WASHINGTON — The Fighting Irish find themselves 1-3 entering October, with their preseason No. 10 ranking a distant memory. It’s one thing to lose in double overtime at Texas, or at home to a top-20 Michigan State. But to Duke? At home? What in the name of Gerry Faust is going on?
This was a program that finished a field goal away from making the College Football Playoff last fall, and has fallen on tough times. For causes, look no further than a defense that’s allowed 35 or more points in five of their last six games dating back to last November. That’s also bad news for defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, who has gotten the pink slip.
Coach Brian Kelly turned around the mess he inherited, but has more five-loss seasons than double-digit win campaigns in South Bend. His most impressive bowl win with the Irish? Not to talk smack about the Music City Bowl or Pinstripe Bowl, but you have to go back to the 2010 Sun Bowl. For a fan base that is largely non-alumni, and thus doesn’t understand the academic mission or the difficulty of getting Florida kids to want to play in a small northern Indiana city, patience is not a virtue.
Maryland (3-0) and Navy (3-0) had the week off, while another local school reached the 3-0 mark — Georgetown beat Columbia, 17-14, to move within one victory of last year’s total. Credit a defense that’s allowing just 15 points a game as well as the smart play of senior quarterback Matt Barnes (a 59 percent completion rate with a 6-to-2 TD-to-INT rate). Two more games against Ivy League foes precede Patriot League play.
Next for Maryland: Saturday against Purdue.
Next for Navy: Saturday at Air Force.
Next for Georgetown: Saturday at Harvard.
Virginia (1-3) avoided disaster by holding off a Central Michigan rally and notching the first victory of the Bronco Mendenhall era with a 49-35 triumph over the Chippewas. The Wahoo faithful can rest easy — for a few minutes.
- Cavalier Congrats: Kurt Benkert threw for 421 yards and 5 touchdowns. Olamide Zaccheaus notched 8 catches for 141 yards and 2 scores, with his 82-yard scoring strike turning the game around in the second half. Linebacker Zach Bradshaw tallied 6 tackles, 3 assists, 2 pass breakups and a sack. The moscato glass is definitely half full!
- Cavalier Concerns: The porous pass defense allowed more than 400 yards and had trouble getting off the field on third down (CMU converted 9 of 19). And they blew a 28-point first half lead — not ideal as they enter conference play. Thank goodness U.Va. plays in the Coastal Division.
Next: Saturday at 2-2 Duke, 12:30 p.m. Didn’t the Blue Devils just win at Notre Dame?
Virginia Tech (3-1) put away the Ghosts of Upsets Past with a 54-17 thumping of East Carolina. The Pirates have played VT close in each of their previous four meetings this decade, winning the last two years. No such September stagger this time.
- Hokie Highlights: Jerod Evans threw for 282 yards and 3 touchdowns while running for 97 yards and another score. Ken Ekanem tallied two sacks while Chuck Clark led the defense with 11 tackles, holding ECU to just 3 of 14 third downs and just one score in 3 trips to the red zone. Greg Stroman got things going with an 87-yard punt return for a TD. One thinks he’ll get the honor of wearing number 25, an award for the special teams player of the week.
- Hokie Humblings: It’s tough to find blemishes in an impressive game where they led 38-0 at the half. The offense was held to 5 of 14 on third down, and two deep touchdown passes allowed in the second half is never ideal.
Next: Oct. 8 at 3-1 North Carolina.
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