Duke avoids upset, maintains control of ACC Coastal

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For the first time since 1941, Duke (9-2, 5-2 ACC) has won nine games in a football season. One more would send the Blue Devils to their first ACC Championship Game. It was a sluggish start against Wake Forest (4-7, 2-6 ACC) but Duke rallied and came through on both sides of the football to leave town with a hard-fought 28-21 victory. The win keeps Duke on top of the ACC Coastal Division with one game to play.

Brandon Connette finished a third quarter drive that saw Duke take their first lead of the game. He did so in historic fashion by rushing for his 26th total touchdown of the year to give the Blue Devils a 28-21 lead after the successful extra point attempt. The touchdown tied a Duke single season record for total touchdowns in a season.

With Wake Forest looking poised to answer, the Duke defense came up with two big plays to force a 4th and 35 punting situation. Defensive end Kenny Anunike came up with a shoestring sack and seven-yard loss on Wake Forest quarterback Tanner Price and followed it up on the next play with a 13-yard sack of Price as the defensive line swarmed and collapsed the pocket protection. Duke later recovered a fumble midway through the fourth quarter at midfield, setting Duke up for a knockout blow.

With the win, Duke moves one step closer to wrapping up their first ACC division title since the conference expanded to a division format in 2005. If Duke beats North Carolina next week in Chapel Hill, then the Blue Devils will advance to face Florida State in the ACC Championship Game in Charlotte. A loss will leave Duke open to having to rely on tiebreaker scenarios. Duke has never won ten games in a season, but could have three opportunities to set the new school mark.

As for Wake Forest, the loss sinks the Demon Deacons below the eligibility requirement to play in a postseason bowl game. Wake Forest will enter SEC territory next week to wrap up their season at Vanderbilt.

Three decades of misery continues as Kentucky blows late lead to No. 20 Florida

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Thirty years ago, the Berlin Wall stood tall as the symbol of the Iron Curtain, a ball snuck past Bill Buckner to help the New York Mets win a World Series and gas prices were shockingly under a dollar per gallon. Much has changed in the ensuing three decades since 1986 but one constant has remained no matter what: Florida beating Kentucky in football.

So it continued on Saturday night.

The Wildcats came heartbreakingly close to ending their ignominious losing streak — the fourth longest in FBS history — at an even 30, but gave up two late fourth quarter touchdown drives to fall to their SEC rival Gators 28-27 in the most improbable of fashions.

While the streak has weighed heavily on Kentucky football as it stretched on and on, it felt like this was finally — finally! — the time that the Wildcats could come out on top as the home team played loose but disciplined on both sides of the ball. Quarterback Stephen Johnson proved to be a revelation behind center, throwing for 196 yards and three touchdowns. Running back Benny Snell  added another 59 yards for good measure and the team held the lead for just the fourth time in the final quarter during the streak.

But it didn’t matter, as Kentucky proved why they have been on the losing end of this series so many times over so many years.

UF wideout Tyrie Cleveland was the one burst of offense late in the first half, helping turn a potential run-away into a tie game by catching a wide open touchdown pass from 45 yards out. He later setup another Gators’ score off a trick play that cut the lead to six midway through the fourth quarter. Quarterback Luke Del Rio eventually entered the game late in the second half, leading two touchdown drives in the final 10 minutes that included the game-winning touchdown pass to an open Freddie Swain in the corner. Appropriately, Kentucky had just 10 men on the field at the time to further twist the knife.

The Wildcats nearly drove the length of the field to set up a late field goal but a holding call pushed them out of range, as Austin MacGinnis’ 57-yarder came up short and once again put the team on the wrong side of history.

Florida remains afloat in the SEC East after the victory and now moves to 51-17  all time against UK on the gridiron. Something says that latest edition to the series remains one of the most improbable though.

Transitioning-to-FBS Coastal Carolina gets woodshedded by FCS team

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The transition from FCS to FBS is normally not a seamless process.  Through three games, Coastal Carolina is proven as much.

The nascent FBS program was already behind the eight ball as, in late July, it was announced that head coach Joe Moglia would miss the entire 2017 season with health issues.  In Week 4, CCU watched another FCS team run the table on them as Western Illinois took the Chanticleers to the woodshed in a 52-10 win.  And at CCU’s home no less.

The FCS Illinois outgained the FBS Carolina 510-307.  The turnover battle did CCU no favors, either, as the Chanticleers had four — three interceptions, one lost fumble — to none for the Leathernecks.

CCU actually began its trek toward full-fledged FBS status with a season-opening 38-28 home win over a UMass team that nearly upset Tennessee in Knoxville in Week 4.  After a bye in Week 2, they then fell to a UAB team that’s in its first year back after the football program was disbanded before being resurrected.

The Chanticleers will earn full FBS status in 2018 after their transition season this year.  While they’re not eligible for a bowl game in 2017, they could theoretically win the Sun Belt Conference championship.

Western Illinois, incidentally, is currently 3-0 and ranked No. 21 in the latest FCS coaches’ poll, with those three wins coming by a combined 87 points (131-44).

Fab frosh Fromm fronts No. 11 Georgia in Bulldog Bowl blowout

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There were some questions entering Saturday night if Jake Fromm could handle the bright lights of an SEC primetime game in his first conference start, particularly against this Mississippi State team that so brutalized LSU last week.

Those questions were answered after Fromm’s first pass of the night.

After forcing a Mississippi State three-and-out, Georgia began its first possession at its own 41. Fromm handed to Nick Chubb, who turned around and tossed the ball back to Fromm, who then hit a wide open Terry Godwin for a 59-yard touchdown. Six minutes later, Chubb raced in from seven yards out for his own touchdown and the Bulldog Bowl was all but over.

No. 11 Georgia cruised from there, defeating their similarly-nicknamed cousins from the SEC West No. 17 Mississippi State, 31-3.

Fromm played an efficient and contained game, hitting 9-of-12 passes for 201 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. Chubb spearheaded a versatile Georgia rushing attack, carrying 15 times for 81 yards and two scores, while D’Andre Swift rushed nine times for 72 yards and Sony Michel added seven carries for 32 yards.

While Georgia’s offensive effort was workmanlike, Georgia’s defense was superhuman. The red-and-black Dogs hounded Nick Fitzgerald all night, punishing him into a 14-of-29 night for 83 yards with two interceptions to go with 10 carries for 47 yards.

Fitzgerald’s first interception came midway through the third quarter, with Mississippi State already trailing 21-3, when Deandre Baker ended a promising drive by returning his pick 22 yards to midfield. Fromm ended any hope of a comeback three plays later when he found Isaac Nauta for a 41-yard score.

Georgia’s second interception came two passes later, as Dominick Sanders picked Fitzgerald in Mississippi State territory and set up a 49-yard Rodrigo Blankenship field goal to close the scoring for the night.

With Notre Dame and Mississippi State behind them, Georgia (4-0, 1-0 SEC) can begin eyeing a possible 12-0 season. Kirby Smart‘s team will go on the road to Tennessee and Vanderbilt over the next two weeks and plays only two more ranked opponents: No. 20 Florida in Jacksonville and No. 15 Auburn in Auburn.

Mississippi State (3-1, 1-1 SEC) gets Auburn next week at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Notre Dame cruising past turnover-prone Michigan State

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Notre Dame has had no trouble with undefeated Michigan State through one half, leading 28-7 at the break in East Lansing. While Michigan State has been outmatched on a down-to-down basis, three Spartans turnovers have spelled doom for the green and white thus far.

After a 78-yard touchdown drive to open the game, Notre Dame cracked open a 14-0 lead when Julian Love stepped in front of a Brian Lewerke pass and returned it 59 yards for a touchdown.

The Spartans answered with their best drive of the night, moving 75 yards in seven crisp plays and culminating in a 4-yard toss from Lewerke to Darrell Stewart, Jr. Michigan State forced punts on the next two Notre Dame possessions, but a Lewerke fumble set the Irish up with the ball at the Spartans’ 24-yard line, which turned into a touchdown when Brandon Wimbush found Dexter Williams for an 8-yard touchdown.

Michigan State appeared to pull within 21-14 on the ensuing possession, but a 14-yard L.J. Scott run turned disastrous when he fumbled at the goal line for a touchback. Notre Dame opened its lead to three touchdown just five plays later when Williams raced in from 14 yards out.

Wimbush has completed 9-of-15 passes for 110 yards and a touchdown whilst rushing for 15 yards and another score. Josh Adams leads the Irish with five carries for 50 yards.

Despite his turnovers, Lewerke has led the effort for the Spartans, hitting 10-of-19 passes for 95 yards with a score and a pick and rushing a game-high five times for 54 yards with a fumble.

Michigan State will receive to open the second half.