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    Friday, December 01, 2023

    Top 25 college football roundup

    Pittsburgh defensive back M.J. Devonshire is lifted by offensive lineman Terrence Moore after he scored on an interception against West Virginia during the second half of Thursday’s game in Pittsburgh. No. 17 Pittsburgh won 38-31. (Keith Srakocic/AP Photo)

    No. 17 Pittsburgh 38, West Virginia 31

    Pittsburgh cornerback MJ Devonshire spent a portion of the summer watching highlights of old Backyard Brawls wondering what it might be like to make one of the iconic plays in a series whose history stretches to the 19th century.

    He doesn't have to wonder anymore.

    Devonshire snagged a pass that caromed off the hands of West Virginia wide receiver Bryce Ford-Wheaton and raced 56 yards to the end zone with 2:58 remaining as the Panthers rallied for a 38-31 victory Thursday night in the return of the Brawl following a 10-year hiatus.

    “This is one of the greatest rivalries in college football and I just did something crazy I'm going to get to tell my kids about," Devonshire said.

    The Panthers had just tied it on a 24-yard touchdown pass from Kedon Slovis to Israel Abanikanda with 3:41 to go. Four plays later, West Virginia quarterback JT Daniels found a wide-open Ford-Wheaton only to see the ball smack of Ford-Wheaton's hands and settle into Devonshire's awaiting arms.

    The Pittsburgh-area native who started his college career at Kentucky before coming home in 2021, felt his old punt returner skills come flooding back as he weaved his way through traffic to give Pitt its second score in 43 seconds to turn a seven-point deficit into a lead the Panthers wouldn't relinquish.

    “I just knew I had to run as fast as I could,” Devonshire said.

    The Mountaineers drove deep into Pitt territory in the final minute and Daniels hit Reese Smith on a fourth-down fling that appeared to bring the ball to the Pitt 1.

    Briefly anyway. Replays showed the ball skimmed the turf before Smith could bring it in and the crowd of 70,622 — the largest to attend a sporting event in the city’s history — erupted.

    “They've got a really good football team and I respect them a lot, I really do,” West Virginia coach Neal Brown said. “But we made a bunch of mistakes, too.”

    Pitt turned two Mountaineer turnovers into touchdowns.

    Southern California transfer Kedon Slovis threw for 308 yards and a touchdown in his debut with the Panthers in the opener for both teams. Rodney Hammond ran for 74 yards and two touchdowns before leaving in the fourth quarter because of a right leg injury that appeared serious.

    Daniels, looking to revive his career following stints at USC and Georgia, completed 23 of 39 passes for 214 yards with two touchdowns to Ford-Wheaton and the pick that Devonshire turned into Pitt's first victory over its longtime rivals since 2008.

    The Mountaineers piled up 190 yards on the ground, but fourth-year coach Neal Brown didn't feel confident enough in his running game to go for it on fourth-and-1 at the Pitt 48 midway through the fourth quarter and his team up 31-24.

    Daniels lined up in an effort to draw the Panthers offside and when he didn't, the Mountaineers punted.

    Pitt didn't waste the opportunity. Slovis led the defending ACC champions 92 yards in seven plays, the last on a flip to running back Israel Abanikanda in which he slipped through three tackles for a 24-yard touchdown.

    Brown said afterward he would punt again, pointing to the chance to give the Panthers a long field and the way West Virginia had stuffed Pitt on its previous series, sacking Slovis twice in the process.

    “If I had to do it again, I would do that same decision,” Brown said.

    The Panthers are aiming even higher than the ACC crown the claimed last winter. The schedule is user-friendly and while Slovis needed time to get warmed up, he did a fairly solid impression of former Pitt star Kenny Pickett, who helped unfurl the ACC championship banner he led the Panthers to in 2021 on his way to being a Heisman Trophy finalist and a first-round NFL draft pick.

    Brown likely needs the Mountaineers to take a step forward in 2022 to engender a little job security. While Daniels definitely appears like an upgrade at quarterback, his coach continues to be snake-bit in tight games. His inability to trust an offensive line that held its own against a defensive front that expects to be among the best in the ACC if not the country was curious and ultimately, costly.

    No. 12 Oklahoma State 58, Central Michigan 44

    Spencer Sanders passed for a career-high 406 yards and accounted for six touchdowns and No. 12 Oklahoma State beat Central Michigan to give Mike Gundy his 150th coaching victory.

    Gundy improved to 150-69 in his 18th season coaching his alma mater.

    Sanders matched a career high with four touchdown passes and set a career mark with two rushing scores in the opener for both teams. Braydon Johnson had career highs of six catches for 133 yards and Brennan Presley added five catches for 83 yards.

    Daniel Richardson passed for a career-high 424 yards and threw four touchdown passes for Central Michigan. Lew Nichols III, the nation's leading rusher last year, ran for 72 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries.

    Sanders passed for 313 yards and three touchdowns in the first half and ran for two more scores to help the Cowboys take a 44-15 lead.

    The Cowboys led 51-15 less than a minute into the third quarter before Central Michigan climbed back into the game. Jalen McGaughy's 54-yard touchdown pass from Richardson cut it to 58-44 with 3:15 remaining. McGaughy had six catches for 126 yards and two scores.

    Oklahoma State’s defense carried much of the load last season, but the offense put up 531 total yards on Thursday, mostly in the first half. The running game still could use some work, though. Oklahoma State finished with 125 yards rushing on 32 carries, and the Cowboys struggled to put the game away.

    Central Michigan gained 546 total yards and outscored Oklahoma State 29-14 in the second half.

    The Chippewas came in with high hopes after going 9-4 last season and beating Washington State in the Sun Bowl. But Sanders was too much for them early, and they couldn't get their running game going well enough to control the clock and slow his rhythm.

    No. 22 Wake Forest 44, VMI 10

    Mitch Griffis threw for 288 yards and three touchdowns in his first career start and Christian Turner and Taylor Morin added spectacular individual efforts on scores, helping No. 22 Wake Forest beat VMI in the opener for both teams.

    Griffis started with veteran Sam Hartman sidelined indefinitely by a non-football medical issue. Hartman — who guided the Demon Deacons to last year’s Atlantic Coast Conference championship game — was on the sideline in his black jersey, black shorts and a black cap to watch his understudy lead an easy win against a Championship Subdivision opponent.

    Griffis' first TD throw was a perfect ball while moving to his right, with Morin diving just inside the right end-zone sideline for the 23-yard score and a 17-0 first-quarter lead.

    Turner had preceded that with his own highlight-reel TD. He appeared headed for a modest gain when he was wobbled by a hit from Aljareek Malry in a crowd near the middle of the field. But Turner extended his left hand into the grass to stay on his feet, then popped free on the left side for a 35-yard TD.

    Both scores stood after replay reviews.

    Turner ran for 100 yards and two scores in the game to lead the Demon Deacons, who had 506 total yards but also committed seven penalties for 70 yards.

    VMI, from the Southern Conference, sought its first win against a nationally ranked opponent from the Bowl Subdivision ranks. Its lone offensive highlight was Grant Swinehart taking a pass from backup QB Collin Ironside and sprinting down the right side for a 34-yard touchdown — though that came with Wake Forest leading 30-3 late in the third.

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