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Wake Forest’s trip to Syracuse kicks off conference schedule
GREENSBORO, N.C. (theACC.com) – Wake Forest second-year head coach Dave Clawson didn’t have a lot of time to savor his team’s 41-3 season-opening win over Elon.
Clawson’s still-young team has the distinction of playing the first league road game of the 2015 season this Saturday, when the Demon Deacons travel to Syracuse for a 12:30 p.m. game in the Carrier Dome.
“This is a very big game for us so early in the ACC, on the road,” Clawson said. “Syracuse is an excellent defensive football team. Just look at their coaching staff…they’re just an extremely well coached defense. They’ve got some really good players up front. Their linebackers are good. They can cover you in the perimeter. You look at last year, and we really struggled to move the ball against them.”
Moving the ball was a season-long struggle for the Demon Deacons in 2014, but the Elon game offered signs of improvement. Wake Forest’s 591 yards of total offense were its most in a single game since 1975 and the third most in program history. Highlights included a 70-yard run by quarterback John Wolford, the longest rush by a Deacon quarterback from scrimmage since Freddie Summers in 1968.
Clawson also found much to like on the defensive side.
“I thought our third down defense was really good,” he noted. “We were 12-of-13 on third downs, getting off the field.”
Still, Clawson knows things get tougher this week against an ACC opponent. He wasn’t pleased with Wake Forest’s special teams play against Elon. The road hasn’t been kind to Wake Forest – during his short tenure or against Syracuse. The Demon Deacons were 0-6 in away games last season and have fallen short in their two previous trips to the Carrier Dome (a 36-29 overtime loss to open the 2011 season and a 13-0 loss two years ago).
“If we’re going to be successful this week, we’re going to have to be better than we were a week ago,” Clawson said. “We are going to have to go on the road and play well, which we certainly didn’t do last year. We’ve got to get this thing to the fourth quarter and find a way to win it. That’ll be our challenge against Syracuse.”
NEXT ORANGE MAN UP
Syracuse, like Wake Forest, enjoyed a convincing win over an FCS opponent in Week 1, cruising to a 47-0 win over Rhode Island. However, the focus for the past week has been mainly on the quarterback position.
Senior Terrel Hunt – who was primed for a solid comeback year after missing the final seven games of last season with due to injury – suffered a ruptured Achilles in the second quarter of the season opener and will be lost for the season.
The Orange is banking on true freshman Eric Dungey, who stepped in admirably against Rhode Island by completing 10 of 17 passes for 114 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Dungey has the full confidence of head coach Scott Shafer as he prepares for his first ACC game.
“He has a very good football IQ,” Shafter said. “One: to learn the notebook, two: to understand video and how to look at the video and place himself in the moment. And then on the field, he has real good instincts and seeing the coverage. It’s that intellect we try to recruit and Eric fit the mold.
“I feel like Eric is fully capable of running the whole offense and I think more than anything the decisions made throughout the course of the game will be on how they are trying to defend us as opposed to the lack of his collegiate experience.”
HARD WEEK TO SWALLOW
The injury to Syracuse’s Hunt, unfortunately, epitomized an opening ACC weekend in which a number of key personnel suffered serious injuries.
Reigning ACC Player of the Year James Conner of Pitt will join Hunt in missing the entire remainder of the year after injuring his knee against Youngstown State. Freshman Qadree Ollison’s 207 yards on 16 second-half carries provided hope that the Panthers might still field a potent running attack, but it didn’t ease the hurt for first-year head coach Pat Narduzzi.
“I just feel awful for him,” Narduzzi said. “There is not a guy that worked harder than him during camp. I don’t think he missed a single snap, play, practice. I don’t think there’s anyone hurt more than him. I’m disappointed for him and his family.”
Conner was diagnosed with a torn MCL. Narduzzi said the junior running back might have returned at less than full speed later this season if he didn’t undergo surgery now, but the latter course of action is in Conner’s best interest.
“When you look at it, for his sake and health, the doctors make that call, and ultimately James. It’s certainly not the coach making that call,” Narduzzi said. “It’s his best interest to get it repaired now. You can brace it up for five or six weeks and see how he comes out of that, and maybe we’ll only lose him for half a season. But I don’t think that’s right for him, as a player and his future self.”
Conner is eligible to petition the NCAA for a fifth year of eligibility, and Syracuse coach Scott Shafer said Hunt will seek a sixth year, which can be granted in the event of a medical hardship.
“We've already started the process,” Shafer said. “It'll just be a wait and see with the NCAA, so the ball will be in their court, really. I'm not sure how quickly they'll act on it.”
Meanwhile, Virginia Tech starting quarterback Michael Brewer will miss from four to eight weeks after breaking his collarbone in Monday night’s 42-24 loss to top-ranked Ohio State.
And Clemson wide receiver Mike Williams suffered a broken bone in his neck when he collided with the goal post following a touchdown catch in a 49-10 win over Wofford. No timetable is set for his return to the playing field, but Williams’ long-term prognosis – thankfully, in view of how serious the injury first appeared – is good.
“I knew it was pretty serious just by the reaction of our medical team,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “But I knew he was okay when I got out there. He was moving everything and he was talking. In
fact, he really wanted to get up and walk off. He’s going to heal up nice, but we have no idea when he will play football again. But he will have the opportunity to play again.”
Veteran head coach Frank Beamer of Virginia Tech has seen other years in which injuries seemed to come in waves. There is no real explanation, he said, other than bad luck.
“I don’t think there’s a clear answer that you could say proves (anything),” Beamer said. “Some years I’ve been with teams that you go through years where no one gets hurt, and teams like last year where it seems like everyone gets hurt. I think it just goes in cycles.”
Miami will be the first ACC team to see action this week, as the Hurricanes take the field on Friday night against Florida Atlantic.
It will mark the Hurricanes’ second straight matchup against an in-state opponent. But unlike last week’s 45-0 shutout of Bethune-Cookman that was played at Sun Life Stadium, Miami will make the short trip up I-95 to face the Owls in 29,419-seat FAU Stadium.
Emotions will be running high amongst the home team and its fans, but Miami coach Al Golden wants his team to keep its collective focus internal.
“I haven’t been in too many games at Miami where the other team wasn’t jacked up to play,” Golden said. “What we need to do is be consistent. We need to be consistent in our approach, regardless of where we play or who we play. What anyone says outside this building is immaterial – our guys respect the opponent, our guys know exactly what they see on tape, and our guys know what they’re capable of. Our guys know that if we don’t control us, none of it’s going to matter.”
While the Hurricanes face an in-state opponent, Duke is preparing for Saturday night’s home opener against a fellow city opponent. North Carolina Central is scheduled to make the 4 ½-mile drive over for fourth installment of the “Bull City Classic.”
Adding to the excitement will be the unveiling of the Brooks Field at Wallace Wade Stadium, and the first official look for most fans at the massive improvements and renovations that have taken place since the end of last season.
“I think both schools will benefit,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. “It’s going to be gorgeous. And the spectators are in for a treat. They’re much closer to the game. That’s huge. I think it’s great for our players, this opportunity to come through a tunnel that’s been renovated onto a playing surface that’s first class. I know our seniors have talked about it a lot. I also think it’s meaningful because it’s the Bull City Classic – it’s Durham on display.”
The teams first played in 2009, and will meet again in 2016 and 2017.
“We’ve got two great universities,” Cutcliffe said. “Forget the athletic part of it, we’ve got a lot of young people who are going to make a difference in their communities, wherever they end up. It’s a real chance to celebrate our great community.”
STILL ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
After yielding an average of 39 points and nearly 500 yards per game in 2014, North Carolina’s defense appeared markedly improved in a 17-13 season-opening loss to South Carolina.
In addition to allowing just two touchdowns, the Tar Heels limited the Gamecocks to just 140 passing yards and made a key stop on a fourth-and-1 play in the closing minutes.
Still, head coach Larry Fedora said UNC seeks to be better as it opens its home slate Saturday against North Carolina A&T. The Tar Heels allowed 254 rushing yards against South Carolina, including Shon Carson’s 48-yard touchdown run with just under 13 minutes remaining that gave the Gamecocks their first lead of the night and ultimately proved to be the winning points.
“I’m not going to come in here and say the defensive staff was all fired up about the game, because they weren’t,” Fedora said. “The way they look at it is they gave up a catastrophic play that was the difference in the game. They went into the game saying they can’t give up any catastrophes. That big play was a big play to them. (But) a lot of good things in the game happened. There were a lot of bright spots defensively for them to build off.”
CAVS PREP FOR ZAIRE
At least Virginia knows what it is up against as it prepares for this Saturday’s home game against ninth-ranked Notre Dame.
Many touted Notre Dame redshirt quarterback Malik Zaire as a possible breakout performer prior to the start of the season, and the sophomore lived up to his billing as the Fighting Irish shredded Texas by a 38-3 score in last Saturday’s opener.
Completing 19 of 22 passes for 313 yards and three touchdowns and no interceptions in only his second career collegiate start, Zaire showed what he is capable of doing with his arm. But while he rushed for just 16 net yards on nine carries versus Texas, Zaire is a two-dimensional talent who can hurt opponents with his legs as well.
That is London’s worry as the Cavaliers prepare to face their second top-15 ranked opponent in as many weeks.
“What stands out when you look at him, obviously (is) there's a talented group of receivers and putting the ball in the vicinity for guys to go up and get it is something that benefits a quarterback,” London said. “But he's an accomplished runner. We all know that he can run the ball. He presents that threat – not only do they have plays designed for him being the primary ball carrier, but they also have plays to get him out of the pocket on the perimeter.
“He's such a focal point of their offense that it's going to be important that we develop a game plan to understanding that his legs and his arm are things that they very much rely on.”
The Virginia game is the first of six against ACC teams on the 2015 slate of the Fighting Irish, who face Georgia Tech (next week), Clemson (Oct. 3), Pitt (Nov. 7), Wake Forest (Nov. 14) and Boston College at Fenway Park (Nov. 21).