The ACC has featured some pretty terrific defenses over the past several years, and has another outstanding one this season in No. 1 ranked Florida State.
But beyond the Noles, there have been several bumpy defensive performances through the first three weeks of the season. Last week alone, four ACC teams gave up 35 or more points. Wake Forest and Virginia gave up more than 50, in league play no less. In all, four different teams have given up 50 or more points in the first three weeks of the season. Is this a growing trend or just happenstance?
Though it is early in the season, four teams are allowing 30 or more points per game, and three are giving up 400 or more yards a game. Last season, only Duke and Wake Forest gave up more than 30 points and 400 yards a game.
Let us look at the happenstance argument, which seems to apply in the cases of Wake Forest and Virginia. One week after limiting up-tempo North Carolina to 27 points, the Deacs allowed Florida State to score 52. Coach Jim Grobe said he was extremely disappointed in his team's performance and that he thought injuries played a key role. Wake was without starting noseguard Nikita Whitlock and used several other players who either did not practice or were limited in the week leading up to the game, including starting defensive end Zach Thompson.
Still, his team ran into what is looking like a pretty powerful Noles squad, one Grobe called "a pretty special football team."
"As good as Florida State is, we saw some things in the game that we could have done better," Grobe said Wednesday. "I think we saw where some of our weaknesses are. We’ve got some things we can work on. I think we have the potential to be a good football team, but I don’t feel like we’re there, so it exposed us on Saturday. We have thoughts personnel-wise, guys that need to go up on the depth chart, but overall we came away feeling we played a very good team."
Grobe said it would be a stretch to think that Whitlock would be able to play this week against Army.
At Virginia, the Hoos played pretty well in their first two games, but things snowballed on this team against Georgia Tech in a 56-20 loss. A key point to remember is that they only had a week to prepare for the Georgia Tech offense and have young players who have not seen extensive action previously against the Jackets.
"Defensively, guys have played well, but you get into a special type of offense that requires details ... you can’t play cautious, you can’t play intimidated, you can’t guess on reads," London said Wednesday. "They got on us early and they stayed on us. You’ve got young guys back there in the back end ... we didn’t play as well as we needed to. So you move forward with that mindset that you don’t dwell on what they didn’t do and you start focusing on the style of offenses we’ll play from this point on."
TCU presents a huge challenge for a young Virginia secondary because it has athletic receivers and a quarterback in Casey Pachall who has gone 33-of-39 for 536 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions. We will have a better idea about this Virginia defense after its trip to Fort Worth.
Miami, on the other hand, may be in for a long season. The Hurricanes are the only team in the ACC that has given up 30 or more points twice in three games, including that ugly 52-13 loss at Kansas State. Injuries and youth have really impacted this team, which seems to have the furthest to go at improving. Miami currently ranks No. 100 in total defense and will have its hands full against Georgia Tech on Saturday.
The defenses across the ACC may end up being just fine, but there is no question several teams need much better performances this weekend to make up for some early missteps.