Friedlander: What we learned about every ACC team in Week 4
Clemson and Wake Forest played an instant classic in Winston-Salem, battling through 60 intense minutes of regulation and two tense overtimes before the Tigers came away with a 51-45 victory.
It was such an entertaining game that perhaps it distracted attention away from what was an otherwise dismal weekend for the ACC.
Week 4 got started on Thursday with Virginia Tech’s thumping at the hands of West Virginia and went from bad to worse with Miami’s implosion against Middle Tennessee, another no-show by North Carolina’s defense against Notre Dame and Duke’s loss to Kansas.
It was a combination of results the conference would like to quickly forget. But before moving forward, let’s take one last look back.
No matter how painful it might be.
As bad as the Eagles looked in their ACC opener at Virginia Tech, a 27-10 loss 2 weeks ago, we learned that they could still be even worse.
Coach Jeff Hafley’s foundering team barely put up a fight in a 44-14 thrashing at the hands of Florida State, falling behind 37-0 before finally getting onto the scoreboard late in the third quarter and getting outgained 530-235.
BC came into the season with the goal of breaking through the 6- or 7-win rut it has been in for nearly the past decade. But at 1-3, with games against Clemson, NC State, Wake Forest, Syracuse and Notre Dame still ahead, it will be lucky not to lose that many. If not more.
No more talk of a quarterback controversy. With his performance in leading the Tigers to a 51-45 double overtime victory at Wake Forest, we learned that DJ Uiagalelei is fully capable of taking over a game and leading his team to a victory with his arm.
Uiagalelei completed 26-of-41 passes for 371 yards and a career-high 4 touchdowns, including a 21-yard strike over the middle to tight end Davis Allen for the game-winner. More than the raw numbers, the much-maligned junior showed patience and poise in the pocket and avoided any turnovers by making good decisions.
He was especially effective on 3rd down in leading Clemson to a school-record 16 conversions on 23 attempts.
Prized freshman Cade Klubnick might be the Tigers’ quarterback of the future, but barring injury, that future isn’t going to begin until Uiagalelei leaves.
Mike Elko won’t be going undefeated as the Blue Devils’ coach. After 3 straight wins to begin his tenure, Elko’s team suffered its first loss in a 35-27 setback at Kansas. But even in defeat, there was still plenty to be encouraged about as Duke prepares to begin ACC play next week against Virginia.
It added another fumble recovery, a stat in which it led the nation through the first 3 games. It recorded the first sack the Jayhawks have surrendered this season. And with quarterback Riley Leonard throwing for 324 yards, the Blue Devils showed that they’re capable of putting up big offensive numbers no matter who they play.
Any concerns about the health of quarterback Jordan Travis were eased emphatically with a standout performance against Boston College.
Travis showed no ill effects from the leg injury that sidelined him for the second half of last week’s win at Louisville by completing 16-of-26 passes for 321 yards and a touchdown in leading the Seminoles to a lopsided victory.
FSU left little doubt about this one, scoring touchdowns on its first e possessions and rolling out to a 31-0 lead by halftime while improving to 4-0 for the first time since 2015.
The Yellow Jackets covered. OK, so that doesn’t mean anything unless you took the 20.5 points they were getting against Central Florida.
But when your team’s season is already circling the drain and it’s only a matter of time before the coach is finally handed his pink slip, you have to take your victories wherever you can find them. Geoff Collins’ team also outgained the Knights 444-332.
But it had yet another punt blocked, its 4th this season already, and went without a point in 5 red-zone possessions while committing 8 penalties and going 4-of-16 on 3rd and 4th down – the kind of mistakes that are trademarks of a bad, poorly coached team.
The Cardinals needed a win in the worst way and they got it without having to break much of a sweat. Scoring early and often, they beat South Florida 41-3 behind another standout performance from star quarterback Malik Cunningham.
Cunningham threw for 186 yards and ran for 113 in his three quarters of work. It was his third straight 100-plus yard rushing performance and 10th overall on the way to becoming only the 8th player in NCAA history to amass more than 8,000 passing yards and 3,000 rushing yards in a career.
We learned that even with a new coach and a new philosophy, old habits die hard for the Hurricanes. Specifically, it’s their penchant for turning one disappointing performance into multiple losses.
Playing as though it was still hung over from last week’s defeat at Texas A&M, Miami turned the ball over on its first 3 possessions Saturday, was stopped on downs 3 other times and allowed three touchdown passes of 69 yards or longer in an embarrassing 45-31 upset at the hands of Middle Tennessee State.
It wasn’t that long ago that Hurricanes fans were celebrating the return of Mario Cristobal, a 2-time national champion at Miami, as the coach to finally return their program back to its past glory. While that might still happen, the honeymoon between Cristobal and the fans already appears to be over.
Tar Heels coach Mack Brown and assistant Gene Chizik were hoping that the open date prior to Saturday’s date with Notre Dame would give them time to fix a wretched defense that has been among the nation’s worst over the first 3 games. But we learned that things still haven’t changed much.
UNC gave up 576 yards and 45 points to an Irish offense that entered the game ranked 114th nationally in total offense at 300.3 yards per game and 115th in scoring at just 18.3 points per game while making Notre Dame backup quarterback Drew Pyne look like an All-American.
Tar Heels quarterback Drake Maye had another big game in throwing for 301 yards and 5 touchdowns. But with a defense that can’t stop anyone, even 32 points isn’t going to be enough to win games against Power 5 competition.
The Wolfpack haven’t been particularly sharp during its nonconference tuneups. But with an epic Atlantic Division showdown at Clemson coming up next week, we learned that coach Dave Doeren’s team had the maturity and urgency to not get ahead of itself by looking past UConn.
State used the tuneup against one of nation’s worst FBS teams to finally find the offensive rhythm and confidence it’s been missing while piling up 481 total yards and 29 first downs and 41 points in an easy win.
Quarterback Devin Leary set the tone on the game’s first play by throwing a 75-yard touchdown pass to Thayer Thomas. He finished with 320 yards and 4 TD passes. Doeren and offensive coordinator Tim Beck got all of their offensive weapons involved, with 10 players catching at least 1 pass and true freshman running back Michael Allen leading a ground attack with 66 yards on 10 carries.
When healthy, the Panthers’ defensive line is among the best in the ACC. But without injured starters Habakkuk Baldonado, Deslin Alexandre and Devin Danielson, along with top reserves Dayon Hayes and Nate Temple, it hasn’t been nearly as effective.
Pitt struggled to put pressure on Rhode Island quarterback Kasim Hill, who threw for 223 yards while leading his FCS team to 24 points. It took until the fourth quarter for the defending ACC champions to finally put away the 45-24 win. Even then, it took a 177-yard, 4-touchdown rushing effort from running back Israel Abanikanda to avoid an upset.
The Orange improved to 4-0 for the first time since 2018 with their 22-20 win against Virginia on Friday. But as we learned from a second straight sloppy offensive performance, there’s still a lot of work left to do for them to be considered a legitimate challenge to Atlantic Division heavyweights Clemson, NC State, Wake Forest and even Florida State.
Coach Dino Babers’ team committed their first 4 turnovers of the year and scored only 1 touchdown while setting for 5 field goals against a bad Cavaliers defense.
More troubling is the fact that quarterback Garrett Shrader was sacked 6 times. And while star running back Sean Tucker broke Ernie Davis’ career school rushing record, he averaged only 2.9 yards per carry – a signal that the Orange could be in for trouble when facing the bigger, better, more physical defenses they’ll see further down their schedule.
Despite the disappointing loss and another balky performance from Brennan Armstrong, his offense and the kicking game, the Cavaliers’ defense at Syracuse gave coach Tony Elliott plenty on which to build.
UVA held Tucker to just 60 yards on 21 carries and contained Shrader in both the run and pass game by getting constant pressure in the backfield. And while the offense produced points after only 1 of the 4 forced turnovers – a fumble recovery and interception by Jonas Sanker, and fumble recoveries by Donovan Johnson and Chico Bennett Jr. – the takeaways helped keep the game close enough for the Cavaliers to keep things interesting until the end.
The Hokies are still learning about themselves 4 games into the Brent Pry tenure. At the same time, we’ve already learned a lot about what they are at this moment.
First and foremost, they’re a team that is better at beating themselves than they are at beating an opponent. That was never more evident than in Thursday’s loss to West Virginia.
The Mountaineers’ second possession, a 14-play drive that covered 92 yards, was prolonged by 4 Tech penalties. Two were pre-snap procedural calls. Although it only cost the Hokies a field goal, the drive set the tone for what was to come.
In all, Tech was flagged 15 times for 132 yards on the way to its 8th straight loss in a nonconference game against a Power 5 opponent. For the season, the Hokies are averaging 10 penalties and 80.8 penalty yards per game, figures that rank among the worst among FBC teams.
We already knew about Sam Hartman. We already knew about AT Perry, Taylor Morin and Donavon Greene. But what we learned Saturday is that the Deacons’ receiving corps is even deeper and more talented than we thought.
The wealth of receiving riches was enhanced by a breakout performance from Jahmal Banks. A 6-4, 208-pound sophomore who caught nine passes in Wake’s first 3 games combined, he burned Clemson’s secondary for 6 receptions for 141 yards and 2 touchdowns in the overtime loss to the Tigers.
Ke’Shawn Williams also had a pair of catches to give the Deacons five different receivers with double-digit receptions this season.