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No. 2 Clemson stays perfect, gets by big ACC road test at No. 12 Virginia Tech

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Clemson and Virginia Tech played a fun, back-and-forth ACC title game last season that send both off to big postseason wins. While there were a lot of new faces on the field for their rematch on Saturday night, there wasn’t much of a back-and-forth between the two top 15 teams this time around.

As a result, Clemson looked every bit of a national title contender once again in passing their biggest road test of the young season to beat the Hokies 31-17 in a game that the Tigers controlled throughout.

Quarterback Kelly Bryant started off hot in the passing game before cooling down in just his second road start, eventually throwing for 186 yards and a touchdown. Where he really made an impact though was with his legs, weaving through Bud Foster’s defense to record 109 yards rushing. His budding stars in the backfield, sophomore Tavien Feaster and freshman Travis Etienne, were limited to fewer than 60 yards combined however as things were tough going outside of scrambles.

While the offense’s effort was notable, the story of the night was once again Clemson’s defense. They didn’t let Tech cross midfield until late in the first half  and were swarming on nearly every play, recording eight tackles for loss and two sacks. Even when the Hokies looked like the could put points on the board, Brent Venables’ unit stuffed out a fake field goal in the third quarter and pulled down two interceptions (one of the pick-six variety) in the fourth to put an exclamation point on the victory.

Things were not all bad for Virginia Tech despite the rather lopsided final score. Young QB Josh Jackson topped the 250 mark passing (with a touchdown) and used his ability to take off and run to avoid dozens of sacks that seemed like he could have had on every one of his 44 dropbacks. Tailback Travon McMillian did break off a big 29 yard run in the first half but was otherwise kept in check with 30 yards and the nation’s leading receiver, Cam Phillips, was held to just 74 yards. For a very young team that remains in the running to win the division, it wasn’t a night they were hoping for but could be a solid building block against one of the nation’s best despite the loss.

Given Alabama’s dominance in the SEC so far in 2017 and what Clemson has shown so far in early ACC play, one still gets the feeling that no matter what happens with teams over the next few weeks that we’re headed for a rubber-match rematch between the two superpowers and everybody else could just be playing out the string until then.

USC’s Porter Gustin got away with obvious targeting against Washington State

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The targeting rule is one that routinely creates some confusion and ignites outrage over how it is officiated around college football, but sometimes there is a clear textbook example of the call that cannot be disputed. Late Friday night, one of those textbook examples was on full display, and it was completely ignored.

Late in USC’s 39-36 victory over Washington State, Porter Gustin launched himself into Cougars quarterback Gardner Minshew and made helmet-to-helmet contact. At the very least, the action should have been called for a late hit on the quarterback, but everything about this particular play was a clear targeting penalty that should have resulted in a 15-yard penalty and an automatic ejection from the game and the first half of USC’s next game.

As noted by Greg McElroy on the ESPN broadcast, Gustin missed the first half of last night’s game for a targeting foul the previous week at Texas, and yes, he should have been tossed from this game as well. No penalty flag was thrown on the play, which should be reviewed and addressed by the Pac-12 offices in the coming days.

It is impossible to suggest this missed call cost Washington State the game, but it did hurt their chances of winning. Had the call been correctly made, the Cougars would have moved the ball to the USC 10-yard line in the final minutes of the game. Instead, Washington State later resorted to trying a game-tying field goal from the 21-yard line, which was blocked. USC then ran out the clock after picking up a first down.

Jimbo Fisher the latest to try to snap Nick Saban’s unbeaten streak over his former assistants

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To say that this particular teacher gotten over on his former students would be a significant understatement.

Nick Saban‘s Alabama Crimson Tide will square off with Jimbo Fisher‘s Texas A&M Aggies Saturday afternoon in Tuscaloosa. Saban and Fisher, of course, are very familiar with each other as not only are they both natives of the state of West Virginia but the latter was the former’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at LSU for five seasons from 2000-04.

The two have faced each other once as head coaches, with Alabama knocking off Florida State 24-7 in the 2017 season opener. That game marked the 11th time Saban had squared off against a former assistant; the College Football Playoff championship game win over Kirby Smart‘s Georgia Bulldogs was the 12th.

In those dozen games, Saban’s teams are a perfect 12-0.

Saban’s first win over one of his former assistants came in 2010 as Alabama dropped rival Tennessee and its head coach, Derek Dooley, by 31 points. Saban would go on to beat Dooley two more times, with each of those coming by 31-point margins as well.

Aside from Smart in the national championship game (26-23 in overtime), the closest a former assistant has come to beating Saban was in 2015 when Jim McElwain and Florida fell 29-15 in the SEC championship game. That was one of McElwain’s three losses to his former boss — two at Florida, one at Colorado State.

Saban is also 2-0 against Mark Dantonio (Michigan State) and 2-0 against Will Muschamp (then at Florida).

All told, Saban’s teams have outscored his former assistant’s teams by a combined score of 479-157 in the 12 meetings. For those not so mathematically inclined, that’s an average score of 40-13.

If Fisher can’t end the streak in Week 4, one of Saban’s former defensive coordinators, Jeremy Pruitt, will get the opportunity do it as the first-year head coach at Tennessee will play host to Alabama in Week 8 in Knoxville.

Penn State scores 63 points in back-to-back games for first time since 1917

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For roughly 35 minutes, it appeared as though No. 10 Penn State (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten) was going to be in for a struggle until the final whistle in a Friday night Big Ten opener at Illinois (2-2, 0-1 Big Ten). But the final score showed just how explosive Penn State is capable of being at any given moment. Penn State pulled scored 42 unanswered points in a 63-24 victory over Illinois, improving to 4-0 overall and setting half of the stage of a big game next week in Happy Valley against Ohio State.

A week after putting up 63 points against Kent State, the Nittany Lions accomplished something the program has not done in over a century. For just the second time in school history, Penn State scored 63 points in consecutive games. The last time that happened was in 1917. The last time it happened, the Nittany Lions took advantage of a couple of non-major programs in the most lopsided of fashions.

  • October 6, 1917: Penn State 80, Gettysburg 0
  • October 13, 1917: Penn State 99, St. Bonaventure 0

According to College Football Reference, Penn State lost the next game, 7-0, at Washington & Jefferson. Guess they should have saved some of those points, huh?

Adding to the somewhat historical start Penn State is on, this marks the first time in program history the Nittany Lions have scored at least 50 points in three consecutive games.

Trace McSorley completed 12 of 19 passes for 160 yards and three touchdowns with one interception in the Penn State win. The quarterback also rushed for 92 yards. Running back Miles Sanders was the star of the game with 200 rushing yards and three touchdowns. Penn State out-scored Illinois 35-0 in the fourth quarter.

Next week, Penn State hosts Ohio State in primetime. As Friday night showed, Penn State will have to tighten up the run defense against the Buckeyes if they are going to avoid their first loss of the year.

Notre Dame going with Ian Book over Brandon Wimbush at QB in Week 4 vs. Wake Forest

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Back in late August, when Brian Kelly reaffirmed that Brandon Wimbush would be Notre Dame’s season-opening starter under center, we opined that it remained to be seen how long of a leash the incumbent would have. As it turns out, it could be just three games long.

According to a report from 247Sports.com, Ian Book (pictured) will start at quarterback for Notre Dame in Saturday’s game against Wake Forest. If the report comes to fruition, it would mark the second start of Book’s collegiate career, with both of those coming on the road.

As speculation churned regarding the status of the position throughout the week, Brian Kelly had steadfastly refused to tip his hand as to a Week 4 starter.

“They’re both going to play,” the head coach said Thursday. “I’ve said that all year. They’re both prepared. They’re both ready. We’re going to need both of them.”

Wimbush started all but one game for the Fighting Irish last season, throwing for 1,870 yards, 16 touchdowns and six interceptions. One of the biggest knocks on Wimbush, who has four interceptions in three games in 2018, is his accuracy, as evidenced by a 49.5-percent completion percentage on 275 attempts last season; that number has improved to 55.3 percent this season as the Fighting Irish have gotten off to a 3-0 start.

However, their passing offense is tied for 89th in the country (200.7 yards per game) while their scoring offense is even worse — tied for 104th (out of 130 FBS teams) in points per game at 23.3.

The only game Wimbush didn’t start last season, Book did. In the 33-10 win over North Carolina in Chapel Hill last October, Book completed 17-of-31 passes for 146 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. Book also replaced Wimbush in the Citrus Bowl versus LSU, connecting on 14 of his 19 pass attempts for 164 yards and a pair of touchdowns. The last of those scores was a 55-yard touchdown pass with less than two minutes left in the fourth quarter that proved to be the difference in the Irish’s 21-17 come-from-behind win over the Tigers.

This season, Book has completed all three of his passes for 13 yards and a touchdown.

UPDATED 12:10 P.M. ET: Notre Dame made it official shortly before kickoff that Ian Book would indeed get the start.