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CUTCLIFFE ENJOYING RIDE, BUT SAYS TEAM HAS UNFINISHED BUSINESS
Duke has moved into the front-runner’s spot in the Coastal Division logjam. The Blue Devils (8-2, 4-2) are ranked nationally for the first time since 1994. David Cutcliffe’s name in on virtually every National Coach of the Year watch list, and Duke players are earning weekly honors at both the conference and national level.
Cutcliffe wants his team to focus on what lies immediately ahead, specifically this Saturday’s road date at Wake Forest. But Cutcliffe doesn’t deny his sixth season at the Blue Devil helm has turned out to be a lot of fun.
“I'm smiling more than I normally would at this time of year – I wouldn't lie to you about that,” Cutcliffe said. “I'm wanting our players to enjoy this. I certainly want our staff to enjoy this. These years don't always fall in place, no matter where you are. I think I've learned that as I've gotten older.
“I'm not going to go around getting grumpier. I've heard people describe coaches: ‘The only thing worse with this coach when he's losing is this coach when he's winning.’ I don't want to be that guy.”
Cutcliffe does not feel that the attention heaped up on his team for the past month has been a distraction. Given that Duke owns a six-game winning streak and its highest overall win total since 1994, his assessment seems well-founded.
“The players have earned some respect, which they should enjoy,” Cutcliffe said. “They know what’s out there for them. There’s an opportunity that exists. But it’s a week-to-week proposition, therefore it comes down to preparing for the day as well as you can. I’m happy they’re feeling good. That’s not overconfidence – it has nothing to do with that. They’ve worked as hard as we’ve asked them to work.”
In short, the Blue Devils feel good about themselves, but not to the point it could be detriment.
“I promise you we’re going the other direction,” Cutcliffe said. “One of the great lessons in life is to continue to learn and continue to grow. These young men take that to heart, on and off the field.”
CAMPANARO NOT GIVING UP
When Wake Forest senior wide receiver Michael Campanaro suffered a broken collarbone in the 13-0 loss at Syracuse on Nov. 2, he was initially ruled out for the remainder the regular season – and perhaps even questionable for a bowl game should the Demon Deacons qualify.
Now, Campanaro says a return to the field for Wake Forest’s regular-season finale at Vanderbilt on Nov. 30 is a possibility.
“I definitely won’t be playing this Saturday, but I’m definitely not ruled out for the next game,” said Campanaro, the ACC’s active career leader in pass receptions with 229. “Everything is going great with my rehab. I’m feeling really good, the bone is healing up fast. I’m definitely out for (the Duke) game, but who knows? We’ll see for the next game.”
If Campanaro does return for the Vanderbilt game, he hopes stakes are high. Wake Forest (4-6, 2-5) needs wins over Duke this weekend and against Vanderbilt to earn bowl eligibility,
“I definitely think it’s a positive,” Campanaro said of the must-win scenario. “I think everyone knows that our backs are against the wall. Basically you win or you go home. If you lose one of these two games we won’t be going bowling. The team knows the scenario and knows that we need both of them. I think the pressure is going to be a positive for us. The guys are going to come out with tons of energy and just leave it all out there.”
With Clemson (9-1, 7-1) closing on its third straight double-digit winning season, some may have forgotten that it has been only three years since the Tigers finished with a 6-7 overall record that included a hum-drum 4-4 mark in ACC play.
Head coach Dabo Swinney hasn’t forgotten, and he credits this year’s senior class for the turnaround. The 19 student-athletes that take the field for their final home game Saturday vs. The Citadel hold a special place in the sixth-year head coach’s heart.
“They transformed Clemson,” Swinney said. They changed the culture at Clemson. They set the standard and made it realistic to achieve that standard. They have a chance to be the winningest group here since 1991. They have done a lot of great things. They have some things that have never been done and have a lot of records.”
With a talented corps that includes the likes of quarterback Tajh Boyd, offensive lineman Brandon Thomas, linebacker Spencer Shuey and placekicker Chandler Cantanzaro, it is easy to overlook the fact that only half of the class members (10) were originally scholarship players.
“This group in particular came here when there was total change and no guarantees and they took a leap of faith, in me as their head coach and in Clemson,” Swinney said. “What a journey it has been. They have been a part of the bricks and mortar and really the foundation for success here.”
Success that Swinney is certain will continue after they play their final football game in late Decmeber or January.
“They are all going to be great people,” Swinney said. “Several of them will have a chance to play at the next level, but they will all be great citizens, great husbands and fathers. I have no doubt about that.”
While nation-leading rusher Andre Williams continues to re-write the ACC and Boston College record book, senior quarterback Chase Rettig is quietly leading the Eagles (6-4, 3-3) on the field.
After throwing for 3,065 yards as a junior, Rettig has thrown for a comparatively modest 1,463 yards heading into this Saturday’s game at Maryland. But Rettig ranks fourth among ACC quarterbacks in passing efficiency. And more importantly, according to first-year head coach Steve Addazio, Rettig has been willing to sacrifice padding his stats for chances to win.
“Chase is a guy that’s all about Boston College,” Addazio said. “It really is so important for him for the seniors to leave their legacy here and to get this program back. He has a great sense of pride about that.
“That’s real. He has a great passion for this place. He’s an unselfish guy and he just wants to win. He knows for our team right now the best way to go about that is to be able to run the football, to be able to manage the game and hit play action passes and be really efficient and be a really good decision maker, and he really is.”
Rettig will still leave Boston College among the school’s all-time leaders in a number of offensive categories, which Addazio says is only fitting.
“I know Chase is really proud of what he has accomplished, as we are,” Addazio said. “He is very confident in what he is doing right now. He is really a tremendous leader. He has become a more vocal guy, and our players are gravitating towards that. It’s all positive growth. The only thing I wish is that we had him here for another year.”
With Boston College’s commitment to the running game out front for all to see, Maryland’s defensive game plan come Saturday will be equally transparent.
“There is no secret to what we’ve got to do this upcoming week against Boston College,” Terps coach Randy Edsall said. “We need to stop the run, and Andre Williams, who is just an outstanding player. He’s got outstanding speed and is very powerful. He is in front of a big offensive line. They run the ball extremely well and use their play action game off the running game, so we got our hands full there.”
Hoping Williams will tire as the game progresses probably isn’t the best strategy. Edsall noted that on his school record-tying 42nd carry of the day last week against NC State, Williams scored on a 34-yard touchdown run. The final dash gave Williams 339 yards for the day and 1,810 yards for the season, both ACC records.
“He’s running strong at the end of the game as well as in the beginning,” Edsall said. “He’s a very good back, and has got the ability to bend and run you over. You’re not going to wrap your arms around this guy. You’ve got to put your shoulder into him and run your feet. You need more than one person there.
“He’s having a heck of a year and should be mentioned for all of the awards that are out there, in terms of All-American, Doak Walker, Heisman and all of the other things included,” Edsall added.
PANTHERS LOOK FOR ANSWERS
Pittsburgh rallied from a 24-pont deficit to tie North Carolina in last Saturday’s home game, only to see the Tar Heels answer with a 61-yard punt return for a touchdown and then stuff the Panthers on fourth-and-1 deep in UNC territory with just over a minute left.
The fundamental breakdowns in the 34-27 loss were the things that troubled head coach Paul Chryst the most as he prepared for Saturday’s ACC road trip to Syracuse.
“It always concerns you,” Chryst said. “You know the things you have to do to have a chance to win and when you aren’t doing that … I truly believe it’s not a lack of effort or that the guys aren’t capable of doing something. We don’t want to miss tackles. We don’t want to miss blocks. It happens. Assignment mistakes are more concerning than a guy getting beat. We need to keep grinding away at it.”
Needing one win for bowl eligibility and facing a long-time rival in the Orange, Pitt doesn’t figure to stay down as it heads to the Carrier Dome.
“There were certainly a lot of lessons we can learn and need to take away from last Saturday’s game,” Chryst said. “We’re truly looking forward to this week and bouncing back with our guys. It’s a big game for both us and Syracuse. We’re both 5-5. So I’m looking forward to a good week.”
MODEL FOR SUCCESS
While Syracuse’s immediate focus on Pitt, head coach Scott Shafer said the Orange now knows the kind of team it must become long-term in order to compete for the conference title. Prior to Syracuse’s road trip to Florida State last weekend, Shafer called the Seminoles the best college football team he had seen in years. FSU lived up Shafer’s billing as they posted a 59-3 league win.
“Up front and personal, looking at them in pregame I was wondering who the backups were. They looked equally as impressive as the starters,” Shafter said. “Like I’ve said before, hats off to Jimbo Fisher and that team. They’ve done a great job recruiting. They’ve done a great job putting the bar at a high level for the rest of us in the ACC.”
While the specifics of last Saturday’s loss aren’t things on which Shafer cares to dwell, he found his first in-person look at the FSU blueprint beneficial.
“Now we know where we have to get to down the road with our younger kids,” Shafer said. “When we go on the road recruiting we have to find a few of those guys to bring into our program. I don’t think we’ll ever be able to get quite as many as they have, but if we can just get a handful, sprinkle them in and be competitive and know who we are and really embrace it and go from there …That’s going to be the key.”
DOING IT WITH ‘D’
Second-ranked Florida State has given up just a shade over 11 points per game entering Saturday’s non-conference home contest against Idaho. The Seminoles rank first in the nation in pass defense and fourth in total defense overall. Head coach Jimbo Fisher was asked if the group had exceeded his expectations prior to the start of the season.
“I don’t know if they’ve exceeded them,” Fisher said. “I thought they’d do very well. I’ve known these guys a long time, I thought they would coach very well and teach very well. That’s the thing – they teach it, they get it across and I think we had a group of guys that totally bought into it.”
FSU returned only four starters from last season’s 12-2 squad. But it helped, Fisher said, that the returning cast included the likes of senior defensive backs Lamarcus Joyner and Terrance Brooks, along with linebacker Christian Jones.
“Those older guys really set the tone for how they bought in and got those younger guys believing that this is what we need to do,” Fisher said. “Sometimes that is hard, especially for guys that were playing in an old defense that was very successful, (thinking) okay, can we learn some new tricks here because there’s some things we can add to what we already know. I think it’s a testament to our coaches and those older players doing it and getting our younger guys to buy in.”
TAR HEEL TURNAROUND
Less than a month ago, North Carolina owned a 1-5 record and was crawling from the wreckage of a seemingly season-crushing 27-23, final-minute loss to Miami.
Heading into this weekend, the Tar Heels stand 5-5 and can clinch bowl eligibility with a win over visiting Old Dominion on Saturday. With its season at a crossroads, UNC obviously chose the right path. Now head coach Larry Fedora hopes his team continues to stay that course.
“I think a lot of it has to do with the chemistry of the football team,” Fedora said of the turnaround. “This team has grown throughout the season. Through all the adversity that we’ve overcome we’ve grown closer as a team. We started trusting (each other) a little bit more, we care more about each other because of all the work and all the effort that you’re putting into it. You just give a little bit more. When you do that usually good things happen.”
And In the final analysis, the loss that seemed so demoralizing might actually have triggered the awakening.
“You go back to the Miami game when we played extremely hard and their guts were ripped out of them (postgame) in that locker room, you sensed after that that they started finding ways to make those plays,” Fedora said of his players. “I think it’s probably just giving a little bit more each and every play. That’s what our guys are doing.”
Virginia’s struggles to win on the field this season did not discourage a key in-state recruit from casting his lot with the Cavaliers. Andrew Brown, a five-star defensive tackle from Chesapeake, Va., signed with Virginia and completed the paperwork necessary to enroll in January.
“Despite everything that was going on season-wise and the frustration of not having a successful record, a young man made a commitment, his family made the commitment,” head coach Mike London noted. “(He) has been on the inside of the program and has seen things with talking to our players … To have a player of his caliber, of his ability is very, very significant for us because the other (high school) players look at him and say, ‘I'm coming because I can make a difference. That's why I'm coming.’ Those attitudes of young men you appreciate.”
With several underclassmen getting more playing time in recent games, Miami coach Al Golden was asked if he had one eye on the future – i.e. playing a freshman or sophomore over a senior of comparable ability so that the younger player earns game experience.
“No,” Golden replied firmly. “It has nothing to do with their age, because the one thing I want everyone to know, we’re going to support the seniors through this. Because we lost a couple of games now, I’m not going to all of a sudden turn my back on the seniors that really stood with us through all this tumult. I’m not going to do it.”
When Miami faces Virginia this Saturday, Golden said the players who see the action will be the ones who have earned it – period.
“It’s like Stacy (Coley),” said Golden, referencing the freshman who returned a punt 79 yards for a touchdown in last week’s ACC game at Duke. “Stacy is earning reps because he’s producing when he’s in there on kick and punt returns, so now he’s going to earn more reps. It’s not that we’re taking reps from any seniors. It’s that some of these guys have earned reps, and we’re going to give them an opportunity.”
GET THE BALL
Georgia Tech plays its last two regular-season games out of conference and will need help from elsewhere in order to reach the ACC Championship Game for the second straight year. But in the meantime, head coach Paul Johnson said there are areas in which the Yellow Jackets (6-4, 5-3) can improve as they face Alabama A&M this weekend and travel to Georgia on Nov. 30.
“One thing we have to do a better job of is getting turnovers,” Johnson said. “We just haven’t gotten any. If you look at the last four games, we’ve probably gotten one a game, and a couple of them have been at the end of the game on the last possession.”
Both Johnson and defensive coordinator Ted Roof continue to stress the point in practices. Georgia Tech enters Saturday’s game with a turnover margin of minus-0.5, which is tied for 94th nationally.
“And that’s key,” Johnson said. “For us to win our last two games, we need to be better in special teams and we need to do better in that area. We will need to get some turnovers.”
STILL MOVING FORWARD
Last weekend’s loss to Boston College eliminated NC State from bowl game consideration. But as first-year head coach Dave Doeren met with reporters on Monday, he still talked of making the most of what remains of this season.
“For our team, 12 days remain for this football team, since we won’t be in a bowl game,” Doeren said. “We want to enjoy those 12 days and do everything we can, as a coaching staff, to have our seniors finish the right way. That’ll be our goal. I know one thing and I told our team the same thing, every obstacle that’s put in front of us is put there for a reason and you’re judged by how you deal with those obstacles. We have had a lot of them.”
Doeren, whose team closes with home games against East Carolina on Saturday and Maryland on Nov. 30, has found some consolation in the play of is young players. Freshman Jurmichael Ramos hauled in five passes for 109 yards and a touchdown against Boston College. Jack Tocho, a true freshman cornerback, was named the ACC Rookie of the Week earlier this season and has fought through injuries to consistently play well. Matt Dayes has shown potential of blossoming into a top-tier running back.
“There are some bright spots, and we are just really looking forward to playing with our guys and preparing with our guys this week,” Doeren said.