After last night’s Virginia Tech-Maryland game, eight of the 12 teams in the ACC have two losses in conference play. Five of those eight teams are in the Coastal Division. The biggest game of the weekend is the battle between Georgia Tech and UNC, which could all but eliminate one of those teams from contention.
Notre Dame (5-3) vs. Boston College (5-3)
Why Notre Dame might win: The Notre Dame Fighting Irish does the one thing on offense that Boston College does not defend well. They can pass the football. The top two passing offenses BC has faced up to this point were North Carolina (ranked 71st) and Clemson (ranked 59th) and both teams were successful through the air and on the scoreboard, winning the game. The Fighting Irish are MUCH better throwing the ball than both North Carolina and Clemson, ranking 18th nationally with 263 passing yards per game. QB Jimmy Clausen is quietly putting together a solid season in his sophomore year. Clausen currently ranks 16th in passing yards per game to go with 18 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. On the road, Clausen has tossed only four touchdowns with five interceptions. Like most Notre Dame games, the outcome will be won or lost by the arm of Clausen. The Fighting Irish rushing attack ranks 91st nationally averaging 121 ypg and will struggle to get much done on the ground against the 19th nationally ranked Eagle rush defense. Defensively, the Irish are not particularly strong or weak in any one area, ranking 50th against the run (127 ypg) and 64th against the pass (206.5 ypg).
Why Boston College might win: Boston College has won six of the past seven games versus Notre Dame, winning the last five in a row. The Eagles will need to turn things around on offense this week to defeat Notre Dame. Over the last 10 quarters of football, their offense has produced a total of four touchdowns, with two of those touchdown drives totaling less than 25 yards. Last week, QB Chris Crane struggled, completing only 18 of 39 pass attempts (46%), but did not throw an interception. A key statistic for BC will be their 3rd down conversion percentage on offense. For the year, they rank 72nd, converting 37% of their third downs, but the past two weeks they were 8 of 31 (25%). Conversely, BC completed 50% against Virginia Tech and won that game. Boston College has done well scoring in other facets of the game, returning a punt versus Virginia Tech, returning an interception against UNC and getting a punt block for a touchdown against Clemson. With this BC offense struggling and a difficult match-up for the BC defense, being able to generate points in all three phases of the game is crucial.
Notre Dame 28, Boston College 23
Georgia Tech (7-2) vs. North Carolina (6-2)
Why Georgia Tech might win: The Yellow Jackets are coming off an emotional win, defeating Florida State for the first time in ACC play. This game for all intents and purposes is a knockout game with regard to winning the Coastal Division. Both teams lost to Virginia and Virginia Tech and a third ACC loss all but knocks them out of contention. Georgia Tech has won nine out of the last 10 games against North Carolina. QB Josh Nesbitt (ankle injury) is expected to practice this week and be available to play Saturday, but first team all ACC lineman LT Andrew Gardner has been lost for the year. This is a huge blow to their rush attack, as he has started 48 consecutive games, tops in the nation. In the two games Georgia Tech lost this year (VT and UVA), RB Jonathan Dwyer was corralled and generally was ineffective, averaging 3.8 ypc. By now everyone knows how good the Georgia Tech defensive line has been playing. They continue to lead the nation in tackles for loss per game. The big question mark for Georgia Tech’s defense this weekend will be containing WR Hakeem Nicks with a banged up secondary that will be without CB Jahi Word-Daniels for a third consecutive game.
Why North Carolina might win: It’s homecoming week in Chapel Hill as they prepare for their biggest game to date. This is a match-up of the ACC’s second ranked scoring offense (UNC 31.1 ppg) against the ACC’s top ranked scoring defense (GT 14.8 ppg). UNC matches up against this Georgia Tech defense better than Florida State did mostly because the offensive line play is better, as well as the passing offense. As we saw in Georgia Tech’s game against Virginia, this secondary is susceptible against the pass if the quarterback has time to throw. WR Hakeem Nicks is primed for another big game this weekend. The past three games the Tar Heel defense has bowed up against the run, not allowing Notre Dame, Virginia or Boston College to rush for 100 yards. Given that is primarily all Georgia Tech will do, UNC has to be confident in their chances this weekend. Another area this UNC defense excels in is takeaways, ranking 6th nationally in turnover margin. The Tar Heels have the better special teams units, ranking ahead of Georgia Tech in kick-off and punt returns, with a moderate advantage in field goal kicking.
North Carolina 23, Georgia Tech 21
Clemson (4-4) vs. Florida State (6-2)
Why Clemson might win: Head Coach Dabo Swinney notched his first win last week over Boston College since taking over for Tommy Bowden. This week he takes on Papa Bowden and Florida State. Clemson has won three consecutive games against the Seminoles and four out of the last five. Quite frankly, it’s as easy as this for Clemson…STOP TURNING THE BALL OVER! Fourteen turnovers in the last four games will guarantee you lose the majority of your games. (Clemson was 1-3 during this stretch) QB Cullen Harper and boys need to make protecting the football a premium, because the offense is not as explosive as they first thought. The return of C.J. Spiller was huge last week as he tallied 105 yards receiving, broke-off a 57 yard run that setup a score and added a 64 yard kickoff return. FSU will present Harper and his receivers opportunities in the passing game with their aggressive man to man defensive approach, but the offensive line needs to slow down DE Everette Brown and company. Clemson’s defense has been playing better of late and ranks 2nd in the ACC in scoring defense at 16.8 ppg. The defensive line needs to step-up this weekend if they are to pull out a victory. Defensive ends Ricky Sapp and Da’Quan Bowers were expected to be a disruptive duo this year, but Clemson ranks 116th in sacks with a total of seven and 55th in tackles for loss.
Why Florida State might win: Coach Bobby Bowden will be looking to keep the Seminoles in the hunt for the Atlantic Division with a win over Clemson. Last week’s loss to Georgia Tech did have a silver lining of sorts. The Seminoles found a back-up running back to spell a banged up Antone Smith from time to time. True freshman Jermaine Thomas is going to get an increased workload this week after ripping off 130 yards on just 9 carries last week against the Yellow Jackets. For the year, he is averaging 8.4 ypc with a long of 62 yards. On top of that, QB D’Vontrey Richardson will also get sprinkled in the game more often going forward after sparking a comeback attempt last week against Georgia Tech. Just a few more weapons Clemson has to prepare for this week. The Clemson offense has been struggling all year due to their poor offensive line play, and this week they face the ACC’s top defense. FSU will be in Harper’s grill all game forcing him to throw before he’s ready or take sacks. Despite RB’s James Davis and C.J. Spiller, Clemson ranks 8th in the ACC in rush offense and will have a hard time finding daylight this weekend against the ACC’s top rush defense.
Florida State 28, Clemson 17
North Carolina State (2-6) vs. Duke (4-4)
Why North Carolina State might win: Remarkably, these two hometown rivals haven’t played since 2003. The Wolfpack have won 10 straight games against Duke. This appears to be State’s best chance at notching a conference win this season. The NC State offense has been quietly making progress, most notably the last three games when QB Russell Wilson (ACC leader in pass efficiency) has been at the helm and healthy. The Pack is averaging 24 ppg and Wilson has completed 58% of his passes for an average of 195 ypg with five touchdowns and zero picks. Then you throw in an additional 90 yards on the ground and you have a legitimate threat at QB. Duke’s rush defense ranks 10th in the ACC, allowing 144 ypg, so the Pack should work running backs Andre Brown and Jamelle Eugene all game long. State’s problem is on the other side of the ball. The Pack defense ranks dead last in scoring defense, pass defense and rush defense. During the bye week the coaches shuffled a couple of new starters in on defense, elevating Audie Cole over Dwayne Maddox as a starter at weak side linebacker and restoring Willie Young to a starting defensive end spot over Jeff Rieskamp. LB Nate Irving returned to practice this week, but it is still undetermined if he will play Saturday.
Why Duke might win: The Blue Devils have to rebound quickly from a gut-wrenching loss at Wake Forest. It was a game, quite frankly, they should have put away with at 41 yard field goal at the end of regulation. Duke needs two more wins to become bowl eligible and this is one they have to have. Duke needs to set the tone early. The sooner they can break the Pack’s will to fight and dash any hopes of notching an ACC win, the better. The Duke offense will look to control the clock (rank 2nd in ACC for time of possession) and will try to wear down a thin State defense. There is very little margin for error with Duke. Before last week (four turnovers) they had been protecting the football and winning the turnover margin. The Duke defense got a taste of the dual-threat QB when Jacory Harris lit them up a few weeks ago. While State doesn’t have the same skill set at WR, Russell Wilson can scramble and does look deep when the plays breakdown. This is definitely an area they need to shore up heading into this Saturday’s contest.
NC State 28, Duke 27
Virginia (5-4) vs. Wake Forest (5-3)
Why Virginia might win: The Cavaliers are 20-1 against Wake Forest since 1984. This is a match-up of the two worst scoring offenses in the ACC. Wake Forest averages 19.4 ppg while UVA is averaging 17.7. Virginia has clearly been playing better football than Wake Forest recently. Wake Forest’s success is fed by their ability to create turnovers and short fields for their offense. UVA is -1 in turnover margin on the year so ball protection is a key. During UVA’s four game winning streak RB Cedric Peerman was averaging 25.5 touches per game, but just last week at home he only carried the ball 14 times and caught 3 more. Peerman needs to touch the ball at least 25 times on the road. The Virginia offensive line has protected QB Marc Verica very well this year, only giving up 10 sacks total on the year, good for 2nd best in the ACC. Wake Forest does not generate much of a pass rush (12 sacks, 11th in ACC) so Verica should have plenty of time to find WR Kevin Ogletree. Verica’s accuracy has been stellar in the past five weeks, completing 70.6% of his passes. The UVA front seven could make QB Riley Skinner’s life very uncomfortable most of the game Saturday. If Wake Forest cannot run the ball, their pass protection becomes that much more important and is an area of the game UVA must exploit. The Deacons rank 10th in sacks allowed, while UVA comes in ranking 2nd in the ACC in sacks generated.
Why Wake Forest might win: The Deacons welcome back some much needed help in the form of starters returning from injury. Running back Josh Adams, cornerback Brandon Ghee, tight end Ben Wooster and offensive tackle Jeff Griffin have all recovered enough from injuries to practice this week for Wake. That will be a big boost to both sides of the ball this weekend. This will be the first game the Deacons play without kicker Sam Swank where they probably still hold the edge in the kicking game. UVA kicker Yannick Reyering is six out of eleven on the year. The Deacons need to keep the UVA defense off balance, do not allow them to pin their ears back and rush QB Riley Skinner time and time again. The rush offense will be critical in slowing down the UVA pass rush. It’s much easier on the defensive side of the ball, swarm and shut down Cedric Peerman. UVA is 3-0 when Peerman rushes for 100 yards. Wake is not overly strong in their rush defense, evident in the fact they allowed Duke to gain 145 yards on the ground last week.
Virginia 24, Wake Forest 20