Due to last week’s basketball content, we missed the recap for Week 10. As you probably recall, two of the most important games of that week came in the Big Ten, as Ohio State and Penn State were both dealt their second losses in tricky road games. Mark Dantonio summoned another rainstorm and beat PSU on a last-second field goal in front of what was a mostly empty stadium after a three-hour delay in the second quarter; Iowa thrashed OSU and scored FIFTY-FIVE POINTS in the process (the Hawkeyes had played three 17-10 games in the preceding month). Outside of the league, Oklahoma held off Oklahoma State in a 62-52 shootout to effectively eliminate the Cowboys from playoff contention.
Week 11 was probably the biggest week of the season, as there were five games between teams in the top 16 of the playoff committee rankings. Four of those games wound up being blowouts of varying degrees of magnitude, and one was an unexpected near-upset.
Alabama’s 31-24 escape in Starkville against Mississippi State was far more entertaining than it had any right to be. Dan Mullen’s power spread offense put together several sustained scoring drives (that were surely aided in part by an injury-ravaged Alabama linebacker corps) and the Bulldogs led by a touchdown early in the fourth quarter, only to finally succumb to the inexorable Tide down the stretch.
Jalen Hurts received the ball with a minute left in a tied game, and after gaining a first down on a completion to Calvin Ridley, found himself in a 3rd-and-15 situation at his own 43-yard line with 31 seconds left and overtime looming. Mississippi State blitzed and Hurts found Ridley on a slant that took Alabama into field goal range; instead of leaving things up to a kicker who’d clanged an attempt a few minutes prior, Hurts threw another slant into a blitz – and freshman receiver DeVonta Smith shook a safety and strode into the end zone for the game-winning score. The cacophony of cowbells was instantly silenced and replaced by a small roar from the visitors’ section, and Alabama’s perfect season stayed intact.
Mississippi State was never quite able to pull away from the Tide in the first three quarters, but they controlled the game: four of their drives went for at least ten plays and five and a half minutes (one ended in a punt) as quarterback Nick Fitzgerald and running back Aeris Williams inched the ball down the field. The two combined for 42 carries and 173 yards and the longest carry by either was just 13 yards. To see Alabama pushed around up front by anyone is surprising in and of itself – seeing Bama being handled up front by a team with a decided lack of NFL talent like Mississippi State is downright shocking. They mitigated that by preventing big plays, but it has to be a concern with a critical Iron Bowl matchup against Auburn (more on them shortly) looming in two weeks.
The Tide responded quickly to each of Mississippi State’s touchdowns in the first half by scoring on the rebuttal possessions: a long pass to Ridley in each series set up short scoring runs, and the game was knotted at 14 heading into halftime. Alabama took a brief lead with a field goal on the first drive out of the break, but Mississippi State scored ten unanswered to go up 24-17. Hurts and Josh Jacobs let the offensive line pave the way for a long, methodical scoring drive to even the game; the Bulldogs punted on 4th-and-3 from the Bama 42-yard line with six and a half minutes left; even though Andy Pappanastos couldn’t pull the Tide ahead with a 41-yard field goal attempt with two minutes left, the Bama defense forced a rapid three-and-out to set up the winning drive. The Bulldogs had a chance to tie the game on an untimed down from inside Alabama territory, but a Fitzgerald Hail Mary sailed out of the end zone.
Alabama could have lost the game and still controlled its own destiny in the SEC and playoff races, so the stakes were relatively low. Nick Saban’s merciless machine churned on though, and the Tide are one of the three undefeated Power Five teams left.
[Four key beatdowns after the JUMP]
That game was rightfully overshadowed by a bigger contest in the South, as Auburn hosted top-ranked rival Georgia in a game with conference title and playoff implications on both sides. The Tigers needed to spring an upset to stay in the hunt – they emphatically did so. Since Georgia’s narrow Week 2 win at Notre Dame, the Bulldogs cruised through their SEC East schedule, winning each game by two scores (and often more), but Auburn provided a rude awakening.
Aside from the 40-17 scoreline, nothing better illustrates the comprehensiveness of this win than how thoroughly the Tigers were able to grind Georgia’s running game to a halt. UGA had built its undefeated record on the back of a powerful run-blocking line and a deep stable of backs (as well as a stingy defense); through the first nine games of the season, they ran the ball 48 times per game (to just 18 pass attempts per game) for an average of 279 yards – which works out to 5.8 yards per carry. Auburn held them to 1.4 yards per carry and under 50 yards of total offense. A freshman quarterback who had been the consummate game manager was leveraged into obvious passing situations in the second half, and an offense that had ground opponents into dust all season wasn’t able to change gears.
Georgia started the game with a long touchdown drive (keyed by two Jake Fromm completions), but the rest of the first half was ugly: five straight drives that totaled 34 yards ended in five punts, and even though a long punt return by Mecole Hardman near the end of the half set up a field goal attempt, the Bulldogs missed. Auburn moved the ball well in that first half, though they were held to three Daniel Carlson field goals on their first three possessions. The Tigers set up a 42-yard fade for a touchdown late in the half with their short passing game, and took a 16-7 lead into the intermission.
The dam broke after halftime. Georgia’s defense forced a punt, but Hardman muffed it, Auburn recovered for a short field, and they cashed in a touchdown. Another short field on their next possession and another touchdown made it a three-score game – one that was well out of reach halfway into the third quarter. In the end, the Tigers outgained the Bulldogs more than 2-to-1; quarterback Jarrett Stidham continued his excellent run of form for what was probably his best game in an Auburn uniform (especially if it’s adjusted for opponent quality); Kerryon Johnson chipped away for over five yards per carry (on 32 rush attempts) and had a 55-yard touchdown reception to make the score 40-10.
Georgia may have had a claim to a playoff spot had they ran the table during the regular season and lost the SEC championship game, but now that game will likely make or break their playoff hopes – they locked up their division weeks ago and will face the Iron Bowl winner. Meanwhile, Auburn looks like the two-loss team best positioned to enter the field, though it will be a steep climb – they’d have to beat Alabama (a game that notably is hosted by Auburn) and win a rematch against Georgia. Based on how they looked Saturday, they’ll have a chance.
Two games featuring teams from the Midwest were utter routs. Notre Dame traveled to undefeated Miami and resurrected a dormant rivalry – needing to win out to get into the playoff, the Irish were dealt a 41-8 loss. In a de facto Big Ten East title game, Ohio State obliterated Michigan State, 48-3. What’s more depressing, ND’s sad two-point conversion or MSU’s sad field goal? That’s for the reader to decide.
It was more surprising to see Notre Dame get thoroughly manhandled on both sides of the ball against a Hurricane squad that won four straight games by one score in the middle of the season (three of which came against teams with losing records). After punting on their first possession, Miami scored on its next three to open up a 17-0 lead early in the second quarter – an interception by ND backup quarterback Ian Book in the waning moments of the half put the Canes up 27-0 and essentially ended the contest (if it hadn’t been over already). It was the Irish’s third interception of the half. The second stanza was filled with clock-killing Miami possessions, and ND only had four series with the ball; the sad two-point conversion came in what was a 34-6 game late in the third quarter.
The statistical breakdown is fairly lopsided, mostly due to two things: Miami won the turnover margin by four, and the starting running backs on each teams had vastly different performances – ND’s erstwhile Heisman hopeful Josh Adams churned out just 2.5 yards per carry, and Miami’s Travis Homer (who became the starter after a season-ending injury to Mark Walton) ran for 8.1. Miami quarterback Malik Rosier played mistake-free football and his counterpart, Brandon Wimbush, threw for 3.9 yards per attempt, was sacked four times, and turned it over thrice. Notre Dame’s once-excellent offensive line was whipped all game, and Miami’s defense looked like the fearsome units of decades past for the first time in a while. The U back? The U back. They’ll face Clemson in a high-stakes ACC championship game in a few weeks.
Michigan State’s trip to Columbus to face an Ohio State team fresh off an embarrassing rout to Iowa went about as poorly as possible. The Buckeyes scored five touchdowns on their first six possessions – the last was a one-play series that saw Mike Weber run 82 yards for a score. Michigan State moved the ball into scoring position on the final possession of the first half and kicked a 37-yard field goal to make it a 35-3 game. Ohio State scored another quick touchdown to open the second half – JT Barrett hit Ben Victor on a fade and Victor shook a tackle to saunter into the end zone – and then stepped off the gas. Ohio State had 8.3 yards per play; Michigan State had 3.0. Not much more needs to be said than that. OSU is the overwhelming favorite to win the Big Ten East, and they could be lurking in contention for a playoff spot if they win out. (MSU now has a negative point differential on the season despite their 7-3 record).
Due to the Big 12’s inane new structure, this game might not wind up mattering in the conference title race – as Oklahoma and TCU are likely to have a rematch in Jerryworld in a few weeks, due to Oklahoma State’s win over Iowa State this past weekend – but it certainly had an impact on the playoff race, as OU notched its third marquee win of the season (and second in as many weeks) and averted a catastrophic second loss.
The Sooner offense was outstanding in the Bedlam win over OSU a week ago, and somehow they looked even better in the first half of the game against TCU. They scored 38 points on seven possessions in that half, many of which came via running back Rodney Anderson, who scored four touchdowns (two on rushes, two on receptions from Baker Mayfield). Anderson finished the game with 290 yards from scrimmage on 28 touches, and the Sooners have clearly chosen a lead back after having a committee earlier this season. It didn’t matter that OU was shutout by the stout Horned Frogs defense in the second half, as they still won by three scores, 38-20.
Moreso than any team in recent memory, Oklahoma is a team of contrasts: led by the best quarterback in college football, they have what is easily the country’s best offense – and their defense ranks 116th nationally according to S&P+. While they were completely overwhelmed by Oklahoma State’s prolific offense (to the tune of 52 points), OU was able to rebound for what was probably their best defensive performance in conference play against TCU, despite not forcing any turnovers. A two-play 72-yard scoring drive on their second defensive series of the game was a bad omen, but the offense gave them a three score lead before they conceded any more points.
TCU holds the tiebreaker over the other teams in second place in the Big 12, so if both they and Oklahoma win out – a likely outcome – they’ll have a rematch in a couple of weeks. Oklahoma seems to be in prime position for a playoff spot right now, so it’s not hard to see that another matchup against the Horned Frogs has virtually no upside. They were able to handle TCU easily this time at home, but might not in a couple of weeks. The Big 12’s decision to add a conference title game was sort of baffling at the time, and in its first season with it back, it may harm the playoff chances of what’s clearly its best team.
Other results of note:
The Pac-12’s last remaining one-loss team fell on the road, as Washington was defeated by Stanford, 30-22, late Friday night. The Huskies carried a 14-10 lead into halftime after two long scoring marches, but allowed 20 unanswered to the Cardinal after the break. Each team’s star running back (Stanford’s Bryce Love and Washington’s Myles Gaskin) ran for 3 touchdowns apiece. The Pac-12 seems quite unlikely to produce a playoff participant now: USC has won the South and any of Washington, Wazzu, and Stanford could still win the North, but there are several potential two-loss teams that project to have better resumes than any of those squads.
Iowa was unable to build on its momentum from the huge win over Ohio State, and were manhandled by Wisconsin, 38-14. The Badgers held the Hawkeyes to well under 100 yards of offense and if not for two Josh Jackson pick sixes, Iowa would have been shutout. It was an impressive performance for Wisconsin against what had been their best opponent; Michigan will provide the toughest test of the regular season for the still undefeated Badger squad on Saturday.
Oklahoma State’s shootout win over Iowa State in Ames kept them alive for a Big 12 championship (if TCU loses at Texas Tech), and it all but ended Iowa State’s hopes of contending for a conference title. Mason Rudolph threw for three touchdowns, Justice Hill ran for two more, and OSU was able to stave off a would be game-tying drive by intercepting a pass in the end zone from ISU’s backup quarterback in the last minute of the game.
Clemson’s game against Florida State was supposed to be one of the marquee matchups of the season, but FSU lost by three scores and fell to 3-6 on the season. The Noles trailed by 17 at halftime and pulled the deficit to within three in the fourth quarter, but a James Blackman interception and subsequent insurance touchdowns from the Tigers made the 31-14 scoreline look less competitive than the game was. Florida also fell to 3-6 after losing to South Carolina.
Butch Jones was finally fired after his winless-in-conference Tennessee squad was routed by a mediocre Missouri team on the road. Brady Hoke is now the Vols’ interim coach, and will face off against Ed Orgeron and LSU this weekend in Knoxville.