Clemson, Virginia Tech off to strong starts with new QBs

FILE - In this Sept. 4, 2017, file photo, Georgia Tech quarterback TaQuon Marshall (16) breaks free from Tennessee linebacker Cortez McDowell (20) in the second half of an NCAA college football game in Atlanta. Coach Paul Johnson named junior TaQuon Marshall the starter minutes before their opener against Tennessee. Marshall, who played in nine games as a freshman at running back, ran for a school-record five touchdowns against the Volunteers.  (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)

BOSTON (AP) Not every school can be like No. 2 Clemson, which is going for a second straight national championship despite replacing two-time Heisman Trophy finalist Deshaun Watson at quarterback.

Across the Atlantic Coast Conference, schools are struggling with new QBs – some freshmen or sophomores, others upperclassman playing for the first time. Clemson (3-0, 1-0 ACC) has had success with junior Kelly Bryant, and No. 13 Virginia Tech (3-0) is rolling behind redshirt freshman Josh Jackson .

A handful of other ACC teams are still figuring things out.

”We knew we had an opportunity to pick up where we left off,” Clemson co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said. ”Obviously, there were questions on Kelly, how’s he going to perform under the lights. And I think he’s exceeded a lot of expectations and he’s going to continue to get better.”

Bryant has passed for 733 yards, with two touchdowns and one interception in parts of three games. The cousin of former Clemson and current Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Martavis Bryant has also run for 162 yards and five scores.

At Virginia Tech, Jackson threw for 235 yards and ran for 101 more in his debut against West Virginia, then led the Hokies in a shutout of Delaware. On Saturday, he threw for 372 yards and five touchdowns – four in the third quarter alone – to beat East Carolina 64-17 for Tech’s first 3-0 start since 2011.

”I’m just getting used to it,” Jackson said. ”I’m three games in, so I’m just trying to get more confident.”

Other schools are experiencing more growing pains:

FLORIDA STATE

James Blackman will get his first college start this week against North Carolina State after Deondre Francois suffered a season-ending knee injury in the opener against Alabama. Blackman is only the second true freshman in Florida State (0-1) history to start at quarterback (Chip Ferguson, 1985).

With Irma cancelling the 12th-ranked Seminoles’ Sept. 9 game against Louisiana-Monroe and pushing the Miami game until Sept. 16, Blackman has had three weeks to practice against his own defense.

”We go good-on-good against our defense every day,” coach Jimbo Fisher said. ”That’s as good as you’re going to go against anybody in this country, one of them anyway. … It’s game-like situation, which we always do.”

BOSTON COLLEGE

Anthony Brown became the first Boston College (1-2, 0-1 ACC) freshman ever to start and win the season opener on the road. Then he struggled against Wake Forest, but was better in a loss to Notre Dame in Week 3, completing 24 of 40 passes for 215 yards against the Irish.

But he also had two interceptions – giving him six in less than three full career games.

”Anthony threw the ball, played with confidence,” coach Steve Addazio said. ”He bounced right back against a marquee opponent in a big-time atmosphere and performed.”

NORTH CAROLINA

Mitch Trubisky went No. 2 overall in the NFL draft, so the Tar Heels (1-2, 0-1) brought in LSU graduate transfer Brandon Harris. He beat out redshirt freshman Chazz Surratt for the starting job, but two interceptions in the Week 1 loss to California gave Surratt his chance.

Surratt started in the Week 2 loss to Louisville and Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson, throwing for 168 yards and two touchdowns on 12-for-14 passing before leaving the game with leg discomfort. Against Old Dominion in Week 3, Surratt passed for 259 yards and one score and ran for two other TDs. He does not have a turnover this season.

PITTSBURGH

Coach Pat Narduzzi awarded the job to graduate transfer Max Browne out of training camp, but he’s reconsidering as the Panthers (1-2) head into their ACC opener against Georgia Tech.

Sophomore Ben DiNucci has come off the bench in losses to Penn State and Oklahoma State; he’s averaging three more yards per attempt than Browne, with mobility that gives Pitt another dimension. But DiNucci fumbled late against the Nittany Lions and threw a pair of interceptions against the Cowboys.

”Some guys can make some plays with their feet, but if you turn the ball over it’s going to hurt the team big time, and we’ve done that two weeks in a row,” Narduzzi said. ”You’re minus in the turnover ratio, it doesn’t help anybody, and we’ve got to sustain drives this week.”

GEORGIA TECH

Coach Paul Johnson named junior TaQuon Marshall the starter minutes before opener against Tennessee. Georgia Tech (1-1) said it was one of only 12 teams in nation whose QBs had no more than one start entering the season.

Marshall, who played in nine games as a freshman at running back, ran for a school-record five touchdowns against the Volunteers (and completed only five passes). In all, he has completed 10 of 16 passes for 232 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. He also leads the team with 274 yards rushing and six touchdowns.

”The more he plays the better he’s going to get,” Johnson said. ”You hope.”

The following AP Sports Writers contributed to this story: Pete Iacobelli, Charles Odum, Paul Newberry, Will Graves, Joe Reedy and Aaron Beard.

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