I think his experience in calling out, recognizing line splits, recognizing formations and calling out plays before they're even run – those are the types of things that a Jake Snyder does for us,” London said. “My hat goes off to him and being able to do that. It's not like it's not been done before, but it kind of shows you how much of a valued player he is to this defense.”
SHORING UP THE PROTECTION
As Pitt (3-2) steps out of ACC play for Saturday night’s game against visiting Old Dominion, the Panthers seek to provide better protection for quarterback Tom Savage.
Pitt’s 21 quarterback sacks allowed are the most among ACC teams, and head coach Paul Chryst sees several aspects that need to be address as the Panthers look to improve their protection up front.
“I just think we’ve got to get back to trusting some of the things individually with technique,” Chryst said. “We’ve got to do a better job of making sure (young offensive linemen) understand the scheme and where they’re getting help. It’s wrong to put this all on the offensive line. We’ve got to do a better job of making plays. That changes games. Maybe it’s running the football or making a catch to get a little bit of momentum. There are a lot of things to it. We’ve got to own it and get better.”
Savage has shaken off the frequent hits to throw for 1,239 yards and 10 touchdowns (with just six interceptions) in Pitt’s five games to date.
“I don’t worry about him being skittish,” Chryst said. “We just have to help him. There is absolutely a cumulative effect I think on everyone and not just Tom. I believe we’re going to get better at it. We just have to put it on tape.”
Oct. 17 ACC Football Notebook:
HEAD COACHES: MIAMI, UNC BOTH '0-0'
Unbeaten Miami is ranked among college football’s top 10 teams for the first time since the 2009 season, but don’t count third-year head coach Al Golden among the impressed.
When the latest Associated Press poll came out late Sunday, Golden was deep in preparation for Thursday night’s ACC road trip to North Carolina, and that focus hasn’t wavered as the 7:45 p.m. kickoff on ESPN approaches.
"At the end of the season we’ll count them up and see where we’re at,” Golden said. “We’re 0-0 going into this game. All that matters right now is going to Chapel Hill, being a mature team, having poise, playing with poise, communicating, executing. The rest of it doesn’t really matter. It’s all about North Carolina right now, and we have to continue to have that bunker mentality for the rest of the year."
The Hurricanes (5-0, 1-0) face a North Carolina team that has struggled to build positive momentum in dropping four of its first five games this season.
But the Tar Heels (like Miami) have not played since Oct. 5. The time off has given UNC time to refocus. Starting quarterback Bryn Renner, who missed UNC’s 27-17 loss at Virginia Tech 12 days ago due to a foot injury, is healthy. And the Thursday night nationally-televised game, by its very nature, should ensure a charged-up atmosphere at Kenan Stadium.
"For all those reasons, we’re going to be facing a great challenge and an excellent team on Thursday night,” Golden said. “As I’ve said to the guys all along, records really don’t matter. Records are talking about the past. We know what type of team we’re going to see from Chapel Hill on Thursday."
Golden has company in his effort to approach Thursday night’s game as if it were a season opener. UNC’s Larry Fedora responded in kind when asked what remaining goals the Tar Heels hoped to accomplish in spite of their slow start.
“We haven’t talked about any of them,” Fedora said. “The only goal that we’re focused on right now is being 1-0. That’s it, just 1-0.”
While Fedora and his team anticipated their midseason game against the Hurricanes being more of the prototype “showdown” between Coastal Division contenders he believes UNC heads into Thursday night with a sense of excitement. Despite the 1-4 overall mark and 0-2 ACC record, seven games remain on the schedule and a lot potentially is still in the table.
Especially for a team that is “0-0.”
“It’s not going to take any luster off of what we do Thursday night,” Fedora said. “We’re focusing on the next game and we can’t worry about what’s happened in the past. We have to learn from the mistakes, the corrections that we’ve made and just move on.”