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Cardinals hope ACC opener versus Clemson offers a fresh start
GREENSBORO, N.C. (theACC.com) – The true seniors on this year’s Louisville football team won 32 of 39 games in their first three collegiate seasons, so the start to the 2015 campaign is not exactly what they had in mind.
Following a game effort in falling to No. 6 Auburn in their season opener, the Cardinals came out on the short end of a 34-31 decision last weekend against visiting Houston.
Coach Bobby Petrino senses no panic as his team prepares to open ACC play Thursday night against No. 9 Clemson before what should be a frenzied Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium crowd and a national ESPN audience. Understandably, though, the 0-2 start knocked his troops back a bit.
“Sunday was real quiet,” Petrino said. “They came in and ate dinner, there wasn’t a whole lot being said. Walk in the team meeting room, there’s not a whole lot being said. You feel bad. I always envy basketball and baseball when they get to go out and play the next night and get it all behind you.”
But with the start of ACC play offering a clean slate and only four full days to wait before getting the opportunity to play again, Petrino quickly saw a renewal of collective spirit. He credited his upperclassmen.
“I think it’s one of the key things is the leadership ability within the team,” Petrino said. “That’s one of the things I try to make sure the players understand, that they’ve got to take over the leadership, they’ve got to do their responsibility and their obligation to their teammates. This is the only time this team is going to be together, and the seniors and juniors that have been around, they’ve got to see if they want to make it a special season or not.”
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney knows none of the 55,000 in attendance will be dwelling on the previous two weeks come Thursday night’s 7:30 kickoff. And if the Cardinals – 27-3 in home games under Petrino – rise to the occasion against the ACC preseason favorites, the recent past will be all but forgotten.
“I know everybody is talking about how they’re 0-2 right now … Well, I wouldn’t look too much into that,” Swinney said. “Louisville is a good football team that I have no doubt will be in a bowl game at the end of the year, and they have the same chance that we have to win this (Atlantic) division.
“This is a great matchup, and it’s going to be an electric atmosphere up there in Louisville. We have to go up there with great focus, excellent execution, and we’ve got to take care of the football.”
Clemson and Louisville become the first ACC teams this young season to play Thursday night games after also seeing action on the previous Saturday. The Tigers’ Swinney doesn’t have vast experience with the short turnarounds, but he has developed a feel on how to manage them.
“I haven’t gotten much sleep,” Swinney said. “We literally started Saturday after the (Appalachian State) game. And we did a lot of work in the preseason. This particular week, we went right to work on Louisville. Everybody graded the film and got a lot of our Sunday work done Saturday night. Normally our team is off on Sunday, but this week we brought the team in and we practiced. We did some work for our first few opponents (including Louisville) in camp as well.”
Since losing the first Thursday night game they played under Swinney as head coach – to Georgia Tech in 2009 – Tigers have won the last four such games under his watch, most recently a 34-20 ACC victory at Wake Forest last Nov. 6.
“We’ve done pretty well on Thursday nights,” Swinney said. “Most of our Thursday night games we’ve had the previous weekend off, but sometimes you’ve just got to step up to the plate and do it.”
STEEP LEARNING CURVE
Boston College stands 2-0 after scoring 100 points in two games against FCS opponents, including last weekend’s 76-0 thrashing of Howard at Alumni Stadium.
Now, the Eagles shift gears and prepare for Friday night – and the arrival of sixth-ranked Florida State, which has not lost an ACC game since early in the 2012 season.
Head coach Steve Addazio gave an honest assessment when asked if the adjustment would be a difficult one for his younger players.
“Young players just don’t have a reference point,” Addazio said. “They don’t understand the intensity. What have they seen? They’ve seen Maine and Howard. They don’t understand the intensity of these games. The speed and the physicality of these games is so much greater and different. The margin of error is so much smaller. And with these young guys, they have a large margin for error. We might get away with some of that stuff against a lesser opponent but when you play these teams, you don’t get away with anything. To get them to understand, to realize that is hard.”
Those are lessons Addazio and his staff would love to successfully teach on the fly prior to Friday’s 8 p.m. kickoff, but they have been around the game enough to there is little choice but to be patient.
“By nature, they’re sloppy,” Addazio said. “Their attention to detail isn’t there. You are trying to grow that process up, work hard at it every day. It’s a pretty intense program we run here. It’s not like we’re lackadaisical at all, but these are guys who haven’t had to have great attention to detail in a lot of their high school programs, to be honest with you. The level of intensity is just not the same. They get shell-shocked by it.
“We work really hard on that around here, but for me to say some of these young guys aren’t going to have deer in the headlight look … they are going to. It’s going to happen.”
SEMINOLES WANT TO KEEP COOKING
Florida State sophomore running back Dalvin Cook is establishing himself as the ACC’s backfield workhorse.
Cook lugged the ball 30 times for 266 yards in last week’s 34-14 win over South Florida, earning ACC Offensive Back of the Week and several national awards in the process.
The Miami native has carried the ball at least 30 times in two of his last four outings after rushing for 177 yards on 31 carries in last December’s 37-35 win over Georgia Tech in the Dr Pepper ACC Football Championship Game. And if the situation should dictate he get another 30 carries this Friday night at Boston College, head coach Jimbo Fisher is prepared to go that route without hesitation.
“Look at the results,” Fisher said “And also (his) body. I asked him yesterday, ‘How do you feel?’ He said, ‘Coach, I feel fine.’ Some guys can't take that wear and tear. His body feels really good.”
Fisher said last week’s game plan called for junior Mario Pender to receive more than seven carries in the win over USF, until it became obvious Cook was working on something special.
“It was just how the game went, and he was making plays in a big critical game at critical times,” Fisher said. “You might say, ‘We can throw it 25, 30 times in a game,’ and all of a sudden, they can't defend it, and we might throw it 35, 40. You’ve got to change your game plan as you go.
“Sports aren't scripted. You've got to play by ear. You've got to play by guts. You've got to let things happen and do it.”
SOUTH BEND AWAITS
As Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson prepares his squad for this week’s battle of ranked teams at Notre Dame, he has fond memories of the last time he took the field in South Bend.
The date was Nov. 3, 2007 – Johnson’s last year at Navy before heading to Atlanta. The Midshipmen outlasted the Fighting Irish in triple overtime for a 46-44 victory that halted Notre Dame’s 43-game winning streak versus Navy. Dating back to 1964, it stood as the college football’s longest consecutive wins streak by one team over another until the Mids finally broke the spell.
“We had almost beaten them a couple of times before and we just did not get it done,” Johnson recalled earlier this week. “You got a monkey off their (Navy’s) back. Then two years later, (Navy) beat them again. Any time you have a long streak like that it is good to win. But, honestly, it was just a game, a regular-season game.”
As is this Saturday’s 3:30 p.m. game between the 14th-ranked Yellow Jackets and eight-ranked Irish – something Johnson wants his current team to keep in mind.
“They have got a lot of tradition, a lot of history, and they have had some really good teams,” Johnson said. “But, it is just like going to play anybody else. You have to get ready to go play. We never made a big deal about going there to play. It is just like going to Clemson to play or going to somewhere else. You will be playing against good players, but it ought to be fun. You ought to embrace it - a chance to compete.”
Georgia Tech rolls into Notre Dame Stadium having piled up 134 points against Alcorn State and Tulane. That is the most by any ACC team in history through its first two games. The level of competition changes markedly this Saturday, but Johnson says the Yellow Jackets’ approach will not.
“It is going to be a step up,” Johnson said. “We have just have to go do our thing. It does not matter. It is as much about us as it is who we play. We have to go and be dialed in. We were not as sharp to start (against Tulane) as we were the first game (against Alcorn State).
“With Notre Dame being) the first game on the road, the older guys who have played and who have been in that situation, we need them to step to the forefront and be leaders this week.”
FOCUS ON THE PRESENT
With Miami’s home date with Nebraska punctuating a weekend in which the ACC takes on five teams from the Big Ten, much discussion has centered on the storied history between the Hurricanes and the Cornhuskers.
The teams are meeting in a September regular-season game for the second consecutive year. But Miami versus Nebraska conjures memories of New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day and bowl games with national championship implications. Six of the 11 all-time meetings have come in bowl games, and four of those decided national titles.
Even some of the games that didn’t carry such high stakes hold historical significance. The first game of the series – a 19-7 regular-season win by the Hurricanes in Miami in 1951 – marked the first night game in Nebraska football history. The Cornhuskers’ first-ever bowl victory was a 36-34 win over the Hurricanes in the 1962 Gotham Bowl at Yankee Stadium.
Miami head coach Al Golden is well aware of the history, and so are his players.
“We had so many guys that were there last year, so (they) know,” Golden said. “The guys that were there know and understand the tradition of it, but none of that is going to help us prepare.”
Instead, Golden wants his team locked in on this year’s Nebraska squad, which is off to a 1-1 start and features a balanced offensive attack led by quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. (294.5 passing yards per game, five touchdowns) and running back Terrell Newby (120.5 rushing yards per game, three TDs).
“We know what kind of team we’re facing – a tough team, obviously, with a great leader in Armstrong,” Golden said. “They have receivers with experience (and) a strong offensive line.”
WHAT’S IN A NUMBER
Northwestern enters Saturday’s game at Duke ranked 23rd nationally following a 2-0 start highlighted by a 16-6 win over then-No. 21 Stanford in Week 1.
“I think they have earned their opportunity to be ranked,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. “They have a big win over a big-time Pac-12 team. I respect that and I voted for them.”
The Blue Devils (2-0) could make their own Top 25 case by winning on Saturday, but Cutcliffe says it is too early for Duke to be playing that numbers game.
“We’re going to focus on getting better,” he said. “If we can keep getting better, we’ll have an opportunity for one of those special seasons that you end up in the Top 25. We will worry about that later. I don’t find any extra juice about that other than you had better juice up when you’re playing a top-25 team. That’s the competitor in you. You know you’ve been challenged when you look at (Northwestern) on tape.”
With Shadrach Thornton’s return to action this week, NC State head coach Dave Doeren is anxious to unveil what should be a more balanced and potentially even more productive running game Saturday night at Old Dominion.
With 242 rushing yards and five touchdowns thus far, senior Matt Dayes has been a major player in the Wolfpack’s 2-0 start. But Doeren welcomes the chance to again mix in the multi-talented Thornton, who rushed for 907 yards and nine touchdowns as a junior last season.
“It works well,” Doeren said. “Matt Dayes has 48 (rushes) in the last two games, which is a lot. It also helps us with some of the packages that we hadn’t shown so there’s more things we can do personnel-wise now that (Thornton) is back. It gets us back to where we want to be with those two together, and then rotate them when they’re fresh – I think it’ll help them throughout the course of the season.
“We look forward to having them (both). Their running styles are so different. Even though it’s the same play, it fits differently because of the way they play. Shad is more of a guy that presses things and runs into contact, and Matt can make people miss and has really good cutting ability, which creates problems … I feel like we have some good weapons to move around on offense.”
GETTING HIS KICKS
North Carolina failed to make a field goal of more than 30 yards in 2014, leaving the placekicking spot as one of the biggest question marks on the depth chart heading into this season.
So far, junior Nick Weiler has provided the answer.
After connecting on five of eight attempts while sharing time last season, Weiler is 3-for-3 through two games. And unlike last season, he’s finding success from medium and long range. The Fairfax Station, Virginia, native hit from 47 and 38 yards out in UNC’s season opener against South Carolina, then found the mark on a 48-yarder in last Saturday’s 53-14 win over North Carolina A&T. The latter field goal was the longest made by a UNC kicker since 2012.
“I’m very impressed, UNC head coach Larry Fedora said. “I feel very good about where he’s at. I love his confidence level. I love the way he’s hitting the ball. I like the operation in total between him the snapper and the holder, which is very important. I feel good about where he is and I hope that continues.”
For good measure, Weiler is also 7-for-7 on extra points heading into this Saturday’s home game against Illinois.
“I wouldn’t say I’m surprised because he did the same thing all camp,” Fedora told media members on Tuesday. “In camp you’re like, ‘OK. Is this for real?’ He does it every day in camp and he’s so consistent, so you don’t think about it. You guys are thinking about it because you’ve seen it in just two games. We’ve been kind of seeing that through camp.
“He’s been very reliable and consistent throughout camp, and where we are today, so I feel pretty good about it.”