ACC Weekend Recap
By Jordan Martin
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Duke, Georgia Tech and Miami are all still competing for the ACC Coastal Division crown.
Offensive Player of the Week: Michael Rocco-QB-Virginia [29-37, 300 Passing Yards, 4 Passing TDs]
On top of his primary stats, Rocco was only sacked once, had a 78.4% completion rate and a last-minute touchdown drive that really put the cherry on top of this performance. This was the most impressive performance by any Cavalier offensive player this season by far.
Defensive Player of the Week: Cornellius Carradine-DE-Florida State [11 Tackles, 1 Sack]
Carradine began the season as a backup defensive end and was thrust into the starting role following Brandon Jenkins’ injury. The defensive unit hasn’t suffered as significant a drop-off as expected, and in this game he certainly played like an All-American in Jenkins’ stead. Carradine was end-to-end, side-to-side the entire game.
Game of the Week: (Virginia 41, Miami 40)
One month ago, in this very article, I discussed how Mike London was falling short in converting the promise of his recruiting and past coaching successes into gameday success with the Cavs. One month ago, this team was winless in the ACC and looked like they may not win another game for the rest of the season. One month ago, this team had not scored over 20 points against any team in a conference that receives an automatic BCS bowl bid. Six straight losses led them into games against NC State, Miami, UNC and Virginia Tech.
All of a sudden, the script has been flipped. Virginia has won two in a row, both games over conference opponents. This is the part where journalists and talking heads backtrack and talk about latent potential and heart. I, however, will admit it proves one thing: The more I understand, the less I know.
Where did this come from? They flat out bulldozed the Wolfpack, and somewhere in their 10-point deficit against Miami, found the fortitude to fight back to the bitter end and pull out a victory. Suddenly, a once lost season has transformed into a potential bowl season if the Cavaliers can win their next two games. Who could have predicted this?
Oh, and even after all this, Miami is still tied for first place in the ACC Coastal Division with a 5-5 record, and leads the division over Georgia Tech with the matchup victory. Now excuse me while I go and re-learn everything I know about college football.
Game You Should Have Watched: (Georgia Tech 68, North Carolina 50)
Remember everything I said about not being able to prognosticate college football in the previous line? Here’s “Exhibit B.”
Georgia Tech and North Carolina combined for 118 points to break an ACC record, and the truth is, they both could have easily put more on the board. Want to know the craziest part? No one player had more than two touchdowns to his credit.
You come to expect impressive offensive performances from Paul Johnson’s teams, but with a backup quarterback and against a conference opponent fighting for a shot at a divisional title this late in the season? I give up.
Neither defense has been particularly good this year, and Georgia Tech’s case is well documented, but to see this kind of mutual outburst is nothing short of shocking. The two teams were actually almost identical in offensive production. The differential breakdown is in Georgia Tech’s favor, but by a slim margin. The Jackets finished +10 in total plays, +5 in first downs and only +.2 in yards per play. It came down to the Yellow Jackets having more opportunities and having one less costly turnover.
A few weeks ago, UNC was sitting pretty and having a pretty impressive debut season under Larry Fedora, while Paul Johnson had fired defensive coordinator Al Groh, lost three games in a row and was on the brink of a losing regular season. His team has won two straight, and they’re two more away from a winning season. However, they’ll need to get past upstart Duke and newly crowned SEC East Champion Georgia to get there.
Game That Hurt to Watch: (Florida State 28, Virginia Tech 22)
There are many reasons why this was an enjoyable game to watch. There are many reasons for it to be considered a good game by conventional standards. I feel like this was not only painful to watch if you were a Florida State fan or a Virginia tech fan, but by the implications of the final ten minutes and the final outcome on the two teams.
You can combine two phrases to summarize this game: “You are what your record says you are,” and, “perception is someone’s reality.”
You can interchange either of those phrases for either team.
So why did this game “hurt” to watch? Well, for starters, if you have any semblance of respect for the contributions of a head coach to his school and community through consistency and leadership, you have to feel for Frank Beamer. This has been Virginia Tech’s most disappointing season in the era of oversaturated media coverage, and they are now confronted with the possibility of their first losing season in 20 years. Everything that has been a trademark of Hokie football has become a past-tense joke this year. The “We will excel in 3/3 of the game” approach is gone to the point you wonder how it was there for so long, and the team, from the coaching staff to the players, simply lacks synergy. That was the storyline before this game even began. What made the fallout even worse is the way it ended.
Virginia Tech was bound and determined to win this game if only for the sake of their pride and to salvage their season with a marquee victory. Though far from flawless, they managed to keep this game within one-shot distance the entire way, and looked rather impressive against Florida State’s defense. In the fourth quarter, they pushed all their chips in and went for broke. A very odd safety play in the middle of the fourth, followed by a field goal with under three minutes to play tilted the scoreboard in Virginia Tech’s favor. Their defense, however, wilted.
E.J. Manuel, who had been pretty pedestrian through the evening, engineered a drive that led to a 38-yard touchdown pass that simply evaporated the Hokies. Virginia Tech actually outgained the Seminoles, but ultimately killed itself with turnovers and penalties.
This was a tale of two coaches who have the reputation of being unable to win “the big game.” Jimbo won. Beamer lost. In a conference beleaguered by the media, Florida State’s 9-1 record and No. 10 overall ranking mean little compared to what might have been without a loss to North Carolina State. Even if the Hokies win their next two games and avoid a losing season, it won’t be regarded as a success, and the dark clouds and cold winds may start to hang over Blacksburg.
“I Love My Job”: (Paul Johnson – Georgia Tech)
The train isn’t rolling at top speed, but it’s on the tracks and it’s moving in the right direction.
It’s hard to imagine a coach that, at one point, fired his defensive coordinator, lost three games in a row including an embarrassing loss to Middle Tennessee, and a blowout loss to BYU would have much to celebrate. Following this incredible offensive display and the victory that came with it, and in addition to a convincing victory over Maryland the week before, as fate would have it, the Yellow Jackets are in position to win the Coastal Division should they beat Duke and should Miami lose to Duke. Here’s the REAL kicker: If Duke beats both teams, THEY will win the Coastal Division. (Seriously, who would have imagined Duke would be the fulcrum and focal point of the ACC Coastal Division coming down to the wire?)
Johnson’s biggest victory right now is catching wind back in the team’s sails and navigating them away from disaster. It’s astounding he may yet be able to not only avoid a losing season, but end up with a share of one half of the ACC’s penultimate titles.
“Is It Getting Hot In Here?”: (Randy Edsall - Maryland)
Maryland has lost four in a row and has suffered two straight blowout losses. They may not win another game for the rest of the season with Florida State and North Carolina on deck. Depending on how generous their athletic administration feels, Edsall may not survive into the next season. It really is a tragedy if you consider what Edsall accomplished with Connecticut leading to his hiring at Maryland and how well Ralph Friedgen performed that year under fire until his separation was made official. Add to that James Franklin’s success with Vanderbilt and the poison from that sting just runs deeper.
“Just When Things Were Going So Well”: (Larry Fedora – North Carolina)
The honeymoon is officially over.
After winning four straight, the Tar Heels have split four games and have suffered their most defacing losses at home since they reestablished football relevance. Not only would a Tar Heels victory have put them squarely at the top of the Coastal standings, but with a head-to-head victory over Miami already and games against Maryland and Virginia coming up, they would have been poised to finish with the best record in the division.
“Will Someone Give Me An Answer?”: (Frank Beamer – Virginia Tech)
I feel like a broken record at this point. Virginia Tech has not had six losses in a season since four days after Bill Clinton was elected to his first term as President of the United States. They haven’t had a losing season since the last time the Pittsburgh Pirates had a winning season. The kind of winning consistency he’s found, in a way, may become a curse. Since, for so long, Virginia Tech has been a pillar of consistency and success, this type of season may lead to radical questioning, inner turmoil and almost certainly a downpouring of media negativity regarding Beamer’s age and ability to “adapt to today’s game.”
4-6 won’t matter if the Hokies finish 6-6, but 6-6 won’t matter to any coach, fan, player, booster or journalist either.