Tag Archives: pitt panthers

A Wild Weekend and its Implications

What a wild weekend of college football.  Three of the top four teams in the country lost on the same day for the first time since 1985 and drastically changed the landscape of this college football season.  The implications of these losses extend far beyond the College Football Playoff picture.  Each team was exposed, and at least two conference races have been busted wide open.

Here’s what we can take away from a Saturday saturated with amazing football:

 

Clemson’s D has been exposed and Tigers fans should be concerned

Clemson and Louisville are the only two teams with one loss in the ACC, and Clemson owns the tiebreaker over Louisville.  All Clemson has to do is beat Wake Forest (6-4, 3-3 ACC), a team coming off a loss in which they gave up 44 straight points to Louisville after leading 12-0.

However, there are concerns about Clemson’s defense moving forward.

The Tigers gave up 43 points to Pitt, which was the second-highest point total the Panthers have scored all season.  On top of that, Pitt quarterback Nathan Peterman threw for 308 yards and five touchdowns (both career highs) and tight end Scott Ordnoff caught a career high in passes, yards, and touchdowns.

Three games ago, Clemson had to claw back from behind to beat Florida State after giving up 34 points, the Tigers’ second-highest point total given up on the season (up to that point).

The Florida State offense is statistically much more potent than Pitt’s, but Clemson’s defense has definitely been struggling. And teams like Virginia Tech and North Carolina may have a chance to take advantage in the ACC Championship game should Clemson make it that far.  I think there is a good chance the Tigers lose that game if it comes down to it.

However, if Clemson doesn’t lose another game this season, it will be a no-brainer selection to play in the College Football Playoff.

 

Michigan’s loss puts Penn State in the Big Ten driver’s seat, not Ohio State

Michigan was definitely impressive early in the season, demolishing Colorado and Penn State in weeks three and four, respectively.  Colorado is now ranked 12th in the latest AP poll, and Penn State has jumped up to number nine.

However, since that week four win, Michigan has had a few games that have raised some question marks. On October 1, Michigan barely squeaked by Wisconsin at home, beating the Badgers in a 14-7 defensive battle. It proceeded to walk all over Rutgers and Illinois (as most Big Ten teams have) then struggled against Michigan State on the road, winning by a score of 32-23.

This is not the same Michigan State team that we’ve seen the last few years.  This Michigan State team is 3-7 and is in the bottom half of the conference in total offense and defense.

This weekend, Michigan lost its first game of the season at the hands of the Iowa Hawkeyes, 14-13.  Iowa is 6-4 this season and is, by no means, the worst team to lose to. However, a loss to Iowa is not what a team vying for a playoff bid wants on its résumé.

Based on Michigan’s track record, it’s safe to assume Ohio State will dispose of Jim Harbaugh’s boys when they visit the Horseshoe in two weeks.  The Buckeyes have been dominant since they suffered their only loss of the season at Penn State.

The Buckeyes are trending upward, and the Wolverines are trending downward (but I’ll admit, at a far more gradual slope).

If the Buckeyes win next week against Michigan State and take care of Michigan after that, the Buckeyes will have no problem making the playoff, as they’re already ranked number two by the Associated Press.

However, Penn State holds the tie-breaker over Ohio State and has a very favorable remaining schedule.  The Nittany Lions will win their remaining two games and we will see them representing the Big Ten East in the conference championship game.  A Penn State win in Indianapolis would give them a very solid case for a playoff bid, setting up a potential rematch with Ohio State.

 

Washington’s loss may cause a PAC-12 absence from this year’s playoff

USC’s win over Washington made the Huskies the last PAC-12 team to fall from the ranks of the unbeaten.  It also helped Washington State jump to the top of the PAC-12 North Standings.

Teams from the PAC-12 have been beating up on each other all season.  In fact, Washington is the only team with only one loss, and the Huskies still have meetings with Arizona State and Washington State, and possibly a matchup with Colorado, USC, or Utah in the conference championship game.

Washington has played very well this season.  All but two of its wins have been convincing, but with the way the PAC-12 teams are beating up on each other this season, it is very possible that we see Washington lose one more time. That would mean the PAC-12 champion would have two losses and there should be plenty of one-loss, non-conference-champion teams that will be more deserving of a playoff berth.

However, if Washington does find a way to win its last three games, the committee will be hard pressed to leave them out of the playoff.

 

The Playoff Committee will have no easy task

There are a lot of conference titles to be determined, and there will be a lot of one loss teams with a very formidable résumé for the College Football Playoff Committee to choose from when the regular season comes to a close.

Be sure to check out Cooper Goetz’s ongoing coverage of the playoff selection process for more scenarios and opinions.

 

E-mail Evan at evan [dot] skilliter [at] campuspressbox [dot] com or follow him on Twitter @evanskilliter.

Photo: Sarah McDevitt, Flickr

The Sunday Morning Notebook: Last Name Edition

What?

We just hit the reset button on the season, I think.  It’s Alabama — then everyone else.

I generally struggle to pick which games to write about. This week it’s easy.

I give you The Sunday Morning Notebook: Last Name Edition.

 

Chris Didn’t Blow It

Clemson lost to Pitt, if you haven’t heard.

Chris Blewitt, who owns the best last name of any kicker in the history of football, hit a game-winning field goal with six seconds left to beat the Tigers in Clemson, South Carolina.

Deshaun Watson threw for over 500 yards in the game, but it was Pitt’s Nathan Peterman who stole the show.  A senior, Peterman played out-of-his-mind, throwing for a career-high five touchdowns to lead the Panthers to victory.  Not only is it a career high, but Peterman hasn’t even thrown for FOUR touchdowns this season, and he’s only thrown for THREE touchdowns ONCE in 2016.

Peterman’s 22 completions were the most he’s thrown this year (second most in his career) and his 308 yards marked the first time he’s ever thrown for more than 300 yards in a game.

Speaking of career days, Pitt’s Senior Tight End Scott Ordnoff caught more passes (nine) for more yards (128) and more touchdowns (two) than he’s ever had in one game during his college career.

Good timing from Peterman and Ordnoff.

Notes:

  • Watson threw the ball 70 times for 580 yards, three touchdowns, and three interceptions.  Those numbers aren’t typos. His team lost, but he really boosted his Heisman resume.
  • Clemson’s Wayne Gallman rushed for three touchdowns on just 36 yards.
  • What will this do to Clemson’s playoff hopes? I don’t think anyone can accurately answer that question right now, but if they can win out and win the ACC Championship, I have to imagine they’ll still be in.

 

An Ugly, Boring, Beautiful Upset in Iowa

There isn’t much to report on this game, to be honest. Other than the fact that Keith Duncan became more famous than Duncan Keith for a few hours, as the freshman kicked his Hawkeyes to victory, much like Mr. Blewitt, to give Iowa its first win over a Top-5 team in six years.

Michigan’s Wilson Speight, who many people on my Twitter timeline were touting as the next Tom Brady (insert rolling eye emoji), completed 11 of 26 passes for 103 yards and an interception.

The brightest spot in the game was Iowa’s Akrum Wadley, who rushed for 115 yards on 23 carries.

Notes:

  • The loss for Michigan puts the Wolverines in a three-way tie for first place in the Big Ten East with Ohio State and Penn State. If those three teams are tied going into the final week of the season and the Buckeyes beat Michigan, that means Penn State would represent the East in the Big Ten championship game (assuming Penn State also wins its last game). Confused? Try this.

 

Can You Say Imatorbhebhe!?

Me neither. But I can say, “Washington Loses to USC.”

That’s right. The number two, three, and four teams lost yesterday, sending the media into a tailspin.

What happened here? USC contained Myles Gaskin and held Jake Browning at bay to upset the fourth best team in the nation.

To be honest, this game didn’t really look or feel like an upset.  USC looked like the better team from start to finish.  Sam Darnold passed the ball well for the Trojans, completing 23 of 33 passes for 287 yards and two touchdowns.  USC also found success on the ground, getting 93 yards and a touchdown from Ronald Jones II.

Freshman Daniel Imatorbhebhe, pronounced exactly how it’s spelled, baby, finished with 78 yards receiving and this touchdown. It was a remarkable performance considering he only had 114 total receiving yards this season heading into the Washington matchup.

Notes:

  • I have to imagine USC will jump pretty high in the polls.  The Trojans lost three of their first four games, but have rattled off six straight wins, winning by nearly 20 points per game.
  • The Washington loss may mean that the Pac-12 champion will not get into the College Football Playoff. There are a lot of one loss teams that won’t be conference champions that are worthy of a playoff bid (Louisville, Michigan, and Ohio State are possible examples). The way the Pac-12 teams have beat up on each other, it will be hard to send one team to the playoff over the rest.

 

Other Notes:

-Sure, three of the top four teams lost and that’s the first time that’s happened in a single day of college football since 1985. But did you know Auburn lost, too?

-And Texas A&M.

-So did Virginia Tech, by the way.

-To top it all off, in perhaps the craziest development of the day, the most juggernaut program in college football history lost its first regular season game in 113 tries.

 

E-mail Evan at evan [dot] skilliter [at] campuspressbox [dot] com or follow him on Twitter @evanskilliter.

 

Photo: Phil Roeder, Flickr

Encouraged, Concerned, and Puzzled – Virginia Lets One Slip Away Against Pitt

I listened to the post game show on this ride home from Charlottesville on Saturday. Virginia had just produced a disappointing loss to a solid but beatable Pitt team. I heard the same comment several times. “This game was a tale of two halves”. On paper it was that simple. Sitting in the stands it wasn’t.

Virginia’s loss to Pitt this weekend was really a tale of three plays. A kickoff return for a touchdown after an impressive Virginia drive, a pick-six to end the first half and a second kick return to the Virginia 20 yard line. Absent those plays, Virginia likely pulls off an unlikely win.

I am concerned, encouraged, and puzzled by Saturday’s game. I am concerned that on the 3 aforementioned plays that cost Virginia the game, Virginia players looked like they were waiting for someone else to make a play. Over the last 3-and-half games, Virginia has played with an increased sense of urgency and commitment.  On these three plays, they were not with the program. They were not making plays, but rather observing the action.

While concerning, it was actually more puzzling. It was puzzling given all we have heard about the culture Bronco is building at Virginia. 100% every practice, every conditioning session, every play of every game. Yet there we were, watching along with our players on the field as Pitt scored two touchdowns and set up a third with their offense standing on the sidelines.

Part of me thinks that the rebuild of the Virginia program is bigger than anyone imagined. Building a culture takes time. Recruiting, developing, and slotting talent to fit systems takes time. Changing the hearts and minds of Virginia fans is a big task. I imagine that changing the expectations and attitudes of players who have been through the wringer with their popular but terribly ineffective prior coaching staff is a herculean task.

As I watch Virginia play, in what is clearly a rebuilding year, I see kids with obvious and exceptional talent. I can’t help but wonder what we would see from Quinn Blanding, Micah Kizer, Andrew Brown, and Smoke Mizzell had they spent the previous 3 years with Bronco versus the past 6 months. If I could wish anything for Virginia football, other than a full stadium, it would be the fully entrenched culture of Bronco Mendenhall in NFL-caliber players whose eligibility is winding down this year or next.

Ironically, I was encouraged by one of the plays that turned this game from an unlikely win into a disappointing loss. The pick-6 to end the first half was part of strategy to try to put more points on the board with 44 seconds left in the half. The safe call would have been to run the ball twice and take a 28-28 tie into the locker room. However, as we have seen across 6 games with Bronco at the helm, he plays to win. He and his staff call the game as though all the pieces are in place to execute their strategy. I am encouraged that Bronco’s decision making is unchanged by evolving and transient conditions in the program. Virginia is going to win, and we are going to win the Bronco way.

I am also encouraged with the streaks of execution we have seen from this team. These kids can score points against good defenses. They can contain All-American talent in opposing offenses. However, Virginia has to do it every time out and to get there they have to believe that they can do it every time out. There still seems to be a lingering fatalism in the program. Like the guy who wins the lottery and expects to be run over by a bus walking home with his check, I am not sure the Virginia team thinks they have earned the right to win. Not yet, anyway.

The players, staff, and fans all want the Virginia program to succeed. It is my expectation that it will succeed. The only question we have, is how long we will have to wait. Is Christmas just around the corner or are we making a Christmas list in July? I am encouraged enough to think it might be the former, but I was also that kid who had his Christmas list finished before the first leaf turned.

On a side note, what a privilege it was to watch James Conner play football. He is warrior, a champion, an All- American. Virginia’s defense did better than most keeping Connor in check even though he still managed 90 yards on 20 carries and scored 2 touchdowns. Considering just 12 months ago he was in the midst of chemo treatments, his performance and courage is an inspiration to us all. James Connor – American Bad Ass.

 

E-mail David at [email protected].

Photo: David Rayner

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A Slew of Stretch 4’s

A couple of weeks back I was watching the Oklahoma/Kansas game on Monday night, and casually tweeted that a handful of college basketball teams have legit, post playing big men; and the rest have a slew of stretch fours.

I really hadn’t thought about it much since. Then last Thursday, I was watching my own Louisville Cardinals playing against Pitt. During that game, Chinanu Onuaku – who has made major strides during his sophomore season – was breaking out these exquisite, two-dribble, drop-step, finish with the slam, post moves. It was a thing of beauty.

Watching this throwback skill set brought that thought back in to my head. It really made me wonder why the true back-to-the-basket, low block operators have become practically extinct? And will they ever return?

I’m reminded of this as I watch Syracuse attempt to knock off Duke in Cameron Indoor. The Blue Devils, trailing by five with less than three minutes to play, are spread all around the three-point arc. Their lone big man Marshall Plumlee, has not shown for the ball one time anywhere near the paint. After three wayward bombs from beyond the arc, the Devils are bailed out by Brandon Ingram; their frosh stretch four, who’s able to tip in one of the rebounds. That possession would have been much simpler if they had one capable post player.

Getting back to the point, first and foremost, I don’t believe we’ll ever see a day where the low block is a primary focus. Gone are the days of Sampson, Ewing, Olajuwon, Mourning, and O’Neal. Hell, I’d take Rik Smits. But it is shocking that more coaches in the college game don’t devote more time to developing at least one guy to do the job.

The lack of a true post presence is part of the reason we see such ineffective half court offensive execution. Some teams are aware of their inefficiencies to the point that they force transition, just to avoid playing in the half court. That becomes a problem when the game does become a half court battle. Defenses can force the opposition to the perimeter, leading to poor shot selection.

It may seem counterintuitive, but having a vacancy in the post also is a major factor when teams struggle against a zone defense. The thought process is typically to shoot a team out of a zone. Simply put, shoot threes and make them all, so the zone gets busted. That’s a nice idea, until the shots don’t drop. You need a pivot in the middle, who can catch the ball low, and swing it opposite.

Those zone-busting jumpers are suddenly a lot cleaner looking. The threat to score inside that defense also forces that zone to collapse. Think of a guy like Tim Duncan moving from block to block, and rotating up to the free throw line within that zone. We were treated briefly to a couple of those guys last season, in Jahlil Okafor and Karl Anthony Towns; but they weren’t around long enough to make post play trendy again.

After making my initial statement, I should actually amend it. In addition to the slew of stretch fours who are power forward size, but float around the perimeter and primarily play facing the basket; there are now an abundance of guys I’d describe as “activity forwards”.

What I mean are players whose offense is predicated on athleticism and activity, rather than an array of offensive weapons and excellent footwork. Players that come to mind are Jameel McKay, or Montrezl Harrell last year. Don’t get me wrong, they’re great guys to have. However, most of their scoring is derived from put backs, dunks, and being on the end of easy passes, off of guard penetration.

Activity forwards usually have their footwork exposed when faced with a good defender, thus the offense doesn’t run as smoothly.  They also don’t sit low enough on their defender when trying to establish position.  More often than not, they aren’t very good passers out of the post, so they don’t find open shooters. There’s an increasing population of these guys in the college game.

Even though it is somewhat of a dying art, consistent post play is a key ingredient to making a title run. Last year Duke had Okafor, and Wisconsin had Frank Kaminsky. In 2013 Louisville had Gorgui Dieng and Chane Behanan. Stretching back a bit further, North Carolina had Tyler Hansbrough in ’09, and the back-to-back Florida championship teams had Joakim Noah and Al Horford.

On the flip side, teams that pull major upsets usually have at least one legit big man who keeps finding offense when things get tough. Think Taylor Coppenrath for Vermont, George Mason’s Jai Lewis, or Kyle O’Quinn for Norfolk State.

And upset victims in many instances are perimeter oriented teams, without a consistent post scorer. Iowa State was a glaring example last year of a team that couldn’t find simple buckets when they needed them, because they weren’t accustomed to scoring down low.

I know it’s a bit early, but as you begin to put together your dark horse teams that will make a run to the Final Four; and identify those that like ripe for an early exit, think post play. The low block may never again be a focal point in college hoops, but it will always be critical to long-term success.

Irish Survive Halloween Nightmare

Notre Dame is no stranger to adversity.

The Irish have had many obstacles in their way this season, and Saturday night’s tango with Temple was the latest obstruction in their journey to accomplishing the team goal of reaching the College Football Playoff.

This time, the day was saved by one of Philadelphia’s own, Will Fuller.

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Fuller came up huge with a clutch touchdown grab from 17-yards out with 2:06 remaining. The Philly native may not have had the best game of his career, but he came up big when it mattered most. He was limited to just five receptions for 47 yards and the all-important go-ahead score.

The game was then sealed with a KeiVarae Russell interception of Temple QB PJ Walker with just over a minute left on a 3rd and 17 following an illegal hands to the face penalty against the Owls.

Notre Dame struggled offensively running the ball with running back CJ Prosise. The redshirt junior was held to just 25 yards on fourteen carries and was largely ineffective for most of the evening. The running game was not all bad however, QB DeShone Kizer was phenomenal on the ground with 17 carries for 143 yards and two scores, including a 79-yard scamper with just under five minutes remaining in the first half.

I have been fairly set in my stance that Kizer should not be running too often due to how thin Notre Dame is at the quarterback position, with only one scholarship player, Brandon Wimbush, behind him.

Tonight, however, Kizer’s legs were vital to Notre Dame winning.

alex-wells-deshone-kizer-ncaa-football-notre-dame-temple-850x560

The stout defense of the Owls shut down Prosise all night, but struggled to find an answer for Kizer. Thankfully, Kizer was able to stay healthy.

On the defensive end, Notre Dame dominated the line of scrimmage for the majority of the night. Temple ended up gaining 107 yards on the ground on 32 carries, however several of those yards came on a few big plays. Notre Dame also forced Temple into several negative yardage plays.

Senior DL Sheldon Day led the way for the Irish with 2.5 TFLs and a forced fumble on the night.

LB Jaylon Smith finished with ten total tackles as well.

Game Balls

Offense

DeShone Kizer did not have his best performance as a starter, but he willed his team to victory. Yes, he made two poor, inexcusable decisions in the red zone, but he overcame those mistakes and cashed in when it counted. I’m starting to believe that actual ice water flows through his veins.

Defense

Handing out two here. Sheldon Day was fantastic on the defensive line for the Irish. He totaled 2.5 TFLs and forced a fumble. I’m also under the belief that Day was nowhere near healthy during the game and was visibly dealing with a left arm injury throughout the night.

keivarae-russell-john-christopher-ncaa-football-notre-dame-temple

KeiVarae Russell might not have had the best game of his Notre Dame career, but he definitely stepped up when it counted. Russell sealed the game with his interception of PJ Walker with just over a minute remaining. I’m a big believer that big time players make big time plays in big time spots, and this definitely qualifies.

Special Teams

It was a rather uneventful night for Irish kicking units. Return man CJ Sanders was rather quiet, and Punter Tyler Newsome had an off night. Placekicker Justin Yoon was perfect on the evening, so he gets my game ball.

Credit Where It Is Due

Temple isn’t exactly what Notre Dame would have expected when looking at the schedule at the beginning of the year. The Owls came into the Notre Dame game undefeated including a 17-point win over Penn State to open the season.

Temple was playing in the biggest game their program has ever seen, and they definitely stepped up to the challenge of Notre Dame coming to town.

The American Athletic Conference has shown that they can hang with some of the big boys this season, and Temple’s near upset win would’ve been just another notch in the AAC’s belt.

Up Next

Next week Notre Dame will stay on the road with a trip to Pitt to face the Panthers. Notre Dame holds a 47-21-1 record over Pitt in the history of the rivalry, which began back in 1909. Pitt won the last matchup against the Irish, 28-21, back in 2013. The Irish were last victorious over Pitt in 2012 thanks to an Everett Golson led comeback after trailing 20-6.

That comeback produced this iconic Golson picture whilst tying the game up late in the game on a 2-pt conversion.

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Pitt enters the contest with a record of 6-2 and 2-1 in ACC play. Their week 9 loss to North Carolina will likely knock them out of the top 25.

Playoff Hunt

The Irish win wasn’t exactly what the experts would call sexy, but Notre Dame did something they’re going to have to do at least two more times this year if they want to accomplish their playoff goal.

Beating good teams on the road.

Notre Dame still has two key away dates against very formidable opponents. Next Saturday the Irish will travel back into the state of Pennsylvania to take on the Pitt Panthers, and Notre Dame will take the cross-country trip to Stanford to close out the year. Pitt will likely fall out of the top 25 with their recent loss to UNC, but Stanford will remain in the top ten following a close win on the road at Washington State.

Worth Noting…

With Notre Dame’s 4th Quarter comeback win against Temple, it places the Irish atop the FBS leaderboard with 13 such wins since 2010. Michigan State and Marshall University each have 12 to boast.

With the win over Temple, Notre Dame moves to 16-0 all time when playing on Halloween, although this was a near nightmare for Irish fans.

Notre Dame improved to 1-1 with College Game Day in town this year. The Irish may have another opportunity for their last game of the season, against Stanford, if things fall into place in the coming weeks.

Including Temple and next week’s opponent Pitt, four out of five Irish opponents will have had more than 7 days to prepare for Notre Dame. Clemson, USC, Temple, and Pitt have all played on a Thursday night prior to taking on the Irish.

Safety Elijah Shumate was ejected for targeting in the second half. This means Shumate will be suspended for the 1st half next week against Pitt.

The first College Football Playoff Committee Top 25 will be released this coming Tuesday evening. I would expect Notre Dame to have a spot among the top ten.

ACC Coastal Doesn’t Hold It’s End of the Bargain

Ever since the ACC went through its expansion and created a championship game, the expectation and the dream has been a Florida State versus Miami matchup for all the marbles in the ACC. The ACC was bullish that this match up would be a frequent and nationally relevant contest. Anticipating throngs of local fans in a packed stadium along with throngs of national media and attention, the ACC scheduled its first 5 championship games in Florida. Sometimes, things don’t go according to plan. The ACC championship never had an FSU/Miami showdown. In fact, Wake Forest and Duke have each have ACC championship appearances, while Miami is still waiting for its first. A surprise to no one, the ACC championship game has not been the national draw the ACC brass had hoped, and after a crowd of 27,000 watched a Boston College vs. Virginia Tech clash-of-non-titans, the ACC brain trust decided to move the championship to Charlotte…where it belonged in the first place.

A lot of college football prognosticators thought this was finally the year the ACC got the FSU/Miami championship matchup that was the initial dream of the expansion architects. A lot of football prognosticators were wrong. The Atlantic Division held up its end of the bargain. While FSU had more close calls than most would have imagined, at the end of the regular season, the Seminoles were undefeated and headed to their third straight championship game. In the Coastal, Miami didn’t exactly live up to their pre-season hype as the Coastal favorites. They finished in the 3-way tie for last with Virginia and Virginia Tech…a finish each team richly deserved.

The truth be told, the race for the bottom of the Coastal was a lot more interesting this year than the race for the top. Duke led the division early in the season, and to the surprise of no one, faltered late in the season when their slate of Southern Conference foes had been exhausted. While Duke never contended for the bottom of the Coastal, almost everyone else did. For a while, Pitt looked like they were determined to lock up last place, losing 5 out of 6 including a gift to Duke when Pitt shanked a game winning 25-yard field goal in the Alleghany River as time expired. However, Pitt pulled out of the race for the bottom with a stellar road win against Miami, handing the ‘Canes a well-earned share of the Coastal booby prize. Heading into the last 3 minutes of the last game of the season, Virginia Tech looked like a lock for the Coastal cellar trailing Virginia 20-17. However, in what was an all-too-frequent story for Virginia football, UVa collapsed in the final minutes of the game and retained at least a share of the Coastal Cellar honors. If misery loves company, then Virginia is in better position ending 2014 in a tie for last in the Coastal with Virginia Tech and Miami, versus sole ownership at the end of 2013. UNC was always a contender for last place in the Coastal division and were it not for multiple herculean offensive performances by Marquise Williams, UNC could have had the basement all to themselves. The defense played like they wanted it all season, but Williams was having none of it and the Tar Heels finished tied with Pitt at 4-4 in ACC play and 6-6 overall.

Georgia Tech and Duke there the only Coastal teams that were never made a serious run for the bottom of the Coastal. To Georgia Tech’s credit, they were a preseason pick to finish 6th in the Coastal, but instead won the division outright and gave Florida State the best the Coastal had to offer in one of the better ACC championship games to date.

2014 Coastal Preseason

1. Miami (7-1; 11-1)

2. North Carolina (6-2; 9-3)

3. Duke (5-3; 9-3)

4. Virginia Tech (5-3; 8-4)

5. Pitt (3-5; 6-6)

6. Georgia Tech (2-6; 4-8)

7. Virginia (0-8; 2-10)

2014 Coastal Actual

1. Georgia Tech (6-2; 10-2)

2. Duke (5-3; 9-3)

3. Pitt (4-4; 6-6)

3. UNC (4-4; 6-6)

5. VT (3-5; 6-6)

5. Miami (3-5; 6-6)

5. Virginia (3-5; 5-7)

Needless to say, the preseason predictions for the ACC Coastal had little correlation with the final standings. Georgia Tech was vastly undervalued in August. The overall quality of the Coastal was pretty consistently overvalued. Miami and North Carolina were by far the biggest disappointments this year. Fittingly, the two biggest overachievers were Georgia Tech and Virginia. One finished first and the other tied for last. Only in the Coastal.

The disheveled Coastal was fun to follow this year. Each week brought new drama and usually something unusual. Part of me wishes we had a few more weeks to go in the Coastal, just to see what else could possibly happen, or go wrong. But then again, part of me is glad that the ACC basketball season is here, and we will have to wait another year to see if we finally get to see a Miami/FSU matchup for the ACC Championship.

ACC Coastal – That’s All Folks!

The jumble that was the 2014 ACC Coastal division has finally sorted itself out. The final results look nothing like the pre-season predictions, which should surprise no one.

David Tulis / AP Photo
David Tulis / AP Photo

Kudos to Georgia Tech, they earned it

Georgia Tech was predicted to be an “also ran” in 2014 and started the year looking like just that with lackluster wins against an equally lackluster schedule. However, after distressing back-to-back losses to Duke and UNC, the Jackets ripped 5 consecutive impressive wins, including a drubbing of Atlantic division runner-up Clemson and a thrilling road victory against a resurgent Georgia team. As noted last week, of the potential sacrificial lambs offered from the Coastal to play Atlantic Division champion Florida State, Georgia Tech clearly has the best chance to win. A credible passing threat in 2014 has done wonders for the effectiveness of Georgia Tech’s run-first offense and might be enough to trip the over-confident Seminoles…but don’t bet more than the pocket-change sitting in your sock drawer on it.

If Duke beats Wake Forest and no one is there to see it, did Duke really win? Discuss amongst yourselves.

“Duke is Duke” means a lot of things to a lot of people. In basketball it is usually a comment of resignation from opposing fans. In football, the meaning is more ambiguous. For over a decade it was a comment on Duke’s annual exercise in futility. After two very successful seasons, maybe “Duke is Duke” means that regardless of how many games they win, no one cares about Duke football. The group project for the 2014-2015 off season is to figure out how many games Duke football has to win before fans actually show up to their home games. Without question, 19 wins over 2 seasons is not enough. It always looks so lonely at Duke games. Duke sold out Wallace-Wade when they played Alabama a few years back, but a home game crowd rooting for ‘Bama in Durham isn’t a ringing statement about the level of enthusiasm for the Blue Devils of the gridiron. Maybe next year the “Duke Crazies” will post during football season, but then again…maybe they won’t.

For Virginia, ‘tis always the Season of Giving

It is past time that someone let the Virginia coaching staff know that while it is truly more blessed to give than receive, giving doesn’t cut the muster in college football. Generosity might score big points for getting into heaven, but it doesn’t put points on the scoreboard or fans in the seats on college football Saturdays. For the fourth time this season (UCLA, UNC, & Duke being the others) Virginia gave away a victory in a game they clearly should have won. Virginia Tech always finds a way to beat Virginia, but this is the first time in several years that Virginia was teed up for the win and decided to give it away. The Virginia Tech defense, as has been the recent trend, played a solid game Saturday. In an ironic twist of fate, when the chips were down and Virginia Tech needed a score, the much maligned VT offense delivered a game-winning touchdown, greatly aided by a mindless roughing the passer penalty and silly pass coverage breakdown. The Hokie Nation can rejoice that they kept their consecutive bowl streak alive at 22, but there is little joy in Blacksburg as the Hokies greatly underperformed expectations in 2014, especially after what was, in hindsight, a truly shocking win over Ohio State. Virginia, on the other hand, leads the ACC is moral victories, which is of no solace to Virginia fans as they again get to watch the ACC bowl lineup on TV while hoping for continued improvement next year.

Once is enough for UNC

I can only assume that after playing one game to the potential everyone expected of them in 2014 in their win against Duke, UNC decided they’d had enough and packed it in a week early. It has become clear this season that if Marquise Williams doesn’t produce over 400 yards of total offense and 4 or more touchdowns, the Tar Heels have no chance to win. (The gift victory from Virginia excepted, when Williams only produced 300+ yards and 3 TDs) As has been their standard this season, the UNC defense surrendered over 500 yards of total offense and 35 points to rival NC State. With Williams all but shut down and held to season lows in offensive production, Carolina’s probability of winning Saturday was statistically insignificant and they lost in a lopsided blowout to an average NC State team. UNC ends the season with a tepid 6-6 record and should make for easy pickings for their to-be-named bowl opponent.

Pitt going up, Miami while Miami goes down

In a game of divergent streaks, Pitt won its second game in a row after losing 6 out of their prior 7 and Miami lost their third consecutive game after riding a 3-game win streak. The good news for both teams is that they are bowl eligible, though Pitt had to view this as their “play-in game” and played as well as they have all year against a talented, but seemingly demoralized Miami team.

Coastal Observations:

Every Coastal team with the exception of Virginia is eligible for postseason play.

At least the Wahoos didn’t finish in sole possession of last place, but rather shared it with a scrabble of 3-5 teams that were smart enough to schedule enough cupcake games in their out-of-conference games to ensure the requisite 6 wins.

It is hard to fathom that the same Virginia Tech team that convincingly beat Ohio State on the road also lost to Wake Forrest 6-3 in a pitcher’s duel that had to go into extra innings.

Al Golden has to be wondering what might have been if Miami had not collapsed against Florida State while Paul Chryst has to wonder how in the heck he lost to the Zips of Akron.

Duke’s OoC scheduling strategy doesn’t change in 2015 and neither does Virginia’s. Duke plays Tulane, NC Central, Northwestern, & Army. Meanwhile Virginia plays UCLA, Notre Dame, William & Mary, and Boise St. Guess which team has a higher probability of winning 3 out of 4 OoS games?

James Connor and Duke Johnson are an outstanding pair of running backs who both richly deserved first team all-ACC honors.

In yet another robbery for which he will not be punished, Jameis Winston robbed Marquise Williams of first team all-ACC honors.

 

 

 

 

Rise & Demise in the ACC Coastal

Week 12 in the Atlantic Coast Coastal division was all about “rise and demise”. Georgia Tech continues its rise, Virginia Tech and UNC suspended their demise, and Duke began what might be its deserved 2014 demise. Miami lost its forward momentum in a winnable game against Florida State, while Virginia mercifully had the week off.

 

timesdispatch.com
timesdispatch.com

The cracks in the foundation of Duke’s football success have been visible all year for anyone who cared to look. After playing the weakest opening schedule in the FBS, Duke has been riding a wave of good fortune in the past few weeks of ACC play. Games that easily could have been losses against Virginia and Pitt ended up in the win column with fortunate breaks, bad calls, and questionable coaching decisions that all favored the Blue Devils. That wave of good fortune crashed down on Duke in their game against Virginia Tech. In the first half , Virginia Tech continued its combination of ineffective offensive and lackluster defensive play and looked like it was headed for another frustrating loss. In the second half, however, the Virginia Tech defense came to life. The Hokie offense demonstrated that if you turn the ball over inside your own red zone, they can put points on the board. In what will never be described as a “showcase game” for quality play in the ACC, the Virginia Tech defense finally played like everyone expects and took control of what was essentially an ugly shoving match, producing a much-needed Virginia Tech win. Anthony Boone was sloppy all day and when Bud Foster dialed up his blitz packages, the Duke fans that bothered to show up for this game folded their tents and went home along with the Duke football team. The “Duke Era” in the Coastal has begun its demise.

If I got a vote for offensive player of the year in the ACC, I would have a hard time not voting for Marquise Williams. Against the Pitt Panthers, the Carolina defense had an average day by UNC standards yielding 35 points and over 500 yards (again!) of total offense. The Carolina defense played poorly enough to lose this game, which has been their standard for the 2014 season. However Marquise Williams countered the poor tackling and missed assignments of the UNC defensive squad with a performance that single handedly won this game for the Tar Heels. Williams produced almost 400 total yards running for 122 yards and passing for another 276. He ran for 3 touchdowns and threw for another. There are not many players in the ACC who can cover for a defense as flimsy as the Tar Heels, but Williams did it Saturday, and it wasn’t the first time he strapped this Carolina team on his back and carried them to victory. If Duke is favored against Carolina in Durham Saturday, I’d take the Heels and the points. I don’t think Duke will be able to contain Williams any better than Pitt, which after Saturday’s has a fighting chance to finish at the bottom of the Coastal division.

Credit where credit is due. Georgia Tech started off with some very shaky play early in the season, but the Jackets have reeled off 4 straight wins and are playing some of the best football in the Coastal. Their gimmick offense is running as well as it has in many years as Justin Thomas has given the Georgia Tech offense a credible passing threat for the first time since Calvin Johnson terrorized defenses at Grant Field. It is easy to argue that this would have been a different game if Clemson’s Deshaun Johnson had not gone down in the first quarter, but by the end of the game, Georgia Tech was whipping Clemson in all phases of the game. If Georgia Tech hangs on to win the Coastal, their triple option + a passing game might give the Jackets a fighting chance against Florida State…but don’t bet on it.

Speaking of Florida State, it is hard to believe they remain undefeated. Their win against Clemson was such a gift it should have an asterisk by it. While Miami didn’t give their game away, the ‘Canes were in great position to win and simply could not make the plays in the second half to hold on against the Seminoles. It would be easy to hang this loss on the inconsistent play of freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya in the second half. I’d be more inclined to blame this loss on the inability of the Miami defense to pressure Jameis Winston. Given enough time, Winston can pick apart most any defense. Miami had one sack and very few knockdowns and paid the price as the FSU offense found its rhythm in the second half, thwarting Miami’s hopes of a Coastal crown.

If there is a bigger waste of time than making pre-season rankings in the ACC Coastal, I don’t know what it is. Georgia Tech was picked just ahead of Virginia in many Coastal pre-season projections and Carolina and Miami were universally projected to vie for the Coastal crown. The   5th/6th place Georgia Tech program is on the rise, the pre-season favorites Miami and UNC are in various stages of demise. Such is life in the ACC Coastal.

Another Week – More Coastal Chaos

If you watched any of the ACC games this weekend, you heard a lot of chatter from the network talking heads about the Coastal Division. Unfortunately the talk wasn’t about the Coastal as the standard bearer for quality college football. It was all about the Chaos in the Coastal and the fact that the Coastal could end the season in a 7-way tie with a full division of 4-loss teams. Wouldn’t that be fitting for the nuttiest of the power conference divisions? Of course we correctly called-out Coastal Chaos weeks ago and look forward to the final weeks of the Coastal race, if nothing else, just to see what might happen.

Contributing to the Coastal Chaos, Duke is in the driver’s seat to win the division, yet no one knows if Duke is a very good football team. A combination of “scheduling for success” and a favorable draw in the ACC schedule left the Blue Devils with the easiest schedule in the ACC. Duke only has two real tests on their 2014 schedule, both of which they failed. Duke lost convincingly to Miami on the road and then again to Pitt this past weekend. Fortunately for Duke, Pitt was not comfortable winning what has become the annual track meet with Duke. The Pitt coaching staff inexplicably forced their maligned kicker to attempt a 24-yard, game winning field goal from the right hash versus the center of the field on a gusty day in Hines Field. (Have I mentioned how much I detest college games in NFL stadiums?) The result was the shank-of-the-season and an overtime win for Duke that raised still more doubts about their worthiness as the sacrificial offering from the Coastal Division in the ACC Championship game.

cityofchampionssports.com
cityofchampionssports.com

If a team is struggling on offense, a game against the UNC defense will get things back on track. Similarly, if a defense is struggling, a matchup with the Virginia offense will likely produce favorable results. In case anyone had forgotten that the UNC defense was the worst in the ACC, Miami reminded us with a 47 point/500 yard performance that was every bit as dominating as it sounds. Duke Johnson had another first team all-ACC performance and the Miami defense was surprisingly effective against Marquise Williams and the normally potent UNC offense. UNC was never in this game. Maybe UNC athletes are spending time in class for a change, to the detriment of their on-field performance.

To the north in Atlanta, the Georgia Tech defense, which has been ineffective at best in 2014, shut down an impotent Virginia offense in a dominating 35-10 win. Georgia Tech was effective in both the passing and running games as Virginia gave up 3rd and long with regularity in the first half. I don’t know what kind of offensive adjustments Virginia makes at halftime. They might want to consider rock-paper-scissors to map out their changes because the current strategy isn’t getting it done. For the 4th game in a row Virginia failed to score a touchdown in the second half. Virginia has scored a grand total of 6 second-half points in their last 4 games. Bottom line, if the ‘Hoos don’t have enough points to win by halftime, they aren’t going to win. That’s not a recipe for success. Georgia Tech’s offense was impressive early and then coasted the rest of the way as Virginia imploded with dropped passes, obtuse play-calling, and poor game management.

At least Virginia Tech laid different kind of egg this week, but they laid an egg nonetheless. Quarterback Michael Brewer was effective against a determined Boston College defense. His performance should have quelled calls for his replacement, but it didn’t. The Virginia Tech running game was ineffective once again, which generally spells trouble for the Hokies. The real culprit however, in the loss to BC was the Hokie defense which broke down repeatedly, giving up long runs at inopportune times throughout the game. While Virginia fans would love to see a 50K+ crowd at Scott Stadium, it is apparent that the Hokie-nation has seen about enough of the 2014 edition of Virginia Tech football. The VT crowd this week was the smallest of the season and the smallest in recent memory. Long runs against the Hokie defense and empty seats in Lane Stadium used to the very uncommon in Blacksburg. Not so much in 2014. Virginia Tech gets a week off to gather themselves before a trip to Durham on the 15th. If Duke manages to beat Syracuse, the Hokies will likely travel to Duke as underdogs. If I were betting on the game, I’d take Virginia Tech and the points as I expect VT to get their act together and win in Durham.

The coming week’s Coastal schedule is light with only 3 teams in action. I am certainly not predicting all of these outcomes, but with the track record of the Coastal I would be only mildly surprised if Syracuse beat Duke, NC State beat Georgia Tech, or in the doozie of them all if UVa beat Florida State. I will predict that one of these upsets will post next weekend, and don’t be shocked to see two. It’s only fitting for the most chaotic of the FBS divisions.

Disorder and Chaos in the ACC

There are lot of differences between the ACC Atlantic and Coastal Divisions. Most obvious, the ACC champion is, in all likelihood, coming from the Atlantic. Second, the teams with a legitimate chance to win the Atlantic have narrowed to three – some might say two or even one, but Louisville, Clemson, and Florida St. have semi-legitimate to very legitimate chances to win the division. Wake, NC State, BC, and ‘Cuse have no chance, and all but the most hyper-partisan faithful would agree. The Coastal is the inverse of the Atlantic. Everyone can still win this division and no one has the slightest idea who the eventual champion will be. Unpredictable might be the kindest description of the ACC Coastal division. Disordered is probably a more accurate description, albeit a bit bland. A circular firing squad pops in my mind when pondering the ACC Coastal division, especially in comparison with the Atlantic. An argument could be made that all the teams in the Coastal should be dismissed from the race for the ACC crown. Not convinced? Take a look at these Coastal Apples…
Pitt, which was dead-in-the-water having lost 3 games in a row, sprung to life this week with a home win against Virginia Tech whose vaunted defense gave up 118 yards rushing to pro-style quarterback Chad Voytik. Pitt now sits in a 3-way tie atop the Coastal with a victory over Virginia Tech as their lone signature win to date. 4-3 Pitt, who just three weeks ago lost convincingly at home to Akron, is right in the thick of the Coastal race and, looking at their remaining schedule, cannot be dismissed from the division championship. We are just getting warmed up…
Virginia and Duke share the top spot with Pitt. Duke beat Virginia at home this week for one of their “signature” wins this year…the other being a road win at Georgia Tech. Duke’s pathetically weak opening schedule continues to undermine their legitimacy. Solid wins against Georgia Tech and Virginia make the case that the Blue Devils are contenders, but a bad loss to a perplexing Miami program keeps the doubts alive. Had Duke played an opponent in their first four games that actually had a chance to win, they might be getting a little more respect. But they didn’t, so they’re not. Virginia on the other hand, played one of toughest early OoC schedules in the nation. There is no doubt Virginia is a better team for having played UCLA and BYU early in the season, but now Virginia sits at 4-3 overall, 2-1 in the ACC…just like Pitt. Virginia played a surprisingly uninspired game against Duke this week and has put itself in yet another “must win” situation against UNC. Picked to finish last in the Coastal, Virginia finds itself in the thick of the Coastal race, but has a tough slate ahead of them and will need to find a couple of big road wins to stay in the race. Virginia is a team that is playing to save their head coach’s job. Another performance like this week’s against Duke will have Mike London’s seat heating up and the Cavaliers chances of winning the Coastal going down.
It’s a shame that a team can’t be disqualified from the Coastal division race because it would be embarrassing for the rest of the division if they won. The UNC defense gave up over 600 yards of total offense and 43 points to non-offensive juggernaut Georgia Tech this week. Unfortunately for UNC fans, this was not the season’s low water mark for the UNC defense. The good news for Carolina is they beat the Yellow Jackets, thanks to a herculean performance by Marquise Williams who accounted for over 500 yards of total offense. The other (surprising) good news is that with the 119th best defense in the FBS, UNC is still in the hunt for the Coastal crown. If UNC wins the Coastal and plays Florida St. for the conference title, ACC officials might want to introduce a mercy rule.

cityofchampionssports.com; Charles LeClaire - USA Today
Charles LeClaire – USA Today

If Virginia Tech doesn’t have a running game, the Virginia Tech offense is in trouble. Virginia Tech doesn’t have a running game. The Hokies top three running backs have been sidelined with injuries, which is a tough blow for any program. The Hokies still have talented running backs in JC Coleman and Joel Caleb; however, the offensive line has struggled to control the line of scrimmage in recent FBS outings. When the Virginia Tech offense sputters, Bud Foster’s defense usually comes to the rescue. “Usually” however is not “always” as the VT defense has given up big plays marked by poor tackling, especially in the secondary. It is hard to write off Virginia Tech in the Coastal race, but if they don’t beat Miami this week, they will have played themselves out of the picture.
Georgia Tech’s ceiling will always be limited by their gimmick offense, but to their credit, they are 5-2 with a signature win on the road in Blacksburg. Georgia Tech is more multi-dimensional on offense this year, which is to say they are still not a multi-dimensional attack. However, their offense is unique and can give opponents trouble, especially in short weeks. The Jackets have a tough schedule ahead of them and their defense has shown signs of the inconsistency that gave up 38 points to Georgia Southern and had trouble putting away Tulane. It might be too soon to write off the Jackets, but don’t bet the farm either.
The ACC Coastal is loaded with teams that can make your head explode, but Miami has to be the biggest enigma. Miami is blessed with great talent on both sides of the ball and a proven coaching staff, yet the Hurricanes are 4-3 and 1-2 with losses to Louisville and Georgia Tech. The narrow pre-season favorite to win the Coastal, I doubt anyone thought Miami would need to scramble to make it to the championship game. However, Miami’s porous run defense and inconsistent QB play have helped keep Miami in the middle versus the front of the Coastal horse race. Miami has a tough schedule ahead with road games in Blacksburg and Charlottesville and a home date with Florida State when we might actually see fans in the upper deck of Sun Life Stadium.
While every team in the Coastal without question wants to win the division, the best strategy might be finishing in a tie for first and losing the title in a tie-breaker. The probability that the Coastal champ is going to play Florida State is high. The probability that the Coastal champ gets embarrassed against Florida State is also high. This might be a year for the Coastal to cede its championship to Clemson and fire up a rematch of what was one of the better games in the ACC this year.