Bounce backs, dominant wins, and games like practice sessions…
Some resounding statements were made by top contenders around the nation in an extremely busy college football Week 9.
Clemson continues to assert itself as the clear No. 2. Georgia bounced back with a dominant win over Florida in the biggest game of the week. Oklahoma rolled over Kansas State like it was nothing more than a practice session.
We also saw some teams fall badly, though — Texas, South Florida, Washington, Texas A&M, just to name a few. A heck of a lot went on from Thursday night through Saturday.
These are the biggest takeaways from the action.
That’s how you bounce back, West Virginia
West Virginia had two weeks to process getting annihilated by Iowa State, thanks to a much-needed bye in Week 8. Back at home in Week 9 for a date with Baylor, the Mountaineers exploded on offense and put the game away before halftime.
It was 44-0 in the third quarter before Baylor finally scored, as West Virginia dropped 31 points on the Bears in the second stanza. Will Greer finally got back to playing turnover-free ball while passing for 353 yards and three touchdowns. The run game added three more touchdowns, and the defense forced four turnovers.
This dominant win won’t erase what happened two weeks back, but it’s definitely what the doctor ordered as the Mountaineers continue to push their way back up the rankings.
Appalachian State’s tenure among the elite short-lived
For the first time in the history of the Appalachian State football program, the Mountaineers entered Week 9 as a nationally-ranked team (No. 25). As we highlighted looking ahead to their matchup against Georgia Southern, however, a win Thursday night was anything but guaranteed.
The Eagles took the Mountaineers behind the woodshed, winning in dominant fashion, 34-14. They attempted just three passes all night, relying instead on a dynamic running game and a five-turnover effort by the defense.
Appalachian State was unbelievably sloppy, incurring 11 accepted penalties and, of course, the five turnovers. Really a disappointing effort from this team, which went from the mountaintop to the valley of despair in a hurry.
Time to start talking about Zach Moss
Utah continued chugging along on Friday night, winning its fourth straight game in blowout style over UCLA. The outcome of this game was never in doubt, as the Bruins shot themselves in the foot on offense and had no answer defensively for running back Zach Moss.
Speaking of Moss, it’s time to start including this junior running back when discussing the top running backs in the nation.
He had a career game Friday night, finishing with 225 yards and three touchdowns against the Bruins. On the season, he’s now gone over 1,000 yards from scrimmage and has scored 11 touchdowns as the main cog in a Utah offense that’s scored at least 40 points in each of its last four games.
The Lane Train has officially gone off the tracks
Remember back before the season began and many national pundits were touting Lane Kiffin’s FAU Owls as a potential dark horse for a significant run up the rankings? That seems like ages ago, and it probably feels even longer for Kiffin and his team.
Heading into Week 9 with a sub-.500 record, the Owls did everything in their power to tip the scales in their favor, going so far as to shut school down early Friday so students could tailgate and attend the game.
It didn’t work. The Owls went up 10 in the first quarter and then proceeded to get outscored 21-3 the remaining three quarters. Running back Devin Singletary had a great game, but otherwise the Owls were a miserable wreck. Now at 3-5 on the season, including a 1-3 conference record, it’s safe to wonder if FAU will even qualify for a bowl game in 2018.
Malik Rosier, Canes fall apart on the road
This was oh, so predictable. Mark Richt gave up on promising freshman quarterback N’Kosi Perry after a couple mistakes last weekend. Then he made Malik Rosier the starter again for Miami’s road game Friday night against Boston College.
Rosier was awful, and not surprisingly the Hurricanes lost big, 27-14.
The big surprise was just how bad Miami’s vaunted defense was. It got fooled badly on two early trick plays (watch here), and running back AJ Dillon was outstanding on the ground.
Suddenly, Miami is 5-3, having lost its last two games, both to conference foes.
Clemson makes another huge statement as ‘Bama rests
Given the way Alabama has played so far in 2018, it’s utterly foolish to assert that any other team in the nation deserves the No. 1 ranking. However, as ‘Bama rested up on its bye ahead of the LSU game in Week 10, Clemson once again made a big statement signifying that it is indeed the second-best team in college football.
Florida State was utterly hopeless to stop the juggernaut Tigers, who served up the worst home loss the Seminoles have ever experienced. Granted, they suffered some incredible self-inflicted wounds (like this), but even if they had played their best game they had absolutely no chance of slowing down Clemson.
Trevor Lawrence was razor sharp, finishing with 314 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions (though he did get lucky on a dropped interception at one point). Clemson’s defense was ruthless up front dominating a porous FSU offensive line, leading to a miserable game by Deondre Francois and Cam Akers.
It was pure domination, and after last weekend’s blowout over NC State it seems clear that these Tigers are destined for a playoff date with the mighty Crimson Tide.
Maybe Northwestern really can challenge Notre Dame
Don’t look now, but following a three-game losing streak early, all of a sudden Northwestern sits atop the Big Ten West with a 5-1 conference record. The Wildcats have won four straight and utterly dominated No. 20 Wisconsin (sans Alex Hornibrook) on Saturday.
The only conference loss suffered by Northwestern this year was its three-point loss to Michigan. Somehow, this team is finding ways to gut out wins, despite featuring a mediocre offense and a mediocre defense.
On Saturday, Clayton Thorson once again proved he’s one of the biggest gamers in college football with a three-touchdown performance as his defense largely shut down the powerful Wisconsin run game.
Next up is a date with Notre Dame. And maybe, a date with destiny. It’s looking more and more like these Wildcats will be the biggest threat to the Fighting Irish finishing undefeated.
Kyler Murray with a Tua-esque performance against Kansas State
With Tua Tagovailoa taking Week 9 off to rest up and enjoy watching his younger brother shine in high school, Kyler Murray reminded everyone why the Heisman Trophy is still a two-man race. In fact, what Murray did on Saturday against Kansas State was reminiscent of what we’ve seen from Tagovailoa on a weekly basis this year.
The Sooners star didn’t even make it out of the third quarter because he had given Oklahoma such a huge lead, exiting in favor of backup Austin Kendall. In roughly two-and-a-half quarters, he racked up 398 total yards and four touchdowns, including this 82-yard touchdown to CeeDee Lamb.
Murray continues to keep pace with Tagovailoa. He exits Week 9 with 2,803 yards and 34 touchdowns on the season, and the Sooners improved to 7-1.
Bulldogs flex their muscles in bounce-back win over Florida
The biggest game of the weekend took place in Jacksonville as the Florida Gators and Georgia Bulldogs slugged it out. This contest had some serious playoff implications, as both teams entered Week 9 with one loss, and two losses would seem to disqualify them from the final four.
The Gators showed up strong in the first half, with their defense leading the way. Then on the first drive of the second half, Feleipe Franks came alive with a beautiful 36-yard touchdown pass to give Florida its first lead of the game. It proved to be a short-lived lead, however, as Georgia roared back with an impressive seven-play, touchdown scoring drive of its own.
Following a Franks fumble at the Florida one-yard line, the Gators rose up defensively once more and stonewalled Georgia’s offense on six consecutive plays that resulted in zero yards. At this point in the game, it looked like Florida might have a chance to somehow find a way to win.
Then the Bulldogs flexed their muscles in a big way, scoring two fourth-quarter touchdowns as their depth and talent shined through. The end result was a 36-17 victory that saw Georgia outshine Florida in every conceivable way. Now the Bulldogs are once again in position to potentially muscle their way into the playoff, while Florida is all but out.
South Florida finally gets burned
The Bulls entered Week 9 with an undefeated record, but their resume felt awfully thin. The only real quality win was against Georgia Tech in Week 2, and the past two games they were in danger of losing to Tulsa and UConn.
Not surprisingly, South Florida finally got burned after another slow start that saw the Houston Cougars build up a 14-0 lead in the first quarter. As we’ve seen all year, Blake Barnett and Jordan Cronkrite bounced back, tying the game up twice before falling behind by a touchdown just before halftime.
But the second half belonged to Houston, which ended up romping to a 57-36 victory. Along the way, a player and coach got into it on the sidelines as USF melted down.
This loss was a long time coming, and it will almost assuredly end up dropping South Florida out of the top-25 completely when the new rankings come out.
Oregon State snaps losing streaks in dramatic fashion
It’s no secret that Oregon State features one of the worst football teams in college football. Heading into Saturday’s road game against Colorado, the Beavers were 1-5 and hadn’t won a conference game in 13 tries. Additionally, they hadn’t won on the road the past 22 games away from Reser Stadium.
Both of those streaks were the longest in the nation. The operative word there is “were,” because Oregon State snapped them both against the Buffaloes, and they did it in style, coming back from 28 points down to win 41-34 in overtime.
Meanwhile, Colorado, which opened the season with five straight wins, has now lost three straight. And this latest one is going to hurt for quite some time. Just brutal.
Reality setting in for Washington
The Washington Huskies really aren’t very good. Sure, they have a defense that can be dominant at times, and running back Myles Gaskin is tremendous when he’s healthy. But quarterback Jake Browning is average, and he gets rattled under pressure. Meanwhile, Washington has been sort of a big fish in a little pond as the Pac-12 continues to underwhelm.
Well, after what happened Saturday night in Berkeley against the California Golden Bears, nobody has to wonder about whether Washington will linger in the top half of the rankings the rest of the year. The Huskies lost, 12-10. Cal crushed the life out of Browning, who was benched briefly in the third quarter, while holding Washington’s offense to just 250 yards and 13 first downs.
Washington’s fall in the rankings will be precipitous, but it really is just a market correction that has been a long time coming.
A second half to remember for Gardner Minshew against Stanford
One week after Gardner Minshew led Washington State to an impressive victory over Oregon at home, it looked like the magic was gone. The Cougars fell behind Stanford by as much as two touchdowns in the first half and went into halftime down 28-17.
Even throughout the second half, Stanford’s offense kept the pressure on, scoring 10 points as K.J. Costello had a tremendous game with 297 yards and four touchdowns. But as good as Costello was, he couldn’t hold a candle to the heat Minshew was putting off in the second half.
Leading Washington State to a 41-38 comeback win, Minshew completed 24-of-27 passes in the second half as the Cougars scored 24 points and stayed atop the Pac-12 North with a record of 7-1.
He finished with 438 yards and three touchdowns on 40-of-50 passing. If he keeps this up, Minshew will earn himself a trip to New York at the end of the year.
Kentucky keeps New Year’s Six dream alive in dramatic fashion
One weekend after gutting out a 14-7 win over Vanderbilt, the Wildcats hit the road to face Missouri and appeared to be dead in the water after three quarters.
Missouri wasn’t great offensively but had built up a 14-3 lead heading into that final stanza. Then Lynn Bowden Jr. pulled the Wildcats up out of the mud with a brilliant 67-yard punt return touchdown. Two Missouri punts with a Terry Wilson interception sandwiched in between them later, Kentucky had one more chance to win.
Down by five points, the Wildcats drove 71 yards in 75 seconds. With nine seconds remaining, they failed to score a touchdown with time expiring, and the game was over.
Or was it?
A highly controversial pass interference call gave Kentucky one more untimed down, and Wilson took advantage, hitting C.J. Conrad for a two-yard touchdown that won the game, 15-14.
No team wins as ugly as Kentucky. That’s a fact. The Wildcats are somehow enduring and enter Week 10 with just one loss on their record. A New Year’s Six bid is very much on the table if they continue to stay in the win column the rest of the way.
NC State falls again as defense crumbles against Syracuse
Here’s a stat for you: NC State entered Week 8 having ceded just 16.8 points per game as it opened the season with a 5-0 record. Pretty good, right?
The past two weekends against Clemson and Syracuse have told a much different story, as the Wolfpack has fallen apart defensively. It was one thing to see the Tigers gash this defense to the tune of 41 points. It was quite another to witness Syracuse put a 50-burger on the board in its 51-41 victory on Saturday.
Ryan Finley bounced back from last weekend’s frustrating loss and had a big game for the Wolfpack. But so did Syracuse quarterback Eric Dungey, and the Orange actually out-gained their opponent, putting up 561 yards and gaining 30 first downs.
The NC State defensive crisis is reaching its zenith. Or so one hopes.
The Nick Fitzgerald redemption game was awesome
After watching Nick Fitzgerald struggle so much the past month — he had no passing touchdowns and six interceptions in his last four games — many were calling for Joe Moorhead to let Keytaon Thompson play in his stead (myself included).
On Saturday, Fitzgerald answered back with one of the most impressive games he’s ever put together against a darn good Texas A&M defense. The senior quarterback completed 63.6 percent of his passes for 241 yards and two touchdowns, and he added 88 yards and two more scores on the ground.
Fitzgerald accounted for all the points Mississippi would score, or need, to beat the Aggies. His coach was over-the-moon excited after his first touchdown pass of the game, which was a pin-point dime. It was sweet vindication for both player and coach, and it led to a decisive 28-13 win.
Texas drops out of playoff contention in brutal fashion
If the Longhorns had won out to finish their season 11-1 heading into the Big 12 Championship Game, then there’s no doubt they would have been seen as a strong option to make the final four. Especially with that high-profile win over Oklahoma on their resume.
But they didn’t win out. In fact, the team’s biggest strength — its defense — failed completely on the road Saturday night against Oklahoma State. The Cowboys could not be stopped. They racked up 513 total yards in their 38-35 victory, negating a spectacular game by Sam Ehlinger.
This isn’t a lost season for Texas. Not by a longshot. But any thought of this team making it to the playoff can now be tossed aside, barring some very strange developments at the top down the stretch.