ACC football previews: Deacons, Wolfpack face off in key clash
Published 12:00 am Friday, November 12, 2021
By Aaron Beard
AP Sports Writer
Both Wake Forest and North Carolina State entered the season with ambitions of dethroning six-time reigning Atlantic Coast Conference champion Clemson, first by knocking the Tigers from atop the league’s Atlantic Division standings.
The 13th-ranked Demon Deacons and 21st-ranked Wolfpack meet Saturday night with a chance to take a huge step toward that goal (7:30 p.m. ACC Network).
Wake Forest (8-1, 5-0, No. 12 CFP) leads the division race with its only loss coming to North Carolina. But that loss didn’t count in the league standings because the game was part of a nonconference series arranged by the schools in 2015 because they weren’t playing as often amid the expanded league’s scheduling rotation.
The loss likely knocked the Demon Deacons — and therefore, the ACC — out of the College Football Playoff race. Coach Dave Clawson is hoping his players bounce back quickly knowing that the outcome doesn’t impact whether they can make next month’s league championship game.
“I think when the season started, if you say that you’re going to go into November and you’re undefeated in the ACC, and you still by your play and your preparation can control whether you’re in Charlotte or not, I think everybody in our program would take this,” Clawson said. “So we’re exactly where we want to be.”
A win by the Demon Deacons will put them up at least two games in the loss column on every other league team, meaning they’d only need to win one of their final two – at Clemson and at Boston College – to clinch the Atlantic race.
N.C. State (7-2, 4-1, No. 16 CFP) suffered its only league loss by one against Miami on Oct. 23 but has won two straight league games since.
The Wolfpack also cleared a major hurdle in the division race by taking down the Tigers in double overtime in September, and could add the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Demon Deacons, too.
“I think for us since we lost that game to Miami, we’ve been approaching every game as a must-win game,” Doeren said. “So we’ve been kind of in a playoff mode, I guess you’d say, for the last two games. … We have to win this game, the next game and the next game to be in Charlotte, as far as us controlling it.”
Both quarterbacks are among the nation’s best in a strong year at the position in the league.
Wake Forest’s Sam Hartman is eighth in the Bowl Subdivision in passing (319.2 yards per game) and tied for fifth in touchdown passes (27) with only five interceptions. N.C. State’s Devin Leary is 17th in passing (275.0) and tied for seventh in TD throws (25) with three picks.
Wake Forest receivers A.T. Perry and Jaquarii Roberson have helped Hartman with the ability to find the end zone and make tough catches. Perry is tied for third in FBS with 10 touchdown catches, while Roberson is tied for 11th with eight. The duo have combined for nine 100-yard games this season.
THE KEY MATCHUP
The defensive edge goes to the Wolfpack. N.C. State is tied for sixth nationally in scoring defense (16.0) and sits at No. 19 in total defense (321.4). That unit has played well in recent wins against Louisville and Florida State despite the unit losing four starters to season-ending injuries, including all-ACC linebacker Payton Wilson. That unit faces the country’s No. 3 scoring offense (44.7) and sixth-ranked total defense (508.7).
Both teams have reliable kickers to finish drives.
Wake Forest’s Nick Sciba hit a late field goal to beat Louisville in early October and has made 90% of his field goals for his career, which is on pace to tie for a national record. N.C. State’s Christopher Dunn has bounced back from three missed kicks in the Clemson win and has made his last six.
Wake Forest has won eight of nine meetings at home since 2001, a streak that included wins against eventual NFL quarterbacks Philip Rivers, Russell Wilson, Mike Glennon and Ryan Finley. The Wolfpack’s only win in that stretch came in 2015.
Virginia Tech, Duke look to end disappointing losing streaks
By Hank Kurz Jr.
AP Sports Writer
Virginia Tech and Duke enter their ACC matchup this weekend looking to end disappointing losing streaks.
And while the Hokies will be celebrating Senior Day Saturday, there are questions about coach Justin Fuente’s future.
The Hokies (4-5, 2-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) have lost four of their last five games, including the last three at home.
While their entrance to Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” has long been considered among the best in college football, it has increasingly become an opportunity for fans to lustily boo Fuente, who is in his sixth season and 42-31 overall.
When Syracuse completed a 45-yard scoring pass with 19 seconds left for a 41-36 victory, fans began chanting “Fire Fuente” almost immediately.
The coach would prefer the attention be on the seniors finishing their careers.
The Blue Devils (3-6, 0-5) are trying to reserve a downward trend of their own. Duke has lost five straight with only one of those— 31-27 to Georgia Tech — has come by single digits.
“Our job as a staff is to get them playing better, and that’s where it falls on my shoulders,” coach David Cutcliffe said. “And their job as a squad is to take that coaching and put that into effect on the game field. It’s a collective opportunity to create better habits to win games. That’s simply where we are right now.”
The Blue Devils won’t face an elite league quarterback in this game, and might not even face Virginia Tech starter Braxton Burmeister. He sustained an upper body injury in a 17-3 loss at Boston College. “He’ll go if he can,” Fuente said earlier this week.
BLUE DEVILS QB
Duke quarterback Gunnar Holmberg’s availability will be a game-time decision. Holmberg left the Blue Devils’ 54-29 loss to Pittsburgh last weekend after taking a sack and appearing to injure his left side. If he can’t go, Riley Leonard, a freshman who replaced Holmberg at Pitt, will likely get the nod.
HOKIES’ GROUND GAME
A bright spot for the Hokies has been the development of tailback Malachi Thomas over the last three games. He topped 100 yards against Syracuse and Georgia Tech and had 70 yards on 13 carries in the loss to Boston College.
Duke has leaned heavily on Mataeo Durant all season. Durant ranks fifth in the Bowl Subdivision by running for 118 yards per game, and last week became the first Duke player to reach 1,000 yards in a season since Chris Douglas in 2003.
“He’s earned it,” Cutcliffe said of the attention Durant is receiving. “We’ve all seen it. Thank goodness he’s a far cry from being done. He’s feeling good. He’s hungry.”
Fuente hopes Hokies fans will focus more on honoring the 20 or so seniors wrapping up their careers than on expressing their distaste for their coach.
“I hope they support our players,” he said. “I’ve never seen them do anything other than support our players so I don’t think it will be any different.”
Other ACC matchups
Miami, which has won three straight over Florida State, is very much in Coastal contention and can’t afford to falter. It’s Senior Day for FSU, which has lost two straight and is a 2.5-point underdog, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.
The Hurricanes have had decisive wins in the past two meetings with the Seminoles, including 52-10 last year, and have surged behind redshirt freshman QB Tyler Van Dyke, but the previous five games in the rivalry were all decided by five points or less.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
According to ESPN Stats & Info, there are just seven Power Five QBs with 20 touchdowns, 2,000 yards passing and 200 yards rushing — and five are from the ACC. They are Louisville’s Malik Cunningham, North Carolina’s Sam Howell, Pitt’s Kenny Pickett, Virginia’s Brennan Armstrong and Wake Forest’s Sam Hartman.
Virginia QB Brennan Armstrong. His status could come down to a game-time decision when Virginia plays No. 7 Notre Dame on Saturday night. Armstrong, who sustained a rib injury in a loss at BYU prior to last week’s bye, leads the ACC in passing yardage (3,557) and has thrown 27 TD passes.