Friedlander: What we learned about every ACC team in Week 7
The ACC Championship Game game matchup is still far from being set. But after a pair of frantic finishes Saturday, the picture in both divisions is starting to get just a little bit clearer.
Clemson needed to recover a late onside kick to hold off Florida State and extend its winning streak to 13 straight, the longest in the nation, to set up an unlikely Atlantic Division showdown at Syracuse next Saturday.
In the Coastal, North Carolina maintained sole possession of first place by roaring from behind to beat Duke in the battle for the Victory Bell. The Tar Heels will get a week off to recover before taking on Pittsburgh on Oct. 29 in a game that will go a long way toward determining who will represent the division in Charlotte on the first Saturday in December.
Saturday’s schedule was a light one, with only 4 games involving ACC teams. All of them, however, were meaningful.
Here’s a look at what we learned from each in Week 7:
We learned that while the Tigers are clearly rounding into form as a national contender, they still have work to do in learning how to put opponents away.
After building a commanding 34-14 through 3 quarters behind a 3-touchdown performance from quarterback DJ Uiagalelei, 121 yards rushing from Will Shipley and another dominant performance from their defense, they took their foot off the accelerator and let Florida State make things interesting at the end.
It wasn’t until Clemson recovered an onside kick with 2:17 remaining that Dabo Swinney and his team could finally take a deep breath and celebrate their 7th straight win against the Seminoles.
But it was a win and that should be enough to keep the Tigers safely among the top 4 of the national polls.
It’s generally accepted around the ACC that the Blue Devils’ basketball team gets all the calls, especially when they’re at home at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
If we learned anything from Saturday’s battle for the Victory Bell between Duke and rival UNC, it’s that it takes more than just a coach named Mike to get fortunate breaks from ACC officials in key situations. Football coach Mike Elko found out the hard way that he doesn’t have the same kind of juice as the recently retired Mike Krzyzewski. Even at home.
At least not yet.
His Blue Devils ended up on the wrong end of 2 pivotal calls that could have wrapped up the most meaningful victory of Elko’s short tenure in Durham. The first was an illegal shift call that nullified a 1st down run inside the UNC 5-yard line. The 2nd came 1 play later when an apparent Duke touchdown was called back by an illegal cut block infraction.
The Blue Devils eventually missed a field goal on the possession, setting the stage for the Tar Heels to rally in the final 2 minutes for the victory.
We learned that the Seminoles still have plenty of spunk, rallying for a pair of 4th-quarter touchdowns to put a scare into Clemson. But we also learned that coach Mike Norvell’s team is still a not-ready-for-prime-time performer when it comes to playing with the big boys of the Atlantic Division.
That’s 3 straight losses for FSU, all to the division’s top 3 preseason contenders – Clemson, NC State and Wake Forest.
The Seminoles actually outgained the Tigers 460-370 and ran the ball for more than 200 yards. But it still wasn’t enough to put them over the top. The challenge now for FSU is to finish strong, secure bowl eligibility and build some momentum to continue the climb back up the ACC standings and contend for a title in 2023.
The Hurricanes won, snapping a 3-game losing streak and notching their 1st conference win. But their performance, especially in the 2nd half, did little to instill confidence in their ability to seriously contend in the Coastal Division.
After rolling up 301 yards and a 17-0 lead at halftime, Miami managed only 79 yards and a field goal the rest of the way.
The second-half lapse was similar to the one the Hurricanes suffered the week before in a loss to UNC, suggesting that coach Mario Cristobal and his staff are either having trouble making adjustments or reacting to adjustments made by the opponent.
Beyond that, we learned that Miami either can’t or has given up trying to run the ball effectively. It was held to fewer than 100 yards on the ground for the 3rd straight game. And instead of running the ball to milk the clock late in the game, Cristobal and offensive coordinator Josh Gattis gave the Hokies an opportunity to steal the game by having Tyler Van Dyke continue to throw.
We also learned that the Hurricanes were their own worst enemy on Saturday, committing 16 penalties for 144 yards.
We already knew that Drake Maye is an elite quarterback and he proved it again by leading the Tar Heels on a clutch 9-play, 74-yard drive in the final 2 minutes to pull out the victory against rival Duke.
But what we’re learning more and more each week is that this UNC team, unlike the underachieving group of a year ago, seems to find ways to win games no matter how it plays or what the circumstances are.
It’s still a flawed team and has a lot of room for improvement, especially on defense, but it also has a knack for making just the right play at just the right time – as was the case when Noah Taylor tipped Riley Leonard’s pass into the hands of teammate Will Hardy on Duke’s final possession to seal the victory.
That “it” factor will be tested again in 2 weeks when UNC takes on Pittsburgh following its open date. But if it continues to hold true, the Tar Heels will all but wrap up an unlikely trip to Charlotte for a shot at a title.
The Wolfpack’s offense wasn’t exactly clicking even when Devin Leary was healthy and in the lineup. But without him, it has come to a screeching halt.
In 14 possessions since the preseason ACC Player of the Year went down with an injury to his throwing arm in the 3rd quarter against Florida State last week, State has managed only 6 field goals. Three of those came Saturday in a 24-9 loss at Syracuse.
Among the biggest takeaways is the fact that as stout as the Wolfpack’s defense is – and it did everything it could to keep its team in the game – it can’t be relied upon to put points on the board and win the game on its own.
Even more ominously as State embarks on the second half of the schedule without Leary, who will undergo season-ending surgery for a torn pectoral muscle, is that coach Dave Doeren and offensive coordinator Tim Beck have shown little to no confidence in the passing ability of new starter Jack Chambers.
Does that mean we might see freshman MJ Morris after next week’s open date? That’s something we’ll have to wait to learn.
We learned that the 18th-ranked Orange earned bowl eligibility by beating NC State and improving to 6-0. But we still don’t know a lot more than that about coach Dino Babers’ team.
Offensively, they were good enough to win. But not much more.
Some of that might have to do with NC State’s defense, which is among the ACC’s best. But quarterback Garrett Shrader made several questionable decisions, 2 of which turned into interceptions that helped keep points off the board and allowed the Wolfpack to stick around. And while running back Sean Tucker nearly reached the 100-yard mark on the ground, 25 of his 98 yards came on his final carry.
Defensively, Syracuse didn’t have to do much against a State offense that was as vanilla as a vat of buttercream icing in holding the opposition to just 3 field goals.
We’ll get a better read on just how good the Orange is next week when they take on Clemson for the Atlantic Division lead.
The Hokies continue to struggle on offense. Saturday’s loss to Miami marked the 4th time in 7 games this season in which they were held to fewer than 300 yards of total offense. It took coach Brent Pry’s team 3 full quarters to finally put any points on the board. And by that time, it was already in a 20-0 hole.
On the positive side, we learned that Tech’s defense – which had carried the team until dismal performances against UNC and Pittsburgh over the past 2 weeks – still has the capability to stop teams for an extended period of time. The Hokies held the Hurricanes to 79 yards and only 3 points in the second half to keep the game within reach.