Friedlander: What we learned about every ACC football team in Week 5
That’s all that stood between Duke and the ACC from making yet another loud statement about the quality of the league this season.
Even though the Blue Devils weren’t able to hold onto a 1-point lead for those final 31 seconds in a heartbreaking 21-14 loss to No. 11 Notre Dame on Saturday, their effort – combined with the exposure afforded by the presence of ESPN’s College GameDay on campus for the game – at least highlighted that they’re a legitimate team capable of playing on even terms with anyone in the country.
And maybe their dramatic down-to-the wire battle with the Irish distracted the national media from Georgia Tech’s horrible performance against Bowling Green.
Besides Duke, Syracuse also lost for the first time this season. But Louisville improved to 5-0 by beating NC State on Friday night. That leaves the ACC with 4 unbeaten teams, 3 of which had open dates and didn’t play.
Of the teams that did play, here’s what we learned in Week 5:
Unfortunately, we were reminded yet again that football is a violent sport. And why such a heavy emphasis is being placed on eliminating helmet-to-helmet contact.
It happened midway through the 3rd quarter of Saturday’s game when Eagles wide receiver Ryan O’Keefe and Virginia defensive back Malcolm Greene collided as O’Keefe reached down in an attempt to catch a low pass from quarterback Thomas Castellanos.
Both players lay on the turf for several minutes while being attended to by medical personnel. Greene eventually got up and walked to the locker room. O’Keefe had to be immobilized, taken from the field on a stretcher and transported to Mass General Hospital.
No further statement has been issued on his condition, though the UCF transfer could be seen giving a thumbs up signal as he was taken from the field.
As for the game, we learned that the Eagles are capable of winning a game in spite of themselves. They did it despite turning the ball over 4 times and spotting the Cavaliers a 21-7 halftime lead.
If nothing else, we learned that the Tigers still have some life left in them. By beating Syracuse 31-14, they extended an incredible streak that has seen them go 159 consecutive games dating back to 2011 without losing consecutive games in the same season.
It’s the nation’s longest active streak and a school record.
We also learned that Clemson’s offense has found a potent new weapon in freshman receiver Tyler Brown. Filling in for injured starter Antonio Williams, Brown topped last week’s career performance with an even bigger day, catching a team-leading 8 passes for 151 yards.
The win was Dabo Swinney’s 100th against ACC competition, joining him with Florida State legend Bobby Bowden as the only coaches in league history to reach the century mark.
Even though the Blue Devils lost a heartbreaker to Notre Dame, giving up the winning touchdown with only 31 seconds left on the clock, we learned that coach Mike Elko’s team is for real.
Duke can play with the big boys. It can be physical on the line of scrimmage, on both sides of the ball. It can fill Wallace Wade Stadium, and not only with fans of the visiting team. And it is every bit worthy of the attention it received.
At the same, Mike Elko and his team have no one to blame but themselves for the final-minute meltdown. When you have an opponent in a 4th-and-16 situation with the game on the line, you absolutely can not let the quarterback scramble for a 1st down the way Sam Hartman did on the play before the Irish’s winning touchdown.
Unfortunately, the most important thing we need to learn about the Blue Devils coming out of Saturday’s game will be the health of quarterback Riley Leonard.
Leonard left the field on crutches after getting sacked on Duke’s final play of the game. The good news is that the Blue Devils have next week off, giving their star extra time to recover if his condition isn’t serious.
The Yellow Jackets looked like they had turned a corner last week when they went onto the road and beat Wake Forest. Apparently, that result said more about the Deacons than it did Tech.
Because after Saturday’s mystifying 38-27 loss to Bowling Green – a Mid-American Conference team that had entered 1-3 – we learned that the Yellow Jackets aren’t the team we thought they were just a few days ago.
Brent Key’s team laid a massive egg against the Falcons. After jumping out to a 14-0 lead on a pair of Haynes King touchdown passes in the opening 6 minutes, Tech took its foot off the accelerator and allowed 38 unanswered points.
The most incredible stat of the day is that the Yellow Jackets only had the ball for 17:14, meaning that their defense was on the field for literally 3 quarters of the game. The only possible explanation for their performance is that they got caught thinking that they’re good enough to simply show up and beat an FCS team.
We knew all about the Air Raid attack Jeff Brohm brought with him from Purdue and the explosiveness it has injected into the Cardinals’ offense through the first 4 games. But Friday night at NC State, we learned that Louisville also has the capability of winning games with its defense.
It took Jack Plummer 2 1/2 quarters to finally get some points on the board on a 39-yard pass to Chris Bell. Even then, it was the only touchdown the Cardinals were able to manage on a night in which the transfer quarterback threw a pair of interceptions and lost a fumble.
And yet thanks to a pair of Brock Travelstead field goals and a defense that limited the Wolfpack to 201 total yards, produced 3 takeaways of its own and allowed only 3-of-15 3rd-down conversions, it was still enough to improve to 5-0 for the first time since 2013.
Although it wasn’t Louisville’s best effort of the season, the way it won is an encouraging sign heading into next week’s showdown against Notre Dame.
It’s safe to say that the Brennan Armstrong-Robert Anae experiment is an abject failure. Five games into the season, the Wolfpack stand 11th in the conference in scoring and total offense. Take out the 45 points and 498 yards they rang up in a glorified scrimmage against VMI and those rankings would be even worse.
Friday night’s 13-10 loss to Louisville was a new low.
Armstrong continued to look more like the quarterback who struggled last year at Virginia rather than the one who led the ACC in passing in 2021 the last time he and offensive coordinator Anae were together. He completed only 13-of-25 for 112 yards with 2 interceptions and a lost fumble.
All told, State was held to 201 yards of total offense, its fewest since the infamous Hurricane Matthew game against Notre Dame in 2016.
As bad as Armstrong was, he is hardly the only reason the Wolfpack are struggling so mightily on offense. The line can’t protect Armstrong or create running lanes for backs to run through. Receivers aren’t getting open and when they are, they’re dropping too many passes. And to this point, Anae’s play-calling hasn’t lived up to the anticipation his hiring generated this summer.
Coach Pat Narduzzi said it all after Saturday night’s 38-21 loss at Virginia Tech, the Panthers’ 4th straight loss after an opening day win against Wofford.
“It’s not up to the Pitt standards (or) my standards,” he said of his team’s effort.
Transfer quarterback Phil Jurkovec continued to struggle. Although he threw for 235 yards and 2 touchdowns, he was sacked 4 times and lost a fumble. What’s worse, Pitt was only able to manage 38 yards on the ground against a Hokies defense that came into the game ranked 13th in the ACC, allowing better than 200 yards per game on the ground.
A major contributing factor to those offensive woes is an injury epidemic that has decimated the Panthers’ once-formidable offensive line. Star tackle Matt Goncalves, a likely 2024 NFL Draft pick, is 1 of 3 starters missing from the lineup.
We learned that despite going 4-0 in their nonconference schedule for the first time since they’ve been in a conference, the Orange are still not ready for prime time players.
They were done in against Clemson by a combination of turnovers, bad decisions and a lack of offensive weapons surrounding quarterback Garrett Shrader.
Two of the turnovers came early in the game and helped stake the Tigers to a 14-0 lead. The decision came late in the opening half when Dino Babers opted to attempt a 57-yard field goal with a kicker whose career long is only 46 yards. The kick came up short, giving Clemson possession close to midfield. The Tigers converted it into a momentum-changing touchdown.
That turned out to be too much for Shrader to overcome. The dual-threat quarterback was able to beat Purdue almost single-handedly. But you’re not going to do that against Clemson. Not even a wounded bunch of Tigers.
Other than running back LeQuint Allen, who ran for 52 yards and caught 6 of Shrader’s passes for 38 yards and a touchdown, only tight end Dan Villari provided any kind of offensive production for Syracuse.
You’d think the Cavaliers would have learned how to win a close game by now. Saturday’s 27-24 loss at Boston College marked the 3rd time already this season in which they lost after leading or being tied in the 4th quarter.
It’s also the 3rd time they’ve gotten off to strong starts and led by 2 scores without being able to close the game out. In 5 games, all losses, UVa has been outscored 105-48 in the 4th quarter.
This one was especially frustrating, because BC tried its best to give the game away by committing 4 turnovers – including back-to-back fumbles in its own territory in the final 13 minutes.
The way things are going for Tony Elliott and his team, next week’s home game against William & Mary might be their last best chance at getting a win this season.
We learned the names of Kyron Drones and Bhayshul Tuten, 2 players instrumental in ending the Hokies’ 9-game losing streak against Power 5 opponents. Drones, a transfer from Baylor subbing for injured starter Grant Wells, threw for 3 touchdowns and ran for 2 others in leading the 38-21 win against Pittsburgh.
Tuten, a transfer running back from NC A&T, rushed for 109 yards to give Tech’s offense a diversity it has lacked in the 2 seasons of coach Brent Pry’s tenure. He also caught a touchdown pass on a night in which Tech rolled up 427 yards of total offense.
It was only the 3rd time in Pry’s 16 games in Blacksburg in which his team reached the 400-yard mark.