Friedlander: What we learned about every ACC team in Week 8
Week 8 in the ACC had it all.
Backup quarterbacks leading their team to victory. A crazy comeback. A double-overtime thriller and a monumental upset.
It took Florida State to finally bring some sanity to a near-disastrous day for the ACC’s College Football Playoff hopes on Saturday.
But not even that came easily, as Duke tried its best to upset the apple cart even more by ending an 0-for-21 streak all-time against the league-leading Seminoles.
There’s a lot to sort out. So let’s take a look back and see what we learned about all 10 of the ACC teams that were in action.
Remember Emmett Morehead?
He was 1 of the 3 players coach Jeff Hafley brought to the ACC’s preseason Football Kickoff event in Charlotte and the Eagles’ starting quarterback for their season-opener against Northern Illinois.
By the 2nd half of that game, Morehead had been replaced by Thomas Castellanos and hasn’t been heard from again.
Did Hafley do a masterful job of sandbagging? Or did he simply luck into finding the right quarterback at the right time? We might never learn the answer. But we do know that BC gets to at least 6 wins, qualifies for a bowl and save its coach’s job – results well within reach after Saturday’s win at Georgia Tech – Hafley will have the UCF transfer to thank for it.
Castellanos did it all again Saturday, throwing for 255 yards, rushing for 128 and scoring 2 touchdowns to lead the Eagles to a 38-31 victory. BC outscored Tech 21-0 in the 4th quarter to erase a 1-point deficit. It’s the 3rd straight game in which the Eagles scored the winning points during the final period.
The Tigers might have been 16-3 coming off an open date under Dabo Swinney and had beaten Miami by a combined 178-30 over their past 4 meetings. But as we learned Saturday, even an extra week of practice wasn’t enough for Swinney and his to cure his team of its self-destructive ways.
Clemson turned the ball over 3 times in the 1st half of its double-overtime road loss, including yet another lost fumble at the 1-yard line. This one was by Will Shipley. The mistake was compounded on the next play, when after a touchback put the ball at the 20, the Hurricanes Brashard Smith went 80 yards for a touchdown.
The Tigers have fumbled 13 times this season. They’ve lost 10, including 3 as they were going in for touchdowns inside the 5-yard line. The first 2 came in an opening week loss to Duke.
With the loss, we learned that Clemson can forget about repeating as ACC champions. This is the 1st time since 2010 that the Tigers have had as many as 3 conference losses. They were 4-4 in the league and 6-7 overall that season.
We learned that even a hobbled Riley Leonard is a difference-maker for the Blue Devils. We also learned that coach Mike Elko has the kind of concern for the well-being of his players that all coaches should – but don’t always – have.
The injured quarterback gave a game effort despite being less than 100% on an ankle injured in the final minute of a loss to Notre Dame 3 weeks ago. Even though his stats were pedestrian – he was only 7-of-16 for 69 yards passing with 1 key 13-yard run to help extend a scoring drive – Duke led No. 4 Florida State 20-17 while he was in the game running the offense.
Leonard reinjured the ankle late in the 3rd quarter while being sacked and having his helmet pulled off by the Seminoles’ Braden Fiske. The ensuing penalty gave the Blue Devils a 1st down inside the FSU 10. But they were never the same. They managed only 35 yards the rest of the game.
Despite pleas from the hobbled and even less-mobile Leonard to go back into the game, Elko kept him out rather than risking further injury. “He was begging me on the sideline to come back in,” Elko said afterward. “I didn’t feel comfortable with where he was health-wise to move back, so we didn’t do it.”
Backup Henry Belin IV threw incomplete in the end zone on 4th down and the Seminoles answered with a back-breaking 96-yard drive that proved to be the beginning of the end in a 38-20 loss that extended the Blue Devils’ all-time losing streak against FSU to 22.
If we didn’t already know by now, we learned that the Seminoles are a much better team in the 2nd half than in the 1st. Saturday’s 3-point halftime deficit to Duke was nothing new for Mike Norvell’s team. It was almost standard operating procedure. FSU also trailed at halftime against LSU and Clemson and came back to win those, too.
We also learned that the Seminoles’ offense is so potent that they can still find ways to continue their streak of 30-point games even on a night when it struggled for 3 quarters against the ACC’s best defense.
FSU was stopped on 4th down twice in the 1st quarter, gave up a pick-6 and scored 1 of its 2 1st half touchdowns on a 99-yard kickoff return by Deuce Spann. It was only after the Blue Devils began to wear down that Jordan Travis and his mates finally got rolling.
Travis ran for 1 touchdown, threw to Lawrance Toafili for another and led a 3rd 4th quarter scoring drive to help his team surpass the 30-point mark for the 12th straight game. That’s the 3rd-longest active streak among FBS teams and is the 2nd-longest in school history behind the 17 straight they posted from 2012-14.
We learned that the Yellow Jackets won’t be going to a bowl game this year. They’re not mathematically eliminated from contention. Not yet at least. But by losing to Boston College at home on Saturday, Tech is going to need a lot more help than just Mario Cristobal forgetting to take a knee in order to get to the 6-win mark.
At 3-4, Brent Key’s team will need to beat Virginia and Syracuse, and then find at least 1 more win from its remaining games against No. 10 North Carolina, Clemson at Death Valley and 2-time defending national champion Georgia.
It’s not as if the Yellow Jackets didn’t have their chances Saturday. They were actually up by a touchdown going into the 4th quarter. But with the help of Haynes King’s 2nd interception of the game, it all fell apart over the final 15 minutes.
Mario Cristobal put on another master class of poor clock management at the end of a game. This time his team won in spite of it.
Locked in a tie game late in the 4th quarter, the Hurricanes’ defense stopped Clemson to give the ball back to its offense at its own 38-yard line with 1:34 remaining. Despite having a timeout in his pocket and a veteran kicker who had made a tying 38-yard field goal less than a minute of running time earlier, Cristobal chose to run out the clock and play for overtime.
Unlike that infamous loss to Georgia Tech 2 weeks ago, his players bailed him out by getting into the end zone for both a touchdown and 2-point conversion in the 2nd overtime, then stopping the Tigers when linebacker Corey Flagg ran down Tigers quarterback Cade Klubnik short of the goal line on 4th down.
While we already knew about Cristobal’s clock management issues, we did learn a few new things from Miami. For one thing, it can beat an ACC opponent at home. Saturday’s victory broke a 5-game conference losing streak at Hard Rock Stadium.
The other revelation was the play of freshman quarterback Emory Williams, who went 24-of-33 for 151 yards and a touchdown while leading the Hurricanes back from a 17-7 deficit in relief of injured starter Tyler Van Dyke.
We learned that the Tar Heels beating Miami last week despite not playing their best wasn’t as good a thing as Mack Brown and his players made it out to be. As it turns out, it was an ominous sign of things to come.
Virginia has traditionally given UNC fits. But this one was all on Mack Brown’s team. It put together another spotty effort, especially on defense, and this time it didn’t get away with it. Saturday’s 31-27 home loss to the lowly Cavaliers was a shocker that had far-reaching consequences beyond the ACC.
The Tar Heels couldn’t hold onto a 10-point 2nd half lead, had a touchdown taken off the board by a penalty and turned it over on their final drive to lose the game, their top 10 national ranking and likely any chance they had of getting into the Playoff.
Drake Maye had a good game statistically, going 24-of-48 for 347 yards and 2 touchdowns while Omarion Hampton ran for 112 yards. But UNC gave up 438 yards and 31 points to a team that came into the game ranked last in the ACC in both total offense and scoring.
And it could have been worse. Virginia twice turned the ball over in the end zone as it was going in for scores. While the loss doesn’t eliminate the Tar Heels from contention for a spot in the conference championship game, it does take the shine off of what was shaping up as a special season.
Thanks to quarterback Christian Veilleux, we learned that what goes around really does come back around.
Flash back to the most recent meeting between the Panthers and Wake Forest, the 2021 ACC Championship Game in Charlotte. A pivotal play that catapulted Pitt to victory was a deceptive fake slide that helped produce a 58-yard touchdown run by Kenny Pickett.
As luck would have it, a quarterback slide also played a role in deciding Saturday’s rematch. Only this time it went against the Panthers.
On a 3rd-and-8 play with just over a minute remaining and Pitt holding a 17-14 lead, Veilleux scrambled for what appeared to be a 1st down. But officials ruled that he began his slide before the line to gain. And it turned out to be a costly mistake.
The Deacons took advantage of a short punt to rally for the winning touchdown that all but mathematically eliminates the 2-5 Panthers from bowl contention.
The Cavaliers showed us just how much a team can accomplish during an open week. Coach Tony Elliott and his staff used the extra time to prepare for North Carolina to its full advantage.
They put together a solid game plan and their players executed it to perfection, building on the momentum of their 1st win by upsetting UNC for their program’s 1st road win against a top-10 team.
And they showed plenty of heart and perseverance in doing so.
UNC appeared to have taken control of the game after building a 10-point lead midway through the 3rd quarter. But as we’ve learned many times off the field since last November’s tragedy how strong the Cavaliers can be, they never flinched.
Tony Muskett threw for 208 yards, Malik Washington caught 12 passes for 115 yards and the decisive touchdown with 8:51 remaining and Mike Hollins – the survivor of last November’s shooting that killed 3 of his teammates – scored 3 rushing touchdowns.
The victory that could potentially become a turning point for UVa’s program was sealed by the defense when James Jackson intercepted Maye in the final minute after the UNC quarterback was hit as he threw by Paul Akere.
We learned the name Santino Marucci. We also learned that once his coaches took off the training wheels and turned him loose, Marucci has both a strong arm and plenty of poise.
Not to mention a flair for the dramatic in leading the Deacons to a badly-needed 21-17 win against Pittsburgh.
Marucci was pressed into his 1st career start because of injuries to starter Mitch Griffis and his top backup Michael Kern. He struggled through most of the game thanks in part to an ultra-conservative game plan that saw him attempt only 12 passes through the opening 3½ quarters.
But with his team trailing by 3, time running out and no other choice but to open things up, the redshirt sophomore whose father won a national championship as a fullback at Miami drove his team 48 yards on 6 plays in just 33 seconds to become a Deacons legend.
Marucci completed 3 passes on the final possession – 2 to Ke’Shawn Williams and a 15-yard touchdown strike to tight end Cameron Hite – to help Wake break a 3-game losing streak and enhance its chances of earning a bowl bid for the 8th straight season.