September 23, 2010

Week 4 preview in the ACC

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Miami at Pittsburgh, 7:30 p.m.
Virginia Tech at Boston College, noon
N.C. State at Georgia Tech, noon
Florida International at Maryland, noon
VMI at Virginia, 1:30 p.m.
Army at Duke, 3 p.m.
Wake Forest at Florida State, 3:30 p.m.
North Carolina at Rutgers, 3:30 p.m.

The ACC no longer has the look of a pinball machine that just went on the fritz.

Its tilt has disappeared.

Conventional wisdom had suggested the Coastal Division would outclass the Atlantic for the second consecutive season, but balance looks to have returned to the league instead.

Four Coastal Division schools and one Atlantic program were ranked among the nation's top 20 teams in the preseason Associated Press poll. Now the ACC's only ranked team is Coastal representative Miami at No. 19.

The Atlantic won the only interdivisional game of the season thus far when Wake Forest beat Duke 54-48 two weeks ago. And the ACC's only two remaining unbeaten teams are from the Atlantic: North Carolina State (3-0) and Boston College (2-0).

This week's two interdivisional games should offer clues as to whether the Atlantic can remain at least on equal footing with the Coastal. Boston College plays host to preseason ACC favorite Virginia Tech, while North Carolina State travels to defending ACC champion Georgia Tech.

At this point, the jury's still out on whether Boston College or North Carolina State is as good as its record. Both are underdogs this week even as they get ready to face opponents with inferior records.

Boston College has delivered relatively uninspired performances while beating overmatched opponents Weber State and Kent State. The Eagles feature star running back Montel Harris and a veteran offensive line, yet they're tied for 77th nationally in rushing.

This also represents the biggest test of the season so far for quarterback Dave Shinskie, who struggled with his consistency last season.

"He's got a better understanding of what it takes to be a quarterback on this level - the work ethic, the strain that needs to go into it, the time," Boston College coach Frank Spaziani said. "He's put in all those extracurricular hours on his own. He's practiced better. But he's got to do it now. We've had games, but it's a different pace now."

And it's a different level of opponent.

Spaziani isn't fooled by Virginia Tech's 1-2 start. He knows the Hokies have plenty of talent. His team learned that lesson the hard way when it fell 48-14 at Virginia Tech last season.

"That was a big challenge, and we certainly didn't handle it very well," Spaziani said. "We have made progress, but we haven't had that challenge yet again. We're going to find out how much progress we've made."

The same goes for North Carolina State, the lone ACC team with two wins over FBS programs. The Wolfpack followed up a win at UCF by beating defending Big East champion Cincinnati last week.

NC State has gotten off to a fast start because of its improved defense. The Wolfpack rank second in the ACC in scoring defense and third in total defense. Last season, they finished eighth in the league in total defense and 11th in scoring defense.

Georgia Tech should reveal whether North Carolina State's defense is actually as good as its ranking. This will mark the first time the Wolfpack have tried to stop Paul Johnson's option attack. North Carolina State and Georgia Tech haven't met since 2006, when Chan Gailey was coaching the Yellow Jackets.

"I think definitely there's a little more confidence on this football team," NC State coach Tom O'Brien said. "When you look at the challenge staring us in the face, we're not going to wear our arms out patting ourselves on the back."

Best matchup: Pittsburgh WR Jonathan Baldwin vs. Miami CB Brandon Harris. Assuming Baldwin and Harris line up against each other, this Thursday night game would match one of the nation's top receivers against one of the top cornerbacks in the land. Baldwin earned first-team All-Big East honors last season, while Harris ranked second in the nation in passes defended last season. Both players headed into this season as legitimate All-America candidates. Baldwin, a 6-foot-5 junior, would have a decisive height advantage on the 5-11 Harris. But it isn't as though the Hurricanes can neutralize that problem by matching up Harris against someone else. Pittsburgh's second-leading receiver is Mike Shanahan, a 6-5 sophomore.

Players on the spot: Virginia Tech RBs Darren Evans and David Wilson. The uncertain status of Ryan Williams puts more pressure on Evans and Wilson to spearhead the Hokies' rushing attack Saturday at Boston College. Williams injured his right hamstring last week in a 49-27 victory over East Carolina. Wilson told reporters this week that Williams wouldn't play against Boston College, though Virginia Tech coaches have indicated he still might be available. Whether Williams plays or not, his hamstring problem will at least limit him while forcing Evans and Wilson into expanded roles. Wilson should have plenty of confidence after rushing for 89 yards and two touchdowns in relief of Williams last week, but Evans must take better care of the ball. Evans has lost fumbles in each of Virginia Tech's past two games. "I'm going to sleep with a football," Evans told The (Norfolk) Virginian-Pilot after the East Carolina game. "My wife's probably going to be mad."

Numbers game: Florida State has recorded 13 sacks, more than any other team in the nation. The Seminoles produced only 25 sacks all of last season. "I guarantee no one last year thought this team ever would be top in sacks in the next 10 years," Florida State DE Markus White . "We're pretty much trying to prove to the world what we can do, and it's working right now." The Seminoles recorded eight sacks Saturday in a 34-10 rout of BYU ; they had four against Samford and one against Oklahoma. Florida State DEs Brandon Jenkins, Bjoern Woerner, Dan Hicks and White have combined for 6.5 sacks this season. Last season, FSU got a total of four sacks from its ends. Although they have recorded more sacks than any other team, the Seminoles actually rank third in the nation - and second in the ACC - in sacks per game. Fresno State has recorded 10 sacks in two games for an average of 5.0 per game, while Miami has delivered nine sacks in two games to average 4.5 per game. Florida State is averaging 4.3 sacks per game.

They said it

"It's like your girlfriend - rub it up against your body." - Virginia Tech running backs coach Billy Hite, describing to The (Newport News) Daily Press how the Hokies need to protect the football and avoid fumbles

"We're definitely taking this game right here as the No. 1 game that we have to win. We don't really see any other thing besides winning this one. It's a must-win situation. It's a we're-gonna-win situation." - North Carolina DE Quinton Coples, to the Winston-Salem Journal about Saturday's game with Rutgers

"We're probably asking our guys to do too many things. What you find out is if you ask the kids to do too many things, they get a little constipated and don't move their feet very fast. At times the other night, it looked like we had lead boots on." - Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe, to the Winston-Salem Journal after the Demon Deacons gave up 535 yards of total offense in a 68-24 loss to Stanford

"I'm hunting that one with a big ol' stick." - Duke coach David Cutcliffe, to The (Raleigh) News & Observer discussing his search for reasons the Blue Devils have scored only three third-quarter this season

"We have to be more consistent and continue to get better. We are not anywhere where we need to be by any stretch of the imagination - or anywhere else for that matter. Those guys need to continue to keep working." - Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson, on the performance of his defensive line. Tech has allowed a 100-yard rusher in each of its past six games

Etc.: North Carolina CB Kendric Burney received a six-game suspension and FS Deunta Williams was suspended four games in the wake of an NCAA investigation into improper contact with agents. Burney must repay $575.19 and Williams must repay $450.67 to charities of their choice to become eligible. The suspensions include the two games they already have missed. North Carolina plans to file an appeal. There still is no update on the other 10 UNC players who have missed the first two games of the season as a result of this investigation. ... Virginia RB Dominique Wallace has left the team to concentrate on his academics, though he will remain in school. Wallace was the nation's No. 1 fullback and No. 149 overall prospect in the 2009 recruiting class. ... This week's ACC schedule includes two non-conference games that pit former coaching colleagues against each other. Miami's Randy Shannon played linebacker for the Hurricanes in the 1980s, when current Pittsburgh coach Dave Wannstedt was working as UM's defensive coordinator. Shannon and Wannstedt worked together on Jimmy Johnson's staff with the Miami Dolphins in 1999, and Shannon remained with the Dolphins as linebackers coach in 2000 after Wannstedt replaced Johnson as head coach. North Carolina's Butch Davis and Rutgers' Greg Schiano also worked together at Miami. Schiano was defensive coordinator on Davis' staff at UM from 1999-2000. ... Miami will hope to continue its history of Thursday night magic this week. The Hurricanes are 14-2 when playing a Thursday night game on ESPN. ... North Carolina senior QB T.J. Yates has thrown 89 consecutive passes without an interception, which represents the longest such streak of his career. ... In each of its first two games, Virginia has executed the exact same number of running plays and pass attempts. Virginia had 35 runs and 35 passes in the season opener against Richmond. The Cavaliers had 36 carries and 36 passes against USC. ... Maryland's offensive line gave up eight sacks against West Virginia last week and now is taking even more hits. Justin Gilbert, the Terps' starting left tackle, is out for the season with a torn ACL. R.J. Dill will move from right tackle to fill Gilbert's spot on the left side, and redshirt freshman Pete DeSouza moves into the starting lineup at right tackle. ... Florida State OT Andrew Datko didn't play against BYU and likely will miss Saturday's game with Wake Forest as well. Datko has an injured left shoulder. "He's out for a while," Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher told Redshirt freshman Henry Orelus started in place of Datko last week. ... Star Virginia CB Ras-I Dowling (hamstring) participated in a full-contact workout Tuesday after missing the Cavaliers' first two games. ... Miami RB Graig Cooper is out for the Pittsburgh game because of a lower extremity injury; he also missed the Ohio State game. Starting OT Joel Figueroa is listed as questionable. ... Virginia Tech has lost its past two games at Boston College by a combined 50-26. ... Clemson RB Jamie Harper caught three passes for 48 yards and two touchdowns in a 27-24 overtime loss to Auburn last week, which made him the first Clemson running back to catch two touchdown passes in the same game since Terrence Flagler did it against Wake Forest in 1986. Although C.J. Spiller caught 11 touchdown passes in his Clemson career, he never had two touchdown catches in the same game.

Steve Megargee is a national writer for He can be reached at

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