Atlantic Coast Conference Quarterly Report
Notable Stat Leaders
Awards and Accolades
Offensive Player of the Quarter
QB Bryce Thompson, Duke Blue Devils
51/69 (73.91%) for 838 yards, 8 TD, 0 INT; 22 carries for 170 yards (7.73 YPC), 4 TD
Defensive Player of the Quarter
CB Trevor McKinney, Virginia Tech
4 tackles, 2 INTs, 2 PDs, 1 TD
Special Teams Player of the Quarter
KR Caleb Stuckey, North Carolina
108 punt return yards, 1 punt return touchdown, 157 kick return yards
Offensive Freshman of the Quarter
RB Demarion Moore, Clemson
70 carries for 513 yards (7.33 YPC), 7 TD, 1 FUM
Defensive Freshman of the Quarter
OLB Lawrence Echols, Clemson
7 tackles, 3 TFLs, 3.0 sacks
Three Biggest Surprises
True Freshman Running Backs
The ACC has featured four true freshman running backs so far this season (Miami's Javorius Monroe is a redshirt), and all have made a notable impact in some way or another. The most obvious example comes in the form of Demarion Moore, Clemson's quick and furious running back. After usurping incumbent Josiah Brock in the spring, Moore has gone on a tear in non-conference play, racking up 513 yards and 7 touchdowns while becoming the main focus of the Tiger offense. Takoda Sheldon of NC State doesn't have the explosive nature of Moore, but he's filled in nicely for the graduating Keith Harley thus far, rushing for 256 yards and finding the endzone on five separate occasions while proving to not carry the butterfinger trait that plagued his predecessor. Franklin Bell (BC) and Mario Stewart III (LVL) haven't yet exploded on to the scene, but the former is adjusting to BC's pass-oriented offense while the latter has done what has been asked of him in the Cardinals' air raid system.
Virginia Tech's Season-Saving Defense
Crushing loss to Oklahoma, the current #1 team in the country, aside, Virginia Tech have made the most of a more brutal out-of-conference schedule. Few fancied their chances against a West Virginia team revitalizing their program or an Ohio State team expecting to challenge for the Big Ten Conference Title, but the Hokies were able to KO-punch both by means of a very stingy defense. In those two win, the Hokies forced three turnovers - two being McKinney interceptions with the one against WVU being the deciding factor as it was returned to the house - gave up 182 passing yards on average, sacked the opposing quarterback four times, and gave up a total of 33 points, most notably a solid 9 from the Buckeyes. The offense hasn't done the Hokies many favors, but how much will that matter if the defense is able to keep them in games? A bleaker outlook at the start of the season should be adjusted to expect at least a bowl game from VT.
The 'Noles Have Their Offense
It's been a rather difficult road for Florida State since the departures of Benjamin Schuler and Luke Cobb, but sticking to QB-RB tandem of Brett England and Noah Wooten is finally paying dividends for a Seminole team looking to upend Clemson and return to their throne atop the conference. England has shown impressive efficiency in the early stages of the season, completing 70.27% of his passes and throwing for 732 yards with 5 touchdowns and zero turnovers. Wooten has 60 carries for 284 yards with 4 touchdowns of his own while failing to cough up the ball to the other team (he has put one on the floor however). The development of receiving weapons Mateo Gates and A.K. Schwab as well as the emergence of Marshall Egan and the consistent presence of tight end Wyatt Cornett provides the Seminoles with an entire arsenal of options in the passing game, and England has used them all magnificently as each have over 130 yards on the season with at least one score apiece. They appear to be Clemson's closest challenger, so can the offense keep up their pace?
Three Biggest Disappointments
A Steeper Drop-Off Than Expected
2023 was always going to be a rough year for Georgia Tech, with the departures of longtime quarterback Josh Beckett and his favorite target Anthony Swanson coupled with what's been described as a massive failure on the recruiting trail setting up the Yellow Jackets for a few rough years of transitioning. Freshman quarterback Jacob Ramsey has shown his rookie woes, throwing three interceptions and owning a sub-55% completion percentage. Top receiver Gabriel Sewell is tied with two others for the most drops in the conference and has only one touchdown to his name. The running game has long been a mark against the Yellow Jackets, and that remains as true as ever with Jonah Crawley taking snaps. The defense has been beyond atrocious, allowing opposing QBs to complete over 70% of their passes while giving up over 150 yards per game on the ground. Nothing about their first quarter to the season has been pretty, and with road trips to Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech fast approaching, it appears that it's only going to get worse. Their trip to DeKalb to play Northern Illinois in Week 5 might well be their only victory of the season, although trips to Syracuse and North Carolina give a little bit of hope.
A Soldier Gone MIA
For the past three years, the most consistent part of Virginia's defense has always been Soldier Brooks, the Cavaliers' marshal and bonafide leader. While the Cavaliers have rocketed off to a 2-1 start (a start that could well be 3-0 had the leg of Simon Morton worked against a challenging Illinois team), they've done it mostly in no part to the senior linebacker. A sole statsheet appearance against West Virginia is all Brooks has to his name so far, with his only impact in that tight victory being half a sack and six tackles. It hasn't really hurt Virginia so far, but arguably THE most heralded defensive player in this draft class has to find his groove again if the Cavaliers are truly to challenge Duke for the Coastal title.
A Year Away....Again
It's been hard to gauge the Hurricanes thus far. An opening loss to rivals Florida shouldn't be as damning as it's shown to be. An escape against a talented UCF team shouldn't be seen as shocking. Getting so close to knocking off Missouri shouldn't be a disappointment. So why are things this way? Because The U is supposed to be back this year, not next year. Sure, the 'Canes scheduled a bit too tough out-of-conference (praise Bowling Green although it's late in the season), but the bar was set high for this team - this is supposed to be the year they take the Coastal mantle from Duke and return to Charlotte for the first time since the Brett Fisher era. Logan Wilson hasn't looked awful but he's looked like a freshman quarterback, moreso than fellow freshman dual-threat Luca Maguire of NC State. Javorius Monroe had an extra year to learn the playbook but looks worse than the other freshman running backs so far. Mario Roberson appears to be the only real receiving threat. They've struggled quite a bit defending the run, which bodes horribly ill given the rushing threats at Duke and Virginia. There's still time to right the ship but until they can prove that, The U is not back.
Three Games to Watch, Quarter 2
Miami (FL) at Pittsburgh, Week 5
I just mentioned that the Hurricanes have time to right the ship. That starts this week in a hostile environment against a tough division foe in Pittsburgh. The Panthers have struggled against a tough non-conference schedule, taking a heavy loss to Tennessee while coming just shy of the upset against Penn State. Pittsburgh have issues of their own, but one that isn't really talked about is the lack of production from sophomore running back Brayden Pepper (38 carries for 113 yards, 2 TDs). Miami's porous rush defense might prove to be what Pepper needs to jump-start his season, whereas Miami's stout pass defense is well-prepared for Messiah Winston and his dangerous wide-outs. This game is pivotal for both teams as they try to assert themselves as true challengers to the Blue Devils.
Virginia at Duke, Week 6
Speaking of challengers to the Blue Devils, the Cavaliers - currently regarded as Duke's nearest threat - get their shot at the two-time defending Coastal champs in Week 6. Solder Brooks has a prime example to show up and put an end to Duke's insane rushing game, as both Christian Collins (126.67 YPG) and Bryce Thompson (56.67 YPG) have kept the pedal to the medal since that defensive bout against Alabama. The Cavaliers only give up 70.67 rushing yards per game, so something's going to give come that time in Durham. On the flip side of the coin, Virginia's offense looks to take advantage against a recently rattled Blue Devil defense, although they're going to need more from Mike Lucas (or does Coach Beeznik make the change to the highly touted Jeremy Ellington?). The winner of this game is in prime control of the Coastal, and a Virginia win could very well lead to a changing of the guard at the end of the season.
Virginia at Clemson, Week 8
Perhaps that changing of the guard might have to wait, however. If Virginia were to beat Duke, they'd have a significantly less margin for error as they visit Death Valley just two weeks after their divisional showdown. If Duke's rushing attack is insane, Demarion Moore is just straight up loco. Perhaps more importantly, however, is just how multi-dimensional this Clemson offense has shown to be, albeit against weaker opposition. Theo Chamberlain has been superb out wide thus far while Andrew Harrison has been the favorite target inside the red zone. Virginia has the kind of secondary that can slow down Clemson's pass attack, but will they be able to contain both Moore and the receivers? Will their offense, which has mostly struggled in the air, be able to keep up with the Tigers if the defense can't hold serve? Duke may be the most important game on Virginia's schedule but Clemson is certainly a team the Cavs want to punch in the jaw.