College Football Corner: Midseason crises for the Commonwealth schools

After a dream 2021 season, Virginia quarterback Brennan Armstrong is dealing with a nightmare 2022. NCAA college football game against Duke in Durham, N.C., Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022. (AP Photo/Ben McKeown)

Nobody expected Virginia or Virginia Tech to run the table. Each was in the first year of a coaching regime after a nonwinning season that may have delivered a bowl berth but also presented two programs at crossroads.

And while each has had their moments this fall (Virginia dominated Richmond in the first half on Labor Day weekend while Virginia Tech handcuffed Boston College in their ACC opener), they both find themselves under .500 almost halfway through the season.

Saturday the Hokies and Cavaliers ventured into the research triangle (with Duke and North Carolina about 15 miles apart perhaps their fans could have carpooled?) and each were blown out in games that felt as though they were out of hand at halftime.

That makes the Commonwealth Couple 2-3 and, to be honest, they’ve looked underwhelming in their wins as well.

While it might be easy to point at the quarterbacks (each has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns), neither has had the necessary supporting cast this fall.

Brennan Armstrong set records last year, but this season has been undercut by an offensive line that can’t protect him. Meanwhile, Marshall transfer Grant Wells didn’t have a returning receiver who made more than 20 receptions in 2021.

But reasoning why one is losing doesn’t necessarily help one win. And even though each school is playing in the lesser of the two ACC divisions based on the way they’ve both played thus far, it’s going to be tough for either team to scrape together four more wins to become bowl eligible.

That includes their Nov. 26 meeting in Blacksburg.

Navy (1-3) fell behind Air Force 10-0 in the first quarter and it looked like it would be a long day against the No. 1 rushing team in the nation.

But Coach Ken Niumatalolo’s team worked its way back into a fourth quarter tie before the Falcons kicked a late field goal to beat the Midshipmen 13-10. If this feels familiar, four of the team’s eight losses in 2021 were by one possession.

Midshipman Medals: Tai Lavatai completed 11-20 passes for 114 yards while rushing for the team’s lone touchdown. Jayden Umbarger caught four passes for 71 yards. Rayuan Lane tallied nine tackles to lead a defense, then notched a pair of takeaways.

Kellen Grave de Peralta averaged 52.7 yards per punt and launched a 68-yarder.

Midshipman Miscues: The ground game averaged 3.2 yards per carry and had a long of 18. The defense didn’t bend so much as broke early while coughing up pass plays of 67 yards (the touchdown) and 25 yards (that set up a field goal) on the first two possessions.

Dan Davies missed a 33 yard field goal that proved to be the margin of defeat.

Next: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. against 2-3 Tulsa. Can the Mids enjoy a little home cooking?

James Madison (4-0, 2-0 Sun Belt): Rallying from 25 points down in its conference opener last week took suspense and drama out of the equation against Texas State by taking a 19-0 halftime lead en route to a 40-13 rout.

The Dukes are one of 16 remaining FBS unbeatens almost halfway through its first season since moving up. How long can this run continue?

Duke Do’s: Latrele Palmer rushed for 106 yards and three touchdowns. The defense held the Bobcats to 30 yards on 26 first half plays. The team was not penalized at all.

Duke Don’ts: Turnovers on back to back possessions followed by consecutive three and outs will give Coach Curt Cignetti and staff plenty to keep this team humble.

Next: Saturday at 7 p.m. at 2-3 Arkansas State. No more ESPN8 or FS9, this baby’s on the NFL Network!

Maryland (4-1, 1-1 Big Ten) bounced back from its loss at No. 4 Michigan to beat Michigan State 27-13. Call this one a complete victory: the offense reached the end zone the first two times they had the ball, the defense pitched a second half shutout and special teams blocked a field-goal attempt.

It should have been 28-13 at the half, but a pick-six by Dante Trader was wiped out due to a “personal foul” penalty that looked somewhat fraudulent. I actually had to double-check to see if Coach K was on the other sideline.

Terrapin Triumphs: Taulia Tagovailoa threw for 314 yards and a touchdown in the aftermath of dealing with his brother Tua’s concussion on national TV Thursday night. Antwain Littleton II rushed for 120 yards and a score.

Tarheeb Still paced the team with nine tackles and the defense held the Spartans to 75 yards in the second half.

Terrapin Troubles: Nine penalties for 76 yards will get plenty of attention in practice next week. The defense did take a while to find itself, coughing up a 77-yard scoring drive on eight plays to start the afternoon.

The offense had a first and goal from the three and was unable to get into the end zone when a touchdown would have blown the game wide-open in the third quarter.

Next: Saturday at noon against 3-2 Purdue. The Boilermakers are fresh from beating previously unbeaten Minnesota on the road.

Virginia Tech (2-3, 1-1 ACC) actually took a 3-0 lead at North Carolina in the first quarter and, with a defense that had played well in each of the four first halves, it looked like the matchup of strength-on-strength (VT allowed the fewest yards per game in the ACC while UNC averaged the most points) would give us four good quarters.

Instead, the Tar Heels scored on their next three possessions to take a double-digit lead they’d enjoy for the rest of the afternoon in a 41-10 rout. This means that, for the moment, North Carolina and Duke are tied for the Coastal Division lead.

Hokie Highlights: Keyshawn King rushed for 52 yards on 5.8 per carry while making a pair of catches. Dax Hollifield notched 10 tackles while the defense held the Tar Heels to 6-15 on third down. Peter Moore averaged 42.4 yards per punt.

Hokie Humblings: The running game generated just 99 yards on 2.8 per carry while the passing game averaged 5.0 yards per attempt. The defense coughed up 527 total yards, allowing five yards per rush and nine yards per pass.

Next: Saturday at 3:30 on the road against No. 24 Pitt (3-2). The Panthers just lost to a Georgia Tech team that fired their coach last week. Life in the Coastal…

Virginia (2-3, 0-2 ACC) didn’t even give their traveling fans the illusion of a first quarter lead, falling behind Duke 21-0 in the first half.

Although the Cavaliers once again proved to be a second half team (they’ve scored 30 of their 37 points in ACC play after intermission), it wasn’t enough as they fell 38-17. Thank goodness they won’t face a team that has a winning record until November.

Cavalier Congrats: Perris Jones led the team in rushing (41 yards) and caught a touchdown pass. Jonas Sanker tallied 11 tackles while the defense held the Blue Devils to 5-13 on third down. Daniel Sparks averaged 46.7 yards per punt.

Cavalier Concerns: Brennan Armstrong completed just over 50% of his passes and averaged just over 10 yards per completion. The defense allowed 248 yards rushing. Demick Starling fumbled a kickoff return that Duke turned into the touchdown that made the score 21-0.

Next: Saturday at noon against 2-3 Louisville. The Cardinals defense is allowing 33 points per game in its 0-3 ACC start.

Dave Preston

Dave has been in the D.C. area for 10 years and in addition to working at WTOP since 2002 has also been on the air at Westwood One/CBS Radio as well as Red Zebra Broadcasting (Redskins Network).

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