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PITT SENIOR TURNS HEADS WITH EYE-OPENING PERFORMANCES
While Pitt wound up on the short end of a 21-10 score in last Saturday night’s ACC game at Georgia Tech, no one missed the presence of Panthers senior defensive tackle Aaron Donald.
His stat line at game’s end bordered on staggering: Eleven solo tackles. Six tackles for lost yardage, the most by any defender in the FBS this season. Two forced fumbles and a quarterback sack.
The ACC Defensive Lineman of the Week honor, which Donald picked up on Monday, was almost a no-brainer. Then on Tuesday, word came down that the Pittsburgh native had been recognized as the FWAA/Bronko Nagurski National Defensive Player of the Week. On Thursday, it was announced that Donald had bagged the Chuck Bednarik Award National Defensive Player of the Week honor as well.
“He's getting recognized by certainly a number of people, and I love the fact that he's earning it with what he's doing on the field,” said Pitt coach Paul Chryst, who will look for more of the same when the Panthers battle 23rd-ranked Notre Dame at home before national television audience on Saturday night.
Donald currently ranks first nationally in tackles for loss per game (2.4), quarterback sacks per game (1.1), and 12th in forced fumbles per game (0.38). He also leads all active players nationally in career quarterback sacks with 27.5.
“He is a good leader,” Chryst said. “Leadership comes from within your personality. There’s no better way than to have his actions speak, not just with his play – and he is playing at a really high level – but also with his preparation, the way he competes in practice, the way he goes about things every day.
“I think he’s a tremendous example to our young guys about how to approach it and how that translates in the game. He’s vocal at certain times, but he’s not giving speeches because I don’t think that’s what inspires him. But he’s certainly aware of how he can help the team.”
DUKE’S CLASS ACT
Duke offensive tackle Perry Simmons is the fourth player in school history to receive the National Football Foundation’s Scholar-Athlete Award. Few who know Simmons well are surprised, least of all Blue Devil head coach David Cutcliffe.
“First of all, Perry won the parent lottery – that’s a great lottery to win,” Cutcliffe said. “Brette and Renee are incredibly gifted people and great parents.”
Brette Simmons, in fact, has substantial ACC coaching roots of his own, having spent 12 years as an assistant at NC State under head coaches Dick Sheridan and Mike O’Cain from 1987 through 1998. Not coincidentally, Perry Simmons has been “coached up” pretty well in the game of life.
“Perry came to us with a work ethic that was special, and Perry has always had a plan,” Cutcliffe said. “Everybody has goals – Perry has a plan. He’s an engineer. He engineered his plan. Perry on Wednesday has his clothes down here in this locker room because it’s close to practice, so he can practice as long as he can, run back here, get dressed and get to class as fast as he can.
“That’s a plan. He’s willing to do the work. He is so deserving of that honor. And I can’t wait to see what Perry’s going to look like in a tux.”
While his classroom work has taken its rightful place at center stage, the Raleigh, N.C., senior is a major reason the Blue Devils are already bowl eligible at 6-2 and remain a contender for the ACC Coastal Division championship heading into this Saturday’s home game against NC State.
“Perry has single-mindedness playing football,” Cutcliffe said. “He’s blocking you, so he’s going to block you until he definitively hears a whistle. Quickly, even as a freshman starter and a sophomore starter, Perry was respected by his peers as a leader because it never went away. It never changed. That’s what leaders do – consistency is the greatest teacher and leader that we have. That’s who Perry is.”
STAYING THE COURSE
Losing is never easy, particularly to a neighboring rival. But as NC State seeks to rebound from last week’s disappointing setback against North Carolina, the Wolfpack will do so against another nearby rival school when it makes the short drive to Duke on Saturday.
Meanwhile, first-year head coach Dave Doeren appealed to the Wolfpack fan base earlier this week to keep standing behind its team.
“I came here to build this place to the best program that I can, and my goal is to be an ACC champion and to compete for national championships,” Doeren said. “I didn’t come in here knowing exactly what this roster contained and didn’t come in here knowing how many injuries we would have. I did come in here knowing that I’m going to get it done. As a fan base, they have to stand behind that and continue to support us and I hope that they do that. I know in the long run they’ll be proud that they did.”
Doeren posted a 23-4 record in two years at Northern Illinois prior to taking the reins at NC State, but he has been in rebuilding situations as an assistant coach and is confident he knows what it takes to complete such tasks.
“I have been a part of this before, where we built from what we had to what we want to become,” Doeren said. “At Kansas that rebuilding was very similar. With the difficulties we have had on the offensive line and the situations we have had at quarterback (due to injuries), it’s difficult to be where you want to be on offense. You look statistically where we’re struggling the most, and that’s where it is.”
NC State enters this weekend ranked 11th among ACC teams in scoring offense and last in touchdowns scored. But that isn’t the way it will always be, Doeren promised.
“This system scores a lot of points under (offensive coordinator) Matt Canada,” Doeren said. “You look at him calling plays for the last number of years, and he scores a ton of points. It’s not what he’s calling. We just have to execute better and stay healthier. When the ball is thrown and hits somebody in the face, they have to catch it.
“As a fan base, I get it – they want to win and so do the coaches, but that’s one of the things I love about NC State. It’s a loyal crowd, passionate fan base. I know when you lose they’ll get mad, but I also know they’ll stand behind us.”
MODEL OF CONSISTENCY
Florida State converted an eye-opening 11 of 15 third-downs in last week’s win over seventh-ranked Miami. Solid work by any standard of measure, but head coach Jimbo Fisher said the high percentage was attributable to what the third-ranked Seminoles were able to consistently accomplish on first- and second-down plays.
“We were great on third down, but we were in third and manageable situations a lot,” Fisher said. “(Quarterback Jameis Winston) scrambled for a long one and we may have hit one third-and-10 or third-and-9, but most of them were third-and-2 or less. We were able to be physical with the offensive line, tight end and fullback and being able to run the football right up in there, which is critical.“
DEACONS SEEK ANSWERS
With record-setting wide receiver Michael Campanaro ruled out for the remainder of the regular season due to injury, Wake Forest needs someone to quickly step up and fill the void heading into Saturday’s challenging home test against Florida State. The offense sputtered following Campanaro’s injury early in last week’s game at Syracuse and wound up on the short end of a 13-0 score.
“For the past few games at least, (Campanaro) had been our go-to guy,” said Demon Deacons coach Jim Grobe. “We started the season wanting to get him the ball in more ways than just throwing it to him … He’s the guy we go to and when he’s out, it makes it tough. My disappointment was, I would have liked to see somebody fill that role when he went down (at Syracuse). “
Wide receiver Sherman Ragland III made a career-high 10 catches for 91 yards against the Orange, as the Demon Deacons finished the game with 213 yards total offense.
“I think in some cases Sherman caught a lot of balls but made some mental mistakes, and so going forward without Camp, somebody’s got to decide if they want to be that guy,” Grobe said. “I think we’ve got some guys that can get it done. It looks like we just have to find somebody, maybe not just one guy –we may need to find more than one.”
North Carolina has worn four different helmet designs and several different uniforms in its eight games this season. When the Tar Heels took the field against NC State last Saturday, the Wolfpack unveiled a new helmet design in which the school’s traditional block “S” was replaced by the “Strutting Wolf” mascot caricature.
Maryland’s off-the-beaten path helmet designs have been well-documented. Nationally, Oregon continues to set the tone in flashy – or gaudy, depending on one’s perspective – uniform fashion trends.
UNC coach Larry Fedora doesn’t see it stopping any time soon.
“The game has always been about recruiting,” Fedora said. “There are so many things that happen – the game day atmosphere you want to create, all of the different things. It’s always been that way, and this is just another step (with) uniforms. Those recruits, they want what they see. And now because teams are on TV all of the time, they get to see it everywhere. They don’t just get to see their local team. They get to see it everywhere, so I think it’s very important that we continue to do those things.”
And if it causes a few groans or snickers from the naysayers, so be it.
“Not only do the recruits love it, but your players love it,” Fedora said. “I know some of the die-hard, old school fans don’t like it and don’t understand it, but you have to change with the times. I didn’t understand Twitter when it first came out, but I feel like it’s a way I can stay in touch with recruits and with what’s going on.
“You’ve got to be able to adjust, and I think it is a big part of what we do right now. I really do.”
The recent health issues surrounding NFL coaches John Fox and Gary Kubiak have prompted discussions of stress and related health issues at every level of the game. Virginia coach Mike London, who is preparing his team for a road trip to North Carolina this weekend, can relate.
“I've been there,” London said. “You know, I've had those moments where that sudden rush of exhilaration or the disappointment of the last-minute opportunities that happened, and it's just … you live so much in the moment for these games that these young men are out there playing because you know that they tend to believe that their self-worth is tied up into every play, and you want so much for the success of those plays, of those opportunities for them to come out on the positive end.”
Which leads to an inevitable, choppy ride of highs and lows.
“When those things don't happen, it's like a piece of you also disappears as well,” London said. “It's tough, I try to be grounded. I talk about faith, family and football as being priorities for me, but it's difficult sometimes when the exhilaration or the disappointment of a game happens and you put so much into it, so much time, so much effort, so much energy of wanting them to be successful that when it doesn't, that it takes a physical toll on you personally.”
London’s counterpart for this week’s game readily admits that managing stress is one area in which he comes up short.
“I don’t do a very good job of it. My wife tells me all the time,” said UNC coach Larry Fedora. “I think the thing you’ve got to do is, and here I am saying, ‘you’ve got to try to find some balance,’ and I’m terrible at it. I really am.”
Practically every coach knows what he needs to be doing, said Fedora, but following that regiment is usually another story.
“You need to work out. You need to eat right. You need to take care of yourself just like anybody else,” Fedora said. “Unfortunately, during season a lot of times we don’t, and that’s probably the worst thing you can do for it.
“I’m not one to be telling people what they ought to be doing because I don’t do a very good job of it. It’s very tough to balance your time. First of all, just on your family – it’s extremely difficult on them. You don’t see your family very often, and when you do, they’re usually dead asleep. It makes it very difficult.”
The score of Syracuse’s 13-0 win over Wake Forest last Saturday tells a lot about how the Orange performed defensively. First-year head coach Scott Shafer was pleased not only with the fact his team made plays on the defensive side of the ball, but the manner in which it made them.
“We played more consistent, and that consistency starts with being sound but extremely physical,” Shafer said. “We were really physical. We chart big hits and we had 16 big hits in (the Wake Forest) game, and that’s a lot in a game. There are many games we go in and feel good about coming out of a game with six or seven big hits and say, ‘That’s a pretty good, physical game.’ I’ve been pleased with those kids’ progress on that side of the ball.”
The Orange D needs to keep its game at the same level when it makes the trip to Maryland for this Saturday’s ACC test.
“Although they have lost some guys at wide receiver, the kids that have played in their place have done a nice job,” Shafer said of the Terps. “They’ve run the ball and passed the ball well, they have two very good running backs that make (quarterback) C.J. Brown’s job easier.
“There’s a reason that they have been productive offensively, and it will be a great challenge for our defense. They average about 430 yards per game in total offense, which is a big number.”
BOWL ON THE TABLE
A bowl bid still hangs tantalizingly close for Maryland, which will again go after the sixth win it needs for eligibility against Syracuse. The Terps (5-3) are coming off a bye week and have lingered on the edge of the postseason conversation since Oct. 12, when they defeated Virginia for their fifth win.
“I told our kids: They know what they want to accomplish,” Maryland coach Randy Edsall said. “They have the goals in mind of what we want to accomplish, so they understand what’s there. I told them, we’re a 5-3 football team. Where we want to go is up to them.”
If the Terps earn bowl eligibility this weekend, they will do so against Edsall’s alma mater. Edsall played quarterback at Syracuse and lettered as a senior during the 1979 season. Edsall remained at Syracuse as a member of the coaching staff for the following 11 seasons. His wife, Eileen, is also an SU graduate and lettered in volleyball and basketball for four years.
“I have great feelings,” Edsall said. “I love the place. They gave me an opportunity to get my education and start my coaching career. I have very fond memories. I spent 15 years of my life playing and then coaching … It’s always a place that will have a special place for me. All of the friends that I have from there are special, (but) you just worry about what you’ve got to control in terms of getting ready to play the game this week.”
ALL DUE RESPECT
Miami is set to host Virginia Tech this weekend in a critical ACC Coastal Division game, but Hurricanes coach Al Golden knows he has a friend on the opposing sideline. Golden noted that late last month, when the conclusion of a long-running NCAA investigation finally allowed his squad to breathe and squarely focus on this season, veteran Hokies coach Frank Beamer was one of the first colleagues who reached out in support.
“It means a lot,” Golden said. “I kind of cut my teeth (as an assistant) at Virginia when Frank was growing that (Virginia Tech) program, and learned so much from him. No matter how much that rivalry was between Virginia and Virginia Tech, Frank was always class, (defensive coordinator) Bud Foster was always class, all those guys. They were blue-collar guys. It means a lot to me now, because obviously we have a rivalry here between Virginia Tech and Miami, and he’s always operated with class. In our conference, he is kind of the patriarch, if you will. When Frank talks, we all listen. He’s done it the right way. I was very appreciative and grateful that he did that.”
NO DOUBTING THOMAS
Virginia Tech’s Beamer knows some disgruntled supporters have pinned much of the blame for the Hokies’ current two-game losing streak on quarterback Logan Thomas, but Beamer is having none of it as his team preps for the Miami game.
“He’s absolutely the QB,” Beamer said. “He gives us a chance to win, and there is no question in our mind that he’s the guy. He’s a tough guy, smart guy and a competitive guy. Some days things are better than others. As far as him being our QB, that’s not a question.”
While Beamer ignores outside critics, he is confident Thomas is doing the same.
“He’s a smart guy,” Beamer said. “I don’t think smart guys listen to outside people. He listens to people who can change their direction and that’s their teammates and their coaches.”
FLY LIKE AN EAGLE
Boston College linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis was named the ACC Linebacker of the Week for his play in last Saturday’s ACC win over Virginia Tech. The honor was well deserved said head coach Steve Addazio, who said Pierre-Louis was one of several seniors who turned in their top performance of the season against the Hokies.
“He played a phenomenal game,” Addazio said. “I thought he was dynamic on special teams and on defense. There is a shot of KPL (Pierre-Louis) on the punt team … through sheer determination (he) went down the field at a speed and a level that I haven’t seen. He was like ‘I’m going to make sure that guy doesn’t get one inch on this play.’ It was really something to watch. He did that on a couple of occasions.
“That’s a guy, starting on defense, playing a lot of snaps. That’s a guy that clearly made his mind up, that I’m going to take this into my hands and make sure this doesn’t happen. I saw that out of several seniors.”
The Eagles now makes a long trip to New Mexico State this weekend in search of their fifth win as they scrap and battles to earn bowl eligibility.
“How do you sustain that?” Addazio asked rhetorically in regard to the level of play Pierre-Louis and others flashed last week. “Your hope is that you see that on film, you feel great about it, it’s intoxicating to you, and it becomes a part of your habit, and that’s the way you want to play.
“That’s the goal. That’s what we’re trying to do right now. You can go harder than you think you can, and when you do, how great does that feel? Now let’s get that more.”