Welcome to heartbreak city, James Madison University. FBS’ newest school won its first five games this fall, from surprising routs of Middle Tennessee to shocking comebacks at Appalachian State. JMU went from playing in the CAA and competing for an FCS Playoff berth to being ranked No. 25 in the nation in less than a calendar year. Saturday evening, the incredible run ended with a 45-38 loss at Georgia State.
But the Dukes weren’t alone in tasting defeat for the first time this fall: Five other unbeatens fell, from fellow Sun Belt Conference team Coastal Carolina to No. 3 Alabama. The Crimson Tide’s loss came in one of three unbeaten showdowns. And while the last second field goal by No. 6 Tennessee will sting for some time, No. 7 Oklahoma State’s come-from-ahead 43-40 double-overtime loss at No. 13 TCU saw the Cowboys let 17-point first half and 14-point fourth quarter leads wither away in the Texas sunset (No. 10 Penn State’s 41-17 loss at No. 5 Michigan was the “uneventful” unbeaten matchup). And No. 7 USC ended the doozy of a day with their 43-42 loss at No. 20 Utah (the Utes taking the lead for good on a two-point conversion with 48 seconds left).
For those looking for exciting theater, Saturday’s schedule delivered — and then some. And for those curious, next week’s schedule offers up just on battle of unbeatens: No. 4 Clemson vs. No. 18 Syracuse. Feeling the team wearing orange will have the edge in that one.
Navy (2-4, 2-2 AAC) fell behind early at SMU before scoring on the final possession of the first half and the first drive of the second half to take a 14-13 lead at Gerald J. Ford Stadium. Pardon any liberties taken but unfortunately there was “No Midshipmen Domination in Northern Texas” Friday night and any “WIN” buttons had to be put away as the Mustangs scored touchdowns on three of their next four possessions as Navy comes up short 40-34.
Midshipmen Medals: The offense gained 510 yards as Tai Lavatai ran for 120 and two touchdowns while passing for 138 and two more scores. Jayden Umbarger was his top target with five catches for 59 yards and a TD. Nicolas Straw and Rayuan Lane tie for the team lead with four tackles apiece.
Midshipmen Miscues: The defense failed to notch a sack. And while it’s good that they held their ground on 5-9 third downs, the fact that SMU faced just nine third downs all night. Daniel Davies missed a 36-yard field goal.
Next: Saturday at noon against 3-3 Houston. The Cougars had last weekend off to prepare for the Navy option.
Virginia Tech (2-5, 1-3 ACC) held Homecoming and were greeted by the Hurricanes, starting slow before finishing fast in a 20-14 loss to Miami. The Hokies fumbled on its first possession (Canes would get a touchdown on the ensuing drive) before falling behind 17-0 at the half and 20-0 after three quarters. Can they build off of their strong fourth quarter play over the bye week?
Hokie Highlights: Malachi Thomas led the team in rushing and receiving (although he totaled just 84 yards) and the offense did score a pair of fourth quarter touchdowns to enter the bye week red (or at least maroon) hot. The defense kept the Hurricanes out of the end zone in the second half, with Jalen Stroman tallying 11 tackles to pace the unit. Peter Moore averaged 42.9 yards per punt.
Hokie Humblings: the offense took way too long to get in gear, managing just seen yards on their first 11 plays in the second half. The running back rotation managed 43 yards on 14 carries while Grant Wells averaged 8.5 yards per completion. And they couldn’t find a way to beat a Miami team that committed 17 penalties?
Next: Thursday Oct. 27 against No. 15 NC State. The Wolfpack might be 5-2 but they’re also 0-1 since losing quarterback Devin Leary for the rest of the season with a torn pec muscle.
Maryland (5-2, 2-2 Big Ten) rallied to win at Indiana 38-33 behind backup quarterback Billy Edwards Jr., but all eyes are on the knee of starter Taulia Tagovailoa’s knee. The junior set and tied school records last year while becoming third quarterback to start every game of the season since 2003. The QB carousel at the school for the last two decades has been one of the reasons they’ve had a nine-win ceiling (2006, 2010) with plenty of nine-plus loss-campaigns (2009, 2011, 2015, 2019) in the mix.
Terrapin Triumphs: The offense scored on the first possession for a seventh straight game and also began the second half with a TD. Tagovailoa threw for 270 yards and two touchdowns while running for another score before his injury. Edwards ran five times for 53 yards and a touchdown in his limited action while Roman Hemby rushed for 107 yards and the go-ahead TD.
The defense held IU to 36 yards rushing and 4-13 on third down. Tarheeb Still and Deonte Banks recorded interceptions while Mosiah Nasili-Kite recovered a fumble. This week the Terps scored after all three takeaways (two touchdowns and a field goal). Octavian Smith ran the second half kickoff back 54 yards to set up a touchdown.
Terrapin Troubles: Penalties remain a problem (nine for 94 yards this week) with five of those flags being thrown on one possession (two were declined because there was another penalty on the play) — a touchdown drive that gave Indiana the halftime lead. The defense allowed 315 yards passing and managed just a pair of sacks. And then there’s the prospect of losing Tagovailoa to what Coach Mike Locksley called a “lower body injury” for any amount of time.
Next: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. against 1-5 Northwestern. It’s Homecoming and although I didn’t attend the university, I’m still bringing Hint of Lime Tostito’s Chips.
James Madison (5-1, 3-1 Sun Belt) went to Georgia Southern and, in a showdown of the top two offensive teams in the Sun Belt Conference, came up short 45-38. The game was still in doubt in the fourth quarter when the Eagles drove 75 yards on 10 plays to take the lead for good with 1:02 left. Saturday’s loss may have been a surprise to many, but so was JMU starting their first season in FBS 5-0.
Dukes Do’s: The offense gained 675 yards. 675! Todd Centeio threw for 468 yards and two touchdowns (Reggie Brown and Kris Thornton each notching over 100 yards receiving) while running for three more scores. Percy Agyei-Obese ran for 106 yards. Sam Kidd led the defense with 10 tackles as JMU held the Eagles to 12 yards rushing.
Dukes Don’ts: The defense allowed 31 second half points that included three scoring drives in the fourth quarter. That coughed up 578 yards passing while failing to get a sack. Four turnovers undercut a great offensive day with one leading to a field goal and another a missed attempt, the first interception coming in the red one with JMU up 7-0 in the first quarter and the last INT coming on the final possession. Ten penalties for 54 yards is no way to stay sharp on the road.
Next: Saturday at Marshall. They have quite a bit in common with the Thundering Herd that I will get into later this week in Presto’s Picks.