Sept. 5 Football Notebook: Sunshine State Rivalry Renewed

Sept. 5 Football Notebook: Sunshine State Rivalry Renewed

Thursday September 5, 2013


HURRICANES WELCOME GATORS, BUT KEEP EMOTIONS IN CHECK 

Emotions run deep with any in-state football rivalry. Miami coach Al Golden knows that will be the case when his team plays host to ninth-ranked Florida on Saturday, even though the teams are meeting for the first time since 2008 and for only the sixth time in 26 seasons.

Several Miami players have stated that they don’t plan to get into an on-field verbal sparring match with the Gators. Golden isn’t certain that all lips will remained zipped for four quarters, but he likes his team’s attitude and approach to the game.

“To me, we’re a more mature team, to be honest with you,” Golden said. “I think it’s more about our guys focusing on what they need to take control of, the things they can control, and stay in the bunker and just get ready to play. We’re playing a great team – a team that runs the ball with power and authority, excellent quarterback, guys that can make things happen on the perimeter on defense, stout front seven. They’re playing a lot of guys up front, they get guys back that are difference-makers.

“Obviously there are enough challenges. We don’t need anything else. That’s plenty.”

Even when attempting to channel the emotion in a positive fashion, Golden said it will be important that the Hurricanes not give in completely to the hype and the buzz.

“I think they’ll be ready,” Golden said of his players. “I hope we don’t have to convince them that it’s going to be a big game or going to be fun. They know what it’s all about. The key is to have poise and not hyperventilate in the beginning and now you’re shot. We need to have some poise and use our maturity – it’s nice to say that word, to say we have maturity and experience – and just keep our composure.”

BEYOND THE FINAL SCORE

Golden knows that some will use  the end result of Saturday’s game as a measuring stick of how much Miami has improved in the two-plus years under his head coaching watch and an indicator of where the Hurricanes – the preseason favorite to win the ACC Coastal Division – currently stand on the national stage.

It’s obviously a big game, but worrying about anything on the outside is not going to change what happens in between the lines,” Golden said. “The biggest thing for us is to focus on what we can control. Everything else that surrounds it, we have no impact.”

The game will be closely watched by high school football prospects in the Sunshine State and beyond. Does Golden believe the outcome could have any bearing in that regard?

“(With) the things that go into this decision-making process these days, I would say yes, that it does,” Golden said. “But there are so many other variables that go into it – the school, the style of offense or defense, comfort level, distance from home. There are so many different variables. This is just one. But it doesn’t hurt winning this game.”

YOUTH IS (IMMEDIATELY) SERVED

Wake Forest veteran coach Jim Grobe has earned the reputation as a staunch believer in red-shirting true freshmen, and his Demon Deacons have seen the benefits pay off in terms of fifth-year seniors over the years.

A few eyebrows were understandably raised when 10 first-year players saw action in Wake Forest’s 31-7 season-opening win over Presbyterian on Aug. 29, but Grobe said the motive behind the departure from the norm was simple.

Grobe and his staff were merely trying to put their best players on the field. They were still looking to the future, but more in the short-term given the makeup of this year’s squad.

“Really (they were) just kids that we think will help us down the road,” Grobe said. “We felt like last year we left some guys on the shelf that should have been playing by the end of the year. Unfortunately, there’s no science to that. We’re playing some kids right now just on special teams that we think may actually work their way into playing time on defense.

“But I think just with the thought that it’s important to win, you’ve got to not only play for the opener, you’ve got to play for nine, 10, 11, 12 (games) down the road. So our thoughts were a lot of these freshmen we put on the field – in some cases, just on special teams – have an opportunity to work their way onto the defensive side of the ball.”

Those young players will get a quick taste of their first ACC road action, as the Demon Deacons are set to play under the lights Friday night at Boston College (8 p.m., ESPN2).

“We’ve talked to them about it,” Grobe said “Every environment that we go into on the road is a tough environment, so one of the issues you’ve got is not only having young guys that can make mistakes in practice or at a home game, but when you take them on the road, the mistakes typically get magnified.

“We’re just trying to get them ready for a little bit of a hostile environment, a little bit louder environment where you don’t have everybody on your side. In fact, most of them are against you. You hope they’re able to go up there and get focused and do a good job.”

EAGLES MAKE SURE THEY GET THEIR KICKS

As Boston College prepares to welcome Wake Forest, first-year Eagles head coach Steve Addazio knows Nate Freese is a good guy to have on his side. And he wants to make sure he makes maximum use of his senior kicker’s presence.

Freese’s numbers speak for themselves. His .823 career field goal accuracy percentage (51-of-62) leads all current ACC kickers and ranks sixth nationally among all active kickers at FBS schools.

With that in mind, Addazio doesn’t want to leave points on the field. He recalled an occasion during last Saturday’s 24-14 season-opening win over Villanova in which the Eagles moved into field goal range, and he relayed specific instructions to offensive coordinator Ryan Day.

“I told Ryan, ‘We have points here, (so) be careful with what you’re calling right now,’“ Addazio said. “With a kicker like that, the last thing you want to do is get inside field goal range and then somehow take a sack or something.

“When you know you have that kicker, you have that mindset where you don’t want to give away points. That’s how I view it now when I get there. You want to utilize your weapons…He’s pretty accurate in the 40-yard mark, so that affects your red zone calls.”

MAKING A STATEMENT

Following last weekend’s stirring 38-35 home field win over fifth-ranked Georgia, No. 4 Clemson remains in Death Valley this Saturday to play host to South Carolina State.

S.C. State is one of two in-state FCS opponents the Tigers will face this season, with The Citadel set to visit on Nov. 23. One of those games was a late replacement to fill a void in the schedule, but Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said his plan is for the Tigers to always play one such game against a fellow South Carolina school each year.

“It just helps keep the money in state and helps the other programs in the state,” Swinney said. “Those programs help the students in this state and give them opportunities, and that’s a real positive.”

But for those penciling an automatic ‘W’ for the Tigers, particularly in view of last weekend’s Georgia win, Swinney says to think again.

“I know everybody looks at the schedule and thinks that it’s S.C. State versus Clemson. It’s an FCS team, but if you think that way then you get beat,” Swinney said.” I think there were eight FCS teams that beat FBS opponents last Saturday. If you don’t come ready to play, then you get beat –  that’s the bottom line. You go out and play with low energy and you turn it over and you are not dialed in, then you get beat.

“Everybody for us is a nameless, faceless opponent. To be honest with you, it is really about playing to a standard and doing the best you can every single week, every opportunity that you have. That way you don’t have regrets.”

WHY NOT?

Things don’t get easier for Virginia following last week’s hard-fought win over visiting BYU. Saturday brings a home date with second-ranked Oregon, a team that piled up 722 total yards and 66 points in last weekend’s season opener against Nicholls State.

“They're clearly one of the best teams in college football right now,” Virginia fourth-year coach Mike London said. ‘”And we happen to have the chance to play them here in Charlottesville.”

London accepts the challenge.

“Why not?” he asked. “That's what college football is all about: Having the opportunities to play on those days that a lot of people say that you can't win. A lot of people said we wouldn't be able to beat BYU. And I know – no disrespect to BYU – I know Oregon is number two or number three in the country right now. So our mindset has to be one of we're playing at our place. We've got to bring energy and passion because we know they're an excellent football team. But instead of asking ‘Why?’ we ask ‘Why not?’”

MOVE IT QUICKER

North Carolina had a 16-play drive that produced a touchdown in its Aug. 29 loss to sixth-ranked South Carolina, followed by a 17-play drive that produced a field goal.

That might seem like solid work to smash-mouth football traditionalists, but don’t count second-year head coach Larry Fedora among that group.

“You go 17, 18 plays – I think any defense will tell you if they can make you snap it one more time they know the chances are you’re going to make a mistake,” Fedora said. “And when you go 17 plays and you end up kicking a field goal, nobody likes that. We need to finish them off. We had some opportunities to finish the drive off and we didn’t. “

Fedora didn’t even find the long touchdown march all that satisfying.

“(A 16-play drive) – that’s tough to do,” he said. “That means you’re doing it four or five yards a pop. To do that without making mistakes and putting yourself behind the chains, that’s hard to do. We need some explosive plays in there is what we need.

“There’s an old school attitude when you get down in the red zone you need to have big personnel in there and you need to pound it away,” Fedora added.  “If you’ve followed college football in the last five years, people have proven that wrong. You can be a spread offense and be good in the red zone, scoring zone, and on the goal line.”

MAKING THEM SPECIAL

Virginia Tech has thrived on special teams play under head coach Frank Beamer, but the Hokies learned last weekend that the kicking game has a way of unmercifully kicking back.

Top-ranked Alabama parlayed both a punt and a kickoff return for touchdowns in its win over the Hokies. Beamer and his staff don’t plan to sit idly by and hope the situation adjusts itself.

“We went out (Sunday) with special teams and spent some extra time on kickoff returns, kickoff coverage and punt coverage,” Beamer said. “We’re going to make a few changes there personnel-wise and make sure we have our best possible lineup on the field.”

That could mean changes in which key position players see kick coverage duties. That is something most coaches try to avoid due to injury risks, but necessity sometimes dictates otherwise.

“You start out and you want to get guys that you feel can get it done,” Beamer said. “If you can take a veteran guy off of the field, you’d like to do that. But those plays, as we found out the other night, can be such explosive plays.

“I’ve always said that if you make good plays on special teams that it is the quickest way to win a football game. And if you don’t make those plays, it’s the quickest way to lose a football game. We need to get our best people out there.”

BACK IN THE SADDLE

After last season’s well-documented series of season-ending injuries, Maryland coach Randy Edsall was probably happy to see a healthy quarterback of any description under center for the 2013 season opener.

The fact that C.J. Brown returned at full speed following last year’s preseason knee injury was an added bonus.

“I just really liked how he handled himself and how he just went out there and played with the confidence that you want your leader to play with,” Edsall said.

Brown completed 20-of-23 passes for 281 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 105 yards and two scores in the Terps’ 43-10 win over FIU. The five touchdowns for which he accounted were the most by a Maryland player since Scott McBrien accounted for six against North Carolina on Nov. 1, 2003.

And true to what Brown indicated to reporters in preseason, there seemed no skittishness or doubt as he played his first game since his ACL injury in August of 2012.

“I thought his poise was good,” Edsall said. “I thought his accuracy was outstanding. I thought that he didn’t hesitate. He just went out there and just played. I thought that was pretty impressive.”

KEEPING THE FAITH

While Maryland welcomed back its quarterback from injury, NC State was forced to deal with the loss of QB Brandon Mitchell, who suffered a broken bone in his left foot during the Wolfpack’s season-opening win over Louisiana Tech and will be sidelined until at least mid-October.

First-year head coach Dave Doeren believes Mitchell, a graduate transfer from Arkansas, remains in a positive frame of mind despite the initial setback. Mitchell had directed a pair of crisp first-quarter scoring drives prior to his injury.

“He is doing great,” Doeren said. “He is very positive, upbeat, very spiritual. I think he believes there is a plan. I’m not sure if he understands what it is, but he is positive about why this is happening to him. He will use the next four or five weeks to focus on his graduate school classes and try to get a great head start. He will be back for the latter half of our schedule.”

Mitchell finished 3-for-3 for 67 yards and picked up 19 rushing yards on five carries. Doeren is happy that Mitchell should eventually have a chance to get back onto the field. In the meantime, his veteran presence is a welcome one on the sidelines.

“It could have been worse,” Doeren said of Saturday’s injury. “We are happy with the way he started. They could’ve taken him right to the hospital and fixed him up, but he decided to stay on the sidelines and support his teammates, which I think says a lot about his commitment.”

LITTLE THINGS MATTER

Syracuse first-year head coach Scott Shafer said the small things played a huge role in last Saturday’s 23-17 loss to Penn State, and he will be looking fill those voids when the Orange travel to 19th-ranked Northwestern this Saturday.

“The first two weeks of the season are always when you make your biggest improvements,” Shafer said. “The thing I looked at coming out of (the Penn State) game is that we didn’t win enough of the ‘six-inch wars.’ I knew it was going to be a fourth quarter game and in those you have to win the war of six inches.”

Shafer went through a sizeable list of missed opportunities from the Penn State game.

“Offensively, we had five drops, and in two or three inches we could make those catches and turn them into big plays and the chains keep moving,” Shafer said. “Defensively, we had nine missed tackles, which from the outside looking in isn’t bad. We always talk about 10 missed tackles for under 50 yards is a pretty good day. But if we make two or three, if we lay out and those six inches makes a guy fall down, it changes the outcome of the game. During the game you don’t realize how big that is on any one particular play.”

FACING THE UNKNOWN

Duke must solve a couple of mysteries as it prepares to face Memphis on the road this Saturday.

The game will be the season opener for the Tigers, so the Blue Devils have no game film – from this season, anyway – as a frame of reference.

Secondly, Memphis’ starting quarterback will be redshirt freshman Paxton Lynch, who beat out 2012 starter Jacob Karam in preseason and will making his first collegiate start.

“It’s frustrating a little bit not to have a good look at them this year,” Duke head coach David Cutcliffe said. “Obviously, they have a young quarterback who beat out a returning starter, so that tells you something about his capability. I’ve looked at him on high school tape, did a little read of him.”

Duke defeated Memphis 38-14 last season in Durham, but Cutcliffe saw potential in an opposing team that went on to close out the 2012 season with three straight wins.

“Really, the majority of their team returns,” Cutcliffe noted. “I think certainly the strength of their team will be their defensive front. A year ago, at times, they were difficult to deal with. They’re certainly a year older and better. You can tell reading between the lines that they’ve done a good job there and they expect to be better.”

LOTS OF HELP

Florida State redshirt freshman quarterback Jameis Winston opened eyes and earned rave reviews nationally with his 25-of-27 passing performance in Monday night’s ACC win at Pitt. Winston was clearly on target in his collegiate debut, and head coach Jimbo Fisher noted that the receivers more than held up their end of the bargain.

The Seminoles did not drop one pass in their win over the Panthers. Not one.

“Those guys ran very good routes,” Fisher said. “I think the guys around Jameis played extremely well.  They made plays.  They got to where they were supposed to be at the time they were supposed to be there, which allowed him to get to his progressions very well. 

“He got to some third (option) guys and even fourth guys at times, and those guys were where they were supposed to be, catching the ball, making plays in critical situations, and I think they did a great job of making him comfortable and allowing him to function.”

Tight end Nick O’Leary caught a career-high three touchdown passes, and wide receiver Rashad Greene hauled in eight catches for 126 yards and one score.

PASSING FANCY

One day after watching his freshman quarterback’s stellar show, FSU’s Fisher learned that his former standout QB will be an NFL starter. The Buffalo Bills announced that EJ Manuel will be under center for Sunday’s season opener against the Patriots.

“I thought he had a chance,” Fisher said. “I didn't know what all they had there when he went, but I thought he was a guy that was capable of handling those things, and he did some tremendous things for us … He grew as he was here, but he definitely always had poise and presence about him.  One of the things that drew me to him in recruiting, that he had a lot of poise and presence about himself and a sense of command from that standpoint.  So it doesn't shock me, it really doesn't.”

With Manuel earning the starting job, seven former QBs from ACC schools are scheduled to start for NFL teams this weekend, matching the SEC for most of any conference. Others from the ACC set to get the nod are Virginia’s Matt Schaub (Houston Texans), NC State’s Philip Rivers (San Diego Chargers) and Russell Wilson (Seattle Seahawks), Florida State’s Christian Ponder (Minnesota Vikings), Boston College’s Matt Ryan (Atlanta Falcons) and Virginia Tech’s Michael Vick (Philadelphia Eagles).