Duke's Vernon picks up ACC record
Notebook: Smith shines for Ga. Tech; Miami defense struggles
Conner Vernon was in 7th grade and his brother was a high school junior when their father made a shrewd purchase.
“One day, my dad and my brother went to throw me the football,” Conner said last week. “And after 50 balls, my dad’s arm was ready to fall off, so he invested in a Jugs machine. Ever since then he’s been shooting us footballs.”
The investment certainly paid off. Vernon broke the previous ACC record of 232 catches against Virginia on Oct. 6. Six minutes into the first quarter, he caught a pass for a two-yard loss from Anthony Boone. That reception broke the former mark by Clemson’s Aaron Kelly.
Vernon sits in fourth place on the ACC’s all-time list for receiving yards. Five games remain for the Blue Devils and he is 398 yards short of tying Peter Warrick’s ACC record.
Vernon grew up on Key Biscayne, Fla., a small island 10 miles from Miami, and cheered for the Hurricanes as a kid. In high school, however, no Florida school offered him a scholarship.
Last week, Duke coach David Cutcliffe said Vernon’s athleticism stood out before he committed to the Blue Devils.
“Conner was a big-time play-maker in high school. We had him in camp,” Cutcliffe said. “I think the thing that shocked me was not only how fast he was, but his ability to accelerate. He can change gears well and quickly and go get a ball.”
Cutcliffe said that Vernon is exactly the type of player you want to hold a conference record.
“He’s a very, very bright young man,” Cutcliffe said of Vernon. “He uses his mind as well as his body. He is just a super young man, and we couldn’t be more proud of someone being a record holder. He is a great-student athlete, and a great person.”
The Blue Devils' regular-season will conclude when the school hosts Miami (Fla.) — Vernon’s childhood team. Vernon hopes that game won’t be his last. The Blue Devils are one win away from bowl eligibility — a game that can be one final chance for Vernon to showcase his hands.
Boston College (1-5, 0-3 ACC)
• Boston College avoided a shutout in Tallahassee when Bobby Swigert hauled in an 18-yard touchdown from Chase Rettig in the second quarter. On offense the Noles outgained the Eagles 649 to 225 yards in the 51-7 romp.
• BC made a significant hire last week when it announced Brad Bates as its new athletic director. Bates, who came from Miami (Ohio), looks forward to finishing the season and then assessing where the program is headed.
• This week, the Eagles hope to exploit a Yellow Jackets' defense that recently fired its defensive coordinator. Alex Amidon, a junior receiver, is second in the conference with 114.7 yards receiving per game and could be the player to do it. He was named ACC receiver of the week after he made eight catches for a career-high 193 yards in a loss to Clemson in September.
Next Game: at Georgia Tech Oct. 20
No. 14 Clemson (5-1, 2-1 ACC)
• If Florida State loses another conference game, the Tigers have a chance to win the Atlantic Division. The Noles still have to play three conference games on the road (Miami, Duke, Maryland).
• Wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins has had at least five catches and 88 yards in each of Clemson’s six games. He may not get the national attention Sammy Watkins does, but his 129.5 receiving yards per game leads the ACC.
“He’s developed mentally, but the physical part has really allowed him to become a dominant player,” coach Dabo Swinney said. “He was probably 170-something [pounds], maybe 180 when he got here; he’s 200-something pounds now, strong.”
Next Game: vs. Virginia Tech Oct. 20
Duke (5-2, 2-1 ACC)
• The Blue Devils led 20-0 in the first quarter after Jordon Byas returned a Logan Thomas interception for a touchdown. The lead shrunk to 20-17 at the half, and quickly became a deficit for the Blue Devils as the team failed to score in the second half against the Virginia Tech defense.
“About two and a half, three hours ago, all of us would be feeling a bit differently if the game ended after the first quarter,” David Cutcliffe said during postgame interviews. “I think our bubble feels burst. It hurts [Saturday]. It hurts a lot.”
• Duke’s next chance to become bowl eligible comes against rival North Carolina. At home, the Blue Devils will try to clinch bowl eligibility for the first time since 1994.
Next Game: vs. North Carolina Oct. 20
No. 12 Florida State (6-1, 3-1 ACC)
• Following an upset loss that effectively pushed it from the national championship game conversation, the Seminoles left nothing to chance at home as it crushed Boston College. E.J. Manuel threw for a career-high 439 yards and his career completion percentage (67.7 percent) currently tops Virginia’s Matt Schaub (67.0 percent) as the best in conference history.
• Florida State will need its defense to slow down a Hurricane attack that has scored at least 38 points in each of its four wins. FSU allows just 3.45 yards per play, the second-best mark in the county, only behind Alabama (3.13).
Next Game: at Miami (Fla.) Oct. 20
Georgia Tech (2-4, 1-3 ACC)
• Paul Johnson fired defensive coordinator Al Groh last week and handed Charles Kelly, the secondary coach, control of the defense for the remainder of the year. Kelly, who is in his seventh year on the Yellow Jackets' staff, needs to revamp a defense that is ranked 91st of 124 teams nationally.
• Running back Orwin Smith has been one bright spot for the Yellow Jackets. Smith leads the country in yards per rush, averaging 11.31 yards although it has come on only 32 carries.
Next Game: vs. Boston College Oct. 20
Maryland (4-2, 2-0 ACC)
• Last week, Terps' defensive end A.J. Francis said Maryland was “old-fashioned American cheese,” while Virginia was “like provolone or Brie.” Dairy analogies aside, Francis and the Terps won in Charlottesville 27-20 to remain undefeated in conference play.
• Freshman phenom Stefon Diggs made several dynamic plays against the Cavaliers, namely a 100-yard kickoff return on the game’s first play. “With Stefon, nothing he does surprises me,” coach Randy Edsall said after the game.
• The Terps' top-10 ranked defense will face a challenge against the Wolfpack offense, led by quarterback Mike Glennon. The Maryland defense is allowing only 278.7 yards per game, a mark just below the 280.2 passing yards the NC State offense averages.
Next Game: vs. NC State Oct. 20
Miami (Fla.) (4-3, 3-1 ACC)
• The Tar Heels dealt Miami its first ACC loss last weekend and now the Hurricanes may not have a healthy starting quarterback. Stephen Morris was helped off the field in the fourth quarter after he hurt his left ankle. He did not return.
• The Miami defense has struggled this season. It allowed 506.6 yards per game and 6.45 yards per play through six games. The Seminoles' offense may not be as good as its defense, but it’s still an impressive unit that, if the Hurricanes don't remedy some defensive shortcomings, could put on a show on Saturday.
Next Game: vs. Florida State Oct. 20
NC State (4-2, 1-1 ACC)
• Coach Tom O’Brien said Mike Glennon’s performance against Florida State a year ago was “night and day” compared to last week. “Last year he took sacks, didn’t get rid of the ball on time,” O’Brien said. This time, Glennon converted three fourth-down plays during the game’s final drive.
• NC State travels to College Park, Md., this weekend, where it looks to notch another conference win following its upset win against then-No. 3 Florida State. It is the first of back-to-back road games for the Wolfpack, who play in Chapel Hill on Oct. 27.
Next Game: at Maryland Oct. 20
North Carolina (5-2, 2-1 ACC)
• Before Saturday, the last time Giovanni Bernard played on the Sun Life Stadium field, he lost a Florida state title game in high school. Last weekend, he ran for 177 yards on 27 carries in a 18-14 win against Miami (Fla.) — just one week after he had a career-high 262 rushing yards against Virginia Tech.
• Sports fans are more accustomed to watching important UNC-Duke games at Cameron Indoor Stadium, but Wallace Wade Stadium will serve as a the site for Saturday’s crucial contest. The Tar Heels have the chance to deny Duke its sixth win, an accomplishment that may be the small token of pride for a Tar Heels team that cannot play in the postseason this year as a victory would be UNC's sixth.
Next Game: at Duke Oct. 20
Virginia (2-5, 0-3 ACC)
• The Cavaliers dropped its homecoming game 27-20 to Maryland. Phillip Sims started at quarterback for Virginia, but was pulled for Michael Rocco.
“We’re going through some adversity here on the football field. That’s what happens,” coach Mike London said after the loss. “The worst thing we could do now is start pointing fingers and blaming and things like that.”
• Virginia’s best chance to win a conference game this year may be at home against the Demon Deacons. After that, the Cavaliers remaining ACC games are at NC State, versus Miami (Fla.) and North Carolina at home, then at Virginia Tech.
Next Game: vs. Wake Forest Oct. 20
Virginia Tech (4-3, 2-1 ACC)
• The Hokies looked shocked after falling behind Duke by 20 points on Saturday. The team responded with 41 unanswered points. The win ensures Virginia Tech still has a chance to win at least 10 games for the ninth consecutive season.
• Virginia Tech’s defense has been average through Week 7, yielding 381.3 yards per game. Bud Foster’s unit will need to be at its best for the Hokies to have a chance against the Tigers at Memorial Stadium.
Next Game: at Clemson Oct. 20
Wake Forest (3-3, 1-2 ACC)
• The Demon Deacons had an open date last weekend, one that coach Jim Grobe said the team needed to recover physically and get its spirits up. Wake Forest’s 19-14 loss at Maryland was particularly tough considering kicker Jimmy Newman missed two field goals in the game.
• Last week, Grobe said that noseguard Nikita Whitlock looked like his old self against the Terps. Whitlock missed two games due to injury earlier this season. He notched seven tackles and a sack against Maryland.
Next Game: at Virginia Oct. 20