Virginia Tech holds off Howell, No. 10 North Carolina 17-10

© Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
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BLACKSBURG, Va. – Virginia Tech didn’t appear to get much consideration when the experts tabbed No. 10 North Carolina and No. 14 Miami as the teams to beat in the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Coastal Division.

They will now.

Braxton Burmeister ran for a touchdown and threw for another and Virginia Tech made Sam Howell look pedestrian in a 17-10 victory over North Carolina on Friday night in the opener for both teams.

Burmeister scored on a 4-yard run and found James Mitchell for an 11-yard scoring strike as the Hokies built a 14-0 lead they took into halftime. The defense did the rest, sacking Howell six times and intercepting three passes.

“We kept putting them back out there in the second half,” Hokies coach Justin Fuente said about the defense, which allowed 354 yards. “We couldn’t put the game away but the defense continued to rise to the occasion.”

They struggled to put the game away in the second half until the final minute when they chased Howell from the pocket at the Virginia Tech 40 and he tried to find a teammate while defensive end Jordan Williams held him by an ankle.

Howell, who’d thrown eight touchdown passes in two prior games against Virginia Tech, whirled to get away, then threw right to Chamarri Conner.

The play was reviewed, and when the officials announced that it was an interception, the sellout crowd at Lane Stadium erupted with relief.

Many fans joined the team in celebration on the field after the game, which marked the first time since 2019 that fan attendance was not limited.

The Tar Heels, who arrived with their highest preseason ranking since 1997, had the ball for just 9:11 in the first half and only avoided being down by more because Keshaun King fumbled the ball away at the Tar Heels 9.

“Obviously, now the shine’s off and the rating sure doesn’t matter tonight,” Tar Heels coach Mack Brown said. “We were overrated with the way we played.”

The Hokies dominated the clock in the first half, slowing things down to avoid the kind of shootout they had with UNC last season. In that one, the Tar Heels rolled up 656 yards and beat a virus and injury decimated defense 56-45.

“When the clock was running, we just wanted it to keep running,” Fuente said.

Howell did become the Tar Heels’ career touchdown pass leader with 69 when Josh Downs took a screen pass 37 yards for a score in the third quarter, but he was unable to find his usual magic late.

IN THE AREA

Fuente said he thought Burmeister was trying to hit Tayvion Robinson in the back of the end zone on the touchdown pass, but Mitchell cut it off.

“I saw both of them,” Burmeister said, “and I was like one of them is going to catch it.”

THE TAKEAWAY

North Carolina: The Tar Heels’ need to replace Howell’s top two targets from last season was hampered greatly by the play of the Hokies secondary, which often caused him to hold onto the ball for a long time. In one stretch, Howell was sacked on three consecutive plays after dropping back to pass.

Virginia Tech: The Hokies drove for two touchdowns and to the North Carolina 10 on their first three possessions, failing to score on the middle drive when King fumbled the ball away. They then played conservatively until Howell’s pass to Downs got the Tar Heels on the board at 14-7.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

The Tar Heels’ ranking was their highest in the preseason since the 1997 team was No. 7, but they will surely tumble. The Hokies got no votes in the preseason, but are likely to at least get some consideration going forward,

UP NEXT

The Tar Heels will be at home to face Georgia State on Saturday.

The Hokies remain at home and face Middle Tennessee on Saturday.

No. 2 Michigan beats Purdue 43-22 for Big Ten crown

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
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INDIANAPOLIS – Donovan Edwards ran for 185 yards and a score, J.J. McCarthy threw three touchdown passes and No. 2 Michigan beat Purdue 43-22 on Saturday night for its second straight Big Ten title and a likely No. 2 playoff seed.

College football’s winningest program has the first 13-win season in school history. Two more victories would give the Wolverines (13-0, No. 2 CFP) their first national championship since 1997.

And with injured star Blake Corum sidelined by a season-ending left knee injury, Edwards stole the show for the second straight week.

After shredding rival Ohio State for 216 yards and two scores last week, Edwards broke open this game with a 60-yard on the first play of the second half to set up one score. He added a 27-yard TD sprint on Michigan’s next series to make it 28-13.

Purdue (8-5) never recovered from Michigan’s quick, seven-play onslaught after it trailed 14-13 at halftime.

But quarterback Aidan O'Connell and receiver Charlie Jones helped the Boilermakers make it interesting for a while.

O’Connell was 32 of 47 with 366 yards and two interceptions after missing some practice time early this week to mourn the death of his oldest brother. Jones, who lost to Michigan in last year’s game while playing for Iowa, had 13 receptions for 162 yards.

It just wasn’t enough.

Michigan showed no signs of a hangover after last week’s rout over the Buckeyes, taking a 7-0 lead on its opening possession with a 25-yard TD pass from J.J. McCarthy to Colston Loveland.

Purdue answered with Devin Mockobee’s 1-yard scoring run to tie the score then took the lead on Mitchell Fineran’s 33-yard field goal.

Michigan answered by taking advantage of an offside call on fourth-and-6 by going for the first down, picking it up and eventually converting the drive into a 7-yard TD pass from McCarthy to Luke Schoonmaker. They never trailed again.

Edwards big run set up Kalel Mullings‘ 1-yard TD plunge before Edwards celebrated his own scoring run.

All Purdue could muster was three more field goals.

McCarthy was 11 of 17 with 161 yards and one interception.

Corum posted a message on Twitter on Saturday morning to say his knee surgery went well.

THE TAKEAWAY

Purdue: The Boilermakers’ magical season ended with a solid showing in the championship game where they played better than most expected. Still, they won the Big Ten’s wild, wild West, both trophy games and should be bound for a warm-weather bowl game.

Michigan: Yes, the Wolverines may have already locked up a top-two seed thanks to losses by Southern Cal and TCU. Michigan now has back-to-back conference crowns for the first time since 2003-04 though the hard part remains – ending its national title drought.

DIALING UP TRICKERY

Brohm played one season in the now defunct XFL and has acknowledged that experience helped him understand how to inject personality and creativity into play calling. It was on full display Saturday.

A surprise end around set up Purdue’s first score, a fake punt helped keep its second scoring drive alive and then Mockobee sprinted 25 yards on a fake flea-flicker in the third quarter.

UP NEXT

Purdue: Will find out its bowl game, destination and opponent Sunday.

Michigan: Waiting to see where its headed and who it will face in the national semifinals.

Klubnik, No. 10 Clemson rout No. 24 UNC 39-10 for ACC title

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Backup quarterback Cade Klubnik completed 20 of 24 passes for 279 yards and a touchdown and ran for another score and No. 10 Clemson reclaimed the Atlantic Coast Conference championship with a 39-10 victory over No. 24 North Carolina on Saturday night.

Cornerback Nate Wiggins broke up two passes in the end zone, blocked a field goal and returned an interception 98 yards for a touchdown to help the Tigers win their seventh ACC title in eight seasons.

Clemson (11-2, No. 9 CFP) won six straight ACC championships from 2015 to 2020 before failing to reach the title game last season. But coach Dabo Swinney‘s Tigers rebounded in a big way, going 9-0 against ACC foes this season to reach the Orange Bowl.

They have Klubnik to thank for that.

With Clemson down 7-0, Swinney benched two-year starter D.J. Uiagalelei after the Tigers failed to pick up a first down on their first two possessions, Swinney turned to Klubnik, a 5-star recruit from Austin, Texas. He responded by leading the Tigers to four straight scores and a 24-10 lead at halftime.

Clemson stretched it to 39-10 heading into the fourth quarter.

It wasn’t the first time Swinney has turned to Klubnik.

He benched Uiagalelei in the second half against Syracuse and Klubnik responded by leading the Tigers to a come-from-behind 27-21 victory. Swinney also turned to Klubnik against Notre Dame, although the results were the opposite with the freshman throwing a Pick 6 in a 35-14 loss.

Swinney has never been shy about replacing veteran QBs with less experienced players. He did it in 2014, sitting Cole Stoudt for Deshaun Watson, and again in 2018 replacing Kelly Bryant with Trevor Lawrence.

ACC player of the year Drake Maye was limited to 268 yards passing and turned the ball over three times for North Carolina (9-4, No. 23 CFP), which was seeking its first ACC championship since 1980 when Lawrence Taylor was wreaking havoc on quarterbacks.

Maye got things started on the right foot for the Tar Heels, capping an 11-play, 78-yard drive with a 3-yard touchdown run for a 7-0 lead on UNC’s first possession.

But the Tar Heels repeatedly sputtered on offense inside the red zone after that, the biggest blow coming when Maye misfired near the goal line and Wiggins – who had struggled in Clemson’s 51-45 win over Wake Forest – returned his pass for a touchdown to give Clemson a 32-10 lead with 5:05 left in the third quarter.

Klubnik provided an immediate spark for Clemson.

He led the Tigers on a nine-play, 71-yard drive, culminating in a 1-yard TD pass to Davis Allen. After Maye’s fumble, Klubnik caught a 19-yard pass from Phil Mafah to set up Mafah’s 4-yard touchdown run – Clemson’s second TD in a span of 40 seconds.

Klubnik then showed off his arm strength with a 68-yard pass to fellow freshman Cole Turner to set up his own 1-yard TD run for a 21-7 lead.

END OF AN ERA

This is the final year the ACC will feature its two division winners playing for a championship. In future years, all ACC teams will be lumped together and the two teams with the best records will advance to the title game.

THE TAKEAWAY

North Carolina: Maye garnered plenty of Heisman Trophy talk during the season, but the Tar Heels offense has stalled resulting in a three-game losing streak. But as long as Maye doesn’t transfer – and there are no indications he will given his family history at North Carolina – the Tar Heels have a good chance to get back to the ACC title game next season.

Clemson: The Tigers have set a high bar by winning national championships, so as much as they will enjoy getting back atop the ACC mountain there will be plenty of talk over whether Swinney cost his team a chance at a spot in the College Football Playoff by not turning to Klubnik at quarterback earlier in the season. It seems Uiagalelei might be a logical transfer portal candidate.

UP NEXT

Clemson will play in the Orange Bowl, while North Carolina awaits a bowl bid.