College football fans with nothing better to do than sit in front of their televisions this Friday night were in for a treat with three big-time games on the schedule.
Florida Atlantic and UCF got things started with an action-packed contest that gave us plenty of thrills. Trace McSorley and the Penn State Nittany Lions were on the road against Illinois and were faced with a tougher battle than most envisioned. Then, to cap it all off, USC hosted Washington State for a good, old-fashioned Pac-12 after dark showdown.
These were the biggest winners and losers from Friday night’s college football action.
Winner: Miles Sanders kept Penn State together when the going was tough
Until Trace McSorley got his passing game going in the second half, Penn State’s offense was mostly about Mile Sanders. And boy, did he deliver.
The junior running back made his presence felt early. After the Penn State offense turned the ball over on a careless fumble to open the game, Sanders got the on the board shortly afterward with a 14-yard touchdown run. He punched in another score from two yards out early in the second quarter, and then again in the third quarter, after Illinois went ahead 24-21, he put the Nittany Lions on his back once again scoring from 48 yards out.
All told, Sanders racked up 200 yards and three touchdowns on just 22 carries. That final touchdown, right after Illinois’ go-ahead score, was the straw that broke the camel’s back for the Fighting Illini. From that point on, Penn State outscored their opponent 35-0 in the fourth quarter to run away with the blowout win.
Loser: Special teams blunders doom Wazzu
The Washington State Cougars really should have won Friday night on the road against Southern California. Unfortunately, two huge special-teams blunders cost them the win.
First, it was a botched snap on an extra-point attempt after Max Borghi put the Cougars up by 13 points in the third quarter. For a while there, this mistake looked like it had the potential to be the game-deciding factor.
But then, with under two minutes left in the fourth quarter, Washington State down by three points, the hammer truly dropped. Kicker Blake Mazza lined up for a 38-yard attempt to tie the game, but it was blocked by USC.
That’s four total points the Cougars missed out on putting on the board.
Winner: McKenzie Milton rebounds with red-hot performance
The last time McKenzie Milton played, he was far from sharp. Though UCF won convincingly in Week 2 against South Carolina State, Milton threw three interceptions in that game.
After taking a week off due to Hurricane Florence, Milton came out on fire against FAU. He completed 21-of-32 passes for 306 yards with three touchdowns. That was impressive enough, but he added another 81 yards and three scores on the ground, including this ankle-breaking beauty.
Not only did Milton’s six-touchdown outburst propel the Knights to their third win this season to stay undefeated the past 16 games, but it also thrust him into the Heisman conversation the rest of the season.
Loser: USC defense is awful
The Trojans came into Friday night’s game at home against Washington State with a middle-of-the-road defense. They didn’t do anything at all to improve things against the Cougars.
USC struggled to bring pressure, allowing Gardner Minshew to generally do whatever he wanted to most of the night. When Washington State did run the ball, which wasn’t often, the Trojans far too often didn’t wrap up, allowing extra yards and two touchdowns on the ground.
The defensive secondary was routinely picked on, which has been a trend early this year. Penalties were also an issue on Friday night, as the Trojans just didn’t offer up much resistance whatsoever. Washington State ended up gaining 435 total yards, and 36 points in the narrow 39-36 win.
Winner: JT Daniels has his coming-out party
The first three games haven’t been kind to the true freshman, JT Daniels. He’s been beaten up, and his poor decisions had haunted the Trojans leading up to Friday night’s game against Washington State.
Then he exploded with a season-defining performance that shows he might just be the right choice under center for USC this season after all.
Under pressure all night long, Daniels stayed composed and delivered strikes to his playmakers. He finished with 241 yards on 17-of-26 passing, tossing three touchdowns, and most importantly, no interceptions.
Loser: Chris Robison gave the Owls no chance
It’s tough to place a ton of blame on a freshman quarterback, because there is just so much going on at this level that is brand new. That said, the mistakes Chris Robison made on Friday night on the road against UCF doomed the Owls to their second blowout loss to a ranked team this year.
His rough night started on the game’s first drive. Robison did not read UCF’s defense properly on his second pass of the game, which was picked off by Pat Jasinski. Four plays later, the Knights scored their first touchdown. In the fourth quarter, desperate to do something positive, he thew another interception that turned into points, as Shawn Burgess-Becker took his pass to the house for six points.
All told, Robison completed just half his passes, averaged 4.77 yards per attempt while throwing just one touchdown and three interceptions.
Bonus Winner: Lovie Smith’s beard is magnificent
Former NFL head coach Lovie Smith has been growing his beard out for a while now. It’s not anything new. But his facial hair is becoming nothing short of awe-inspiring as he continues to let it grow.
Really. If you haven’t seen this beauty lately, check it out.
Smith’s magnificent beard wasn’t quite magical enough to spark an upset against Penn State, but for a while there it looked like that might actually happen. In the end, the Nittany Lions were just too potent to fall into a trap before their huge game against Ohio State next weekend.