Clemson kept the crowd quiet in Blacksburg, Florida State put it on the line to finally get a victory, Miami made a statement and struggles continued for North Carolina. Each week in this space we’ll take a look around the Atlantic Coast Conference and examine the most important happenings.
TALENTED TIGERS: The final box scores haven’t painted a clear picture this season of just how outstanding the Clemson defense has been. The Tigers have done a remarkable job of bottling up some of the ACC’s best offense players, particularly early in the game, allowing Kelly Bryant and the Tiger offense to take control.
A few weeks ago they did it against Louisville and Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Lamar Jackson. Jackson finished with 317 passing yards, but much of that came in what was essentially garbage time. Saturday night, Virginia Tech wide receiver Cam Phillips wound up with seven catches for 74 yards.
Those are hardly bad numbers and won’t derail what could be an All-American season, but in reality the Clemson defense kept Phillips from making a big impact.
While seven catches is nothing to sneeze at, there weren’t many times Phillips felt like a threat to break a big play. When he did catch the ball, the team speed of the Tigers swarmed and kept Phillips from moving the chains.
That speed, Clemson’s ability to close on the ball, should have the rest of the ACC’s stars anxious about the prospect of facing the Tigers.
WORTH THE RISK: Tied 19-19 in the final two minutes at Wake Forest and looking for its first victory, Florida State went for broke.
With true freshman quarterback James Blackman making his first road start, Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher could have played it safe and played for either a field goal attempt or ran out the clock to take his chances in overtime.
Instead, FSU called a long pass play and Blackman threw a perfect 40-yard touchdown pass. It’s a call that may have changed everything about the Seminoles’ season. There hadn’t been a time all season FSU had been in control of a game or enjoyed positive momentum.
That changed with one pass.
“We hadn’t won. If you won some games, and been ahead, that body language is different,” Fisher told reporters after the game. “Nothing more important than confidence. They hadn’t had success, so their confidence, they were doubting. That’s where as a coach, [you’ve] got to remind them what they have to do, what the program is built on.”
Blackman simply hadn’t been very good most of the game, but one play may have given Florida State its swagger back and kept the season from completely derailing before it had hardly even begun.
MIAMI LOOKING GOOD: Miami also entered the week having only played two games thanks to hurricanes in Florida , but the schedule was otherwise a bit more forgiving than Florida State’s and The U went to Duke undefeated.
By the end of the weekend, Miami looked like the ACC team most capable of knocking Clemson off the league pedestal. The Hurricanes easily handled what was a previously unbeaten and pretty solid Duke team. Mark Richt looks like he was the right hire to get the Canes back on track.
TAR HEEL TROUBLES: For all the success the North Carolina coach Larry Fedora has brought to Chapel Hill the past couple of years, 2017 has been difficult. The Tar Heels are 1-4 and haven’t won a home or ACC game. Saturday, Georgia Tech just ran all over the Heels in Atlanta.
A couple of stats are particularly troubling as UNC tries to turn it around. The Heels are getting called for 67 yards worth of penalties per game, nearly twice as many as their opponents, and have converted just 28 percent of their third down attempts.
Shane Mettlen is a veteran journalist who lives in Virginia and also writes for The ACC Sports Journal. Follow him on Twitter @ShaneMettlen.