Friedlander: First impressions of every ACC game in Week 13
The old clichè about rivalry games is that you can throw out the records whenever the teams meet.
That’s not usually how it works when it comes to the traditional season-ending matchups involving ACC football teams. In most cases, the results are as predictable as a quarterback sneak on 4th-and-inches.
Clemson has won 7 straight against South Carolina and leads the series 72-42-4. Georgia Tech has lost 4 straight and 10 of its past 12 against Georgia and trails 69-39-5 overall. Louisville has dropped 4 of 5 to Kentucky, but Virginia Tech’s dominance of Virginia tops them all. The Hokies hold a 60-38-5 all-time advantage and have only lost to the Cavaliers twice since 1999.
And yet in at least some of those cases, recent performances suggest there’s a chance the hammer-and-nail dynamic of the rivalries could be reversed this year.
You might not be able to throw out the records, but it should be fun.
Let’s take a closer look.
NC State at North Carolina
When – Friday, 3:30 p.m. ET
TV – ABC
UNC leads the all-time series 68-37-6, but State has won 4 of the past 6 meetings and 10 of the past 15.
The dynamic of this year’s renewal has changed dramatically since the start of the season. This was supposed to be the year the Wolfpack challenged for an ACC championship with a Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback.
Instead it’s the 18th-ranked Tar Heels who are headed to next week’s conference title game in Charlotte with Drake Maye piling up big passing numbers. The wounded Wolfpack, meanwhile, is just hoping to salvage something positive from a season of broken dreams.
UNC (9-2, 6-1 ACC) got caught looking ahead to its matchup against State and paid the price Saturday with a loss to Georgia Tech that ended any hope of sneaking into the College Football Playoff. Coach Mack Brown shouldn’t have to worry about motivation this week as his Coastal Division champions look to make amends for that defeat and last year’s 4th-quarter meltdown against the Wolfpack (7-4, 3-4).
State’s hopes could hinge on who is available to play quarterback against the Tar Heels. Dave Doeren’s team was reduced to using 4th-stringer Ben Finley during Saturday’s loss to Louisville because of injuries to Devin Leary and MJ Morris, and Jack Chambers’ effectiveness.
Florida at Florida State
When – Friday, 7:30 p.m. ET
TV – ABC
The Gators have won 3 straight and lead the all-time series 37-26-2.
But these are programs heading in vastly different directions. While the 16th-ranked Seminoles are 8-3 and playing their best football of coach Mike Norvell’s 3-year tenure, Florida (6-5) comes into the game still looking to gain traction in its 1st season under Billy Napier.
FSU hasn’t just won 4 straight since breaking out of a 3-game midseason losing streak. It has dominated its opponents by a combined margin of 173-39. The Seminoles have done it with a diverse offense that combined a rushing attack that has churned out 200 or more rushing yards in each of their past 6 games with the improved passing of quarterback Jordan Travis.
Defensively, the return of star tackle Fabian Lovett after a 7-week absence with a leg injury has helped catapult Seminoles to the top of the ACC rankings in scoring at just 18 points allowed per game.
The Gators will be trying to bounce back from by far their most disappointing effort of the season, a 31-24 setback at Vanderbilt. It was their 1st loss to the Commodores since 1988. While quarterback Anthony Richardson threw for 400 yards and 3 touchdowns in the game, neither he nor his teammates were able to generate anything on the ground.
Florida’s defense has produced 23 takeaways this season with 9 interceptions and 14 fumble recoveries. But it has struggled on special teams of late, allowing touchdowns in each of its past 2 games.
Georgia Tech at Georgia
When – Saturday, noon ET
TV – ESPN
Credit interim coach Brent Key for the amazing job he has done in digging the Yellow Jackets out of the hole dug by his fired predecessor Geoff Collins. They’ve gone 4-3 with Key in charge with a pair of road victories against teams that were ranked at the time.
Saturday’s upset of then-No. 13 UNC was especially impressive, because it was achieved with the team’s 2 best quarterbacks sidelined with injuries. Tech (5-6) sacked Drake Maye 6 times and held the Tar Heels’ high-powered offense scoreless during the 2nd half while rallying from an early 17-0 deficit.
It’s going to take an even bigger effort to pull off another surprise and earn bowl eligibility against the nation’s top-ranked team this week.
The reigning national champion Bulldogs (11-0) completed their 2nd straight undefeated SEC regular season with Saturday’s win against Kentucky. While quarterback Stetson Bennett has thrown for better than 3,000 yards in leading an offense averaging 38 ppg, Georgia’s strength this season has been its defense. Kirby Smart’s team leads in the nation in scoring defense at a stingy 11.1 ppg and 3rd against the run at 83.1 ypg.
The rivalry between the Yellow Jackets and Bulldogs is known as “Clean Old-Fashioned Hate.” Old-Fashioned Butt Kicking might be a better description for it lately, though. Georgia’s 2 most recent wins – in 2019 and last year – have come by a combined 97-7 margin.
South Carolina at Clemson
When – Saturday, noon ET
TV – ABC
The series between the Tigers (10-1) and Gamecocks (7-4) has been equally as lopsided as Georgia Tech-Georgia. Dabo Swinney’s teams have won the past 2 meetings by scores of 38-3 and 30-0. Adding to Clemson’s advantage is that the game is being played at Death Valley, where it has won 40 straight dating to 2016,
There is reason for concern, though.
The 7th-ranked Tigers might be headed for next week’s ACC Championship game and remain in at least marginal playoff contention, but they haven’t played their best since wrapping up the Atlantic Division. They’ve been especially spotty on offense, where quarterback DJ Uiagalelei has turned the ball over 7 times during his past 4 games with 4 interceptions and 3 lost fumbles.
Clemson’s defense has carried the team, despite the loss of star edge rusher Xavier Thomas to a season-ending foot issue and several other key injuries.
South Carolina still is in the early stages of its building process in Year 2 of the Shane Beamer era. But the gap between the rival programs already is starting to show signs of narrowing. The Gamecocks’ hopes have been raised after Saturday’s upset of then-No. 5 Tennessee, in which Oklahoma transfer Spencer Rattler and an offense that has been dormant for most of the season awakened to put up 606 yards of offense and 63 points against Volunteers.
Louisville at Kentucky
When – Saturday, 3 p.m. ET
TV – SEC Network
At 1 point this season, the Wildcats (6-5) were ranked as high as No. 7. But after starting with 4 straight wins, they have since fallen on hard times with 5 losses in their past 7 games. The Cardinals (7-4), on the other hand, have rallied from a slow start that saw them lose their 1st 3 ACC games to win 5 of their past 6.
The key to Louisville’s turnaround has been its defense. Scott Satterfield’s team leads the nation in sacks with 41 and ranks 2nd in takeaways with 28. Linebacker Yasir Abdullah is a leading candidate for ACC Defensive Player of the Year with 8 sacks, 13 TFLs and 4 forced fumbles.
Another area of significant improvement has been the running game. While quarterback Malik Cunningham still leads the team with 561 yards and 11 touchdowns despite missing 2 games because of injury, sophomore Jawhar Jordan has emerged to rush for 105 or more yards in 2 of his past 3 games.
Like Louisville, Kentucky’s strength is its defense. The Wildcats held No. 1 Georgia to just 16 points in a close loss Saturday and average only 19.6 points allowed for the season. But quarterback Will Levis – a projected 1st-round NFL draft pick – and the offense have been a disappointment over the 2nd half of the season.
Wake Forest at Duke
When – Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET
TV – ACC Network
First-year Blue Devils coach Mike Elko once served as the Deacons’ defensive coordinator under Dave Clawson and he’s using a similar blueprint to try and lift his program to similar heights. He’s off to a great start. At 7-4 (4-3) and headed to a bowl for the 1st time since 2018, Duke has been the biggest surprise of the ACC season.
The secret to the Blue Devils’ success has been their balance. They average 191 yards on the ground and 224 through the air with quarterback Riley Leonard making major contributions to both. He has thrown for 16 touchdowns and run for 11 more. They also don’t turn the ball over.
Conversely their defense, anchored by linebacker Shaka Heyward, has thrived on takeaways. They’ve forced 23 this season, a total that ranks among the top 10 in the Football Bowl Subdivision. That should be a concern for Clawson and the Deacons, whose inability to hold onto the ball was a major contributing factor to their recent 3-game losing streak.
Wake (7-4, 3-4) got back on the winning track Saturday against Syracuse in a Senior Night game that saw quarterback Sam Hartman connect with star receiver A.T. Perry for 3 touchdowns. Perry now has 27 career touchdown catches, the most in school history, and Hartman needs 3 more scoring passes to match Tajh Boyd’s ACC record of 107.
Duke leads the all-time series 58-41-2, but Wake has won the past 3 meetings.
Syracuse at Boston College
When – Saturday, 7 p.m. ET
TV – Regional sports networks
The Orange (6-5, 3-4) and Eagles (3-8, 2-5) renew a rivalry that carried over from their days as members of the Big East. Syracuse leads the all-time series 33-22, including a 5-4 advantage as members of the ACC. The teams have split their past 6 meetings evenly.
In an interesting quirk, the past 3 games in the series have been played at Syracuse. The most recent game in Chestnut Hill, Mass., was a 42-21 win by the Orange in 2018. That also happened to be the last time Dino Babers’ team ended a season in a bowl game. This year’s team will end that drought. But after losing 5 straight since starting the year at 6-0, its momentum currently is stuck in reverse.
But at least Syracuse has something to show for its season. That’s more than BC can say about a 2022 season that has been nothing short of a disaster. It hit rock bottom Saturday with a 44-0 manhandling by then-No. 18 Notre Dame.
Although the Eagles might have found a quarterback of the future in redshirt freshman Emmett Morehead, they’ve been hampered by a rash of injuries on the offensive line, the lack of a running attack and a defense that has allowed opponents an average of 30 ppg.
Pittsburgh at Miami
When – Saturday, 8 p.m. ET
TV – ACC Network
This was supposed to be a showdown for the Coastal Division championship, but things haven’t worked out as planned for either team.
The Panthers (7-4, 4-3) were done in by an early injury epidemic that gutted their highly rated defense and a passing game that has been a major disappointment. Thanks to the steady play of Outland Trophy semifinalist Calijah Kancey and linebacker SirVocea Dennis, along with the running of Israel Abanikanda, Pitt at least has been able to stay above .500 and earn a spot in the postseason.
That’s still better than the Hurricanes, who are 1 win short of bowl eligibility. The preseason Coastal Division favorites got knocked back early with an upset loss to Middle Tennessee State and never fully recovered.
The Canes’ offense has struggled, especially since starting quarterback Tyler Van Dyke was lost to an injury. Although they’re 2-2 in the past 4 games, they have managed only 3 touchdowns during that span with a pair of 30-plus point losses.
Pitt is a 6.5-point favorite, but Miami has won the past 4 meetings and leads the all-time series 29-11-1.
Virginia at Virginia Tech
When – TBA
TV – TBA
A decision has yet to be made whether the Commonwealth Cup game between the Cavaliers (3-7, 1-6) and Hokies (3-8, 1-6) will be played in the wake of last week’s tragedy that took the lives of UVA players Devin Chandler, Lavel Davis Jr. and D’Sean Perry.