It was all a bit surreal to watch: the biggest Big Ten matchup of the season featured two spread offenses, an awful alternate uniform, and a combined 77 points. In the end, Penn State blew what had been an enormous early lead, and JT Barrett engineered an impressive comeback to keep Ohio State’s playoff hopes alive, putting them in the driver’s seat for a Big Ten East title. The Buckeyes outgained the Nittany Lions by well over 200 yards, but they needed to score three touchdowns on their final three drives (before kneeling the ball out at the end) to escape with the win.
For the second week in a row, Penn State got out to a fast start: on the opening kickoff, Saquon Barkley silenced the Horseshoe crowd by reversing field and outrunning the OSU coverage team for a touchdown; Parris Campbell fumbled the ball on the third play of the next drive, which was returned by Koa Farmer to the OSU 23-yard line; Trace McSorely threw a well-placed fade to DaeSean Hamilton on third-and-goal from the 13-yard line to make the score 14-0 less than four minutes into the game. A Barkley touchdown run early in the second quarter gave PSU a 21-3 lead; Saquon gained 36 yards on that carry, but only had a combined 31 yards on his 24 other touches from scrimmage, as the athletic Ohio State defense was frequently able to hem in the Heisman hopeful and force him to cede yardage by retreating in an attempt to escape around the edge.
Ohio State responded quickly with a touchdown drive – featuring passes from Barrett to Austin Mack to get to the red zone and to Terry McLaurin for a touchdown – but OSU’s short kickoff was returned to the Buckeye 23-yard line by Farmer, which set up a Nittany Lion touchdown. Barrett responded by engineering an impressive drive for a touchdown on the next series, and the 28-17 score held until halftime. Ohio State got the ball to start the second half and strung together a ten-play drive, but had to settle for a field goal to make it an eight-point game.
The following Penn State series produced the most controversial play of the game. After a few narrow third-down conversions earlier in the possession, Trace McSorely threw a pass up the seam to DeAndre Thompkins in the end zone – the play was initially ruled an interception by Denzel Ward, but upon further review, the officials ruled that it was simultaneous possession and gave Penn State the touchdown and a 35-20 lead midway through the third. It was the correct call, but a surprising one. That was the score when Barrett lost a fumble in his own territory early in the fourth quarter; Penn State went three-and-out and Ward blocked a punt to swing the momentum of the game.
From there, Barrett won the game for the Buckeyes. It’s sort of hard to believe that some Ohio State were growing sick of the 12th-year senior quarterback – thus far this season, he’s thrown for 8.8 yards per attempt and 25 touchdowns to just one interception (and has been effective as ever with his unconventional running style). He was masterful down the stretch of this game: he didn’t throw an incompletion on any of the last three Ohio State drives, and each drive took less than a minute and a half. Penn State played prevent defense; Barrett picked it apart. A comeback wouldn’t have been possible without the OSU defense stepping up late in the game (Penn State only scored three points on their last five possessions), but Barrett was the hero. His touchdown pass to Marcus Baugh over the middle came with less than two minutes left and gave OSU its first lead of the game, 39-38. Penn State went four-and-out on a do-or-die rebuttal series.
The ramifications of this game are extensive. Penn State’s Big Ten title hopes took a hit (as they’d now need Ohio State to lose twice against a rather uninspiring slate of opponents), but paradoxically their playoff hopes may be in decent shape – last season, OSU dropped just one regular season game on the road (a close result against a quality opponent), didn’t win the Big Ten, but made it into the playoff. Penn State could be in a similar situation come November. OSU probably controls their own destiny in terms of the playoff chase, but if they drop another game, they likely won’t make it barring chaos elsewhere.
[More on the week that was after the JUMP]
Along with Penn State, another team fell from the ranks of the unbeaten in the Power Five, as TCU went on the road and was handed a 14-7 loss by Iowa State. That upset turned the Big 12 championship chase into a mess, as there are now four teams with one loss in league play: TCU, Iowa State, Oklahoma State, and Oklahoma. While there are still some matchups between those teams left on the schedule – most notably the Bedlam game between Oklahoma and Oklahoma State this weekend – which two teams will make it to Jerryworld for the conference title game is anybody’s guess at this point.
Iowa State’s defensive performance against the Horned Frogs was unbelievable. The only touchdown for TCU came on special teams, as KaVontae Turpin returned the opening kickoff of the second half back for a touchdown – their offense was held scoreless. In the first half, they finished every drive with a punt: three three-and-outs, one first-down-and-out, and two possessions that had two first downs each. They were able to reach the ISU 35-yard line on their final series of the half, but stalled out and punted. On the other side, Cyclone quarterback Kyle Kempt strung together two methodical scoring drives, both of which were capped by touchdown passes.
After Turpin put TCU on the board to start the second, the rest of the game was scoreless. Kempt threw an interception in his own territory early in the third quarter, and TCU was able to get the ball down inside the ten-yard line, but Kenny Hill badly misread the defense and threw a ball that was picked off near the goal line on third down. Brian Peavy, the ISU defender, had a convoy and looked like he would be able to return it all the way for a touchdown, but Turpin tracked him down and the Cyclones missed a field goal on the following possession. The teams traded punts for a while before TCU running back Darius Anderson sparked a solid drive – one that was extended by a Hill pass to Desmon White on third-and-long that gave them first-and-goal from the ISU three-yard line – but a fumble on a sack a few plays later again prevented the Frogs from scoring.
The teams punted back and forth again after that, until TCU received the ball at their own 46, down a touchdown, with just under a minute and a half left. After an incompletion, Iowa State’s Marcel Spears jumped a route to grab an interception to seal the win – Hill’s third turnover of the half. Needless to say, it was an extremely ugly win: Iowa State was held under four yards per play and the Cyclone offense was stifled in the second half, but they were able to hang on for the win regardless. The other high-profile Big 12 games (Oklahoma State’s road win over West Virginia and Baker Mayfield and OU’s revenge win over Texas Tech) were shootouts for the most part, but the most impactful result of the week came in what was a hideous game.
TCU is still alive for the playoff and theoretically controls their own destiny from here, but they were in pole position for a spot entering the weekend and probably can’t afford another loss. They travel to Norman to face the Sooners in two weeks. Iowa State continues to vastly exceed expectations under second-year head coach Matt Campbell, formerly of Toledo – after starting the season 2-2 with losses to Iowa and Texas, the Cyclones have won four straight, including upsets over teams that were ranked in the Top 5 at the time.
Notre Dame won again, this time over an NC State team that had won six straight games after dropping their season opener to South Carolina. Quarterback Brandon Wimbush didn’t generate much yardage – he threw for just 4.6 yards per attempt (but did have two passing touchdowns) and only had five non-sack carries (one of which went for another touchdown) – but Josh Adams broke the 200-yard mark rushing against the Wolfpack defense and wore them down over the course of the game. NC State actually opened the scoring in the first quarter when they returned a blocked punt for a touchdown, but it took Notre Dame just two plays from scrimmage to even the score. NC State would go on to take a 14-7 lead early in the second quarter after Ryan Finley led a scoring drive featuring two long third-down conversions.
The Irish shut out the Wolfpack for the rest of the game and pulled out to what wound up being a quite comfortable 35-14 win. After NC State regained the lead, ND went on two long scoring drives in consecutive series; on the first possession after halftime, the Irish capitalized on a mistake by Finley, as Julian Love had a long pick six to put them up by two scores. NC State’s versatile Jaylen Samuels returned the subsequent kickoff into Irish territory, but was later stopped on fourth-and-one inside the Irish ten-yard line. On their last four possessions of the game, they went three-and-out and only gained a total of 16 yards. Notre Dame iced the win away with a 15-play 76-yard slog that took up almost nine minutes of game time and ended with Wimbush taking a knee at the four-yard line.
It was another impressive win for ND, as they continue to position themselves for a run at a playoff spot, but their remaining schedule is difficult: they host Wake Forest and Navy (both better than you’d think) and travel to Miami and Stanford. The latter two teams were unimpressive this week: Miami is still undefeated, but had their worst performance of the season (an uneasy win over an awful 1-7 North Carolina team); Stanford went on the road to Oregon State on Thursday night and needed a late comeback to pull out a 15-14 win against a team whose coach had resigned and declined the buyout on his contract. S&P+ favors Notre Dame in each of their remaining games, but gives them only about a one in five chance of winning all of them; if they do manage to win out, it would be hard to keep them out of the playoff, considering that their only loss came to a great Georgia squad by just one point.
In other noteworthy ACC action, Florida State’s nightmare season hit a new low with a 35-3 loss to Boston College. They still technically have a shot at becoming bowl eligible, but they almost definitely will finish with a losing record – as they’re currently 2-5 and only have eleven games on the schedule because of Hurricane Irma.
Other storylines of note:
- Things aren’t looking much better for Florida, as the Gators were destroyed by rival Georgia, 42-7: the Bulldogs ran for 8.7 yards per carry, only threw the ball seven times, and scored touchdowns on their first three possessions of the game. At least Malik Zaire led a touchdown drive deep into garbage time to prevent the shutout. In the aftermath, the Florida brass fired Jim McElwain – that he was let go wasn’t that much of a surprise, but that he was the first SEC coach voted off the island in 2017 is somewhat of a shock. In other Embattled SEC Coach News, Kevin Sumlin and Texas A&M lost to Mississippi State at home by three touchdowns and Butch Jones and Tennessee blew a fourth quarter lead against Kentucky to drop to 0-5 in conference play (Bret Bielema and Arkansas notched a win in a wild game at Ole Miss).
- Oklahoma State and West Virginia opened the noon slate with three total turnovers in the first five minutes of the game, but the Cowboys recovered to take a 23-3 lead in the second quarter. The rest of the contest was just as bizarre as the opening sequence: the two teams combined for nine total turnovers, West Virginia pulled to a one score deficit with a blocked punt return and an interception return for touchdowns on consecutive Oklahoma State drives in the third quarter, and the last four possessions of the game went for touchdowns (two for each team). In the end, Oklahoma State had preserved their one-loss season on the road against a quality opponent, even if it was in an insane game.
- Michigan State lost their first Big Ten contest of the season – and with Ohio State and Penn State still on the schedule, their longshot Big Ten East title hopes seem to have been extinguished. The Spartans took Northwestern to overtime with an impressive late drive by Brian Lewerke, and a game that had been a defensive battle wound up having a misleading 39-31 scoreline after the teams traded touchdowns in the first two overtimes. In the third overtime, Northwestern scored again easily, and the game ended when Lewerke was hit from behind, fumbled, regained possession of the ball, scrambled, and lofted the ball into the end zone for an interception. Both quarterbacks threw often (Lewerke had 57 attempts and Clayton Thorson had 48), and neither team cracked a hundred yards on the ground.
- The Khalil Tate Show had another successful performance this week, as the Arizona quarterback threw for 275 yards (on just 17 attempts), ran for 146 more, accounted for three total touchdowns, and led the Wildcats to an impressive 58-37 win over what had been a one-loss Washington State team. Mike Leach benched starting quarterback Luke Falk in the first half, and his backup, Tyler Hilinski, threw for over 500 yards, but had four interceptions. A relatively quiet first half gave way to fireworks in the second; Arizona scored three touchdowns in quick succession – a 79-yard run by JJ Taylor, a 49-yard run by Tate, and a pick six by Colin Schooler – to blow open what was a three-point game late in the third quarter and into the beginning of the fourth. Arizona is now 6-2 overall and 4-1 in conference play, and the Pac-12 South title may very well be on the line when they travel to USC on Saturday. The Trojans routed Arizona State (another much-better-than-expected team that had been tied in first place in the division) this past weekend.
- Since I mentioned them last week, I feel like I should note that USF lost their first game of the season to Houston at home, 28-24, after the Cougars converted a 4th and 24 on the game-winning drive – Houston quarterback/wide receiver D’Eriq King scrambled for a 20-yard touchdown with eleven seconds left. UCF is now the only remaining undefeated Group of Five team, and their finale against USF lost some of its appeal.
Remaining undefeated Power Five teams: Alabama, Georgia, Wisconsin, Miami
Remaining one-loss Power Five teams: Ohio State, Penn State, Clemson, Virginia Tech, TCU, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Washington (and Notre Dame)