Upsets, fantastic finishes and some downright ugly play by a couple of top teams highlighted the college football Week 9 action.
One team we had high hopes for as a College Football Playoff contender failed to follow through. Another team that figures to contend for a title barely hung on against an inferior opponent. Yet another top-ranked team was stunned in a shocking upset by a team thought to be on the ropes.
All in all, there was plenty of amazing action to sort through. We’re taking a look back at these games and more as we highlight the top stories from college football Week 9.
1. Clemson remains undefeated against Florida State in an instant classic
These two ACC powerhouses gave us quite a treat on Saturday night. No. 3 Clemson and No. 12 Florida State pushed one another to the limit, but the Tigers escaped with a crazy 37-34 win. It was the first time Clemson had won in Tallahassee since 2006.
Early on, this looked like a potential blowout in the making. Deshaun Watson was razor sharp, finishing the first quarter with 98 yards and a touchdown on 9-of-11 passing helping Clemson take an early 14-0 lead.
The Tigers had all the momentum, and the home crowd at Doak Campbell Stadium was momentarily stunned to silence.
Then Watson made a bad mistake, throwing right into a trap that was baited by Florida State cornerback Marquez White. After the interception, Florida State drove down the field to get on the scoreboard with a Dalvin Cook running touchdown.
Suddenly, we had a game.
The two sides traded touchdowns to head into halftime with Clemson up 17-14. Another field goal gave the Tigers a six-point lead early in the third quarter. But it wouldn’t last.
After being held in check for the first half, Cook went off in the third quarter with two long touchdown runs of 43 and then 70 yards. Both were explosive plays, but the 70-yard score shows just why NFL scouts are drooling over this kid’s pro potential (watch here).
These two scores gave the Seminoles an eight-point lead. But like we’ve seen the past two years, Watson remained cool, calm and collected under pressure. He responded to Cook’s 70-yard dart with a 10-play drive that ended with a touchdown run by Wayne Gallman.
And that’s when the game got absolutely crazy. Jimbo Fisher ended up costing his team a drive when he exploded on the sideline following a bad call. His outburst resulted in a 15-yard penalty and a punt for the Seminoles.
Clemson used that opportunity to go up by one with a field goal on the next drive, but Dalvin Cook responded with a touchdown (his fourth of the game!) to go up by five points. At this point in the game, there was just over three minutes left to play.
That was plenty of time for Watson to lead the Tigers right down the field. He connected with tight end Jordan Leggett three times on the drive, including the go-ahead touchdown — a 34-yard thing of beauty that was capped off by an all-heart dive for the goal line by Leggett.
— Elite11 (@Elite11) October 30, 2016
FSU had one more chance to either tie the game or go ahead in the final two minutes of action remaining following the touchdown. Unfortunately, a couple of false start penalties in a row stunted the drive, which ended in failure.
We can’t heap enough praise on Cook for his performance in a losing cause. He finished with 184 total yards and four touchdowns. Freshman quarterback Deondre Francois was an absolute warrior as well. Unfortunately, their efforts weren’t quite enough to beat the indomitable Watson, who overcame his mistakes to finish strong and keep Clemson undefeated.
2. Badgers play spoiler to Huskers’ perfect season
First thing’s first: No. 7 Nebraska put up a better fight against No. 11 Wisconsin than we predicted, losing 23-17 in overtime.
Heading into Week 9, the Cornhuskers hadn’t really played a team of consequence. Not only that, but quarterback Tommy Armstrong hadn’t been particularly sharp this year, and we figured the Badgers would eat him and the Huskers up in this game.
That ended up being a spot-on prediction as far as Armstrong goes, but Nebraska’s defense pretty much issued the same ill treatment towards Wisconsin’s quarterbacks, Alex Hornibrook and Bart Houston. The three passers combined on four interceptions.
Armstrong was absolutely horrid through the air, making it extremely difficult for Nebraska to move the ball consistently, especially early. He finished with 153 yards on 12-of-31 passing with no touchdowns and two interceptions.
Thankfully the Badgers were unable to get much going through the air, either. Both teams combined to pass for just 267 yards.
While the passing games were dead in the water, it was Wisconsin’s rushing attack that won the day for the Badgers. Corey Clement and Dare Ogunbowale combined to run for 202 yards and a touchdown.
Wisconsin should have won the game in regulation, but kicker Andrew Endicott shanked the potential game-winning attempt. Tied up at 17-17 at the end of regulation, the Badgers took over the extra period, running four straight times for a touchdown. Endicott shanked his extra-point attempt, but thankfully for Badgers fans it did not affect the final outcome.
Nebraska was unable to even gain a first down on its overtime opportunity, going four-and-out to end the game with a whimper.
This was a truly ugly game that was competitive mainly because the quarterback play on both sides was so atrocious. But we did find out Nebraska doesn’t have what it takes to compete against the upper-echelon teams of the Big Ten.
3. Louisville lucky to escape Virginia with a win
The Cavaliers won just two games heading into Saturday’s home showdown at Scott Stadium against Lamar Jackson’s No. 5-ranked Cardinals. It should have been a walk in the park for the road team.
But as we’ve so often seen from programs not named Alabama this year, Louisville played down to its competition and barely got out with the 32-25 win.
One week removed from putting up four touchdowns in the first half against NC State, Lamar Jackson wasn’t exactly sharp to open the game. His final totals don’t do justice to those early struggles, as he finished with 451 yards and four touchdowns to keep his Heisman candidacy alive and well.
— NFL Draft (@NFLDraft) October 29, 2016
However, it was the Cavaliers who dictated the pace of the game for three quarters. And while Jackson struggled early, Virginia’s Doni Dowling was doing Lamar Jackson things to spur a 10-point lead in the second quarter (watch here).
Showing the heart of a champion, Jackson helped the Cardinals score 18 fourth-quarter points en route to a come-from-behind win. He threw two of his four touchdown passes in the final stanza, including a gorgeous, arcing 29-yard pass to Jaylen Smith that won the game with 13 seconds on the clock (watch here).
That the Cardinals struggled to put the Cavaliers away isn’t great. That they found a way to win after struggling to perform at their best is definitely a positive thing that could benefit the program against tougher competition later this year.
4. West Virginia’s Playoff hopes crushed by Oklahoma State
After the Mountaineers (No. 10 before Saturday) shut down the likes of Texas Tech and TCU, we had high hopes this Big 12 team had what it takes to potentially run the table with a perfect record. Defensively, they had the look of a real, legitimate Playoff contender.
But all that hope went away like a puff of smoke in the wind at Boone Pickens Stadium against the Cowboys.
West Virginia was sloppy on offense, turning the ball over three times. Head coach Dana Holgorsen was demonstratively unhappy when one of his receivers simply bobbled an easy catch resulting in a Cowboys interception in the third quarter.
Dana Holgorsen lost his mind so much at a WR that his visor ended up backward. pic.twitter.com/WgAxwrej0d
— Jon Solomon (@JonSolomonAspen) October 29, 2016
This negated the fact that, once again, the team’s defense did an outstanding job minimizing the impact of another high-powered Big 12 offense. In fact, the Mountaineers outgained the Cowboys by 63 yards.
Adding insult to injury, West Virginia’s top running back, Rushel Shell, left before halftime with an ankle injury and never made it back.
We didn’t quite know if this team was for real heading into this game. The Mountaineers haven’t played a single ranked team to date. This is going to significantly impact their impending drop in the rankings, and things certainly don’t get any easier with upcoming games against Oklahoma and Baylor late this season.
5. Mark Dantonio needs a math tutor
First, let’s be clear about something. Despite the final score reading 32-23, No. 2 Michigan over Michigan State, this game was only close for a few minutes in the first quarter and then right there at the end.
The Wolverines took over in the second quarter, going up by 17 points by halftime. Sure, Michigan State put up a better fight than anyone expected, but the outcome was never really in doubt.
With that out of the way, things might have worked out a bit differently if Spartans head coach Mark Dantonio had understood the numbers game a bit better than he did.
Down by 20 points in the fourth quarter, facing a fourth-and-goal at the Michigan 17-yard line, Dantonio called for a field-goal attempt, which Michael Geiger pushed to the right. It’s perfectly understandable that he’d be reticent to attempt running an offensive play there against Michigan’s staunch defense.
But when asked about the decision after the game, the head coach offered an explanation that defies logic.
Dantonio said he kicked a FG down 20 with 10 minutes left because it would make it a two-score game. I'm not sure the staff did the math.
— Graham Couch (@Graham_Couch) October 29, 2016
It’s physically impossible to score 17 points on two scores. Clearly, Dantonio was either too mentally exhausted from coaching his team to a sixth consecutive loss or he just stinks at basic first-grade math. Either way, it showed a level of incompetence that isn’t normally associated with this coach or his program.
Making matters worse, Dantonio called for a ridiculous two-point attempt after his team pulled to within seven points with a second left on the clock. That ill-conceived idea resulted in an easy 87-yard fumble return by Heisman candidate Jabrill Peppers that tacked on two more points for Michigan.
— Sportsnaut (@Sportsnaut) October 29, 2016
One one hand, we could applaud Sparty for hanging tough at home against one of the true powerhouse programs in the nation right now. On the other hand, the mistakes that were made along the way ended up trumping the positives such an effort could have produced.
6. Ohio State outlasts valiant Northwestern squad
Unless you are a Northwestern fan, watching the Wildcats take it to No. 6 Ohio State in a losing cause (24-20) was a treat. Both teams played a heck of a ballgame with just one combined turnover and four combined penalties.
Clayton Thorson was darn good in this one, despite throwing an interception. He matched J.T. Barrett throw for throw, run for run, finishing with 300 total yards and two touchdowns. In fact, it could be argued he actually outplayed Barrett.
In particular, Thorson’s chemistry with underrated receiver Austin Carr is something to keep an eye on the rest of the season. Both are developing into potential NFL-caliber players.
But as he’s done many times before, Barrett came up big for his team when it needed a big play to seal the win.
— Ohio State on BTN (@OhioStateOnBTN) October 29, 2016
Northwestern’s defense just wasn’t quite good enough up front to win in the trenches. As a result, Ohio State relied on its strong rushing attack, led by Mike Weber and Bennett, to grind out a win at home.
It’s for this reason that some in the media were critical of head coach Pat Fitzgerald for going for the field goal late on fourth-and-15 instead of trying to tie the game with a touchdown. The head coach embraced the criticism after the game, calling it fair.
Fitz says criticism he should have gone for TD on 4th and goal from 15 are fair. "You've got to write it," he tells us.
— Teddy Greenstein (@TeddyGreenstein) October 29, 2016
The tough loss cut a three-game winning streak for the Wildcats. On the other side of the same coin, the victory kept the Buckeyes right there in the thick of things for the College Football Playoff at the end of the season.
7. Washington proves special teams matter in win over Utah
In so many ways, No. 4 Washington and No. 17 Utah were an even match Saturday in Salt Lake City — all ways except for one.
The undefeated Huskies retained their unblemished record in thrilling fashion, winning 31-24. They did so despite being shut down on third downs (4-of-11 converted), losing the time of possession battle and losing the turnover battle with a Jake Browning interception — just his third of the year.
Utah did everything it possibly could to upset Pac 12’s best team.
Troy Williams wasn’t particularly efficient passing the ball but came up with some big-time passes when his team needed a big play. Running back Joe Williams (you know, the guy who retired recently?) toted the rock 35 times for 172 yards and a touchdown.
Utah’s Joe Williams since retirement: 3 straight games with 170+ rush yards (first in Power 5 to do that since Leonard Fournette, 2015) pic.twitter.com/W2ifBAW8T2
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) October 30, 2016
The defense also made life tough on Browning, who completed just 12 passes all game long.
Unfortunately, it just wasn’t quite enough to topple the Huskies. The reason for this was that, in the game’s waning moments, Washington came up with two spectacular special-teams plays.
The first was an outstanding pooch punt by Browning. Too far away to attempt a field goal, head coach Chris Petersen left Browning in the game to try and pin Utah deep in their own territory. Browning’s pooch was a thing of beauty, and it was downed at the one-yard line.
Jake Browning's Heisman moment: Pooch kick to the 1! (Hey, if Peppers gets credit for special teams, so should Browning.)
— Jon Solomon (@JonSolomonAspen) October 29, 2016
Four plays later, Utah was forced to punt from its own end zone. Dante Pettis fielded the punt, ran backwards a bit, ditched two would-be tacklers and dashed down the right sideline for a game-winning 58-yard punt return touchdown (watch here).
In the stretch of just a handful of plays, Washington sucked the air out of Rice-Eccles Stadium with two special special-teams performances. Game over.
8. Charlie Strong’s Longhorns shock yet another top team
Here's Mike Perrin joining in with the students as they chant Charlie's name. pic.twitter.com/8bFSfahRZF
— Mike Roach (@MikeRoach247) October 30, 2016
Hours after West Virginia was taken off the board as a potential College Football Playoff contender, No. 8 Baylor suffered the same fate.
Despite racking up 624 yards and 31 first downs on offense, the Bears came up small in the end when it mattered most. Playing in front of their home fans, the Longhorns found a way to conjure their fourth win of the year and hand their Big 12 rival its first loss of 2016.
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen this from Texas. Last year, the Longhorns rocked ranked teams in Oklahoma and Baylor. This year their overtime win against Notre Dame shocked the nation. And now they’ve taken down Baylor once again.
This was a game the Bears should have won — on paper at least. Coming into this one, the Bears had beaten their opponents by an average score of 44-17. Their closest game this year, prior to this loss, was a three-point win over Iowa State, so maybe we should have seen this coming. Yet every other win was dominant.
The heavy favorite to win the Big 12 championship this year couldn’t stop Texas from having its way offensively.
In particular D’Onta Foreman was unstoppable. He rushed for 250 yards and two touchdowns on 32 carries and did the bulk of the damage on the ground for the Longhorns.
LONGHORNS UPSET NO. 8 BAYLOR!
RB D'Onta Foreman becomes 1st Texas player to have 1,000 Rush yds in a season since Jamaal Charles in 2007. pic.twitter.com/tVpqsVm8Fm
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) October 29, 2016
Freshman quarterback Shane Buechele outplayed Seth Russell, throwing for 291 yards and two touchdowns on just 21 attempts.
Russell and the Baylor offense suffered through a terrible stretch in the first half, either punting, fumbling the ball away or being the victim of a safety in six straight offensive possessions.
Charlie Strong deserves plenty of credit for keeping his players motivated.
The Longhorns were 3-4 heading into this one yet played as if the season depended on the outcome. Here’s one final note to show how Strong’s influence is positively affecting his team: He benched linebacker Malik Jefferson before the game. Yet it was Jefferson who ended up sparking the defensive effort, coming up with 10 tackles and two sacks.
9. Boise State, playing with fire of late, finally gets burned
Heading into Week 9, No. 13 Boise State had survived two close calls in a row against Colorado State and BYU — two teams that really had no business hanging with the Broncos. We wondered if the same trend would hold true this weekend when they hit the road to take on Wyoming, which came into the game with an undefeated record in the Mountain West conference.
Quarterback Brett Rypien threw two interceptions last week but made up for them with three touchdowns in the narrow one-point win against the Cougars. This week he threw an interception and pretty much lost the game with a safety late in the fourth quarter. He failed to get rid of the ball and fumbled the ball out of the end zone to give the Cowboys a two-point win.
— Wyoming Cowboy Football (@wyo_football) October 30, 2016
Despite sporting perfect record heading into this game, Boise State had more questions than answers heading into the home stretch. Now, with this loss, the biggest question has been answered — the Broncos are not going to be College Football Playoff contenders.
And with Boise State’s loss, it looks like the Group of 5 won’t have a shot whatsoever to make some noise playing against the big boys in January.
The last remaining undefeated within the Group of 5 is Western Michigan of the Mid-American conference. Even if the Broncos win out and finish with a perfect record, it seems unlikely they’ll have the juice to earn a spot in the playoff.
10. Penn State rides momentum of last week to blowout win over Purdue
Perhaps James Franklin’s efforts have finally pushed the No. 24-ranked Nittany Lions back into long-term national relevancy. Following their stunning takedown of Ohio State last weekend in Happy Valley, it’s quite possible he they have.
Penn State earned its fourth victory in a row on the road against Purdue, winning in blowout fashion, 62-24.
Though early in this game, it appeared a victory was by no means a sure thing. In fact, it looked like Penn State might limp into its eighth straight road loss when, at halftime, it was locked up in a 17-17 tie with the Boilermakers.
But a tremendous second-half surge that included six touchdowns and a field goal lifted the Nittany Lions to an easy win — their first road victory since November of 2014.
In particular, running back Saquon Barkley was darn impressive. He went off for 207 rushing yards and two touchdowns on just 18 carries.
Afterwards, Penn State head coach called for a second whiteout for next week’s game when his team hosts the Iowa Hawkeyes.
We need Beaver Stadium sold out & rocking next wk against Iowa! TOGETHER we are tough to beat! Who says we can only have 1 whiteout a yr!
— James Franklin (@coachjfranklin) October 29, 2016
We’re not looking for Penn State to get a huge bump in the rankings based on Purdue’s 3-5 record. But if Franklin’s players continue playing at a high level and the Nittany Lions win out, they’ll land a huge bowl game and plenty of new respect around the nation.