Week 1 ACC Football Notebook: A Tough Start Outside the Commonwealth

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditmail

Week 1 across the ACC was all about quarterbacks. Who got hurt? Who desperately needs to stay healthy? And who shined in his debut? Each week we’ll take a look around the Atlantic Coast Conference and examine the most important happenings.

TOUGH START FOR SEMINOLES: Just about the worst imaginable scenario for Florida State was to get blown out by Alabama and lose quarterback Deondre Francois to injury. Uh oh.

It looks like Francois is out for the year and the Seminoles have an early hole to dig out of if they are going to make it to the College Football Playoff. So much now swings on the play of true freshman James Blackman, who replaced Francois against Bama and looks to be Florida State’s new starter.

The good news is Jimbo Fisher and his staff have had quite a bit of success using freshmen quarterbacks. Francois threw for 3,350 yards with 20 touchdowns and seven interceptions last year. There was also that Jameis Winston guy, who just threw for 4,000 yards, won the Heisman and led FSU to the national championship.

Nobody is expecting that kind of season from Blackman, but if he rises to the occasion the Seminoles can still salvage the season. It’s bad news for the conference as a whole, though. After just one week, the likelihood of the ACC getting two teams into the Playoff took a huge hit with Alabama striking a huge blow for the SEC. Non-conference action was  otherwise a mixed bag for the ACC, which went 0-3 against the SEC.

But Louisville avoided a loss to Purdue, even if it didn’t look super impressive doing so, while VIrginia Tech hung on for a nice win against West Virginia. Which brings us to…

ANOTHER JACKSON COMES UP BIG: We all know about reigning Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson at Louisville, but another young Mr. Jackson took the ACC by storm in Week 1. It should come as no surprise at this point when Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente develops a standout quarterback, but it was still impressive to see freshman Josh Jackson tearing up West Virginia with his arm and legs in his first college game.

Jackson became the first Virginia Tech freshman to start a season opener at quarterback since Michael Vick 18 years ago, and he easily surpassed Vick’s debut performance, completing 15 of 26 for 235 yards and a touchdown. He also rushed for 101 yards. More than anything, he displayed incredible poise as the Hokies withstood each West Virginia comeback.

“I think I handled things well,” Jackson told The Washington Post after the game. “Obviously our crowd was very big and very loud. Add on to that they were behind us the whole game. That was pretty awesome. I felt pretty calm with it. I thought it was just another game. That’s all I was thinking about.”

BANKING ON BENKERT: It’s no surprise Lamar Jackson had more touchdowns last year than any other returning ACC quarterback. But would you have guessed Virginia’s Kurt Benkert was second with 21 TD passes?

It’s possible no other program has as much riding on a single player as the Cavaliers do with Benkert. The only other scholarship quarterback on the UVa roster is true freshman Lindell Stone, so the Cavs are desperate for the offensive line to do a better job protecting the QB than it did last year, when Benkert played a large chunk of the season with an injured shoulder.

But the Virginia coaching staff has been enamored with Benkert’s potential since he transferred from East Carolina before last season and the season-opening victory against William & Mary was a good one for the senior signal caller.

“Overall he was delivering the ball to the right player at the right time,” UVa coach Bronco Mendenhall said of Benkert. “For a lot of the game we were efficient, we held onto the football and controlled the tempo. It wasn’t wild and elaborate, but it’s a nice place to start.”

Benkert completed 27 of 39 passes for 262 yards and three touchdowns and no interceptions. If there’s any concern, it’s that the FCS Tribe sacked him three times. But Virginia is 1-0 for the first time since 2013, and it was also the first game since that year the Cavaliers didn’t turn the ball over. Coming off a 2-10 season, that’s a positive step.

WOLFPACK BACKTRACK: Because Week 1 is all about overreacting, so after the weekend’s loss to South Carolina, N.C. State coach Dave Doeren has gone from dark horse ACC title contender to coach on the hot seat.

The Wolfpack had twice as many yards as the Gamecocks. State produced 29 first downs to South Carolina’s 12. And lost.

“Bottom line is when you lose a football game it’s on me.”

“There’s no excuse.”

Doeren is taking responsibility and saying the right things after the loss, but Wolfpack fans are upset he hasn’t been able to win “big games” at N.C. State, though he keeps sneaking into bowl games.

You could argue about what the reasonable expectations should be in Raleigh. But it might be fair to wonder if Doeren was ever a great fit at N.C. State to begin with. He was the hot up-and-comer    after guiding Northern Illinois to the Orange Bowl. So it was no surprise he jumped on a Power 5 conference job.

But Doeren is Midwestern through and through with no previous ties to the East Coast. And at N.C. State it’s often less about what you’ve done, and as much about how it compares to what’s happening at North Carolina. That’s a dynamic Doeren had never dealt with.

At this point it is going to take some wins against top tier ACC teams to keep the fan base happy.

Shane Mettlen is a veteran journalist who lives in Virginia and also writes for The ACC Sports Journal. Follow him on Twitter @ShaneMettlen