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No. 4 Notre Dame sneaks away from Northwestern in second half to remain undefeated

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No. 4 Notre Dame has proven to be a very good second half team this season, often turning the jets on after emerging from the locker room. That has not been the case for Northwestern on occasion in 2018, often struggling to put away teams after a good effort before the break.

Predictably in the pair’s 31-21 game on Saturday night in Evanston, it was the Irish who exploded with a trio of third quarter scoring drives to create just enough distance to hold off a Wildcats rally and remain undefeated on the year.

Ian Book led the way once again on offense for Notre Dame, overcoming that slow start to wind up throwing for 343 yards and two touchdowns to go with 56 yards on the ground and the game-sealing scoring run across the goal line. The offense really ran through his arm as the ground game was lackluster at best for most of the night. Dexter Williams ran for 56 yards and a score but it was otherwise tough sledding between the tackles. Jafar Armstrong did record 18 yards but only saw four touches.

That led to the Irish defense being on the field just a bit longer than they would have liked even though they did just fine. The linebackers in particular were quite active with Te’von Coney in particular stuffing the stat sheet with nine tackles, two sacks and a nifty pass breakup. Drue Tranquill showed few signs of that high ankle sprain he suffered last game and added several pressures to go with four tackles as well.

Still, as much as things felt like they tilted toward Brian Kelly’s team in the second half, Northwestern refused to go quietly into the night. A late blocked punt in the fourth quarter gave the team added life and Pat Fitzgerald was rewarded by going for it on fourth-and-goal from the one yard line with a touchdown off a QB sneak from Clayton Thorson. That cut it to a three point game with half of the final quarter remaining but it would be as close as the ‘Cats would come in this one.

Thorson finished with only 141 yards passing and had another touchdown through the air but it was tailback Isaiah Bowser’s 93 yards rushing that was probably the most encouraging offensive takeaway going forward for the team.

Even with the final result at home though, Northwestern still managed to capture a win on the day overall thanks to Iowa’s earlier loss in the final seconds to Purdue. The Wildcats play the Hawkeyes next week in Iowa City and would have at least two shots to sew up the division against either Illinois or Minnesota at the end of the month. While that 0-3 mark in non-conference play is not something Fitzgerald will be happy about, he’ll gladly take it if it means a trip to the conference title game with a berth in the Rose Bowl on the line.

The Irish, meanwhile, will all but assuredly move up a spot in the College Football Playoff Selection Committee’s rankings come Tuesday by moving to 9-0 (to say nothing of the results of the SEC showdown in Baton Rouge between No. 1 Alabama and No. 3 LSU). While there has been a tendency of playing up or down to the competition, Notre Dame has still passed all their tests so far this year and will move on unscathed heading into their game against Florida State next Saturday night on NBC.

No. 4 Notre Dame and Northwestern locked into tie game heading into halftime

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Who is Chicago’s true college football team of choice?

It may very well never wind up being Northwestern but the plucky Wildcats are defending their home turf well against No. 4 Notre Dame, taking a 7-all tie into the locker room after a half of play on Saturday night.

The Irish can certainly blame missed opportunities for the scoreboard reading like it does, fumbling on their opening possession and then missing a field goal later on in the first quarter. The lone scoring drive was an impressive effort — 14 plays, 79 yards — but that was just about all there was as both sides were playing a bit of a throwback game.

Quarterback Ian Book was just 7-of-14 for 107 yards in the half as the offense was lackluster in converting just 1-of-5 chances on third down. Dexter Williams was responsible for the lone touchdown but, in limited carries, it appeared that Jafar Armstrong was a tad more effective running the ball with 13 yards.

As a result of all… that, whatever it might have been, perhaps the most notable thing that actually happened in the game came before the two sides even took the field in an interesting bit of gamesmanship between the two head coaches:

The Wildcats were able to move the ball as the game went on and surprisingly did so running the ball in the first half. Isaiah Bowser led the way in that department with a robust 51 yards on 14 carries to pick up the slack from QB Clayton Thorson, who threw for just 53 yards.

Needless to say, adjustments at halftime will be key and that’s an area where Notre Dame has excelled this season so far while it’s been a bit of an Achilles heel in non-Big Ten play for Northwestern. There’s plenty of local, regional and national interest in the outcome of this one with the Irish eyeing a bid for the College Football Playoff but both sides need to pick it up if they want a win after a rough first few quarters.

College football odds for Week 9: Notre Dame, Oklahoma among heavy favorites

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Notre Dame has some history of playing down to the level of heavy underdogs under Brian Kelly, but it is catching a struggling Navy squad in a neutral-site game this weekend.

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish, who made a quarterback switch to Ian Book earlier this month, are 23.5-point favorites on this week’s college football odds against the Navy Midshipmen with a 54.5-point total for Saturday at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

The matchup takes place at SDCCU Stadium in San Diego. During the nine-season Kelly era, the Fighting Irish are 15-1 straight-up and 6-9-1 against the spread as a favorite of 20.0 or more points. Notre Dame (7-0)  is also 1-4 ATS in its last five games against Navy (2-5) and 2-8 ATS in its last 10 games against American Athletic Conference foes. However, Navy comes in saddled with a losing record on the season and a 0-5 ATS record in its last five games. The total has gone OVER in six of the last eight Notre Dame-Navy matchups.

Elsewhere in Week 9 (all times ET):

West Virginia (5-1) at Baylor (4-3), Thursday, 7 p.m.
The West Virginia Mountaineers are 14-point favorites against the Baylor Bears with a 67-point total in a Thursday matchup. West Virginia is 0-4 ATS in its last four games in October. The total has gone UNDER in six of West Virginia’s last eight conference games. Baylor is 0-9 SU in its last nine road games against teams with winning records.

Miami (5-2) at Boston College (5-2), Friday, 7 p.m.
The Miami Hurricanes are 3.5-point road favorites against the Boston College Eagles with a 49.5-point total in a Friday matchup. Miami is 5-1 ATS in its last six games against Boston College. The total has gone UNDER in 15 of Boston College’s last 20 games in October.

Florida (6-1) at Georgia (6-1), Saturday, 3:30 p.m.
The Georgia Bulldogs are 6.5-point favorites against the Florida Gators with a 52-point total in a matchup at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville. Florida is 5-2 ATS in its last seven games in October, according to the OddsShark College Football Database. The total has gone OVER in four of Georgia’s last five games in October.

Clemson (7-0) at Florida State (4-3), Noon
The Clemson Tigers are 16.5-point road favorites against the Florida State Seminoles with a 51-point total. The total has gone OVER in seven of Clemson’s last nine road games against teams with winning records. Florida State is 2-9 ATS in its last 11 conference games.

Texas A&M (5-2) at Mississippi State (4-3), 7 p.m.
The Mississippi State Bulldogs are 2.5-point favorites against the Texas A&M Aggies with a 45-point total. Texas A&M is 1-4 ATS in its last five games against Mississippi State. Mississippi State is 11-1 SU in its last 12 games at home in October, but is also 1-5 ATS in its last six conference games.

Iowa (6-1) at Penn State (5-2), 3:30 p.m.
The Penn State Nittany Lions are 6.5-point favorites against the Iowa Hawkeyes with a 51.5-point total. Iowa is 8-1 SU and ATS in its last nine games. The total has gone UNDER in four of Iowa’s last five road games against Penn State. Penn State is 15-6 ATS in its last 21 conference games.

Wisconsin (5-2) at Northwestern (4-3), Noon
The Wisconsin Badgers are 7-point road favorites against the Northwestern Wildcats with a 51-point total. Wisconsin is 12-2 ATS in its last 14 road games. The total has gone OVER in seven of Wisconsin’s last nine road games, with an average combined score of 50.11. Northwestern is 6-14 ATS in its last 20 games at home against teams with winning records.

Kansas State (3-4) at Oklahoma (6-1), 3:30 p.m.
The Oklahoma Sooners are heavy 24.5-point betting favorites against the Kansas State Wildcats with a 64-point total. Kansas State is 21-5 ATS in its last 26 road games against teams with winning records. Oklahoma is 11-3 ATS in its last 14 games at home.

Texas (6-1) at Oklahoma State (4-3), 8 p.m.
The Texas Longhorns are 3.5-point favorites against the Oklahoma State Cowboys with a 59.5-point total. Texas is 4-1 ATS in its last five road games against Oklahoma State. The total has gone OVER in seven of Oklahoma State’s last nine conference games.

Washington State (6-1) at Stanford (5-2), 7 p.m.
The Stanford Cardinal are 3-point favorites against the Washington State Cougars with a 53-point total. The total has gone OVER in Washington State’s last six road games, with an average combined score of 72.67. Stanford is 7-3 ATS in its last 10 games. The total has gone UNDER in seven of Stanford’s last eight games in October.

For more odds information, betting picks and a breakdown of this week’s top sports betting news check out the OddsShark podcast with Jon Campbell and Andrew Avery. Subscribe on iTunes or Spotify or listen to it at OddsShark.libsyn.com.

No. 19 Colorado knocked from unbeaten ranks as USC scores wild Saturday’s final upset

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It was a wild Saturday in college football filled with top 25 upsets across the board. Pac-12 After Dark was sure to get a pelt on the wall as well.

USC quarterback J.T. Daniels threw two first quarter interceptions but bounced back in a big way as the Trojans knocked No. 19 Colorado from the ranks of the unbeaten 31-20 on Saturday night and managed to reinsert the defending champions back into the driver’s seat of the Pac-12 South.

Daniels, who tossed one of those picks on the first play of the game, basically was the Trojans offense on the night as the program known for ‘Student Body Right’ had just seven yards rushing at halftime and didn’t improve much on that number as the game wore on. The freshman signal-caller wound up with 272 yards passing and three touchdowns when all was said and done in the game, giving the half-full crowd a few things to cheer about while keeping head coach Clay Helton a perfect 19-0 at the L.A. Coliseum as head coach of the cardinal and gold.

Michael Pittman Jr. led the way as Daniels’ best friend, recording 144 yards on just five catches — two of which went for scores, one from 65 yards out. Tyler Vaughns also found the end zone through the air in an encouraging sign for USC’s receivers breaking out at the right time as they hit a critical stretch in conference play.

Defensively, the Trojans were able to put together one of the best efforts of the season. Ajene Harris recorded a pick-six in the second half that essentially put this result to bed and they held the Buffs to one of their worst performances on the offensive end in some time. That they did so without captain and star middle linebacker Cameron Smith spoke volumes and especially so given that his replacement, freshman Palaie Gaoteote, suffered a concussion (on a questionable play that also could have been called for targeting) and the team was forced to put a walk-on in the middle of the field.

As for Colorado, it was a night to forget for the program as they finally slipped up against a team with a winning record on the season. The big plays defensively were one thing but the lack of any real productivity on offense all but doomed Mike MacIntyre’s group in a game they generally had control of until a few minute stretch before halftime turned things on its head.

Quarterback Steven Montez threw for only 168 yards and one interception on a night where he mostly had to check it down whenever he wasn’t being pressured (which was quite often). He didn’t get any help from the rushing attack and the score made the Buffs one-dimensional as things wound down.

All-purpose star Laviska Shenault scored on a wild 49 yard run out of the wildcat formation to help lead the team in rushing and receiving (72 yards) but it wasn’t enough. He was one of a number of key players who got banged up during the game too, missing most of the fourth quarter with an injury that isn’t too concerning going forward but did keep him out down the stretch.

The end result not only gives CU their first loss of the season and keeps them from hitting bowl eligibility at the midway mark, but also shakes up the Pac-12 South race and all but certainly drops the Pac-12 out of the College Football Playoff race at the same time given events elsewhere in the league. The flip side is it makes USC the team to beat once again as they try to defend their crown following another slow start to the year. The trip to Salt Lake City next weekend to play Utah very well could determine the division and who makes that trip to Santa Clara as a result.

The Trojans seem to have a knack for getting better as the year gets going and the Buffs found that out first hand to cap off another crazy Saturday night.

J.T. Daniels bounces back to help USC to halftime lead over No. 19 Colorado

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USC’s true freshman quarterback bounced back from a rough first quarter to throw a trio touchdown passes and help the Trojans secure a 21-7 lead at halftime in a pivotal Pac-12 South battle with No. 19 Colorado at the Coliseum on Saturday night.

After an extremely ugly (and slow) start for both sides, it was the Buffs that started to get things going in the second quarter thanks to, who else, all-everything star Laviska Shenault. The receiver not only led his team in yardage through the air, but he was also CU’s leading rusher thanks to a 49 yard rushing touchdown for the game’s first points. QB Steven Montez couldn’t find his favorite target as much as he would have liked to, being forced to check down plenty while completing 14 passes for only 60 yards and taking a number of sacks.

Opposite number J.T. Daniels wasn’t any sharper early for USC but rebounded as the game went on deep into the cool Los Angeles night. Following two first quarter interceptions (one of the first offensive snap of the game), the freshman signal-caller started launching bombs to his wideouts down the field and seemed to find plenty of success as a result. All told, Daniels threw for 255 yards in the half and found both Tyler Vaughns and Michael Pittman Jr. (twice) for a trio of touchdowns all told.

The Trojans didn’t have any sort of ground game to lean on at all with a paltry seven yards rushing, making the throws their quarterback was making even more impressive. They also limited the Buffs’ ground attack, aside from the Shenault run, despite the absence of senior linebacker Cameron Smithwho was in street clothes for the game with an injury.

This is the biggest test yet for undefeated Colorado against the defending conference champions and doubles as the first of several key games in the South Division for both sides. There was already a shakeup in the North earlier in the day and as #Pac12AfterDark started setting in L.A., it appears one on the other side of the league is starting to take hold as well given the way this one is trending.