Had the #3 Louisville Cardinal’s been told that they would keep #5 Clemson Tigers scoreless in two quarters before the game started, the Kentucky school would have been highly confident of victory. However a six minute purple patch from quarterback Deshaun Watson at the end of the second quarter followed by a clutch drive late in the game was enough to see the Tigers prevail.
It was advertised as the game of the week and it very much lived up to the billing. After a cagey beginning, the two teams exchanged touchdowns and turnovers before a remarkable period of play saw three turnovers (one interception and two fumbles) in three plays. Louisville’s final turnover proved to be the most costly as this set up the Tigers with a short field. Clemson capitalised with a 24 yard rushing touchdown. This clearly invigorated Clemson as Watson led two more touchdown drives before the end of the half with only a field goal in response for Louisville.
Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson has been the talk of college football after dominating the first four weeks of the season. He clearly decided he would not allow his opposite number to upstage him and take all the headlines. Jackson crafted five consecutive scoring drives for the Cardinals after half time, first eliminating the 18 point deficit and then putting his side a score ahead. Such a performance showed impressive leadership skills and decision making to go along with the pure athleticism and arm talent that has headlined his rise to prominence.
Arguably the turning point came from neither quarterback. Instead kick returner Artavis Scott reignited the Tigers offence with a 77 yard kick off return. This allowed Watson to find Mike Williams on a slant and he dragged his defender into the end zone to close the game to 2. A disappointing three and out gave Watson the ball again, and he drove Clemson down for his 5th touchdown of the game. Even that wasn’t the last big moment of the game as Louisville, on a 4th and 9, only managed to gain 8 yards after wideout James Quick appeared to miss identify where the down marker was.
This was an epic game between two quarterbacks who could reasonably go back to back first overall in the next two NFL drafts. It may even be argued that Jackson outplayed Watson. Not that it will matter to anyone connected to the Clemson program as this sets them up perfectly to take the ACC and, most likely, a berth in the college playoffs.
#4 Michigan Wolverines win over #8 Wisconsin Badgers was just as enthralling a top-10 match up but the game played out in a completely different way. This was a battle of hard nosed defences and poor special teams.
The Wolverines struck early but found the Badgers red zone defence exceptionally difficult to penetrate. This issue was worsened by kicker Kenny Allen missing two makable field goals that took points of the board. Michigan’s back up kicker would come in the third quarter only to miss his attempt as well. The game became a war of attrition after these consecutive misses as both teams failed to get any offence going.
The tide appeared to be shifting in Wisconsin’s favour as the third quarter began. An interception set the Badgers up with a short field. True freshman quarterback Alex Hornibrook, in only his second start, found running back Dare Ogunbowale to level the scores up. This would be the highlight for Hornibrook as he only connected with 9 targets on 25 attempts which included 3 interceptions. The final two would turn out to be killers for Badgers as they came in their final two possessions. However it must be noted that the second interception that secured victory for the Wolverines was a thing of beauty. Corner Jourdan Lewis plucked the ball out of midair at full stretch and with one hand, somehow pinned it to his hip and maintained control to the ground. A truly awesome feat of athleticism.
This was made possible two drives earlier when Wilton Speight connected with his most experienced wideout Amara Darboh for a game breaking 46 yard touchdown. An important win for the Wolverines as they blown out all their previous opponents and answers many doubters who wondered if they could compete in tight affairs.
The final contest between top-10 ranked teams happened on Friday night and in many ways may be the most surprising. #10 Washington Huskies put on a exhibition at Husky stadium as they routed #7 Stanford Cardinals 44-6.
Despite being the biggest win over a top-10 team ever, it was Washington’s stifling defence that deserves the plaudits. The Cardinals were kept to 214 total yards and Heisman contender Christian McCaffrey’s 79 all purpose yards his smallest total since his rookie season. Not that the Husky offence underperformed, scoring on 7 of 9 drives. It was a total performance by a team that many suggested could be very good but and yet to play an opponent with any credentials. Its a win that puts them in prime position in the PAC12 north and could elevate them into the playoff picture.
Next week Washington take on their long time rivals, the Oregon Ducks, who have beaten the Huskies 12 years in a row. The Ducks go into the game in poor form having been demolished 51-33 by Washington State.
#11 Tennessee Volunteers remain undefeated after a narrow 34-31 victory over #25 Georgia Bulldogs that was only completed when a final hail mary pass with no time left on the clock was successful.
The Bulldogs forced Tennessee to win this game the hard way. Georgia’s two headed backfield were able to control the clock and kept their side ahead for the vast majority of the game. Freshman quarterback Jacob Eason made large strides in controlling how the offence ran and it looked like the Bulldogs had done enough when Eason connected with Riley Ridley for the go ahead touchdown. Especially as there was only 10 seconds remaining on the clock. However Tennessee made time for one last desperate throw and Joshua Dobbs threw a remarkably flat ball 60 plus yards into the end zone which Jauan Jennings plucked out of the air amongst a sea of Bulldog hands.
This was an important win for Tennessee as they could have been very easy to have fallen flat after finally breaking Florida’s hoodoo over them last week.
#12 Florida State Seminoles season continues to deteriorate with another loss on the season, this time against the unranked North Carolina Tar Heels. It looked for a short time that the Seminoles had got themselves out of trouble after scoring three touchdowns in the final quarter. This eliminated the Tar Heels two touchdown advantage which they had held for much of the game. However a clutch 54-yard field goal from kicker Neil Weiler gave the Tar Heels the win. Considering how highly rated the Seminoles were at the beginning of the year, this is a huge disappointment for that area of Florida.
Early season surprise package #19 San Diego State Aztecs were brought crashing back down to earth by the the Sun Belt’s South Alabama Jaguars. This was all the more surprising considering the Jaguars were missing first string quarterback Dallas Davis. Sophomore Cole Gavin took over the reigns for South Alabama and showed great poise to lead his team to victory. This was another game where the final quarter saw one team pull away from the other. The Aztecs had a three point lead until a 3 touchdown spell, helped by two fumbles, gifted the game to their opponents. This was South Alabama’s first ever victory over a ranked opponent so will go down in the annuals of their school’s history forever.
Big 12 rivals Oklahoma Sooners and #21 TCU Horned Frogs held a high octane shoot out in Fort Worth, Texas. The game flowed back and forth with both teams being in the ascendency at different points. TCU put up 21 points in the first quarter but the Sooners responded with 28 consecutive points of their own to lead by 11 at the half.
In fact Oklahoma looked to have put the game beyond the Horned Frogs in the 3rd as two more touchdowns seemed to give them in a commanding position. However sloppy play overtook the Sooners and TCU rolled back into the game to the point where they were just a single field goal behind. However one last methodical drive ate up field and time for the Sooners which gave them the win 52-46. A result that makes Baylor the only feasible candidate to come out of the Big 12 this year.
Speaking of the #13 Baylor Bears, they were run extremely close by the unfancied Iowa State Cyclones.
Baylor’s defence is considered one of the best in the college game. So far this belief has held up as they had only conceding 54 total points in 4 games. Iowa State were clearly oblivious to this narrative as the combination of quarterback Joel Lanning and running back Mike Warren dissected their way to 42 points. Interestingly, this was a surprisingly old school approach to running an offence, controlling the clock and being concerned about moving the pylons rather than finding big plays down the field.
Baylor looked in some trouble but continued the season long pattern of blitzing teams in the final quarter, scoring 17 unanswered points to give them a narrow 45-42 win as time ran out. However, it will be a game closely examined by future Bears opponents including Texas, TCU and Oklahoma as it appears there may be an achilles heel to his defence.
#22 Texas Longhorns continued to have defensive woes, giving up 49 points in a losing effort to the temperamental Oklahoma State Cowboys. Cowboys quarterback Mason Rudolph had all manner of time to throw from the pocket amassing 392 yards on the day as he picked apart a woeful Texas secondary. The Longhorns offence tried to keep up but the Cowboys defence proved to be strong enough to hold back Texas’s efforts.
Both these teams will carry on bouncing in and out of the bottom of the top 25 this year. Both have offences that can score big points but both have defences that can be just as leaky. In the case of Oklahoma State, they are also a very streaky team. 300 yards of Rudolph’s total came in the first half but his production completely fell off in the second. The running game sustained them in this game but that has been equally as inconsistent.
A final stand on the goal line gave the California Golden Bears a win over #18 ranked Utah Utes. Cal got off to a fast start with two Davis Webb throws but they were slowly and methodically dragged back into the clutches of the Utes as the game went on. This appeared to be heading for the inevitable late come back by Utah who have proven to be resilient so far this year. However the much maligned Golden Bears defence, who have given up 40 or more points in their past 3 games, decided to make a stand. Utah had 6 attempts at scoring within the Cal 10 but the defence held strong. Finishing with a desperate stop by defensive tackles James Looney to end the game in California’s favour 28-23.
#17 Michigan State Spartans gave themselves a second opportunity to stop their game against the Indiana Hoosiers from getting away when they scored an equalising touchdown with only 11 seconds remaining on the clock. However the Spartans were unable to sink an overtime field goal and the Hoosiers did to see yet another ranked team lose to an unranked opponent.
This is a huge blow to a team that only two weeks ago were considered potential playoff contenders. Yet back to back losses could see them outside the top 25 and in a position where any more shock defeats could even make it difficult for them to get a bowl game.
The #1 Alabama Crimson Tide took some time to get into their stride against the unranked Kentucky Wildcats. It’s been a difficult week for the Crimson Tide with the distraction of star linebacker Tim Williams being charged with carrying a pistol without a licence and back up quarterback Blake Barnett leaving the program.
It look like this may have affect ‘Bama early as they failed to convert a fourth down opportunity and followed that up with a fumble to begin the game. Some even suggested that the game was going to much closer than anyone believed it would be. However a determined, if uncharacteristically ponderous, drive got the Crimson Tide ahead and the advantage was doubled a handful of plays later when linebacker Ronnie Harrison returned a fumble 55 yards defensive score. Obviously words were exchanged at half time as Alabama came out in full stride in the third. Quarterback Jalen Hurts found his favourite target Calvin Ridley early and often as the two, seemingly singlehandedly, brushed the Wildcats aside for two more scores. Ridley would have career numbers of 174 yards on 11 catches and 2 touchdowns to end the game.
Alabama’s status as the consensus number one team will be under far more pressure next week when they take on Arkansas.
History appeared to be repeating itself when the Illinois Fighting Illini’s entered the fourth quarter with a 16-10 lead over the #15 ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers. The Illini had taken a shock one-point victory over the Huskers on the opening day of 2015 and dreams of back to back victories over their more illustrious opponents seemed tangible. However a late drive, helped by two critical late down penalties, pulled Nebraska back into the lead. Then senior running back Terrell Newby took over the game with two touchdowns, including one from 63 yards, that iced the game 31-16.
Illinois will despair at only being able to get off 10 offensive snaps in the final quarter as this inefficiency, opposed to defensive lapses, really cost them their opportunity. The Cornhuskers will also have concerns coming out of the game as two of their three headed running back group, lead wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp and tight end Cethan Carter all left the field with injuries. Fortunately Nebraska are on a bye week so have time to get healthy.
Another team looking to repeat an upset from last year were the Memphis Tigers. Once again the Tigers took #16 Ole Miss Rebels to some uncomfortable places but this year’s Rebel offence were too strong to be toppled. Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly has 361 yards and a touchdown while two runners both broke 100 yards on the ground. Memphis nearly kept up with Riley Ferguson throwing for 343 yards himself but his three interceptions (to Kelly’s one) was the big difference as Ole Miss simply kept scoring. The final result, 48-28 in favour of the Rebels.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of #2 Ohio State Buckeyes comprehensive 58 to 9 win over Rutgers Scarlet Knights was that JT Barrett threw a pick. It’s really the only blemish that can be found on the Buckeyes as they kept Rutgers to 33 passing yards, 116 total yards and scored two defensive touchdowns. On the other side of the ball, the running back group had 410 yards on the ground while Barrett threw four touchdowns. The game will do little for Ohio State in the eyes of the AP poll judges though. Such contests really do not say much about the team.
#6 Houston Cougars opened up the college week with a routine victory over Connecticut Huskies. Quarterback Greg Ward Jr threw for a season best 389 yards and 3 touchdowns before being pulled in the 3rd quarter. The Cougars defence simply overmatched the Huskies offence, finishing with 4 sacks and never really giving their opponents any thoughts of staging a comeback. A routine victory that is likely to be common place for the Cougars until their late season game with Louisville.
Duel threat senior quarterback Trevor Knight was the driving force behind #9 Texas A&M Aggies win over the South Carolina Gamecocks. The Oklahoma transfer threw for 206 yards and ran for another 84 as he assuredly led his team back from a difficult start. South Carolina’s first snap was a 75 yard run from AJ Turner which turned out to be their only touchdown of the game. The result could have been closer had kicker Elliott Fry not missed two second half field goals. The Gamecocks would have even had a final chance to get back into the game late had Jamarcus King not failed to secure a punt with 3.12 left on the clock. Yet the game always felt comfortable for A&M despite the relative closeness of the 24-13 final score which rather suggests that this team has another gear to find. If they do, their game against Alabama later in the year could be the biggest game of college season.
Two defensive touchdowns made the difference in #14 Miami Hurricanes 35-21 win over the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. Both Shaquille Quarterman and Joe Jackson ran back fumbles for the Hurricanes who remain unbeaten for the season. The closeness of this game shouldn’t be a surprise as Georgia Tech have beaten Boston College and Vanderbilt so far. Freshman running back Dedrick Mills scored all three of the Yellow Jackets touchdowns and was a constant thorn in the Hurricanes defence as he was able to sustain drives that Miami would usually expect to extinguish. However quarterback Brad Kaaya still continues to impress and his protection of the ball always puts Miami in a strong field position even when this offence stutters.
Miami have the chance to completely eliminate Florida State from the playoff running next week.
#20 Arkansas Razorbacks cruised to victory over the Alcorn State Braves. Two running backs Devwah Whaley and Rawleigh Williams III had more than 100 yards on the ground each with the former doing so on just 9 carries. This will be a good confidence boost for the Razorbacks who were overturned by Texas A&M last week. They are likely to need it as they face #1 Alabama in their next game.
A truly ugly game in Nashville where #21 Florida Gators eked out a 13 to 7 victory over the Vanderbilt Commodores. The Gators are really missing injured quarterback Luke Del Rio which has really effected the efficiency in all aspects of the offence. Not one runner broke 60 yards on the floor nor did a wide receiver break 40 in the air. The defence also struggled in parts against statistically one of the worst division 1 offences in 2016. Vanderbilt runner Ralph Webb was a bright point in the game, rushing for 110 yards. To the Gators credit, they were the team to come up with the big plays including a last minute interception that put a lid on the game. It is still difficult to see them doing well against stronger opposition as the season moves forward.
Jeremy McNicholls is a player that all NFL fans will be made aware of in the near future. The #24 Boise State Broncos running back is a dynamic offensive weapon whether in the backfield or split out into the slot. His performance of 205 total yards (132 rushing, 73 catching) was the difference in Boise State’s 21 to 10 victory over the Utah State Aggies. His performances will determine whether this Broncos team can go undefeated in 2016.