Week 6: Five Make-or-Break ACC Matchups

PHOTO: Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets quarterback Justin Thomas (5) scrambles. Mandatory Credit: Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

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5. Louisville’s O-Line vs. Syracuse’s Pass Rush
Cardinal QB Will Gardner remains sidelined with a knee injury. Enter precocious true freshman Reggie Bonnafon, who’ll be starting for the second straight week. Bonnafon has an enormous ceiling, but his effectiveness will plummet like a rock if his blockers can’t neutralize blitz-happy Syracuse’s pass rush. Louisville ranks next to last in the ACC in sacks allowed, which will entice Orange coordinator Chuck Bullough to unleash hard-charging linebackers Cameron Lynch and Marqez Hodge Friday night in the Carrier Dome.

4. Virginia Tech QB Michael Brewer vs. North Carolina’s Secondary
Brewer has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns since leading Virginia Tech to a huge Week 2 upset at Ohio State. Carolina has had its own issues defending the pass over the same time span. Something has to give when the Hokies travel to Chapel Hill this Saturday afternoon. Both Brewer and the Tar Heel defensive backfield possess the talent to turn things around, but now is the time to show it. Carolina’s tallest task will be containing true freshman Isaiah Ford, one of the league’s emerging stars at wide receiver.

3. Pitt RB James Conner vs. Virginia’s D
Akron stacked the box a week ago to become the first team this year to hold Conner under 100 yards on the ground. The Panthers want to show the rest of the ACC that the Zips didn’t manufacture the blueprint for stifling No. 24. Easier said than done. Virginia’s resurgence has been built on the back of a gifted defense that’s yielding just 2.6 yards per carry this fall. The Cavaliers are going to press up linebackers Max Valles, Henry Coley and Daquan Romero, daring Pitt QB Chad Voytik to beat them over the top.

2. NC State QB Jacoby Brissett vs. Clemson’s Pass Defense
Brissett became a borderline household name in the college football neighborhood with his performance against Florida State. This weekend, he takes aim at another one of the ACC’s loaded defenses. Clemson, under the guidance of coordinator Brent Venables, is littered with next-level playmakers, especially in the front seven. On the back end, though, the Tigers are a little more vulnerable, which is why the Pack feels its new franchise behind center will continue thriving. Brissett has thrown 13 touchdown passes, and has not been picked off since the opener.

1. Georgia Tech’s Triple-Option vs. Miami’s Linebackers
In a matchup of major Coastal Division implications, the outcome hinges on Georgia Tech’s ability to execute the triple-option … and Miami’s aptitude for solving it. ‘Cane coach Al Golden and defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio have succeeded against the system going back to their days at Temple. And having Denzel Perryman and Thurston Armbrister at linebacker will only help. But Yellow Jacket QB Justin Thomas has come into his own, both as the point guard of the ground assault and as the battery mate of homerun-hitting WR DeAndre Smelter.