RALEIGH, N.C. — The Atlantic Coast Conference is showing a lot of new offensive looks.
The changes start with the four teams that hired new coaching staffs. Next, Boston College, North Carolina State and Pittsburgh hired new offensive coordinators, while Louisville added a co-coordinator behind play-calling head coach Bobby Petrino. Finally, rivals Duke and North Carolina promoted coordinators to add their own touches to their same schemes from a year ago.
In all, those 10 teams averaged 39.2 points and 445.2 yards in their openers, many coming against overmatched opponents. And five of the 10 racked up more than 520 total yards, the start of a season-long effort to build those attacks.
“It’s just play to your strengths,” said new Wolfpack offensive coordinator Eli Drinkwitz, who was at Boise State last year. “Don’t get caught up in, ‘We’ve got to do this and we’ve got to do that.’ You’ve got to play to your strengths and make sure your offense is still moving in the right direction.”
All the coaching turnover is making things tougher on defensive coaches, too.
UNC second-year defensive coordinator Gene Chizik opened against a new staff at Georgia, faces another one this week at Illinois, then plays six of eight ACC games against teams with new head coaches or offensive coordinators.
“It does make it difficult, because you’re looking, really, at a compilation of a lot of things – a lot of years, a lot of teams they’ve been on previously,” Chizik said. “You’re using your best, educated guess. You don’t ever really know until you get in the game and you see exactly what’s happening. So that really makes it hard in your first couple of games, for sure.”
Miami, Syracuse, Virginia and Virginia Tech made the biggest moves by bringing in new coaching staffs. Hurricanes head coach Mark Richt is calling plays for the first time in a decade for an offense that otherwise will look much like last year behind veteran quarterback Brad Kaaya.
The changes are much more pronounced for the Orange, Cavaliers and Hokies.
New Orange coach Dino Babers is known for strong offenses from his time as a Baylor assistant, and as a head coach at Eastern Illinois and Bowling Green. His Syracuse team is incorporating some of Baylor’s up-tempo spread with pro-style principles after using a spread option, and had 554 yards in the opener against Colgate.
The Cavaliers ran a deliberate, pro-style offense under Mike London but are speeding up tempo under former BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall and coordinator Robert Anae.
The Hokies, similarly, were a huddle and run-first attack under Frank Beamer. They’re now trying to push the pace under former Memphis coach Justin Fuente and coordinator Brad Cornelsen, using 10 players to run the ball in the opener against Liberty to keep players fresh amid the faster tempo.
“Coach Fuente’s told us that he’s going to give a bunch of guys the ball and a bunch of guys a chance to carry the ball,” running back Sam Rogers said. “I don’t really know how they’re going to call the game. That’s up to them. We’ve just got to run the play and execute it but we know that a lot of people have chances in this offense, which makes it a lot of fun.”
At N.C. State, head coach Dave Doeren turned to Drinkwitz to install a control-the-tempo attack to spark an offense that looked stagnant at times last season. The Wolfpack opened this year with 521 yards and 48 points against William & Mary.
The changes elsewhere are more subtle.
The man Drinkwitz replaced with the Wolfpack, Matt Canada, is now at Pittsburgh to run an attack still built around a powerful running game. The Panthers managed just 261 yards in their opening win against Villanova, though coach Pat Narduzzi said he thought it was more of a case of “first-game jitters.”
The may have been the case and many of the new offenses are still taking shape. But that doesn’t mean teams are slowing implementing the changes.
“We’re not trying to take baby steps,” Drinkwitz said. “We’re pushing this thing full speed. That’s what we’re doing. We’re not easing our way into the water.”
AP Sports Writers Gary B. Graves in Louisville, Kentucky; Will Graves in Pittsburgh; Hank Kurz in Blacksburg, Virginia; Joedy McCreary in Durham, North Carolina; and Tim Reynolds in Miami contributed to this report.