Where’s the defense? ACC teams lighting up scoreboards

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 28, 2021

By Jimmy Golen

AP Sports Writer

BOSTON — Atlantic Coast Conference teams are lighting up scoreboards lately, and Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall isn’t exactly loving it.

The son of a defensive end who played safety in college and worked as a defensive coordinator before taking over the Cavaliers, Mendenhall said he would prefer a 13-6 victory to the 48-40 shootout his team won last weekend against Georgia Tech.

“In those rare occasions where we might win 7-3 or 7-0 and it’s a defensive touchdown that we score on — yeah, I’ll relish those moments,” Mendenhall said this week. “But in today’s world of college football, those are few and far between.”

Especially in the ACC.

Across the state from Charlottesville, where the Yellow Jackets and Cavaliers were combining for 88 points, Syracuse and Virginia Tech put 77 on the scoreboard Saturday. And that was just a few hours after Florida State scored 59 against UMass and No. 13 Wake Forest beat Army 70-56.

“That was crazy,” said Syracuse defensive lineman Cody Roscoe, who noticed the Wake Forest score. “Seventy is a lot of points, and Army put up about 50 or something. That was a crazy scoring game.”

Overall, ACC teams are scoring about five points more per game this year than in 2019, the last full season, while the FBS overall is down more than two points per game.

Pittsburgh is fourth in scoring with 45.3 points per game, and Wake Forest is fifth; Virginia and North Carolina are also in the top 20. Four ACC schools are averaging more than 36 points — in 2019, only Clemson did so; 11 have averaged more than 400 yards per game, compared with six in the last non-pandemic season.

The conference also has five of the top 10 touchdown scorers in the country, led by Virginia’s Brennan Armstrong, who has 28 (23 passing, five rushing). Armstrong leads the nation with 3,220 passing yards — one of a handful of ACC players atop the national leaderboards in offense.

Also No. 1 in the country: Louisville quarterback Malik Cunningham, with 13 rushing touchdowns; Pittsburgh receiver Jordan Addison, with 10 TD catches; and Syracuse’s Sean Tucker, with 1,060 rushing yards.

Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett, who opted to return for another season when the NCAA granted everyone another year of eligibility because of the pandemic, is third in total touchdowns with 26, and Panthers defensive coordinator Randy Bates thinks that’s a clue as to why scoring is up.

“I really, truly believe that the COVID year, fifth-year guy has really benefited offenses,” he said. “For those guys, that extra year is like a rookie in the NFL-type guy.”

Wake Forest, a school that sent Tim Duncan and Chris Paul to the NBA, put up a basketball score in beating Army. It was the second-highest scoring game involving an ACC team, trailing only Pitt’s 76-61 victory over Syracuse in 2016.

“Yeah, it was frustrating,” Army coach Jeff Monken said. “If I was a fan of football and just watching, that’s a fun offense to watch. I hate I had to watch it from our sideline.”

While UMass is a one-win independent that has given up at least 40 points in six of seven games, Army entered its game against Wake Forest with the No. 6 defense in the country, allowing a total of 282 yards per game. The Black Knights had won 13 straight at Michie Stadium.

“To dismiss it that was it against a weak defense wouldn’t be accurate,” Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson said.

The Demon Deacons scored on nine of 10 full possessions — all of them touchdowns — and added another on an interception that was returned for a score. But they needed just about all of it: Army answered with 56, and it was still a one-score difference with seven minutes left in the fourth quarter.

“Every time we were out there, we felt like we needed to score,” Clawson said. “And every time except once, that we didn’t convert a fourth-and-1, we scored.”

On the way home, Clawson told offensive coordinator Warren Ruggiero it might be time to rest on his laurels.

“If I was him, I’d retire,” Clawson said. “That’d be a mic drop right there, right?”