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CLEMSON QB LEARNED, MOVED ON AFTER 2011 GAME AT NC STATE
Tajh Boyd has experienced very few low moments during his two-plus seasons as Clemson’s starting quarterback, but he returns to the site of one of them on Thursday night.
Boyd will lead the third-ranked Tigers against NC State in the nationally televised game at Carter-Finley Stadium.
Boyd and his veteran teammates well remember Clemson’s last visit to Raleigh in 2011, which saw the Wolfpack stun the seventh-ranked and eventual ACC champion Tigers by a 37-13 score. Boyd, in the stretch run of an otherwise stellar sophomore season, threw for 238 yards put had two passes intercepted and was sacked five times.
Boyd clearly put the performance behind him, as he enters Thursday night’s game sporting over 9,300 career yards in total offense and ranking second all-time among ACC player in touchdown responsibility with 95.
“He was a first-year starter and all of a sudden it is not coming as easy and he’s not playing as well,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney recalled. "It was just a good opportunity for him to get better. He came back and responded and led this football team to its first 10-win season and first ACC Championship in a long time. That’s what champions do: They respond.”
Even if revenge were on Boyd’s mind Thursday evening (he told the ACC Digital Network it won’t be), it would be hard to top his scorched-earth performance in last season’s rematch at Death Valley. Boyd shattered Clemson’s school record for single-game total yardage with 529 while accounting for eight touchdowns in a 62-48 win over the Wolfpack.
“It’s not always going to be great,” Swinney said. “You have to handle adversity, too. Those are lessons that we all learn, and the game of football is a great teacher of that. It is not always going your way. You are not going to make all the plays. You are going to have some bad days. How you deal with that and how you respond to that will ultimately determine your success.”
FIRST ACC TEST
NC State’s Dave Doeren owns a 14-0 record as head coach in home games – 12-0 in two seasons at Northern Illinois, 2-0 thus far in his first season at NC State.
Doeren knows he faces the toughest of tasks in keeping that record intact against third-ranked Clemson on Thursday night, but he is geared up for his fiery ACC baptism nonetheless.
“I am excited,” Doeren said. “It is a blue-collar game; it goes back a long time. It just happens to be against the hottest team in our league right now, at least on our side (the Atlantic Division). I am really excited about it, for it to be the ACC opener for me, our staff and this team it is going to be a great challenge with a great opportunity. I am really honored to be a part of the game.”
Doeren wasn’t around for the Wolfpack’s win over Clemson in 2011, or for the home field upset of third-ranked Florida State last year, but he is keenly aware of the homefield advantages Carter-Finley has to offer.
“I don’t really have to look at the history,” Doeren said. “I just tell (the players), ‘Hey, look guys, a lot of people are saying you don’t have a chance in this game. But everyone in here that has played here knows that you do, because of what you did last year when Florida State came in here and the year before with Clemson.’ "
Can recent history repeat itself on Thursday night?
“Those (past) games aren’t going to win this game for us, but at least there are guys in the room that played in those games that remember,” Doeren said. “Our young guys are just out there playing, so they don’t know any better. For the older guys, I think it is a source of pride and our fans are a big part of the noise we can generate on third down and key moments defensively.”
Vad Lee’s four touchdown passes against Duke last Saturday were the most by a Georgia Tech quarterback since 2006, but that doesn’t mean a sudden change in philosophy for a Yellow Jacket offense that has routinely put up 300-yard-plus rushing days during head coach Paul Johnson’s six seasons.
“We were just trying to call plays against what the defense was doing,” said Johnson, whose team plays host to North Carolina in another ACC game this Saturday. “They were rolling down hard trying to stop the run. We were able to hit some wheel routes. The (receiver) ran by the guy that he was blocking.
“It’s not something we put more emphasis on and hadn’t put enough emphasis on in the past. We always look out there and see how the defense is playing and then try to run the best play that gives us a chance. Saturday, it just so happened, that a lot of it was in the red zone. We haven’t thrown a lot down there and the opposing defense probably wasn’t expecting us to throw down there.”
Teams facing the Yellow Jackets the rest of the way could be a bit more wary, but Johnson is confident Lee can deliver again should the opportunity present itself.
"It makes it very hard because you know the kid … can beat you with his arm,’ UNC coach Larry Fedora said. “You get down in the red zone and those areas and now you're trying to stop the triple option and deflect passes off of him, it's tough. It's very tough."
SIXTEEN LONG YEARS
The last time North Carolina won a road game at Georgia Tech came on an ESPN Thursday night in 1997, when Mack Brown was in his final year as head coach and the Tar Heels were ranked among the nation’s top five and en route to an 11-1 season.
“I didn't know it was 16 years,” Fedora said “And now I'm scared.”
All kidding aside, the UNC second-year head coach does not believe his team faces a psychological hurdle.
“I don't know … The way I look at all those things is, I mean, we really had nothing to do with it,” Fedora said. “This team, they don't know anything about that. They weren't part of all those. I don't put a whole lot of stock in that. We don't control any of those things that have happened the last 16 years, so I don't see that that plays a part in this year's team or what we're doing at this time. Again, it's focusing on what we do and making sure we execute and play good, solid, smart, fast and physical football."
Thirty-seven of Pitt’s 49 points in last weekend’s win over New Mexico were scored by freshmen. That included a pair of touchdowns by wide receiver Tyler Boyd, who was named the ACC Receiver of the Week.
“It’s your job as a coach to make sure that your best players can play,’ said Pitt coach Paul Chryst, whose team is preparing for its first road trip of the season this Saturday at Duke.
“At times, I’ve been at places where it was harder for freshmen to play because of what we were able to ask all of our players to do,” Chryst added. I know a lot of really good high school coaches. So maybe what freshmen are learning and what they can bring to the table is more advanced, but I don’t know what it was like (in years past). My dad was ineligible his freshman year, but there were a lot of really good coaches then, too. I’m glad right now that we have a group that can help us.”
Though both Pitt and Duke have shown a knack for making big plays early in the season, Blue Devil coach David Cutcliffe expects his team to have a battle on its hands up front, particularly with Panthers senior tackle Aaron Donald already showing ACC followers why his name was on the preseason watch lists for virtually every major national defensive award.
“Pittsburgh is just good, solid, old-fashioned football in a football area, a football state,” Cutcliffe said. “Obviously a former BIG EAST team where they play good basketball and all, but Pitt is Pitt. If you know anything about (Mike) Ditka, (Tony) Dorsett and Mark May, if you know anything about Pitt, you understand football. I like the brand that they bring in western PA: Deep, deep traditional football.”
Duke’s hopes of winning the battle up front will rest in part of the performance of 6-foot-5, 300-pound senior offensive tackle Perry Simmons, who played his 3,000th collegiate snap in last weekend’s game against Georgia Tech.
“Think about that for a second – 3,000-plus snaps as a college football player,” Cutcliffe marveled. “The offensive lineman is the guy that has no official statistics other than playing 3,000 snaps. That is an amazing stat, an accomplishment beyond a lot of what we teach stats about with field players. Perry is very deserving of that, an extremely unselfish young man. I’m very proud of him. Perry’s done that while majoring in engineering at Duke University. That’s pretty cool.”
Florida State’s coaching staff used the bye week following its season-opening win over Pittsburgh to work junior Karlos Williams into the running back rotation. Williams has spent his collegiate career at safety and will still see time on the defensive side of the ball, according to head coach Jimbo Fisher.
But with a team-high 110 yards rushing and a touchdown in last Saturday’s 62-7 win over Nevada, Williams appeared a very quick learner.
He still has a long ways to go, and we know that,” Fisher said “But he’s willing to learn and he’s eager. What I’ve been very pleased with is his ability to learn. He’s grasping things extremely well. A very intelligent young man – (he) grasps it and works at it and conceptually how he picks things up: He ‘sees’ it. When the ball is in his hands he’s making the right cuts. That’s what I’ve said has been very natural, but he’s picking up the other parts of the offense.”
FEWER NUMBERS, MORE SUCCESS
Miami has used fewer players defensively in its first two games than it did in most games last season, but the Hurricanes have shown marked improvement. That is more than coincidence, according to defensive coordinator Mike D’Onofrio.
“In the Florida game (a 21-16 win on Sept. 7), we probably played 19 guys on defense,” D’Onofrio said. “That was the right number for that game, because at this point, those 19 can execute at a high level and not have a drop-off – where you get gashed or someone isn’t in the right spot. Last year we probably played 25 to 28 in certain games, and had too many guys on the field.”
D’Onofrio isn’t averse to eventually working 25 or so players into action, but when he can look at the depth chart and feel comfortable doing so.
“The guys this year are able to play longer, so we can play less (players),” he said. “I would like to play more (players), but I don’t want to play them unless they can execute at the level the 19 are executing at.”
Virginia will hold its annual “Military Appreciation Day” when it plays host to VMI on Saturday. That carries special meaning to Virginia head coach Mike London, the son of an Air Force veteran.
“It always does,’ said London, whose father spent 30 years in the armed forces, served in Viet Nam and now, according to London, is dealing with some health issues.
“As a kid growing up, we lived all over, basically – Hawaii, Africa, California, Germany,” London said. “And I always have a tremendous amount of respect for our armed forces men and women who served, even police officers since I was one of them, too.”
VMI won’t be the first military academy team London has coached against, and he has found each experience memorable.
“I don't know if they're going to march their cadets in, but that's one of the most impressive things you'll ever see,” London said. “Even though that's your opponent, you take a tremendous amount of pride in the fact that these young men maybe one day might be put in harm's way. But here they are in this moment, this time, that they represent what I think is truly great in America.
“I grew up in a household like that. I still say ‘yes, sir, no, sir, yes, ma'am, no, ma'am.’ And that is the way it will always be. But it will be great to see the atmosphere. Again, I appreciate all the men and women in uniform out there. It's a special day. We should never forget about the freedoms that we enjoy because of those sacrifices by men and women in uniform.”
LIKE FATHER …
When Syracuse takes the field against Tulane on Sunday, the Orange will have to deal with an opposing quarterback named Montana.
That would be Nick Montana – son of former Notre Dame and NFL great Joe Montana – and a pretty fair QB in his own right. In three games thus far, Nick has complete close to 57 percent of his passes (55-of-97) for 706 yards and seven touchdowns with two interceptions.
“I idolized his dad,” Syracuse coach Scott Shafer said. “I was a quarterback in college, and holy cow, you see the Montana name, you know, that guy was the best. His son knows how to play the game."
Nick Montana began his career at Washington, where he saw limited action in six games in 2011. As a starter last season at Mt. San Antonio junior college, he completed more than 63 percent of his passes while passing for 2,652 yards and 22 touchdowns in 12 games.
“He's gotten better every single game I've watched,” Shafer said. “I went back and looked at the games he's played in, not just this year (but) the prior season … he's gotten better. He's got good footwork and he's got a good group to throw to. He's got a very good wide receiver in Ryan Grant, who is extremely dynamic. We are going to have to always know where he is on the field.”
VOTE OF CONFIDENCE
After seeing kicker Cody Journell miss two field goal attempts and an extra point in last Saturday’s 15-10 win over East Carolina, Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer is certain of one thing.
Journell remains his starting kicker. And when the first placekicking opportunity arises in this Saturday’s home game against Marshall, Beamer will send the senior from Ripplemead, Va., onto the field without hesitation.
“We've talked a couple times, and he's been excellent in practice,” Beamer said Wednesday. “I mean, he had a great day of kicking yesterday, had a great day of kicking Sunday.”
In addition to kicking drills on Sunday, Beamer said Journell spent a fair amount time studying film.
“He understands what he's doing, how he's doing it, and when something is not quite right,” Beamer said. “He's a good kicker. He's a solid, really good kicker, and most times the flight is the very same, and most of the time they're close to the middle of the goalposts, so that's kind of what you look for.”
Journell made 80 percent of his field goal attempts last season (20-of-25), so it should be simply a matter of adjusting the mechanics and clearing his mind of last weekend’s struggles as he moves forward.
“I think his plant foot was a concern early, and then that caused a hoodwink, and then after that you're trying to correct and you leave it out there to the right and then you come back and then you're thinking about it a little bit,” Beamer said. “I can't speak totally for him, but the one thing I can say is we're totally confident in his abilities.”
With Wake Forest off to a 1-2 start, head coach Jim Grobe isn’t making excuses as he prepares the Demon Deacons for this Saturday’s road trip to Army.
“I am the head coach and it all comes back to me, Grobe said.” If we’re not working hard enough, it’s my fault. If the Xs and Os aren’t good, it’s my fault. And the assistants have to take responsibility and the players have to go play the game, but ultimately I’m the guy that makes those decisions. I’m trying to figure out better ways to do things, better ways to use our personnel, better ways to practice, better ways to teach. We’re all in this thing together, but ultimately it’s my responsibility.”
Grobe believes he has one tried and true solution.
“We’ve got to work harder,” Grobe said. “We thought we worked hard enough, but obviously we didn’t. And maybe we didn’t work smart enough. I think everybody takes responsibility; coaches and players. We’re not apt to point fingers at the players. The coaches have to coach better, and we’ve got to work a little harder. The only answer I know is you just work harder.”
BORDER BATTLE IN CHARM CITY
When Maryland faces West Virginia at Baltimore’s M&T Bank Stadium on Saturday, it will mark the first time the rivals have played at a neutral site during the regular season.
The Terrapins have historically been no strangers to Baltimore, however, having played in the city on 37 prior occasions, including 31 games at old Memorial Stadium.
“With the city being as large as it is, and also having that venue, M&T Bank Stadium there in Baltimore, when you do have the opportunity – being that we’re the flagship university here in the state and we’re the only state school that’s an FBS – it’s something that I think is important to us,” Maryland coach Randy Edsall said. “You take a look at the number of kids that we have from the state, and from that area, that are going to be participating. It’s a great way for the people in Baltimore and in Baltimore County to come out and support some of their own, and the rest of the football team. So we’re looking forward to it and hope that we can go up there and play really well on Saturday.”