Tag Archive | prediction

ACC Football Outside the Triangle: Week 6 Previews

Boston College (1-3, 0-2) at Army (0-4)

Army is known as the Black Knights, but thankfully they don’t force a cadet to dress in a knight outfit.

Mascot facts: Army has always had a mule as its de facto mascot, but the Black Knight became its official mascot in the 1960s. They were known as the “Black Knights of the Hudson” before that, which was later shortened to the Black Knights. According to Wikipedia, the Black Knight mascot inspired this book called “The Black Knights God: Horror Anthology”. I find that hard to believe. But everything on Wikipedia is true, so.

The Black Knights will say, “I move for no man”, but then BC will cut their arm off and say, “Stand aside, worthy adversary.”

Prediction: Boston College, 44-24. Boston College continues to look better than expected. The Eagles also have the good fortune of playing a pretty bad team. Army is coming off of a 23-3 loss at home to Stony Brook. Of course, after Wake Forest allowed the Black Knights to put up 37 points, the stout Seawolf defense holds them to just three. Go ACC, indeed.

Georgia Tech (2-3, 1-2) at No. 15 Clemson (4-1, 1-1)

Georgia Tech defensive coordinator Al Groh, as close to anyone else on the field as his defense has been this season.

Moments in Georgia Tech-Clemson history: This is actually a very storied rivalry. The first meeting between the teams was in 1898, and Georgia Tech leads the all-time series 50-25-2. The bad blood dates back to 1904, when Georgia Tech poached Clemson’s coach John Heisman (yes, that Heisman). What was so attractive that he couldn’t resist? He got a $450 pay raise, 25% of his total salary.

And of course, that rivalry has led to videos like this one. This Clemson fan has a championship belt, poor lighting and a beer with a Koozie. What else would anyone need? Oh, great smack talk like: “The little honeybees are coming into town with their little honeycomb jerseys.” OR “Go ahead Paul Johnson, get your little triple, quadruple option going. It ain’t gonna work. It worked last year, but it ain’t gonna work this year.” Clemson Tom is my favorite.

Prediction: Clemson, 45-42. To say that both Clemson and the ACC need the Tigers to win this game – badly – would be an understatement. The ACC as a league has had some embarrassing losses this year, but Georgia Tech’s home loss to Middle Tennessee State is the early leader for the worst loss of the year. Somehow, though, whenever an ACC team has humiliated itself out of conference, it manages to embarrass the league further by beating a good team. Clemson’s defense hasn’t been great, and this feels like a close one.

Miami (4-1, 3-0) at No. 9/10 Notre Dame (4-0)

Save to say the rivalry has lost some of its luster since the late 80’s.

Moments in Miami-Notre Dame history: If a team converts a 3rd down and 40 or more yards, the game should end right there and that team should win. That’s pretty much what happened in 1989 when No. 1 Notre Dame came to Coral Gables to face Miami. Miami faced third down and 43 near their own goal line in the third quarter, but quarterback Craig Erickson found Randall Hill for a 45-yard gain. First down. The Hurricanes won 27-10 and went on to win the national title. This video also features Lou Holtz either eating or sniffing some grass.

And if you like Brent Musberger, awesome intros and Catholics vs. Convicts history, try this one out for size (from the 1988 matchup – and he calls Miami the “nouveau riche” of college football!):

Prediction: Notre Dame, 38-17. Miami has to have a lot of confidence right now, but the last time the young Hurricanes went on the road and faced a ranked team didn’t end well. Notre Dame’s offense is hardly a juggernaut, but Miami’s defense has been horrendous. Notre Dame’s defense, on the other hand, has been very stout and should keep even Miami’s explosive offense in check.

Wake Forest (3-2, 1-2) at Maryland (2-2, 0-0)

As ACC fans, all we can hope for is that neither team wears those uniforms ever again.

Moments in Wake Forest-Maryland history: Wake Forest head coach Jim Grobe has beaten the teams he’s supposed to (and plenty he’s not supposed to) during most of his tenure at Wake Forest. Maryland seems to be the exception. He’s 5-7 against the Terrapins (for perspective, he’s 4-8 against Florida State) and 1-4 at Maryland. The only win came the year the Deacons won the ACC title (2006). And it’s been ugly: Wake lost 62-14 there in 2010 and a ranked Wake team was shut out 26-0 there in 2008.

Prediction: Maryland, 37-16. Wake’s best win of the year is going to remain the North Carolina game, in all likelihood. The Deacons’ offense is fine, but the defense is not great. Maryland’s defense, on the other hand, is surprisingly stout. And Wake’s offense is going to struggle without go-to receiver Michael Campanaro. Adding that to the fact that Byrd Stadium has been a house of horrors for Wake, this one could get ugly.


Against Virginia Tech, North Carolina’s True Identity Will Be Revealed

North Carolina quarterback Bryn Renner says the Virginia Tech game is not personal, even though both of his parents went there.

North Carolina (3-2, 0-1) could not possibly be coming into this game feeling better about itself. The Tar Heels have won their last two games by a combined score of 93-6 and haven’t allowed a touchdown in that span. (Of course, they have played East Carolina and Idaho.)

Virginia Tech (3-2, 1-0), meanwhile, has lost two of its last three games to Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. Defensive coordinator Bud Foster is already salty, but he went on a profanity-laced tirade in support of his defense earlier this week.

The Hokies have history on their side to show that they’ll get out of an early-season slump: In 2010, Virginia Tech lost its first two games to Boise State and James Madison before winning 11 straight, including the ACC Championship. Virginia Tech won the Coastal Division in 2008 after a loss to East Carolina to start the year and in 2007 after the a 48-7 blowout loss at LSU.

Every time it seems like the Hokies are sure to be in the midst of a down year, head coach Frank Beamer and company manage to pull off a Coastal Division title. It doesn’t matter what the Hokies do out of conference. And now? They’re underdogs in this game against a Carolina team that hasn’t seen a team this good since Week 3, and the Hokies are mad.

And really, there’s no telling how good the Tar Heels are. This game will be the best indicator. Their head coach Larry Fedora is afraid to guess who his team really is. “Well just as soon as I say that, then they prove me wrong,” he said. “We are becoming more consistent. Just the way we prepare, we’ve done a nice job of preparing the same way each and every week. Our energy level in practice, our focus, all of those things – we’re going to try to do a great job of focusing on ourselves this week and making sure that we take care of ourselves.”

Virginia Tech’s offense has struggled all year, but Carolina’s defense has had its share of bad games. Virginia Tech’s defense has been maligned for a variety of reasons, but the biggest problem the Hokies have had is time of possession. If the Tar Heels can take care of the ball and keep Virginia Tech going three-and-out, they can win. But if they make mistakes against a salty swarm of Hokie defenders, they’ll be in for a long day.

Quarterback Bryn Renner knows that well. He is a Virginia native, and both of his parents went to Virginia Tech. He says the game isn’t personal – for him, it’s a chance to go up against one of the best defensive coordinators in the game in Bud Foster. “It’s the way he prepares. He tries to put quarterbacks in the biggest bind that he can,” Renner said. “That’s what it is great about this game is when you go up against a great coordinator like himself, you get challenged. It’s all about who prepares more, and he really does a great job of trying to confuse you out there. We’re just looking forward to the challenge.”

Carolina is 0-2 against teams from BCS conferences this year, it’s hard to predict them to win, but they do have a potential x-factor offensively. Tailback Giovani Bernard was out in both games, and while he certainly wasn’t the reason Carolina lost those games, his presence could be what puts the Tar Heels over the top on Saturday.

And if the Tar Heels are a different team with Bernard, then it will give everyone an idea – finally – of just what the potential of this team actually is. Bernard, for his part, is willing to carry Carolina as far as he needs to.

“For me, whenever I touch the ball, I want people to hold their breath. I want people to say ‘ooh’ or ‘ahh’ or whatever,” Bernard said with a grin. “That’s what I want to pride myself on. I want people to feel that. I want people to be afraid of me whenever I’m on the field. If it’s catching the ball out of the backfield, returning punts, kick returns, running the ball, I want the defense or the opponents to have that fear of me, that he could take it all the way.”

Randomness: I could do mascot facts, or moments in history….or I could share a B-movie movie called “Thankskilling” about a murdering turkey that talks. As it turns out, there are no clean clips of that movie, so you’ll have to Google it. But when you start searching for turkey clips on YouTube, it can lead you down the rabbit hole. Or the turkey hole.

I’m sure there’s a Beamer Ball joke here somewhere:

If you want actual football, here’s footage of North Carolina’s only win over Virginia Tech since the Hokies joined the ACC:

And here’s Logan Thomas being Logan Thomas against the 2011 Tar Heel defense:

Prediction: Virginia Tech, 27-20. After going against the classic ACC scenarios last week because they seemed too obvious, I’m going all in on the craziness of the ACC this week. Which means Virginia Tech, which has looked awful against two Big East teams, will suddenly become the dominant Coastal Division force everyone thought it would be. This is much less about the Tar Heels, who have looked much better, and more about the Hokies, who tend to do this.

ACC Football Outside The Triangle: Week 5 Previews

No. 17/16 Clemson (3-1, 0-1) at Boston College (1-2, 0-1)

Clemson and Boston College play every year for the O’Rourke-McFadden Trophy.

Moments in Clemson-BC history: In 2006, Clemson came into its game against BC ranked 18th and with a lot of optimism. They lost a heartbreaker, 34-33, in double overtime. They would then win six in a row, including upsetting then-No. 10 FSU the next week on the road. They got as high as 11th before losing four of its final five, including home games against Maryland and South Carolina.

Prediction: Clemson, 37-13. It would be the most ACC thing ever (not to mention the most Clemson thing ever) for the Tigers to lose this game, right? Boston College had an early bye week this past week, but the Eagles have played surprisingly well this year, averaging 26.3 points in three games, two against very competitive opponents (Miami and Northwestern). This will be a big test to see how much Clemson’s defense has actually improved. FSU has talent all over the field on offense, so even allowing 49 points is understandable. (And it’s still 21 fewer than West Virginia scored, am I right?)

No. 4 Florida State (4-0, 1-0) at South Florida (2-2, 0-1)

Rocky the Bull is not going to take this lying down! Unless…uh…

Mascot facts: South Florida held a contest in 1956 (shortly after the University was founded) to determine a mascot. The finalists included The Golden Brahman, the Olympian, the Cougar, the Buccaneer and the Golden Eagle. The Golden Brahman won; in the 1980s, it was shortened to Bulls.

Prediction: Florida State, 49-12. A letdown after an emotional win over Clemson would be understandable, but FSU really needs to win this one convincingly to keep the metaphorical ball rolling in the “FSU is back” discussion. And FSU’s defense should win the day: South Florida beat Chattanooga in Week 1 and Nevada in Week 2, but lost 23-13 to Rutgers in an ugly one and then 31-27 at Ball State last week in a shocker. The Bulls’ offense has been downright putrid at times.

Georgia Tech (2-2, 1-2) vs. Middle Tennessee State (2-1, 1-0)

Middle Tennessee’s horse mascot….

…which eerily resembles Mr. Horse from Ren and Stimpy.

Mascot facts: In 1934, a Middle Tennessee State football player known as Charles “Stumpy” Sarver won a $5 prize in a local newspaper contest to name the school’s mascot with “Blue Raiders”. (Nowadays, I’m sure that would be an impermissible benefit.) He borrowed that name from Colgate, which was known as the Red Raiders. The actual costumed mascot is a horse.

Prediction: Georgia Tech, 44-23. Considering the ease with which Georgia Tech dominated Virginia in Week 3, it was a complete stunner to see them fall at Miami in overtime last week. Middle Tennessee State has been a sneaky good program recently, and the Blue Raiders rebounded from a loss to McNeese State with wins over Florida Atlantic and Memphis in Weeks 2 and 3. Nothing earth-shattering. But…wait for it…Middle Tennessee State has had two weeks to prepare for Georgia Tech! Nothing to see here, folks.

Virginia (2-2, 0-1) vs. Louisiana Tech (3-0)

Tech XX (RIP).

Mascot facts: Louisiana Tech’s bulldog mascot, Tech XX, was declared missing in late July. Turns out, a worker at the veterinary clinic let him out to use the bathroom and forgot to let him back in. He died of heat stroke as temperatures reached as high as 102 degrees. And the reason the bulldog was chosen as a mascot in 1899 allegedly is some students found a bulldog on campus and adopted it. When a fire started at their home, the bulldog barked at all of them until they woke up and escaped. The bulldog didn’t make it.

Prediction: Virginia, 24-20. Just when you think the Cavaliers will get a break….turns out Louisiana Tech might actually be good. They pounded Illinois – at Illinois – 52-24 last week. That’s not a misprint. The Bulldogs are averaging 54.7 points in three games. Virginia head coach Mike London will be under a lot of pressure to play backup quarterback Phillip Sims this week, though, and the offense could really use a spark. Virginia has played very tough games so far this year, and the Cavaliers are better than they played last week against TCU.

UR/No. 25 Virginia Tech (3-1, 1-0) vs. Cincinnati (2-0, 1-0) (FedEx Field)

From a float in 1955. Presented without comment.

Mascot facts: A bearcat is essentially a made-up thing (the Cincinnati cheerleaders made it up during a game against Kentucky in 1914 (based on fullback Teddy Baehr), but a bear cat is real. It’s called a binturong. No word on whether it too likes to throw snowballs.

A bearcat.

Prediction: Virginia Tech, 27-20. Cincinnati blew out Pitt 34-10 in Week 1, so by transitive property, they should blow out the Hokies as well. But the Bearcats struggled with Delaware State in a 23-7 win on September 15th. They will have had two weeks off, which is certainly a factor.But Virginia Tech isn’t as bad as they played against Pittsburgh, and the Hokies likely have their annual awful loss out of their system at this point.

Last week: 8-1 (1-1 ACC)

Season: 26-4 (2-2 ACC)

Duke vs. Wake: For The Blue Devils, It’s Been “Oh, So Close”

Duke senior center Brian Moore summed up the Wake Forest rivalry in one word: “Heartbreak.”

The last time Duke (3-1, 0-0) beat Wake Forest (3-1, 1-0), Jim Caldwell was Wake’s head coach and Duke was led by first-year man Carl Franks. Duke would lose its next game at North Carolina, which began a 23-game losing streak that spanned three seasons.

Wake Forest has won 12 in a row against Duke dating back to 1999. From 2000-07, Duke would win nine games total. Since Jim Grobe was hired in 2001, Wake Forest has won the ACC once (in 2006) and knocked off some of the league’s big boys plenty of times. Grobe’s Deacons have done the kinds of things it seems Duke has been on the cusp of doing under head coach David Cutcliffe.

“They’ve been able to develop an identity of taking care of the football, playing well in big games, being consistently competitive. They have developed an identity, which is what the development process is here (at Duke),” Cutcliffe said. “I hope that identity is starting to show itself here in hopefully the consistency of some of the things we’re doing.

“I think our program at times has gotten ahead of the team, if that makes sense. I feel very comfortable where our program is, how our guys go about their business in the weight room, off-season, at the practice level. And I think Wake has done that now for a period of time and kind of begets itself. That’s the most impressive thing they’ve done – they’ve built a program.”

Cutcliffe has never shied away from history with his team, good or bad. When it comes to the Wake Forest game, there’s plenty of bad history there. But a lot of the guys on this team right now have lived it. The biggest Wake Forest margin of victory in the last six seasons has been 11 points; three of the games have been decided by three points or less and five by a score or less.

“Heartbreak,” Duke center Brian Moore said. “We’ve come so close, and it’s not lack of want-to or anything like that. It’s just going out there and getting it done. That’s what we need to do.”

“We’re aware of it. It’s something that we hold in the back of our minds. We don’t want to always be like, ‘Oh, whatever.’ They beat you 12 times for a reason,” defensive end Dezmond Johnson said. “Our mentality now is to change that and not keep adding to it. Get better. You want to get better every game you play, so we want to take this game and use this time to get better.”

Cornerback Ross Cockrell was the only one who didn’t seem to know about the 12-game winning streak. “Okay…well,” he said. “It’s about time for us to get one. I’ll say that. Twelve straight, that’s…our time should be coming up soon, so.”

Cutcliffe has always said that Duke can’t talk itself into being a good football team. The same applies this weekend, when this game could very well come down to the end as it has so often. Wake Forest has always had more playmakers than Duke has had. To take the next step as a program, Duke has to scale the mental Wake Forest wall that stands in front of them.

“That’s been the most obvious thing, just: oh, so close,” Cutcliffe said. “You have to give credit to their playmakers for making critical plays late in a game. …. They take care of the football. they play the kicking game well. They do a lot of the little things right and they’ve done that for quite some time. That will win a lot of games for you and they’ve obviously done that better than we’ve done it to this point.”

Duke-Wake Randomness: David Glenn Show producer Hayes Permar put together this awesome (and hilarious) video tribute to Wake Forest wide receiver Michael Campanaro.

Former Duke kicker Will Snyderwine made an instructional YouTube video posted this summer called “Kickin’ It”. Duke fans, this is presented without comment. But I checked the date multiple times to be sure.

This is two years old, but searching for Duke football videos, I came across this guide to being a Duke football fan from 2010.

A very, very tongue-in-cheek look at the diversity on Wake Forest’s campus. (Some NSFW topics/language.)

Prediction: Duke, 34-27. Call it a hunch. As Ross Cockrell said, 12 in a row is a lot, and Duke seems due. The Blue Devils are as strong of a program as they have been since Cutcliffe’s arrival, and this would be an enormous win for them going forward. Getting Wake early should help, too (since 2005, Duke has played Wake in the first half of their schedule before attrition has hit just once). But Duke can’t make the types of mistakes that cause even big-name programs to drive away from Winston-Salem wondering how they could have lost that game.

Last week: 8-1 (1-1 ACC)

Season: 26-4 (2-2 ACC)

ACC Football Outside The Triangle: Week 4 Previews

Maryland (2-1) at No. 8/7 West Virginia (2-0)

Couch-burning is now considered arson in Morgantown.

Mascot facts: Basically, the Mountaineer originated when people started dressing up like it at West Virginia games in the late 1920s. That’s continued ever since. But in some ACC-related trivia, this former Mountaineer (1952-53) said he liked to engage in pranks, including “tugging the unhappy wolf mascot of North Carolina State around by his tail”.

Prediction: West Virginia, 59-23. West Virginia beat Marshall 69-34 in Week 1, took a week off and then beat James Madison 42-12. Maryland has actually acquitted itself well this season defensively, but it’s way too much to ask after slowing the William & Mary, Temple and Connecticut offenses to slow down the West Virginia train.

Virginia (2-1, 0-1) at No. 17/16 TCU (2-0)

Horned frog, or….what is that?

Mascot facts: TCU’s horned frog mascot goes as far back as 1896, when legend has it that the field the team first practiced on “teemed with horned frogs”. A little bit of a letdown to learn a horned frog is actually a lizard, though.

Prediction: TCU, 23-16. Virginia has struggled offensively in its last two games, and that’s not a good sign as they will face a TCU team that’s traditionally among the nation’s best defenses. It’s difficult to know how good the Horned Frogs are, though: TCU has beaten Grambling State and Kansas. Virginia put up 184 yards rushing in Week 1 against Richmond, and in the last two games combined, the Cavaliers have just 130 yards on 53 carries. There’s been a quarterback controversy between Michael Rocco and Phillip Sims, but Sims wasn’t put in last week until the fourth quarter when Virginia trailed 49-7. Head coach Mike London insists Rocco is his starter, but if the offense continues to struggle, it’s only a matter of time.

Virginia Tech (2-1, 1-0) vs. Bowling Green (1-2)

Freddie and Frieda Falcon.

Mascot facts: A sportswriter named Bowling Green the Falcons in 1927. And that was only because he was reading a book on falconry at the time, and he thought falconry was awesome. I think that’s awesome.

Prediction: Virginia Tech, 37-12. Calling Virginia Tech’s loss at Pitt last weekend disappointing doesn’t do it justice. That aside, the Hokie offense has struggled. Against FBS opponents, quarterback Logan Thomas has complete 35-of-69 passes (a hair over 50%) for 495 yards and three touchdowns, and has run the ball 22 times for 68 yards. He has as many carries in those games as starting running back Michael Holmes. This isn’t a great recipe. The Hokie offense needs to get back on track, and fast. And it won’t necessarily be easy: Bowling Green hung tough with Florida before beating Idaho in Week 2 and falling 27-15 at Toledo.

Wake Forest (2-1, 1-0) vs. Army (0-2)

An Army Mule.

Mascot facts: Army might be known as the Black Knights, but the mascot for the army itself is a mule (or mules: the Army Mules. But they didn’t officially adopt the Black Knight nickname until 2000: before, they were known as the Cadets.

Prediction: Wake Forest, 27-9. Wake Forest is somewhere in between the team that struggled with Liberty and got blown out 52-0 by Florida State and the team that beat North Carolina. Fortunately for the Deacons, though, Army isn’t very good. The Black Knights lost 42-7 at San Diego State and followed that up with a 41-40 loss at home to Northern Illinois.

Miami (2-1, 1-0) at Georgia Tech (2-1, 0-1)

Reggie Ball has went off on the Hurricanes in past years. Fortunately for them, he’s not around anymore. Unfortunately, they’re not very good.

Moment in Miami-Georgia Tech history: Hard to mention these recent games without talking about former Georgia Tech quarterback Reggie Ball. He had his share of struggles as the starter, but he began the Georgia Tech streak of four straight against Miami (from 2005-08) in 2005 with a 14-10 upset of No. 3 Miami. In 2006, Georgia Tech won despite Ball completing 3-of-16 first-half passes. (This was before the triple-option) But when Googling Reggie Ball, I came across this gem from Spencer Hall at SB Nation:

It is difficult to compare Tevin Washington to Reggie Ball, and deeply unfair. Washington played a fine game, and made one really ill-advised throw in a clutch situation at the end. Really, all they will ever have in common is an alma mater, a position, and breathing oxygen. Then again, somewhere in NASA, there is an aerospace engineer who makes a mathematical mistake, forgets to carry a one, and then places his head in his hands as an errant rocket crashes into the Pacific instead of soaring into orbit. And at that moment, a circuit panel pops out, and a Georgia fan hiding behind that panel yells out, “JUST LIKE REGGIE BALL GO DAWGS.” It just happens now in these situations, and there is nothing Tevin Washington or the world can do about it.

Prediction: Georgia Tech, 49-17. Did I mention that Miami isn’t very good? Yeah. And the Yellow Jackets are feeling it. Miami’s defense will be better as it grows up, but facing the triple-option isn’t the week that starts to happen.  

No. 10/9 Clemson (3-0) at No. 4 Florida State (3-0, 1-0)

Moment in Clemson-Florida State history: Um, how about Bobby Bowden being ballsy enough to call for a fake punt – or “puntrooskie”, if you will – with 1:30 to go, at FSU’s 21-yard line, in a tie game? And evidently, Clemson knew about the play beforehand and still couldn’t stop it. So much Clemsoning involved with a team thought to be a national title contender in 1988.

Prediction: Florida State, 44-24. Considering FSU hasn’t exactly faced offensive juggernauts to date, it’s reasonable to think that an explosive Clemson offense will put up points. Andre Ellington has been dominant on the ground, and the Seminoles have yet to face a running game like this. Tajh Boyd has been efficient and crisp, completing 73.3% of his passes. DeAndre Hopkins has four touchdowns receiving, and Sammy Watkins returned last week with four catches for 52 yards.

The Clemson defense was much better last week: after allowing Auburn to score 19 and Ball State to put up 27, it held Furman to 7. But FSU is a completely different animal. The Seminoles are averaging as many points as their basketball team typically holds opponents to (58.7), and racking up 543.7 yards per game in the process. E.J. Manuel is averaging 175 yards per game but leads the league in pass efficiency and is completing 71.2% of his passes.

The difference should be FSU’s defense, which has been downright dominant, allowing one point per game and just 103.3 yards. Florida State looked like the Florida State of old last week in its 52-0 beatdown of Wake Forest, and they should have far too much on both sides of the ball for Clemson to handle.


Last week: 9-1 (1-0 ACC)

Season: 18-3 (1-1 ACC)

For Duke, Every Game Is A Must-Win

Duke running back Josh Snead knows that the Duke running game needs to get going.

After Thursday’s walk-through, Duke (2-1) head coach David Cutcliffe pulled aside some of his seniors and reminded them that how well Duke plays on Saturday when Memphis (0-3) comes to town is on them.

Cutcliffe said that Duke has had its best week of preparation for the Tigers, but he’s had plenty of weeks last that since he’s been at Duke, only to see everything fall apart on game day. “It should display itself in how well we play on Saturday, but you’ve got to carry it to the game field,” Cutcliffe said. “And there have been times where that doesn’t happen, for whatever reasons. I’ve asked our seniors to understand that a big part of that is them.”

Duke has always had a good roster, but never able to build depth like a lot of programs can. This year is different, and it’s shown – a rash of injuries in the secondary has been overcome by true freshmen and guys switching positions stepping up.

And Duke has plenty of experience, something they’re not necessarily used to, on both sides of the ball. Thirteen of Duke’s 22 starters have at least 11 starts, and eight have 20 or more.

“We’ve got a lot of people on this team that have played a lot of football, started a lot of games,” Cutcliffe said. “Unfortunately, it’s because of injuries over the last few years. But at some point in time, there’s a return on that investment. That’s what I would like to see this team do.”

There are quite a few talented upperclassmen starters, like senior Kenny Anunike at defensive end and junior linebacker Kelby Brown. But injuries have limited both of them in the off-seasons, and in a lot of ways, they’re not as experienced as other guys their age would be because of that.

As Cutcliffe detailed those situations, he didn’t use it as an excuse. He never has. He’s continued to insist his team can make a bowl game, and it would appear it’s talented enough to do that, despite the difficult schedule.

“I’m just explaining the world as you would see Duke football, but we’re equipped for it. That’s not an excuse. I’m not whining,” Cutcliffe said. “It’s just reality of what we’re dealing with. I’m very proud of this team and this staff and their ability to handle it physically, emotionally, both. They’ve managed that pretty darned well at this point.”

That’s where the seniors come in. Duke won its season opener against FIU handily and went into the Stanford game with a lot of confidence. But a combination of self-inflicted wounds and the physical superiority at some spots of Stanford led to a 50-13 blowout loss.

The Blue Devils rebounded well with a 54-17 win over NC Central last week, but they know there are still a lot of concerns. They haven’t run the ball well, even against Central, and they have converted just 21% of their third downs. The defense has still let up big plays. But the main lesson it can take going into the Memphis game is that despite being a huge favorite over Memphis, they can’t let that get into their heads. They still have to go out and execute.

“We had a lot of mistakes in that game against Stanford. I guess you could say that we weren’t as focused,” running back Josh Snead said. “We had a great first game, (we were) a little hype. We’ve got to win a game. That game is behind us. on to the next game. We came out a little unfocused but we’re back on track and we’re ready to go from here on out.”

The Duke injury report is still littered with important names: two starters on the defensive line are out, as are two defensive backs and two linebackers. Safety Jordon Byas will be back, as will Walt Canty, who injured his shoulder against Central. Wide receiver Jamison Crowder is banged up, but a lot of players on the roster are a bit banged up.

Duke doesn’t have a bye week until November, and they have to press on. They need their best players on the field as much as possible, and though the line between “hurt” and “injured” is a thin one, the ones who can play through it have to try.

“We play ten games in a row. Every player here needs to understand that. We’re not going to have time on Sunday, okay, we’re going to take the week off and heal,” Cutcliffe said. “No. We’re going to close ranks and continue to march, and that’s got to be the mentality of our program.”

Mascot facts: Memphis has been known as the Tigers officially since 1939,but they purchased their first live Bengal tiger mascot in 1972. They’re one of three schools to have a live Bengal tiger mascot. Their second one, TOM II, died in 2008 and as you might imagine, PETA was not thrilled with Memphis’ decision to purchase a new one. But TOM III lives.

TOM III, Memphis’ live Bengal tiger mascot.

Prediction: Duke, 52-29. As much as Cutcliffe tried to dress up Memphis this week, the Tigers are terrible. Memphis is 83rd in both pass offense (212 yards per game) and rush offense (138.33 yards per game). Balance! But ultimately, Duke has to worry about Duke and the rest will take care of itself.


NC State Must Stay Disciplined Against Tricky Triple-Option

NC State quarterback Mike Glennon knows that the offense will have to sustain drives against the Citadel on Saturday.

(Note: This article first ran in the September 19th edition of The Sanford Herald.)

NC State (2-1) head coach Tom O’Brien is a former Marine, and he doesn’t much care for lapses in discipline. The Wolfpack was cruising to a 31-0 shutout win over South Alabama, but a few defensive fourth-quarter lapses led to a late touchdown for the Jaguars against NC State’s fist team defense.

It’s not the end of the world by any means, but on the last two South Alabama drives, the NC State defense surrendered 102 yards on eight plays and a touchdown. Prior to that, they had given up 212 yards on 51 plays and no points. “All you’ve got to do is pay attention and stay focused in what you’re doing and not be out there drifting around and give up a big play like we gave (up),” O’Brien said. “A thousand ‘atta boys’ are wiped away by one ‘Aw, blank’.”

NC State’s defense hadn’t surrendered a play of 20 or more yards to the Jaguars before allowing five such plays in the second half, including three in the fourth quarter (all pass plays, and most against NC State’s first-string defense). It’s just a few plays, sure. But a few big plays have haunted the Wolfpack defense already this season: Tennessee’s first three touchdowns were 41 yards, 72 yards and 67 yards. Connecticut had a 43-yard pass play that led to its only touchdown and represented nearly a quarter of its total passing yards.

This week’s opponent, the Citadel (3-0), will capitalize on any mistake or missed assignment. The Citadel went to Appalachian State and thumped the Mountaineers 52-28, something that doesn’t happen very often. The Wolfpack will have to play assignment football against the Citadel and stay disciplined against the triple-option attack.

“What they’re saying is, ‘If we do this 30 times, you’re not good enough or tough enough physically or mentally to do your job 30 times and we’re going to pop it on you.’ That’s the whole predication of how they do things: you’re not going to be mentally tough enough to do what you have to do, and then we’re going to pop someone on you, and that’s how that offense works,” O’Brien said.

The Wolfpack has had some success against Georgia Tech’s triple option in the past, but linebacker Rickey Dowdy knows that all it takes is one defensive lapse for that offense to make you pay for it. “It’s just a quick second, being in the wrong place at the wrong time or not taking the right step,” Dowdy said. “You can stop them on first and second down and then third down, they can break a 30-yard run, maybe a touchdown. We just have to play assignment football.”

And the discipline extends to the offensive side of the ball as well. A physically inferior South Alabama team managed to sack quarterback Mike Glennon three times (in addition to sacking his backup Manny Stocker once). Left tackle Rob Crisp is expected to miss this week’s game as well, and his backup Tyson Chandler had NC State’s two offensive penalties against South Alabama with a false start and a holding penalty.

Not only is the Wolfpack last in the league in sacks allowed, but they are also averaging fewer yards per rush than any team in the league except for Wake Forest. NC State is going to have to keep the ball as much as it can against the Citadel because of the way the triple option can eat up clock.

But the NC State offense moved the ball well early on South Alabama, and Glennon thinks the offense can build on that success. He started the game 11-of-12 passing for 127 yards and two touchdowns on the Wolfpack’s first two possessions.

“I would just like to get in a rhythm. I think getting in a rhythm helps wear down the defense a little bit and gets our offense going,” Glennon said. “If it’s throwing quick or whatever it is, I think getting in a rhythm really helps the offense, it helps me and I feel like anytime we hit a few passes, it gets our offense going and it wears the defense down.”

Mascot facts: Citadel adopted the Bulldog nickname in 1909, and they started using a live bulldog mascot in 1928. Perhaps its most famous mascot was Colonel Ruff. Eventually nicknamed Killer for allegedly eating a few poodles, he was killed by an alligator before the start of the 1990 season when he supposedly got between said gator and a little girl.

Don’t be fooled – it will rip your face off.

Prediction: NC State, 41-17. The Wolfpack got rolling early against South Alabama, and the good start was probably a good omen for the offense. The defense was almost perfect, and they’ll need to do that again. In the end, their superior athleticism should win out. The Citadel is no joke, though. The Bulldogs pounded Charleston Southern 49-14, then edged Georgia Southern 23-21 and went to Appalachian State for a stunning 52-28 blowout win.

The Real Tar Heels Need To Stand Up

Right guard Jonathan Cooper says that this North Carolina team has great potential, when it’s not hurting itself with silly mistakes.

It couldn’t have been as easy as it looked for North Carolina (1-2, 0-1) against Elon in their season-opener. Turns out, it wasn’t. And it’s been anything but easy since.

The Carolina defense has been the scapegoat, and understandably: in the first half of the last two games, it has surrendered 631 total yards (8.3 per play), 57 points and 34 first downs. Carolina trailed 36-7 at the break to Louisville and 21-14 at Wake Forest. But in the second half of the last two games, it has clamped down to allow just 257 yards (3.8 per play), ten points and 17 first downs. (For more on the schizophrenic UNC defense, click here.)

The defensive issues have been well-documented. But the offense has had its share of issues, too. And mostly in the first half of the last two games. At Louisville, the Carolina offense hurt itself with everything from penalties to turnovers to bad snaps. The snaps were the most concerning part as center Russell Bodine has had a few in the last two games, and Carolina was lucky to recover some of them.

“It’s the center’s job to get the quarterback the ball and do it each and every play. Everybody overlooks him until he makes mistakes, but that guy is the most important guy,” North Carolina head coach Larry Fedora said. “He, like a lot of guys, got flustered. Whatever could go wrong, went wrong.”

Right guard Jonathan Cooper more specifically invoked Murphy’s Law when talking about the first half of that game. He said that when the beleaguered Tar Heels reassembled in the locker room at halftime, the collective thought seemed to be, “Welp. We’re a little ways away from this one.”

Cooper recognized some similarities between Carolina’s second half comeback against Louisville and the comeback against LSU in the 2010 season-opener. Carolina had a chance to score to win both games, despite a bit of Murphy’s Law going into effect in the first half of both contests. He said that on Sunday night, a friend asked him which “near-win” was better.

“Uh, well…” Cooper said with a wry smile. “Right now? Neither of them really. Either way you look at it, we still lost, so.” He shrugged. “Maybe looking back on it, I can tell you which one was better but right now, it’s pretty difficult.”

Another similarity between those two games were the issues Carolina had snapping the ball. Cooper had a brief stint at center starting with that LSU game in 2010, but he had a few bad snaps. A reporter kindly brought that up to him, “Oh!” he said, laughing. “Cold world.”

Cooper is notoriously hard on himself, and he had trouble letting go of his mistakes against LSU. He didn’t want Bodine to let his mistakes eat at him, too. “You try to let it go and move forward but it sticks with you and kind of hangs over your head. You almost feel like you cost the game a little bit, so you’re battling internally with that,” Cooper said. “I just told him to calm down, it’s okay, just keep playing on. Because there’s nothing you can do about it now.”

Carolina ran a pro-style offense last year and didn’t run a lot of pass plays out of the shotgun, so the shotgun snap is somewhat of a new concept to Bodine. But Cooper said the issue is more pace. “We’re running at such a fast pace. He’s trying to do his assignment and get everybody on the same page and then usually it’s a play where he has to run or make a block that’s kind of out of the way, so the ball just goes errantly,” Cooper said.

But it hasn’t just been bad snaps: missed assignments on both sides of the ball, costly penalties, fumbles and interceptions have plagued the Tar Heels in both of their games against FBS foes. East Carolina (2-1) is coming to town this weekend, and the Pirates – who have made plenty of mistakes of their own – will be more than willing to capitalize on that.

Even though it was an FBS opponent, Carolina did show with a 62-0 win over Elon what it is capable of when it plays efficient, mistake-free football. And Cooper feels like his team is capable of doing that against just about anyone. Carolina was able to gain confidence from its close loss to LSU that propelled it into a number of unlikely wins in 2010, and he thinks that can happen again.

“It goes to show that if we are working on the same page and hitting on all cylinders, we can be a great football team,” Cooper said. “So it’s something to build on and if we can eliminate the costly mistakes, because we’re continuously shooting ourselves in the foot, so if we can eliminate those mistakes, I feel like we can be pretty good. That just goes to show what we can do.”

Mascot facts: Yes, ECU adopted the Pirate nickname because pirates were prevalent off the coast of North Carolina, blah blah blah. But did you know they also had a poodle mascot named Brandy? (To be fair, prior to Brandy the poodle, they used a great dane.)

Brandy, the former ECU poodle.

Prediction: North Carolina, 41-24. East Carolina is a pass-heavy team, which should scare Tar Heel fans. ECU beat Appalachian State 35-13 and won its conference opener at Southern Miss 24-14, but the Pirates’ lone loss was at South Carolina, 48-10. Since they’ve replaced quarterback Rio Johnson with Shane Carden, the passing game has been less explosive, but more efficient. Against Southern Miss, he completed 13-of-27 passes for 171 yards and a score in an effort best described as workmanlike. But Carolina has made the last two passing attacks it has faced look like the 2008 New England Patriots. But Carolina should get off to a better start and talent will win the day. Emphasis on should.


Duke Seeks To Move Past (But Not Forget) Stanford

Duke defensive end Sydney Sarmiento speaks to the media on Tuesday.

Duke (1-1) vs. NC Central (1-1), 7:00 PM, ESPN3

There aren’t many positives Duke can take out of a 50-13 thrashing at Stanford last weekend. It was a performance marred by mistakes, missed assignments and poor execution in all three phases.

Plagued by injuries entering the Stanford game, Duke’s defense was already short-handed – then they spent most of the first half on the field, and often faced bad field position. But of the six touchdowns Duke surrounded, just four were offensive scores.

Duke’s defense found itself down 7-0 before they took the field after a 76-yard punt return touchdown following Duke’s first possession. And Duke allowed just one touchdown drive in the first half, despite the fact that six of Duke’s first seven offensive drives went three-and-out.

“The positive is that we were able to hold them to a field goals even when we were in their territory, which is huge. It’s the best you can do,” defensive tackle Sydney Sarmiento said. “The offense might struggle and throw an interception and we’re on their five (yard line). But as long as we can hold them to a field goal instead of a touchdown, that can make a world of difference.”

But it’s hard to build on that when Duke’s injury report, particularly on defense, is littered with important names. Duke is now down 15 scholarship players, including three for the year and 12 for at least the North Carolina Central game. Of those, four are defensive backs (three safeties, including two starters in Jordan Byas and August Campbell), three are linebackers and two are defensive linemen.

Defensive back in particular is an area of need; Duke has the comparably more depth on the defensive line and even at linebacker. But in Duke’s 4-2-5 defense, it needs a lot of defensive backs, and not a lot are available right now, which means that young players are having to see a lot of action. They’ll likely have to play even when Duke gets to the ACC schedule.

Freshman Dwayne Norman will start at one of the safety spots while redshirt freshman Tim Burton will back up Lee Butler at cornerback. Junior cornerback Ross Cockrell can relate: forced into action early, his experience has started to pay off as he leads the ACC in passes defended through two games.

“It’s tough to play DB and be young like that, and I know from experience,” Cockrell said. “The thing that I’ve seen, especially from Tim (Burton) and Dwayne Norman, is they keep getting after it. They keep coming back for me. Even if a mistake is made, they come back and they’re ready to correct it and play again.”

Cockrell didn’t have the benefit of a respectable pass rush or a lot of talent around him, and he was thrown right into the fire of trying to cover ACC receivers. “He’s put on an island a lot and he responds a lot. What I love best about Ross Cockrell is that he never loses his edge,” Cutcliffe said. “I’ve never seen him lose his edge. He’s one of those guys that the next play is always the most important one to Ross.”

It’s a crucial skill for DBs, that ability to have amnesia after a bad play. But it’s a delicate balance: they have to be able to identify their mistake and correct it before forgetting it. And it’s a skill that has to extend to the team as a whole right now.

Duke spent the early part of this week watching the tape and figuring out their mistakes, but now they have to move on to North Carolina Central. This week’s game and Memphis next week are likely Duke wins, but Cutcliffe wants them to move and towards regaining the edge they had against FIU.

“We relaxed that edge maybe a little (against Stanford), and you don’t even see it. You don’t even know it yourself,” Cutcliffe said. “I believe we can play well every week and be competitive and beat anyone if we’re willing to pay the price. When you have injury or you have some key player that’s not tuned in, you can get off-kilter. But not if you don’t want to.”

Mascot facts: The Eagle was chosen as the mascot by NC Central’s founder, Dr. James E. Shepard, in 1910. But at the beginning of each school year, he gave the student body a speech about the eagle and why it was chosen:

“The Eagle is no common, ordinary barnyard fowl,” Dr. Shepard explained. “And while a Sparrow clings to its flock, an Eagle soars alone.”

Prediction: Duke, 45-12. Central was down 31-7 to Elon at the half. So I guess they should be happy about winning the second half, 7-3. But that’s the same Elon team that North Carolina beat 62-0 in Week 1. Duke needs this one badly for its confidence, and the only real question in this one will be the margin.

Carolina Faces Its Stiffest Test Yet

North Carolina kicker Casey Barth set the North Carolina record for career field goals last week against Wake Forest.

North Carolina (1-1, 0-1) at No. 19/20 Louisville (2-0), 3:30 PM, ABC/ESPN2

The last time Carolina beat a ranked team on the road (No. 24 Florida State in 2010), Casey Barth kicked the game-winner with 55 seconds left to give Carolina a 37-35 lead. Barth was 2-of-2 on his field goal attempts at Wake Forest last week, but it was Carolina’s failure to score a touchdown that haunted them in a 28-27 loss.

“Offensively, we shot ourselves in the foot too many times: killed drives, kicked field goals instead of putting the ball in the end zone and that’s going to come back and hurt you,” North Carolina head coach Larry Fedora said.

The Tar Heels might be without star tailback Giovani Bernard – who was a late scratch against Wake – again this week. His backups, A.J. Blue and Romar Morris, did a more than capable job in his absence. But Bernard is a special player, as he showed last year against Louisville. Carolina won a defensive battle 14-7, and Bernard had 123 of their 264 total offensive yards.

The Cardinals have been impressive, thumping in-state rival Kentucky in the opener 32-14 and dispatching Missouri State 35-7 last week. And their defense will be a challenge for the Tar Heels again this year. Five of Louisville’s top seven tacklers from a year ago are back, and the defense has allowed just 21 points through two games and 311.0 yards per game.

The biggest matchup problem for the Tar Heels is Louisville’s passing offense (led by quarterback Teddy Bridgewater) against UNC’s secondary, particularly after the way Wake sliced and diced Carolina’s pass defense in a 28-27 win for much of the game. Like Wake, Louisville’s offense doesn’t get a ton of big plays, but can when necessary. The Cardinals are capable of getting yardage in chunks and have a nearly ten-minute time of possession advantage over opponents.

But Fedora isn’t necessarily concerned with time of possession. The Tar Heels have run 13 more plays than their opponents despite a 7-minute deficit in time of possession. But he was concerned when he heard his defense had 25 missed assignments against Wake. “When you have missed assignments and you start giving up plays because you’re not where you’re supposed to be, it definitely affected our mental makeup on that side of the ball, and that wasn’t good,” Fedora said.

Louisville will feature the best rushing attack Carolina has faced. Senorise Perry and Jeremy Wright have combined for 329 yards on 67 carries, averaging 4.9 per rush despite just two rushes of 20 or more yards. But Carolina has a stout defensive front that is capable of stopping the run: the Tar Heels have allowed just 53 rushing yards per game and held Wake’s ground game relatively in check. It’s the 295.0 passing yards allowed.

And that will be the issue. Bridgewater improved as last season progressed and has started off this year on a tear, completing 49-of-60 passes for 576 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. He’s mobile enough to evade the rush, and frankly, the Tar Heels are going to have to find a pass rush of any kind to have a chance.

“(Wake Forest quarterback Tanner Price) had two weeks to throw back there,” UNC defensive tackle Sylvester Williams said. “I told my guys on the d-line, we’ve got to be better next week. We’ve got to be better from here on out.”

The mistakes and missed opportunities in that loss to Wake Forest clearly still stings, but the Tar Heels have to make sure the loss doesn’t “beat them twice”, as Fedora put it. “It’s gone. It’s over with,” Fedora said. “The thing we’ve got to do is learn from the mistakes that we made so that we don’t make them again.”

Mascot facts: Louisville adopted the cardinal mascot in 1913, mainly because it’s the state bird of Kentucky. Wow, a mascot that makes sense! They jokingly call him “Louie” because of how “Louisville” is often mispronounced.

Prediction: Louisville, 34-24. With or without Bernard, North Carolina showed last week what its biggest issue will be this season: defense. Now, the Tar Heels will face a team that can run the ball well and throw it well (and efficiently) when necessary. Even worse, they’re facing a quarterback that is playing with a lot of confidence and can move around to avoid pressure.

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