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Washington’s steamroll towards the playoffs took a bit of a hit with its 20-20 tie against the New York Giants. There’s nothing like thinking about a tie game for two weeks.  Washington took a 10-0 lead before falling behind 20-13 in the fourth quarter, only to tie things up with 1:45 left in regulation.  The ten-minute OT decided nothing as the Giants missed a last-second field goal. And these two teams meet up again in week fifteen on the Sunday Night Football stage. Can’t wait to watch the sequel!

Taylor Made- Heinicke threw for 275 yards and two touchdowns while getting sacked five times.  One of the reasons behind the surge has been his ability to avoid the sack as he had been dropped only nine times over his previous six starts.

Ground Control- the trio of Brian Robinson, Antonio Gibson, and Jonathan Williams carried the ball 31 times for 136 yards.  Robinson ran 21 times for 96 yards, giving him 563 for the season (he’s on pace to finish with 813) over nine games.  He also caught a pair of passes for 15 yards.

Run TMC- Terry McLaurin caught eight passes for 105 yards and a touchdown, giving him 945 for the season and within shouting distance of a third straight 1,000-yard campaign (hasn’t been done in Washington since Henry Ellard in 1994-96). Curtis Samuel had nine touches, with six receptions for 63 yards and three carries for 23 yards. And rookie Jahan Dotson caught a career-high five passes for 54 yards.

Third Down and Out- the offense moved the chains on 3-14 attempts with Heinicke completing 2-9 passes for one conversion. He was sacked twice (and lost a fumble on one of them). He threw to Curtis Samuel and Terry McLaurin three times apiece, with McLaurin’s one catch leading to a conversion while neither of Samuel’s receptions leading to a first down. Brian Robinson moved the chains on both of his third down runs while Antonio Gibson gained five yards on a 3rd & 10. Distance breakdown: 2-3 on short-yardage, 1-2 when four to six yards were needed, and 0-9 on long-yardage. Nine third and longs! That’s tough to overcome.

Case for the Defense- Kamren Curl paced the unit with 12 tackles while Jamin Davis added 10 stops. Daron Payne had a pair of sacks in his four tackles.  The D held the Giants on 4-13 on third down.

Special Situations- Tress Way averaged 44.2 yards over six punts, landing four of them inside the Giants’ 20 with zero touchbacks.  Joey Slye missed a 52-yard field goal but connected on 21 and 42-yarders while delivering four touchbacks (his returned kickoffs reached the goal line and the New York 8).  Antonio Gibson had a 24-yard kickoff return while fumbling (and recovering) the other before gaining three yards.  Alex Erickson had punt returns of 6, 6, and 14 yards plus a pair of fair catches.  There were no punt returns and the Giants returned their kickoffs for 19 and 25 yards.

Flying Flags- seven penalties for 56 yards (with one infraction declined). Four were on the offense (two holds, a false start, and an illegal block), one was on defense (holding), and two were on special teams (offsides and unnecessary roughness). Logan Thomas and Rachad Wildgoose were each whistled twice, but Wildgoose’s penalties were on the same play (and thus one had to be declined). Wildgoose’s six penalties are the most on the team, and after 13 weeks offensive/special teams holds lead the pack with 16 (false starts are a close second with 12). The biggest penalty? A hold on Cole Turner moved a 1st & 10 from the Giants’ 15 to a 1st & 20 at the 35. The possession ended with a missed field goal.

Digesting the Division- Philadelphia (11-1) owns first place and remains in the No. 1 seed of the NFC while Dallas (9-3) is in second place and holds the No. 5 seed. The Christmas Eve showdown between the two teams looms large.  The New York Giants (7-4-1) are a half game ahead of Seattle for the No. 7 seed and lead Washington by half a game for third in the division.  Washington (7-5-1) trails the Seahawks by percentage points for the final playoff spot.

Comparing the Quartets- the NFC East (34-15-2) has the best composite record and a little more of a cushion with the AFC East (30-18) going 1-3 over the weekend.  The AFC South (16-31-2) remains the doormat division.  The NFC owns a 30-29 lead in the conference competition.

Clinching Season- Philadelphia can’t wrap up the East in week 14, but the Eagles can lock up a playoff berth with a win/tie or losses by San Francisco and Seattle. Minnesota wins the NFC North with a victory or a tie while Kansas City secures the AFC West with a win or a Los Angeles Chargers loss.

Elimination Island- Houston (1-10-1) and Chicago (3-10) are the first two teams to officially drop out of contention thanks to the Texans’ 27-14 loss to Cleveland and the Bears’ 28-19 defeat to Green Bay.

NITTY GRITTY NUMBERS-Washington’s unit rankings in the NFL…:

Scoring Offense- 24th. Scoring Defense- 10th.

Rushing Offense- 13th. Rushing Defense- 8th.

Passing Offense- 23rd. Passing Defense- 8th.

Off. Pass Efcy- 24th. Def. Pass Efcy- 17th.

Total Offense- 21st. Total Defense- 6th.

Sacks Allowed- T27th. Sacks Made- T9th.

Third Down Efcy- 28th. Third Down D- 4th.

Turnover Margin—–T17th.

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The NFL is a week-to-week league and it’s often razor-thin when deciding who wins and who loses. A goal-line interception and a roughing the kicker penalty helped deliver a 19-13 victory for Washington over Atlanta. It’s the seventh one-possession game for the Commanders this fall, and they’re currently holding down the third Wildcard spot because they are 5-2 in those games. And with six wins in seven games we have another patented Ron Rivera rally- they won five straight in 2020 and four in a row last year to move into postseason position. But after those respective surges each team shrunk: the division winners lost two of their last three games and benefitted from a historically bad NFC East, while the 2021 edition finished the year 1-4 (thanks to a Giants team that was about to fire its coach). This year’s team is 7-5 for the first time since 2008 (Jim Zorn would go 5-15 over the rest of his two-season tenure) and plays three of its final five games against division foes with another against NFC West-leading San Francisco. But regardless of what happens, my 6-8-3 preseason projection certainly looks foolish now.

Taylor Made- Heinicke completed 14-23 passes for 138 yards and two touchdowns while tossing an interception late in the first half (Atlanta had no time to benefit from the turnover). After six starts he may have thrown for fewer yards and touchdowns than Carson Wentz while also posting a lower passer rating (82.7 to 84.1) but has been sacked just nine times to 23 for Wentz in the same number of starts. If they lost yesterday one could make the case to swap QB’s, but now the referendum moves to his and the team’s play against the Giants next Sunday.

Here’s to You, Mr. Robinson- Brian Robinson rushes for 105 yards (the first 100-yard game of his career) on 18 carries while catching a touchdown pass. Three months after being shot in the leg (an important body part for a running back). Antonio Gibson added 32 yards on nine tries plus three catches for 22 yards (all on third down) while Jonathan Williams ran four times for 22 yards. The Commanders’ road to the playoffs is on the ground, and while Robinson might not reach 1,000 yards as I predicted before the opener (I factored in the stay on the shelf) he’s the primary option for this rush offense.

Pass Catch Fever- Terry McLaurin made four receptions for 48 yards while tight end John Bates added three catches for 24 yards and a touchdown. Curtis Samuel was more of a threat on the ground (zero receptions but four carries for 13 yards) while Jahan Dotson was targeted once.

Third and Struggling- after moving the chains on 3-5 money downs in the first half, the Commanders were 2-7 after intermission to finish 5-12 on the day. Heinicke completed 6-9 passes for four conversions with Terry McLaurin serving as his top option (two catches on four targets with two conversions). Washington ran three times with Brian Robinson moving the chains once, Antonio Gibson running a draw play on 3rd & 18 that naturally came up short, and Curtis Samuel’s fourth quarter run buying time but missing the marker. Yardage breakdown: 4-5 on short-yardage, 0-2 on 3rd & 4-6 yards needed, 1-5 on long-yardage.

Defense Dominates- Darrick Forrest leads the team with 11 tackles while Jamin Davis adds 10 stops. They also held the Falcons to 1-4 on third down in the second half and 4-10 for the day. And when it looked as though Atlanta was going to run the clock down before scoring, Daron Payne tipped a pass that was intercepted in the end zone by Kendall Fuller. The defense now ranks eighth in yards allowed and tenth in points given up.

Special Situations- Joey Slye made 1-2 extra points while kicking field goals of 30 and 45 yards. He also had four touchbacks with two kicks returned (one for 19 yards to the 21 and the other for 9 yards to the 24). Tress Way averaged 42.3 yards on his three punts, none of which were returned. Antonio Gibson had kickoff returns of 20 and 31 yards while Washington did not have any punt returns.

Flying Flags- four penalties for 32 yards. Two on offense (holding, pass interference) and two on defense (facemask and offsides). The hold gives Washington 13 for the season and is their most common infraction (caveat-holding on a return counts towards the total). The most costly flag? Andrew Norwell’s hold turned what would have been a 3rd & 1 from the Falcons’ 36 into a 2nd & 15 from the 50. Washington would wind up punting (of course Montez Sweat’s offsides would have been worse had Atlanta not thrown an INT and scored with under a minute left).

Digesting the Division- Philadelphia (10-1) remains in first place and owns the best record in the entire league. Second place Dallas (8-3) has the No. 5 seed while the New York Giants (7-4) despite two straight losses are still in the playoff mix as the No. 6 seed. Washington (7-5) remains in last place of the East but moves into the No. 7 seed with Seattle’s loss to Las Vegas (first Seahawks home loss to the Raiders since 1988).

East is a Beast- actually, both of them. The NFC East is 32-13, meaning they’re going to finish over .500 as a group even if they lose every out of division game for the rest of the regular season. Close behind is the AFC East at 29-15 and they also have four teams in their ranks owning winning records. The worst? Indianapolis’ loss drops the AFC South to 16-27-2 (.378) which is marginally worse than the NFC South’s 18-29 (.383). The interconference contest has the AFC owning a 28-25 lead over the NFC with the first conference reaching 40 wins taking bragging rights.

NITTY GRITTY NUMBERS-Washington’s unit rankings in the NFL…:

Scoring Offense- 23rd. Scoring Defense- 10th.

Rushing Offense- 14th. Rushing Defense- 8th.

Passing Offense- 23rd. Passing Defense- 10th.

Off. Pass Efcy- 27th. Def. Pass Efcy- 15th.

Total Offense- 23rd. Total Defense- 8th.

Sacks Allowed- T24th. Sacks Made- T12th.

Third Down Efcy- 26th. Third Down D- 4th.

Turnover Margin—–T18th.

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Thanksgiving weekend is kind of “the end before the finish” in college football. Because while there will be plenty of high-stakes action during Conference Championship weekend followed by way too many bowl games, the combination of quality and quantity concludes with the last regular season weekend. No more “is Virginia Tech on the ACC Network or ACCN+?” or scrambling to search for James Madison (ESPN+ or ESPN3?). Closer to home, the final game at the newly-minted SECU Stadium is the last Saturday I try to figure out the quickest way to College Park from Arlington, Virginia (39 minutes under the city, 39 minutes on the north side of the beltway) to cover Maryland.

The end of the regular season also means no more “why do they have 11 a.m. kickoffs?”. No more 10:30 p.m. Pac-12 kickoffs keeping us up into the wee hours wondering why the Power Five conference that’s often more fun than the other four leagues combined can’t generate a playoff team. And no more “if you’re tired of the Alabama-Auburn blowout you can put on Oregon-Oregon State” option. We had one Saturday to celebrate the game in its totality and we were given one more day filled with thrills, chills, and spills.

No. 2 Michigan started the fun by going Columbus to deal Ohio State their first home loss in the series since 2000, punching its second straight ticket to the Big Ten Championship Game where they will face…Purdue? Yes, the 8-4 Boilermakers won the West thanks to their come-from-behind win over Indiana. And yes, I was rooting for a four-way tie in the Big Ten West now that Coastal Chaos is officially in our rear-view mirror. The ACC Championship Game is now completely devoid of buzz as North Carolina lost its second straight and Clemson’s come-from-ahead loss at home to South Carolina bounces the perennial playoff contenders from contention. They weren’t the only Tiger to turn tail: LSU saw its playoff hopes fade in the College Station night as Texas A&M played up to its potential for perhaps the first time all season. Saturday evening also saw USC keep its playoff hopes alive as the Trojans topped surging (five straight wins) Notre Dame and may have delivered the case for quarterback Caleb Williams to win the Heisman Trophy.

Alma Mater Update- the Orange ended their losing streak at five by rallying past Boston College 32-23. This was after a fumble and a blocked punt gifted the Eagles 10 first quarter points and a late 2nd & 4 from the BC six turned into a 4th & 35 from the Eagle 37. The stars aligned: Garrett Shrader threw for 285 yards and two touchdowns, Sean Tucker ran for 125 yards and two scores, and Oronde Gadsden II made six catches for 106 yards. The defense also played well for the most part (two forced fumbles). Now if they can only commit fewer than 14 penalties (two 15-yarders napalmed the late first half scoring chance). Next up is a bowl, and many have them going back to Boston for the Fenway Bowl. Haven’t the New England alums suffered enough?

Maryland (7-5, 4-5 Big Ten) snapped a three game slide by beating Rutgers 37-0. It was the school’s first shutout of a Big Ten opponent since joining the league and represents the completion of a turnaround that started in their hard-fought loss to then- No. 2 Ohio State the week before. “I’m proud of this team, really proud of the way they finished,” Coach Mike Locksley said. “Every part of our program is designed to finish the right way and I thought we did that today playing perhaps our most complete game that we’ve had all season in all three phases.”

Terrapin Triumphs: Taulia Tagovailoa threw for 342 yards and a touchdown which gives him 50 for his career and sets the school record. He also had multiple runs for first downs and his top target was senior Jeshaun Jones who made nine catches for 152 yards and the TD (Jeshaun has a potential COVID year pending and Coach Mike Locksley said his No. 1 priority would be to get the wide receiver to return for a bonus year). Roman Hemby finished his freshman regular season with 70 yards and three touchdowns rushing. But the story of the day was a defense that started the day by holding the Scarlet Knights to three straight three and outs (they’d have six on the day) and limited the Scarlet Knights to 63 yards rushing on 27 carries, 8-22 passing and 1-13 on third down.

Terrapin Troubles: the offense did go 6-18 on third down (and 2-9 in the second half) while a pair of lost fumbles inside the Rutgers’ 30 in the first quarter may have spelled disaster against a better team.

Next: Waiting to hear which bowl they’ll be invited to. CBS has them ticketed to the Guaranteed Rate Bowl in Phoenix while Yahoo! has them making a repeat appearance in the Pinstripe Bowl. Isn’t there a rule against that?

James Madison (8-3, 6-2 Sun Belt) due to 2022 being their “transition year” from FCS is ineligible for postseason play so their season-ending game with Coastal Carolina served as a de facto bowl game. And it was all JMU in a 47-7 rout of the Chanticleers that ended the season on a high note and brushed the midseason three-game losing streak into the dustbin. Who’s ready for 2023?

Duke Do’s: sixth-year senior quarterback Todd Centeio threw for 287 yards and four touchdowns. He doesn’t have a COVID year of eligibility pending, does he? Devin Ravanel made five catches for 102 yards and two scores (he’s technically a fifth-year senior) while sixth-year senior Percy Agyei-Obese’s 79 yards gave him 3,230 for his career (fifth-best all time in program history). Chris Chukwuneke notched a sack and a fumble recovery while posting six tackles-and the good news is he’s only a redshirt junior.

Next: barring a bowl eligibility miracle JMU next suits up Saturday September 2 against Bucknell. But one can still dream, right?

How was your Thanksgiving? The beauty of the holiday plate is that even if you’re not a big turkey (or ham) fan the sides more than compensate, in fact so much that it’s not as much of a meal with a main course and sides but a meal of sides also starring a main course. Followed by pie-AND for the record my brother’s pumpkin cheesecake won the holiday even though my chili-cream cheese dip (named after my great-great-great-great-grandmother Kanzta Pieting) fared well.

The final week of the college football season offers up plenty of sides, from Ole Miss-Mississippi State where a few years ago the game was determined by a player pantomiming a dog urinating (true story) to a flurry of Friday matchups that include the fight for first place in the AAC (hold your breath). Saturday’s main course begins in Columbus where Ohio State-Michigan involves two unbeatens for the first time since 2006, followed by Auburn-Alabama where the winner won’t advance to the SEC Championship Game for the third time since 2007. The dessert is Notre Dame-USC which even when it doesn’t have National Championship, BCS, or playoff implications is one of those games that draws fans’ attention from all over the country. There’s nothing like a special rivalry.

Maryland is in its ninth year of playing in the Big Ten, and for the seventh time in that span wrap up their season with their neighbor to the northeast Rutgers. But don’t construct a Civil Conflict Trophy just yet. “So many times we want to make things rivalries, and again that’s not something a coach can do. We don’t establish rivalries. Rivalries are forged over time.” But like Penn State the Scarlet Knights help comprise the eastern wing of the league and when you continue to meet on the final day of the season the rivalry question will never leave the conversation.

Alma Mater Update- Syracuse has been looking for a gridiron rival ever since they got to be too big to consider Colgate their equal on the football field (we know the Orange can’t beat them on the court nowadays). Truth be told, my first cousin once removed Preston Williams and his fraternity brothers would drive to the Syracuse campus in the 50’s and grab random students, hold them down and shave a “C” in their heads. Such innocent times. West Virginia always looked to Pitt, Pitt always looked to Penn State, and Penn State always though way too highly of itself for SU to be considered a “rival” during the Eastern Independent days. Boston College? They care about two things: hockey and telling you how academically challenging their school is. Rutgers and Temple? Schedule speedbumps then and in different conferences now. Virginia Tech was a fun annual foe for a decade- even with the occasional 63-0 loss sprinkled in-but the Atlantic/Coastal split robbed the Orange of even that. So it’s back to battling BC two days after Thanksgiving. I went in 2018 with my college roommate to see an SU win. I’ll be watching this year either writing the College Football Corner or off in the “Orange Room” (depending on timing: they lock the doors at kickoff for jinx reasons). Either way, I’ll think of sitting on those incredibly uncomfortable seats at the Dome while consuming a dubious Dome Dog (now with more miscellaneous!) and sipping the questionable-quality Genesee (Geneseeing is believing). Let’s Go Orange!

BONUS SELECTION: No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 3 Michigan, noon, FOX. Now this is a rivalry. The signature showdown of the Big Ten will send one school to the Championship Game while the other will start lobbying for Playoff inclusion while rooting for every other team in contention to lose. Each team had tough times putting Maryland away this fall, with special teams mishaps looming large for the Terps in those losses. The Buckeyes lead the Big Ten in passing and total yardage while also scoring the most points per game. The Wolverines are number one against the run and the pass in the conference while boasting the most productive ground game in the league, but Heisman Trophy candidate Blake Corum is a question mark after tweaking his knee in last week’s win over Illinois. Meanwhile, Ohio State’s Heisman candidate CJ Stroud is looking to bounce back from a subpar showing at Maryland.

Presto’s Pick: Buckeyes but barely, 20-17.

Maryland (6-5, 3-5 Big Ten) vs. Rutgers (4-7, 1-7), noon, BTN.

Only two more seasons where these two schools will be the “new kids in town”-enjoy this while you can. Both teams began the season 3-0 and while many the Terps’ November has not necessarily been one to remember (for what it’s worth the loss at home to Purdue is the one that still stings) they haven’t experienced the slide of the Scarlet Knights: four of their seven Big Ten losses have come by more than 30 points. Greg Schiano’s team ranks 12th in the Big Ten in scoring and 13th in points allowed. But the real killer might be the conference-low 15 sacks, because if there’s one thing that’s been bothering Taulia Tagovailoa during the three game losing streak its the 17 sacks suffered. Maryland has won five of seven in the series with bowl bids being locked up thanks to season-ending triumphs in 2016 and 2021.

Presto’s Pick: Terrapins triumph again with a 37-16 win.

James Madison (7-3, 5-2 Sun Belt) vs. Coastal Carolina (9-1, 6-1), noon, ESPNU.

The Dukes are not eligible for postseason play in their first season of FBS play but they can make a major statement by affecting the SBC race. JMU leads the Sun Belt in scoring while ranking third in passing and fourth in rushing; the Chanticleers allow he most passing yard per game in the conference. Coastal is also minus quarterback Grayson McCall with a foot injury and in the Chanticleers’ one game without him they were held to 26 points in a win over Southern Miss.

Presto’s Pick: Dukes finish the season with a flourish in 34-17 win.

Richmond (8-3) vs. Davidson (8-3), 2 p.m., ESPN+. FCS First Round.

Yes, it’s playoff time in college football and one is shocked at how the FCS tournament survives with integrity despite having more than four teams participate (24!!! the humanity!). While 10-1 William & Mary has a bye into the round of sixteen, the Spiders make their first postseason appearances since 2016 when they reached the Quarterfinals. The Wildcats punched their playoff ticket when Dayton missed a fourth quarter two-point conversion in their regular season finale. Former VMI quarterback returned to FCS after a year at Maryland and has completed over 70% of his passes for 3,000+ yards and a 24 touchdowns with only four interceptions.

Presto’s Pick: Spiders advance with a 33-21 win.

Last Week: 5-3.

Overall: 78-32.

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Conventional wisdom said that after upsetting an unbeaten division rival on Monday night football the Burgundy & Gold would come back to earth and play a less than inspired game at AFC South cellar-dwelling Houston. It’s tough to go from Joe Buck & Troy Aikman to Chris Myers and Robert Smith without a little bit of a letdown, right? Former Coach Jim Zorn’s teams were notorious for playing right to the level of their opponent, good or bad. And let’s be honest, opening with a three and out was less than encouraging.

But then Kendall Fuller intercepted a Davis Mills pass and returned the pick 37 yards for a touchdown, prompting one to sing the “Comma Commanders” song much earlier than expected. That INT set the tone for an afternoon where Washington more than doubled the Texans’ yardage and handled business with a 23-10 thumping that wasn’t as close as the score indicated. Instead of slipping under .500 they have a winning record for after 11 games for the first time since 2018, stand one half game out of a playoff berth, and control their path to the postseason. They won’t slip to sub-.500 Atlanta at home this week, will they?

Taylor Made- Heinicke completed 15-27 passes for 191 yards and while he didn’t necessarily put up game-winning numbers, the quarterback didn’t get sacked and played well with an early lead against a team that wasn’t moving the ball at all. The closest he came to disaster was as fourth quarter fumble that he recovered to keep a field goal drive alive.

Running on Full- the ground game delivered against the league’s worst defense against the run as Antonio Gibson (18 carries for 72 yards) and Brian Robinson (15-57) combined for 129 yards. They also got their lone offensive touchdown form Curtis Samuel on the ground.

Pass Catch Fever- Logan Thomas led the team with five catches for 65 yards (his season high) while Terry McLaurin made four receptions for 55 yards and is now on pace to pass the 1,000 yard barrier in week 15. Meanwhile, rookie Jahan Dotson recorded a catch for the second straight week after missing a month with a hamstring injury. Can he return to his early form (four TD’s on 12 catches in weeks 1-4)?

Third and needs a little work- the offense moved the chains on only 3-13 attempts, with Heinicke completing 2-9 passes for one conversion. Brian Robinson recorded one first down on his two runs while Antonio Gibson also went 1-2 running the ball (for the record one of those runs came on 3rd & 19). The top option: Terry McLaurin’s one catch on two targets moved the chains. Yardage breakdown: 2-4 on short-yardage, 0-3 when needing four to six yards, and 2-6 on long-yardage.

Case for the Defense- talk about a dominant day. The D held Houston to 148 total yards, off the scoreboard for the first half and out of the end zone until the fourth quarter. Kamren Curl made seven tackles, three of which came on third downs and forced punts in the first half. The pass rush made four of their five sacks on third down (Jonathan Allen and Montez Sweat each notching a pair). The run defense limited the Texans to 21 yards on 16 carries. And of course Fuller’s interception gave Washington the lead for good just minutes into the game.

Special Situations- Joey Slye made both of his extra point attempts and kicked field goals of 24, 25, and 44 yards while all five of his kickoffs were for touchbacks. Tress Way averaged 44.2 yards on five punts. Dax Milne had four punt returns for 22 yards with a long of 16 while Antonio Gibson had kickoff returns of 21 and 27 yards. The Texans had no kickoff returns and the Commanders allowed punt returns of five and nine yards.

Flying Flags- six penalties were called with five accepted for a total of 36 yards. Four infractions were on special teams: a false start, hold, delay of game and running into the kicker (declined). One was on offense (holding on Tre Turner) and another was on defense (unnecessary roughness on John Ridgeway). After 11 games offensive and special teams holds have the lead (12 flags) with false starts and defensive pass interference close behind (11 apiece). Sunday’s most costly flag? The unnecessary roughness call gave the Texans a first and goal, but one they couldn’t take advantage of.

Digesting the Division- Philadelphia’s come from behind win at Indianapolis keeps the Eagles (9-1) atop the NFC East and in the No. 1 seed. Dallas (7-3) moves past the New York Giants (7-3) into second place and the No. 5 seed as they own the head-to-head tiebreaker. Washington (6-5) is in eighth place of the NFC, just a half game behind Seattle for the final wildcard spot.

Comparing the Quartets- the NFC East (29-12) has the best composite record of the eight divisions, followed by the AFC East (26-14). The AFC South (14-24-2) is at the bottom of the league-fittingly enough as they’re 1-9 against the NFC East this fall. Washington’s win over Houston gives the NFC a 23-22 edge in the conference contest.

NITTY GRITTY NUMBERS-Washington’s unit rankings in the NFL…:

Scoring Offense- 23rd. Scoring Defense- 12th.

Rushing Offense- 16th. Rushing Defense- 6th.

Passing Offense- 22nd. Passing Defense- 15th.

Off. Pass Efcy- 21st. Def. Pass Efcy- 16th.

Total Offense- 23rd. Total Defense- 6th.

Sacks Allowed- 27th. Sacks Made- 11th.

Third Down Efcy- 26th. Third Down D- 3rd.

Turnover Margin—–T16th.

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College football’s penultimate regular season Saturday often serves as a setup for Thanksgiving weekend when you have rivalry games like Michigan-Ohio State, Alabama-Auburn, and of course Maryland-Rutgers. It’s also chance for some SEC schools to help fund athletic programs at Austin Peay, UMass, and New Mexico State. But it’s also a Saturday filled with shockers and near-upsets.

The thrills and chills began with a couple of near-spills in the early window: No. 3 Michigan bent but did not break the Illinois defense on consecutive drives before kicking a game-winning field goal to stay unbeaten while No. 4 TCU after missing on a two-point conversion that would have tied Baylor was able to get a last-second field goal to remain unscathed. No. 1 Georgia wasn’t able to knock out pesky Kentucky in a ten-point win and No. 2 Ohio State needed a blocked punt and a fumble-sack to dispose of Maryland. And wouldn’t you know the late games would include No. 7 USC holding off UCLA in a 48-45 shootout.

I’m not saying that there’s a transitive property of upsets, but it felt as though all of those near-misses was somehow saved and folded into South Carolina’s game with No. 5 Tennessee. After rallying from a double-digit deficit to move within four points early in the third quarter, the Volunteer defense collapsed. Or depending on your viewpoint, the Gamecocks offense just went off. Back-to-back-to-back-to-back touchdown drives extinguished any feint playoff hopes for the Vols in the 63-38 loss. Perhaps they should have scheduled South Carolina-Upstate?

Alma Mater Update- there’s nothing like a five game losing streak to take the excitement out of a 6-0 start. But at least they found the end zone at Wake Forest. The 45-35 loss drops the Orange to 6-5 with a Saturday evening trip to Boston College on the horizon. Meanwhile, basketball battles Richmond in Brooklyn-I think SU has played the Spiders before.

Navy (4-7, 4-4 AAC) took the opening 11 a.m. kickoff at No. 17 UCF and drove the ball 75 yards on 11 plays with Xavier Arline scoring on a one-yard run. That set the tone for the day as the Mids would never trail in their 17-14 upset of the Knights. Now they get two weeks off with positive vibes for their biggest game of the year.

Midshipmen Medals: they held the ball for over 39 minutes and rushed for 248 yards, with Daba Fofana finding his groove again by gaining 114 yards (second straight 100-yard game for the sophomore). The defense held the Knights to 3-12 on third down as John Marshall had four of the team’s six sacks and led the unit with 10 tackles. Riley Riethman averaged 50.2 yards on six punts.

Midshipmen Miscues: the offense was stuck in neutral after halftime, gaining 13 yards on 12 plays in their first four possessions after intermission. The passing game was non-existent with just one attempt. But there’s very little to disparage on the first road win over a ranked team since 2015 when they outscored No. 15 Memphis 45-20.

Next: Saturday December 10 at 3 p.m. against 4-6 Army. Navy won last year but the Black Knights are 4-2 in the series since 2016.

Virginia Tech (3-8) stopped a seven-game losing streak during a season where they’ve been haunted by second half collapses by scoring last in their 23-22 win at Liberty. But even with Jalen Holston’s touchdown, there was 7:46 left on the clock and the Flames only needed a field goal to pull ahead. The defense answered by turning them over on downs out of field goal range and then recovering a fumble on Liberty’s final possession to seal the victory.

Hokie Highlights: Holston rushed for 99 yards and scored all three of the team’s touchdowns. Tech rushed for 176 yards on the afternoon and while Grant Wells wasn’t dynamic, the offense didn’t turn the ball over. TyJuan Garbutt had two sacks amidst his six tackles, while forcing the game-sealing fumble in the fourth quarter. The defense recovered a pair of Liberty fumbles in the fourth quarter and held the Flames to 4-12 on third down.

Hokie Humblings: the offensive line allowed six sacks, including one for a safety early in the second half that gave Liberty their first lead of the day. Special teams allowed a 97-yard kickoff return that sparked a second quarter rally that saw Tech go from up ten to tied at the half.

Next: no word on if Saturday’s game with 3-7 Virginia will be played or if so what time they’ll kick off.

James Madison (7-3, 5-2 Sun Belt) certainly is making its case for being on a channel above ESPN3 or ESPN+, right? One week after dominating Old Dominion the Dukes showed they can rally, coming back from twenty points down to outscore Georgia State 42-40. They’re not eligible for postseason play per the terms of their transition from FCS, but man they’ve given us some fun football to watch this fall.

Duke Do’s: Todd Centeio threw for 274 yards and four touchdowns while Percy Agyei-Obese ran for 89 yards and two scores. The defense notched five sacks and held Georgia State to 3-13 on third down. Sam Clark averaged 47.8 yards per punt.

Duke Don’ts: turnovers almost cooked them as two of their four fumbles were returned for Panther touchdowns and Georgia State was able to generate a touchdown and a field goal from the other two miscues. I’m thinking there may be more than a few ball-security drills this week.

Next: Saturday at noon against 9-1 Coastal Carolina. Hoping they get an ESPN2 game.

Maryland (6-5, 3-5 Big Ten) after taking a halftime lead over No. 2 Ohio State took their opponents’ best punch: a blocked punt sparked a 17-0 surge that had the Buckeyes outgaining the Terps 125-45 in the third quarter. But Maryland fought back and was actually within three points when they punted with 5:54 left in regulation. Unfortunately OSU bled over five minutes off of the clock and kicked a field goal. But there was still hope-at least until the Buckeyes recovered a sack-fumble in the end zone with nine seconds left. The 43-30 loss was disappointing, but Head Coach Mike Locksley was pleased with his team’s grit. And while that won’t show up on the stat sheet, it was a much better effort than the previous two weeks.

Terrapin Triumphs: Taulia Tagovailoa threw for 293 yards and two touchdowns while running for another score. The offense actually outgained the Buckeyes 402-401 on the day. Beau Brade paced the defense with eight tackles as the defense held Ohio State to ten points in the first half. Deonte Banks blocked an extra point attempt that Jakorian Bennett returned for a 2-point conversion to jumpstart a late rally.

Terrapin Troubles: Tagovailoa was sacked five times, with the final one resulting in a fumble returned for a game-sealing touchdown and sending Taulia to the sidelines with a banged up knee. The defense had no answers for Dallan Hayden who gained 143 of his 146 yards rushing after halftime. A blocked punt set up a short field for OSU to take the lead for good in the third quarter. And ten penalties for 97 yards is the last thing you need when facing the No. 2 team in the nation.

Next: Saturday at noon against 4-7 Rutgers. Should this be a trophy game and if so, what would the trophy be called?

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Sports are supposed to be the toy section of any newspaper or broadcast day. It’s fun and games for heaven’s sake. The teams have nicknames and “play”. We joke around about schools and cities and their fan bases (sometimes even drawing conclusions about those who might be tailgating before and after games). But sometimes we’re given a hard dose of reality like this past Sunday night when three University of Virginia football players were shot and killed in Charlottesville. I did not know Lavel Davis Jr., D’Shawn Perry or Devin Chandler but over Davis and Perry’s time with the Cavaliers I wrote about each. Chandler was just beginning to make an impact on the program as a transfer.

Unfortunately their lives have been cut short and the University did the right thing by canceling Saturday’s game with Coastal Carolina. I hope they play at Virginia Tech next weekend to give this year’s fourth and fifth-year players a chance for closure regarding their college careers, letting them suit up for UVa one final time before moving on to the next stage of their lives. I also hope playing in Blacksburg will give the program a chance to heal somewhat from the devastating losses they will be dealing with for some time. In 2007 after the Virginia Tech shootings the University of Virginia extended the olive branch “Hoos for Hokies” to show support for their in-state opponent. Fifteen years later the school in Blacksburg can help their brethren in Charlottesville heal with “Hokies for Hoos”.

But that’s a decision for next week. This Saturday we are all Cavaliers.

Alma Mater Update- the Orange try to stop their slide after four losses, with each defeat more discouraging than the previous one. This week it’s a trip to Winston-Salem with a night game against Wake Forest, a team that has dropped three straight. Can SU contain fifth-year junior quarterback Sam Hartman (62%, 300+ yards per game, and a 28-10 TD-INT ratio)? And what of the offense that has managed just 12 points in its last eight quarters?

Navy (3-7, 3-3 AAC) at No. 17 UCF (8-2, 5-1), 11 a.m., ESPN2.

REALLY??? 11AM? The only competition that should be broadcast on TV before noon on a Saturday is the old TNBC show “Hang Time!” or for those a little bit older, the “Laff-a-Lympics” (darn those Really Rottens and their rampant cheating). The Knights (don’t call them Golden Knights or Central Florida) are in the driver’s seat to reach the AAC Championship Game and have gotten things done this fall on the ground, leading the conference in rushing (Navy is second) and total yards while ranking second best at stopping the run (right behind the Midshipmen). Navy has a major question mark regarding the status of quarterback Xavier Arline who suffered an apparent ankle injury in the loss to Notre Dame. But the Mids have tons of grit and no quit and will keep this close. Let’s just say the Knights might be a little sluggish in the morning.

Presto’s Pick: Midshipmen come up short, 25-16.

Virginia Tech (2-8) at Liberty (8-2), noon, ESPN+.

While the Hokies may be wondering what if with four of their eight losses coming in one-score games, the Flames are just four points away from an unbeaten season. Liberty’s losses have come in games where they’ve been outscored in the fourth quarter (15-6 by UConn and 17-13 by Wake Forest) but scoring late isn’t exactly VT’s strong suit: they’ve been blanked in the final period six times and have scored just 30 points over ten fourth quarters this fall. Liberty won’t look like the team led by dual-threat and now with the NFL’s Tennessee Titans quarterback Malik Willis but they do boast a running back in Dae Dae Hunter that’s rushed for 850 yards (on 6.6 per carry) and their quarterback Johnathan Bennett has provided stability and efficiency. The Hokies are 0-5 on the road this year and have dropped four of their last five non-conference road games.

Presto’s Pick: Hokies freefall continues with a 27-14 loss.

James Madison (6-3, 4-2 Sun Belt) vs Georgia State (4-6, 3-3), 2 p.m., ESPN+.

The Panthers are fighting to keep bowl eligibility, coming on strong with four wins in six games after beginning their schedule with three biggies: at South Carolina before hosting North Carolina and Charlotte (for the record they did play the Tar Heels and 49ers to one-score games). GSU brings the most productive ground game in the Sun Belt Conference (242.7 yards per game) to Harrisonburg behind dual threat quarterback Darren Grainger (196 yards passing plus 70 yards rushing per game). But the Dukes are the best team in the SBC at stopping the run (79 yards allowed per outing) and boast better balance offensively (3rd in rushing and 4th in passing) behind quarterback Todd Centeio who has bounced back from his mid-season injury (304 yards passing in last Saturday’s win). Georgia State has had issues stopping the run this fall and lost last weekend despite rolling up 535 yards against Louisiana-Monroe.

Presto’s Pick: Dukes deliver another victory, 34-20.

Maryland (6-4, 3-4 Big Ten) vs. No. 2 Ohio State (10-0, 7-0), 3:30 p.m., FOX.

The Buckeyes are the one Big Ten East team the Terps have yet to defeat, and with one exception (a 52-51 OT loss in 2018) it has not been close as OSU has put 49, 52, 53, 62 (twice), 66, and 73 points on the board in their other meetings. Quarterbacks JT Barrett, the late Dwayne Haskins, and Justin Fields have enjoyed field days throwing to the likes of Michael Thomas, Terry McLaurin, and Chris Olave while having the comfort of handing off to players like Ezekiel Elliott and JK Dobbins. This fall CJ Stroud pilots an offense that leads the Big Ten in passing and total yards while pacing the conference in scoring 46.8 points per game (his top target is son of the HOF-Marvin Harrison Jr. who has 60 catches for 969 yards and 11 TD’s). Coach Mike Locksley said one priority is making Stroud “uncomfortable” which is easier said than done because the Bucks have a great option on the ground in Miyan Williams (6.7 yards per carry). Meanwhile the Terps offense tries to find itself after scoring 10 points over the last two weeks as Taulia Tagovailoa’s thrown for a combined 151 yards while getting sacked 12 times in those two losses. I’m completely confident you are going to see a great effort by Maryland Saturday, but I’m also confident you’re going to see too much talent on the other side of the ball executing.

Presto’s Pick: Terrapins tumble, 44-14.

Howard falls to Morgan State, Georgetown loses to Holy Cross, Towson tops Hampton, William & Mary beats Richmond.

Last Week: 8-3.

Overall: 73-29.

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For NFL pretenders the season is a very slippery slope: one or two losses can compound itself like credit card debt and a team that had playoff hopes is staring at a double-digit defeat season. Washington has fought its way back from the brink (1-4 with four straight losses and 35 total points over a three-game stretch) and while one could write of wins over sub-.500 squads like Chicago, Green Bay, and Indianapolis-the 32-21 win over Philadelphia keeps this team in the playoff mix (at least through Thanksgiving). And what a victory it was, topping the league’s last unbeaten on Monday Night Football. Scoring drives of 7:21, 6:30, 7:04, and 8:23. All told they had the ball for over 40 minutes. The defense made plays (four takeaways) and the offense despite a few hiccups made plays when it mattered. And so after ten games the Burgundy and Gold are in contention.

Taylor Made- Heinicke completed 17 of 29 passes for 211 yards with an interception plus a fumble that set up the Eagles’ first touchdown while getting sacked three times. He also ran five times for 10 yards. But his two biggest plays don’t necessarily show up on the stat sheet: in the first half he recovered a high snap and threw an incompletion to avoid a monster sack and keep a touchdown drive alive while in the fourth quarter he took a knee and sold a roughing the passer penalty that helped the offense melt another minute off of the clock. He’s now 3-1 as a starter and his passer rating is similar (82.1) to Carson Wentz (82.7) while getting sacked a ton less (nine in four games as opposed to Wentz getting dropped 23 times over six starts).

Running For Time- at first glance the numbers of Brian Robinson and Antonio Gibson (132 yards on 40 carries) don’t look great, but then one realizes that they were given the ball six times on third down and moved the chains five times. They each ran for a touchdown in the win and not only gained the tough yards but those gains kept Philadelphia off the field.

Pass Catch Fever- Terry McLaurin shined with 8 catches for 128 yards or roughly half of the team’s passing offense. It’s nice to see Taylor and Terry on the same page: McLaurin is averaging six catches on nine targets for 92.5 yards over the last four games after posting 3.7 receptions on 6.2 throws for 61.2 yards the previous six.

Third and Awesome- Washington converted 12-21 third downs with a few caveats thrown in there. Technically the made field goal at the end of the first half counts as a miss as does the clock-killing knee taken after the two-minute warning in the second half. The run game got it done with seven conversions in eight attempts (Robinson was 3-4 while Gibson and Heinicke were each 2-2). Heinicke completed 7-10 passes with five conversions while tossing one interception and getting sacked once. His top option: McLaurin who moved the chains four times on five catches in seven targets. Yardage breakdown: 8-11 on short-yardage, 3-4 when needing 4-6 yards and 1-4 on long-yardage (I’ve taken the made field goal and conceded knee out of the equation).

Defensive Takeaways- entering the night the Eagles had turned the ball over only three times, and the Washington defense turned the world upside down with an interception and three fumble recoveries that led to 16 of the team’s 32 points (another didn’t lead to points but helped them bleed 2:17 of the final 5:37 off of the clock). Jamin Davis led the D with nine tackles.

Special Situations- Tress Way punted just twice for an average of 43.5 yards while Joey Slye stole the spotlight by making 4-4 field goals (32, 55, 58 yards) and both extra points. He also delivered four touchbacks on six kickoffs (one was returned from the two and the other from the goal line). Dax Milne had a 12-yard punt return while Antonio Gibson had one kickoff return for 14 yards. Kick coverage allowed a five yard punt return and a pair of 20-yard kickoff returns.

Flying Flags- just five penalties for 58 yards. Three were on offense (delay of game, false start, and pass interference-while an illegal man downfield penalty was declined), one was on defense (pass interference), and the other was on special teams (holding). Defensive pass interference takes the season lead with 11 whistles this fall and Benjamin St. Juste’s PI was his fifth flag of the season, tying him with Rachad Wildgoose for the team lead. That PI was the most costly penalty, placing the Eagles at the six-yard line (they’d score on the very next play).

Digesting the Division- despite the defeat Philadelphia (8-1) remains in first place and due to their week two win over Minnesota the Eagles keep the No. 1 seed in the NFC. The New York Giants (7-2) have almost doubled last year’s win total and are one victory away from clinching their first non-double digit loss season since 2016. They own the No. 5 seed because Dallas (6-3) lost to Green Bay (the Cowboys play Minnesota next). Washington (5-5) is in eighth place of the NFC, just one half game behind San Francisco for the third Wild Card.

Comparing the Quartets- the NFC East is not slowing down with a composite 26-11 mark that’s two games better than the AFC East (24-13). The sad-sack NFC South (15-25) is just a little worse than the AFC South (14-22-2). The interconference competition is just over halfway complete with the NFC owning a 21-20 lead over the AFC.

NITTY GRITTY NUMBERS-Washington’s unit rankings in the NFL…:

Scoring Offense- 24th. Scoring Defense- 15th.

Rushing Offense- 20th. Rushing Defense- 12th.

Passing Offense- 22nd. Passing Defense- 15th.

Off. Pass Efcy- 26th. Def. Pass Efcy- 26th.

Total Offense- 25th. Total Defense- 11th.

Sacks Allowed- T29th. Sacks Made- 16th.

Third Down Efcy- 23rd. Third Down D- 7th.

Turnover Margin—–T21st.

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The bulk of this piece was written before the on-campus shootings at the University of Virginia that claimed the lives of three players:

Lavel Davis Jr. was a third-year student from Dorchester, SC. That was enrolled in the College of Arts and Sciences.  The Woodlawn High School graduate was an All-State selection as a senior.  Davis was a six-foot-seven wide receiver who started six of the team’s first seven games this fall before missing the last two weeks with injury. Lavel missed the 2021 season after tearing his ACL during spring practice.

D’Shawn Perry was a third-year student majoring in Studio Art.  The Miami, FL native starred at Gulliver Prep and was named the South Florida Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year.  Over three seasons with the Cavaliers the six-foot-three linebacker appeared in 15 games.  Perry returned an interception 90 yards for a touchdown against Abilene Christian in his UVa debut two years ago (the return was the centerpiece of “Bad Beats” on ESPN’s late-night Sports Center).

Devin Chandler was a third-year student enrolled in the College of Arts and Sciences. The wide receiver from Huntersville, NC transferred to the ACC school from Wisconsin last offseason.  He was primarily a kick returner for the Badgers, posting a 59-yard kickoff return against Wake Forest in the 2020 Duke’s Mayo Bowl. Chandler had yet to appear in a game with the Cavaliers this fall.

I’m thinking of their family and friends as well as the University of Virginia football program, athletic department, and school family.

Due to the volume of games on our menu, a college football Saturday is never truly lost for those of us at home. Because when the Virginia or Virginia Tech 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 a 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 some time 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.

Alma Mater Update- the Orange have now lost four straight, with Saturday’s 38-3 loss to No. 25 Florida State a resounding thud. They’ve gone from leading Clemson by two touchdowns to getting outscored by Notre Dame to being handcuffed by Pitt to getting boat-raced by the Seminoles. On to Wake Forest-a team they’ve allowed 37 points a game to while losing four of six. Ugh…

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. Danie 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 ten yards per completion. He was also sacked eight times and if they counted sacks towards 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’s game with Coastal Carolina has been canceled and there’s no word if the Cavaliers will play their final regular season game of the season one week from Saturday at Virginia Tech.

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, PA. 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 jut 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.

November may be “Closing Month” in college football, but it’s also “opening month” in men and women’s college basketball. And it’s not like the 20th century when schools would wait until the Thanksgiving week (often after the football season had ended in the ancient days of 11-game regular seasons). Schools are playing hoops and lots of it now: for example the Maryland men will have five games under their belts before the traditional “Day after Thanksgiving 4 p.m. tipoff” duel with Coppin State. The Terrapin women host Preseason No. 1 and defending national champ South Carolina Friday night, the same evening the Navy men are participating in the Veterans Classic (facing Princeton while Houston takes on St. Joe’s). I feel for the Sports Information Offices at football schools that are being stretched these next three weekends.

While I’m not a fan of the equivalent of having a burger shoved in my face as I’m savoring the final bites of my Eggs Norwegian (smoked salmon instead of the Benedict’s ham), I’m curious to see how the stories of each of the local hoops teams begin. I’m an AP voter and we had “Preview Week” on wtop.com earlier this month, for heaven’s sake. I just wish we had the chance to let the football stories play out in the area before moving on to the march towards March.  Of course, there are at least two schools in the Commonwealth who are more than ready to move on to hoops.

Alma Mater Update- at least the Orange have the sense to play their home finale so they can get out of the way for Jimmy B’s road to redemption. SU wraps up the Dome portion of their schedule by hosting a red-hot No. 25 Florida State that has outscored foes 86-19 in its last two wins. I’ve seen bad losses to the Seminoles in the Dome live (1989) and shudder at the thought of Garret Schrader not being able to play Saturday. At least it’s at night and I can catch it after getting back from Navy-Notre Dame.

Navy (3-6) vs. No. 20 Notre Dame (6-3), noon, ABC.

Baltimore’s M&T Bank Stadium is one of eight sites to host this matchup in the 21st century, a list that includes multiple Florida (Orlando and Jacksonville) stops as well as an overseas trip (Dublin, Ireland) but does not include Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis. But six of those sites were used from 2007-17, an era where Navy won four times and lost three others by one possession. Since then the series has reverted to form with the Fighting taking the last three meetings by an average score of 43-16. This year under first-year coach Marcus Freeman Notre Dame has recovered from early hiccups and stumbles to average 40 points in their last three wins, a stretch that includes a 35-14 rout of then-unbeaten Clemson. The Mids don’t have that second gear those teams that have threatened the Irish have had. But at least the drive home will be nice.

Presto’s Pick: Navy sinks, 27-10.

Virginia Tech (2-7, 1-5 ACC) at Duke (6-3, 3-3), noon, ESPN3.

Two of the four first-year coaches in the ACC couldn’t have had more contrasting seasons: on the same weekend the Hokies (postseason presence for the last 30 years) were eliminated from bowl contention the Blue Devils locked up their first bid to play that 13th game since 2018. Duke is bowl-bound thanks to a balanced offense (second in the ACC rushing and fifth passing while second in sacks allowed) but they haven’t been able to shut foes down (13th against the pass and 14th on third down).  The Hokies could easily take a double digit lead on this team and that’s what scares the Blacksburg faithful after blowing 18 and 12 point leads in their most recent losses. Tech’s nine-game winning streak at Wade Wallace Stadium ends this weekend.

Presto’s Pick: Hokies are humbled in a 31-20 loss.

Virginia (3-6, 1-5 ACC) vs. Pitt (5-4, 2-3), noon, ACC Network.

Home has not been sweet home for the bettors as the road team has covered five of the last six meetings. The Cavaliers are fighting to keep bowl eligibility in play while the Panthers can punch their postseason ticket.  Last weekend was encouraging for both teams, as the Cavaliers put more than 20 points on the board for the first time this fall against an FBS team while Pitt kept Syracuse out of the end zone and secured the victory with a sack for a safety in the final minutes.  This Panthers defense gets after you: they’re fourth in the ACC with 29 sacks, rank third in the conference at stopping the run, and are second best at getting off of the field on third down.  One wonders if running back Israel Abanikanda (320 yards rushing against Virginia Tech last month) will play after missing the Cuse game with an undisclosed injury (Cavaliers are 11th best in the ACC at stopping the run). UVa wonders if last week’s offensive explosion was the mirage of meeting the most porous defense in the league.

Kippy & Buffy are pouring again Saturday, this time enjoying a Tannat from Uruguay in a bottle of 2020 Bodega Garzón. Tasting notes include “fresh aromas reminiscent of red and black fruits such as plums and raspberries on a spice-flavored aroma. It has a great personality in mouth. Its ripe tannins and its minerality make it a terroir wine of great identity.” And don’t worry: this is one of the times having a “great personality” is a good thing.

Presto’s Pick: Cavaliers’ offense “has a great personality”-and that’s not a good thing-in a 24-14 loss.

James Madison (5-3, 3-2 Sun Belt) at Old Dominion (3-6, 2-3), 1 p.m., ESPN+

ODU was this close to competing for the defacto Commonwealth Crown, after upsetting Virginia Tech in Norfolk before losing by a last-second field goal in Charlottesville to Virginia.  Since then the Monarchs have dropped four of six. JMU also began the year with the bang of a 5-0 start and a No. 25 ranking before dropping three straight for the first time since 2013 (that’s three head coaches ago). The Dukes need to find their passing groove after consecutive losses where Todd Centeio was either unavailable due to injury or ineffective due to incompletions. The Monarchs might be just the right medicine: despite a pass rush that’s tied for second most in the Sun Belt with 27 sacks they’re second to last in stopping the run (and sack yardage goes towards that total). Sounds like just the job for JMU running back Percy Agyei-Obese (three 100-yard efforts in four games with 96 against Marshall the exception).

Presto’s Pick: Dukes snap their slide and deliver a 31-17 win.

Maryland (6-3, 3-3 Big Ten) at No. 14 Penn State (7-2, 4-2), 3:30 p.m., FOX.

The Terps defense was dominated in the first half last Saturday by a Wisconsin running game that produced a grinding touchdown drive (77 yards on 12 plays) as well as the breakaway blast (an 89-yard TD run).  They face a dual threat running game this week with Nicolas Singleton (679 yards on 6.1 per carry with eight touchdowns) and Katron Allen (563 yards on 5.2 per carry and eight TD’s). Fifth-year senior Sam Clifford is producing well in his fourth season as a starter despite losing Jahan Dotson (11 catches for 242 yards and 3 TD against UMD last year) to the NFL and their line is doing a great job keeping him upright (sacks per passing attempt are half of what they have been the last two seasons). The Nittany Lions led both No. 2 Ohio State and No. 3 Michigan in the third quarter before falling victim to second-half surges. Maryland has outscored Big Ten foes 96-72 in six league games after intermission, but will their second half this week rally be enough?

Presto’s Pick: Terps come painfully close to a second straight win in Happy Valley, slipping 24-20.

Howard gets by South Carolina State, Georgetown beats Bucknell, William & Mary is victorious over Villanova, Richmond slips to Delaware, Towson tops Stony Brook, Morgan State falls to Delaware State.

Last Week: 6-4. The November frost spreads to the picks…

Overall: 65-26.