Continuing our extensive recap of an entertaining 2011 season of ACC (plus Syracuse and Pittsburgh) football, we move on to the top 10 single-game performances of the 2011 season. These were the best offensive and defensive efforts by one single player, that stood out above all others. As you’d imagine, with so many evenly-matched teams and players this season, no part of this selection was easy. Nonetheless, your top 10 single-game performances. Please feel free to disagree in the comments below.
10. Andre Branch, DE/Clemson (11 tackles, 4.0 sacks @ Virginia Tech): Established early as the class of the ACC this year, Clemson and Virginia Tech’s October clash was supposed to be a very close matchup. What happened instead, however, was a 23-3 blowout — a direct result of the Tigers’ defensive pressure, led by Branch. Seemingly all over the field, the senior defensive end helped hold the Hokies to just 125 passing yards on the day.
9. Sammy Watkins, WR/Clemson (345 all-purpose yards, 3 TD @ Maryland): Watkins and the high-powered Tigers’ offense spend most of the second half of this game mounting an enormous comeback, but don’t blame the deficit on the freshman receiver. One of the nation’s standout first-year players, his highlight reel in this game alone included two big third-quarter receiving TDs, as well as a stunning 89-yard kickoff return to take the lead for good.
8. Dwight Jones, WR/North Carolina (10 catches, 101 yards, 3 TD vs. Duke): Saving his best game of the season for the final regular season match of his career, the senior set season-highs with 10 catches and three touchdowns. While Jones was the Heels’ most impressive offensive weapon all season, it was this performance that really put him into the upper echelon of a talented ACC receiving group.
7. Luke Kuechly, LB/Boston College (23 tackles vs. Duke): Kuechly was a tackling machine for the Eagles in 2011, racking up a grand total of 191 in just 12 games of action. His ultimate reward: the Bronko Nagurski Award, for the nation’s top defensive player. While every game he played was impressive, this one in particular was one of the year’s best tackling performances for any player.
6. Ryan Nassib, QB/Syracuse (24 of 32 passing, 240 total yards, 5 total TD vs. West Virginia): Who knew that this fantastic performance on a Friday night in October would end up being the last hurrah of both Nassib’s and Syracuse’s seasons? In spite of their five-game collapse to close out the slate, this Orange fan will still try to remember their stunning 49-23 win over the Mountaineers most of all. You could occasionally get a glimpse of how much Nassib improved from 2010 to 2011, and this game was an all-out tour-de-force of that growth as a leader on the field.
5. Rolandon Finch, RB/Boston College (243 rushing yards, 2 TD @ Maryland): Finch recorded just 705 yards and three TDs rushing this entire season. So, when looking at his numbers from this late October game versus the Terps, the totals look even more impressive. The Eagles would record 372 yards on the ground that day, to just 32 passing. An embarrassing display for a Maryland defense that expected an easy day against BC’s 112th-ranked offense.
4. Rodney McLeod, CB/Virginia (7 tackles, 3 interceptions @ Maryland): I’m sure you’re sensing a theme with Maryland by now. While McLeod had just four interceptions all season, he managed to pick off three passes in one game against the Terps. The number is currently half of his career total of six. It appears Maryland just has that effect on people.
3. Tajh Boyd, QB/Clemson (30 of 42 passing, 416 total yards, 4 passing TD vs. Auburn): What better way to announce your arrival in the national consciousness than versus the defending BCS champs? After looking shaky the previous Saturday against FCS competition, Boyd and Clemson came out swinging against Auburn and it paid huge dividends. Sure, the SEC still looks down on their southern brethren, but Clemson, behind some scary-good numbers from its sophomore quarterback, at least quieted the scoffing for a day.
2. Tajh Boyd, QB/Clemson (27 of 46 passing, 367 passing yards, 6 total TD vs. North Carolina): The only player to appear on this list twice, Boyd and his performance in this October victory was as a huge resume-booster for the quarterback’s then-budding Heisman trophy campaign. The dominating performance would also double as one of the Tigers’ biggest claims to a top-ten ranking. Much of the damage in this one occurred during a horrifying third-quarter in which Clemson scored 35 points to really stick a dagger in UNC’s hopes.
1. Mike Glennon, QB/NC State (36 of 55 passing, 306 passing yards, 6 total TD vs. Maryland): Who else but the Terps’ defense could’ve given up this performance? Down 41-14 in the third quarter, with a bowl berth on the line, Glennon would account for four touchdowns over the final 20 minutes of the game. The incredible, 27-point comeback to win would be a rubber-stamp on a surprisingly successful Wolfpack season, and an exclamation point on Glennon’s career (limited ’till this point).