ACC notebook: Lost in the shuffle, Pitt proving to be the king of hearts

Pitt first-year coach Patt Narduzzi has the Panthers in contention for a Coastal Division crown.
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And just like that, the ACC has now become very, very interesting. After seven somewhat pedestrian weeks, the conference burst on to the national scene last Saturday thanks to a stunning “kick-six,” a quadruple overtime thriller, and a historic beatdown.

Oh, and in case you missed it, No. 23 Pitt squeaked past Syracuse, 23-20, with the help of a marathon-like, nine-minute, fourth-quarter, scoring drive that spanned 89 yards on 19 plays. The march featured a fake punt for a first down and ended when kicker Chris Blewitt converted a 25-yard field goal as time expired.

The Panthers’ victory didn’t just get lost in the shuffle that was Week 8 in the ACC, it was buried under the whole deck of cards. Georgia Tech came up aces when it blocked No. 17 Florida State’s last-second field goal attempt to hand the Seminoles their first loss of the year, while Miami was the joker after getting clubbed by No. 3 Clemson, 58-0, for its worst defeat in school history. Duke’s sparkling like a diamond in the afterglow of its 45-43 four-OT victory over Virginia Tech, but the overshadowed Panthers have proved to be the king of hearts.

Pitt’s grind-it-out, game-winning drive against Syracuse serves as a microcosm for a season in which the Panthers, under first-year coach Pat Narduzzi, have overcome the loss of their most valuable player (James Conner) and yet find themselves ranked No. 23 in the nation and leading the Coastal Division heading into Week 9.

“Shows our offense is resilient,” said freshman running back Qadree Ollison, who has filled the void created by the season-ending knee injury to 2014 AAC Player of the Year Conner. “We trusted the guy next to us. That's all it is. It's that trust and being resilient. We have that mindset that no one is going to stop us.”

It’s an approach the 6-1 (4-0) Panthers will take on the field with them when they battle North Carolina (6-1, 3-0) for first place in the Coastal Division in what is easily the most surprisingly significant game on the ACC calendar up to date.

A year ago, both teams went 4-4 in the conference, leading to major coaching changes. Pitt made Narduzzi its fifth head coach in the last five years, while the Tar Heels tabbed defensive coordinator Gene Chizik to reconstruct a unit that was one of the worst in the nation.

So far Chizik has done the unthinkable, and with its 26-13 victory over Virginia last weekend, UNC (6-1, 3-0) is the only one-loss Power Five team in the FBS not ranked. Something that will no doubt change if it can find a way past the Panthers to claim first-place

Last Saturday, the Heels found themselves locked in a 13-13 tie with Cavs at halftime, but blanked Virginia in the second half thanks to some key defensive adjustments that enabled them to win their sixth straight game.

“Coach Chizik and the rest of our coaching staff, they do a great job of letting us know our halftime adjustments,” said DB Malik Simmons, who had two interceptions versus Virginia. “They clear things up at halftime, and we just go from there.”


Strength in numbers

Heading into the season the ACC was viewed simply as a top-heavy, two-headed monster with not much to support itself beyond Florida State and Clemson. My how things have changed.

More than halfway into the year and the ACC is the only conference to have five teams with one loss or less, four of which are in the AP Top 25 Poll.

With a 7-0 (4-0) record, No. 3 Clemson leads the way, and is followed by No. 17 FSU (6-1, 4-1) No. 22 Duke (6-1, 3-0) and No. 23 Pitt (6-1, 4-0). North Carolina (6-1, 3-0), the only one-loss Power Five team not to be ranked, stands perched right outside the top 25 with 46 votes to rank No. 27.


No more streaking for Seminoles

Lost in Georgia Tech’s improbable “Kick-Six” stunner over then-ranked No. 9 Florida State was the fact that three key Seminoles’ streaks came to an end during their deflating 22-16 loss.

Florida State entered the matchup with a chance to tie its own record of 29 consecutive ACC victories, which was established from 1992-95 under the guidance of former coach Bobby Bowden.

FSU’s current streak began when head coach Jimbo Fisher beat Boston College, 51-7, on Oct. 13, 2012.

Saturday’s loss also put an end to the Seminoles streak of turnover-free ball. Up until the weekend, FSU had been the only team in the country to not throw an interception or cough up a fumble.

That changed with 8:07 left in the fourth quarter. FSU faced a third-and-goal situation when an Everett Golson pass ricocheted off his intended receiver and bounced into the hands of Georgia Tech’s Jamal Golden to put an end to a prime scoring opportunity.

Finally, FSU saw all-American kicker Roberto Aguayo’s streak of made fourth-quarter field goals come to a halting end when Georgia Tech’s Patrick Gamble leapt into the air to swat his 56-yard attempt as the clock struck zero in the fourth quarter.

Aguayo, a junior, has not missed a fourth quarter attempt in two-plus years.