GIFs: UNC, Duke back in action; other top teams seek to avoid slipping
This might seem like a boring week of ACC football on paper. Let’s put it this way - the slate is so limited that Miami at Virginia and Virginia Tech at UNC are this week’s night games. But don’t let them tell you there’s no intrigue. Oh no.
Paul Johnson has his Yellow Jackets on a revenge tour, and a well-rested but still-shaky Duke is coming to town. Can the Blue Devils avoid the same fate that befell them last season, when they went on a six-game skid after a 4-0 start? They’d like to think this is different. It still can be. This week will tell us a lot.
Meanwhile, Louisville ... is still playing football games, while Pitt will go to Notre Dame and no doubt be eager to be the season-ruiner they have perennially been. Speaking of ruining, Miami needs to keep it going in a place where it’ll be hard to manufacture their own excitement in Charlottesville, while North Carolina will have a new look against Virginia Tech on Saturday night.
Now, to the GIFs!
DUKE (4-1, 0-1) AT GEORGIA TECH (3-3, 1-2)
Time: 12:20 p.m. TV: ACC Network
The Paul Johnson Revenge Tour is in full effect, people. First, he came from Louisville defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder. And ... yep, I think Georgia Tech just scored again. You think #PaulJohnsonPettySZN is over? Oh, well it isn’t. And Cutcliffe and Johnson have history. Now, you’ve got Cutcliffe dropping sneaky barbs!
COME ON, CUTTY! YOU KNOW PJ HATES IT WHEN YOU CALL IT THE TRIPLE OPTION!
Okay, maybe I’m stretching. Just let me have this one.
From a football perspective, both of these teams are in an interesting spot. Georgia Tech has looked much better in recent weeks, particularly on offense. Duke looked great in its 4-0 start and then ... not so much against Virginia Tech. The Blue Devils had an off-week to regroup, but the six-game skid they had a year ago after the 4-0 start has to be on their minds. They’ll want to avoid that, of course, but the other team will have something to do with it. How will the psychology work on either or both teams when things start to go poorly?
Brittain Brown/Deon Jackson. Let’s be honest, other than former Duke offensive lineman/WRALSportsFan contributor/Duke radio color analyst Dave Harding, no one wants to see me pick an offensive lineman in this space. Or even the entire offensive line, which feels like a cop out. I don’t know the ins and outs of what Duke is asking its blockers to do well enough to be able to break down what went wrong against the Hokies anyway. As good as quarterback Daniel Jones has been when healthy, it’s the Duke running game that has helped make this offense go. It’s looked very good at times, but it’s also come against the No, 125 run defense in yards per carry allowed, No. 104 and an FCS team. Duke has struggled running the ball twice this season - once at Northwestern (the No. 58 yards per carry defense) and then against the Hokies (16th). Georgia Tech sort of splits the difference, ranking 75th and allowing 4.3. It’s not just that Duke struggled to run the ball against Virginia Tech, though - it’s just that Duke’s offensive line didn’t block as forcefully as it did before, and its backs (Jackson and Brown) didn’t hit the holes as quickly and decisively, either. Duke’s going to have to get its running game going again in this one.
HERE’S A GUY
TaQuon Marshall. Georgia Tech’s option offense is almost entirely dependent on having a quarterback capable of making reads and understanding it on a level that only comes with experience. At the beginning of this season, it seemed like Georgia Tech’s senior QB wasn’t quite there, struggling to make the right read and putting the ball on the ground too often. But he’s been in a groove the last two games, looking visibly more comfortable and heeding the directive to “just play”. In Georgia Tech’s wins this year, he’s 15 of 26 passing for 276 yards (10.6 per pass attempt, 57.6% completion) to go with 294 yards on the ground (6.5 per rush) and five scores. In losses, he’s 16 of 39 passing (41%) for one touchdown and three picks; his yards per carry goes down to 3.9. Last year in the blowout loss to Duke, Marshall was just 3 of 13 passing for 82 yards, but he did give Duke trouble on the ground, finishing with 140 yards on 20 attempts. If Duke can contain him, it’ll likely win. If it can’t, well ...
Georgia Tech Win:
Georgia Tech Loss:
Georgia Tech, 38-27. Just have a bad feeling about the way Georgia Tech is playing headed into this game.
LOUISVILLE (2-4, 0-3) AT BOSTON COLLEGE (4-2, 1-1)
Time: 12:30 p.m. TV: ACC Network
Boston College is still waiting to hear if it will get AJ Dillon back this week. Louisville is waiting to hear if it will be more or less embarrassed, depending on whether or not Dillon plays. Will that be a good excuse to lose by 100? Or would losing by a lot, but by less, to a Dillon-less BC be more embarrassing? I think about these things.
I don’t know why this thread is so annoying to me, but I’d really like it if Bobby Petrino stopped pretending that Lamar Jackson was NOT a transcendent and truly special player.
Look, Boston College has done plenty to disappoint me this season. Lose this game? You reach a whole new level of disappointment. Scot Loeffler, please remember the good things that you were doing as offensive coordinator earlier in the season. Don’t do something stupid like take a loss to Louisville and ruin your life.
Boston College Win:
Boston College Loss:
Boston College, 37-13. I don’t want to watch this.
PITTSBURGH (3-3, 2-1) AT NO. 5 NOTRE DAME (6-0)
Time: 2:30 p.m. TV: NBC
Pitt has a history of beating a team it shouldn’t every year, especially after losing a game it shouldn’t (which it’s already done - at North Carolina). The last few years, it’s been No. 2 Clemson and No. 2 Miami. Notre Dame is not ranked No. 2 nationally, so ... that’s good ... for the Irish?
So THAT is what Pat Narduzzi means when he got all salty about the history question.
Notre Dame has some negative history under Brian Kelly, too, but they seemingly vanquished a lot of that last weekend, winning at Virginia Tech. Might they be a touch let down after what they did? Maybe. I could parse this game a million ways to Sunday (or Saturday), but Notre Dame is just the better team, on both sides of the ball. Could Pitt win? Sure. Should they? Nope.
Notre Dame Win:
Notre Dame Loss:
Notre Dame, 40-20. I guess.
NO. 16 MIAMI (5-1, 2-0) AT VIRGINIA (3-2, 1-1)
Time: 7 p.m. TV: ESPN2
In the past, it’s been a thing that Virginia either played Miami close or outright beat them, even when they shouldn’t. In fact, from 2010-14, Virginia went 4-1 against Miami (LOL!). HOWEVER - after Miami squeaked by Virginia 27-21 in 2015, the Hurricanes have won the last two games by 20 and 16 points, respectively. Virginia is coming off an off week, and they’ll be at home, at night. Miami is coming off a rivalry game. On paper, it feels like prime letdown territory. Except Miami played like garbage against Florida State in the first half and will likely be eager to rectify that. Virginia’s offense has been pretty solid this season, but pretty solid isn’t going to be enough to move the ball consistently against the No. 2 defense nationally in terms of yards per play allowed. But with this Miami team, as with last year’s, this team will go as far as this offense can take it. And that’s going to be up to N’Kosi Perry. He was up and down against FSU last week - he was 13 of 32 passing for 204 yards, but he had four touchdowns and no picks and he made plays in the second half when his team needed him to mount a comeback. Which Perry will we keep seeing - the one we’d seen before and in the second half, or will first-half Perry be a continual presence? Either way, his upside is still way higher than Malik Rosier’s, so Mark Richt made the right call.
Virginia Loss: BASKETBALL SEASON!
Miami, 37-13. Feels like that Miami defense is going to be pretty annoyed.
VIRGINIA TECH (3-2, 2-0) AT NORTH CAROLINA (1-3, 1-1)
Time: 7 p.m. TV: ESPNU
Does Virginia Tech have a defensive weakness? Yep! What is it? The secondary! What is UNC’s current QB situation?
Oh, dear. And look, UNC’s quarterback situation was not in a good place before the Surratt injury; he was just 4 of 10 passing for 10 yards and three picks in his return to action at Miami. Nathan Elliott will likely be the guy at the beginning of the game, and he just has not been able to stretch the field at all. Virginia Tech’s defense has been content to sort of sit back and prevent the big play, but it may not even need to do that against Elliott. North Carolina is 124th nationally in yards per pass attempt (5.5) out of 130 teams. NORTH CAROLINA! It’s still crazy to think about a Larry Fedora team struggling this much to pass the ball, but that’s where we are.
And then there’s UNC’s defense, which ... it’s been put in some bad positions by the offense, but other than being pretty good against the pass (which it hasn’t faced much since it’s largely trailed this season), there’s not much good to say about it. UNC will have to stop the run, and that has been easier said than done this year. The Tar Heels are 106th nationally in rush defense (4.98 per rush) and that has only gone up here lately, allowing Pitt to put up 6.3 per rush and then Miami, 6.74. It’s all been pretty disappointing since holding Cal to 3.3 per rush in the opener, injuries/suspensions or not. Virginia Tech is just 60th in yards per carry, but Cal and Miami were tied for 57th and East Carolina was 104th (Pitt is 26th at 5.18).
And stops in general have been hard to come by.
Virginia Tech is 52nd nationally in touchdown percentage, scoring seven points on 13 of 19 red-zone trips and scoring any points on 18 of 19 trips (tied for 16th). So, yeah. And let’s look at UNC’s three games versus Power 5 opponents. Those three opponents in 11 total games against FBS teams have gone a converted a combined 24 of 35 red-zone chances for 20 touchdowns (57.1% touchdown percentage; 68.6% scoring percentage). In the three games they’ve played against UNC, they’ve scored on all 12 of their red-zone trips and scores nine touchdowns (75 percent). Pitt and Cal in particular have both struggled offensively, both to reach the red zone at all and to convert once there, against most teams not named North Carolina. Almost half of Pitt’s red-zone touchdowns against FBS opponents were against North Carolina. Woof.
I mean ... Virginia Tech is coming off of an emotional loss at home to Notre Dame last week, so there’s that? I’ve got nothing.
Divine Deablo. In addition to having one of the best names in college football, Deablo was also, at one time, a North Carolina commit (at wide receiver). He was converted to cornerback when he got to Virginia Tech and this year, he was moved to safety. And if you’re looking to make sense of Virginia Tech’s up-and-down season, you might be able to start with Deablo - Virginia Tech is 3-0 when he has played and 0-2 when he hasn’t. That’s right - he played against Florida State and William & Mary before an injury kept him out against Old Dominion, and then he came back for the Duke game and got hurt again before Notre Dame and didn’t play. In the two games he’s missed, Virginia Tech’s opponents averaged 7.1 yards per play compared to 4.7 when he’s played. Obviously, Deablo isn’t the ONLY reason for the change. But Virginia Tech’s secondary does not have a ton of experienced guys in it right now, and it has sorely missed him when he’s been out. Virginia Tech head coach Justin Fuente seems to be leaning towards Deablo playing, which is not the best news for UNC.
HERE’S A GUY
Cade Fortin. The news that Chazz Surratt is out for the season only solidified this, but it’s been time for Fortin to see the field. Larry Fedora alluded to this during his Monday press conference when he said Fortin had gotten more reps during the bye week, and said that anything could happen regarding his quarterbacks. Turns out, he was right.
Fortin may or may not actually be the starter, but it doesn’t really matter. The freshman and early enrollee needs to play. Nathan Elliott has had a good game against exactly one team - Pittsburgh - and has played hard but showed how limited he was against everyone else. Inside Carolina has Fortin listed as as the No. 29 pro-style QB in the class of 2018. (For comparison’s sake, Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence was No. 1 and Wake’s Sam Hartman was No. 32.) Do you want a true freshman getting his first action against Bud Foster and Virginia Tech? Not ideally, but nothing about this season has gone ideally for the Tar Heels so far and they have nothing to lose. Quarterback play isn’t the only problem for this team, but it’s the biggest problem. Why not try something new?
Virginia Tech Win:
Virginia Tech Loss:
North Carolina Win:
North Carolina Loss:
Virginia Tech, 33-24. I think the Tar Heels hang around for a bit in this game, if for no other reason than Virginia Tech still might be a bit hungover from last weekend.
Last week: 5-1 (4-1 ACC) Overall: 51-10 (14-3 ACC)