[David Zalubowski – AP]
A week after chaos reigned in college football, this was a return to normalcy. Most conference races remained unchanged and there were relatively few upsets. I was actually able to watch the biggest result of the week in person: Houston emerged from a funk to absolutely crush Louisville – a team that may have had a path to the playoff – on Thursday night, harassing Heisman frontrunner Lamar Jackson all game en route to a comfortable 36-10 win over the Cardinals. It was a great atmosphere and even though Tom Herman might not be in H-Town for long, DT Ed Oliver will be: he was utterly dominant against Louisville – and he’s just a freshman.
Anyways, I digress. On to the week that was:
--- In one of the most unexpectedly consequential games of the season, COLORADO responded to a 24-21 third quarter deficit against WASHINGTON STATE to score 17 straight points and emerge with a big home win to help keep their Pac-12 South hopes alive. Buffaloes QB Sefo Liufau briefly exited the game with an injury but returned and turned in an excellent performance with 345 passing yards as well as 108 yards on the ground – and three rushing touchdowns; Phillip Lindsay lost a fumble in the first half but wound up with 144 yards and two touchdowns of his own. Washington State QB Luke Falk threw for 325 yards and three touchdowns himself, but completed less than half his passes and turned it over on each of the last two Cougar possessions of the game. It was an impressive win for Colorado, especially after the defense stiffened in the fourth quarter after having conceded plenty of yardage and 28 points earlier in the game. They’re now a game ahead of USC in the division with a matchup against Utah next week; they don’t hold the tiebreaker against the Trojans after having lost to USC back in early October. Washington State still controls its destiny in the North with the winner-take-all Apple Cup against Washington next week.
[Much more after the JUMP]
--- The biggest upset of the week came when OREGON defeated UTAH, 30-28 – the winning score came on a 17-yard touchdown pass to Darren Carrington, who made a ridiculous catch in the corner of the end zone, with just two seconds remaining. After scoring just three points through the first 44 minutes of the game, a long punt return set up the Ducks for a short field at the end of the third, they scored on just one play, and then scored touchdowns on long drives on each of their fourth quarter possessions. Justin Herbert continued to impress for the Ducks, totaling four touchdowns, while star RB Royce Freeman – who’s been struggling through an injury-plagued season – ran for 129 yards on 20 carries. Utah lost for the second consecutive time at home and its offense wasn’t able to ruthlessly exploit a shaky Oregon defense like so many opponents had this season. It was a critical loss – one that took them out of the Pac-12 South race. They look to regroup before the season finale next week against Colorado.
--- Christian McCaffery had an excellent day against a poor CAL defense, running for 284 yards and three touchdowns in a 45-31 STANFORD win. Three straight touchdown drives to open the second half turned a close game into a comfortable victory. There were some blowouts in the Pac-12: UCLA’s disappointing season continued as they lost to USC, WASHINGTON got back on track with a big win over ARIZONA STATE, and OREGON STATE handed ARIZONA its eight straight loss.
[Bryan Terry – The Oklahoman]
--- The most high-profile game of the week featured two teams near the top of the Big 12, OKLAHOMA and WEST VIRGINIA. On the first drive of the game, the Sooners got a first down and then had to punt after three more plays – and West Virginia’s punt returner fumbled the kick. From there, OU scored five touchdowns on its next six drives, the Mountaineers lost two more fumbles, and the lead was 34-0 before WVU tacked on a touchdown drive before halftime. Oklahoma’s tandem of star running backs – Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon – combined to rush for 307 yards and three touchdowns, while QB Baker Mayfield added four touchdowns on just twenty total touches. West Virginia’s turnovers and complete inability to stop the run were the big stories, but they actually outgained Oklahoma by almost 100 yards after a second half that was entirely garbage time. The Sooners have gone undefeated in Big 12 play after losing two of their three non-conference games (though it’s worth noting that Houston and Ohio State may very well be better than anybody in the Big 12) and have the Bedlam game against Oklahoma State next week.
--- After a slow start, OKLAHOMA STATE wound up beating TCU easily, 31-6. A win over OU next week would put the two in a tie for first in the conference, with the Cowboys obviously holding the (inconsequential) tiebreaker there. KANSAS STATE handed a reeling BAYLOR squad its fourth straight loss, outscoring the Bears by four touchdowns in the second half. Maybe the most inexplicable result of the week came when IOWA STATE just obliterated TEXAS TECH, 66-10. The Cyclones hadn’t won a Big 12 game over a non-Kansas opponent yet this season.
--- And, speaking of KANSAS, the Jayhawks won their first conference game in two seasons, defeating TEXAS 24-21 – which might be the final straw for embattled Longhorn head coach Charlie Strong. UT scored on a long touchdown pass on the first play of the game before the teams settled in to trade punts for much of the first half. A Brandon Stewart pick-six for KU tied the game up; a fumble on Texas’s next possession put Kansas near field goal range and they took a 10-7 lead into halftime. Two KU turnovers set up short fields for Texas touchdowns in the second half and the Jayhawks trailed 21-10, but they managed to drive down the field for a score in the fourth, get the two-point conversion, and kick a field goal with seven seconds left to send the game into OT. After another Texas INT on the first possession, KU kicked a field goal to get the win.
[Al Goldis – AP]
--- OHIO STATE avoided what would have been a catastrophic upset and beat MICHIGAN STATE by a single point after a Spartan two-point conversion with under five minutes left failed. It was an especially ugly game: JT Barrett completed ten passes on 22 attempts for 86 yards (and a touchdown) and the MSU quarterbacks were even worse – a combined 8-22 for 127 yards with a TD (on a long screen pass) and two picks. Barrett ran the ball 24 times, which was a little confusing given how effective Mike Weber was on his 14 rushing attempts. LJ Scott was the workhorse for State; on the scoring drive in the fourth quarter, every play was a Scott rushing attempt. Mark Dantonio made the decision to go for two and strangely chose to put the ball in Tyler O’Connor’s hands – he saw an open receiver too late and the pass was intercepted. It was one of the worst performances of the season for Ohio State and while the conditions surely played a factor, Barrett’s inaccuracy as a passer is certainly worrisome for them. Still, they escaped East Lansing with a 17-16 win, setting up the biggest game of the season nationally next week against Michigan.
--- MICHIGAN also struggled with an inferior opponent – though they were at home, unlike OSU – but managed to put INDIANA away with some timely De’Veon Smith romps into the end zone. Smith was the best player on the field Saturday – he had 23 carries for 158 yards and two touchdowns and helped seal the win on Michigan’s clock-killing drive in the fourth quarter as the Big House turned into a snow globe. Indiana actually led 10-6 midway through the third after some sloppy play on both sides, but a John O’Korn scramble on third-and-long set up Smith’s first touchdown. O’Korn, filling in for an injured Wilton Speight, did not look good in his first meaningful playing time, was frequently bothered by Indiana pressure, and completed less than half his passes (for just 59 yards). Michigan’s defense – despite giving up two long scoring drives – was mostly dominant and held IU to just 10 points. If Speight can’t play in Columbus this weekend, the Wolverines have tough odds of pulling out a win.
--- There were few competitive games elsewhere in the conference. PENN STATE and IOWA shut out RUTGERS and ILLINOIS, respectively (and Illinois actually didn’t have a single kickoff in this game after Iowa went with the wind when they could have chosen to receive). NEBRASKA held MARYLAND scoreless through three quarters and won with a comfortable 28-7 margin. WISCONSIN routed PURDUE and managed to score five touchdowns in the second quarter. MINNESOTA took care of NORTHWESTERN at home to improve to 8-3(!) on the season.
[Bill Feig – The Advocate]
--- A hurricane earlier this year forced FLORIDA and LSU to reschedule and move the game from Gainesville to Baton Rouge; the battle of two former Purdue quarterbacks was the most high-profile matchup in the league’s annual November cupcake week. A goal line stand on fourth down with a few seconds left gave Florida the win: a weird pitch counter play to Derrius Guice didn’t give him enough momentum to leap over the line and the Gators held on to win. LSU had several trips deep into Florida territory come up empty earlier in the game, most notably a bobbled snap on a field goal attempt from the two-yard line – on the next play, Austin Appleby connected with Tyrie Cleveland on a 98-yard touchdown pass to give UF the lead. Florida kicked two field goals in the fourth quarter with a fumbled kickoff return from LSU in between, but Danny Etling led the Tigers down to the one-yard line before getting stopped on what would have been the game-tying touchdown to lose 16-10. With the win, Florida secured the SEC East title and an appearance against Alabama in the SEC Championship game.
--- Several SEC teams got a nice breather before rivalry week. ALABAMA somehow trailed FCS Chattanooga after a quarter but won 31-3; AUBURN blanked FCS Alabama A&M 55-0. Some of the games were relatively close though: TEXAS A&M only beat Texas-San Antonio 23-10, GEORGIA beat Louisiana Lafayette 35-21, and SOUTH CAROLINA beat 2-9 FCS Western Carolina 44-31 to become bowl eligible ahead of their matchup against Clemson. KENTUCKY was down early against winless FCS Austin Peay but wound up winning by a comfortable 49-13 margin.
--- There were some inconsequential games between SEC teams this week. TENNESSEE beat MISSOURI 63-37, but because of the Florida win earlier in the day, were eliminated from division title contention. ARKANSAS had a shootout of their own against MISSISSIPPI STATE – Rawleigh Williams scored four first-half touchdowns and the Razorbacks won 58-42. OLE MISS’s nightmare season continued as they went on the road to VANDERBILT and lost by three touchdowns; both teams are now 5-6 heading into the season’s final weekend.
[Troy Taormina – USA Today]
--- LOUISVILLE came into the week with playoff hopes – that were perhaps contingent on other teams losing, but still – and were thoroughly beaten by HOUSTON, 36-10. The Cardinals fumbled the opening kickoff and set up a one-play UH scoring drive and, after series of punts, the Cougar offense tacked on some more scores to take a commanding 31-0 lead into halftime. A fake punt that extended a touchdown drive and a WR pass that scored another were undoubtedly huge plays in that first half, but the biggest thing was that the Houston pass rush was ferocious: Lamar Jackson was sacked 11(!) times, the Louisville OL was called for numerous holding penalties, and the high-powered Cardinal offense looked as bad as it has all year. Jackson is still the front-runner for the Heisman and neither team has a shot to win its conference, but Louisville arguably had the best shot to make it into the playoff without that conference championship on its resume before suffering this loss to Houston.
--- After opening the game with a 17-0 lead, Notre Dame lost to VIRGINIA TECH at home to fall to 4-7 on the season. The Tech offense woke up in the second quarter and VT outscored Notre Dame 13-0 in the fourth; a drive that would have put the Irish in field goal range ended as the game clock expired. Ultimately the teams’ statistical profiles were rather similar: Notre Dame was slightly better on the ground and Tech was slightly better through the air, but like so many ND games this season, they weren’t able to make enough plays late in the game to get the win. With a matchup at USC this weekend, a 4-8 season looks likely.
--- CLEMSON took care of WAKE FOREST 35-13 to lock up a spot in the ACC Championship game; FLORIDA STATE crushed SYRACUSE; MIAMI and GEORGIA TECH took care of VIRGINIA and NC STATE, respectively; BOSTON COLLEGE shut out UConn in an out of conference game, 30-0; PITTSBURGH obliterated DUKE; NORTH CAROLINA routed a good FCS team in The Citadel.