Opening week for the Coastal Division featured blowouts and close shaves of all sorts. Teams like Duke, Georgia Tech and the Hurricanes pummeled their lesser non-conference opponents. But North Carolina, Pittsburgh, Virginia and Virginia Tech stumbled out of the gate. Here we'll sift through the muck and mire and see if we can't get a better read on our Coastal opposition.
Foremost, injuries have taken its toll on our conference foes. Whether that's Pittsburgh's loss of 2014 ACC Player of the Year James Conner for the season or Michael Brewer's game altering absence, it's never easy to handle. Now, with three more non-conference matches and conference play ahead of them, how might these division members prepare for life without their impact players?
Pittsburgh has much more that needs improving than just replacing James Conner.
Losing Conner leaves the Panthers without the do-everything back whose play and impact on the team proved more valuable than all. Freshman running back Qadree Ollison filled in admirably when replacing Conner against Youngstown State, rushing for 207 yards on 16 carries in his debut. But the Panthers lackluster quarterback play and 37 points given up defensively tells of much larger problems. Returning starting quarterback Chad Voytik and Tennessee transfer Nathan Peterman combined for 133 yards on 11 of 18 passing with one touchdown and an interception apiece in the opener.
On defense, Pittsburgh surrendered 407 yards to the Penguins, despite the outstanding play of linebacker Nicholas Grigsby, who accounted for 10 tackles, two sacks and a pass broken up. Other than winning third downs, allowing conversions on just 3 of 16 attempts, and Grigsby, the Panthers struggled against Youngstown State.
When the Panthers travel to Akron, an opponent they lost to 21-10 at Heinz Field a year ago, a clearer image of this team should show itself. As of this moment, though it's early in the year, their play against Youngstown State has them appearing a level below that of the other Coastal Division contenders.
With the loss of Michael Brewer and his ability to open up the passing game, Virginia Tech's offense may struggle.
If memories of last year are any indication, the Hokies stellar defensive play just won't be enough to get them to Charlotte, albeit then Brewer was the starter. As the season progresses, it's of utmost importance for the Hokies that Brenden Motley improves his passing game. His dual-threat nature is rather one-sided, with his unproven abilities as a passer allowing defenses to key on the option attack. See: Last Monday against Ohio State and last season against the Hurricanes (Brewer gave way to Motley in the second half).
Hokies starting quarterback Michael Brewer took a few hard licks and early in the third quarter was sidelined with a shoulder injury, giving way to dual-threat quarterback Brenden Motley. It was here, with Ohio State leading 21-17, that Virginia Tech's competitive edge would cool. Motley had made earlier appearances, though was relatively ineffective, failing to get through the Buckeyes' front seven. Having to ride with a new quarterback who's not yet proven as a passer, Virginia Tech was forced to rely on a read-option attack. This simplified matters for the Ohio State defense and once points began to mount, the Hokies' offense couldn't hang, being outscored 28-7 in the second half. -- ACC Power Rankings
Something to keep an eye on is the Duke Blue Devil's read-option offense led by redshirt junior quarterback Thomas Sirk.
In his starting debut for the Blue Devils, Sirk amassed 357 total yards. Passing for 289 yards on 27 of 40 attempts, he was effective enough in the air to keep the defense from focusing too much on stopping the run. Then, with 68 yards on 15 carries, tied for most carries with running back Shaun Wilson, he was a key factor in the rushing game. In 2014, Thomas Sirk led the Blue Devils in rushing touchdowns with 8, though missed their matchup with the Hurricanes due to illness.
Georgia Tech's option attack is firing on all cylinders.
After a troublesome start in 2014, narrowly escaping the likes of Wofford, Tulane, and Georgia Southern before hitting conference play, the Yellow Jackets began this year with the pedal to the floor.
Georgia Tech went off for 476 rushing yards in their opener against Alcorn State. Freshman running back Marcus Marshall led the charge with 184 yards on 8 carries. Not far behind was Stanford graduate transfer Patrick Skov with 72 yards on 12 carries. With Tulane next on the schedule, a team the Blue Devils had their way with using the read-option attack last Thursday, expect Georgia Tech to pour on another ridiculous amount of rushing yards. Fortunately for the Hurricanes, the Yellow Jackets will arrive at Sun Life Stadium further down the road than in years past (Senior Day on November 21).
If you are able to find anything else pertaining to the division that I failed to include please post the source in the comments section.