Friedlander: What we learned about every ACC football team in Week 12
Louisville put an exclamation point on its surprising Year 1 under coach Jeff Brohm by beating Miami and clinching its trip to Charlotte for the ACC Championship Game in 2 weeks.
But the most significant headline to come out of Week 12 centers around the team the Cardinals will be facing.
Florida State was already thinking beyond the ACC and appeared to be in the fast lane to the College Football Playoff until star quarterback Jordan Travis went down with an ugly injury late in the 1st quarter of what was supposed to be a Senior Night victory lap.
It will be at least until next week when the Seminoles play arch-rival Florida in Gainesville before we learn how much Travis’ absence will change the trajectory of the season for coach Mike Norvell’s team.
Suffice it to say, things look a lot different now than they did 24 hours ago.
And not just for the Seminoles and the Cardinals.
So let’s take a look back and see what we learned about all 14 ACC teams that were in action during an eventual penultimate weekend of the 2023 season.
Maybe the Eagles didn’t take their foot off the accelerator once they earned bowl eligibility 2 weeks ago. But if we learned anything from Thursday’s loss at Pittsburgh, it’s that whatever momentum they had left from their season-saving 5-game winning streak is now officially gone.
The biggest problem Thursday was an offensive line that has been a strength this season. Christian Mahogany and his mates couldn’t keep Pitt’s pass rush away from quarterback Thomas Castellanos. While the Eagles were able to move the ball effectively at times, they only scored 1 TD because of 6 sacks that stunted several other drives.
And even that had an asterisk attached to it. Castellano’s 24-yard touchdown pass to Lewis Bond was gifted by a generous call that should have been reversed on review – showing us once again that the ACC’s review system is severely broken.
The Tigers have been their own worst enemy this season when it comes to turnovers, especially as they seem poised to score. Saturday against North Carolina, we learned that their case of fumblitis inside the opponent’s 10-yard line is contagious.
The Tar Heels twice fumbled as they were going in for scores – once on an inspired individual effort by Nate Wiggins to run down Omarion Hampton from behind and strip the ball from him just before he crossed the goal line.
But that’s not the only thing we learned from Saturday’s game at Death Valley.
Junior running back Will Shipley, who had his best game of the year with 126 rushing yards and a touchdown, went through Senior Day ceremonies – adding to speculation that he’ll be playing elsewhere in 2024.
We also learned that Dabo Swinney still hasn’t learned his lesson when it comes to fake punts. He tried one for the 2nd straight week. And for the 2nd straight week, it failed. But Clemson still won, 31-20, to ensure its 13th consecutive winning season.
We learned that the Blue Devils still haven’t figured out how to beat Virginia in Charlottesville. Saturday’s 30-27 loss was their 6th straight setback at Scott Stadium. The last time a Duke team left UVa with a victory was after a 35-22 win in 2013.
Duke’s defense, which once ranked 1st in the ACC and as high as 4th nationally, may be running out of gas after carrying the team since starting quarterback Riley Leonard’s injury. After giving up 47 points in a double-overtime loss at UNC last week, it surrendered 448 yards and 30 points to the Cavaliers.
Jordan’s injury cast a pall over both the Seminoles’ Senior Night festivities and the retiring of Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston’s jersey No. 5. It also throws FSU’s championship hopes – both in the ACC and nationally – into serious doubt.
Backup Tate Rodemaker came off the bench to throw for 217 yards and a touchdown while leading a charge that saw his team score 58 unanswered points after North Alabama jumped out to an early 13-0 lead.
Make no mistake, Rodemaker — a 3-star QB from the 2020 class — is no Travis Jordan. Not even close. But he did lead the Seminoles to a win against Louisville last season when pressed into a start because of injury. And he has a lot of talent surrounding him. It’s going to take all of that talent to survive next week’s regular season finale and that championship date with the Cardinals to preserve FSU’s spot in the Playoff rankings.
It might not seem like it, but there was just as much pressure, if not more, on the Yellow Jackets to deliver on Saturday than there was on championship-bound Louisville. At least the Cardinals would have had a back door to get to Charlotte, based on the results of other games.
Brent Key’s team had little to no margin for error needing 1 more win for bowl eligibility with a date with Georgia looming next week. With its 31-22 win against Syracuse, we learned that Tech can handle the pressure.
No matter what happens against the 2-time defending national champion and No. 1 Bulldogs, the Yellow Jackets will be playing in a bowl in Key’s first full season as their coach. It’s their first postseason berth in 5 years. And 2 coaches ago.
We learned that the Cardinals will be playing Florida State for a shot at their first ACC title. But as usual, it wasn’t be easy.
Brohm’s 10th-ranked team earned its title shot by outlasting Miami 38-31 to improve to 10-1 (7-1 ACC). They did it by rallying from a 28-23 4t- quarter deficit, taking the lead for good on a 58-yard pass from Jack Plummer to Kevin Coleman with just over 4 minutes remaining. Still, it took a red-zone stop in the final 2 minutes to finally put the Hurricanes away.
It was the 4th time this season, along with games against Georgia Tech, NC State and Virginia, that Louisville has won after being behind or tied in the final period.
The Hurricanes lost for the 5th time in their past 7 games. But in the process, we learned that Tyler Van Dyke still has it in him to be a competent college quarterback. Pressed into service by a season-ending injury to his replacement Emory Williams, Van Dyke returned to the starting lineup against Louisville and completed 24-of-39 passes for 327 yards and a touchdown.
Most important, he managed to avoid the interception epidemic that has played him over the 2nd half of the season. He had thrown 11 picks in his previous 5 games after throwing only 1 (with 11 touchdowns) in his first 4.
As good as Van Dyke was against the Cardinals, he was unable to get his team into the end zone for the tying touchdown in the final 2 minutes. The Canes had 1st-and-goal from the 4 but were stopped on 4 consecutive plays — the final 3 incompletions. Miami forced a quick punt and Van Dyke completed a Hail Mary pass on the game’s final play, but it came up 5 yards short.
Winning at Death Valley is difficult enough without making it easy on Clemson. The Tar Heels learned that valuable lesson the hard way Saturday by squandering multiple opportunities to put the Tigers in a deeper hole.
UNC was clearly the better team during the opening quarter and could have been ahead by 3 scores had Hampton not sandwiched his 2 lost fumbles inside the Tigers’ 5 around a touchdown pass from Drake Maye to JJ Jones. Instead, Mack Brown’s team left the door open for a Clemson comeback that all but ended any hope of a New Year’s 6 bowl bid.
The game was a rematch of last year’s league championship game in Charlotte, also won by Clemson. This one had a twist, though. Hampton’s 2 fumbles were his first this season after 206 carries without one through the first 10 games.
Thanks to Brennan Armstrong, we learned how powerful the opportunity for redemption can be. The graduate transfer quarterback was booed off the field before being replaced by backup MJ Morris 5 weeks into the season.
But given a 2nd chance at the starting job after Morris chose to preserve his redshirt, the ACC’s all-time leading passer among left-handed quarterbacks responded by leading the Wolfpack to a win at Wake Forest last week. He was even better Saturday, throwing for 2 touchdowns and running for 2 others while accounting for 292 yards in leading State to its 4th straight win since its bye week.
Freshman sensation KC Concepcion continued his strong play by catching a pair of touchdown passes and throwing for another score, while linebacker Payton Wilson continued building ACC Defensive Player of the year resume with 11 tackles, 3.5 TFLs and a sack.
The win gives Dave Doeren’s team at least 8 wins for the 4th straight year, the first time in program history that’s happened. We also learned that Wolfpack joins Georgia, Alabama and Notre Dame as the only Power 5 programs to win as many as 8 games in each of the past 4 seasons.
The Panthers looked like a different team Thursday night than the one we’ve seen in every other game other than Louisville this season. Especially on offense. And we didn’t need an ACC Network analyst with a Telestrator to learn why.
It’s because Pat Narduzzi finally pushed the right button with his choice of quarterbacks.
Phil Jurkovec wasn’t the answer. Christian Veilleux wasn’t, either. But with Nate Yarnell under center, Pitt finally showed a capacity for moving the ball consistently on the way to a 24-16 win against Boston College. Yarnell completed 11-of-19 passes for 207 yards and a touchdown. He also rushed for a score while avoiding the mistakes that plagued his predecessors in improving to 2-0 as a starter in his career.
It also helped that Rodney Hammond ran for 146 yards and a clinching 4th-quarter touchdown and Pitt’s defense sacked BC’s Castellanos 6 times on the way to breaking a 4-game losing streak.
Without the element of surprise it had last week against Pittsburgh, Syracuse learned that it’s awfully tough to win a game without a quarterback.
With starter Garrett Shrader limited to a single carry and no pass attempts because of an injury and backup Carlos Del Rio-Wilson not in uniform, the Orange gave it their best shot with converted tight end Dan Villari under center and running back LeQuint Allen doing most of the heavy lifting.
While both had their share of success – Allen ran for 120 yards and a touchdown while Villari completed all 14 of his passes, though for just 59 yards – the direct snap offense didn’t come close to the 392 yards it churned out on the ground in the win against the Panthers.
With 6 losses in their past 7 games after a 4-0 start, the Orange will need a win next week against Boston College to earn bowl eligibility for the 2nd straight season and perhaps save coach Dino Babers’ job.
It was a difficult week for the Cavaliers. Not only did they pay tribute to slain teammates Lavel Davis, D’Sean Perry and Devin Chandler on the anniversary of their tragic deaths, but they were also confronted with current teammate Perris Jones undergoing spinal surgery for an injury suffered during last week’s loss at Louisville.
But as they have throughout the past year, they showed us how strong a group of young athletes can be by staying focused and hanging on for a 30-27 win against Duke.
It was a significant victory, not only because of the off-the-field circumstances. It marked the first home win of coach Tony Elliott’s tenure in Charlottesville. UVa’s last previous win at Scott Stadium was a 48-49 victory against Georgia Tech in October 2021.
There was also some history made. Malik Washington, the ACC’s leading pass catcher, recorded his 6th straight game with more than 100 receiving yards. It was the 9th time this season he’s surpassed the century mark, improving his season total to 1,311 yards – the most in program history.
The Hokies started Saturday hoping for a chance at playing for an ACC championship. That went out the window when Louisville beat Miami. Their hopes of gaining bowl eligibility for the first time since 2019 also went unfulfilled with a home loss to NC State. Brent Pry’s team will have 1 more shot at getting to the postseason, next week against rival Virginia.
Tech’s downfall stemmed from its defense’s inability to get the Wolfpack’s Brennan Armstrong on the ground. The Hokies came into the game with 31 sacks, 2nd in the league. But they were only able to record 1 against the elusive NC State quarterback. And while their offense was able to put up 28 points against the stingiest defense in the ACC against conference opponents, 2 of those touchdowns came in the 4th quarter after the Wolfpack had built an insurmountable lead.
We learned that the season can’t get over soon enough for Dave Clawson and his Deacons. With their 7th loss, a 45-7 dismantling at the hands of Notre Dame, their school-record streak of 7 straight bowl seasons is officially over. To add insult to injury, this latest defeat was delivered by one of their own. Or at least someone who was once one of their own.
Irish quarterback Sam Hartman, who owns numerous school records and is the ACC’s career leader in touchdown passes, threw for 277 yards and 4 touchdowns to take down his former team. His replacement Michael Kern, Wake’s 3rd different starting quarterback this season, had a much tougher time of things in the shadow of the Golden Dome. The 5th-year junior was 11-of-20 for just 81 yards in his first career start.