Football, ACC Power Rankings

Florida State, Pittsburgh Take a Hit in Week Two ACC Power Rankings

Preseason | Week 1

For the second-straight season, Duke is off to a 2-0 start. Last year, the Blue Devils took off running, outscoring their first two opponents by a combined 77 points. This time around, head coach David Cutcliffe’s team has looked equally, if not more, impressive. In Week One, Duke avenged its 2017 loss to Army with a dominant 20-point victory. Then, this past weekend, the Blue Devils handed Northwestern a two-touchdown loss, all while weathering big-time injuries, marking the second-consecutive year in which they’ve recorded a decisive win over their Big Ten counterpart.

Entirely healthy or not, the Blue Devils are formidable. Defensively, they are locked and loaded, especially on the back end. One could even make the argument that Duke has one of the best secondaries in the ACC. Having only given up three touchdowns in the opening two weeks of the 2018 campaign, the Blue Devils rank 17th in the country in scoring defense. At this point of the season, though, the question’s always the same: Are they contenders or pretenders? After all, Duke rattled off four wins in a row to start last season, only to drop the next six before ultimately making a push for the postseason. This inquiry applies to not only the Blue Devils, but also a few of the other promising teams in the conference.

Just like last fall, an SEC team came close to upsetting the Tigers. Last year it was No. 13 Auburn—on Saturday it was Texas A&M. But with Jimbo Fisher on the sideline, it was really as if Clemson was up against another ACC powerhouse. Although the Tigers gave up 13 points in the fourth quarter, they buckled down when it mattered most, picking off Aggies quarterback Kellen Mond on Texas A&M’s game-tying two-point conversion attempt.

After traveling to Tallahassee, Fla. for a Week One primetime matchup, VTech dialed it back this past weekend, blowing out in-state FCS foe William & Mary. In practically one half of work, Josh Jackson racked up 217 yards through the air and a pair of touchdowns, one passing and one rushing. He was aided by a handful of running backs, namely Steven Peoples, who ripped off a pair of touchdowns in the first half. By the time intermission rolled around, the Hokies were on auto-pilot. Nine different Hurricanes reached the end zone against Savannah State on Saturday, and four quarterbacks orchestrated touchdown drives. When all was said and done, Miami tied off a 77-0 win—its largest margin of victory in program history and first shutout in three years. This isn’t the first time that the Hurricanes’ have eclipsed the 70-point mark against the Tigers, but there’s something to be said about a team getting its confidence back, regardless of the opponent at hand.

Against Holy Cross, A.J. Dillon rushed for 149 yards and three touchdowns—in the first quarter that is. All it took was six carries for the sophomore running back to lock up the ACC’s Running Back of the Week honors. BC removed both Dillon and starting quarterback Anthony Brown with more than a minute left in the opening frame. By then, the old-school reunion was already spoiled. The Eagles waltzed to their second-straight 30-plus point rout.

Daniel Jones was playing some of the best football of his collegiate career before he went down with a fractured clavicle in the second half. The junior threw for 159 yards and a trio of scores in the first two quarters of play, lighting up Northwestern for the second year in a row. Unfortunately for the Blue Devils, Jones isn’t the only one that’s bound to miss serious time. Cornerback Mark Gilbert—who led the ACC with six interceptions last season—suffered a season-ending hip injury. To say the least, Duke’s signature road win came at a cost.

It may be early in the season, but Ryan Finley sure is making his case for this year’s NFL Draft. Georgia State scored the first touchdown of the day. From that point forward, though, it was all Wolfpack. Finley completed 31 of his 38 pass attempts for 370 yards and two scores, hooking up time and time again with former walk-on slot receiver Thayer Thomas. All things considered, the senior signal caller is eventually going to need his running game—currently the 89th-worst in the nation—to shoulder some of the workload. A day before his brother put on an air show in Buffalo, Towson’s Tom Flacco exploited Wake Forest’s shaky pass defense, recording 345 passing yards and three touchdowns. Numbers aside, he and the Tigers were no match for Dave Clawson’s team. Sam Hartman continued to show flashes of former Demon Deacons quarterback John Wolford, and Greg Dortch logged 310 all-purpose yards and three scores, housing a pair of punt returns in the second quarter.

When FSU brought in Willie Taggart, fans and alumni were expecting to see a fast-paced offensive attack, maybe even an offense reminiscent of the one Taggart ran at Oregon. So far, the Seminoles have looked far from the part, nearly losing to Samford one week removed from being embarrassed by VTech on national television. Trailing with under five minutes to go, FSU’s $510,000 that it spent to play the FCS Bulldogs nearly went to waste. Fortunately for Taggart, this team still has the talent to regroup and make something out of the 2018 campaign.

It’s hard to win any game, in which you concede two kickoff return touchdowns and over 400 yards of total offense. It’s starting to look the Yellow Jackets’ Week One shutout—the program’s first in five years—was nothing more than a tease. Georgia Tech let South Florida walk over the field on Saturday, particularly quarterback Blake Barnett, who totaled 293 yards and four touchdowns in a contest that yielded 10 lead changes. The Yellow Jackets allowed 28 second-half points, rendering their 419 rushing yards obsolete.

Eric Dungey is in the making of a season for the ages. A week after setting the Syracuse quarterback rushing record, the senior almost etched his name into the books again, tying the program’s single-game passing touchdown mark with five scores in the Orange’s 52-point win over Wagner—and that was without even playing the fourth quarter. Dungey is on pace to shatter career highs, and for the first time since 1929, Syracuse has opened the season with a pair of 50-point performances.

Just when it looked like the Panthers were on the rise, head coach Pat Narduzzi’s team took a huge step back in one of the program’s biggest games of the season. Hosting longtime rival Penn State, Pittsburgh committed three turnovers and 14 penalties for 116 yards, including a holding call in the end zone that resulted in a safety. What was once a one-score game turned into a utter mess. Kenny Pickett was harrassed all night, mustering just nine completions and 55 passing yards. It’s back to the drawing board for Narduzzi and the Panthers.Most, myself included, expected Jawon Pass to slide right into the Cardinals’ offense, softening the blow of losing Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Lamar Jackson to the NFL. Turns out, we might have all been wrong. Following an understandably tough outing at Alabama, the sophomore severely underperformed against Indiana State. Recording eight completions and a first-half interception, Pass was yanked in the third quarter in favor of Malik Cunningham, who led Louisville to 24 points and 31-7 win. Perhaps we’ll see the freshman again.

When facing Indiana last season, Peyton Ramsey had his way with the Virginia secondary. But this year’s matchup was settled on the ground. Stevie Scott ran the ball 31 times down the Cavaliers’ throat, piling up 204 yards on the night, three shy of the Hoosiers’ single-game rushing record. That said, UVA held its own and Bryce Perkins—although inaccurate—turned heads for the second-straight week. Bronco Mendenhall’s team isn’t good, but it’s certainly exceeded expectations thus far.

Well, Nathan Elliott didn’t turn the ball over on Saturday, but he didn’t move the sticks either. The Tar Heels only recorded one touchdown in their Week Two defeat to East Carolina—the same team that lost at home the weekend prior to FCS North Carolina A&T. UNC was held scoreless in the second half of play and rounded out the day with 65 penalty yards, more than the Tar Heels logged on offense in each of the final two quarters of regulation.

Featured Image by Nicole Chan / Heights Editor

Graphics by Andy Backstrom / Heights Editor

September 13, 2018