ACC Football Notebook: Week 4

Duke seeks to follow last year’s blueprint; Virginia set for Friday Night Lights

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GREENSBORO, N.C. (theACC.com) – Duke didn’t completely beat Georgia Tech at its own game when the teams met last season in Atlanta, but the Blue Devils held their own in a number of key areas.

As a result, Duke ultimately won where it counted – on the scoreboard with a 31-25 decision that snapped a 10-year losing skid against the Yellow Jackets. As the Blue Devils seek to duplicate that feat in this Saturday’s rematch at Wallace Wade Stadium, head coach David Cutcliffe said his team must follow the 2014 blueprint.

Time of possession varied by less than a minute in last season’s game, with Tech holding the ball for 30:16 and Duke for 29:44. The Blue Devils held their own against the Yellow Jackets’ vaunted rushing attack, “limiting”  Tech to 282 yard while running for 242 themselves. First downs were almost even – with the Yellow Jackets amassing 26 to Duke’s 25.

The Blue Devils held the clear upper hand in two key statistical categories. Duke forced three Georgia Tech turnovers while committing none themselves. And Georgia Tech was penalized eight times for 69 yards, compared to the Blue Devils’ five penalties for 35 yards.

“If you play Georgia Tech, if you can run the ball, if your offense can stay on the field, there’s no question you have a better chance at being successful,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. “Georgia Tech’s going to have something to say about that. We’d like to put together drives that keep their offense off the field.

“When you’re playing Georgia Tech, you can’t have penalties. You cannot have plays that put you behind schedule, so to speak, down and distance. That’s a big part of it. In football every week, I’ve always told offensive teams, you’re not only competing against their defense, you’re competing at this level against that offensive team. We’ve got to win first downs.”

Both teams will be coming off disappointing losses to ranked teams, as the Yellow Jackets fell 30-22 at Notre Dame last weekend, while Duke dropped a 19-10 decision to Northwestern. But neither team stayed down long, not with this Saturday’s game representing the ACC opener for both teams.

“Clearly, we were disappointed with the way we played in the last game, so as soon as we can play again, it will be a good thing,” Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said. “I think that having a chance to open up conference play is a good way to try to put the last week behind us. And certainly, that is one of the goals of our program, to try to win our division in the ACC. And it will start this Saturday in Durham.”

Georgia Tech averaged 67 points and 457.5 yards rushing in its first two games, but Notre Dame limited the Yellow Jackets to 216 rushing yards. Tech had just eight points on the board until scoring two touchdowns late in the game.

“And we are just so accustomed to it not being that way,” Johnson said. “I just watched the Duke/Northwestern game (on tape) and one team punted 10 times and the other one 12. But, we are so accustomed to almost if we do not score 35 plus, then the roof fell in. And that's a good way to be. That is certainly the standard you want to have. We have to get better. We have to play better. If we do not, we will not win any more games.”

Johnson said returning to big-number offensive form won’t be easy against the Blue Devils, who limited Northwestern to 19 points – seven of which came as the result as a kickoff return for a touchdown.

“I think they have got probably the best defense they have had since I have been here,” Johnson said. “They are giving up about eight points a game and less than three hundred yards a game. So it will be a big challenge especially considering the way we played last week.”

BACK IN THE SPOTLIGHT
After breaking into the win column last weekend against in-state opponent William & Mary, Virginia remains home to kick off this ACC football weekend with a Friday night ESPN game versus Boise State.

It will be one of several marquee non-conference games the Cavaliers have played in recent seasons under head coach Mike London, but the first Friday night game at Scott Stadium. The Cavaliers have played at home Friday on two previous occasions, but both were day games.

“It’s going to be cool,” junior linebacker Zach Bradshaw told Jeff White of Virginiasports.com. “It’s going to be like high school all over again, only on a bigger stage. So we’re excited, and I’m sure we'll come out firing on all cylinders.  There’s just something about Friday nights. I don’t know what it is, whether it’s bringing back memories of high school or whatever, but it certainly brings a little extra excitement.”

It will mark the final non-conference test of this regular season for the Cavaliers, who have previously battled nationally ranked UCLA on the road and Notre Dame at home.

“Competition is always good,” London said. “The level of competition has been something for us that has required us to make sure that we continue to raise our level of play. You have to play up. You can’t play down to a level … Having had three games under our belt, getting ready to go into the fourth game, non-conference game, it's an understanding and experience that we've had as a football team. Now we need to carry it over into winning a game against a really good football team particularly here at home.”

HE’S REALLY THAT GOOD

One of the most intriguing matchups of the weekend is set for the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, where the Orange defense – which currently ranks third nationally at stopping the run – takes on ninth-ranked LSU and the nation’s leading rusher in sophomore Leonard Fournette.

One of the most highly touted members of the 2014 high school recruiting class, Fournette burst on the collegiate season last season with an LSU freshman-record 1,034 yards and 10 touchdowns.

It wouldn’t be quite accurate to say Fournette has picked up where he left off to open the 2015 season. He’s been even better.

The New Orleans native’s 193.5 ypg rushing average after two games leads the nation. Most of that yardage has been highlight reel worthy, as anyone who watched Fournette run over and through Auburn is last weekend’s 45-21 blowout win will attest.

Fournette is the consensus early-season Heisman favorite following last weekend’s 228-yard, three-touchdown performance. He’d certainly have Syracuse head coach Scott Shafer’s vote if his ballot were due today.

“I think in my 26 years as a coach, this kid is the most-talented tailback I have gone against,” Shafer said. “I think he is special. He is 6-1, 230 pounds, but he moves like he is 5-9.”

That will be the challenge facing the Orange defense, which has allowed just 46.5 yards rushing per game in its 3-0 start.

“Our primary goal is to stop the run first,” Shafer said. “I think everybody says that, but we really believe that and we promote it in the way we run our defense …. We have to focus in on stopping (Fournette) first and foremost, (but) they run the ball really well with two backs downhill.”

HOOSIERS IN THE HOUSE
ACC teams won three of their five games against its Big Ten opponents last weekend, and Wake Forest seeks to pad that total when it welcomes unbeaten Indiana to BB&T Field on Saturday.

The Demon Deacons are playing a Big Ten foe for the first time since Purdue in 2003. Wake Forest will make the return trip to Bloomington next year, and has a home-and-home set vs. Purdue in 2026-27.

Saturday will mark the first time the Deacons have faced the Hoosiers on the football field, and Deacons had coach Dave Clawson is preparing for an explosive offensive unit, led by running back Jordan Howard (507 yards rushing in three games) and quarterback Nate Sudfeld (938 yards passing thus far).

“I think they’re averaging 41 points a game, 557 yards,” Clawson noted. “They have a back that’s averaging 170 (yards per game) and a quarterback that’s throwing for over 300 (yards per game). So, somehow, we’ve got to find a way to get off the field against them.”

And once Wake Forest’s offense gets onto the field, Clawson said it is important that is stay there. The Demon Deacons (2-1) have turned the ball over six times in their first three games (compared to none by the opposition).

“We’re not taking care of it real well, and we’re not generating any turnovers,” Clawson said. “When there are opportunities to do it, we’re not doing it, and if that trend continues, there is probably not going to be a lot of happy Saturdays. It’s a very difficult number to overcome, and I don’t know if there is anything in our program right now more important, especially this week, than winning the turnover battle.

“We’ve got to get possessions away from these guys and we cannot give this (Indiana)  offense a short field. This is a really talented football team we’re playing, and it’s going to be a great challenge for us.”

EAGLES ADJUST ON THE FLY
Boston College’s 14-0 loss to sixth-ranked Florida State last Friday night cut deeper than the final score. The Eagles lost starting quarterback Darius Wade for the season to injury, leaving head coach Steve Addazio and his staff to move forward with a pair of youngsters in true freshman Jeff Smith and redshirt freshman Troy Flutie.

That is a daunting task with nine games remaining on the schedule, but Addazio isn’t thinking past this Saturday’s game against a talented Northern Illinois squad that pushed top-ranked Ohio State to the limit last weekend.

“We are going to carve out a game plan that we think will best suit the talents of the guys that we have,” Addazio said. “That’s what I’m completely engrossed in right now. That’s what my mandate to the (offensive) coaches is. That’s what I’m personally engrossed in. What exactly can we do at the highest level? Whatever it is - it can be radical, I don’t care. That’s the way it’s going go right now. It’s all about one thing: win on Saturday. I don’t care what it takes; it doesn’t take a lick of difference to me how we get it done. We can stand on our heads for all I care.”

Addazio feels Smith is the more athletic and explosive quarterback of the two. Flutie has a better overall grasp of the system. The third-year head coach isn’t adverse to the two splitting time, but he hasn’t committed to that either.

“If I were to go that way, I’d do it less on who has the hot hand and more on packaging; a package for a guy who has a certain skill set. (With) a running back, if he’s hot, you give him the ball and just let him go. For a quarterback, I’m not really into that at all. If I play two guys, we’re going to have a plan for why we did it. We’re not just going to do it.”

Addazio made it clear that he isn’t feeling sorry for himself, and he doesn’t want anyone associated with his team feeling that way as the Eagles move forward.

“I’m not complaining - please don’t’ take it like that,” he said. “I’m just trying to be as factual as I can be. Your hand is your hand. I love our future and I love where we are headed.”