News With Commentary by TSL Staff

Thursday, October 28, 2004
by Stefan Adams,

Defense is King in the ACC

With the addition of Miami and Virginia Tech to the Atlantic Coast Conference this season, the quality of football has risen across the board. The elevation of competitiveness amongst the conference foes is most obvious in the quality of defense that is on the field through the first eight Saturdays this fall.

Virginia Tech is one of seven ACC teams to be ranked in the top 23 for total defense in Division-I football. To put that number in better perspective (as if that is not good enough already), there are only four ACC teams that are not in the top 20 percent of defenses in college football. In order of national rank by yards given up per game, the teams are North Carolina State (2), Virginia Tech (7), Florida State (8), Georgia Tech (18), Virginia (20), Maryland (21) and Miami (23).

On the outside looking in are Clemson (47), Wake Forest (65), Duke (101), and looking in from waaaay outside is North Carolina (116 out of 117).

With respect to scoring defense, eight ACC teams rank among the top 50 with Virginia Tech leading the pack at fifth (only giving up 11.6 points per game).

Unfortunately, with every positive, there is a negative. For the Atlantic Coast Conference this season, it has been offense. Only one ACC team ranks in the top 40 for total offense, and that is Virginia (8th).

Here is a breakdown of the 11 ACC teams’ total offense and defense, with the national rank in parenthesis:

ACC Offensive and Defensive Stats, Rankings
(through games of 10/23/04)


Total Offense

Total Defense


293.00 (107)

348.86 (47)


258.57 (117)

437.29 (101)

Florida State

385.00 (42)

265.71 (8)

Georgia Tech

352.17 (74)

288.00 (18)


312.14 (94)

293.86 (21)


366.17 (67)

301.67 (23)

North Carolina

371.00 (63)

503.86 (116)

North Carolina State

379.57 (52)

234.00 (2)


465.43 (8)

292.86 (20)

Virginia Tech

363.00 (69)

265.43 (7)

Wake Forest

380.57 (49)

375.43 (65)

The defense-heavy conference has meant that nine of the 23 conference games played have been decided by a touchdown or less (three overtime games and several late, decisive goal line possessions). Furthermore, no team is safe at home: teams playing at home in the 23 ACC games have posted a 13-10 record.

Around the ACC after Week Eight

Clemson (3-4, 2-3 ACC)

The Tigers seem to be heating up as the season progresses. Tommy Bowden’s team has yielded just two touchdowns in its last two games and has improved its yards allowed average by 72.9 yards. Junior Justin Miller continues to be a standout on both special teams and defense. As the return man for the Tigers, Miller ranks second nationally in kickoff returns and 13th in punt returns. Meanwhile, on offense, receiver Airese Currie leads the conference in catches and yards per catch and is looking to be the first Tiger to do so since Perry Tuttle did it in 1980. Clemson hosts a down-trodden North Carolina State (4-3, 3-2) team on Saturday at noon that will be broadcast on ESPN2.

Duke (1-6, 0-4)

The Blue Devils were in the path of an angry Virginia football team last Saturday but put up a pretty solid fight for most of the game against the Cavaliers. Several Blue Devils had very positive days last Saturday, including quarterback Mike Schneider who completed 18 of 30 passes for 191 yards and two touchdowns. Tight end Ben Patrick reeled in five catches for 97 yards—both career highs. The Blue Devils were able to spread the passing game out to include 11 different receivers on Saturday while Cedric Dargan ran the ball 21 times for his second career 100-yard game. ACC interceptions leader John Talley has caught four passes from opposing quarterbacks and has returned two for touchdowns, which is sixth best in the country. The Blue Devils head over to Winston-Salem to take on Wake Forest in a noon game that will be televised regionally on the Jefferson-Pilot sports network.

Florida State (6-1, 4-1)

After demolishing Virginia on the national stage, the Seminoles traveled to Winston-Salem and escaped with a 20-17 victory over Wake Forest. The Seminoles are 34-0 in October ACC games. Defensive back Jerome Carter led the team in tackles for the second week in a row and the defense Carter is a part of did not yield an offensive touchdown for the second consecutive week. Other notables after Week 8 are kicker Xavier Beitia’s numbers: he has made 65 consecutive point-after attempts and is currently second in the ACC for career points. The Seminoles have impressively converted 14 of 16 fourth down attempts this season and lead the nation in time of possession (31:37). The Hokies are just behind their conference foes (Tech maintains the ball 31:19 of the 60 minutes). FSU travels to Maryland to take on the Terps (3-4, 1-3) in a Saturday afternoon game beginning at 8:30.

Georgia Tech (4-2, 3-2)

The Hokies’ Thursday night foe had last weekend off in preparation for the national showdown. The Yellow Jackets’ defense has elevated to another level by decreasing the amount of yards it yields by 78.5 per game over the course of the last two games. Chan Gailey’s defense has found its place in opposing backfields: Tech has 17 sacks in the last three games. Offensively, quarterback Reggie Ball is third in the conference in total yards and his freshman receiver Calvin Johnson leads all members of his class with receiving yards per game (65.8). The Hokies’ standout freshman Eddie Royal is averaging 32.2 receiving yards per game this season. Georgia Tech plays Virginia Tech for the second time in the history of the two schools. The game is Thursday night at 7:45 on ESPN.

Maryland (3-4, 1-3)

The Terps have the conference’s leading tackler in linebacker D’Qwell Jackson (11.1 per game). Jackson racked up 18 tackles in his team’s 10-7 loss at Clemson on Saturday. Fellow defender Shawne Merriman is averaging 1.86 tackles for loss per game, which is best in the conference. Other standouts on the Terps are on special teams. Kicker Nick Novak is the conference’s all-time leading scorer and the country’s active leading scorer with 372 points. Punter Adam Podlesh is eighth nationally in punting (44.7 yards per punt) and return man Steve Suter is the conference’s all-time leader in return yards with 1,269. Maryland returns home to take on No. 5 Florida State at 3:30. The game will be televised by ABC.

Miami (6-0, 3-0)

The Hurricanes were firing on all cylinders for most of Saturday night’s game against N.C. State. Senior quarterback Brock Berlin has been settling down and threw a school-record tying five touchdowns against the Wolfpack. Nine of his 13 touchdowns are against conference opponents this season. Teammate Devin Hester has been terrorizing foes on special teams with his return ability. He opened Saturday night’s festivities with a 100-yard kickoff return. Hester ranks third in punt returns and fourth in kickoff returns nationally. When the Canes score first, they are a tough unit to keep up with: since 1983, Miami is 174-15 when lighting up the scoreboard before its opponent can. Miami is heading back to North Carolina this Saturday to take on the Tar Heels (3-4, 2-2) in another night game that will be televised on ESPN2 beginning at 7.

North Carolina (3-4, 2-2)

While the Tar Heels have not put up big numbers in terms of points or yardage in the majority of their games, they are playing fundamentally sound when it comes to penalties. North Carolina leads the ACC in fewest yards penalized (34.1), which is fourth best in the country. The Heels also get the job done when they reach the red zone; UNC has converted 23 of 26 possessions inside the opposing 20-yard line. Jacque Lewis is the team’s leading rusher, averaging an impressive 7.1 yards per carry. North Carolina has the nation’s toughest schedule in the eyes on many experts and will take on No. 3 Miami on the national stage at home this Saturday.

North Carolina State (4-3, 3-2)

After being manhandled by first-place Miami, the Wolfpack still remained second in total defense in the country. N.C. State can still rely on tailback T.A. McLendon, who had over 100 yards in the first half against the Hurricanes. Coach Chuck Amato seems to have settled with Jay Davis at quarterback. Davis has 985 passing yards and five touchdowns in his last four games. The Wolfpack are looking to regroup this weekend and will take on a hot Clemson team on the road beginning at noon on Saturday.

Virginia (6-1, 3-1)

The Cavaliers were able to regroup after the pounding they received from conference foe Florida State to beat Duke by a mark of 37-16. Tailback Alvin Pearman was the star of the show with a career-high 223 yards and a touchdown. He was just one yard shy of the school record owned by John Papit that dates back to 1948. Pearman’s total was part of a 348-yard rushing effort compiled by the Cavaliers, the highest total under coach Al Groh. Tight end Heath Miller is averaging 50 receiving yards per game which is seventh-best in the conference. The Cavaliers have the weekend off.

Virginia Tech (5-2, 2-1)

The Hokies had the weekend off to prepare for their game against Georgia Tech on Thursday night. Quarterback Bryan Randall is coming off a performance in which he threw four touchdown passes against Florida A&M—in the first half. Tech is 48-8 when scoring a defensive or special teams touchdown since 1993 and will be looking to make that 49-8 come Thursday, if possible. The Hokies have found their kicker in the form of Brandon Pace who is currently third in the country, averaging two field goals per game (he is 14 of 18 on the year). The nationally seventh-ranked defense leads the conference in both scoring defense and red zone defense. Offensively, Tech is averaging 20.6 first downs each game. The No. 22 Hokies will be in Atlanta playing on ESPN Thursday night beginning at 7:45 in a pivotal conference game against Georgia Tech.

Wake Forest (3-4, 0-4)

Despite suffering another close loss, the Demon Deacons have several players who are performing well on the field. Freshman linebacker Jonathan Abbate is eighth in the conference in tackles per game and punter/kicker Ryan Plackemeier leads the conference in punting. Quarterback Cory Randolph continues to improve—he has only thrown three interceptions in his last 202 attempts. Head coach Jim Grobe is becoming accustomed to nail biting finishes: 23 of his 43 games have been decided by a touchdown or less. Wake Forest should pick up its first conference win this weekend against Duke in a regionally televised game that begins at noon.

*Information in this article was used from,, and


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