Clemson (3-0, 1-0 ACC)
What worked : Quarterback Tajh Boyd threw for three touchdowns and wide receiver Sammy Watkins caught 10 passes for 96 yards. The defense was effective in getting the Wolfpack off the field; N.C. State converted only three of 16 third downs.
What needs work : Teams continue to get to Boyd with their pass rush. And the normally accurate Boyd overthrew several receivers in the first half in Raleigh. The Tigers arent dominant enough defensively for the offense to look mediocre.
Whats next : A Saturday home date against a Wake Forest team that has looked less than formidable so far. If the Tigers are as good as their ranking, this one should be a breeze.
Duke (2-2, 0-2 ACC)
What worked: Duke head coach David Cutcliffe called Saturdays game the most unusual game he has ever been part of in his three-decade career. Late in the third quarter, the Blue Devils were down by 23 points, but they kept playing and put themselves in a position to steal a win at the end. As Cutcliffe said, certainly we could execute better, but not play any harder.
Junior receiver Jamison Crowder had an all-conference type day, accounting for 279 all-purpose yards (141 receiving yards, 109 punt return yards and 29 rushing yards) and three touchdowns. And Brandon Connette did play better than he did last week against Georgia Tech, making quicker decisions and finishing 21-for-32 passing for 323 yards and four touchdowns. Connette also led Duke in rushing with 101 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries. He also threw four interceptions, all of which were the result of his correctable errors.
What needs work: The Blue Devils will have trouble winning any ACC games with defensive performances like Saturday. The defense forced just one Pitt punt in the first half (that Crowder took 82 yards to the endzone for a score). Cutcliffe identified 17 explosive plays for the Panthers, and they gained an average of 25 yards on each of them for a total of 424 yards (Pitt averaged 2.8 yards per play on the other 62). The defensive line also put virtually no pressure on Pitt quarterback Tom Savage, who threw an ACC-record six touchdown passes and finished 23-for-33 for 424 yards.
The secondary consistently struggled to match up against Pitts receivers. Tyler Boyd and Devin Street are all-ACC caliber (and each had more than 150 yards receiving), but virtual unknown Kevin Weatherspoon also caught four passes for 58 yards. Cutcliffe said the staff would evaluate the personnel and schemes used, but Duke may be short on alternatives in both categories.
Whats next: The Blue Devils take a much-welcomed pause from ACC play and host Troy (2-2), which hails from the Sun Belt Conference. The Trojans are coming off a 62-7 loss against Mississippi State, so this will be an opportunity for the defense regain its confidence.
N.C. State (2-1, 0-1 ACC)
Lost to No. 3 Clemson, 26-14
What worked: Defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable could not have asked for a better effort from his group. The Wolfpack defense consistently pressured Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd and kept the Tigers from getting into high gear. Given some of the problems against Louisiana Tech and Richmond, holding Clemsons offense to 415 yards and three touchdowns was a solid outing.
What needs work: Nine penalties are too many, especially the formation and procedural variety, which cost the Wolfpacks offense yards and caused timing issues. Quarterback Pete Thomas just hasnt been able to get the offense in rhythm the way Brandon Mitchell did in the seasons first two series. Thomas showed some fight and heart against the Tigers, especially in the second half, but he shouldnt lead the team in rushing attempts (14), which he did on Thursday.
Whats next: N.C. State hosts Central Michigan at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday at Carter-Finley Stadium. The Chippewas (1-3) lost to Toledo, 38-17, on Saturday. As the head coach at Northern Illinois, Dave Doeren split two games with the Chippewas.
North Carolina (1-2, 0-1 ACC)
What worked: The Tar Heels couldnt have asked for a better start on Saturday, and led 13-0 and 20-7 before the Yellow Jackets began to find their offensive rhythm midway through the second quarter. UNCs defense, which struggled mightily against Georgia Tech last season, played well enough to give UNC a chance. Georgia Tech still amassed 428 yards 324on the ground but UNC held the Yellow Jackets to an average of 5.2 yards per play, a significant improvement from last season. Offensively, the Tar Heels played well early and tight end Eric Ebron had the first 100-yard receiving game of his career. He finished with six catches for 108 yards and a touchdown.
What needs work: UNC was never the same after its 82-yard touchdown early in the third quarter was called back because of a holding penalty. It seemed to deflate the Tar Heels, who could have held a 27-14 lead if the play had counted. UNCs defense struggled to stop the Yellow Jackets throughout the second half, but what hurt the Tar Heels the most was their inability to sustain their own drives. UNC gained just 62 yards in the second half, and ran 18 plays. Its inability to get anything going on offense allowed Georgia Techs ball-control option rushing game to take control. The Tar Heels ground game, meanwhile, struggled again. UNC ran for just 101 yards and only 22 during the second half.
Up next: The Tar Heels host East Carolina at Kenan Stadium this weekend. The Pirates nearly beat Virginia Tech earlier this month, so UNC cant afford to look ahead to its game next week against the Hokies.
Wake Forest (2-2, 0-1 ACC)
Beat Army 25-11
What worked: The Deacons best offensive players had big games, and thats what got to happen for Wake Forest to win this season. Running back Josh Harris rushed for 96 yards and two touchdowns, and Michael Campanaro caught a 66-yard touchdown pass. The Deacons defense forced two Army fumbles and recovered them both.
What needs work: The Deacons couldnt put Army away in the first half, leading only 10-5 after two quarters. Wake Forest allowed 357 total yards.
Whats next: The Deacons travel to 3rd-ranked Clemson (3-0, 1-0) on Saturday. The Tigers will have had eight days off after beating N.C. State 26-14 last Thursday.
The Charlotte Observer welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views.
Have a news tip? You can send it to a local news editor; email email@example.com to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Charlotte Observer.Read moreRead less