GIFs: All ACC’s ranked teams in ACCtion, including NC State
It’s Week 6 of the college football season, which means teams start getting some much-needed weeks off, which also means these previews become a little less dense. The same is true this week as both North Carolina AND Duke have the week off, and so it’s all on NC State to hold down the Triangle-area winning streak (checks notes) oh dear, it’s only NC State that won last week anyway. Carry on.
Anyway, NC State and Virginia Tech climbed into the top 25 last week, giving the ACC four ranked teams - all of which are in action this week, and in some pretty big-time games, too. What’s that? There’s a Friday night game? That should be fun! Who’s playing?
Let’s get into the GIFs.
GEORGIA TECH (2-3, 0-2) AT LOUISVILLE (2-3, 0-2)
Time: 7 p.m. TV: ESPN
NOTHING says Friday Night Lights like ... Georgia Tech at Louisville? Sure. Now that Florida State eliminated itself from the battle to be the worst team in the ACC, Georgia Tech and Louisville are playing for that honor.
Bobby Petrino made a decision that made Willie Taggart happy for probably the first time all season, so much so that he didn’t even bother trying to coachspeak spin it and was basically like, ’Yeah, that was dumb but we’ll take it!”
Georgia Tech is definitely feeling a little better about itself after throttling a bad Bowling Green team, and it should. Losing stinks. Winning is better. And Georgia Tech is riding a six-game road losing streak. Last road win? Wait for it - at Georgia, in 2016. Yeah. I know. You know something else Georgia Tech has going for it? Their jersey numbers, per Bobby Petrino, are “difficult to see”. (To be fair to Petrino, this is kind of true.) Georgia Tech has the advantage of Paul Johnson facing off against his sworn enemy on the opposing sideline (Louisville defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder). Well, considering how Georgia Tech fared last time this happened (2016, Georgia Tech at Notre Dame, oof), let’s just scratch that. But still.
Louisville was able to show a pulse offensively last week, and Georgia Tech’s defense may have a new coordinator, but it’s still pretty Roofian if you ask me. And by Roofian, I of course mean not very good. Tech let Pitt’s offense put up 6.2 yards per play against it. If Louisville’s offensive confidence carries over, this could be troublesome for Georgia Tech. Of course, Louisville’s offense looked pretty bad before the Florida State game. So who knows.
I just know this game is going to be gross.
Georgia Tech Win:
Georgia Tech Loss:
Georgia Tech, 38-24. I hate trusting Georgia Tech. It makes me feel nauseous.
SYRACUSE (4-1, 1-1) AT PITTSBURGH (2-3, 1-1)
Time: 12:20 p.m. TV: ACC Network
Old Big East foes get together! That always means it’s an instant classic. Or that it’ll be so forgettable, the league itself ceased to exist. One of the two. These games have had a tendency to be weird in the past, but I’m not sure why this one would. Pittsburgh is just ... not very good. The one real question mark to me is how will Syracuse bounce back from the utter disappointment that befell them last weekend at Clemson? If they hang their collective heads about it, it’s going to be an issue. Syracuse isn’t talented enough - yet - to just roll out there against another Power 5 team and not be all there mentally. Is Pitt REALLY just another Power 5 team, though? Debatable. Pitt is pretty ... not good. As defining a game as Syracuse felt Clemson was, the stretch AFTER Clemson will be what defines the Orange more than that. Everyone loses to Clemson. Syracuse beat Clemson last year and didn’t win again. Can Eric Dungey stay healthy? Can Syracuse keep its focus? Will Pitt be anything OTHER than a tire fire the rest of the year against any semi-decent opponent? The clock is ticking, Pitt.
Syracuse, 31-20. This one could actually get weird, but not too weird, I don’t think.
BOSTON COLLEGE (4-1, 1-0) AT NO. 23 NC STATE (4-0, 1-0)
Time: 12:30 p.m. TV: ACC Network
Let’s start at the most exciting place imaginable in a game like this - special teams! I know, I know. Boring, right? Well, just ask fans of both of these teams how boring special teams are. Or how boring they wish they were, really, because boring would be a nice replacement for ‘fail’. NC State’s best special teams ranking this year, believe it or not, is on field goals - 64th in field-goal value per kick. Chris Dunn is 8 of 10 this year on field goals ans hasn’t missed an extra point. So that’s not what’s holding back NC State’s special teams this year to rank 109th. Their punt efficiency hasn’t been very good - A.J. Cole is averaging 39.7 per, which isn’t great, and NC State’s return unit has allowed 8.5 yards per return. Kickoffs have been covered much better, although 14 of the 25 have been returned, which seems like a lot in today’s college football. And NC State just hasn’t done much dynamic with its return game so far, really missing Nyheim Hines there.
BC is only 70th in Bill Connelly’s S&P+ special teams rankings, which isn’t that bad, but that’s largely because Michael Walker has done some nice things as a returner and Boston College’s kicking game has been fine (except for some, um, extra point problems). But in every game this year against a legit opponent (out of its last three such games), Boston College has done at least one thing to hurt itself from a special teams standpoint and cost itself points. Literally. Of the 34 points Wake scored, 14 came directly off of BC special teams errors (a fumble on a punt return at the BC 14 and a punt blocked and recovered for a touchdown). Purdue didn’t score directly off of any, but they helped lead to some scores with extra yardage. And Temple scored 7 of its 35 on a fumble on a kickoff return taken back for a score. (BC was fortunate that a lost fumble on an attempt to punt didn’t result in Temple points, as the defense was able to force a turnover.)
BC’s offense and defense both aren’t good at one aspect of third down - avoiding third and long as an offense and forcing third and long as a defense. NC State’s defense has forced a lot of third and longs - nearly 59% of their opponents’ third downs are third and long, per Connelly, which is 20th nationally - but the offense has seen a lot of them, tied with BC in this category of percentage of third and longs faced. The biggest difference, of course, is NC State has converted most of those third-and-long chances and is actually SECOND nationally in third-and-long success rate offensively. As the competition steps up, though? As good as Ryan Finley is, NC State’s going to need to make third downs more manageable.
And that, of course, gets us to the all-important business of finishing drives. Neither NC State nor Boston College has turned it over yet this season inside the opponent’s 10-yard line, and both have been pretty successful in the red zone. NC State would like to improve some there, certainly, but they at least can count on SOME points in the red zone this year if they can’t score a touchdown. Boston College is averaging 5.57 points per scoring opportunity (17th nationally) and NC State is at 4.96 (49th). NC State’s defense is sixth in this category (3.18) and BC’s is 36th (3.96), so this will be a key area to watch for both teams.
Special teams, third down, capitalizing on opportunities to score - those are always areas to watch in games like this, and this time will be no different.
AJ Dillon. BC’s fabulous sophomore running back is a gametime decision after hurting his ankle against Temple, according to Steve Addazio, but he’s enough of a game-changer that he has to be noted in case he does play. He’s got 652 yards through five games so far and six touchdowns, averaging 6.2 per rush. He’s been held below 4.5 yards per rush seven times in his 18-game career, and BC is 2-5 in those games. When he’s gotten 4.5 per rush or better, BC is 9-2. One of those two losses was to NC State last year, and his 5.4 per rush was his highest ever in a loss (he managed 4.9 in the bowl loss to Iowa). Dillon scampered for 196 yards on 36 attempts and a touchdown in last year’s 3-point loss to NC State in Chestnut Hill, and he did it in spite of having to be BC’s entire offense (almost literally) as quarterback Anthony Brown went out early in the game with a season-ending injury.
Brown started out this year looking like a much-improved quarterback, averaging 13 yards per attempt and completing nearly 69% of his passes for nine touchdowns and no picks in the first three games. In the last two, though? Brown is completing just 46.7% of his passes for 3.9 per attempt (ew) and has just three touchdowns to four interceptions. It wasn’t just a Purdue problem - he didn’t have an interception last week after four against Purdue, but his completion percentage went down and his yards per attempt was pretty much the same.
Here’s the point - Dillon is good enough to carry this team, when he’s healthy. His 3.1 yards per carry at Purdue was the worst mark of his career. Can NC State duplicate that with its defense? It’s been really good so far, but that will be a tall order. Still, NC State has to try to make Brown be the one to beat them.
HERE’S A GUY
Ryan Finley. He’s carried this team all season - against worst defenses than Boston College, mind you, but Finley has done just that. He got a semblance of a rushing attack last week, and that will need to continue to keep opposing defenses honest if nothing else. These third down stats (from Connelly at SB Nation), if nothing else, should show you how much Finley has done:
NC State has consistently been in third and long and Finley has gotten them out of it in spite of the odds 50% of the time. That’s a pretty good conversion rate for third down on ANY distance, much less third and long. And that’s largely Finley and his receivers making plays.
Boston College will be the best pass defense that NC State has faced. But to be fair to the Wolfpack, the ones they’ve seen have been better than you’d think in terms of opposing passer rating surrendered - Marshall is 48, Virginia is 59 and Georgia State is ... 121, but hey, it held true for the other two.
Finley has played two games against Boston College in his career, and he’s had somewhat mixed results, both in the W/L column AND in his own numbers. In last year’s win at Boston College, Finley had his second-worst passer rating in his NC State career (74.5), completing 14 of 33 passes (42.4%) for no touchdowns and a pick. In 2016, he had 307 yards passing and two touchdowns (but two interceptions) in a loss. It was a middle-of-the-road performance for Finley (but one that should’ve been good enough to win). So basically, three of his 15 interceptions in his NC State career have come against BC.
Boston College Win:
Boston College Loss:
NC State Win:
NC State Loss:
NC State, 38-27. If everyone else can put up 30 on the Eagles, why not NC State?
NO. 4 CLEMSON (5-0, 2-0) AT WAKE FOREST (3-2, 0-1)
Time: 3:30 p.m. TV: ESPN
In the last four seasons, Clemson hasn’t beaten Wake worse than by 23 points. That’s significant, of course, only in the sense that it means Wake has usually been able to not get obliterated. It looked as recently as a few weeks ago like Wake would get obliterated anyway, especially after they fired defensive coordinator Jay Sawvel after a ... less than inspired effort against Notre Dame. It was just Rice the week after, but the low bar Wake had to clear was, indeed, cleared.
Clemson will be a different beast for that Wake defense, of course. Clemson got whatever it wanted on the ground against a much-improved Syracuse defense, in spite of Syracuse knowing full well what it was intending to do with a backup quarterback in the game. Wake’s defense is 99th nationally against in the run in terms of yards per carry allowed and while its pass defense has been worse in terms of the, uh, eye test, it actually ranks higher (86th). It looks like freshman QB Trevor Lawrence is going to be back against Wake. Regardless, though, Clemson will likely do a lot of what it did to Syracuse against Wake - run Trevor Etienne until Wake shows it can consistently stop it, with a little passing sprinkled in where necessary. Clemson’s defense isn’t perfect, and Sam Hartman has some moxie to him. But Hartman will likely look a lot like the Hartman we saw against Notre Dame’s excellent defense, which means we’ll likely see Jamie Newman at some point to help Hartman avoid taking too bad of a beating.
Clemson Loss: The ACC, basically:
Wake Forest Win:
Wake Forest Loss:
Clemson, 37-20. Won’t be pleasing enough for everyone, but it’ll be enough.
FLORIDA STATE (3-2, 1-2) AT NO. 17 MIAMI (4-1, 1-0)
Time: 3:30 p.m. TV: ABC
Oh boy. Remember when this game used to be good? Scratch that - it still might be good. But remember when Florida State was the dominant one? That ... wasn’t that long ago. Until last season, Miami had gone seven years without beating Florida State. Now, it’s Mark Richt and the Hurricanes that are a top-15 team and Florida State and Willie Taggart who are ... not quite back there yet.
Both of these teams do have something in common from last week, of course. Both arguably got a little bit of false hope with their respective wins. Florida State won a game at Louisville in which Bobby Petrino was basically like well okay, Florida State, here you go! Take this win! I’ve always liked you. And Miami absolutely dominated North Carolina, 47-10. Except to be fair, the defense really scored more points (24) than the offense (23) as 24 of the points came either straight off of or indirectly off of North Carolina turnovers. That doesn’t mean they don’t count, obviously, but Florida State likely won’t be quite as generous.
Make no mistake, though, Miami is still good. Really good. Is Miami’s offense good enough with N’Kosi Perry to do what it’ll need to against a solid enough Florida State defense? That remains the question to me. But what does not seem to be a question is how Florida State’s offense should fare against Miami’s defense.
Hale is right - weird things happen in this game - but the on-paper analysis would certainly suggest that Florida State’s still-struggling offensive line is going to have a lot of issues.
And wow, has this rivalry stooped to a new low when THIS is the new trash talk:
Fans picking at our own bag. Oh, not just fans, Willie. The entire Internet was making fun of the turnover backpack.
To be fair to the Miami player, even though he likely meant it pejoratively since only women carry purses OF COURSE, it ... does look like a woman’s backpack accessory type thing. And contrary to popular belief lately, there’s nothing wrong with being a woman. Unless you play football, I guess. But if it’s a woman’s backpack? Best of look getting it through Miami’s clear bag policy. Better hope those football pants have pockets.
Florida State Win:
Florida State Loss: FSU on offense
Miami Win: Miami, relishing the role reversal
Miami, 33-25. This is a rivalry, after all.
NO. 6 NOTRE DAME (5-0) AT NO. 24 VIRGINIA TECH (3-1, 2-0)
Time: 8 p.m. TV: ABC
As inconsistent as college football teams can be from week to week, I think we have an idea of who Notre Dame is at this point - or, at least, who it can be. Since putting Ian Book in at quarterback at Wake Forest, in two games Notre Dame has improved its average yards per play from 5.1 in the first three games to 7.6 in the last two, and has outscored opponents 94-44 in that span compared to 70-50 in the first two games. So, 47 points per game compared to 23.3, and a much more comfortable average margin of 20 points per game as opposed to 6.7. Notre Dame’s defense was good already, and pairing it with a dynamic offense takes the Irish from pretty good to really good and potentially great.
So I don’t have a lot of questions about how Notre Dame is or what it’s capable of, or even if - on paper - it’s the better team here. (It is.)
But ... who the heck is Virginia Tech?
We all knew the week after the debacle against Old Dominion, Virginia Tech would be better defensively. And the Hokies were better at Duke, shutting down the Duke run game and getting enough of a lead that they knew they could key on the pass, especially the deep ball. Their cornerbacks that struggled so much against Old Dominion didn’t against Duke and Daniel Jones often had no one to throw the ball to.
They’re going to have to replicate that kind of performance defensively. And it’s not out of the realm of possibility. But they’ll have to be more disruptive in terms of their game plan, probably; it’s doubtful that they’ll get pressure with a three-man rush the way they did against Duke. But it’s certainly possible! Notre Dame will be missing preseason All-American left guard Alex Bars, who’s out for the year after tearing his ACL against Stanford. Virginia Tech’s front has always been the strength of the team. The one area where Book has not been as good as Wimbush has been as a runner, and if the Hokies can neutralize his ability to find his receivers and make him run for his life, that might make the Irish offense look different than it has looked. Bud Foster will surely see the things he needs to do on tape to attack Book and make him less comfortable, too.
While obviously it will be important that Virginia Tech’s offense do something, and backup Ryan Willis has looked good so far, to me it’s going to be on that defense. It has to make plays, whether it’s forcing turnovers or being generally disruptive, and allow that Lane Stadium crowd to stay in it deep into the game. The later it gets, the more likely it gets that Virginia Tech pulls it off. Get down big early, though, and it will be trouble. Willis has been solid at quarterback and was sometimes even better, but he’ll have to avoid mistakes, make the right decisions and just keep the chains moving against the best defense the Hokies have seen, by far.
Notre Dame Win: Looking at the rest of Notre Dame’s schedule
Notre Dame Loss: We’ve seen this movie before
Virginia Tech Win: Hokies gonna lose another dumb game and win the Coastal again
Virginia Tech Loss:
Notre Dame, 31-20. Here’s a stat for you: Notre Dame is 0-3 on the road against ACC ranked opponents since 2014, when the Irish started playing a certain number of league games each year without actually joining the league. I think this is the time they get it done.
Last week: 9-0 (5-0 ACC) Overall: 46-9 (10-2 ACC)