NCAA Football

Top 10 takeaways from biggest bowl games this weekend

Jesse Reed
Written by Jesse Reed

As we all waited for 2016 to come to an end, football fans were treated with a tremendous slate of bowl games, including the College Football Playoff semifinals.

With clear-cut winners and losers stemming from the action during the extended holiday weekend, there was plenty to analyze.

We saw one senior quarterback take advantage of his final chance to shine, while this year’s Heisman winner was brutally shut down in his first game since hoisting the trophy in New York.

Alabama continued its march toward another potential national championship while dominating one of the best offensive teams in the nation, and the Tide will have a rematch against Clemson after the Tigers routed Ohio State in epic fashion.

We’ll be taking a deeper look at these stories and more as we dive into the top takeaways from the biggest bowl games this holiday weekend.

1. Joshua Dobbs played his heart out in final game at Tennessee

The 2016 season started out with such promise for the Vols, who won their first five games and were being considered as a potential playoff contender. Then came a three-game losing skid, and those dreams were crushed. However, thanks in large part to the efforts of senior quarterback Joshua Dobbs, Tennessee bounced back to win three of its last four games, earning a trip to the Music City Bowl with a record of 8-4.

Facing a tough B1G team in Nebraska on Friday, Dobbs willed the Vols to victory. He accounted for a quartet of touchdowns in Tennessee’s 38-24 win over the Huskers.

Both through the air and on the ground, Dobbs was sharp. He went 23-of-38 through the air for 291 yards and a touchdown pass while adding another 118 yards and three touchdowns on just 11 carries. All told, Dobbs accounted for 409 of the team’s 521 total yards in this game.

“He’s left a legacy,” said head coach Butch Jones about Dobbs (h/t WATE.com). “I think it will be a great springboard for our quarterbacks and really managing your time, the expectations that come with playing the quarterback position at the University of Tennessee, the scrutiny and being able to handle the social media, not being too high too low, just consistency in performance.”

Not surprisingly, the senior won MVP of the Music City Bowl for his tremendous performance.

2. Georgia has bright future with Jacob Eason, Trenton Thompson

There have been some rough patches for freshman Jacob Eason and the Bulldogs this season. But there can be no doubt the program has reason to be optimistic heading into 2017, especially after watching him handle the pressure of a bowl game and come through with a winning performance.

TCU isn’t exactly a defensive dynamo, but Eason didn’t make any mistakes aside from a lost fumble on a big sack from the blind side by Tipa Galeai. He finished with 164 yards and two touchdowns, completing 12-of-21 passes.

Of course, it helped that Nick Chubb and Sony Michel were doing solid work on the ground. The two junior running backs will be back next year to provide the same kind of support for Eason in his sophomore campaign.

On defense, sophomore defensive tackle Trenton Thompson was a beast, sacking Kenny Hill three times and racking up 3.5 tackles for a loss. With excellent young talent on both sides of the ball, Georgia should be a formidable SEC opponent next year, when presumably it will win more than seven regular-season games.

3. Mason Rudolph and Cowboys subdue Buffaloes with dominating performance

It wasn’t long ago that folks were wondering if Colorado would be able to take down Washington in the Pac 12 Championship Game. Featuring a tough-as-nails defense and balanced offense, the Buffaloes took a two-loss record into that pivotal game but were ultimately humbled in a 41-10 blowout win for the Huskies.

Fast forward a few weeks and it was unfortunately more of the same for Mike MacIntyre’s program.

Oklahoma State owned every aspect of the Alamo Bowl on Thursday night, led by quarterback Mason Rudolph. The junior had a phenomenal game, torching Colorado’s defense for 314 yards and three touchdowns on 22-of-32 passing. Favored target James Washington was the recipient of nine of those completions, going for 171 yards and one touchdown.

The Cowboys blew the Buffaloes off the line of scrimmage in the run game as well, going for 189 yards and two touchdowns.

As impressive as Oklahoma State’s offense was in this game, its defense deserves just as much praise. Holding the Buffaloes to just 62 yards on 29 carries, the Cowboys controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Quarterback Sefo Liufau was harried all game long as well as the Cowboys swarmed into the backfield on passing plays. He ended up going scoreless through the air but did manage one touchdown — the only score of the game for Colorado — on the ground.

It was just complete domination as Oklahoma State romped, 38-8.

4. Mitch Trubisky should think twice about declaring for 2017 NFL Draft

One of the hottest names out there of late in terms of potential pro quarterbacks who could declare for the draft has been North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky. A recent report indicated the redshirt junior would be the No. 1 overall pick if he declares for the 2017 NFL Draft.

That report was issued before Friday’s game against Stanford, however, a game that exposed some of the serious issues Trubisky will certainly face if he does leave school early to enter the draft. It was a rough overall outing for Trubisky, which you can read about in detail here.

Finishing with 280 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions (bad ones, at that) on 23-of-38 passing, Trubisky got rattled in the pocket after a brilliant opening drive. He ended up getting absolutely robbed twice by Stanford standout safety Dallas Lloyd, who baited him both times and scored a touchdown on his second pick (watch here).

In a game against a team like Stanford, which lost its starting quarterback and which never featured an explosive offense to begin with, the six points lost on that one mistake doomed North Carolina to a gut-wrenching 25-23 loss.

It wasn’t all bad for Trubisky, who engineered a scoring drive at the end of the game. But the fact of the matter is that he has just 14 starts at the collegiate level and is clearly not ready to face NFL defenses.

5. Dalvin Cook is a legend

While some of the top running backs decided against playing in their bowl games, Dalvin Cook went to battle with his Florida State teammates. And a battle it was Friday night against Michigan, which featured one of the nation’s top run defenses before being annihilated by Cook and Co.

Totaling 207 yards (145 rushing, 62 receiving) and a touchdown, Cook went through Michigan’s vaunted defense like a hot knife runs through butter.

His strong performance helped take the burden off freshman quarterback Deondre Francois, who was overmatched for most of the game. The Wolverines were constantly in Florida State’s backfield on passing plays, knocking the young passer down numerous times. He did shine on a few humongous throws, including a 92-yard bomb to Nyqwan Murray (watch here).

But without Cook doing his thing, the Seminoles would have been about as successful as Chief Osceola and Renegade were during the pre-game introductions.

His career at Florida State has been nothing short of legendary. He holds the school record for rushing yards, going over 500 yards more than Warrick Dunn did in his legendary career. He also holds the school record for rushing scores with 46, which is two more than Greg Allen achieved back in the 1980s.

Not surprisingly, Cook declared for the 2017 NFL Draft on Saturday. Most analysts have Leonard Fournette as the highest-graded running back heading into the 2017 NFL Draft, but Cook should be a close second.

6. Lamar Jackson’s 2016 season ends on sour note

That Lamar Jackson deserved to win the Heisman this year is something nobody can question. He put up video game stats for most of the year, and nobody else came close close to matching them.

He also limped to the finish line.

Coming into Saturday’s game on a two-game losing streak in which he completed just under 53 percent of his passes while throwing three touchdowns and three interceptions, he had the worst game of his career against LSU in the Citrus Bowl.

Looking confused about what the Tigers threw at him defensively for most of the game, Jackson went 10-of-27 passing for just 153 yards while failing to throw a touchdown. He was equally stymied on the ground, rushing for just 33 yards on 26 carries, and he lost a fumble along the  way.

After the early-season barrage that put Jackson on the map as the Heisman favorite, teams began to figure out the sophomore’s game.

Going up against a top defense like LSU, his issues were exposed. When the pocket breaks down, Jackson has the magical ability to make plays, but he also has the tendency to get out of control. And when a defense is disciplined across the line, with every player maintaining his gap, Jackson’s speed is negated in a big way.

None of this is to say that Jackson won’t eventually become a tremendous all-around quarterback. But the young man has a long ways to go before he’ll be ready to pick apart a great college defense, let alone one at the pro level.

7. LSU’s Derrius Guice early 2017 Heisman candidate

Playing without Leonard Fournette, who chose to get healthy and prepare for the 2017 NFL Draft, the Tigers didn’t miss a beat offensively against Louisville. Of course, they’ve had practice, being that the future first-round pick missed five games before this one.

The biggest reason LSU was able to dominate offensively Saturday against the Cardinals was the play of Derrius Guice. The sophomore running back out of Baton Rouge figures to be the linchpin of the offense next year while Fournette is playing with the big boys in the NFL. He showed up in a big way in this game, rushing for 138 yards and a touchdown and adding a receiving touchdown to lead the Tigers to a big win.

Guice also sent Louisville kicker Blanton Creque into the underworld for a spell on a brutal hit following a strong kickoff return down the left sideline (watch here).

All told, Guice gained 230 all-purpose yards on 32 touches, averaging 7.2 yards per touch. That’s the kind of production LSU fans should expect next year, when he’ll be the undisputed featured back for the Tigers. It should also put him on the map as a preseason Heisman Trophy candidate.

8. Mark Stoops should work on his deep breathing techniques

For the first time in six years, the Kentucky Wildcats were playing in a bowl game on Saturday. The program has emerged from the SEC’s cellar this year with its first winning season in as many years. Mark Stoops has a lot to do with the positive change, and he deserves credit for turning things around.

He also deserves a bit of criticism for his behavior on Saturday in his team’s humiliating 33-18 loss to Georgia Tech during the TaxSlayer Bowl.

Showing no small amount of emotion, even early in this one, Stoops was seen yelling across the field, apparently at Yellow Jackets head coach Paul Johnson after one of his players went down with an injury. He was mad that Georgia Tech players were utilizing cut blocks, and he had every right to be upset about it. But screaming at the opposing coach wasn’t the right way to go about it, especially while his player was on the ground hurt.

Then at halftime, Stoops, angry about a blown call by the refs at the end of the half, reportedly had to be restrained from going after the refs while they were in their locker room (more on that here).

As mad as he was, these are the kinds of things that head coaches just cannot do. Perhaps some offseason lessons in deep breathing techniques will serve him well in the coming years.

9. Washington’s vaunted offense swallowed up by ‘Bama’s smothering defense

The Peach Bowl got off to an auspicious start for the No. 4-ranked Huskies. They marched right down the field on their second offensive possession of the game on a eight-play, 64-yard drive that ended with a touchdown strike from Jake Browning to Dante Pettis to give them an early 7-0 lead.

We’re not sure about you, but at this point we had hope that Washington would be able to make a game of it. There was the chance that, perhaps, Alabama might not completely grind another big-time opponent into dust.

Then John Ross fumbled towards end of first quarter, giving ball to ‘Bama at the Washington 40-yard line. Minkah Fitzpatrick stripped the ball as Ross fought for extra yards, and defensive lineman Jonathan Allen picked it up and rumbled a ways before being dragged down.

That possession marked the turning point in this game. The Crimson Tide scored a field goal shortly afterwards to go up by three points and never looked back. Washington hung tough for most of the first half, but a pick-six by linebacker Ryan Anderson near the end of the first half sealed the deal, putting ‘Bama up by the score of 17-7.

A ridiculous 68-yard touchdown run by Bo Scarbrough in the fourth quarter put the icing on the cake for ‘Bama (watch here).

While the Crimson Tide rolled on offense, Washington’s offense was put on ice pretty much from the moment Ross fumbled in the first quarter.

Browning was overwhelmed on almost every single passing down, finishing with just 150 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions on 20-of-38 passing. The running game was almost nonexistent, as the Tide held Washington to just 44 yards on 29 carries.

Domination. Utter and complete annihilation. Washington had no chance.

Featuring as complete a team as there is in the nation, Nick Saban (who had a hilarious rant at one point) will once again be competing for a national championship. Imagine that.

10. Ohio State no match for inspired Clemson squad

The final bowl game on New Year’s Eve between Clemson and Ohio State wasn’t much of a contest.

The Buckeyes wasted a golden opportunity to jump out with the game’s first lead after Deshaun Watson threw an interception on his first drive of the game. Tyler Durbin shanked his 47-yard attempt, the first of two misses from the same distance in the first quarter. Cardale Jones likely spoke for Ohio State fans everywhere when he went on a mini-rant on Twitter about the missed opportunities (more on that here).

Despite two interceptions by Watson in the first half, Ohio State failed to get on the board with points. Instead, Watson and Co. dominated the action, building up a 17-0 lead while outgaining the Buckeyes, 275 yards to 88.

J.T. Barrett, Curtis Samuel and the rest of the offense managed just three first downs in the first half, getting thoroughly outplayed by Clemson’s swarming defense.

Whatever happened inside the locker room at halftime, it didn’t help. Mike Weber coughed up the ball early in the third quarter, killing the first bit of positive momentum the Buckeyes had in the game since Watson’s early interception. Then he did it again near the end of the third quarter, but mercifully a teammate fell on the ball, preserving the promising drive. One play later, J.T. Barrett threw an interception down near the goal line.

Not long after that, Barrett threw his second interception of the game into his own end zone, which was returned 86 yards by Van Smith. Clemson quickly capitalized on that mistake with an easy touchdown by Wayne Gallman III, taking a 31-0 lead with just under nine minutes left in the game.

It was just that kind of night for Ohio State, which never could get out of its own way. It was a devastating loss for the Buckeyes, who haven’t been shut out in a long, long time.

On the flip side, Clemson is rolling at just the right time to challenge the mighty Crimson Tide for the national title after falling just short a year ago.

About the author

Jesse Reed

Jesse Reed

Managing Editor here at Sportsnaut. Featured on Yardbarker, Foxsports.com and MSN.com, and formerly was a breaking news writer/NFL analyst for Bleacher Report.