Second Thoughts on Week Four

I hear all the time from friends, family and relative strangers that I’m so lucky because part of my job involves watching sports on television.

And for the most part, they’re right. But there are times when I feel like I’m underpaid. Times when I wonder if I will make it through this 2008 football season with my vision intact.

Because for the third time this season I had to watch a Saturday night ACC football game that made me want to claw out my eyeballs.

First it was Clemson-Alabama. Then UVA-UConn.

This time around Wake and FSU gave me nightmares Saturday evening.

It’s a shame, really, because for the second straight Saturday the ACC had a great day marred by an atrocious nightcap. The league went 6-0 in out-of-conference play, with Georgia Tech (38-7 over Mississippi State), N.C. State (30-24 over ECU) and Miami (41-23 at Texas A&M) all rolling up impressive wins.

The only conference game during the day didn’t disappoint either. Virginia Tech showed it’s still the class of the Coastal Division by winning at UNC, 20-17, while in defeat the young Tar Heels showed they’re not far away from joining the elite (as long as T.J. Yates is healthy) UPDATE – Yates has a non-displaced fracture in his left ankle and is out at least six weeks.

Throw in solid wins by BC (34-7 over UCF) and Maryland (51 points against Eastern Michigan) and you could feel the ACC finally beginning to wash off the stench of Clemson’s opening weekend loss to Alabama.

Until they kicked off in Tallahassee.

I’ll admit it. The Noles suckered me in. I know they were only rolling over FCS teams, but the way the did it was so dominating that I figured the young talent on FSU’s roster had finally solved its offensive problems.

Boy was I wrong. The first note I jotted down, right after Christian Ponder threw an awful interception on his first pass, was this:

“That really reminded me of Chris Rix.”

The rest of the game Florida State’s offense reminded me of a Jeff Bowden production. I know Wake has a stout defense, but still – seven turnovers?

The sad thing was I don’t even think the Deacs felt good about walking away with a 12-3 win. They blew countless scoring opportunities, either through fumbles or – gasp! – three missed field goals by Sam Swank.
Instead of being impressed by Wake’s third straight win over FSU – let that one sink in for a moment – I was left thinking the Deacs got lucky that its sloppy performance came against an opponent that couldn’t take advantage.

Hopefully I’m overreacting.

Twelve more second thoughts about Week Four.

1) Four-hundred thirty-eight rushing yards against a stout SEC defense. And the Yellow Jackets did it with backup quarterback Jaybo Shaw running the show for most of the game. Anybody still think Paul Johnson’s option defense won’t work on the major conference level?

2) So that’s what the N.C. State coaches saw in Russell Wilson. As impressive as his three TD passes were, my eyebrows were really raised on one long incompletion. Scrambling to his right away from pressure, Wilson threw back across his body about 40 yards down the field to an open receiver. Next time you’ve got to make that catch Jarvis Williams.

3) So Tom O’Brien is now 3-0 in rivalry games, a marked change from the end of the Chuck Amato era. Here’s one theory why: the man has in inhuman level of calm. His expression never changed until the final whistle. Against opponents like ECU and UNC, the players bring all the emotion they need. It’s up to the coaches to channel it properly. O’Brien and his poker face do that well.

4) While Wilson was putting the QB issue to rest in Raleigh, Chris Crane may have saved his job in Chestnut Hill. Or maybe he just bought himself more time. Will the BC coaches focus more on Crane’s three second-half scores (two rushing, one passing) or his three INT’s?

5) Meanwhile the Children of the Korn continue to grow in numbers in Clemson. Backup Willy Korn was flawless in garbage time for the Tigers after Cullen Harper struggled again. Tommy Bowden made it clear on Sunday that there’s still a gap between his two quarterbacks, but Larry Williams of the Charleston Post & Courier brings up the potential parallel between Harper and Korn and Will Proctor and Harper in 2006. Food for thought.

6) Maybe the most important thing to come out of Maryland’s 51-24 win over Eastern Michigan was kicker Obi Egekeze’s stat line: three of three field goals. True, none was over 33 yards in length, but those were critical baby steps taken toward rediscovering his 2007 form.

7) One other note about State’s stunner over ECU. The Wolfpack did it despite losing its best player – Nate Irving – to an ankle injury midway through the second quarter. O’Brien and his staff are the MacGyvers of the ACC. They’re putting together a team with chewing gum, a paper clip and a pine cone.

8) Rumors are circulating in Chapel Hill that T.J. Yates’ ankle injury may be serious. If so, that’s big trouble for the Tar Heels. Yates’ backup, Mike Paulus, didn’t look ready for the bright lights when he came on in relief. Of course, coming in cold at the end of the third quarter against Virginia Tech is hardly ideal. (UPDATE Yates has a non-displaced fracture in his left ankle that will keep him out at least six weeks. Yikes.)

9) If Paulus does have to step in for Yates, then UNC must find its running game. I’m still not seeing that Greg Little-Marcus Allen comparison, Butch.

10) All that weeping and gnashing of teeth in Blacksburg, yet here the Hokies sit, in the driver’s seat in the Coastal Division. And they still haven’t tapped into Tyrod Taylor’s potential yet. They may have found their power running game, though, if the fourth quarter in Chapel Hill is any indication.

11) I said after the Florida game that Robert Marve looked like the real deal, despite an unimpressive stat line. Looks like I might be right, for once. I know Texas A&M is way down, but putting up 41 in College Station is impressive in any year. Big game coming up for the Hurricanes against Butch Davis and the Tar Heels.

12) I don’t want to kick the Seminoles any more when it’s clear they’re down, but there’s this to consider. It was already an awkward situation when a program outsider, Jimbo Fisher, was named the coach-in-waiting in Tallahassee. How much more tense will it get if his offense keeps looking like Jeff Bowden 2.0?