Second Thoughts About Week 10

I still don’t know what’s going on in the ACC, but I do at least have a new slogan for the league:

“The ACC: Where Heart Attacks Happen.”

Four games were played on Saturday. Two went to overtime. A third was decided on a fumble into the end zone in the final minute. The fourth had a 17-point comeback and two lead changes in the fourth quarter.

It was hard enough for me, a cold-hearted cynical journalist, to handle all the drama. I can’t imagine what it’s like to be a loyal fan of an ACC school right now.

Here are 12 more second thoughts I’m having about Week 10 in the ACC>

1) It’s never fun to be the fan of the losing team, but it must have been particularly excruciating to be a Virginia fan on Saturday. So many times the Cavaliers were this close to putting away Miami, only to blow the opportunity. Consider what Raycom analyst Doc Walker said early in the fourth quarter.

“Let’s not kid ourselves. The Cavaliers are a field goal away from ending this.”

Five times in the second half Virginia had the ball in Miami territory, needing only three points to secure the win. Instead, the Cavaliers missed two field goals, fumbled once and punted twice. The last two missed opportunities were particularly galling. On third-and-two from the Miami 27, with a seven-point lead, UVa QB Marc Verica took a terrible 12-yard sack to push the Cavaliers out of field goal range. Then, just when Verica looked to be moving the Cavaliers in position for a winning field goal, he was stripped by Miami linebacker Sean Spence.

That’s what you call snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

2) Kudos to the Raycom guys for this foreshadowing with just over eight minutes to play:

“You’ve got a feeling Doc, that something’s left to happen. Something big,” said Raycom play-by-play man Steve Martin.

Still, could you really have predicted that the Hurricanes, whose previous long drive of the second half was 26 yards, would somehow find a way to take it 95 yards for the tying score? If so, you’ve got a gift. Learn to profit from it.

3) Seriously, how unlikely was that game-tying drive for Miami? Consider that it started with the Hurricanes digging themselves into a third-and-13 hole, from their own 2. Consider that Miami was 1-for-11 in third-down conversions at that point. Consider that Walker was musing aloud if Marve was hurt – not exactly a ringing endorsement of the QB at the time, Jacory Harris.

Not only that, but Miami added to the degree of difficulty by having two plays that lost yards and three penalties. So actually, the the Hurricanes went 116 yards for the tying score. That after Miami had totaled 66 yards in its previous five second-half drives.

Yeah, we definitely should have seen it coming.

4) I know I’ve questioned how Randy Shannon’s handling his two quarterbacks before, but I’ve got to hand it to him and offensive coordinator Patrick Nix. I didn’t see anything that indicated Jacory Harris should be on the field to start that game-tying drive instead of Robert Marve, the better pure passer of the two. Apparently Shannon and Nix did, and obviously they were absolutely correct.

5) Looking back, I can make a case for why Georgia Tech had success running the ball against Florida State. The Seminoles defense has a reputation for being highly aggressive but not the most disciplined unit ever. That’s not exactly what you want when defending the option, which requires that players stick to their assignments and not just play see-the-ball-chase-the-ball defense. Still, for the first half it looked like FSU had never heard of the concept of the option offense, let alone spent a week practicing against it.

6) While the win over FSU served as yet another vindication of his offensive system, it also highlighted its chief vulnerability. The quarterback in an option attack is going to get hit often. It’s just a necessary hazard. Thus, the odds of Georgia Tech’s quarterback getting hurt are logically increased. That happened on Saturday when Josh Nesbitt went out with a sprained ankle. And when that happened, the Seminoles defense – which had previously looked powerless – held the Yellow Jackets scoreless the rest of the way.

In other words, if you’re going to run the option in the ACC, you’d better have a backup quarterback who can fill in without causing the offense to skip a beat. As evidenced by what Jaybo Shaw did – or rather, didn’t do – when he came in against FSU, I don’t think the Yellow Jackets have quite the insurance policy for Nesbitt they’d like right now.

7) Two more questions that popped into my head in the final moments of the Georgia-Tech FSU game.
a) What was GT defensive tackle Darryl Richard, arguably the smartest guy on the field, thinking when he got an offside penalty on a FSU punt late in the game? After getting the five yards, the Seminoles decided to go for it on fourth down and made it. That kept FSU’s final drive alive until …
b) Marcus Sims’ fumble. Why, exactly, was he the guy carrying the ball there? Wouldn’t you either go with Jermaine Thomas, the hot back in this game, or Antone Smith, the guy who’s proven all year he’s got a nose for the end zone? On the play before Smith was holding on to the ball with both hands, well aware that the Yellow Jackets would be looking to jar it loose.

8) Great win for Clemson, but tell me you weren’t having flashbacks to the Maryland game after the Tigers dominated 80 percent of game, took a 17-0 lead and yet found itself behind, 21-17, in the fourth quarter against Boston College.

The difference this time? C.J. Spiller. He went out with an injury against the Terrapins. Against the Eagles, Spiller had the key kickoff return, down to BC 15-yard line, that put the momentum back on Clemson’s side of the ball right after the Eagles had just taken the lead.

So is Dabo Swinney a better coach than Tommy Bowden? I don’t know. But having a healthy Spiller around certainly helps Swinney’s cause.

9) The whole Willy Korn situation grows more fascinating by the day. As Cullen Harper continued to pile up the interceptions against BC, I kept waiting for him to get the hook. Nope.

Swinney later said that Korn still wasn’t 100 percent and that he wasn’t sure the young QB could make downfield throws if need be.

That may be true, and that may even pacify Clemson fans for a bit. But what happens if Harper struggles against Florida State and Swinney continues to stick with him? That would force Tigers fans to choose between Swinney and Korn. It’d be yet another twist to the ongoing Clemson soap opera.

10) Speaking of sticking with a quarterback, what ever happened to Dominique Davis? Everything I’d read and heard indicated that the BC coaches were ready to give Chris Crane the hook, but that his performance against N.C. State changed their minds. I get that, but don’t you think the way Crane’s played in the three games since then might give them a reason to make the switch now? Or to at least go back to using Davis for a few series, just to let Crane know they mean business?

11) I don’t get ESPN 360 and the call by the Duke radio team didn’t really clarify things, so I checked with a few eyewitnesses about what really happened on that strange onside kick play. For those who need some background, after the Blue Devils took a 20-19 lead, Duke staged what looked to be a brilliant onside kick. Joe Surgan popped a short kick up in the air that wideout Johnny Williams caught on the fly, after it had traveled 10 yards.

Initially it looked like a great move by the Blue Devils. But the referees huddled together and gave the ball to Wake, on the grounds that Duke didn’t allow the Wake player room to make the catch. It’s a little known rule, but when the ball’s in the air on a kickoff, you have to give a player a chance to field the kick, just as you would on a punt. Now, if the ball’s kicked on the ground, that’s another story.

Here’s where Duke may have had a legitimate beef, though. By all indications, the Wake player closest to the ball, linebacker Lee Machow, was so caught off guard, that he wasn’t even aware the ball was coming his way. Eyewitnesses told me that the player was backpedaling, moving back toward the goal line to get into blocking position when suddenly he saw Williams with the ball in his hands. In that case, if Malchow wasn’t even making an attempt to field the kick, Duke was within its rights to grab the ball first. That’s an “if” that’s really hard to determine after the fact, though.

Did the call matter? Wake got a field goal on that possession, despite going nowhere on the drive. Given that the game eventually went to overtime, I’d say the onside kick was a pretty critical moment.

Everyone’s having a lot of fun right now discussing all the permutations and combinations that are possible now in the Atlantic and Coastal division races. I’ll try to cut through all the confusion and offer my prognosis.

The winner of the North Carolina-Georgia Tech takes the Coastal Division. The winner of the Florida State-Maryland game captures the Atlantic.

Hopefully that clears everything up. Of course, given my prediction record right now, it’s probably useless information.