ACC Notebook: Clemson Shows No Weakness at Louisville

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Clemson is really good, Pitt’s got problems and while we might not bet on Lamar Jackson to repeat as the Heisman Trophy winner, there are other ACC quarterbacks to keep an eye on. That much was evident after another entertaining round of games around the conference. Each week in this space we’ll take a look around the Atlantic Coast Conference and examine the most important happenings.

NO WEAKNESSES

The sample size is small, just three games into the season, but it’s not crazy to think this Clemson team is better than last year’s national champion. It’s difficult to overstate how good the Tigers have been on both sides of the ball, and Saturday’s pounding of Lamar Jackson and Louisville might have been the most impressive performance any team has produced this season.

A year after Louisville took Clemson to the wire in a thriller, the Tigers dominated Saturday from the start. Jackson’s final numbers look OK, 317 passing yards, plus 64 on the ground, but that doesn’t tell the story of how Clemson frustrated the Heisman winner as it put the game out of reach.

“I think part of it was offensively we kept the ball away from him,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said during a Sunday teleconference. “I think they had sixty-something snaps. It was just great effort. Guys were ready to play. We didn’t give him any short fields. That was one of our things was make him have to execute all the way down the field.

“Let’s don’t give up short field positions, turnovers, all that stuff. We won the turnover margin which was big. We missed some tackles now. He is a great player. There is no doubt about it, but I am really proud of those guys.”

Clemson is Alabama now, with the ability to plug in the best talent all over the field. The Tigers just turned in as impressive a defensive performance as you’re going to see, and have replaced DeShaun Watson with a junior quarterback who just thoroughly outplayed a guy with a Heisman Trophy on his shelf. Kelly Bryant could be playing himself into the Heisman race after completing 22 of 32 passes for 316 yards and a touchdown while also rushing for two scores.

Speaking of the Heisman race…

THESE QB’S ARE REALLY GOOD

Week 3 only helped confirm the ACC is loaded with outstanding quarterbacks, even beyond Bryant and Jackson. In fact, another Jackson in the league has an opportunity to enter the Heisman race if Virginia Tech keeps winning.

Hokies redshirt freshman Josh Jackson is head coach Justin Fuente’s latest quarterback prodigy and he’s been outstanding through three games. Saturday at East Carolina he threw for 372 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions.

But he’s far from the only ACC QB excelling. Wake Forest’s John Wofford quietly has the Demon Deacons 3-0 and hasn’t thrown an interception. Neither has NC State’s Ryan Finley. Syracuse’s Eric Dungey threw for 279 and rushed for 106 yards against Central Michigan. Kurt Benkert set a school record Saturday with with 455 passing yards for Virginia.

If you like good quarterback play, the ACC is the conference for you.

THE PITTS

Man, Saturday was brutal for the Pittsburgh Panthers. A week after rival Penn State beat them easily, Oklahoma State ran the Panthers off the field. The visiting Cowboys were up 35-0 just a couple minutes into the second quarter and Pitt fans left in the stadium in the second half were falling asleep in their seats.

That’s fitting because Pitt’s players have had a tendency to look drowsy from time to time since Pat Narduzzi took over. Notably, the Panthers looked either confused or disinterested as North Carolina scored the winning touchdown in the final seconds last season.

But at least last year Pitt was reliably getting up for the “big” games, such as the upsets of Penn State and Clemson. The Panthers have slipped from being a program a few plays away from being in the College Football Playoff mix to one that simply can’t compete.

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