4th Quarter Covers – Week 14

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Glancing at the scoreboard won’t tell you the whole story in most games. Here are some of the games that went down to the wire relative to the spread in the fourth quarter last week from Championship weekend in college football. Each week there are several teams that cover despite not necessarily deserving it, as well as other teams that played much better than the final score shows.

Northern Illinois (+3½) 30, Buffalo 29: The Bulls led 22-10 at halftime and scored a touchdown to open the second half for a 19-point edge. The Huskies made some great defensive adjustments as Buffalo would pick up a net total of seven yards over its next five possessions. A marginal punt handed Northern Illinois good field position and late in the third quarter, the Huskies closed the gap back to 12 points. After another 3-and-out for the Bulls, Northern Illinois needed only four plays to score again to cut the deficit to just five points with most of the fourth quarter still to play.

After forcing two more Buffalo punts, the Huskies had the ball back at their own 30-yard-line with just over three minutes to go. Without great resistance, Northern Illinois got the go-ahead score in eight plays, connecting for a 35-yard catch with just over a minute to go. Up one, Northern Illinois went for two and fell short leaving backers of the slight favorite still with hope for a late touchdown to get past the number. Buffalo would cross midfield thanks to a pass interference call, but wound up ending the game with four straight incomplete passes.

UAB (+1) 27, Middle Tennessee State 25: UAB scored three touchdowns in the span of four minutes in the second quarter, but Middle Tennessee State had a chance to tie the game in the third quarter, failing on a two-point conversion attempt to sit behind 24-22 heading into the fourth quarter. The Blue Raiders would take the lead on a field goal with about 10 minutes remaining but after an exchange of punts that put UAB at midfield, the Blazers did enough for the go-ahead field goal with just over three minutes to go to lead by two on a spread that fell from +3 to just +1 by kickoff. Middle Tennessee State crossed midfield in the final two minutes, but ended its threat with three straight incomplete passes.

UCF (-1) 56, Memphis 41: The spread on this game opened at -4½ and fell to just -1 by kickoff with the injury to McKenzie Milton putting the UCF winning streak in jeopardy. Memphis had a 24-7 lead in the first quarter and led 38-21 at halftime. As they did in the regular season meeting, UCF battled back in the second half and cut the margin to just six points by the start of the fourth quarter. The Knights took a one-point lead early in the fourth quarter and Milton’s replacement Darriel Mack would wind up with three fourth quarter touchdowns as the Knights pulled away for a second straight AAC title and will head to a New Year’s Six bowl game.

Oklahoma (-9½) 39, Texas 27: For very little of this game, Oklahoma appeared in position to cover a spread that climbed from -7½ to -9½ as they led 20-14 at the half after overcoming an early deficit and the game was tied 27-27 through three quarters after the Sooners blocked a PAT on a late third quarter Longhorns touchdown. That kept overtime as a serious possibility but that changed when Oklahoma got a safety after hitting an early fourth quarter field goal.

Texas was pinned deep following a fumble that thwarted a Sooners scoring opportunity, but a blitz put Sam Ehlinger down in the end zone for a five-point edge for Oklahoma. Getting the ball right back Oklahoma converted three third downs and scored with two minutes to go for a 12-point edge to slip past the favorite spread. Texas looked like they would get back within the number with a new set of downs inside the 20 in the final minute but an interception sealed the win and cover for the Big XII championship for Oklahoma.

Fresno State (+1) 19, Boise State 16: The Bulldogs didn’t have much production in Boise on Saturday night looking to avenge a tight loss in last season’s conference championship game as well as a regular season defeat this season. Fresno State managed field goals in the two middle quarters for a 13-7 edge, but Boise State would complete an 87-yard touchdown drive with about eight minutes to go to the tie the game. The PAT was blocked as Boise State failed to go in front for what would have been a one-point win to match the closing spread on the game with the Bulldogs even briefly favored at some outlets late in the week.

Neither squad posed much of a threat to score on late game possessions in regulation as overtime was needed. Boise State stalled inside the 10-yard-line and settled for a 23-yard field goal going first. Fresno State hit two big gains early and then on the second try from the one-yard-line rushed into the end zone for the win.

Clemson (-28) 42, Pittsburgh 10: The statistics suggested a blowout but this was a 14-10 game early before Clemson scored two touchdowns in the final five minutes before halftime. That 18-point edge was well short of the four-touchdown spread and Pittsburgh held Clemson off the scoreboard in the third quarter. Early in the fourth, the Tigers put the game away with another touchdown but still seemed unlikely to slip past the favorite spread until Pittsburgh fumbled at the Clemson 30-yard-line with six minutes to go. Clemson broke a 31-yard run on second down and then a 28-yard run a few plays later, eventually putting the result-flipping touchdown on the board with just over three minutes to go.

Ohio State (-16½) 45, Northwestern 24: Ohio State took advantage of a few big plays for a 24-7 edge at the break, just past the favorite spread in Indianapolis. Northwestern battled back in the third quarter with two touchdown drives as the heavy underdog sat within three with the ball back. An interception halted that momentum but Ohio State didn’t add points until late in the third quarter for a 10-point edge. Early in the fourth, Ohio State missed a field goal and Northwestern succeeded on a kick to get within seven and two scores within the underdog spread.

A broken coverage allowed Ohio State a 63-yard pass to set-up a Buckeyes touchdown for a 14-point edge with nine minutes remaining. Northwestern crossed midfield but eventually had to go for it on 4th down and came up short, allowing Ohio State to play with a short field and the Buckeyes added a late score for a 21-point edge in the final minutes. Northwestern was sacked twice on its final possession and ultimately opted to punt facing 4th-and-19 as Ohio State was able to win and cover despite being soundly out-rushed and only leading by a single-score much of the second half.

South Carolina (-28) 28, Akron 3: In rainy conditions, South Carolina had a 28-3 edge at halftime with the help of a defensive touchdown that followed-up a red zone interception. The Gamecocks had turnovers on three consecutive possessions at one point in the second half while Akron was stopped on downs in South Carolina territory twice while having another fumble near midfield. Ultimately neither team added points and Akron held on to the narrow underdog cover with the scoreless second half in a game with seven turnovers and minimal offensive production on both sides.

Stanford (-3) 23, California 13: Down 13-6 at halftime, California dominated the second half of this rivalry game as Stanford had 34 net yards on its first four possessions after halftime. Cal meanwhile had an empty drive into Stanford territory, an interception in the end zone, and a missed 34-yard field goal. The Cardinal would go up two scores after the four-minute mark in the fourth quarter and the Bears would wind up with another interception that with a long return put Stanford at the three-yard-line. The Cardinal scored to go up by 17 before allowing a late touchdown to the Bears in the final minute.