Around The ACC Week Nine Preview

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  • North Carolina @ #23 Pittsburgh, Thursday 7 p.m. on ESPN
  • Louisville @ Wake Forest, Friday 7 p.m. on ESPN2
  • Syracuse @ #17 Florida State, Saturday 12 p.m. on ABC
  • Virginia Tech @ Boston College, Saturday 12:30 p.m. on ESPN3
  • Georgia Tech @ Virginia, Saturday 3 p.m. on ESPN3
  • #3 Clemson @ N.C. State, Saturday 3:30 p.m. on ABC
  • Miami @ #22 Duke, Saturday 7 p.m. on ESPNU

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North Carolina (6-1, 3-0) @ #23 Pittsburgh (6-1, 4-0)

This is the game of the week in the ACC, with enormous ramifications on the Coastal Division race. Can Carolina extend its six-game winning streak, or will Pitt win yet another close game in the waning moments?

“It’s what we’ve always done. If you look back through my history, and the last 11 years, you win championships with defense,” Pat Narduzzi said of his team’s late-game heroics. “If it’s a close game you have to step up and make something happen. Our offense did it this weekend and our defense did it these past couple [weekends]. But you have to win close games, that’s the name of the game.”

The Panthers will need to run the ball with Qadree Ollison, because the UNC pass defense is ranked second nationally and will pose a serious challenge.

The Panthers will also need perhaps their best defensive effort of the season against the potent Carolina offense and the rushing of quarterback Marquise Williams and running back Elijah Hood. Hood has been getting more carries lately and it’s been paying off. He now has 646 yards and eight touchdowns on the season, while picking up 6.5 yards per touch. Williams has 476 yards and five touchdowns at 7 yards per rush.

“You’ve got some length on the outside, some quickness on the inside, you’ve got [Elijah] Hood who can go, and Quise – if something breaks down – he can make something happen with his legs,” Larry Fedora said of the duo. “That’s a backbreaker for a defense.”

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Louisville (3-4, 2-2) @ Wake Forest (3-5, 1-4)

The Cardinals have had a rollercoaster season, but a win puts them back at .500 and in position to make a run at a bowl game. The main task in this game will be finding a way to consistently attack the sneaky-good Wake defense.

“They do a good job of moving their front around,” Bobby Petrino said. “The last couple weeks, they’ve struggled a little bit. They’ve given up some big plays. People have gotten into the secondary and they’ve been able to take advantage of them in the secondary.”

It remains to be seen if Lamar Jackson can challenge a defense with downfield passes like those Petrino described without turning the ball over. He has seven interceptions on the year to six touchdowns.

The Demon Deacons will likely utilize two quarterbacks like last week when both John Wolford and Kendall Hinton saw action.

“John will start, but the plan is to play Kendall and see how the game develops,” Dave Clawson said this week. “Kendall goes in there and makes plays with his feet, but it’s just the nature of being a true freshman quarterback. There’s just things sometimes in the pass game that Kendall doesn’t see as well as John.”

Wolford is a much stronger passer and knows the offense better, but Hinton has added plenty of excitement to the Wake offense. It remains to be seen however if either QB will have decent protection against the Cardinal front.

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Syracuse (3-4, 1-2) @ #17 Florida State (6-1, 4-1)

Florida State is still reeling from one of the craziest finishes of all time, but there’s no time to wallow in the loss of an undefeated campaign.

“You’ve got to put last week behind you,” Jimbo Fisher emphasized. “One loss can’t become two. But you’ve got to remember the things, you made mistakes and why you made mistakes and you’ve got to correct them.”

Everett Golson threw his first interception of the season in the redzone. He’s been very smart with the ball, but needs to continue that for the offense to keep firing on all cylinders.

Syracuse has lost some really tough games lately, but they’ve shown plenty of promise. Virginia and Pitt were the hardest to swallow, as the Orange led both games in the fourth quarter. Now they hope to slow down Dalvin Cook, a back every bit as good as the one who ran over the Orange when LSU made a visit.

“I would put [Dalvin] Cook right up there with Fournette. He is a very talented young man,” Scott Shafer said. “He has great vision like all the great running backs. He’s also very elusive. He can take the outside zone play and run around a lot of outside angles as well as anyone in the country.”

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Virginia Tech (3-5, 1-3) @ Boston College (3-5, 0-3)

Neither of these teams is likely to qualify for a bowl game at this point, but the loser most certainly won’t. Both teams are in disarray but BC may have the toughest issues starting with injuries. Kamrin Moore is out for the rest of the season with a leg injury, one that Steve Addazio called a, “Devastating loss.” Moore was the team’s top defensive back, and will force others to step up in a game where the Hokies should try plenty of passes. Quarterback Jeff Smith suffered a concussion last week and may miss this game as well. They won’t know for sure until late in the week. Running back Tyler Rouse is also day-to-day and as Addazio updated, “Myles [Willis] is the healthiest of [the unit], although he is not healthy right now. I just left him and he is still suffering with the AC. But he is the most healthy.”

The Hokies will try to save the season and rebound from a four overtime loss last week to Duke. It will be a tall order against the stout defensive front of Boston College.

“We’ve had some tough losses and didn’t make some plays you need to make,” Frank Beamer said. “I really like the character of this team, the leadership of this team, got some good young players.”

Having Michael Brewer back certainly opened up plenty of options in the passing game against Duke, particularly for the tight ends. Bucky Hodges went over 100 yards and Ryan Malleck caught several passes. Tech will need to attack through the air because the top-ranked BC run defense will make things hard on the surging Hokie running game.

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Georgia Tech (3-5, 1-4) @ Virginia (2-5, 1-2)

The Yellow Jackets have a bounce in their step after a magical win over Florida State. They’ll look to use the energy to carry them into the postseason.

“Like I said after the game, I felt like it was our turn to kind of catch a break,” Paul Johnson said. “So we finally got one instead of them working the other way. Now hopefully we can take that and try to get some momentum and build on it.”

The matchup certainly favors Tech against the 64th ranked Wahoo run defense. After this are winnable games against Virginia Tech and Miami, so a bowl game is quite possibly in the cards if they can get to 4-5.

Virginia got a nice win over Syracuse two weeks ago and played UNC tough last time out. They’re mired in a terrible season, but there’s enough talent to always be dangerous. Matt Johns hasn’t played well of late and is now tied for the national lead in interceptions with 12. He has to cut down on turnovers and return to his early-season form.

“Trust your reads and make the throw,” Mike London said. “We’ll continue to keep coaching him. Again, Matt’s a guy that has a lot of confidence. But we always talk about playing within yourself and making throws when the throws are there.”

That will be a key if UVA hopes to have a shot at pulling the upset.

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#3 Clemson (7-0, 4-0) @ N.C. State (5-2, 1-2)

Dave Doeren knows the challenge of pulling this upset, but he knows his team is capable.

“You have to create some turnovers. You have to strain and run to the football,” he said. “We have to play tight coverage and do what we did last week. I thought our defensive line pressure and our defensive back underneath coverage complemented each other well.”

Balance will be key, as Clemson can gouge you with the run – like they did to the tune of over 400 yards against Miami – or the pass, which they do against most everyone.

Clemson knows that State will bring everything they’ve got.

“This is a well-coached football team in all phases and they’re playing hard, smart, tough and confident,” Dabo Swinney said. “They have 18 starters back so this is a veteran football team at 5-2. They’re going to be playing at home, with a sellout crowd and a top-ranked team coming in there.”

Certainly, the environment will be as ideal as possible for the home team to pull the upset. The defense will have to play lights out however, and Jacoby Brissett will have to have another strong performance like last week against Wake Forest.

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Miami (4-3, 1-2) @ #22 Duke (6-1, 3-0)

Miami is a program in turmoil, and Larry Scott has the task of trying to rally the team to make a bowl game. Corner Artie Burns lost his mother after an illness, and in general it’s a tough situation for everyone in Coral Gables. It’s on Scott and company to pull things together.

“I challenged the coaches when we all got this whole thing started, when I was given the
title of interim head coach, to really tap into some of the reasons you choose to be a coach,” Scott said. “That’s what it’s going to take right now. It’s going to be far more than the X’s and the O’s, and getting this from a standpoint of corrected football.”

They’ll be facing an extremely talented Duke squad that’s still fighting for the Coastal Division crown. For my money, Blue Devil safety Jeremy Cash is easily the defensive player of the year and quite possibly the overall POTY. Thomas Sirk had a strong game last week against the Hokies, rushing for over 100 yards and tossing four touchdowns passes. If Duke can continue to get strong play from the defense and timely scoring from the offense, they’re going to be extremely difficult to beat down the stretch, and likely the favorites to win the division.

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