College Football Corner: ‘Moving month’ brings misery for Maryland, hope for the Hokies, Cavs, Dukes

Virginia Tech's Grant Wells (6) hands off to Bhayshul Tuten (33) in the second half against Old Dominion of an NCAA college football Saturday, Sept. 2, 2023, in Blacksburg, Va. (AP Photo/Robert Simmons)(AP/Robert Simmons)

Dave Preston is an AP Top 25 voter. Read his latest rankings here.

I’ve long labeled October as college football’s “moving month,” a time when the contenders expose the pretenders while title chances and bowl dreams go from “in theory” to “in reality.” Or not, as we’ve seen at Maryland who went 0-3 in October.

Last year, the Terps ended “moving month” by securing its second straight bowl berth while this past weekend, the team stumbled again against a team it was favored against. The “Big Ten Championship” hopes of this summer faded quicker than the fall foliage (get out there if you still have a chance before the leaves totally change, BTW).

But, for the other area schools, October was rather kind: Virginia Tech pulled itself off the mat to be on track to potentially end a three-year stretch of losing seasons, while Virginia won consecutive games for the first time under Head Coach Tony Elliott. Navy also won two straight to keep its bowl hopes alive while James Madison continued to live a very charmed life (see the bottom).

Who’s ready for the “closing month” of November?

Virginia Tech (4-4, 3-1 ACC) began the weekend by hosting Syracuse on Thursday night, and like the days of old when the smoked turkey legs burned bright and the Hokies dominated the night like “Friends”/”Seinfeld”/”Cheers,” this game was all Tech from the kickoff to the final gun. A bowl berth is now well within reach. But right now the question is, can they play their way into contending for the Conference Championship Game?

Hokie Highlights: The offense scored on all six of their first half possessions to take an insurmountable 30-3 lead. Bhayshul Tuten rushed for 118 yards and the team finished with 318 on the ground, holding the ball for over 41 minutes. Antwaun Powell-Ryland tallied two of the team’s eight sacks as the defense held the Orange to 0-9 on third down. Tucker Holloway recorded a 57-yard punt return and John Love connected on 5-5 extra points plus 3-3 field goals.

Hokie Humblings: Tough to find anything wrong with a game that was over by halftime, but they did have five penalties for 60 yards and the offense did have to settle for multiple field goals in the red zone. But the smoked turkey legs tasted just as good when reheated after a few days.

Next: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. against No. 18 Louisville (7-1). Winner takes second place in the ACC.

Maryland (5-3, 2-3 Big Ten) began with a bang at Northwestern, scoring a touchdown by driving 61 yards in four plays on their first possession. Unfortunately the defense had issues all afternoon against an offense that entered the day near the bottom of the Big Ten, allowing 24 first half points on their way to a 33-27 loss. The Terps began the year hoping to challenge the Ohio States, Michigans, and Penn States. Right now they can’t beat the Northwesterns and Illinois of the league.

Terrapin Triumphs: Jeshaun Jones caught nine passes for 78 yards and a touchdown. Tre Colbert tallied a pair of sacks while Beau Brade paced the team with eight tackles as the defense held the Wildcats to 2-10 on third down. Jack Howe connected on 3-3 field goals while Colton Spangler averaged 42 yards per punt.

Terrapin Troubles: Taulia Tagovailoa lost a first quarter fumble that the Wildcats turned into their first touchdown of the day, and the senior threw an interception in Northwestern red zone on their final possession of the afternoon. The offensive line allowed six sacks to a pass rush that had ten sacks in seven games this fall (lowest in the Big Ten). The defense gave up 24 first half points to a Wildcat offense that entering the day was averaging 16 points a game against conference competition, including backbreaking plays of 34 and 53 yards.

Next: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. against No. Penn State (7-1) on FOX. Please let this be a Gus Johnson game.

Virginia (2-6, 1-3 ACC) scored the first ten points of the afternoon at Miami and after a Hurricane surge was able to regain the lead multiple times in the second half and in overtime, only to fall in the extra session 29-26. It wasn’t as painful as last year’s four overtime affair was in Charlottesville, but the snake-bitten Cavaliers have lost four of five one-possession games this fall. Flip two of those and this team still enters November with a little more than a tiny bit of hope.

Cavalier Congrats: Malik Washington caught 12 passes for 152 yards while Mike Hollins ran for a pair of touchdowns. Kamren Robinson made nine tackles while notching an interception that set up UVa’s lone second half touchdown. Zero penalties on the afternoon.

Cavalier Concerns: Zero sacks for the pass rush. The defense allowed points on consecutive fourth quarter possessions when a knockout punch was needed. Tony Muskett threw a pick-six after the Hurricanes tied things up in the third quarter and it’s a testament to this team that things didn’t blow up after that.

Next: Saturday at 2 p.m. against 4-4 Georgia Tech. Keep the “One Tree Hill” CW jokes to yourself.

James Madison (8-0, 5-0 Sun Belt) hosted Old Dominion in the “Royal Rivalry” (Dukes-Monarchs, get it?) and had to hold off a fourth-quarter rally to prevail 30-27. They’re the inverse-Virginia as they enter November unbeaten thanks to five one-possession wins.

Duke Do’s: Jordan McCloud threw for 340 yards, with Reggie Brown making nine catches for 142 yards and two touchdowns while Elijah Saratt caught eight passes for 139 yards and a score (pick your poison, opposing secondaries). Jalen Green continues to be a beast in the trenches, notching 2.5 of the team’s five sacks while making nine tackles.

Duke Don’t’s: McCloud tossed a pair of first half interceptions, although only the first one led to ODU points (a field goal on their first drive). After the Monarchs kicked a field goal to pull within three points late, JMU had the ball three times and gained just 15 yards on 11 plays from scrimmage. And the defense had more break than bend moments, allowing completions of 30, 45, and 58 yards while coughing up a 36 yard run.

Next: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. on the road at 6-2 Georgia State. Can the magic continue?

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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