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PICTURED: Wallace Wade Stadium will be home to a critical ACC Coastal Division matchup on Saturday.
College football is fully underway and the ACC has a nice slate of games set for this upcoming weekend. The conference has done reasonably well so far in non-conference games and continued success looks promising in Week 4! Contributor, Patrick O’Brien, breaks down some of the marquee matchups for this weekend.
After two losses to ranked opponents, the Cavaliers might have expected a little more against a William and Mary team last week at home. Even though Virginia came away with a 35-29 victory, the Cavaliers had to hold on in the fourth quarter to seal the win. Now, Virginia has to focus on yet another fierce competitor in Boise State, a team that was once ranked in the Top 25 before losing to BYU two weeks ago. Quarterback play has been going in opposite directions for these two teams, which is an area that could favor the Cavaliers at home. Boise State’s Ryan Finley has struggled to say the least, throwing only one touchdown on the year compared to four interceptions. Creating early turnovers could be the name of the game, as head coach Mike London hopes to see his junior quarterback, Matt Johns, continue what he has been doing this season. Keep your eyes out for Boise State running back Devan Demas, who is averaging eight yards per carry. Another key factor in this game is that the Cavaliers have yet to create a turnover this season, something that has to happen to get the win.
The Syracuse Orange come into this matchup with a 3-0 record and are coming off a thrilling win against Central Michigan. However, they lost a key player in quarterback Eric Dungey, who is doubtful after sustaining a helmet-to-helmet hit last week. Now, head coach Scott Shafer is looking at Austin Wilson and Zack Mahoney to replace Dungey Saturday afternoon. There are two keys that could ultimately determine this game for the Orange. One, can the Syracuse defense stop Heisman hopeful Leonard Fournette, who is coming off a 228 yard, three touchdown performance against Auburn last week. The Tigers want to move the ball on the ground and run as much as they can, as they have averaged 338 yards per game on the ground this season. The defense for Syracuse has only been giving up 90 yards on the ground this season to their opponents, so something will have to give. Secondly, what kind of performance will they get out of their third or fourth string quarterback? Ultimately, if he doesn’t secure the ball, make plays with his arm, and can’t move the ball, the Orange could be in trouble.
After opening the season with a loss to Ohio State in Blacksburg, the Hokies have been averaging 46.5 points per game behind quarterback Branden Motley. Motley struggled tremendously against the Buckeyes, but since then, has proven he can take his game to the air, averaging over 225 yards passing per game. The Hokies have used a balanced attack this season (236 ypg passing/ 221 ypg rushing) and are seeking revenge from last season, when the Pirates travelled to Blacksburg and took home a win. The Pirates, who lost some key pieces including quarterback Shane Carden, come in still hoping to put up the numbers they have in the past couple of seasons under offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley, who is now at Oklahoma. Unfortunately, the offense has looked a little different behind quarterback Blake Kemp and a defense that has struggled, giving up over 32 points per game. The Pirates like to use a balanced attack in getting their play makers in space, but the run game hasn’t been able to its own so far. The Hokies will have to watch out for receivers such as Trevon Brown (coming back from suspension) and Isaiah Jones, who can move the chains in a fast paced offense like the Pirates.
Wallace Wade Stadium, Durham, N.C.
Noon on ESPN2
In a division that seems to be up for grabs about every year, games like this can certainly go a long way. The past two Coastal Division champions matchup Saturday afternoon in Durham, both coming off a loss that many expected them to win. As the season goes along, the winner of this game could ultimately own the tie-breaker if these two remain near the top of the conference. The Yellow Jackets will continue to use the ground attack like they have but the defense that gave up 457 total yards last week, will have to play better. For Duke, the Blue Devils never were able to get on track offensively and allowed over 200 yards on the ground against Northwestern. Quarterback Thomas Sirk only averaged 3.8 yards per completion last week; something that head coach David Cutcliffe hopes can fix, as Duke has averaged 504 yards per game this season. Furthermore, Cutcliffe was also able to watch Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer complete 21-of-30 last week for 242 yards in their win against the Yellow Jackets. Will the defense of the Yellow Jackets be able to slow down the Blue Devils at home or will Duke be able to be patient on defense and slow down the powerful run attack? Last year, the Blue Devils took home 31-25 upset win in Atlanta behind a tremendous rushing performance.
Alumni Stadium, Chestnut Hill, Mass
1:00 p.m. on ESPN3
Two teams that are coming off inspired football last week, Northern Illinois travels to Chestnut Hill to take on the Eagles of Boston College. Both teams come in at 2-1, with the Eagles coming off a 14-0 loss to Florida State, while the Huskies traveled to Ohio State last week and just came up short with the upset, losing 20-13. The ultimate battle between these two teams will be the defense of Boston College vs. the offense of Northern Illinois. The Eagles only gave up 227 total yards last week against the Seminoles and on the season, have given up on average 106 yards per game to their opponents. On the other hand, the Huskies are led by quarterback Drew Hare, who is completing 67 percent of his passes and already has thrown for 798 yards. The Eagles might be one of the most underrated defenses in the nation but Northern Illinois has proven that they are a very good team that can compete with anyone.
BB&T Field, Winston-Salem, N.C.
12:30 p.m. on ACC Network/ESPN3
The Hoosiers of Indiana rank in the Top 12 in total offense behind running back Jordan Howard and quarterback Nate Sudfeld, as the offense has averaged over 40 points per in the first three games. However, the defense hasn’t been able to produce the same results, giving up 544 yards per game to their opponents. Wake Forest received a big momentum and confidence boost last week in their win with freshman quarterback Kendall Hinton, who ran and threw for over 200 yards. But quarterback John Wolford should be back and an interesting debate could begin with these two possibly splitting time. With Hoosiers giving 392 passing yards per game against opponents, it could be a special afternoon for whichever quarterback is in and something the coaching staff will want to take advantage. But, do the Demon Deacons have enough talent and play makers on defense to stop Indiana? Turnovers could be a key factor in this game.
Kenan Memorial Stadium, Chapel Hill, N.C.
12:30 p.m. on RSN/ESPN3
North Carolina looks like the North Carolina many expected heading into the season, as they were able to get back on track against Illinois in dominating fashion last week. Now the Tar Heels round out their non-conference schedule against Delaware, as they hope to go 3-1 to start the season. Delaware is a team that doesn’t throw the ball too often and likes to move the ball with the run game, averaging 208 yards. However, the Blue Hens only average 18 points a game, a stat line that will have to dramatically increase against an offense like the Tar Heels. In the last two games, UNC has put up 48 or more points, while the defense has only been giving up an average of 14 points on the season. This should be a final tune-up for head coach Larry Fedora and the Tar Heels before heading into conference play. Expect UNC to address some of their issues and get their players extra playing time in this one.
Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium, Louisville, Ky.
6:00 p.m. on ESPN3
The Cardinals have been on the losing end of three single-digit games to start the season, after almost knocking off Clemson last week at home. Head coach Bobby Petrino is still looking for their first win and it could come against Samford Saturday night at home. It will provide another chance for quarterback Kyle Bolin to get more familiar and comfortable with the offense, while hopefully securing their first win. The other important factor to look at is it provides another opportunity for the young receivers to gain more experience, while getting the run game back on track. The run game for the Cardinals have averaged a woeful 3.43 yards per rush, which ranks 119th nationally. Last week, Samford gave up almost 300 yards on the ground to Chattanooga in the loss, so the Cardinals have a chance to work out some of their issues on the ground.
Ladd-Peebles Stadium, Mobile, Ala.
8:00 p.m. on ESPNews
The Wolfpack round out their nonconference schedule on the road against South Alabama Saturday night, as they hope to head into their matchup against Louisville with a 4-0 record. Quarterback Jacoby Brissett gets one final tune-up before ACC play and has played tremendously so far in both passing and running the ball, which is why several analysts have had high praises for the senior quarterback. Combine that with the tremendous success the Wolfpack have had on the ground with their committee of backs and the success on defense (giving up 11.7 ppg and 188 total ypg), the recipe is there to come away with the win in Alabama. However, South Alabama is coming off a confidence building win away from home against San Diego State last week, as quarterback Cody Clements passed for 270 yards and running back Xavier Johnson had his best performance (rushed for 142 yards, two touchdowns) on the season. The last time these two teams met up was back in 2012, where former NC State quarterback Mike Glennon passed for 257 yards and three touchdowns. This certainly could be another chance for the Wolfpack to not only rack up another large amount of yards (South Alabama’s defense is giving up 391 ypg) but also light up the scoreboard on the road.