Close ACC Coastal could produce November to remember
Posted November 6, 2013
Former Clemson coach Red Parker used to say: “They only remember what you do in November.”
Parker actually proved his own point, losing his job in 1976 after back to back Novembers NOT to remember. But he’ll always have 1974, when his Tigers swept to four wins in November en route to a 7-4 season and subsequent higher expectations.
This could be a “November to Remember” in the ACC’s Coastal Division. While Florida State has all but wrapped up the Atlantic, and while that division certainly boasts the league’s two best teams, the Coastal counts five or possibly six teams that could make the postseason. And the Coastal has great balance. Who knows how this month will play out!
So let’s take a look at November in the Coastal Division, by the numbers:
Analysis: Duke has dramatically improved its running game. After years of 100-yards-per-game type mediocrity, the Blue Devils average 171 yards per game on the ground this season.
And because this team has continued to throw the ball successfully, Duke now ranks fifth in the ACC in scoring at better than 32 points per game.
WRITE THIS DOWN: Duke’s pass defense, even with three brand new defensive backs alongside veteran Ross Cockrell, and even without a great pass rush, is allowing just 216 yards per game. That’s fifth in the ACC.
Duke’s kicking game also ranks near the top of the ACC. The Blue Devils have the best numbers in net punting, 42.1 yards per kick. Duke ranks second in the league in kickoff coverage, and No. 1 in punt returns!
Duke is also among the least penalized teams in the league.
Oh, one more thing. Despite allowing 58 points early in the year against Pitt, the Blue Devils rank seventh in scoring defense. Take away that Pitt game, and Duke is giving up about 17 points per contest.
Forecast: If Georgia Tech loses at Clemson next Thursday, the Blue Devils control their own destiny in the Coastal Division race. They would of course have to defeat Miami and their three in-state rivals. But, Duke fans, there is a chance that events could break that way.
Analysis: This is not team same team that beat Florida and Georgia Tech. Star running back Duke Johnson is out for the season. And while Dallas Crawford is a solid replacement, there is only one Duke. The Canes have also lost deep threat Phillip Dorsett. Miami has good numbers, but Johnson and Dorsett have something to do with that.
Here are a couple of concerns: Stephen Morris has been inconsistent, connecting on 62 percent of his passes, but throwing 12 interceptions against 16 touchdowns. Miami ranks 13th in Red Zone offense, and 13th in field goals, with just six of ten. These issues could now be magnified, with the loss of Johnson and Dorsett.
At the same time, the offensive line really does a good job. Miami has allowed the fewest sacks. So Morris should have time to see if what remains of his supporting cast can get open.
The Canes are very solid defensively, ranking sixth in the key defensive stats. They lead the ACC in kickoff coverage and kickoff returns. But they need to score more in the red zone and make some field goals.
Forecast: The Virginia Tech game is monumental for the Canes. Right now, they have a one-game lead, and as long as they keep winning, it does not matter how crazy it gets among the next five teams. But beating VT is no lock. That defense always shows up.
Then come games with Duke, Virginia and Pitt. Playing Duke after playing Virginia Tech could be a challenge, and that Nov. 29 game at Heinz Field could get interesting, especially if it’s cold.
Analysis: Virginia Tech has the best defense in the ACC, perhaps in the entire country. But that’s where the plaudits stop.
Frank Beamer’s once-proud kicking game has fallen on hard times. The school that gave us Frank Loria and Andre’ Davis now ranks dead last in punt returns. The Hokies are also way down the totem pole in kickoff returns. VT is average in punting and kickoff return coverage and dead last in field goals. Cody Journell has endured a miserable season, missing nine of 19.
The Hokies need field goals because they don’t score touchdowns. VT has just 22 offensive TDs, the same as Wake Forest and only three more than last place NC State.
The issues are well-documented. Quarterback Logan Thomas remains the Hokies most reliable runner, and he shouldn’t be. Thomas can hit the big pass, but he’s completing just 57 percent overall, and has thrown more interceptions (12) than touchdowns (11). VT is dead last in red zone offense, scoring just 68 percent of the time.
Forecast: Because of its offensive woes, this is a team that can lose to anybody. But because of its defense, this is a team that can beat anybody, including Miami. The Hokies finish with Maryland and Virginia, so they still have a chance to get to the ACC Championship game in Charlotte, if they beat Miami and if Duke stumbles somewhere.
Analysis: To me, Vad Lee has not looked like the same quarterback since the Yellowjackets early wins over Duke and North Carolina. Maybe there’s an injury or confidence issue?
Georgia Tech is still No. 1 on the run, averaging 311 yards per game. However, GT is completing just 45 percent of its passes, and, given the fact that most Tech passes are predicated on the element of surprise, you would think the percentage would be higher.
The big story in Atlanta is Ted Roof’s defense. Georgia Tech ranks second in rushing defense, less than one yard behind Virginia Tech. The Jackets rank third in two other key defensive categories, including scoring defense. GT is also among the leaders in net punting, although coach Paul Johnston hates to punt.
Forecast: The Clemson game is everything for Georgia Tech. If the Jackets lose at Clemson as expected, they would finish ACC play 5-3 with no shot at the Coastal title. But with a win – and a win is possible given Tech’s improved defense and the momentum its unique offense can build when things are clicking – the Jackets have at least a chance in the Coastal.
And if they survive Clemson, they have only non-conference games with Alabama A&M and Georgia remaining. Meanwhile Miami, Virginia Tech, Duke, Pitt and North Carolina try to knock each other off. If Miami loses twice, VT loses once and GT beats Clemson, the Jackets would win any head-to-head tie-breaker with Duke.
Analysis: The Panthers have a strong passing game when Tom Savage gets time to throw. But he typically doesn’t. Pitt ranks 11th in rushing offense, meaning Savage has to pass more than is ideal. He is not very mobile in the pocket. Pitt is dead last in sacks allowed. Savage goes down an incredible four times per game.
Despite its poor marks in most offensive categories, Pitt ranks seventh in scoring offense, thanks to big plays in the pass game.
Defense has been solid. The Panthers rank a surprising third in pass defense, allowing just 202 yards per game.
The kicking game is not noteworthy. Pitt ranks last in kickoff coverage and 13th in net punting. These have led to longer fields for the Panthers’ run-starved offense to negotiate. Pitt actually ran the ball moderately well early in the season but has struggled lately.
Forecast: The Panthers can be a spoiler. They play North Carolina and Miami at home. Win those two and beat Syracuse in the Carrier Dome, and the Panthers could create some interesting tie-breaker scenarios in the wild, wild Coastal Division.
Analysis: Losing Bryn Renner will obviously have a major impact, much like Miami losing Duke Johnson. UNC has great receivers, and Renner has been the guy to find them and deliver the ball accurately. The fact that UNC has 18 touchdown passes against only eight interceptions is a tribute to Renner.
But because of the development of Marquise Williams at quarterback, UNC’s season is far from over. Williams’ ability to run and run the offense has brought a much-needed dimension for a team that lacks a running game. When Williams can keep the defense off balance, he has the ability to throw accurately to open receivers.
If the Tar Heels find themselves in comeback mode and the defense expects a pass, Williams won’t make as many big plays as Renner. But if the Tar Heel defense continues to improve, maybe the Heels won’t have to play from behind.
Carolina does rank last in rushing defense (204 yards per game) and 13th in scoring defense. But UNC has forced 10 interceptions, against only 10 touchdown passes allowed. This team will continue to give up yards, but if it can create turnovers and force field goals, the season could still have a happy ending in Chapel Hill.
Coach Larry Fedora emphasizes the kicking game, and the Heels are solid in most categories, including second in net punting.
One more thing: UNC must cut down on penalties. The Heels are the most penalized team in the ACC.
Forecast: UNC should win at home against a Virginia team assured of a losing record (Note: Virginia is not included in this column because of that losing record). The trip to Pittsburgh is paramount, as is the season finale against Duke. UNC could finish 7-5, and, had it not lost the Miami lead in the closing minutes, would still have a chance at the Coastal. As it is, the Tar Heels, like Pitt, are likely reduced to deciding which other team earns the trip to Charlotte.