Lauren Brownlow

ACC tries to avoid further calamity in Week 2

Posted September 8

It happens every football season, but we've reached the first of many "Don't Screw It Up" weeks in ACC football. Last week, um, didn't go so well. This week's glorified ACC-Big 10 Challenge probably won't either, but most of the results will be expected – Indiana over Virginia and Penn State over Pitt. Can Duke pull out some semblance of ACC pride and show it's a different team than last year when it faces Northwestern? Yes, relying on Duke to win an ACC-Big 10 Challenge in a sport other than basketball is a thing. Welcome to 2017.

So this week for the league really comes down to two things: Clemson hosting Auburn and a score of other ACC teams hosting opponents that they CANNOT afford to lose to. The exception here is Louisville at UNC, and really, the ACC can't deal with Louisville losing that game either. So it falls into this category anyway. But FSU hosting Louisiana-Monroe in its first game without Deondre Francois, Virginia Tech hosting FCS Delaware, Georgia Tech hosting FCS Jacksonville State, Syracuse hosting Middle Tennessee and NC State hosting Marshall would qualify as "Don't Screw It Up" games. Don't get credit for winning, but you can hurt yourself a lot by losing. So, you know, maybe don't, guys.



Time: 12:00 p.m.


It was tough to know what to expect from a UNC defense that returned some promising pieces, particularly in the secondary, but has still, um, not done so well the last few years. Certainly against Cal, a team breaking in a new QB, it should be fine, right? wasn't. In fact, UNC -- a team that has stopped the pass the last few years but the run, not so much -- decided it was Opposite Day last Saturday at Kenan Stadium. Cal threw for 363 yards and ran for just 106, averaging 3.0 yards per rush to 9.6 per pass. With the players UNC has in the secondary, it was puzzling.

The offense could do more too, of course. And it will need to. Last year, UNC's offense was never the same after downfield threat Mack Hollins was injured. And it looks like that trend of being a little easier to stop will continue until a downfield threat emerges again. Louisville has a good defense -- better than Cal's -- and will try to shut down the run and make North Carolina beat them with a passing game that at times showed promise, but doesn't stretch the field like UNC's most elite offenses have. The defense is going to have to at least give the offense a chance. Can they? Well...


Lamar Jackson. Hey, I think I've heard of him! He's pretty good, right? Didn't he...wait, he won the HEISMAN last year? Huh. He must not have had a very good Week 1 showing. Wait...he had 524 total yards and three touchdowns? Oh. You'd think I would be hearing a ton about him. Weird. Look, it's always been and is always going to be the Lamar Jackson Show this year, and that was evident in Week 1 when he had 111 of his team's 146 rushing yards (plus 21 of their 33 attempts) and obviously all 378 of their passing yards. Teams that can beat Louisville are able to cover downfield and contain Jackson's running ability. Nothing in North Carolina's Week 1 performance indicated it could do that, although it does have the talent to at least make Jackson work a little.

Also, I'm not one of those people who buy into the whole extra motivation thing, but....(see below)


Andre Smith. Because...

Um. Andre. I...admire the confidence?

Okay, so that's not the only reason I'm picking Smith. He had 10 tackles to lead Carolina in their loss last week, adding an interception that he returned 73 yards to the Cal 4-yard line (which set up a touchdown to give UNC a 24-21 lead) and a pass breakup. Of his 10 tackles, four were for no gain or a loss. Smith and UNC's linebackers are going to have a hard time containing Lamar Jackson, as most teams do, but Smith will certainly be looked at to back up what he said. UNC is not winning a shootout against Louisville with its offense as currently situated; it will have to rely on its defense, both in this game and in general.


Louisville Win: National media looks at Lamar's stats like

bored mona lisa

Louisville Loss:

come from behind

North Carolina Win: Wait. You can't beat a bad Cal team in Week 1, and then in Week 2, you....huh?

i'm confused

North Carolina Loss: I mean, basketball season is in a month?

oh no idc


Louisville, 39-20. Lamar has 700 yards, is left out of Heisman Watch lists. *shrug*


Time: 12:00 p.m.


A quick glance at last year's box score between these two would seem to indicate Duke struggled on offense. It was really a defensive battle, but Duke did get to the Northwestern red zone four times. It converted on just two of those trips, though. Northwestern was 0-of-1 in the red zone and scored on big plays. Even their only made field goal came outside the red zone. So the weirdness of last year makes it tough to evaluate, although it was somewhat reflective of Duke's ability to make losses out of wins. Ill-timed turnovers, mistakes, missed field goals -- you name it. That game also sort of summed up Duke's 2016 defense -- put up pretty good numbers overall (4.9 yards per play), but allow too many big plays at inopportune times that either were scores or led to scores. Duke's opener against NC Central didn't tell us much, and I have no idea what Northwestern struggling with Nevada in its opener tells us (either something bad, or that the Wildcats were boring on purpose to save something for Duke). Either way, this is exactly the kind of game that the new and improved 2017 Blue Devils will have to win if they want to make a bowl this year. Can they do it? Or are they still going to be in their own way all season?


Justin Jackson. On the surface, Jackson's numbers look kind of pedestrian at times. But the Big 10 leader in rushing a season ago is a workhorse back that has run behind some meh to bad offensive lines. He gained over 1,000 of his over 1,500 yards after contact last season -- that's 70% after contact. Whew. Against Nevada in Week 1, Jackson had 109 yards (3.6 per rush) and added 42 yards receiving on five catches. That's 35 touches out of 88 plays. Jackson is going to see the ball early and very often for the Wildcats, and Duke is going to have to key on him. He finished with 94 yards on 28 carries last year and had a catch for -3 yards, but the passing game was what hurt Duke last year. Still, if Northwestern and Jackson get going on the ground, it'll put that much more pressure on Duke's defense.


Brittain Brown. It's tough to take much away from Duke's 60-7 shellacking of NC Central, but if it's possible, it's that Duke might have help in the running game this year for Shaun Wilson. Brown, a redshirt freshman running back, finished with 120 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries and showed big-play ability that Duke desperately needs in the run game. And if Duke can't run the ball against Northwestern and the Wildcats can tee off on Daniel Jones, that is not good. Duke had just 86 yards on the ground in last year's game (2.0 per carry) and Jones had 47 of them. He's going to need help and can't take that many hits this year.


Duke Win:

bill murray kingpin whoa

Duke Loss:

white kid breaks it down


Duke, 23-19. Now's the time, Duke.


Time: 6:00 p.m.
TV: ACC Network


NC State's defense was disappointing in its debut against South Carolina, but it will be fine. NC State's running game has issues too, but it should also be fine (as will an improved Ryan Finley and the passing game, which is a great sign for the Wolfpack). But what may not be fine and what is like emergency status needs to be fine right now is NC State's special teams. Errors in that third phase of the game that is so easily (and way too quickly) dismissed are how you out-gain a team by over 200 yards and lose. The good news is that NC State punter A.J. Cole is still good. And after that opening kickoff return for a touchdown allowed, NC State's coverage improved. NC State also had some nice punt returns (but so did South Carolina). Oh, and NC State went 0-of-1 on field goal attempts (this one a 29-yarder), not a good omen for this season after a year when the Wolfpack was dreadful at kicking. Here's the point: NC State needs to shore that up, and fast. They don't have the margin for error to struggle there, and even if they struggle at kicking, they can't struggle at coverage and returns. Just can't. Don't fumble, don't make mistakes and make your tackles, guys. Because...(see below)....


Keion Davis. Marshall didn't do much offensively that should scare NC State in the Thundering Herd's season-opening win. But considering NC State's first play of the 2017 season was a kickoff return for a touchdown by their opponent that ended up being the difference in the game, Davis is worth keeping an eye on because he had two - TWO! - kickoff returns for a score. He did field a kickoff and bobble it out of bounds at the two, but Marshall scored on that drive anyway. Davis returned the opening kickoff 99 yards for a score and then had a 97-yarder for a touchdown in the second quarter. He has 14 career catches, but he's seen most of his work as a return man and backup running back, even though he wasn't used much in the run game against Miami of Ohio. Still, um, tackle that guy when you kick off, State.


Johnathan Alston. Like the rest of the NC State secondary, Alston is a bit green. The converted wide receiver saw his first action at cornerback against Deebo Samuel and South Carolina's offense in Week 1. And after a rough start, he was very nearly the reason NC State came all the way back. Samuel beat him for a score, but Samuel's going to be a lot of corners. He finished the game with three tackles, a sack and an interception. The sack and the interception both came in the fourth quarter -- the pick prevented South Carolina from trying a field goal that would've made their lead 38-28, and his sack came on 3rd and 9 and helped encourage South Carolina to punt. (Notice I don't say forced them to punt. Get used to it.) Alston had a great camp by all accounts, but for him to do that by the end of his first game is pretty remarkable. If he and the rest of the secondary keep improving like this, one of NC State's biggest question marks entering this season won't be one at all.


NC State Win:

backpack fail

NC State Loss: State's relationship with its fans has always been complicated.

dog sits on face


NC State, 57-20. Why 57? I don't know. Why did NC State lose to South Carolina? Don't ask me questions I don't know the answer to.



Time: 12:30 p.m.
TV: ACC Network


Yet another team that got a bye week before playing Georgia Tech. That's right, Jacksonville State won its season-opener back on August 26 and then was off last week. And for all intents and purposes, Georgia Tech is on the opposite of a bye. The Yellow Jackets' crushing defeat in overtime at the hands of the Champions of Life would be hard to bounce back from against most teams. So this is an FCS opponent, right? Except...they're kinda frisky. This is the same team that took Ole Miss to overtime last year and is No. 5 in the latest FCS top 25. But....they're still an FCS team. And they're the Gamecocks, which means Paul Johnson should just pretend they're South Carolina and look to get back to his team's SEC East-beating ways. Or really, he should let QB and star in the making TaQuon Marshall run like two plays and let him rest in an ice tub until Georgia Tech's next game.


Georgia Tech Win:

is this gonna take long

Georgia Tech Loss:

water disaster


Georgia Tech, 37-17. Scary moments early, Jackets pull away.


Time: 1:00 p.m.
TV: ACC Network



One might ask oneself if any rivalry could ever be as intense as either Wake Forest OR Boston College and each of their rivalries against good offensive performances. I say that it's not possible. Wake, though, showcased an improved offense in Week 1. The Deacs are 36th nationally in yards per play at 6.76 and their 51 points against Presbyterian were Wake's most since 2010. Presbyterian is bad, but that means something. Wake has played other bad teams and not done that. Boston College, meanwhile, won a tough road game at Northern Illinois...but still rank 121st out of 128 teams in yards per play on offense. Although considering all seven teams below them lost and by an AVERAGE of 33.7 points, that's actually....kind of impressive? And this game won't be one where the better offense shines. No, it'll be all about the defense.


Wake Forest Win: Look at Wake!

ron on a roll

Wake Forest Loss: Uh.

boat jump fail

Boston College Win: So BC is good?

ew no

Boston College Loss:

rashida jones ew


Wake Forest, 13-9. Don't let me down, you guys.


Time: 3:30 p.m.


Hey guys remember when Pitt beat Penn State last year and Penn State almost made the College Football Playoff anyway? The latter could happen, I suppose, but the former? I mean....never say never I guess, but ruin the season of your archrival and face them again the next year WITHOUT James Conner? Don't know that I love your chances, Pitt. Oh, and you messed around and nearly lost to YOUNGSTOWN STATE last week. Why do you do this every time you face an FCS team in Week 1? This is not a tradition you want to start. Now, look, I know that Pat Narduzzi and his coaching staff were probably trying to keep it vanilla and not give away too much on film. But Penn State probably had the same mindset, and they still crushed Akron. An FBS team. (In name, anyway.)

Pitt showed last year that it could overcome a pretty bad secondary with its offensive weaponry. Is Pitt's secondary still bad? And if it is, will Pitt have enough to overcome it on offense? I'm really not too confident. Even if Pitt stops Penn State's Preseason All-America running back Saquon Barkley, they're going to have to stop Trace McSorley and the Penn State offense, too. And if they can't they're going to have to win a shootout. Is USC transfer QB Max Browne, he of the 141 passing yards against Youngstown State last week, going to be enough, even with some of Pitt's weaponry? And with revenge on Penn State's mind? Honestly, I am really not feeling it.


Pittsburgh Win: Ruining your rival's season again like

evil laugh

Pittsburgh Loss: Pitt fans hate Penn State, in case you haven't heard. (And it is of course mutual.)

mad at laptop


Penn State, 41-20. Pitt hangs for awhile, Penn State pulls away. You'll always have last year, Pitt.


Time: 3:30 p.m.
TV: ACC Network


Delaware does have a history of being somewhat competitive against ACC teams. The Blue Hens lost 41-14 at North Carolina in 2015 (in a game that felt closer than that) and 38-21 at Wake last year. Is Virginia Tech better than Wake last year? Yes, but Wake did get to a bowl game, AND Virginia Tech is coming off of a big, emotional win over West Virginia, so there's that. And it's not like Virginia Tech hasn't lost to frisky FCS teams before. James Madison says hello. If only James Madison had been named Thomas Jefferson, considering Virginia Tech's success against that particular founding father. Well, as The Key Play alerted me, the Hokies are in luck because there is a Thomas Jefferson actually on the Delaware roster! So, win locked up. Analysis over.


Virginia Tech Win: Hey Delaware here is your check and thank you for coming Blue Hen

boy hugs hen

Virginia Tech Loss:

bojack hen


Virginia Tech, 47-13. That late touchdown Delaware scores is going to put Bud Foster in a bad mood all next week.


Time: 3:30 p.m.


So....Virginia got a win last week! That's good! Almost everything else, though, is bad, including this game. Veteran cornerback Tim Harris broke his wrist and will miss the season, and that's definitely bad news against the pass-happy Hoosiers. Virginia's defense looked as good as it should have against outmatched William and Mary (even if W&M had more sacks than Virginia did). Indiana will be a different beast, as Ohio State learned in the first half of an entertaining Week 1 game. And Virginia's offense, in spite of returning some experience at quarterback, averaged just 4.9 yards a play against William and Mary. That is not ideal. Will Indiana feel a letdown after pushing Ohio State for a half and running out of steam? Perhaps. Will said letdown be enough to matter against Virginia? Um.


Virginia Win:

lucky bowling

Virginia Loss:

kevin james faceplant


Indiana, 29-20. Virginia has a habit of oddly showing up in games like these, even when Virginia is terrible. But, well...Virginia is kind of terrible. So.


Time: 3:30 p.m.
TV: ACC Network


It's almost like a drunk person makes Syracuse's schedule. IS BEING IN THE ATLANTIC DIVISION NOT ENOUGH FOR YOU? OKAY COOL WE SHOULD ALSO SCHEDULE LSU, A CENTRAL MICHIGAN TEAM THAT HAS BEEN FRISKY IN RECENT YEARS AND A MTSU TEAM THAT BEAT MISSOURI LAST YEAR! GREAT! Oh and if you need more subplots, their former head coach Scott Shafer -- he of the dead pigs and ISIS -- is bringing his MTSU defense to the Carrier Dome in the hopes of getting some revenge, I'm sure. Because we all know Shafer is petty.

​Oh, so actual football. Okay. Syracuse crushed a bad football team in Week 1 and QB Eric Dungey continued to throw his body around without a care for his own injury history, while MTSU's offense got dominated by Vandy in a 28-6 loss a week ago. We still don't know much about Syracuse, except that their offense will be good if Dungey can still healthy and their defense should be....acceptable. Will that be good enough against the Blue Raiders? It had better be.


Syracuse Win:

checks watch

Syracuse Loss: Swofford looking at Syracuse like

what would you say you do here


Syracuse, 27-19. SLIDE, ERIC DUNGEY!


Time: 7:00 p.m.
TV: ACC Network


There isn't much to say about where Florida State is right now and how abruptly its season was changed last weekend that wouldn't be accompanied by deep sighs and forlorn head shakes. The loss to Alabama, albeit ugly, was fine. The loss of Deondre Francois was not so fine. It stinks for a guy who honestly looked like a brand-new quarterback against an excellent defense and is one of the tougher players in the country. But FSU will have to press on, and they'll have to do it with {{a href="external_link-16933162"}}an actual stick figure at QB in James Blackman. At least he'll have a game against Louisiana-Monroe before he has to face NC State's defense? I guess? Florida State will be fine in this one, but it'll be interesting to watch how Blackman handles being thrown into action way earlier than anticipated. The good news is that Florida State's defense will help him out a ton, holding Alabama to its lowest yardage total since 2014. The bad news is that Florida State's special teams are a dumpster fire and cost them that game. So. Fix that, maybe, FSU? Help out your new QB?


Florida State Win: Oh nice a win everything will be fine *looks at the rest of the schedule like*

scared sam

Florida State Loss:

gas station fail


Florida State, 43-12. Louisiana Monroe is bad.

NO. 13 AUBURN (1-0) AT NO. 3 CLEMSON (1-0)

Time: 7:00 p.m.


Last year's Clemson team, as great as it was, played with its food at times. This year's team, at least in the early going against a bad Kent State team, certainly does not. They did last year at Auburn, though, and it nearly cost them in a game they controlled throughout, outgaining the Tigers 399-262. Like last year's game, this one figures to be a defensive struggle, but this time both on the scoreboard and on the field. And it will be the first significant test for new Clemson QB Kelly Bryant. So just like Clemson's offense will have something to prove in spite of an impressive Week 1, so will Auburn's defense. It was straight-up nasty a year ago, and it was in its opener against Georgia Southern as well, stifling the Eagles' run-heavy offense, allowing just a touchdown and ZERO third-down conversions. It's going to be strength vs. strength as Clemson's defense is still as nasty as it was a year ago and will need to stop an improved Auburn offense, while Clemson's offense with some question marks will have to move the ball against a defense that has some of its own, but should still be very good and is FILLED with talent. It's a great test for the national champs and I am looking forward to it.


Clemson Win:

dabo dab

Clemson Loss: The ACC's reaction, basically

community no


Clemson, 23-20. This one will be fun.

Last week: 10-4
Overall: 10-4


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