What we learned in the ACC: Week 7

Here’s a look at five lessons learned in the ACC in Week 7, in no particular order:

Clemson can win with its defense. This is the biggest difference with the Tigers this year, and the reason they are still in the hunt for the national title heading into Week 8. For the second time this season, the defense found a way to win when the offense wasn’t clicking for four quarters. Led by national sack leader Vic Beasley, Clemson’s defense was the difference in its 24-14 win over visiting Boston College. Much like NC State did, the Eagles gave Clemson quite a scare. Clemson scored just three points in the first half against BC, but the game changed when Beasley scooped up a fumble by quarterback Chase Rettig and ran it back 13 yards for a touchdown.

Virginia Tech is shaking the shadow of 2012. Last year, it took 12 games for the Hokies to reach this milestone. This year, after reeling off six straight wins since its season-opening loss to Alabama, Virginia Tech is bowl eligible for the 21st straight season. With a 19-9 win over Pittsburgh, Virginia Tech is back in familiar territory, and further proving that last year was an anomaly, not the beginning of a trend. The Hokies have shown enough improvement on offense that they’re once again front-runners to win the division along with Miami. Virginia Tech’s defense was simply dominant against Pitt, yet another sign of improvement from a year ago, when Pitt’s offensive line had the upper hand. The Hokies are once again atop the division standings and can continue to stay there if they can continue to avoid turnovers.

Syracuse’s running game deserves respect. For the second straight game, the Orange have racked up more than 300 yards on the ground. Say what you will about NC State’s defense, but the Cuse did it against No. 3-ranked Clemson, too. Syracuse’s ability to run the ball was key in the Orange’s 24-10 win at NC State, the program’s first ACC win as a member of the conference. Jerome Smith and Prince-Tyson Gulley each ran for more than 100 yards and a touchdown as the Orange finished with 362 yards on the ground. Smith finished with 140 yards and ran for a 1-yard touchdown in the first quarter. Gulley ran for 132 yards and the 18-yard go-ahead score with 6:13 left. It was the first time Cuse has had two 100-yard rushers in a game since last year’s New Era Pinstripe Bowl win against West Virginia. Quarterback Terrel Hunt also added 92 rushing yards and a touchdown.

Duke can play a complete game. With the defense on lockdown against Navy’s option offense and quarterback Anthony Boone back in the starting lineup, the Blue Devils finally put together a complete four quarters. With all due respect to backup Brandon Connette, there’s a reason Boone is the starter. Duke is a different team with him in the lineup. In his first start since suffering a fractured collarbone against Memphis on Sept. 7, Boone threw three touchdowns and completed a remarkable 31 of 38 pass attempts. Equally as impressive was Duke’s defense, which has long been the program’s Achilles' heel. Clearly having played Georgia Tech a few weeks earlier helped with the preparation. Navy had three turnovers in its lowest-scoring output of the season. Duke went 4-0 against its nonconference opponents and is looking more and more like a bowl team.

The Terps can still win without C.J. Brown. With Brown sidelined with a concussion for what could be the last in the series against rival Virginia, backup quarterback Caleb Rowe and the rest of the offense came through in a 27-26 win over the Hoos. In his first start of the season, Rowe threw for a career-high 332 yards and completed 18 of 34 passes and one touchdown. There were plenty of other offensive answers, too, as Brandon Ross had 169 all-purpose yards, and Deon Long and Stefon Diggs both finished with just under 100 receiving yards each. It was Maryland’s first home win against UVa since 2005, and with the win, Maryland (5-1) has already surpassed last year’s win total.