Friedlander: What we learned about every ACC football team in Week 3
During the 24 years of its annual intraconference challenge on the basketball court, the ACC got the better of the Big Ten by a tally of 13-8-3.
This weekend, the league showed that it’s just as adept at holding its own against on the gridiron.
It wasn’t an official competition like the dearly departed ACC/Big Ten Challenge on the hardwood. But with 4 wins in 6 head-to-head matchups between the leagues, the ACC can still claim its share of bragging rights.
Thanks to victories by Duke, Louisville, North Carolina and Syracuse, the conference can now claim winning records against both of the top 2 leagues in college football this season.
Even with a few hiccups, most notably Pittsburgh’s loss to West Virginia in the Backyard Brawl and Florida State’s sloppy performance in a tight win at Boston College, it was another good week for the ACC.
Here’s what we learned about each team:
Say what you want about moral victories. But while Jeff Hafley and his Eagles can be proud for throwing a scare into No. 3 Florida State, Saturday’s 31-29 loss in BC’s “Red Bandana Game” was a disappointment because it could very easily have been an actual, program-changing win.
The Eagles showed that they’re vastly improved, especially on offense with dual-threat quarterback Thomas Castellanos working behind a rebuilt line. At the same time, though, we learned that they still leave a lot to be desired when it comes to discipline and execution.
On this occasion, those problems manifested themselves in the form of penalties. A school-record 18 to be exact. While they all were damaging, 1 stood out: the facemask call that extended FSU’s final drive and cost them 1 final chance at getting the ball back and pulling the game out.
Cade Klubnik was efficient. The defense created 4 turnovers and the Tigers stormed to a 41-0 lead before easing off in the 4th quarter for a 48-14 win against Florida Atlantic.
But none of that matters as much as the fact that for the first time in 3 games this season, Dabo Swinney’s team managed to play an entire game without any egregious self-inflicted mistakes.
It wasn’t a completely clean performance. Clemson did lose 1 fumble late. But it was an encouraging tune-up that showed us the Tigers are as ready as they’ll ever be for next week’s critical ACC battle against another, much more talented team from the Sunshine State.
The Blue Devils showed us that they’re ready and able to play with the big boys by upsetting Clemson in Week 1. Over the past 2 weeks, Mike Elko’s team has displayed a personality that’s just as important.
Just as it did last week against Lafayette, we learned that Duke knows what to do against teams it’s supposed to beat by taking care of business early and emphatically in a routine 38-14 win against Northwestern.
“We started fast. We got the lead,” Elko said afterward. “That’s what you want to do in a game like this.”
Riley Leonard and Jordan Waters each ran for 2 touchdowns and the Blue Devils built a 31-7 lead after 3 quarters before coasting home with their 3rd straight win to begin the season.
We learned that it might be a little premature to start penciling the Seminoles into the College Football Playoff. Maybe they got caught taking Boston College lightly and looking ahead to next week’s showdown at Clemson. Or perhaps they were bothered by the early start time.
Whatever the reason, Mike Norvell’s team showed a few flaws in a win that was much closer than it should have been.
Beyond the obvious issues – the turnovers, the missed assignments in the secondary, the inability to contain a mobile quarterback – the most troubling thing we saw was its loss of focus. It was particularly evident early in the 2nd half.
Instead of putting an inferior opponent away after scoring 2 quick touchdowns to open a 31-10 lead, the Seminoles took their foot off the accelerator and allowed BC to battle back and nearly steal the game. They won’t be as lucky if they do that against one of the better teams on their upcoming schedule.
It’s hard to take encouragement from a 48-23 loss. And yet, in the case of the Yellow Jackets’ defeat at Ole Miss on Saturday, there is a distinct silver lining.
For one thing, they scored 23 points, which is 23 more than they mustered against the Rebels in Atlanta last season. And while the 48 points and 550 yards they surrendered in Oxford might look similar to those of a year ago, most of these – including half the points – came in the 4th quarter after Brent Key’s team ran out of gas.
We learned that Tech is a much more competitive team against top-level competition than it was in 2022. What does that mean moving forward? We’ll see next week against Wake Forest.
We still don’t know how good the Cardinals are or aren’t. Two of their 3 wins to begin Jeff Brohm’s tenure as coach have come against FBS opponents picked to finish at or near the bottom of their conference. The other was against an overmatched FCS team.
And Saturday’s 21-14 win against Indiana was hardly a work of art. They needed a heroic stop from freshman linebacker Stanquan Clark on Indiana’s Josh Henderson on a 4th-and-goal play from inside the 1 with 4½ minutes left to preserve their first 3-0 start since 2016.
More than anything else, we learned that the Cardinals need to work on their consistency. They outscored the Hoosiers 21-0 in the 1st half. But after watching their opponent recover an onside kick to start the 2nd, they were outscored 14-0 the rest of the way.
But they won. And that’s important because it already puts Louisville halfway toward bowl eligibility in Brohm’s debut season at his alma mater.
There wasn’t much to learn from a routine blowout of a guarantee game opponent.
But this much is certain about the Hurricanes: They are vastly improved from a year ago, especially on offense, thanks in part to a rebuilt line and the return to health of difference-makers Tyler Van Dyke and Xavier Restrepo.
They’re also good enough and deep enough on defense to come within a couple of minutes of pitching a shutout, even with starters Kam Kinchens, Akheem Mesidor, Nyjalik Kelly and Branson Deen on the sidelines nursing injuries.
As wide as the final 48-7 margin was over Bethune-Cookman, it could have been even bigger. But coach Mario Cristobal was wise enough to pull most of his starters after halftime. Better to live to play another day than risk injury by trying to run up the score.
The biggest takeaway from the Tar Heels’ impressive 31-13 win against Minnesota is that all quarterbacks, even those as elite as Drake Maye, are only as good as the receivers to whom they’re throwing.
That was visible to even the most uninitiated eye on Saturday as Maye celebrated the arrival of slot receiver Nate McCollum by throwing for 414 yards, the 2nd-most of his storied UNC career. McCollum, who was recruited as a transfer from Georgia Tech to help replace the production lost by the departure of NFL Draft pick Josh Downs, has been sidelined with a leg injury.
It didn’t take long for him to make up for lost time. He was targeted 5 times on the Tar Heels’ opening drive and finished with 15 catches, 1 off Downs’ school record. McCollum ended up with 165 yards and a touchdown to help add some badly needed diversity to a UNC offense that relied heavily on the running game in its opening 2 wins.
Sure it was only VMI. But for the first time in 3 games, the Wolfpack finally showed glimpses of the offensive explosiveness they expected to gain with the arrival of transfer quarterback Brennan Armstrong and offensive coordinator Robert Anae.
Armstrong threw for 264 yards and a touchdown on 27-of-32 completions.
While the 6th-year quarterback had his best game in his short tenure at State, we also learned that coach Dave Doeren’s team also has some good young talent as well. Freshman Kendrick Raphael led the Pack with 85 yards rushing, and classmate Kevin Concepcion caught a game-high 6 passes for 62 yards.
The Wolfpack’s defense also bounced back from a tough day against Notre Dame last week by holding the Keydets to just 191 total yards.
If you thought that Kedon Slovis’ 1-year tenure as the Panthers’ quarterback was bad, let me introduce you to the past 2 weeks of this year’s rental Phil Jurkovec. The Boston College transfer got booed by his own home fans last week after a dismal performance in a loss to Cincinnati.
He was just as ineffective Saturday in a woeful 17-6 loss to rival West Virginia in the Backyard Brawl.
Jurkovec completed only 8-of-20 passes for 81 yards and 3 of interceptions – 1 of which led to 1 of the Mountaineers’ 2 touchdowns. The Panthers finished with 211 yards and only a pair of short field goals in their lowest-scoring effort against WVU since getting shut out in 1996.
We learned that Pat Narduzzi and his staff have a lot of work to do between now and Saturday when Pitt plays its ACC opener against high-scoring North Carolina.
The most significant thing we learned about the Orange on Saturday happened before the its game at Purdue. Shortly before kickoff, the Orange announced that All-ACC tight end Oronde Gadsden II will miss the rest of the season with a Lisfranc injury to his foot suffered early in last week’s win against Western Michigan.
Without him, Syracuse’s offense still managed to put up 35 points in its first test against a Power 5 opponent. Garrett Shrader threw for 195 yards and ran for a game-high 123 yards and 3 touchdowns to beat the Boilermakers for the 2nd straight year and improve to 3-0 this season.
We learned 2 things about the Cavaliers during Friday’s 42-14 loss to former ACC rival Maryland.
First, Anthony Colandrea and his teammates showed us what they have the potential to be by roaring out of the game with 2 quick touchdowns to take a 14-0 lead and playing 3 solid quarters on the road against a Power 5 opponent.
The true freshman, making his 2nd start in place of injured starter Tony Muskett, started 10-for-11 and was 20-of-30 for 249 yards and showed incredible poise for a player with such little experience through the 1st quarter.
And then with UVA only 12 yards from a tying touchdown, Tony Elliott’s team reminded us for who it actually is.
Colandrea threw an interception in the end zone, the 1st of 3 picks in the 4th quarter. All led to Maryland touchdowns that turned a close game into a lopsided loss. After taking that early 14-0 lead, the Cavaliers surrendered 42 unanswered points to fall to 0-3 for the 1st time since 2016.
The Hokies were without much of their offensive production with starting quarterback Grant Wells and leading receiver Ali Jennings III both sidelined with ankle injuries and 2nd-leading receiver Jaylin Lane also limited physically.
So it’s no surprise that they struggled offensively in their 35-16 loss to Rutgers.
But there was at least one positive development in the defeat: backup quarterback Kyron Drones. The Baylor transfer showed he has the potential to push Wells for the starting job with a dual-threat capability that saw him throw for 190 yards and rush for 74 in his 1st career start.
The most important thing we learned from the Deacons’ 27-24 win at Old Dominion is that ACC teams might think seriously about scheduling games against the Monarchs in Norfolk. Dave Clawson’s team had to recover from a near-disastrous opening half to avoid joining Virginia Tech as a victim of ODU this season.
We also learned that Mitch Griffis still has a long way to go to give Wake the kind of production and leadership it lost with the transfer of Sam Hartman to Notre Dame. Griffis was intercepted twice and lost a fumble that was returned for a touchdown before rallying his team from a 17-point deficit.
He threw 2 2nd-half touchdown passes and was bailed out by a defense that recorded a school-record 10 sacks, including 3 each by Jacob Roberts and Jasheen Davis.