Friedlander: What we learned about every ACC football team in Week 4
Florida State and Clemson stole the show Saturday.
And why not?
Their highly-anticipated clash of ACC titans at Death Valley more than lived up to the hype by going into overtime before the Seminoles came away with a 31-24 victory that solidified them as a serious national championship contender.
But don’t look now.
While FSU is certainly deserving of all the national attention it’s been getting, it has plenty of ACC company among the ranks of the unbeaten.
Thanks to wins by No. 17 North Carolina, No. 18 Duke and No. 20 Miami, along with unranked Syracuse and Louisville, the ACC boasts more 4-0 teams than any conference in the country.
Only the Pac-12 with 5 teams comes close. The SEC, meanwhile, has only 2.
The ACC couldn’t have drawn up a better start to the 2023 season. But the news wasn’t good for everyone.
So before moving ahead to Week 5, let’s take 1 last look back at an eventful Week 4 and what we learned about every ACC team.
At this point, all that’s really left to be learned about the Eagles is how much longer Jeff Hafley lasts as their coach. And then who his replacement will be.
After scaring the daylights out of Florida State last week, only to self-destruct by committing a school-record 18 penalties, BC had little left in its tank against Louisville.
The Eagles fell behind 28-0 after only a quarter-and-a-half, gave up 582 total yards and were burned for 5 scoring plays of 30 yards or more on the way to a 56-28 loss that drops them to 1-3, with their only win against Holy Cross.
This might sound crazy since the Tigers lost its epic showdown with Florida State and fell to 0-2 in the ACC for the first time since 2010. But even in their first home defeat to an ACC opponent in 6 years, Dabo Swinney’s team showed that it can still play on an elite level.
Clemson’s defense rose to the occasion by limiting the Seminoles to only 22 yards on the ground and 4-of-13 on 3rd down. Offensively, young quarterback Cade Klubnik continued his growth process by completing 25-of-38 passes for 283 yards and a touchdown while freshman receiver Tyler Brown caught 5 more balls for an average of 16.5 yards per reception.
But because of the same problems that have bothered the Tigers all season – turnovers and the kicking game – their best effort wasn’t good enough to be rewarded with a win or stay in contention for a spot in the College Football Playoff.
A road game against a winless opponent with a high-profile date with Notre Dame coming up next week, this could have been a classic trap game. But we learned that Mike Elko’s 18th-ranked Blue Devils are too experienced and too focused to let that happen.
They dominated UConn from start to finish, holding the Huskies to only 32 yards in the 1st half and coming within 12 seconds of pitching a shutout. Quarterback Riley Leonard had another productive performance, throwing for 248 yards and a touchdown while also running for a score.
The highlight of the game, however, came early in the 3rd quarter when 305-pound defensive tackle DeWayne Carter scooped up a fumble and returned it 27 yards for his 2nd career touchdown.
A pair of 4s isn’t usually a winning hand at the poker table. On the football field, however, we learned that it was good enough to beat a full house for the Seminoles on Saturday.
The full house was the sellout crowd at Clemson’s Memorial Stadium that was quieted by game-breaking plays by FSU’s pair of 4s – linebacker Kalen DeLoach and receiver Keon Coleman, both of whom wear the same single-digit jersey number.
DeLoach’s 56-yard strip sack and fumble return to the end zone helped the Seminoles rally from behind to send the game into overtime, where Coleman leaped high above the Tigers’ Jeadyn Lukus to catch a touchdown pass from Jordan Travis for the winning score in a monumental 34-27 victory.
Mike Norvell’s team already showed us how talented it is with its opening night demolition of LSU. On this occasion, it showed us that it also has the toughness of a champion in ending a 7-game losing streak to the Tigers and becoming the first ACC team in 6 seasons to win at Death Valley.
Virtually every coach in the country subscribes to the theory that you play in the games like you do at practice. But as Brent Key’s Yellow Jackets taught us Saturday, that doesn’t always hold true.
Only days after getting called out by Key after a lackluster practice earlier in the week, Tech’s defense responded with by far its best performance of the season in leading the way to a 30-16 win at Wake Forest.
After recording only 1 sack through their first 3 games, the Yellow Jackets recorded 8 against the Deacons, including 4 and a forced fumble by edge rusher Kyle Kennard. They also forced 4 turnovers, the last of which was an interception by Kenan Johnson that halted Wake as it drove for the tying score with just over 2 minutes remaining.
How good is Louisville? We’ll have to wait until next week when it travels to NC State to learn that.
But if you haven’t been paying attention to the Cardinals or dismissed them because of their soft schedule, you might want to reconsider. Jeff Brohm’s team is doing everything in its power to get people around the league to start taking notice.
Saturday against BC, they put up 56 points. And they did it all in just 3 quarters. In the process, we learned that there’s an abundance of playmakers in Brohm’s Air Raid offense.
Quarterback Jack Plummer continues to put up video game numbers by throwing for 388 yards and 5 touchdowns against the Eagles while also running for a score. Jawhar Jordan, the ACC’s leading rusher, is a big-play machine, with 3 touchdowns plays of at least 72 yards already this season. And transfer wide receiver Jamari Thrash had 2 more touchdown catches on Saturday to give him at least 1 in every game.
The Hurricanes have a history of losing games like the one they played at Temple on Saturday.
Exhibit A: Middle Tennessee State last year.
Exhibit B: Florida International in 2019.
But as we learned, this Miami team might actually be different. Ignoring the distractions of the season’s first road trip, miserable weather in Philadelphia and an uninspiring opponent, Mario Cristobal’s team rolled to a 41-7 victory that completed its first unbeaten nonconference record since 2017.
Resurgent quarterback Tyler Van Dyke threw for 3 touchdowns, but he had plenty of help. The Hurricanes churned out 543 total yards, including 323 on the ground, and held the Owls to 11 rushing yards while forcing 3 turnovers – including 2 interceptions by Te’Cory Couch.
Thanks to Alijah Huzzie, we learned that playmakers are playmakers, no matter what level they’re at. The transfer cornerback was among the FCS leaders with 6 interceptions while playing for East Tennessee State last season.
And he’s been just as good for the Tar Heels this year. He showed just how many ways he can affect a game by intercepting 2 passes and returning 2 punts for 81 yards, including a 52-yarder for a touchdown to propel UNC to a 41-24 win at Pittsburgh.
The win improved Mack Brown’s team to 4-0 for the first time since the final year of his first tenure in Chapel Hill in 1997.
Drake Maye had another strong performance. But then, we already knew how good he is. His 296-yard performance was punctuated by an improvised left-handed 8-yard heave to Kobe Paysour.
— ACC Network (@accnetwork) September 24, 2023
The Wolfpack won 24-21 at Virginia to improve to 3-1. But as we learned from coach Dave Doeren’s ominous-sounding postgame comments, that’s about the only thing positive that can be said about his team’s performance against the Cavaliers.
And the problems run much deeper than just the inconsistency of transfer quarterback Brennan Armstrong and the play-calling of new offensive coordinator Robert Anae.
“I’m more concerned with other things, to be honest with you,” Doeren said.
Those “other things” involve a laundry list of issues that start with injuries, particularly on defense. State has lost 3 strong safeties in the past 2 weeks – including Devan Boykin and Cecil Powell against UVA. The running game, which was already suspect before senior Jordan Houston left the team earlier in the week, was again ineffective. And the defense continues to be burned for big plays.
Suffice it to say, Doeren and his team were lucky to get out of Charlottesville with the W and have a lot of work ahead of them before next Friday’s home game against Louisville.
The Panthers remembered how to find their way into the end zone after being held to just a pair of field goals in last week’s ugly loss to rival West Virginia. They even led UNC 7-0 after Daniel Carter’s 1-yard run 8 minutes into the 1st quarter.
But that turned out to be their only offensive touchdown of the game. By the time Kenny Johnson returned a kickoff 100 yards for a score late in the 3rd period, the Tar Heels had already taken control of the game by scoring 38 unanswered points.
The loss was Pitt’s 3rd straight.
To make matters worse, Pat Narduzzi’s team lost starting quarterback Phil Jurkovec to an injury just before halftime. He was on his way to a much better effort than his previous 2, going 11-of-15 for 109 yards. His replacement, Penn State transfer Christian Veilleux was an ineffective 7-of-18 for 85 yards and 2 interceptions.
Thanks to Army, we learned that the best way to slow down Garrett Shrader and the Orange’s offense is to keep them off the field. The Cadets’ run-oriented attack played keepaway during the 1st half by holding onto the ball for 23:24 of the opening 30 minutes, running 41 plays to only 17 for Syracuse.
But after being held to only 3 points and outgained 149-77, Dino Babers’ team flipped the script after halftime.
Syracuse scored 26 unanswered points after the break while limiting Army to 5 1st downs and minus yards on the ground to pull away for a 29-16 victory. Shrader was again a dominant force by throwing for 245 yards and running for 45 more in leading his team to a 4-0 start for the 2nd straight season.
It’s not so much what we learned about the Cavaliers on Friday night. We already knew that they weren’t very good. What Tony Elliott’s team did against NC State was reinforce the reasons why bad teams continue to lose.
More times than not, they end up beating themselves.
UVa did just that in multiple ways. This might be the most frustrating setback in what is shaping up as a season full of them.
They rallied to tie the game in the final minute, converting a 2-point conversion made significantly more difficult after center Ty Furnish headbutted a Wolfpack defender and was called for unsportsmanlike conduct.
Not satisfied with the reprieve, quarterback Anthony Colandrea committed another celebratory penalty that helped give State the field position for a winning field goal. Then, proving that bad things come in 3s, linebacker James Jackson made Brayden Narveson’s attempt much more makeable by getting called for “leaping” on his 1st attempt at the kick.
As bad as the late collapse was, the game might never have come down to the wire had Elliott not settled for field goals twice in 4th-and-short situations in the 3rd quarter – proving once again that when you play not to lose, you usually do.
The Hokies won only 3 games in Brent Pry’s debut season in 2022. After Saturday’s 24-17 loss, all indications are that they’re headed for a similar fate this season.
There are extenuating circumstances surrounding their 3rd straight setback following an opening week win against Old Dominion – the most significant of which is injuries to key offensive contributors. But they don’t explain away the 9 costly penalties they committed or the 7 straight empty possessions between a 2nd-quarter field goal and a touchdown run by backup quarterback Kyron Drones with just under 8 minutes remaining.
If you play with fire, eventually you’re going to get burned. The Deacons didn’t learn that lesson last week when they got away with digging themselves into a 17-point hole in a come-from-behind win at Old Dominion last week.
They found out the hard way this week. Dave Clawson’s mistake-prone team wasn’t able to battle all the way back after spotting Georgia Tech a 20-3 halftime lead.
Despite rolling up 29 1st downs and outgaining the Yellow Jackets 386-380, Wake did itself in with a comedy of errors that included 3 Mitch Griffis interceptions, a fumble, a muffed punt and 8 sacks allowed in suffering its 1st loss of the season.