College Football Corner: Sad Times in Happy Valley

Sometimes in life, you need a mulligan. Tiger Woods could have used one Sunday at the Masters when he carded a 10 on the par-3 12th hole to torpedo his fading hopes at earning another green jacket.

For many of us, we’d like to forget 2020 like nothing else. Weddings have been postponed/altered/canceled, Thanksgiving celebrations have been wiped off of the slate and even the Bus Captain’s consecutive Gold Cup appearances came to an end. More than 244,000 people have died from the coronavirus.

Meanwhile, the college football season has been scrambled, to say the least, as Maryland, Navy, Virginia and Virginia Tech have all had games canceled. One would simply like to get to the other side and forget all about 2020.

Unfortunately, the games and records of this year will count moving forward, and nowhere does that sting as much as State College, Pennsylvania. Penn State began the year ranked No. 8 but has started 0-4 for the first time since 2001; a team hasn’t gone from the top 10 to 0-4 since Pitt turned that trip, stumble and fall in 1984 (my Panther faithful friends would like to remind everyone that even though they finished 3-7-1, Pitt still beat the Nittany Lions by 20 that year to keep them out of a bowl).

The descent began with a 36-35 overtime loss at Indiana in their opener. And while there’s no shame in losing to Big Ten favorite Ohio State, the home defeat to Maryland, which wasn’t as close as the 35-19 score, stung a fan base that’s used to beating the Terps like a drum (the series now stands at 40-3-1). While the quarterback situation is in flux (Sean Clifford has seen his QBR decline each week and was replaced in the loss to Nebraska), the usually stout defense (first against the run and third in points allowed last year) has allowed 30 or more points in every game.

Penn State’s current status as Big Ten East cellar-dweller is likely temporary — none of the four teams remaining on their schedule currently have a winning record. And with their recruiting base, facilities and tradition, any stay out of the top tier in the Big Ten won’t be for long. It won’t be long before we’ll be hearing the “We Are! Penn State!” chants. But for the moment, “We Are!” generates an “0-4!” Take a mulligan…

Virginia Tech (4-4, 4-3 ACC) fell to .500 on the season despite a solid 60-minute effort against No. 9 Miami. D’Eriq King found Mark Pope on a 36-yard touchdown pass with 5:56 left in the fourth quarter, leaving the Hokies to fall 25-24 to the Hurricanes, who remain in the race for the ACC Championship Game. Meanwhile, the Hokies can’t stay away from nail-biters: five of their eight games this fall have been decided by a touchdown or less.

  • Hokie Highlights: Hendon Hooker threw for 202 yards while running for 59 yards and a score. Senior Jalen Holston ran for two touchdowns. Dax Hollifield paced the defense with 13 tackles and a sack, while Jarrod Hewitt tallied 2.5 of the team’s six sacks. And in the fourth quarter, when Miami was trying to run the clock out, the D forced a pair of three & outs.
  • Hokie Humblings: The offensive line allowed six sacks to continually stunt momentum. The offense also grinded its gears after taking a 24-13 second half lead, managing 47 yards on its next 17 plays from scrimmage over the next four possessions to keep Miami’s window of opportunity open.

Next: Saturday at 4 p.m. against 4-4 Pitt.

Virginia (3-4) may be out of the ACC Championship Game race, but the Cavaliers might have found themselves after a disappointing start. Their 31-17 win over Louisville saw UVa run 24 fourth quarter plays to 10 for the Cardinals in cementing a double-digit win.

  • Cavalier Congrats: Brennan Armstrong passed for 203 yards and a touchdown while running for 60 yards and two scores. With apologies to Billy Kemp IV (three catches for 46 yards), Armstrong spread the ball around, finding seven different receivers on the afternoon. He also had time, as the offensive line allowed just one sack. The defense was decisive, starting with Noah Taylor’s 85-yard interception return for a touchdown and ending with a pair of fourth quarter fumble recoveries.
  • Cavalier Concerns: The defense allowed 317 yards rushing, as Cardinals quarterback Malik Cunningham spun them every which way (197 yards and 2 touchdowns on 20 attempts). And while the offense didn’t pull the early game slumber that hurt it last month, the first three drives went three & out, fumble, and interception.

Next: Saturday at 4 p.m. against Abilene Christian.

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