Top takeaways from college football Week 3

If you love crisp, clean college football action, then Week 3 probably left you feeling a measure of disappointment. Some of the top teams and players in the nation struggled against competition that — on paper — was supposed to be nothing more than a speed bump on the highway of success.

A few of the top quarterbacks in the nation took some steps in the wrong direction. Jim Harbaugh’s Wolverines continue to make us feel like a blowout is coming soon, and not in their favor.

That said, there were certainly some outstanding performances that caught our attention.

Oklahoma State continues to prove it has one of the nation’s most potent offenses, as does Oklahoma. It’s looking like an early-November showdown between these two Big 12 rivals could be one of the best games this year. Penn State has been rolling lately, and Saquon Barkley hasn’t even been the focal point of James Franklin’s offense yet.

We’ll look into these angles and much more discussing the top takeaways from college football in Week 3.

Tennessee’s valiant comeback bid undone by incredible Hail Mary 

For a while, it didn’t look like either Tennessee or Florida would be able to do anything offensively. Both teams struggled to do anything positive, scoring a total of nine points through three quarters. Then at the start of the fourth quarter, Quinten Dormandy threw a pick-six that appeared to doom Tennessee. That’s when all hell broke loose.

Florida’s Malik Davis appeared to be putting the cherry on top of big win for the Gators on a 74-yard scamper. It was ruled a touchdown, which would have put Florida up 20-3 with just over 10 minutes left in the game. However, Davis lost the ball somewhere around the goal line (watch here). It sure looked like he lost it before crossing, which is ultimately what the officials concluded upon review. So instead of a 17-point lead, Florida turned the ball over to the Volunteers. Tennessee proceeded to march down the field and cut the lead to three on their next possession and then tied the game up with a 27-yard field goal with under a minute remaining.

Suddenly, a game that looked to be out of hand was swinging in favor of Tennessee. That appeared to be even more the case when Florida’s offense bungled the hurry-up offense, at which point it looked like the Gators would have to play for the tie. That’s when freshman quarterback Feleipe Franks put his mark on school history with an epic 63-yard Hail Mary to win as time expired.

The final score of 26-20 doesn’t tell the story of this game. It was a crazy finish that will resonate with the Gators program for the rest of the season, and then some.

Josh Rosen taketh, and Josh Rosen giveth away

Josh Rosen

Before we delve into Rosen’s game Saturday, let’s just get this out of the way first: Jim Mora Jr. has done a terrible job building his team around Rosen. Particularly on the defensive side of the ball, there is a dearth of talent that means Rosen has to be at his best for the Bruins to have a chance to win every week. Heck, Memphis quarterback Riley Ferguson threw six touchdowns in this game.

Rosen wasn’t at his best against Memphis, though he did some of the things that make NFL scouts drool (like this). The quarterback completed 34-of-56 passes for 463 yards with four touchdowns, which is great. However, he also threw a pick-six that proved to be the difference in the game and then threw another interception later on in the fourth quarter.

In field-goal range. Down by just three points.

Rosen isn’t the only person to blame for UCLA’s loss in Week 3. But when the game was on the line he made two key mistakes that led to it.

Underestimate Mason Rudolph and the Cowboys at your own risk

At halftime, Oklahoma State, on the road, had already piled up a 49-14 lead over Pittsburgh. Mason Rudolph and the Cowboys were unstoppable Saturday against a defense that gave Penn State a bit of a hassle during the first half last weekend. Rudolph himself had 423 yards on 20-of-28 passing — that’s a staggering 15.1 yards per attempt, folks — with five touchdowns and no turnovers at this point in the game. One of Rudolph’s touchdown passes came on a play in which he might as well have pulled a unicorn out of a hat, it was so amazing (watch here). He ended up playing a bit more in the third quarter, finishing with 497 yards and throwing an interception before giving way to Taylor Cornelius.

It’s important to point out that Oklahoma State still hasn’t played against a top-ranked team. That said, it’s not hard to imagine this offense being able to impose its will on pretty much any team around the nation. James Washington II, Jalen McCleskey, Marcell Ateman and Justice Hill might comprise the best offensive arsenal in college football this year, and Rudolph has been on fire his first three games of the season.

Michigan continues to underwhelm

college football

Michigan needed a punt return touchdown, a late touchdown run by Karan Higdon and a missed field goal by Air Force placekicker Luke Strebel to beat the Falcons, 29-13, on Saturday. At home, in front of their loyal fans, the Wolverines were underwhelming thanks in large part (again) to the play of quarterback Wilton Speight.

As we touched on leading up to the weekend, Speight is the weakest link right now for Michigan. Going back to his final three games last year, Speight has completed just 54.8 percent of his passes while throwing six touchdowns and six interceptions. On Saturday against Air Force, Speight completed just 14-of-23 passes for 169 yards. He didn’t turn the ball over, which is a plus. But it wasn’t until Higdon ran in a touchdown late in the fourth quarter that Michigan’s offense finally scored.

Jim Harbaugh’s team can get away with inadequate quarterback play against bad teams. But when it’s time to go head-to-head against the best in the Big Ten, Speight’s sub-par play will doom the Wolverines. On top of that, the defense wasn’t razor sharp Saturday, allowing the Falcons to break off some big gains.

Auburn looks nothing like a playoff contender

One week after getting annihilated by Clemson, Auburn should have responded with a blowout win over Mercer. Instead, the Tigers had trouble putting away the lowly Bears, a Southern Conference team that had no business hanging around with an SEC West (supposed) powerhouse.

Despite a tremendous game from Kamryn Pettway (160 total yards and three touchdowns), Auburn’s offense put up just 24 points. Quarterback Jarrett Stidham completed a high volume of his passes but threw an interception in the third quarter that led directly to the only touchdown of the game for Mercer. Stidham now has two touchdowns and two interceptions on the season and has hardly been the answer to Auburn’s quarterback woes.

Overall, the Tigers turned the ball over five times in this game. The sloppy play gave Mercer far too many opportunities to hang around in the 24-10 win for Auburn. This team is now 2-1 but cannot feel good about how things currently stand. It’s going to be interesting to see how things go next weekend when the Tigers head to Columbia to take on a Missouri squad that has been just awful so far in 2017.

Mike Riley’s seat should be sizzling in Nebraska

Nebraska is free falling. The Cornhuskers were humiliated at home after paying NIU $820,000 to come and play, losing 21-17 much to the dismay of their loyal fans. At this point, it’s clear head coach Mike Riley should be on the hot seat. Since coming over from Oregon State in 2015, he has engineered a 16-13 record, and it’s looking like a losing season could be in the cards barring a swift turnaround.

Nebraska’s defense had given up 1,063 yards and 78 points heading into Saturday’s supposed cupcake matchup against the Huskies. While the defense stepped up against an inferior offense, the Cornhuskers couldn’t get out of their own way offensively. Quarterback Tanner Lee threw three interceptions, including two returned for touchdowns in the first half.

The university’s athletic director, Shawn Eichorst articulated the bubbling cauldron of frustration that’s brewing right now after the game.

“I’m angry, I’m frustrated, I’m disappointed,” Eichorst said following Saturday’s game, via ESPN. “At the end of the day, we have to stay together. It’s still early in the season, and we need to find ways to win games like this. I want to continue to show our support, but I also understand there is a lot of frustration out there when you don’t win games like today.”

Now at 1-2 on the season, This program is looking at a steep uphill climb to bowl eligibility with the toughest games on the schedule still to come.

Baker Mayfield pulls ahead in Heisman race 

Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Baker Mayfield in college football Week 2

After ripping Ohio State’s defense to shreds last weekend in a masterful display of offensive wizardry, Mayfield kept the good vibes flowing Saturday. At home against Tulane, the senior passer put on a tremendous show for the third week in a row. He finished with 331 yards and four touchdowns on 17-of-27 passing in Oklahoma’s 56-14 blowout win.

Through three games, Mayfield has completed 67 percent of his passes for 1,046 yards with 10 touchdowns. And here’s the best part: Mayfield has not turned the ball over. Not once.

Given the notch on his belt after having won against Ohio State, and given his stats, it’s clear Mayfield is ahead of the field as the Heisman race begins to perk up heading into the middle of 2017.

Lamar Jackson falters, but lack of defense dooms Louisville 

Last year’s Heisman Trophy winner had a frustrating night against Clemson in Louisville’s 47-21 loss at home. His offensive line was overwhelmed by the best defensive front in the nation, he certainly missed some opportunities in the passing game and made a terrible decision on his interception, which led to six easy points for the visiting team.

But in the end it wasn’t Jackson who allowed Clemson’s offense to rack up 613 total yards. As we’ve seen early on this year, the Cardinals are awful on the defensive side of the ball. Through three games they have allowed nearly 37 points on average, meaning Jackson has to be perfect every single game to give Louisville a chance to win (very similar to Rosen’s situation with UCLA).

Credit is due to Kelly Bryant and Co. for taking advantage of this opportunity. The Tigers were focused and razor sharp in this one, which is the reason they are in control of the ACC heading into Week 4. But in the end, the big story is how Louisville’s defense continues to be a leaky cauldron that will haunt the Cardinals all year long.

Huge wake-up call for LSU on road against Mississippi State

We predicted the Bulldogs would upset the Tigers, and they proved us right with a blowout win at home against their SEC West rival. Running away with this one, 37-7, Mississippi State knocked LSU down a few pegs while asserting itself as a legitimate contender.

Quarterback Nick Fitzgerald didn’t have to do a ton through the air. He performed well, completing 15-of-23 passes for 180 yards and two touchdowns against LSU’s vaunted defense. The real damage was done on the ground, however, as Fitzgerald added another 88 yards and two scores rushing to go along with 146 yards gained by Aeris Williams. In total, the Bulldogs bullied their way to 285 yards on the ground. The Tigers gave up a total of 63 yards the first two games this year, so this was pretty eye-opening.

Offensively, LSU was able to gain yards on the ground (133 at 4.6 yards-per-carry clip) but quarterback Danny Etling couldn’t get anything going through the air. The Tigers are great when playing from ahead but struggle when trying to come from behind. This came into focus Saturday as Mississippi State provided a blueprint for other teams to attempt employing the rest of the way in 2017.

Kansas State Wildcats declawed by Vanderbilt

Heading into this pivotal Week 3 matchup we wondered how Kanas State’s offense would hold up against a Vanderbilt team that has been utterly stifling on the defensive side of the ball. It didn’t go very well for Jesse Ertz and Co. on the road as the Wildcats lost 14-7.

Ertz was absolutely atrocious as a passer. He completed just 10-of-28 passes for 76 yards (an awful 2.7 yards per attempt) and threw two interceptions. The second turnover by Ertz led to the game-winning touchdown on Vanderbilt’s next offensive possession when Kyle Shurmur took in a two-yard rushing score.

It was an ugly game that showed how far the Wildcats have to go before we can take them seriously as a ranked contender.

Saquon Barkley is the most dangerous offensive weapon in the nation

Penn State running back Saquon Barkley

If you haven’t watched Penn State running back Saquon Barkley yet this year, make sure you pencil in a date to watch this young man play. And soon.

Barkley touched the ball just 14 times Saturday as Penn State cleaned Georgia State’s clock, winning 56-0. The junior running back totaled 189 yards on those 14 touches (10 rushing, four receiving), averaging an absurd 13.5 yards per touch. Of course, his 85-yard receiving touchdown (watch here) helped that average swell, but this week was no aberration —  he’s consistently breaking off these kinds of plays.

Through three games, Barkley — a guy head coach James Franklin has been sparingly utilizing — has gained 548 yards touching the ball just 49 times. That’s an average of 11.2 yards per touch. For a running back, these numbers are absurd. Once Franklin starts leaning on his workhorse back more as the games get tougher, his Heisman profile will begin to grown in prominence.

Sam Darnold and the Trojans escape with win but show deep flaws

For the second time in three games, the USC Trojans needed some late-game heroics to beat a team they were heavily favored to dominate. Credit goes to Tom Herman, freshman quarterback Sam Ehlinger and the Longhorns’ defense for stepping up and exceeding expectations. However, the fact it took double-overtime for USC to win, 27-24, at home should worry their fans and coaches alike.

Darnold has shown us a healthy mix of good and bad this season. He threw three touchdowns on Saturday night in Los Angeles, and he nearly passed for 400 yards. That’s the good. But Darnold also threw two interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown by Texas defensive back DeShon Elliott. That’s the bad. Through three games, Darnold has thrown six interceptions — two in each game.

USC also showed defensive lapses against Texas, which occurred in Week 1 against Western Michigan as well. Ehlinger finished with 298 yards passing, and Texas’ wide receivers were able to dominate against the porous USC defensive secondary, with Collin Johnson in particular having a monster game (seven catches for 191 yards).

The Trojans are 3-0. That’s great. But it’s hard to argue this team belongs among the top five right now.

Bullet points

  • How bad is Baylor? The Bears got blown out by two touchdowns on the road against Duke, falling to 0-3 on the season. Matt Rhule was always going to have an uphill climb, but nobody could have predicted this precipitous fall.
  • Kevin Sumlin lives to fight another day as Texas A&M responded to what we assume was a heated halftime speech. The Aggies were down 21-14 against Louisiana-Lafayette when Will Gunnell flipped off booing fans. Gunnell would not return to the field, but the Aggies did, rattling off 31 unanswered points to win in blowout fashion.
  • For the third game in a row, South Florida’s offense struggled to get much going early. Quinton Flowers and Co. perked up in the second half, though, finally coming through with the kind of offense we expected in the second half against Illinois.
  • Josh Jackson and the Hokies finally look to have their offense on track. After a bit of a slow start against East Carolina, Virginia Tech rolled, winning 64-17. The Hokies finished the game with 57 unanswered points after falling into a 17-7 hole. Jackson finished with 372 yards and five touchdowns passing.
  • J.T. Barrett shrugged off some early struggles to have his best game of the season for the Buckeyes. Completing 25-of-33 passes for 270 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions, he also added a score on the ground in Ohio State’s 38-7 win over Army.
  • Looks like last week’s doldrums are behind Washington State quarterback Luke Falk. After being benched, getting a second chance and then getting dinged up against Boise State in Week 2, Falk passed for 396 yards and six touchdowns at home against Oregon State.
  • Alabama’s defense uncharacteristically gave up nearly 400 yards against Colorado State’s offense. It also struggled to get off the field on third downs, allowing 10-of-18 successful third down conversions. Given the fact the Crimson Tide recently lost two top outside linebackers for the year to injury, this is something to keep an eye on going forward.
  • Wisconsin predictably rolled in blowout fashion over BYU, which entered the game without starting quarterback Tanner Mangum. Alex Hornibrook passed for 256 yards and four touchdowns and the Badgers totaled 235 yards on the ground. It’s early, but they look to be the best overall team in the Big Ten.
  •  Okay, so Wyoming isn’t flush with talent. But my goodness, Josh Allen has been awful in two of the three games the Cowboys have played this year — against Iowa and Oregon. On Saturday, Allen managed just 64 yards on 9-of-24 passing, throwing no touchdowns and an interception. That’s not a good look for a kid many have pegged as a potential first-round pick next year.
  • Dante Pettis is unreal. He returned a punt for a touchdown Saturday night against Oregon State, marking the third game in a row for him. He also tied an NCAA record, as this was his eighth career punt return for touchdown.