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We discovered two more posers among the ranks of the undefeated last weekend. One of them was UCLA, whose 52-14 loss should not have been a surprise. With their weaknesses on defense, you knew the Bruins would implode sooner or later - although I didn't think it would be against a 2-6 team like Arizona. Even with that bad loss on their record, I still think the Uclans are capable of giving us an entertaining matchup with Southern Cal at the end of the regular season.
The real surprise was Virginia Tech, which seemed all but certain to breeze through the ACC regular season and championship game with a 12-0 record. I would not have thought it outside the realm of possibility that Miami could upset the Hokies in a close game, but never in a million years did I see the Hurricanes stomping their testicles like they did Saturday night in Blacksburg. It was ugly. The Hokies were thoroughly dominated from first to last, and Miami's pressuring defense made Marcus Vick look like a maroon-and-orange version of A. J. Suggs.
Miami now has the edge on Virginia Tech in the ACC Coastal Division standings, but it's not impossible that Miami could falter against either Georgia Tech (hey, it could happen!) or Virginia in their final games. What we do know for sure is that the ACC looks very ordinary right now without a single undefeated team in the conference.
On the bright side, Georgia Tech took care of business against Wake Forest as they should have and slipped back into the Top 25 in both the AP and USA Today polls (at number 24). Tech is now bowl eligible (for the ninth season in a row) and all but assured of going somewhere, even if they should stumble in each of their final three games.
The Jackets were good but not great on offense - as has been the case all season - but once again, the defense was solid and ensured that Tech would win even if they completely fizzled on offense. Wake Forest was the top rushing team in the ACC going into the game, but they averaged less than three yards a carry against Tech's front seven (100 yards on 35 rushing plays). Chris Barclay, a very underrated running back because he toils in obscurity for the Deacons, was held to 24 yards on 15 carries - an average of 1.6 yards per carry. That was the best job by Tech of shutting down a big-name running back since they stuffed Musa Smith for 12 yards on 11 carries in the 2000 Georgia game.
Defensive Coordinator Jon Tenuta is a grumpy guy who doesn't have a lot to say - basically, nothing - to sportswriters, but you have to give him credit for putting a consistently good defense on the field, game after game.
Let's look at some of the numbers to see what a great job Tenuta and the defense are doing this year.
In the category of total defense, Tech ranks 16th in Division I-A by giving up 298.8 yards per game. In rush defense, Tech ranks 14th by giving up a mere 102.4 yards per game. In pass defense, Tech is a little shakier but still ranks 33rd in surrendering 196.5 yards per game. The Jackets rank third in the nation with 16 interceptions, but in the category of recovered fumbles they are way down there in 63rd place with 7 fumble recoveries. In terms of total turnovers, Tech ranks 9th with 23 (16 interceptions and 7 fumbles recovered).
The statistic that counts the most is scoring defense, and here Tech ranks 21st because they allow an average of 19.0 points per game. This is a deceptive statistic because it includes the points Tech gave up to Virginia Tech in that 51-7 loss. In that game, the special teams were responsible for seven of the Hokies' points (on a blocked field goal returned for a touchdown) and the offense was responsible for 14 points (two Reggie Ball passes were intercepted and returned for touchdowns). If you throw out the Virginia Tech score, the Jackets defense has given up an average of 14.4 points in the other seven games - which would rank them among the Top 10 defenses in the nation.
Tech's defenders have accomplished all this despite the fact that the team's most dominant pass rusher, Eric Henderson, has missed half the season with injuries. The Jackets have also done it despite the pre-season loss of their two best interior defensive linemen (Travis Parker and Darryl Richard), and one of their best defensive backs (Reuben Houston). Jon Tenuta, come on down and take a bow for a job well done!
The big question now is, can that defense hold together enough for Tech to steal a victory or two in their three remaining games, where they will be underdogs in each game?
Head Coach Chan Gailey has been criticized by many experts (including yours truly) as a coach who can't get his team past that 6-5 level. He now has a chance to prove us all wrong - and all he has to do is win one of his last three games. If he wins two of his last three, he qualifies as ACC coach of the year. If he wins all three of them, he's in the running for national coach of the year.
Chan, redemption is yours. If you want it.
This week's picks -
Georgia Tech at Virginia. The Cavs are a five-point favorite in Charlottesville, where Tech hasn't won since that 41-38 classic in 1990 (for my money, still the most exciting ACC game ever played). The Jackets come into this game on a three-game winning streak, while Virginia is coming off an essentially meaningless 48-point victory over Temple. I think the Jackets can beat the five-point spread. Their best hope for victory may lie in the fact that Virginia could be looking ahead to the next game against archrival Virginia Tech. I want to believe that the Jackets can somehow win this one, but I keep coming back to Chan Gailey's 6-5 tendencies. Until Gailey shows me he can get over the hump, I'm picking the Cavs to win straight up but not cover.
N.C. State at Boston College. What is it with N. C. State? How can a team lose by 21 to Clemson and then beat FSU by five? I don't get it. For this game, I see the Wolfpack suffering a big letdown after that marvelous win over the Seminoles, while Boston College is still seething over that loss to North Carolina. BC wins straight up and covers the four-point spread.
Maryland at North Carolina. After upset wins over Virginia and Boston College, plus a pretty good effort against Miami, the Tar Heels are due for a slump. With an extra week to get ready for this one, Maryland wins outright.
Northwestern at Ohio State. The Buckeyes are 16-point favorites in Columbus, which I think is way too much considering that they're playing an over-achieving bunch of Wildcats. Northwestern will beat the spread but won't quite win it.
Memphis at Tennessee. The Vols are finally playing someone they can probably beat - although not by the 19 points the oddsmakers are giving. Phil Fulmer needs to resist any temptation to promote Randy Sanders back to offensive coordinator.
Navy at Notre Dame. Now that Kansas has broken its 36-game losing streak to Nebraska, Navy stands alone with its 41-game losing streak to the Fighting Irish. If any coach deserves an upset victory over Notre Dame, it's Paul Johnson and his Navy Midshipmen, but I don't believe it's in the cards. It might not be a bad play to take Navy and the 23 points.
Kentucky at Vanderbilt. The Commodores were royally screwed out of a chance to beat Florida last weekend when the officials called a questionable celebration penalty that kept Vanderbilt from going for a two-point conversion that would have won it in regulation play. Vandy should be resilient enough to bounce back and beat Kentucky, but not necessarily cover that 12 points.
Auburn at Georgia. Auburn and four points is the biggest gift of the entire weekend. If you're a serious gambler at all, grab those points and bet the farm. Auburn has been getting better since their opening loss to Tech and the War Eagles have a great history in Athens, where they've won nine of their last 11 encounters with the Chihuahuas. I look for them to win this one straight up, regardless of the spread - thus sending Florida to the SEC championship game from the Eastern Division.
Arkansas at Mississippi. The Rebels are a one-point favorite at home against the Razorbacks and I see no good reason to bet against that.
LSU at Alabama. Despite their undefeated record, Alabama is a two-point underdog at home because their offense is just a little bit sluggish. The Tide does have a heckuva defense but it won't pull them through against LSU, which covers the two points.
Florida at South Carolina. Steve Spurrier will be sky-high for this matchup against his old team, and he may be able to scheme a way for the Gamecocks to beat that five-point spread. Ultimately, the Gators win it straight up.
Miami at Wake Forest. Miami may lose another game this season, but it won't be in Groves Stadium. If Chris Barclay can find some seams when he's running the ball, the Demon Deacons may be able to penetrate the 16-point spread.
Dr Football's UVa Column
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