10 things I'm absolutely overreacting to after Week 6 in the ACC
You never fail to deliver. You tease us and lead us to believe that the old swagger is back and that you’re finally ready to regain your place among the nation’s elite.
Only to fall flat on your face in the most dramatic fashion possible.
It happened again Saturday. And thanks to coach Mario Cristobal, the Hurricanes outdid themselves this time.
Their last-minute collapse against Georgia Tech was one for the ages. But it’s only 1 of the 10 things I’m absolutely overreacting to after an eventful Week 6 in and around the ACC.
So let’s get started.
10. Free Darrell Jackson
Football is a copycat sport. Anytime a coach or a team comes up with something new that works, it’s only a matter of time before everyone else starts doing it, too.
And the duplication isn’t limited to strategy on the field.
That’s why it’s time for Florida State to take a page out of rival North Carolina’s playbook and introduce some of its own “new evidence” in order to pressure the NCAA into restoring the transfer waiver of defensive lineman Darrell Jackson.
By “new evidence,” we’re talking about a team of high-powered lawyers to threaten the NCAA with a costly lawsuit, citing a violation of antitrust laws and unreasonable restraint of trade for denying Jackson’s ability to play college football and earn money from his name, image and likeness.
It worked for UNC and Tez Walker. It will work for the Seminoles and Jackson, who like Walker is a 2-time transfer with an extenuating circumstance. He transferred to FSU from Miami to be closer to his ailing mother.
The @NCAA are a bunch of out-of-touch hypocrites. NC threatens antitrust allegations and they punted to save face on their terrible decision. #FSU’s Darrell Jackson must play NOW. We’ll take legal action soon if they don’t reverse course. #FlaPol https://t.co/1uXwHpOPOd
— Jimmy Patronis (@JimmyPatronis) October 6, 2023
The NCAA hasn’t won a court case in a decade. It won’t win this one either, which is why it will back down and grant Jackson eligibility the minute the folks in Tallahassee apply enough pressure.
9. BC better lucky than good
Credit to Thomas Castellanos for being a talented playmaker who has taken advantage of an opportunity and a vastly improved offensive line to breathe some badly needed life into a Boston College offense that was among the ACC’s worst last season.
But in spite of his efforts in leading back-to-back game-winning drives over the past 2 weeks, the Eagles have no business being 3-3 and still being in contention to become bowl eligible.
They caught a break last week when Virginia couldn’t hold onto a 14-point halftime lead and failed to take full advantage of the 2 turnovers BC gave it while trying to protect a 4th-quarter lead.
They caught an even bigger break Saturday when an apparent Army touchdown that would have put the game away with just over 5 minutes remaining was nullified upon review. It only added to BC’s good fortune that Cadets quarterback Bryson Dailey would have had a drive-extending 1st down had he not attempted the option pitch that was ruled to be a forward pass beyond the line of scrimmage.
A favorable remaining schedule gives the Eagles a realistic shot at getting the 3 more wins needed to earn a postseason trip. But only if their luck holds out.
8. Road, sweet road
Even though Georgia Tech has one of the most picturesque home fields in Bobby Dodd Stadium, a historic venue nestled smack in the heart of downtown Atlanta, you couldn’t blame coach Brent Key for wanting to play all his team’s games on the road.
His Yellow Jackets have been significantly better when playing at somebody else’s venue.
Two of their 3 wins this season, including their improbable come-from-behind miracle at Miami on Saturday, have come away from home. Of the 4 wins he earned as interim coach last year, 3 were on the road – including upsets of ranked opponents North Carolina and Pittsburgh. Key is just 2-4 in games played in Atlanta.
So much for home-field advantage.
7. If it hasn’t been fixed yet, it’s not getting fixed
To look at the statistics, you’d think that Clemson’s offense is among the best in the ACC. The Tigers are averaging 32 points and rank 4th in the league in total offense at 437 yards per game.
Well done, Garrett Riley. Well done.
What the raw numbers don’t say is that Cade Klubnik and his offense have been their own worst enemy during the first half of the season. Their 10 giveaways, including 2 in Saturday’s uninspired win against Wake Forest, are tied for the 2nd-most in the ACC and have led directly to both losses.
Clemson’s kickers, meanwhile, have missed 6-of-10 field-goal attempts, forcing Dabo Swinney to literally pull someone off the street out of desperation.
Those deficiencies have already cost the Tigers any shot at returning to the College Football Playoff this year. Whatever chances they still have of sneaking into the ACC Championship Game or salvaging another double-digit win season depend entirely on their ability to stop making self-inflicted mistakes and start making kicks.
But if Riley and Swinney haven’t found a way to fix the recurring problems yet with half the season gone, the odds are against them changing the personality of their offense in the 6 games that remain.
6. Is Florida State really that good?
The Seminoles took care of business against Virginia Tech on Saturday and moved up a spot to No. 4 in the national polls. There’s no doubt that Mike Norvell’s undefeated team has the talent and the remaining schedule to run the table and earn a shot at playing for the national championship.
And yet, it’s not unfair to wonder if FSU is really that good.
Let’s start with their 2 signature victories, against LSU and Clemson. Neither seems as impressive now that both sets of Tigers have failed to live up to their preseason projections. Then there’s the lack of consistency in the Seminoles’ performances to date. They have yet to put together a full 4-quarter effort. Even their impressive opening night beatdown of LSU featured only 1 good half.
More times than not, they’ve done only as much as they’ve needed to do when they’ve had to do it – as was the case in Saturday’s 39-17 win against Virginia Tech. On the positive side, running back Trey Benson finally broke loose with a dominant 200-yard, 2-touchdown performance while edge rusher Jared Verse recorded 2 sacks, doubling his total from the first 4 games.
Those are encouraging signs, to be sure. Still, with North Carolina and Louisville also undefeated and emerging as viable challengers, FSU must first prove that it’s the best team in the ACC before staking any claim to be the nation’s best.
5. MJ Morris should have been NC State’s QB1 all along
I’m going to show my age here. But when I think about NCAA’s transfer portal, especially as it pertains to available quarterbacks, it reminds me of the old Sears catalog that would arrive in the mail around Christmas time.
Kids would spend literally hours leafing through the pages dreaming about all the new toys they’d like to have. But in doing so, they forgot about all the cool stuff already in their possession.
It’s a trap Dave Doeren fell into this offseason.
Ignoring the fact that he already had a promising 4-star quarterback on his roster in MJ Morris, the NC State coach opted for the shiny new object by bringing in Brennan Armstrong off the portal to be the Wolfpack’s starter. His decision backfired spectacularly.
So after 5 balky performances, Doeren abruptly changed gears and turned his offense over to Morris. And he responded by leading State to a badly-needed 48-41 win against Marshall.
MJ Morris 🏈 Trent Pennix for 62 yards, 6 points.
What. A. Game. pic.twitter.com/oWfu7P0MlR
— Cam Mellor (@CamMellor) October 7, 2023
Morris didn’t exactly put up Heisman Trophy numbers. He was intercepted 3 times, including once for a touchdown, and had his share of other hiccups. But unlike Armstrong, he put balls in places that gave his receivers a chance to catch them, and he rediscovered an important weapon in tight end Trent Pennix.
His 265-yard, 4-touchdown performance has given State renewed hope for the 2nd half of the season while at the same time begging the question of why he wasn’t the starter from Game 1.
4. It’s time to include UNC in the national conversation
Maybe the battle over Walker’s eligibility has been a distraction. Or perhaps it’s just that the national media doesn’t start paying attention to North Carolina until the start of basketball season.
But don’t look now, the Tar Heels are rapidly emerging as a legitimate ACC championship and Playoff contender.
At a time in the season in which most teams are losing key players to injury and other attrition, Mack Brown’s 12th-ranked squad keeps adding new weapons seemingly every week. Saturday, it was Walker who made his long-awaited debut in a dominant 40-7 rout of Syracuse.
It was a performance that showed off the full range of UNC’s ability on both sides of the ball. Drake Maye threw for 424 yards and 3 touchdowns while completing passes to 10 receivers in the 1st half. Omarion Hampton, the ACC’s 2nd-leading rusher, keyed a ground attack that rolled up more than 200 yards while the defense continued its dramatic improvement over last season by holding the Orange to a single touchdown.
And yet, as coach Brown proclaimed afterward, the best might still be yet to come. “I still think our best game is out there,” he said.
3. As usual, Notre Dame is overrated
Rockne. The 4 Horsemen. Touchdown Jesus. Rudy.
There’s a certain romance that goes with Notre Dame football. But while the Irish continue to field competitive, nationally relevant teams, the shine of the Golden Dome isn’t nearly as bright as it once was.
Even though it continues to blind those who set the national narrative of college football.
The preseason hype was especially intense heading into this season with the addition of transfer quarterback Sam Hartman. But the Irish are a flawed team led by a coach still going through on-the-job training.
Many of those flaws were exposed by Ohio State and Duke over the past couple of weeks. Saturday, Louisville took advantage of them to end the ACC’s 30-game regular-season losing streak against Notre Dame as well as the fantasy that the Irish were a serious Playoff contender.
2. Louisville is for real
Time to stop talking about the strength of the Cardinals’ schedule. Or in this case, the lack thereof.
While the ability to avoid frontrunners Florida State and UNC, along with defending ACC champion Clemson will certainly aid their chances of earning a spot in the league championship come December, Saturday’s win against Notre Dame confirms that Jeff Brohm’s team is for real and every bit as good as its 6-0 record indicates.
The Cardinals have all the offensive explosiveness you’d expect from Brohm’s Air Raid attack thanks to the trio of quarterback Jack Plummer, big play receiver Jamari Thrash and ACC-leading rusher Jawhar Jordan, But their defense, which forced 5 Notre Dame turnovers and sacked Hartman 4 times on Saturday, has been every bit as good as the unit that ranked among the nation’s leaders in both takeaways and sacks last year.
It’s time to start taking the No. 14-ranked Cardinals seriously.
1. Cristobal makes Les Miles look like a good clock manager
Cristobal has proven himself to be a great recruiter. And a charismatic personality. But as a game coach, well, let’s just say he leaves a lot to be desired.
It’s bad enough that his team looked ill-prepared and unmotivated coming out of its open date against Georgia Tech on Saturday. But at least the Hurricanes still managed to put themselves in a position to escape with their unbeaten record intact.
That is until their coach decided to put on a clinic that would have made even Les Miles, the all-time king of bad clock management, cringe.
Up by 3 with just 36 seconds left, all he had to do was tell quarterback Tyler Van Dyke to take a knee and let the clock run out to preserve the victory. Instead, he opted to hand the ball off to Don Chaney, who was stripped of the ball as he ran into the teeth of the Yellow Jackets’ defensive line.
One of the worst losses in CFB history.
Part 1: Leading 20-17 with 35 seconds left, Miami had the ball. Georgia Tech did not have a time-out. One kneel down was all Miami needed to win the game.
Instead, the Hurricanes run a play. GT forces and recovers a fumble. pic.twitter.com/DTxSKolyX7
— The Comeback (@thecomeback) October 8, 2023
“We should have taken a knee,” Cristobal said afterward.
But even that wasn’t the Hurricanes’ last shoulda, coulda, woulda.
After giving Tech 1 last chance to pull the game out, Cristobal’s defense somehow managed to leave receiver Christian Leary wide open downfield for Haynes King to hit him for the winning 44-yard touchdown.
It’s a play the Yellow Jackets have already dubbed “The Miami Miracle.” Considering the circumstances and the damage the result will have on both Miami’s season and Cristobal’s reputation, “The South Beach Blunder” might be a more accurate description.