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5. Virginia QB Greyson Lambert vs. Georgia Tech LB P.J. Davis
The Yellow Jackets have been vulnerable on defense the past few weeks, but will the Cavaliers be able to take advantage at Bobby Dodd Stadium? It helps to have back Lambert, who was a little rusty in last week’s return from a month-long ankle injury. One of the quarterback’s biggest challenges to sparking the offense this Saturday will be avoiding Davis. He’s an athletic sophomore, with the range and the tenacity from weakside to make Lambert’s life miserable, inside and outside of the pocket.
4. Duke RB Shaun Wilson vs. Pitt Linebackers Anthony Gonzalez and Todd Thomas
The Blue Devils will need to run the ball on the Panthers, because the passing attack has lacked consistency for much of the last month. It’s a good thing for Duke that Wilson has been such a revelation in his debut out of West Mecklenburg (N.C.) High School, averaging more than 10 yards per carry. He’ll be looking to get to the edge on Gonzalez, Thomas and the rest of a Pitt defense determined to bounce back from last week’s disappointing effort in a loss to Georgia Tech.
3. North Carolina QB Marquise Williams vs. Miami Cornerbacks Artie Burns and Ladarius Gunter
Who blinks first, the hot quarterback or the lockdown corners? Williams has been the catalyst for the Tar Heels’ recent resurgence, accounting for 16 touchdowns and just four picks over the last five games. But Burns and Gunter present no ordinary challenge. The cornerbacks are the capstones of a defensive backfield that’s 17th nationally in pass efficiency defense. Remaining alive in the Coastal Division race hinges on Williams’ ability to feed receivers Mack Hollins, Ryan Switzer and Quinshad Davis … and Miami’s success at stifling him.
2. Louisville WR DeVante Parker vs. Florida State’s Secondary
Will Gardner doesn’t have to be Jameis Winston tonight. The quarterback must, however, move the Cardinals effectively to keep pace with the Seminoles. And Parker is the one Louisville weapon most capable of taking the top off the defense, and creating room for underneath routes and the running game. The senior’s first game of 2014 was a hit that included nine receptions for 132 yards. But now he’ll be facing a stacked Seminole secondary that boasts all-star candidates in FS Jalen Ramsey and cornerbacks P.J. Williams and Ronald Darby.
1. Florida State’s O-line vs. Louisville’s Front Seven
As is often the case in games of this magnitude, Thursday night’s showdown at Papa John’s will come down to the play in the trenches. And when the Seminoles have the ball, it’ll be a classic case of strength against strength. Four enormous and accomplished seniors surround Florida State rookie C Ryan Hoefeld up front. Their mission is to protect Jameis Winston, and do a better job of supporting the ground troops. Across the line, though, will be linebackers Lorenzo Mauldin and Keith Kelsey, DE Sheldon Rankins and the balance of a D allowing a nation’s-low 245 yards per game.