While ACC Atlantic becomes clearer, Coastal filled with uncertainty
After a weather delay of nearly two hours, there was one more lightning strike in Stillwater.
Mason Rudolph hit James Washington for a 91-yard touchdown that sent Oklahoma State to a 45-38 victory over Pitt on Saturday evening, a result that creates once certainty in the ACC Coastal Division.
Nothing is certain.
While the Atlantic took a step toward clarity with No. 10 Louisville’s 63-20 trouncing of second-ranked Florida State — a decision that, for now, turns the Cardinals’ Oct. 1 trip to No. 5 Clemson as a de facto division title game — the Coastal Division remains a race that has no defined favorite between No. 25 Miami, Pitt and North Carolina, with rebounding Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech playing their way into the mix.
The Panthers gave up a whopping 540 yards through the air vs. the Cowboys’ Rudolph, eclipsing the 461 Toledo’s Bruce Gradkowski racked up in 2003 for the most ever allowed by a Pitt defense.
For a Pat Narduzzi D that the week before lost a 21-point lead to Penn State , only to be bailed out by defensive back Ryan Lewis’ late interception (and gave up 332 yards to the Nittany Lions’ Trace McSorley in the process), that figures was concerning.
Pitt, at times, has looked as though it could have been the division’s most complete team. But its pass defense now appears to be a liability with a trip to North Carolina looming, and unfortunately for the Panthers, that should be music to the ears of Tar Heels QB Mitch Trubisky, who is finding his rhythm after a rough opener against Georgia.
Trubisky has thrown for 432 yards and three TDs — hitting on 24 of his 27 attempts — in a 56-28 win over James Madison on Saturday, and passed for two scores and 265 yards on 19 of 24 attempts the week before.
He and the Tar Heels can exploit what ails the Panthers, but on the flip side, James Conner and Pitt can feast on a North Carolina defense that has have serious issues slowing down anyone’s ground game.
The Dukes’ Khalid Abdullah had 116 yards and two scores on 18 carries, the week before, Illinois’ Ke’Shawn Vaughn had 116 and a TD on 15 attempts, and Georgia’s Nick Chubb piled up 222 yards and two scores on 32 tries in the opener.
Nothing we’ve seen from the Tar Heels defense has shown they’ll be able to keep Conner under wraps. But then again, Trubisky could be in a for a monster day next weekend.
Mark Richt’s Hurricanes are the only ranked team on this side of the ACC, but they might also be the one we know the least about.
Brad Kaaya threw for 368 yards and three scores and Mark Walton had 130 yards and two TDs on the ground in a 45-10 rout of Appalachian State on the road Saturday. That Kaaya line was key, given that he was inconsistent through the first two weeks, and he returned to form in a hostile environment.
But Miami has outscored an FCS school (Florida A&M), a Conference USA opponent (Florida Atlantic) and Appalachian State 153-23. This could be the division’s best team, something that should come that much more into focus in the Hurricanes’ next three games against unbeaten Georgia Tech, Florida State and North Carolina.
As for those Yellow Jackets, they’ve already matched last year’s win total at 3-0, and after the opening drive, held Vanderbilt to under 200 yards of offense. Whether Paul Johnson’s crew is going to be a factor should become that much clearer after Thursday when they host No. 5 Clemson. Then there’s Virginia Tech, which rolled over Boston College 49-0 (the same Eagles that Georiga Tech edged 17-14), and for the first time this season didn’t fumble after losing nine in Weeks 1 and 2.
It was an unfair bit of scheduling that Louisville had one of its two biggest division games within the first three weeks of the season, while the Coastal hasn’t had a single intradivision meeting.
Things pick up a week from now in Chapel Hill, but and if the strengths and weaknesses of North Carolina and Pitt are any indication, it could be a wild one.
Follow Cory McCartney on Twitter @coryjmccartney and Facebook. His book, ‘Tales from the Atlanta Braves Dugout: A Collection of the Greatest Braves Stories Ever Told,’ is out now, and ‘The Heisman Trophy: The Story of an American Icon and Its Winners’ will be released Nov. 22, 2016.