[Gina Ferazzi – LA Times]
It seems like the season just started, but we’re already in thick of conference play – the SEC had three ranked-vs-ranked matchups (and two wound up being blowouts), the Big Ten had an important cross-divisional game between Michigan State and Wisconsin – a rousing Badger win – and there were some interesting results in the Pac-12. In the end, there weren’t any major upsets near the top, leaving the playoff picture much the same as it was before the weekend. Despite the uncompetitive nature of some of Week Four’s best fixtures, college football still managed to produce its share of exciting games, as always.
--- Perhaps we should expect STANFORD to be capable of some brutish, low-scoring slobberknockers, but it was still disorienting to see a Pac-12 game with such little offense; the Cardinal defeated UCLA 22-13 after a late touchdown drive to notch their first trip to the end zone of the day (a scoop-and-score on the game’s last play took the score from 16-13 to the final margin). David Shaw’s game management was again questionable: Stanford got the ball with about six and a half minutes left and took almost two minutes to go three-and-out and punt on 4th-and-1, even though they have one of the best backs in the country in Christian McCaffery (and they even somehow wasted a timeout in that sequence).The conservative strategy wound up working out – UCLA wasn’t able to salt the game away with first downs, Stanford got the ball back, and, looking like a completely new offense, marched down the field for the game-winning touchdown with 24 seconds left. McCaffery was largely held in check by the Bruin defense, turning in 138 yards on 26 carries. UCLA has now lost eight in a row to Stanford.
[more on the week that was after the JUMP]
--- The Cardinal weren’t the only Pac-12 North team to find themselves in a dogfight on the road against a team from the South; WASHINGTON had feasted on cupcakes but faced a tough challenge from ARIZONA, though the Huskies wound up winning in overtime, 35-28. Arizona quarterback Brandon Dawkins – replacing injured starter Anu Solomon again – was electric, running for a 79-yard touchdown and throwing a critical pass long downfield on the game-tying drive late in the fourth quarter. Neither team could stop the run: U-Dub ran for a nice 6.9 yards per carry, while U of A was even better at 7.2 – both teams had three rushing touchdowns each. After Washington scored on the first possession of overtime, Arizona couldn’t move the ball and eventually threw an incomplete pass on 4th-and-10 to end the game. The Huskies get another step up in competition this week as Stanford travels to Seattle for what will be a matchup of top ten teams.
--- Even though Stanford and UCLA played a game that was antithetical to everything that the idea of Pac-12 football stands for, there were some shootouts in league play this week. COLORADO, playing without starting quarterback Sefo Liufau, went on the road and came away with a 41-38 win at OREGON, the program’s best since joining the Pac-12 a half-decade ago. Backup QB Steven Montez threw for 333 yards and ran for 135 more, accounting for four total touchdowns and throwing a game-winning touchdown to Bryce Bobo, who made a spectacular one-handed catch. Brady Hoke’s Duck defense is still a mess, to say the least. ARIZONA STATE and CAL provided the Pac-12 After Dark festivities; the Sun Devils won 51-41 as the teams combined for 45 total points in the fourth quarter. Two critical interceptions – one that was returned for a touchdown, one that set up a short field (and eventually a touchdown) doomed the Bears, who actually outgained ASU by almost two hundred yards.
--- On Friday night, UTAH hosted USC and the Trojans’ miserable season continued as the Utes came back from down ten in the fourth quarter to win, 31-27. The decisive score came with 16 seconds left, as Utah WR Tim Patrick beat All-American CB Adoree’ Jackson and Los Angeles native Troy Williams found him for an 18-yard touchdown, capping a 15-play, 93-yard game-winning drive. USC started freshman Sam Darnold at quarterback for the first time, and the Trojans had what was probably their best offensive performance of the season – finally making good use of the numerous weapons they have in the skill position ranks. USC lost three fumbles by three different players in this game. Trojan HC Clay Helton inexplicably got the full-time job after filling in for a fired Steve Sarkisian last year, but there’s a new athletic director and his days could be numbered; even though the schedule’s been difficult, USC is 1-3.
--- Boise State handled OREGON STATE, which is not a surprise, in the Pac-12’s only non-conference game.
[Joe Robbins – Getty Images]
--- TENNESSEE, which hadn’t beaten FLORIDA since 2004, had a horrible first half against the Gators – they went into halftime down 21-3 and only got a field goal from three trips inside the UF ten-yard line – but exploded in the second half as Josh Dobbs accounted for five touchdowns in what was a 38-28 win. Despite two interceptions, Dobbs was effective through the air (which is rare): four touchdowns and 10 yards per attempt on 32 throws. The one-two punch of RB Jalen Hurd and Dobbs on the ground was less effective, but Tennessee finally showed some creativity and had success in the passing game. Florida was forced to play Purdue transfer Austin Appleby at QB, and he did fairly well; running the ball was difficult. While Tennessee is now the ostensible frontrunner in the SEC East, they have a challenging upcoming schedule with cross-divisional matchups against Texas A&M and Alabama in October.
--- The other two high-profile matchups in the SEC didn’t quite live up to the hype. OLE MISS entered Week Four with a losing record and destroyed hitherto undefeated GEORGIA – by the time the game was halfway through the third quarter, the Rebels had a 45-0 lead (and the final score was 45-14 after they let up off the gas). The nightcap between TEXAS A&M and ARKANSAS was more competitive; the first half was an even and entertaining stanza, but the Aggies eventually pulled away to win 45-24 – their first drive of the second half went over 80 yards, but ended on a fumble, and the next four drives resulted in touchdowns. The difference between the two teams in their ability to run the ball was stark: Arkansas had just three yards per carry while A&M was just shy of ten (long touchdown runs by QB Trevor Knight helped in that regard). With a fierce pass rush and electric playmakers on offense, the Aggies seem like the top threat to dethrone Bama as of right now.
--- Of course, AUBURN’s crazy win over LSU might have the most long-term ramifications as Les Miles was fired in the aftermath of a heartbreaking loss. Somehow, Auburn managed to win by just kicking field goals – six of them – and a would-be game-winning touchdown by LSU was overruled on replay after the clock had clearly hit zero before the ball was snapped. It was a classic Miles game, though his signature luck in weird and / or stupid games ran out. Predictably, both offenses were poor: Purdue transfer QB Danny Etling had an awful 4.4 yards per pass attempt for LSU and Leonard Fournette was mostly bottled-up (though a few teammates had big runs); Auburn ran the ball 49 times and barely cracked three yards per carry on the game. LSU’s decision to fire Miles wasn’t entirely unexpected – the administration's failed attempt to fire him last season left him on thin ice, and after two gruesome September losses, they had the pretense they needed. Hopefully the Mad Hatter lands on his feet, and soon (make the call, Purdue).
--- The only other conference game was a 17-10 KENTUCKY win over SOUTH CAROLINA. The less said about that one, the better.
--- ALABAMA and MISSOURI beat their overmatched non-conference opponents (Kent State and Delaware State) by a combined score of 127-0. MISSISSIPPI STATE played a road game against UMass and actually trailed at halftime, but recovered and won somewhat comfortably after scoring four touchdowns in the third quarter. VANDERBILT won in OT on the road against a decent Western Kentucky squad – the Hilltoppers went for two and didn’t get it after Vandy forced overtime on the last play of regulation.
[Julia Nagy – LSJ]
--- It was the first time that WISCONSIN and MICHIGAN STATE had played in a while, even though the recent history between the two teams had provided more than its fair share of great games. That wasn’t the case this weekend: Wisconsin’s defense dominated MSU all day and a pivotal LJ Scott fumble – which was returned all the way for a touchdown, a play that featured Badger safety Leo Musso putting a nasty spin move on Spartan QB Tyler O’Connor (who also had three interceptions – to open the second half helped pave the way for an entire quarter of garbage time at the end. The Michigan State offense had a miserable day – in addition to the four turnovers, they gave up a QB pressure on over half of their dropbacks, per PFF, and only notched 2.8 yards per carry. By contrast, Wisconsin – which was starting a redshirt freshman on the road against what’s usually one of the Big Ten’s best defenses – played well enough to keep control of the game. Even with games remaining against Michigan and Ohio State, Wisconsin probably should be the favorite to win the Big Ten West at this point, though Nebraska seems better than advertised.
--- There were three other Big Ten games this week. MICHIGAN burned PENN STATE to the ground, salted the earth, and peed on the salt. NEBRASKA went on the road to NORTHWESTERN, turned the stadium red, and walked away with a 24-13 win that undersells the comprehensiveness of this win. Tommy Armstrong played well at QB again for the Huskers. IOWA followed up the NDSU loss with a trip to RUTGERS and turned in a worse result than last week; even though they won this time, it was a 14-7 slugfest that typified the worst that Big Ten football has to offer. Since Rutgers is still in the early stages of a comprehensive rebuild, this is very alarming for Iowa.
--- In Big Ten non-conference action, MINNESOTA eked out a win over Colorado State, PURDUE actually won another game (over Nevada), and INDIANA was defeated by a surprisingly undefeated Wake Forest team.
[uncredited – News Observer]
--- The game of the week in the ACC was the Coastal Division showdown between NORTH CAROLINA and PITTSBURGH; even though the Tar Heels trailed by 13 points in the fourth quarter, a game-winning drive that featured three fourth-down conversions and a short fade to WR Bug Howard in the endzone with two seconds left gave UNC the wild 37-36 win – they hadn’t led up until that last touchdown. It was another rough outing for the Pittsburgh secondary, as the Panthers surrendered 453 yards through the air (at almost ten yards per attempt) and conceded five passing touchdowns. Pitt was content to run the ball and control the clock, but the defensive meltdown late in the game is part of a worrying trend: Pat Narduzzi’s defense has given up an average of over forty points per game over their last three contests. North Carolina is now in the driver’s seat in the Coastal; Miami is perhaps their strongest competition (outside of Pitt, who’s now playing from behind), and UNC travels down to Coral Gables for that one. Up next for the Heels is another tough test on the road against Florida State.
--- One of the biggest upsets of the weekend was DUKE going on the road and beating Notre Dame (an honorary ACC team) on the road. The Blue Devils had looked terrible on offense in losses to Wake Forest and Northwestern, but put up 38 points on a struggling Irish defense, gaining just short of 500 yards with an attack that was equally effective on the ground and through the air. After ND QB DeShone Kizer threw an interception in his own territory on third-and-forever, Duke managed to get down to inside the five yard line to kick the game-winning field goal with less than two minutes left – the final score was 38-35. Notre Dame played well enough offensively – though they did have three turnovers – but their counterparts on the defensive side of the ball were terrible; Brian Kelly fired DC Brian VanGorder in the aftermath of the loss. The Irish are now 1-3, and still have games remaining against Stanford, Miami, and a similarly rudderless USC squad.
--- The top three teams in the Atlantic took care of business this weekend: the Lamar Jackson show kept rolling with a huge LOUISVILLE win over Marshall (and seven TDs for Jackson), CLEMSON simply obliterated the GEORGIA TECH triple option attack en route to a comfortable win, and FLORIDA STATE won a shootout over in-state foe South Florida, 55-35. This upcoming weekend features a game between Louisville and Clemson, one that will surely play a huge role in determining the Atlantic champ – and, by extension, shaping the playoff race in the process.
--- In other ACC action, VIRGINIA beat Central Michigan (which is a mild surprise, to be honest), VIRGINIA TECH exacted some revenge on East Carolina, who they’ve had trouble with lately, BOSTON COLLEGE trucked an FCS team, and SYRACUSE defeated UConn. The only game featuring a team from the ACC and a different Power Five conference was WAKE FOREST – Indiana; the Hoosiers threw five interceptions and even though WF had a mediocre day offensively, it was better than their standard and the Demon Deacons controlled the game.
[LM Otero – AP]
--- It was an uneventful week in the Big 12, as there was only one conference game – BAYLOR won at home against OKLAHOMA STATE, to bring their record 4-0. It was the Bears’ first real test of the season, and they passed (35-24): QB Seth Russell threw for 387 yards and four touchdowns in an efficient performance and the defense eventually stiffened, holding Oklahoma State scoreless on their last four possessions of the game. The most pivotal play came when OSU trailed 28-24 in the fourth and RB Justice Hill ran down to the Baylor one-yard line before fumbling – one of four Cowboy turnovers on the day (in addition to a missed FG). After an offseason of controversy in which the Baylor HC Art Briles was fired for allegedly helping cover up sexual assault allegations, the Bears still might have the best team in the conference.
--- The other result of note was WEST VIRGINIA’s narrow home win over BYU. The Mountaineers are the only other undefeated team in the Big 12 in what’s a big season for HC Dana Holgerson, who was thought to be on the hot seat. After going up 16 in the fourth quarter, WVU allowed a comeback – BYU scored two touchdowns but was unable to convert a two-point conversion on the first and wound up losing by the score of 35-32 after Taysom Hill threw his third interception into the end zone late in the fourth quarter. Interestingly, the Cougars have played four Power Five teams (and are 1-3).
--- There were some blowouts: KANSAS STATE went up 35-0 on an FCS opponent and the game was called at halftime (because of weather), IOWA STATE got its first win of the season over lowly San Jose State, and TCU beat SMU 33-3.