College Football Corner: Virginia, Virginia Tech struggle early while the Pac-12 shines late

Virginia's Brennan Armstrong (5) looks to pass during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Duke in Durham, N.C., Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022. (AP Photo/Ben McKeown)(AP/Ben McKeown)
Once again it gets late early for Virginia and Virginia Tech as they each posted their fourth double-digit defeat of the season Saturday.

They’ll be playing to avoid last place in the ACC Coastal Thanksgiving weekend, and even though they’ll technically be playing for the Commonwealth Cup Nov. 26, one could make the case that trophy should be awarded to James Madison or Old Dominion this fall.

But even with the struggles of that ACC pair, a college football Saturday is never truly lost for those of us at home. Because when the Cavaliers or Hokies stumble all over themselves at noon, there’s likely a Navy rally on another channel or a defensive duel between No. 7 LSU and Arkansas. Just like when Maryland struggles at No. 14 Penn State you can flip over to watch No. 9 Alabama hold off No. 11 Mississippi.

And then there’s the late windows where the Pac-12 comes out to play. Washington’s 37-34 win at Oregon likely torpedoes that league’s last best chance for a playoff participant this winter (USC, the conference’s lonely eyes are all on you).

One of the reasons why I am looking forward to the 12-team College Football Playoff when it eventually happens sometime between 2025 and 2525 (hey, nobody ever said the powers that be moved swiftly) is the fact that in the playoff era this is a league that often eats its own. And with an automatic bid going to conference champs a competitive league is rewarded with at least one berth while talks of chicanery by some conferences keeping its leaders unbeaten (cough cough, Clemson).

The game is stronger when the National Championship feels more national. Until then, we’ll just have to look forward to late-night fireworks from September through November while the league misses out on the big prize in January.

Navy (3-7) saw a tale of two halves in its 35-32 loss to No. 20 Notre Dame. The first two quarters delivered disaster as the Fighting Irish scored on their first three drives and a pair of miscues (interception and a blocked punt) allowed ND to tack two more touchdowns on the board before the break, while they dominated third and fourth quarters (five sacks, holding the Irish to 1-6 on third down, a 10-minute scoring drive). Unfortunately, a failed onside kick sealed their fate in the final minutes.

“To our kids credit they came back and battled,” Coach Ken Niumatalolo said. “Really proud of our football program and our team. Wish we had the chance to get the ball back one more time.”

Midshipmen Medals: Daba Fofana rushed for 133 yards and a touchdown, breaking runs of 34 and 50 yards. The quarterback combination of Xavier Arline (a touchdown run and a scoring pass plus a 2-point conversion) and Maasai Maynor (4-7 passing for 51 yards and a TD) delivered. And John Marshall had a monster game with six tackles, 1.5 sacks and an interception to lead the defense that held the Fighting Irish to 12 yards in the second half.

Midshipmen Miscues: after narrowing the gap to 21-13 in the second quarter with just under eight minutes in the first half Navy gave the ball to Notre Dame three times on their side of the field thanks to a failed onside kick, an option pass that was intercepted, and a blocked punt. The offense moved the chains on only 3-11 third downs and while they had that 10+ minute drive in the third quarter, Navy was able to only come away with a field goal. The defense didn’t as much bend as they broke while allowing third down conversions when Notre Dame needed eight, 10, 12 and 15 yards.

Next: Saturday at 11 a.m. (?) against No. 18 UCF. ELEVEN AM? Set your alarms …

Virginia (3-7, 1-6 ACC) didn’t deliver a ton of suspense in its 37-7 loss to Pitt as Brennan Armstrong threw a pair of pick-sixes on his first two passes of the afternoon. The Panthers led 28-0 at the end of the first quarter (and those in the know recall UVA hasn’t scored more than 28 points against an FBS team this year) allowing for another long afternoon in what has been a long season in Charlottesville.

Cavalier Congrats: Malachi Fields led the team with five catches for 58 yards and a touchdown while Antonio Clary tallied 13 tackles to pace the defense. Daniel Sparks averaged 51.1 yards over eight-yes eight-punts.

Cavalier Concerns: even after the first two interceptions Brennan Armstrong had a rough day, completing under 60% of his passes while averaging under 10 yards per completion. He was also sacked eight times and if they counted sacks toward the passing offense (like the NFL) the UVA air attack would amount to 83 net yards on 40 pass plays. The running back rotation didn’t fare much better by managing 38 yards on 12 tries.

Next: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. against Coastal Carolina. The Chanticleers may be 9-1 but quarterback Grayson McCall (along with his 21 TD passes) is out with injury.

Virginia Tech (2-8) began their game at Duke with a bang, holding the Blue Devils to five yards on three plays before scoring on their second offensive play of the afternoon. Unfortunately in 2022 leads are created to disappear and there would be no more points for the Hokies as they’d lose 24-7, the first win by Duke at Wallace Wade Stadium in this series since 1981.

Hokie Highlights: Da’Wain Lofton gave Tech the necessary spark early with three receptions for 75 yards and the team’s lone touchdown while Nasir Peoples led the defense with 10 tackles. Zero penalties keeps this one from being a complete loss.

Hokie Humblings: the offense moved the ball on just 4-12 third downs, threatening just once in the second half while running only four plays all afternoon inside the Blue Devils’ 30-yard line. The defense allowed touchdowns on two of Duke’s four drives in the second half, with a third drive taking seven minutes off of the clock in the fourth quarter.

Next: Saturday at noon against 8-2 Liberty who is smarting off of a loss to UConn. We don’t know if that was a trophy game or not.

James Madison (6-3, 4-2) was another local dealing with a losing streak this past weekend and unlike their Commonwealth brethren snapped the slide with a 37-3 thumping of Old Dominion, clinching a winning record in its first season at the FBS level. Due to transition rules JMU is not eligible for a bowl berth this year, but that won’t take away with what has been a season to remember in Harrisonburg.

Duke Do’s: Todd Centeio completed 18-21 passes for 304 yards while Kris Thornton caught six passes for 140 yards. The defense that held the Monarchs to 4-13 on third down also notched three interceptions, with Jalin Walker returning one of those picks back for a touchdown. Camden Wise made all four of his extra point attempts and was 3-3 on field goals (with a long of 44).

Duke Don’ts: when we lead with how they averaged 39.5 yards per punt, you know it’s been a great day.

Next: Saturday at 2 p.m. against 4-6 Georgia State.

Maryland (6-4, 3-4 Big Ten) had won twice in four trips to Penn State since joining the Big Ten, but perhaps there was a less than ideal omen when, according to radio analyst Steve Suter during Saturday’s broadcast, the team bus made a wrong turn on their way to State College, Pennsylvania. Whether he was serious or not, the offense made plenty of wrong turns in its 30-0 loss to the No. 14 Nittany Lions as their first five possessions netted a total of 19 yards on 15 plays from scrimmage. And it doesn’t get any easier with the best the Big Ten has to offer coming to College Park.

Terrapin Triumphs: on a rough day for the offense, Roman Hemby rushed for 68 yards on 13 carries. Dante Trader Jr. led the defense with 10 tackles and they held the Nittany Lions to 5-15 on third down. Colton Spangler averaged 44.6 yards on eight punts.

Terrapin Troubles: the rain cannot be an excuse this week as the offense gained just 134 total yards. Taulia Tagovailoa was held to under 100 yards passing for the second straight week and the offense converted just 4-16 third downs. The defense failed to generate a sack and allowed points on five of seven Penn State first half drives to effectively put the game out of Maryland’s reach. Seven penalties for 70 yards didn’t help.

Next: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. against No. 2 Ohio State (10-0). They put 51 points on the board in the Buckeye’s previous visit. So there’s that.

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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