10 things I'm absolutely overreacting to after Week 7 in the ACC
OK, I admit it. I got suckered in by Louisville just like everyone else.
The crazy thing is that the Cardinals’ upset of Notre Dame last week looks even better now after the Irish’s impressive bounce-back win against Southern Cal on Saturday.
Maybe Jeff Brohm’s team really is as good as we thought it was and the hangover that caused its meltdown against Pittsburgh could simply have been avoided by taking a hydration pack.
We’ll find out in the coming weeks. Until then, it’s more fun to overreact.
So here’s my take on the Cardinals and 9 other things I’m absolutely overreacting to after Week 7 in and around the ACC.
10. Who cares when basketball starts?
It’s about this time every year when the thoughts of ACC fans, especially those in North Carolina’s Triangle region, turn to basketball.
Practice is underway and there’s less than a month to go before the first games are played.
It’s still football season. And for the first time in recent memory, the best is still yet to come. The ACC has 4 ranked teams, including 2 in the top 10. There’s depth and quality throughout the league with an abundance of individual stars.
And not only is there a great chance of at least 1 ACC team making it into the College Football Playoff, it’s someone other than Clemson,
Hoops can wait.
9. Clawson should have brought in a transfer QB
Seven ACC coaches brought in veteran quarterbacks off the transfer portal last offseason. Wake Forest’s Dave Clawson wasn’t among them.
And it’s not because he wasn’t able to find one he liked. He was so confident in holdover Mitch Griffis’ ability to replace departing free agent Sam Hartman without much of a drop-off that he didn’t even try.
“When Sam left, which we knew he was, we didn’t even look at the transfer market,” he said back in July. “We didn’t even consider bringing a transfer in.”
Six games into the season, there’s a good chance Clawson is regretting that decision.
Griffis has struggled, especially with his penchant for holding onto the ball too long, taking sacks and turning the ball over. Wake’s once-potent slow mesh RPO offense that led the ACC in scoring last season is currently ranked 13th out of 14 teams. And its streak of 6 straight seasons averaging better than 30 points per game is in serious jeopardy.
Things have gotten so bad that Clawson lifted Griffis in favor of backup Michael Kern in Saturday’s loss to Virginia Tech. But even that didn’t help. The Deacons’ only touchdown came on a 96-yard kickoff return by Demond Claiborne. And to make matters worse, Kern went down with an injury late in the game.
With no other options and a tough remaining schedule that includes games against Florida State, Duke and Notre Dame, the Deacons will be hard-pressed to find the 3 more wins they need to gain bowl eligibility.
8. High-powered Drones
Of all the transfer quarterbacks that did come into the league this year, Virginia Tech’s Kyron Drones arrived with the lowest expectations. He was slated to serve as a backup to incumbent Grant Wells with most of his playing time coming as a change-of-pace guy because of his running ability.
That plan changed when Wells suffered a leg injury against Purdue in Week 2. It took awhile for coach Brent Pry and his offensive coordinator Tyler Bowen to figure out how best to use Drones. But once they did, the Baylor transfer has become one of the ACC’s most impactful veteran newcomers.
Drones threw for 321 yards and 2 touchdowns while also leading the Hokies in rushing in Saturday’s 30-13 win against Wake Forest. He’s led Tech to wins in 2 of its past 3 games to improve its record to 3-3 and put it into a realistic position to earn bowl eligibility for the first time since before the pandemic in 2019.
7. It’s not always about the quarterback
After Pitt’s upset of previously undefeated Louisville on Saturday, one of the ACC’s best beat writers – Jerry DiPaola of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review – pondered the question of whether Panthers coach Pat Narduzzi waited too long to replace struggling starting quarterback Phil Jurkovec with backup Christian Veilleux.
The answer, in spite of the result, is an emphatic no.
While Veilleux had a decent performance, throwing for 200 yards and 2 touchdowns without an interception, it was the defense that did most of the heavy lifting in the 38-21 victory. It would be a mistake to assume that all of the Panthers’ many offensive issues have suddenly been solved because of a quarterback change.
As proof, I offer to you MJ Morris.
NC State fans were ready to canonize the sophomore backup last week when he threw for 4 touchdowns in a win against Marshall. But the shine tarnished quickly when Morris and the Wolfpack were only able to manage 3 points in a loss to Duke on Saturday.
It doesn’t matter who’s playing quarterback when you have a receiving corps that can’t get open, an offensive line that can’t block and an ineffective running game.
6. Can Duke take its show on the road?
The Blue Devils are ranked 16th and are 31 seconds against Notre Dame from being undefeated. Although their success has come against one of the most challenging schedules in the nation, they’ve had at least 1 advantage in that 5 of their first 6 games were played at home.
That includes Saturday’s 24-3 win against NC State with backup quarterback Henry Belin IV standing in for injured starter Riley Leonard.
Now comes the hard part. The downside of having a schedule front-loaded with home games is that it’s going to be back-loaded with road games. Four of the next 5 games are in hostile territory, starting Saturday at No. 4 Florida State. They’ll also have to travel to Louisville and rival North Carolina.
Mike Elko’s 5-1 team is one of 3 remaining unbeatens in conference play and is still in contention for a spot in the ACC Championship Game. But in order to get there it will have to prove it can play as well on the road as it has at home.
If there’s one thing the Blue Devils have going for them it’s that they should already be used to playing in front of a large gathering of unfriendly fans. In at least 3 of their games this season – against Clemson, Notre Dame and NC State, the opposing team has had as many if not more supporters in the stands at Wallace Wade Stadium as they have.
5. UNC will be 10-0 when it goes to Clemson on Nov. 18
The Tar Heels didn’t play their best Saturday against Miami. But that, in the words of star quarterback Drake Maye, is what made the 41-31 victory so impressive.
“We just find ways to win,” he said. “That’s a testament to this team.”
The gritty, resilient victory improved UNC to 6-0 (2-0 ACC) and catapulted it into the top 10 of both national polls. More important, it helped Mack Brown’s steadily improving team clear a significant hurdle in its quest to return to the ACC Championship Game and earn a spot in the College Football Playoff.
With Maye stepping up his game since the addition of game-changing receiver Tez Walker, Omarion Hampton leading the ACC in rushing and a vastly improved defense that should make coordinator Gene Chizik a frontrunner for the Frank Broyles Award as the nation’s top assistant, The Tar Heels are looking more and more legitimate with each passing week.
Sure there’s a chance the Tar Heels could slip up against frequent nemesis Georgia Tech or rival Duke. But it’s less likely to happen because of the lesson they learned while squandering a promising 9-1 start a year ago. But more than likely, their trip to Death Valley in Week 12 is the only thing standing in their way of an undefeated regular season.
4. Florida State flirting with trouble
The Seminoles gave another display of how good and how balanced they are during Saturday’s 41-3 blowout of Syracuse. At the same time, they also showed that they still have an issue with maintaining their focus for a full 60 minutes and showing a killer instinct when they have a chance to put a team away.
It nearly cost them against Boston College earlier in the season. Then last week against Virginia Tech, they let a 22-0 1st-quarter lead slip away by allowing the Hokies to score 17 unanswered points between the 2nd and 3rd quarters. They took their foot off the accelerator again on Saturday against the Orange when they failed to build on an early 17-3 advantage by coming up empty on 2 straight red-zone possessions just before halftime.
Against both Tech and Syracuse, Mike Norvell’s 4th-ranked team recovered from its midgame doldrums to regain its rhythm and win handily. But it’s a habit FSU needs to break. And soon.
Because while the Seminoles have been able to get away with the lapses in focus against the Boston Colleges, Virginia Techs and Syracuses of the world, it’s eventually going to come back to bite them as they step up in competition.
Starting this Saturday against Duke.
3. Wolfpack Nation deserves better
Dave Doeren is 1 win shy of tying Earle Edwards (77) for the most wins in NC State coaching history. It’s a record he should be able to match and surpass by the end of this season. But that’s not the sure thing it once seemed to be, given the way Doeren’s Wolfpack have played this season.
Despite a record that’s still above .500 at 4-3 overall (0-2 ACC), State has been one of the biggest disappointments in the league this season.
Their most recent performance, a 24-3 loss at Duke on Saturday, was so lackluster that All-ACC linebacker Payton Wilson felt it necessary to apologize to his team’s fan base for the effort.
“That’s not what they deserve,” he said in his postgame comments.
No, it’s not. And Wolfpack Nation is starting to lose its patience.
While State has enjoyed a consistent run of 8- or 9-win seasons and bowl trips during Doeren’s 11-year tenure, that success has only added to the frustration surrounding a program that hasn’t won an ACC football championship since the Carter administration. It’s gotten close enough to see the promised land on several occasions but has never figured out a way to finally get there.
The Wolfpack are stuck on a “good, just not good enough” treadmill. One in which a fresh start might be the only way off. And the best thing for everyone involved.
2. Mario gonna Mario
As noted last week after Miami’s epic “Kneeldowngate” collapse, Hurricanes coach Mario Cristobal is a much better recruiter and salesman than he is a game manager.
As if any further proof were needed, Cristobal provided more Saturday in Chapel Hill.
To his credit, his team bounced back strong from its heart-wrenching loss to Georgia Tech and put 12th-ranked North Carolina on the ropes after 2 periods. It pressured the Tar Heels’ Maye into his worst 1st half of the season, dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball and led 17-14 at the break.
So far, so good.
But while Brown and his staff made several key adjustments that helped get the Tar Heels back on track, Miami fell flat coming out of halftime. Did they make any adjustments? Or maybe they made the wrong adjustments.
Either way, the Hurricanes couldn’t stop either the run or the pass, turned the ball over 3 times and let the game and any chance they might still have had at getting into the ACC Championship game slip away by giving up 24 unanswered points.
1. Brohm gonna Brohm
Louisville’s loss at Pittsburgh was an upset, especially coming off an impressive win against Notre Dame the previous week. But it wasn’t exactly a surprise. It marked the continuation of a pattern that plagued coach Jeff Brohm during his previous stop at Purdue.
In 2018, Brohm’s Boilermakers took down No. 2 Ohio State 49-20 only to lose to unranked Michigan State 23-13 in its next game. It happened again in 2021.
Twice, in fact.
Purdue followed a 24-7 upset of No. 2 Iowa with a 30-13 loss to Wisconsin. Then after bouncing back to beat No. 3 Michigan State 40-29 later that season, they turned right around and lost at Ohio State. (Granted, the Buckeyes were No. 6 in the country and playing at home.)
Beyond Brohm’s history, Saturday’s loss at Pitt was a perfect storm waiting to claim a victory. Not only did the Cardinals have to deal with their post-Notre Dame hangover, they also took on an opponent playing its homecoming game in its 1st game after a quarterback change. In less-than-ideal weather conditions with their leading rusher Jawhar Jordan limited to 2 carries because of injury.
The loss ended Louisville’s 6-game winning streak to start Brohm’s tenure and brought to mind yet another ominous reminder from Brohm’s coaching past. As an assistant at Illinois in 2013, he was part of a staff whose team started the season 6-0 but then lost its next 6 to finish with a .500 record.
The odds are against that history repeating itself, if only because Virginia and Virginia Tech are on the Cardinals’ upcoming schedule.