Dave Preston is an AP Top 25 voter. Read his latest rankings here.
“It’s not how you start, but how you finish,” is a popular quote that is somewhat flawed (King Charles III and members of the Rockefeller family might say otherwise) but one does recognize that a fantastic finish can deliver a college football fan base seven days of joy while a faulty finish will bring one week of pain.
Friday night, Virginia was in position to post its first win of the season, but a flag-filled final minute kept the zero inside the wrong half of what follows them in parentheses. Saturday afternoon, Virginia Tech saw their game slip away in the sixtieth minute of regulation. Saturday night, James Madison reversed the local trend with a fantastic finish of their own on the road. JMU has won three straight road games by a combined ten points. Meanwhile, Maryland made the fourth quarter all but moot after starting strong (unlike the previous two weeks) in their conference opener.
Nationally, fantastic finishes kept a pair of National Championship contenders unbeaten, as No. 6 Ohio State drove the length of the field to score the game-winning touchdown with one second left at No. 9 Notre Dame, while No. 4 Florida State needed overtime to prevail at Clemson and remain on track to be the once and future king of the ACC (the fifteen time champ hasn’t won the league since 2014).
And while No. 19 Colorado did outscore No. 10 Oregon 6-0 in the fourth quarter of their game, the Ducks dominated the other three quarters to the tune of 42-0 and hand Deion Sanders’ team their first loss of the year. But the Buffaloes aren’t going away and have a chance to bounce back at home against a No. 5 USC team that needed a fantastic fourth quarter of their own to win at Arizona State.
Virginia (0-4, 0-1 ACC) kicked off conference play by losing on a last-second field goal to NC State 24-21. How they got there I’m sure gave their fans equal parts joy and frustration. First Anthony Colandrea drove the Cavaliers 66 yards on 11 plays, converting one fourth down on their way to the end zone. Even with a personal foul penalty they were able to convert a 2-point conversion from the 18-yard line. Unfortunately a personal foul penalty on Colandrea moved the kickoff back 15 yards, allowing the Wolfpack to attempt a last-second field goal from 48 yards out. James Jackson then blocked the attempt but was whistled for running into the long-snapper, setting up a 33-yarder that was good. Teaching moments all around.
Cavalier Congrats: Colandrea in his third career start threw for 271 yards and two touchdowns, both to Malik Washington who notched 10 catches for 170 yards. Kamron Robinson led the defense with 11 tackles and the D responded well after a pair of fourth quarter turnovers, holding the Wolfpack to ten yards on eight plays from scrimmage.
Cavalier Concerns: Colandrea tossed two more fourth quarter interceptions, meaning he’s turned the ball over six times in the last two final periods. The running back rotation was held to 63 yards on 26 carries and the offense converted just 5-14 third downs. And after playing a sharp 59 minutes (four penalties for 24 yards), the three personal foul calls that wound up costing UVa loom rather large.
Next: Saturday at 2 p.m. on the road at 1-3 Boston College.
Virginia Tech (1-3) saw its game also get decided in the final minute of regulation. The Hokies began their game at Marshall with the bang of a six play, 75 yard drive for a touchdown. Unfortunately after a second quarter field goal the offense went into hibernation, generating 48 yards on 28 plays over its next seven possessions. A fourth quarter touchdown put them back in business but an incomplete pass on fourth and six with under a minute to play sealed their fate in a 24-17 loss.
Hokie Highlights: quarterback Kyron Drones rushed for 75 yards and both Tech touchdowns while Bhayshul Tuten ran for 88 yards and added five catches for 45 yards. Keli Lawson notched 12 tackles and an interception while Pheldarius Payne tallied 1.5 sacks.
Hokie Humblings: the defense allowed 214 yards on the ground. Drones averaged a little over eight yards per completed pass while the offense went 2-13 on third down. Penalties were a problem, with nine flags for 70 yards highlighted by a false start in the final minute of the fourth quarter turning a fourth and one into a fourth and six (that they’d fail to convert).
Next: Saturday at 8 p.m. against 1-3 Pitt.
Maryland (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten) won in East Lansing for the first time since joining the Big Ten (and before MSU joined the league-1950), banishing the slow starts of the last two weeks by turning Michigan State over on their first possession and then responding with a scoring drive the first time they had the ball. They’d reach the end zone on their next two possessions en route to a 31-9 victory in their conference opener.
Terrapin Triumphs: Taulia Tagovailoa threw for 223 yards and two touchdowns while adding 37 yards and another score on the ground. He also kept everybody happy, throwing passes to 11 different receivers. The defense tallied five takeaways, with ball hawk defensive lineman Donnell Brown recovering a fumble after intercepting passes the previous two games. Beau Brade recorded ten tackles and his interception on the first drive of the game set the tone for the afternoon.
Terrapin Troubles: Jack Howes missed field goal attempts of 29 and 40 yards (although one is pleased he made a 48-yard attempt) to slip to 4-of-8 on the season. The offense converted 6-15 third downs
Next: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. against 2-2 Indiana.
James Madison (4-0) after winning its last two games by a combined three points opened up a 31-7 first half lead at Utah State and it appeared as though those who had been able to find the game on the Mountain West Network could rest easy. Those who did don’t know these Dukes, as the Aggies rallied to knot things up at 38 in the fourth quarter. Jordan McCloud would hit Reggie Brown on a 74-yard touchdown pass with 5:52 left, but the game wouldn’t be decided until D’Angelo Ponds’ interception with 34 seconds left and JMU could take a knee and a 45-38 win. Thankfully they come home after this three week rollercoaster on the road.
Duke do’s: Jordan McCloud threw for 364 yards and four touchdowns with Reggie Brown (five catches for 160 yards and two scores) his top target. The defense shut the door on Utah State late, recording interceptions the last two times they were on the field. Jarius Reimonenq registered seven tackles, a sack, and an interception while Jalen Green posted 1.5 of the team’s five sacks.
Duke don’ts: for all of the points JMU put on the board, they had issues moving the chains (3-12 on third down) as well as ball security (three fumbles lost and two interceptions thrown). The defense went from dominant (holding Utah State to minus-10 yards on 15 plays over their first four possessions) to deficient in (coughing up 238 yards and 24 points on the Aggies next four drives) the wink of an eye.
Next: Saturday at noon against 2-2 South Alabama.