In light of COVID-19, we all had to wait for it however ACC football is finally here.
SYRACUSE AT NORTH CAROLINA
In the Triangle (Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill — for those who are unfamiliar with North Carolina geography) the Tar Heels open things up Saturday at noon as they host Syracuse.
It’s been a unique start for any football team as conferences canceled or postponed their season due to COVID-19. The ACC had to completely revamp their schedule — meaning the Tar Heels didn’t know they’d be playing Syracuse until August 6th. That’s not a lot of time to prepare, and to add another wrinkle to things, the Orange have a new defensive coordinator this year in Tony White.
“We’re still not sure what the new defensive coordinator will do with his personnel,” UNC head football coach Mack Brown said Wednesday. “We’re looking at different possibilities. We feel like the offensive line has the biggest question marks on what Syracuse will do going into the game.”
The first quarter will be fluid as the Heels make adjustments. The Heels have a solid offensive core returning, and will rely on their sophomore quarterback Sam Howell.
Howell is coming off a heck of a freshman campaign — 3,641 yards passing, 38 touchdowns and only 7 interceptions. Howell was named ACC Offensive and Overall Rookie of the Year last season. Everyone is expecting big things from from Howell again this season. However, in a Zoom call Tuesday, Howell said he hasn’t let the preseason hype get to him. Howell said he holds himself to a high standard and knows that he has to put in the work to be everything people say he is and more.
Here are a couple of other things to look out for Saturday in Chapel Hill.
- UNC DEFENSE Headlined by linebacker Chazz Surratt and defensive back Storm Duck, the defense has only gotten better. Brown spent every call praising the efforts of the secondary, and said they’ve put pressure on the offense to improve. While Surratt is technically a linebacker, expect the Heels to use his talent at several different positions.
- COVID TESTING Depending on COVID-19 test results, players will not know if they can play until 9am Saturday morning. The Heels will have their last of three tests Friday afternoon and those results won’t be back until 9am — 9am before a noon kick. Let’s hope things don’t get dicey and depth charts won’t have to be revisited.
- OFFENSIVE LINE With depth in mind an area of concern for the Heels has been the offensive line. While Howell said he felt confident going out there behind the OL, coach Brown said he’d really like to have a few more players step up before he felt good about the Heels ability up front.
DUKE AT NOTRE DAME
Duke is at Notre Dame Saturday at 2:30pm on NBC. Yes, we finally get a full season of Notre Dame in the ACC. Duke head coach David Cutcliffe said his team is excited about kicking things off in South Bend.
“It’s a great opportunity to test your team,” said Cutcliffe Tuesday. “It’s a great opportunity to energize your team. And when we found out we were playing Notre Dame up there to open, I think that helped us realize how big a challenge that is. I think it really did infuse some energy into our camp and into the preseason work and practices.”
Duke has been a well-oiled machine, taking extra precautions for the health and safety of their players during COVID-19. While the ACC requires every team to test three times a week, Duke announced this week they will be moving to daily testing.
On Sunday, coach Cutcliffe announced quarterback Chase Brice as the Blue Devils starter. Brice is a grad transfer from Clemson, in 25 games played Brice completed 82 passes for 1,023 yards with nine touchdowns and four interceptions while rushing 30 times for 187 yards and one score.
“I think Chase you know, as he got more comfortable with our system what you started seeing was his experience,” said Cutcliffe Tuesday. “He’s played a lot more football at this level than the other two have. Chase played a lot of games and saw a lot of game time at Clemson. You could see that pocket movement and him just feeling natural in a pocket. The timing mechanism of throws and as he got more comfortable his accuracy level grew in all of the throws whether it was deep ball’s or intermediate short layoffs. He just became more and more the most comfortable quarterback on a day to day basis. As the week closed out last week, I think it became more obvious and then we made the decision to start him at the Notre Dame game.”
For Notre Dame, they are led by three-year starter Ian Book. Last season Book became the first Irish quarterback with 2,500 passing yards, 500 rushing yards and 30 touchdown passes in a season — the only other QB to do that last year? Jalen Hurts, the Oklahoma quarterback who went No. 53 overall to the Eagles this past April.
The Irish haven’t lost at home since Sept. 30, 2017 and while the atmosphere will be quite different (Notre Dame is limiting attendance to 20% or less with priority going to the students), there may actually be more on the line this season.
“It’s an established goal now to win a championship in the ACC,” Notre Dame head football coach Brian Kelly said Tuesday. “Our mission is to win a National Championship and graduate all of our players. We’re able to talk in terms of our mission being to win a championship and now either an ACC Championship and if you win that you obviously keep your mission alive for a National Championship. So you have both of them now in your eyes and in your vision for what you want to accomplish during the season.”
The Irish return everyone on their offensive line and have a defense that was ranked No. 12 in the country last year. For Duke this will be a much different match-up than what was supposed to be a home-opener against Middle Tennessee State pre-COVID.
NC State fans have to wait another week for game action, but in the meantime Pack fans can watch Clemson at Wake Forest Saturday night and get excited for an 8pm matchup with the Demon Deacons next weekend.