ACC Football Notebook: Week 12

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Hokies geared for Beamer’s home finale; Heels take aim at Coastal

GREENSBORO, N.C. (theACC.com) – Virginia Tech’s Frank Beamer has confirmed that Saturday’s game against North Carolina will be a special time in Blacksburg – but not for the reason most assume.

“We have 26 players, six student managers, six student trainers, two video people, one out of our recruiting office … all these people are very much a part of the program,” Beamer said. “Forty-one seniors all together that it’ll be their last game in Lane Stadium. That’s a special day there.”

College football’s winningest active coach – by choice – failed to mention that it will also be his final home game at the helm of his alma mater. What are his emotions as he prepares to make that final run out of the tunnel prior to Saturday’s noon kickoff?

“That’s for another day,” Beamer said. “Number one, North Carolina gets your attention right away. You don’t have any shot of beating them unless you make a great preparation and have a great week of practice. Those 41 seniors that are part of our program, I think about those people too. There’ll be another time … I’m going to have a lot of time after this to think about the last time.”

While Saturday marks Beamer’s final home game as head coach, the Hokies have a chance to keep him around until at least late December with a win against the Tar Heels or in their Nov. 28 regular-season finale at rival Virginia. That would earn Virginia Tech, currently 5-5 overall, bowl eligibility for a 23rd consecutive year.

“I think when you get worried about bowl streaks or any other streaks, you’re worried about the wrong thing,” Beamer said. I think what you need to think about is exactly what I need to do to help us win against North Carolina and keep it at that. The bigger it gets, the smaller you think kind of deal. For me, it’s what are you going to do on the next play or how are you going to coach the next play. Keep it right there with North Carolina and all the other things will take care of themselves.

“The most important thing is that we play well against North Carolina. When it’s all said and done, that’s the important thing.”

Clearly, Beamer hasn’t won 278 games over the past three-and-a-half decades getting bogged down by distractions. However, when pressed further, he admitted that one gesture associated with Saturday’s game is indeed special.

Virginia Tech will wear black helmets on Saturday bearing an orange “No. 25” decal. That is the number Beamer wore during his playing days at the school.

“I really am into the guys and the organization,” Beamer said. “For them to be as kind to me as they can it’s just gratifying.”


  

TAR HEELS TAKE AIM 

North Carolina hasn’t had to work the math. Fans and media have ably handled that job with each passing week, as the Tar Heels have continued to win and move closer to a Coastal Division title.

Now, the equation is pretty simple. UNC (9-1 overall, 6-0 ACC) clinches a spot in Dr Pepper ACC Football Championship Game with a win over Virginia Tech on Saturday or a win at NC State on Nov. 28. Two losses leave the door open for second-place Pitt (7-3, 5-1), but the Panthers would still have to win out as they host Louisville and Miami over the next two weekends.

All of that is very relevant as UNC makes the road trip to Virginia Tech, as the Tar Heels would love to start making definitive plans to be Charlotte on Dec. 5. But it won’t be on head coach Larry Fedora’s list of pregame topics.

“I don’t think our guys need any extra motivation,” Fedora said. “They’ve kind of done things the same way week in and week out, and we’re going to continue to do that. I think the plans have been pretty good and I think that our seniors have done a really good job of working the plan, so I think we’ll continue to do that. I don’t even plan on talking about (Coastal scenarios) with the team.”

He has enough to talk about in the way of Virginia Tech, a program that defeated the Tar Heels each of the past two seasons and nine of 11 times since joining the ACC in 2004. Factor in the emotion surrounding Beamer’s final home game, and Fedora has a pretty good idea of what he will be up against.

“Oh, they are going to play well,” Fedora said of the Hokies. “First of all, they’ve always played well against us. I don’t know that they need any extra incentive or anything. Obviously, they are going to want to send Coach Beamer out on a positive note, so they’re going to give everything they’ve got, but they give everything they have every week. If you watch their film, they play hard.

“They’ve got great coaching and it doesn’t matter which phase of the game it is. They play well. I don’t know what to anticipate other than it’s going to be a real hard fought football game and we’re going to have to play well in all three phases to win. Going on the road in this league, you’ve got to play well.”


PANTHERS WATCH – THEN PLAY

By the time Pitt takes the field for the kickoff of Saturday’s 3:45 p.m. game against visiting Louisville, North Carolina’s noon game at Virginia Tech will likely be over. The Panthers will know whether their hopes for an ACC Coastal Division championship remain alive.

First-year head coach Pat Narduzzi does not see that having a bearing on how his team performs against the Cardinals.

“I don't think so at all,” Narduzzi said.  “Our kids haven't even talked about (the UNC-Virginia Tech) game.  I don't even know if they know that game is being played.  What we try to keep our guys focused on is what we have to do, and our goals are all ahead of us, period, whether it's a nine‑win season to end the year or if we get a chance to go to Charlotte and are lucky enough to let that happen.”

Narduzzi said there are bigger lessons to be learned, many of which date back to last month’s 26-19 loss to the Tar Heels at Heinz Field.

“We didn't take care of business early, so we don't control our own destiny,” Narduzzi said. “All we can control is what we do against Louisville, and that's our focus.  Our kids aren't sitting there saying, ‘Hey, Coach, what if, what if.’ They're not focused on that I don't think.  Maybe they are back in their dorm rooms or their apartments here on campus, but it's never been brought up, and nothing we've talked about as a staff.”


CARDINALS TURN IT AROUND

Pitt will welcome one of the conference’s hottest teams on Saturday, as Louisville’ continues to put the 0-3 start to this season farther in the rear-view mirror.

Methodically, the Cardinals have won four consecutive games and six of their last seven to earn bowl eligibility. Louisville, currently 6-4 overall, still has a chance to achieve a fourth straight season with at least nine wins.

“I am just really happy with the way our guys kept a good attitude, persevered, practiced real hard,” head coach Bobby Petrino said. “We stuck to our beliefs and didn’t change how we believe you should practice and how you should prepare for a game. Our assistant coaches did a really nice job of working hard on keeping guys with a positive attitude and I feel like we are playing pretty good right now so it is a good swing that is for sure.”

Even after breaking into the win column, the Cardinals had to persevere.

“They are all good – anytime you win it is a good win there is no question about that,” Petrino said. “But there have been some where you feel like you have played better than the others. You know we really struggled to win at Wake Forest, offensively it was a real battle and defensively we played great and it is a good win and you feel great about it but you would like to play well on both sides of the ball and do well on special teams and win that way.

“So the last couple of weeks have felt more like we haven’t had to overcome certain things to win a game.”


TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALLGAME

This football season hasn’t always been the most fun for Boston College and head coach Steve Addazio, but the Eagles have something to look forward to on Saturday night.

Not only does BC get a shot at one of the nation’s elite programs in Notre Dame, the Eagles will face the Fighting Irish in historic Fenway Park.

Interestingly, the game is part of the Fighting Irish’s Shamrock Series that features one game per season at an off-site venue, and is thus designated a “home” game for Notre Dame. But BC head coach Steve Addazio has no complaints.

“I think it is exciting to be playing at Fenway Park,” Addazio said. “I walked over there last week, and it’s just such a cool venue. I’d much rather be playing this game at Fenway Park than flying out to South Bend. We’re in our backyard here. It’s like home … It’s different. It’s a unique set up over there, but I think it’s going to be a great atmosphere and an exciting place to play. I am absolutely excited about that.”

The Eagles once played semi-regularly at the designed-for-baseball venue, including a number of games against schools that are now fellow ACC members (BC also played a number of games at old Braves Field when that Major League franchise was located in Boston).

Saturday night’s game, however, will mark the first time since 1956 that Eagles have played football at Fenway, and the first time the sport has been played there at any level since the then-AFL Boston Patriots played their final home game there in December of 1968.

Things will definitely have an “old school” field, as Addazio reported in detail.

“Both teams are on the same sidelines, so substitutions are going to be very difficult,” Addazio said. “You have a 10-yard gap between the teams: 45 (yard line) and 45 (yard line), so opposing teams (are very close).”

That has required a little extra coaching this week in preparation.

“We try to teach our players, if there is a substitution, to get off the field right away, even if you have to enter their bench (area),” Addazio said. “Otherwise, you’ll have a long way to run. We will have to get used to that. I think the coaches will have to get used to that … It’s just awkward … If you are not used to that, it’s a different deal.”

Fighting Irish head coach Brian Kelly also embraces the chance to play at Fenway, particularly with the large Notre Dame alumni base in the Boston area. But like Addazio, he and his staff have been forced into additional logistical preparations.

“(We) just want to make sure that we're set with the logistics of the sideline, being on the same sideline,” Kelly said. “There's some communication situations that you have to deal with.  You know, the field is laid out quite well.  There aren't any issues with end zones.  We played in Yankee Stadium, which has a similar layout.  I don't really have any concerns about the configuration of the field itself other than making sure that we do a good job with communication from the sideline.”


 

NO PRESSURE – FOR REAL

With the Atlantic Division title and a berth in the Dr Pepper ACC Championship secured, undefeated Clemson is now focused on securing a spot in the College Football Playoff.

Accomplishing that goal, of course, will require wins in the final two regular-season games (vs. Wake Forest on Saturday and at South Carolina on Nov. 28), and then defeating either North Carolina or Pitt for the ACC Championship. Such a run would probably keep the Tigers atop the CFP standings, and it would definitely secured a spot among the coveted top four.

But there is probably no room for error – and doesn’t that make head coach Dabo Swinney feel the slightest bit of pressure?

“I laugh at that stuff,” Swinney said. “Do I feel pressure about a football game? No. Turn the TV on. We had 150 people slaughtered in Paris. Football is not pressure. This is a game.”

That is what Swinney wants the Tigers to keep in mind Saturday, when they run down the hill at Death Valley for this season’s final home game.

“I tell our players to enjoy this moment in your life to play a game that your body won’t let you play forever,” Swinney said. “But also understand that through this game, you have a chance to bring some joy to people. I love what I do. But when you have the cross as the foundation of your life, football doesn’t bring any pressure. That’s why it’s fun. It’s great that people are passionate because football brings people together.”

And as for the rankings …

“There is absolutely no pressure in being the number one team in the country,” Swinney said. “It’s a whole lot of fun. It’s a blast. After seven years of building this program … I was telling (former Clemson and current NFL running back) Andre Ellington the other day, ‘I appreciate you for helping us put the foundation in place.’ But there’s no pressure here. If somebody beats us, I won’t love this team any less.”


LOOKING AHEAD – TO THIS SATURDAY

With rival North Carolina looming on NC State’s schedule as the Nov. 28 regular-season finale, it is easy for an outside observer to assume the Wolfpack might look past this Saturday’s home game against Syracuse.

NC State coach Dave Doeren says his team can’t afford to have that happen.

“I would hope that we don’t lose focus on Syracuse,” Doeren said. “I’ve played it twice since I’ve been here. The first year we didn’t win and the second year it took a great effort to win. (This year’s Syracuse) team played Clemson in a great football game. I think that got our guys’ attention.”

The Wolfpack is coming off a 34-17 road loss at No. 16 Florida State. If anything, Doeren wants his squad looking back at that game in a constructive way, not ahead to North Carolina.

“I think that all of our players will tell you that we are a week-to-week team,” Doeren said. “Florida State beat us, but there are a lot of plays we left out that could have made it a better football game and made it more competitive on our end. That was the first thing I asked the guys in the team meeting, do they think there is anything our team could have done better – and all of them said yes. There were some self-inflicted things that we can’t have and normally don’t. There were some teachable moments.

“When we play North Carolina in two weeks the team will be fired up for that game but all of our focus is getting win number seven this week.”

That seventh win would match last season’s regular-season total and keep NC State on track for several goals Doeren set for the team in his third year.

“From the start, (a main goal) has been to raise the bar,” Doeren said. “I think the only way to define that we have accomplished that by numbers is to win the next two games. Last year we won seven in the regular season, so the goal now is to finish 2-0 …  I think all you can do as a coach is to try to be better than the week before and every year you assess whether you did it right.”