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Arkansas State uses special teams and defense to earn Cure Bowl victory over UCF

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The second annual Cure Bowl wasn’t as dramatic as the first but it did deliver plenty more big plays. At least for one side.

Arkansas State jumped all over UCF early and did much of the same in the second half to run away with a 31-13 victory.

The Red Wolves did most of their damage as a result of several short fields setup by special teams and defense. They kicked off a 17-0 barrage in the first quarter with a blocked punt for a touchdown and found the end zone again thanks to three play drive that came about as a result of a short punt that landed at midfield.

Kendall Sanders hauled in a 75 yard scoring pass from Justice Hansen to open scoring in the second half and Arkansas State added another touchdown after recovering a fumble off a punt. Despite all that scoring though, the team managed just 235 yards of total offense in a relatively sloppy effort aside from those big plays.

The defense wasn’t too shabby either with six sacks and three takeaways.

UCF did claw their way back into the game during the second quarter after an extremely slow start, cutting the lead to just seven going into the locker room. Things would get no closer than that however, prompting head coach Scott Frost to even change quarterbacks in the fourth quarter. Starter McKenzie Milton didn’t have a terrible night (22-of-39, 175 yards, one touchdown) in front of the fans in Orlando but received no help from the team’s lackluster ground game.

It was not the way the team wanted to close out 2016 after completing one of the more remarkable turnarounds in college football this season. The Knights were 0-12 at this point a year ago and rallied to get to .500 and make a bowl but came out flat and never could get back into this one.

Part of the reason was because of the stellar play by the Red Wolves as they captured their third bowl victory ever that doubled as their eighth win of the season. Not bad after starting the year 0-4 and a heck of a way to close out an impressive run the past three months.

USC takes charge in Pac-12 South after upset of No. 10 Utah

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Late Friday night saw the first upset of the weekend in college football. No. 10 Utah (3-1, 0-1 Pac-12) was upset on the road by USC (3-1, 2-0 Pac-12), 30-23, despite the Trojans playing with a third-string quarterback and the Pac-12 officials throwing enough flags to fill five loads of laundry. The win by USC moves the Trojans into a comfortable spot in the Pac-12 South before even getting to October.

USC lost starting quarterback Kedon Slovis on the second play of the game. After Slovis left to be evaluated for a possible head injury, third-string quarterback Matt Fink stepped in to lead the offense. All Fink did was lead USC to touchdowns on their first two possessions of the game and then make some big passes in the second half to keep the Trojans in front of Utah. Fink ended his night off the bench with 351 passing yards and three touchdowns. Michael Pittman Jr. was on the receiving end of 10 of those receptions for a massive 232 receiving yards. The highlight of the night was a 77-yard touchdown pass that saw Pittman come down with a jump ball and then push aside a would-be tackler on his way to the endzone.

A win is a win, fo course, and USC will take them any way they can. On Friday night in the Coliseum, they had to overcome an onslaught of bad penalties. USC was flagged 11 times for 117 yards. Utah had their share of laundry too with 16 penalties called for 120 yards. Both teams were guilty of personal foul penalties as the game was certainly chippy at times. But some of the penalties were questionable at best. Neither coach will walk away from this game feeling great about the discipline or the officiating, as there was plenty of blame to go around in this one.

Utah had their chances to come away with the win, but an inability to defend deep jump ball passes by Fink killed them too often. The Utes ran for 247 yards as a team but managed just one touchdown on the ground. Quarterback Tyler Huntley put his team on the back for much of the night with 210 passing yards and 60 rushing yards, but it was not enough as defenders were able to get to him and bring him under pressure.

In the end, it was just USC’s night, and it was one Clay Helton really needed. For now, USC can live in the moment and not have to worry about distractions about the future of Helton. USC is already 2-0 in conference play with wins against Stanford and Utah. The road is not going to get any easier, with a road game at Washington coming up next week, followed by a trip to South Bend, Indiana to play Notre Dame. But USC ha splayed themselves into a favorable spot in the Pac-12 by being 2-0 and owning a head-to-head tiebreaker with Utah. That gives USC a margin for error in conference play, and they look to be the best team within the Pac-12 South the rest of the season.

While we should be wise not to pencil USC into the Pac-12 championship game just yet (remember, third-string QB and they still have Washington and Oregon to play in a difficult crossover division rotation), but there have been some true signs of promise for the Trojans early on this season. And bouncing back from a hard-fought loss at BYU last week to knock off No. 10 Utah is quite a turnaround for USC.

As USC hits the road to challenge Washington next week, Utah will look to rebound at home in Salt Lake City against Washington State. As of the conclusion of the USC-Utah game, the Washington State Cougars were one of three undefeated teams in the Pac-12 left standing (Cal, Arizona State).

No. 20 Boise State soars past Air Force in second half

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It looked as though Air Force (2-1, 0-1 Mountain West) was going to be giving No. 20 Boise State (4-0, 1-0 Mountain West) some absolute fits Friday night in Boise, Idaho, but the Broncos pulled away from the Falcons with a strong second half in a 30-19 win. Hank Bachmeier passed for 263 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the win as Boise State opened up conference play on the right foot at home.

Air Force lost some potential to spring an upset of the Broncos with an injury to quarterback Donald Hammond. Without Hammond on the field, Air Force’s option offense lost its ability to pick up some key yards when it needed it the most, but credit should also be given to the Boise State defense. Once again, the Broncos took firm control of a game after halftime, just as they have all season.

The win gives Boise State an early lead in the Mountain Division of the Mountain West Conference. Boise State certainly has the look of the best all-around team in the conference so far too, and few teams appear to be the kind of second-half team Boise State has become. The offense comes alive in the second half and the defense continues to keep opponents down after the half. Air Force managed to pick up a touchdown in the fourth quarter, but the game was well out of reach at that point.

Air Force did rack up 242 yards on the ground, which is to be expected given their offensive style, but Boise State held firm on fourth down attempts by the Falcons (0-for-2 on fourth down). Boise State was also only called for three penalties in the game and went without a turnover. It was a pretty clean game for the Broncos.

Boise State will get a week off before playing again. The Broncos will be on the road on Oct. 5 to play UNLV and return to the blue turf a week later against Hawaii.

Air Force will play next week with a home game against San Jose State.

Matt Fink delivers early spark for USC off bench, Trojans leading No. 10 Utah at half

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Playing with a third-strong quarterback, USC is looking to make a statement at home against No. 10 Utah. The Pac-12 contest has been heated from the start with some chippiness and personal foul penalties, and a couple of notable injuries. At the halftime break in the Los Angeles Coliseum, USC leads Utah 14-10.

Utah blew a chance to trim the lead a little bit more or take the lead just before halftime, but a botched handoff by Tyler Huntley led to a fumble recovery by USC in the final 20 seconds of the half from inside the USC five-yard line.

On the second play of the game, USC quarterback Kedon Slovis was removed from the game and examined for a possible head injury. Matt Fink entered the game and led USC to two touchdown drives in the first quarter. Already with over 200 passing yards, Fink and the USC offense ran into a bit of a wall for the rest of the half. USC went three-and-out on their first possession after taking a 14-7 lead. A fumble by Stephen Carr after a 16-yard gain gave Utah possession at their 20-yard line. USC then went three-and-out on their next possession, after the Utes chipped away at the deficit with a field goal.

Later in the half, Utah wide receiver Zack Moss left the game and was being checked for a possible shoulder injury.

Penalties also became a major factor in the second quarter with a handful of questionable roughing the passer and unsportsmanlike conduct penalties. Utah has already committed nine penalties for 75 yards, while USC has done their part to have laundry thrown on the field with six penalties for 70 yards. The officials have certainly earned their paycheck tonight so far.

Air Force and Boise State reach halftime knotted at 10-10

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A matchup of undefeated Mountain West Conference teams has been everything it was supposed to be. Air Force is giving Boise State a good battle on the strength of their running game. The two teams are tied 10-10 at the break.

After a scoreless first quarter, Air Force and Boise State exchanged touchdown drives in the second quarter. The Falcons opened the scoring with Donald Hammond III running eight yards for a score. Boise State answered with Hank Bachmeier tossing a 36-yard pass to CT Thomas for a score.

After forcing Air Force to punt on the ensuing possession, the Broncos took their first lead of the game minutes later. Eric Sachse booted a 40-yard field goal to give the home team a 10-7 lead.

As expected, Air Force has thrived by chewing up yards on the ground, but a pass completion from Hammond III to Ben Peterson late in the second quarter moved the football to the Boise State 13-yard line and a first down. That late drive ended with a field goal by Jake Koehnke to send the teams to the locker rooms all squared up.

We should have a good finish coming up on the blue turf in the second half.