Appalachian State (1-3, 0-1 Sun Belt)
Lost to Georgia Southern 34-14
What worked: Mountaineers freshman quarterback Taylor Lamb showed poise in the first half when the Eagles threatened to run away with the game. Lamb led the Mountaineers on two scoring drives to cut the Eagles’ lead to 24-14 at halftime. Lamb completed 23-of-42 passes for 256 yards and ran for 29 yards and a touchdown.
What needs work: Appalachian State’s red-zone offense failed miserably early in the second half, with the Mountaineers coming up short on a fourth down and Lamb throwing an interception one possession later.
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What’s next: Appalachian State plays its first home Sun Belt game Saturday, facing South Alabama at Kidd Brewer Stadium. The Jaguars (2-2) beat Idaho 34-10.
Clemson (2-2, 1-1 ACC)
Beat North Carolina 50-35
What worked: The decision to start freshman Deshaun Watson at quarterback was a spectacular success. Watson threw for 435 yards and a school-record six touchdowns. Granted, the Tar Heels’ defense is horrible, but Watson is the kind of talent that will end up on the NFL’s radar, if he hasn’t already.
What needs work: Clemson’s defense started well, forcing North Carolina to punt its first five possessions. But then the Tar Heels scored touchdowns off five of their next seven possessions. The pass defense allowed Marquise Williams to complete 24 of 38 passes for 345 yards and four touchdowns.
What’s next: Clemson hosts N.C. State at 3:30 Saturday on ESPNU. This will be a matchup of quarterbacks with a knack for extending plays with their feet. The Wolfpack’s Jacoby Brissett gave Florida State fits before the Seminoles’ comeback from a 24-7 deficit.
Duke (4-1, 0-1 ACC)
Lost at Miami 22-10
What worked: Punter Will Monday had his strongest game of the year. He had plenty of chances – nine punts in all – and averaged 49.2 yards per punt. Three times he pinned the Hurricanes inside the 20 and kicked another two into the end zone, minimizing the return damage.
What needs work: The offense as a whole needs to do the basics better: throwing, catching and snapping the ball (there were multiple mishandled shotgun snaps and snap infraction penalties). And while the offense is figuring out its issues, the defense needs to minimize big plays.
What comes next: A well-timed open date for Duke. In two weeks, the Blue Devils resume play at Georgia Tech.
North Carolina (2-2, 0-1 ACC)
Lost to Clemson 50-35
What worked: The Tar Heels didn’t fold after trailing 20-0. That was one positive, and perhaps the greatest positive, for UNC – especially given the team’s shaky mental state following the embarrassing loss at East Carolina the week before. This time, though, the Tar Heels tried to come back and they made it interesting, at times, in the second half. UNC scored four second-half touchdowns – two of them on passes to T.J. Thorpe and Ryan Switzer, both of whom turned short passes into big plays. UNC finished with 478 yards and Marquise Williams passed for 345 yards and four touchdowns. Offensively, and especially in the passing game, there are some things to build on. Also worth noting: UNC’s makeshift offensive line held its own, mostly, against Clemson’s defensive front.
What needs work: It’s the same old, same old for UNC: Defense and penalties. Defensively, it’s fair to wonder at this point whether the problems can be fixed. The Tar Heels aren’t going to face the kind of quarterbacks they’ve faced the past two games every week, but even so, UNC’s pass defense has been abominable. Sometimes on Saturday UNC’s best pass defense was to commit an obvious pass interference penalty rather than give up a touchdown pass. And the penalties: There were 15 of them for 130 yards, including three personal foul penalties.
Up next: The Tar Heels host Virginia Tech at 12:30 on Saturday at Kenan Stadium. Statistically, the Hokies rank in the 60s nationally in total offense, and their per-play average of 5.42 yards ranks 81st nationally. So if UNC’s defense can’t stop Virginia Tech, the Tar Heels’ season could become very ugly, very quickly.
N.C. State (4-1, 0-1 ACC)
Lost to Florida State 56-41
What worked: Nearly everything N.C. State’s offense ran in the first quarter. The Wolfpack jumped out to a 24-7 lead behind junior quarterback Jacoby Brissett and running back Shadrach Thornton. Brissett threw for a career-best 359 yards with three touchdowns. Thornton rushed for 85 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Freshman receiver Bo Hines, who scored on the second play of the game, caught eight passes for a season-best 103 yards.
What needs work: The defense couldn’t sustain its fast start. The Wolfpack gave up 49 points after the first quarter and 35 in the second half. FSU was able to get its running game going with 126 yards from Karlos Williams, and Jameis Winston threw for 365 yards and four touchdowns. N.C. State’s secondary gave up a lot of room to top FSU receiver Rashad Greene, who finished with a game-high 11 catches for 125 yards and the go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter.
What’s next: N.C. State travels to Clemson (2-2, 1-1 ACC), where it hasn’t won since 2002. The Tigers are coming off of a 50-35 home win against North Carolina. The Tigers have won 9 of the past 10 meetings with the Wolfpack in the Textile Bowl. The game will kick at 3:30 p.m. and will be televised by ESPNU.
South Carolina (3-2, 2-2 SEC)
Lost to Missouri 21-20
What worked: The defense, a struggle all season, held Missouri to seven points and 181 yards over the first three quarters Saturday. Of course, all that was negated by the mess in the fourth quarter that left the Gamecocks 2-2 in the SEC East and perhaps eliminated them from conference-title contention.
Pharoh Cooper had a spectacular 52-yard touchdown reception, living up to the playmaker status coach Steve Spurrier predicted for him preseason.
What needs work: Remember when South Carolina had a home-field advantage? That’s old news after South Carolina was blown out by Texas A&M in the season opener and edged by Missouri.
The victory against Georgia was built on ball-control. The offensive line has at times been a huge strength this season. But a three-and-out in the fourth quarter set Missouri up for the late-game victory.
What’s next: The Gamecocks play at Kentucky Saturday at 7:30 on the SEC Network. Usually you can pencil in a victory against the Wildcats, but Kentucky gave Florida a game and this is not the South Carolina team of the past two seasons.
Wake Forest (2-3, 0-1 ACC)
Lost to Louisville 20-10
What worked: The Deacons limited the Cardinals’ potent offense, which had been averaging 38 points entering the game, to 20 points and 206 yards passing.
What needs work: Wake Forest continues to struggle running the ball, finishing the game with minus-22 yards. The Deacons ended up with 100 total yards.
What’s next: Wake Forest plays at top-ranked Florida State, which rallied to beat N.C. State 56-41.
Lost to Charleston Southern 47-41 (OT)
What worked: The 49ers’ quick-strike offense scored nearly at will in the second half, overcoming a 34-17 deficit to send the game into overtime. Charlotte scored on five drives that lasted fewer than three minutes and rolled up 573 total yards. Tailback Kalif Phillips (196 yards rushing) and receiver Austin Duke 12 catches for 251 yards) set single-game school records.
What needs work: Charlotte’s defense couldn’t cope with Charleston Southern’s triple-option offense, allowing 617 total yards. The 49ers don’t have the luxury of forgetting about defending that kind of offense: they play The Citadel and its triple-option in two weeks.
What’s next: The 49ers play at Gardner-Webb (2-3), which lost to The Citadel 37-14.