Friedlander: First impressions of every ACC game in Week 8
There are 5 games on the ACC schedule this week, all of which are important to the players, coaches and fans of the teams involved.
Only 1 of them has any real big-picture significance.
Who’d have thought it would be a game involving Syracuse?
Eight weeks ago, the Orange was fighting to keep its coach off the hot seat. Saturday, when it takes on Clemson at Death Valley, Syracuse will be fighting for sole possession of 1st place in the Atlantic Division.
Although the matchup is the main course of Week 8, its noon kickoff makes it more of an appetizer for another long day of ACC football.
Here’s a first look at what’s on the menu.
Virginia at Georgia Tech
When – Thursday, 7:30 p.m. ET
TV – ESPN
Two teams heading in opposite directions cross paths in Atlanta in what’s shaping up to be a much better nationally televised Thursday night affair than originally advertised.
The Yellow Jackets (3-3, 2-1 ACC) are undefeated in 2 games under interim coach Brent Key since the firing of Geoff Collins and suddenly find themselves in contention for a possible bowl berth. On the other hand, the Cavaliers (2-4, 0-3) are in the process of self-destructing in their 1st year under rookie coach Tony Elliott.
The root of Virginia’s problems has been turnovers. Its 15 giveaways are by far the most in the ACC and are more than all but 6 teams nationally. The Cavaliers have generated little to no running attack while record-setting quarterback Brennan Armstrong has struggled to carry the team in the new system installed by Elliott and offensive coordinator Des Kitchings.
Georgia Tech’s success under Key has centered around an offense that doesn’t turn the ball over and a defense led by 2 of the ACC’s top tacklers – linebackers Ayinde Eley and Charlie Thomas.
The Yellow Jackets and Cavaliers are the 2 lowest-scoring teams in the conference this season so don’t expect to see a lot of points in this one.
Clemson at Syracuse
When – Noon ET
TV – ABC
The main event, as unlikely as it might seem.
The showdown between the 5th-ranked Tigers (7-0, 5-0) and the No. 14 Orange (6-0, 3-0) marks the first in the 81-year history of Memorial Stadium pitting teams with at least 6 wins and no losses against each other.
It’s no surprise Clemson is in this position, especially given the improvement quarterback DJ Uiagalelei and his offense have made over the course of the season. Syracuse’s ascension as the last realistic Atlantic Division challenger to the Tigers, however, has come as a complete surprise.
Despite making it through the 1st half of the season without a loss and already is bowl eligible, coach Dino Babers’ team has yet to be tested against a high-level opponent. Even this past Saturday’s win against NC State was devalued by the absence of the Wolfpack’s star quarterback Devin Leary.
Any remaining questions about Syracuse’s legitimacy should be answered once and for all Saturday.
It’s a matchup that should favor the Tigers. But history suggests it’s anything but a slam dunk. The Orange has beaten its division rival as recently as 2017 and last year’s game went down to the wire before Clemson escaped with a 17-14 victory.
Duke at Miami
When – 12:30 p.m. ET
TV – RSN
This promises to be among the most entertaining games of the day with the Blue Devils (4-3, 1-2) looking to bounce back from a heartbreaking last-minute loss to rival North Carolina and the Hurricanes (3-3, 1-1) looking to regain momentum and keep pace in the Coastal Division.
Unlike the Georgia Tech-Virginia matchup that kicks off the week, the Miami-Duke battle promises to be a high-scoring shootout fueled by the arms of quarterbacks Tyler Van Dyke and Riley Leonard.
Van Dyke has thrown for 838 and 5 touchdowns during his past 2 games and Leonard threw for 245 yards and ran for 130 more during Saturday’s close loss to UNC. Duke also features a potent rushing attack, with backs Jaylen Coleman and Jordan Waters combining to average better than 100 yards per game.
History, however, is on Miami’s side. The Hurricanes have won 14 of the 17 meetings since joining the ACC in 2005, including the past 2 by a combined margin of 95-10.
Boston College at Wake Forest
When – 3:30 p.m. ET
TV – ACC Network
Matchup or mismatch?
The numbers suggest it’s the latter, with Sam Hartman and his explosive Deacons (5-1, 1-1) ranking 2nd in the ACC in scoring at 41.2 points per game and the struggling Eagles (2-4, 1-3) surrendering more points than anyone else in the league other than UNC.
BC’s offense has been just as suspect, though it did offer a brief glimpse of its potential in a 34-33 win against to Louisville 2 games ago when quarterback Phil Jurkovec and receiver Zay Flowers combined 151 yards and 2 TDs through the air.
Both teams are coming off open dates, so they should be healthy and well-rested. And it wouldn’t be a surprise to see some new wrinkles – especially from the more desperate Eagles.
Pittsburgh at Louisville
When – Saturday, 8 p.m.
TV – ACC Network
The Panthers (4-2, 1-1) have been something of a disappointment after starting the season talking openly about playing their way into the College Football Playoff. But at least they’re still in contention for a 2nd straight ACC championship.
Any such lofty goals ended long ago for the Cardinals, who at 3-3 overall (1-3 ACC) are more concerned with saving both their season and coach Scott Satterfield’s job than their place in the Atlantic Division standings.
Both teams had last week off, a situation that figures to be more of a benefit for Pitt.
The open date gave Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi and his staff an opportunity to work on establishing a more consistent passing attack to support the record-setting running of Israel Abanikanda, who is coming off a 320-yard, 6-touchdown performance in a win against Virginia Tech on Oct. 8.
Louisville, which is hoping to get star quarterback Malik Cunningham back after an upper body injury, would just as soon have kept playing to build on the momentum gained in arguably, it’s most complete effort of the season – a 34-17 rout of Virginia.