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Jun
06
2016

Trap Music: 3 Major ACC Football Trap Games

Its a Trap

It’s June.  Your first team offense and defense looked unstoppable during the Spring game.  This is finally the year your boys beat their hated in-state rivals and win their conference. You don’t care what anyone says, all the experts are sleeping on your school, and they’re destined for the Playoffs this season.  Ah yes, the Summer is that magical time of year when everyone’s team is ready to turn the corner, get over the hump, break through to the next level or whatever.

Well folks, I’m here to tell you magic ain’t real.  One false step in the college football regular season, the greatest of any sport, can mean your last breath.  It’s a proverbial mine field and there are snipers in the trees, and one of the most dangerous perils is known as the dreaded “trap game.”  In general, a trap game is one where a favored team plays against a perceived inferior squad in undesirable circumstances.  This typically means a team has to travel someplace far away, to play in a hostile environment, on a Thursday or Friday night, where the underdog team’s whole season can be considered a decent one if they pull out the upset.  The favored team may have a hard time meeting the emotional output of their lesser opponents and fail to bring the requisite effort needed to survive this type of match up.

Here are the top three trap games I see this season in the ACC:

#1 ACC TRAP GAME: FSU at Louisville, Papa John’s Stadium, Louisville, KY, September 17, NOON, ABC

Why ‘Noles Fans Should Worry

On September 17th the ‘Noles roll into the stadium that crappy pizza built to play their third game in 13 days.  They start the season against Ole Miss in Orlando on September 5th, play Charleston Southern at Doak on the 10th, then travel to UL to face the Cards’ on the 17th.  That’s a brutal stretch that may decide FSU’s national title fate right out of the starting block.

Adding to the drama is the fact that FSU will most likely be breaking in redshirt Freshman Deondre Francois under center. Ideally, a team doesn’t have to do that during a three-game 13-day crucible. That type of rough raod would be challenging for a Senior, let alone a 19-year-old kid playing in his first three games at the P5 level.  Also rememebr that Louisville returns 8 starters on defense this season.  If you listen close enough you can hear the spread dropping on the money line.

Why ‘Noles Fans Shouldn’t Worry

While UL returns 8 starters on defense, as well as 8 starters on offense, FSU returns a lot of firepower from last year’s team that beat Louisville 41-21.  Dalvin Cook is one of those names.  The All-ACC first teamer shredded UL’s defense, with Sheldon Rankins and James Burgess who will be in the NFL this year, for 163 yards on 22 carries and 2 touchdowns as well as 4 catches for 60 yards.  That’s 223 total yards of offense.  That kind of production takes a lot of pressure of the QB and that is exactly what needs to happen if FSU wants to score on a talented Cards’ defense.

While Lamar Jackson is a threat to score on every play, his line is still a major red flag and he doesn’t have much help at running back, but that may be due to poor 0-line play.  Further, the Seminole defense is designed to stop dual threat quarterbacks.  in 2015, FSU held Lamar Jackson to 32 yards rushing on 19 carries, sacked him 5 times, hurried him 3 times, knocked down 4 of his passes, intercepted him once, and Derwin James destroyed him on a blindside sack causing him to fumble.  The UL offensive line should be improved, but that’s not hard to do when you were the second worst unit in the country in pass protection.  Also, FSU returns seven starters from last year’s defense as well as first alternate Demarcus Christmas at DT and former 5-star Matthew Thomas (2015 suspension) at linebacker. If there is ever a defense geared to solve Lamar Jackson’s dynamic abilities, it’s FSU’s.

Finally, a Saturday noon kick is a serious mitigating factor in favor of FSU.  Cards’ fans are notorious for tailgating too long after kick off and not filling the stadium until midway through the 1st quarter.  A typically raucous crowd for a Thursday or Saturday night prime time matchup will be reduced to a sleepy, day drinking mob on the 17th of September.

If UL ends up a 4 point dog or more, I say roll with the ‘Cards.

#2 ACC TRAP GAME: Clemson at  Georgia Tech, Bobby Dodd Stadium, Atlanta GA, Thursday, September 3rd, 7:30 PM, ESPN

Why Tigers’ Fans Should Worry

Stop rolling your eyes. I had to write a column about ACC trap games and Clemson’s conference schedule is butter soft this year.  By default I had to roll with Georgia Tech, who else would you have me write about, Wake Forrest or Boston College?   I had to pick this game because it has all the factors that make up a trap.

The sure to be heavily favored Tigers, come into a hostile road environment for a Thursday night ESPN game.  Also, they face a very talented Louisville Cardinals team 9 days later so they may be looking ahead.  Tech will not be considered a threat, they were 3-9 last year, this makes them a slept on team that will be hard to get up for with Clemson coming off  a 3-games in 13-day stretch.

But what does GT bring to the field and how do they possibly beat the 2015 national champion runner-up Tigers?  Well, the Jackets run the triple option and that is always and annoying scheme to stop, especially when you are playing your third game in 13 days in a hostile milieu on a Thursday night.  A defense has to be able to communicate when facing the triple option and Bobby Dodd Stadium will be full throat.  Clemson will need a gut check to stay up to the task of stopping Paul Johnson’s uptempo attack that specializes in quasi chop blocks aimed below the knees.  Another positive for Tech is that their depleted offensive line may get a boost by the return of their best offensive lineman Chris Griffin (ACL 2015).

Last year’s 3-9 record doesn’t tell the whole story for the 2015 Ramblin’ Wreck.  They lost two games by three points, two games by six points, one by seven points, and one by eight, that’s not the resume of a pushover.  Finally, Justin Thomas will be back at QB this season looking to capture the form he exhibited in 2014, where he ran for 1,086 yards and 8 TDs on 190 carries, while passing for 1,719 yards, 18 TDs, and 6 INTs.  They will be improved and one would be remiss to not mention that one of their three wins from last season came against FSU at Bobby Dodd during a night game in Atlanta.

Finally, Clemson’s defense returns only four starters form last year and they will be breaking in a slew of Sophomores and Freshman against a triple option attack that calls for the defense to play highly disciplined football.  This can prove problematic for a young defensive front like Clemson’s.

Why Tigers’ Fans Shouldn’t Worry

Deshaun Watson.  When your team has the best QB in the country it’s hard to sweat the likes of GT.  Ah, but that’s the point isn’t it?  Well yes and no, notice how I didn’t say anything about Deshaun Watson above?  That’s because even if the GT offense can get rolling against Clemson’s young defense, Watson and the explosive Tiger offense is there to match them point for point.  They return 9 starters from last year, including 6′ 4″ 220-pound WR Mike Williams, who will return from a scary neck injury suffered in the first week of 2015.  Williams may be the best WR in the country.  Wayne Gallman also returns at running back, Jordan Leggett may be the best TE in the country, and the offensive line returns three starters including Sophomore LT Mitch Hyatt, who may be the best OT in the country.  That’s a whole lot of “may be the best in the country” type of players coming back.

If Clemson is favored by more than 7.5, take the Jackets.

#3 ACC TRAP GAME: Virginia Tech at Syracuse, Carrier Dome, Saturday, October 15, TBA, ESPN

Why Hokies’ Fans Should Worry

With the ACC Atlantic’s two contenders out of the way, it’s time to look at the always unpredictable ACC Coastal Division. I like Virginia Tech to win it this year.  They have the most favorable ACC schedule and I think they knock off UNC in Keenan before falling at Pitt after beating Miami.  I believe that Pitt will be their only ACC loss, which should win them the Coastal. However, all that is out the window if they overlook Syracuse after beating the Tar Heels and looking ahead to the Canes.

This is the proverbial “sandwich” trap game.  The Hokies will play UNC on the road on October 8th, travel all the way up to Syracuse on the 15th, then play a quick turn-around game against Miami in Blacksburg on Thursday, October 20th.  See a theme here?  Once again we have the dreaded 3-game in 13-day gauntlet.  Va Tech is certainly going to be up for UNC because they will be coming off a bye the previous week.  They will also be up for Miami because Blacksburg is one of the toughest places to play on a Thursday night.  The problem is, Cuse doesn’t exactly get the competitive juices flowing.  So here we again find the recipe for the quintessential trap game.

Syarcuse and new Head Coach Dino Babers will deploy a fast pasted spread offense.  While the system is brand new to the players on the roster and Babers doesn’t have many of his type of guys, there are enough weapons in place for the offense to put pressure on the Hokies.  Sophomore dual threat Eric Dungey, Sophomore RB Dontae Strickland, and RS Sophomore WR Steve Ishmael are all break out candidates in Dino’s offense this season.  The 6’3″ 202-pound Ishmael caught 39 passes for 570 yards and 7 touchdowns as the only true weapon in an struggling offense last season.  Dungey suffered a head injury with 4:10 left in the fourth quarter against Louisville last season and wouldn’t return, missing the final three games of the year.  He is now healthy and early reports from Spring ball have been positive regarding his grasp of the new offense, one that seems to be ahead of schedule, with Sophomore Dontae Strickland emerging this Spring as the all-purpose back that Babers’ system relies upon.

The defense returns 7 starters. That isn’t necessarily a good thing. ‘Cuse had one of the worst pass defenses in the nation last year (101st) and their rush defense (78th) wasn’t much better.  However, if Baber’s up-tempo offense can set the tone for this game, the Hokies may find themselves in a bad spot where they will have to play tempo for the whole game, causing them to step their energy level up as well as lean on their depth.  That is the worst possible scenario, as they will be coming off a matchup with UNC that will call for them to have done the same 7 days prior.  Another problem is that Tech only returns two starters from their front seven on defense and they will have to rely heavily on a combination of two freshman and two sophomores on their DL’s two-deep.  This is the perfect storm for a loss in the carrier dome, which is always inhospitable.

Why Hokies’ Fans Shouldn’t Worry

Virginia Tech has what looks like one of the most explosive offenses in the ACC this season, on paper anyway.  Isaiah Ford is one of the most formidable wide outs in the country (75 rec., 1,043 yards, 7 TDs) and Syracuse isn’t going to be able to slow him down.  Also, TE Bucky Hodges is set for a breakout year as a Junior after hauling in over 40 catches, over 525 yards, and 13 total touchdowns over his first two seasons.  VaTech can also lean on true Sophomore workhorse Travon McMillan (200 att., 1,043 yards, 7 TDs) to pound the rock and slow the tempo down some against Cuse.

Ultimately the Hokies’ success against Cuse, and in 2016 in general, will hinge upon the play of Juco transfer Jerod Evans. Evans is new Head Coach Justin Fuente’s “guy.”  Fuentes tried to recruit him to Memphis when he was the coach there but things fell through.  well, the second bite at the apple proved to be the sweetest, and now the VT head man has a dual threat QB to lead his own uptempo spread offense into battle at the Carrier Dome.  If Fuente’s can get his guys up for this game and set the tone early, expect Bud Foster’s defense to shut the door.

This game will be trouble for VaTech, they return a lot of players on both offense and defense but they will all be learning a new offense.   Syracuse is waiting in the weeds for the Hokies, as they try to grind through the toughest part of their schedule (they also play at Pittsburgh the week after Miami) and this game will be hard to get up for after a 571 mile trek up the East Coast.

I like ‘Cuse to win this one outright, so if they get any points or a push, roll with the Orange.

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