Saturday Snaps: Breaking down a wild Week 6 in college football
Rutgers 26, Michigan 24
The crater that is Michigan's football season got a little deeper Saturday night. Unlike the Wolverines' past two losses, they weren't handily beaten with little sign of energy or hope. Michigan showed life, which may make the 26-24 loss to Rutgers all the more difficult to swallow.
Behind 404 yards passing and three touchdowns from quarterback Gary Nova, the Scarlet Knights dealt Michigan its third consecutive loss and fourth defeat of the season, a loss that adds to the deafening chorus calling for the ouster of Wolverines coach Brady Hoke. Nova picked apart Michigan's secondary with short, intermediate and deep balls, including an 80-yard highlight strike to Andrew Turzilli. It was the first 400-yard passing game in Nova's four years of starting.
While Notre Dame, Utah and Minnesota thumped the Wolverines, Michigan nearly escaped Piscataway with a needed victory. The Wolverines cut Rutgers' lead to two with 9:17 left in the fourth quarter and forced the Scarlet Knights to punt on the ensuing possession. However, after a video review confirmed Michigan wide receiver Amara Darboh failed to haul in a pass on third-and-eight, kicker Matt Wile's 56-yard field goal attempt was blocked, sealing Rutgers' first Big Ten victory.
As Nova shredded the Wolverines, helping Rutgers convert 8-of-16 third downs, Michigan failed to consistently move the ball. The Wolverines gained just one offensive yard in the third quarter, its two drives of the period resulting in a three-and-out and an interception. Quarterback Devin Gardner, who replaced last week's starter Shane Morris after Morris suffered an ankle injury and a concussion, completed 13-of-22 passes for 178 yards and rushed for two scores on the ground.
A different team under different circumstances could draw positives from the quality of the fight, even in the face of the another defeat. That's not the case for the Wolverines or for Hoke. Another week of questions about his future awaits, unless a decision is made first. -- Colin Becht
Arizona State 38, No. 16 USC 34
With all the other carnage that has gone on in the top 25 this week, of course a Hail Mary was going to decide somebody's fate on Saturday night. With one play left and Arizona State down two, Sun Devils quarterback Mike Bercovici hurled the ball 46 yards up for grabs, and somehow Arizona State’s giant target (and future NFL wide receiver) Jaelen Strong came down with it -- and the win.
Bercovici, who is filling in for injured starter Taylor Kelly, performed well in the team’s loss to UCLA last week, but came back on Saturday with a memorable win.
“That goes to show you all those young kids out there,” Todd Graham told Fox after the game, “everybody tells you to transfer. They would’ve missed out on this. [Bercovici would’ve] missed out on the greatest night of his life. Stay where you’re at. Don’t quit. Don’t ever, ever give up. It’s a great night to be a Sun Devil.”
Strong finished with 10 catches for 204 yards and three scores, and Arizona State is suddenly right back in the thick of the Pac-12 South hunt. The Trojans, who controlled the tempo for much of the game, were left shaking their heads (and swearing) after suffering its second loss of the season. -- Martin Rickman
Kentucky 45, South Carolina 38
In the week leading up to South Carolina’s game against Kentucky, Steve Spurrier said the Wildcats “don’t look like some of their teams 10 [or] 15 years ago. They’re a good looking team.” Spurrier wasn’t just being complimentary. Mark Stoops has been building a more formidable program in Lexington. The results may not show up week in and week out yet, but the Wildcats will sneak up on any SEC teams which aren't careful.
The Gamecocks, reeling after a tough loss to Missouri last week, learned that lesson up close and personal. The Wildcats rattled off 21 unanswered points to take a 43-38 lead late in the fourth quarter, culminating in an Alvin Dupree interception and six-yard score off a tipped Dylan Thompson pass with 2:29 remaining.
Thompson put South Carolina ahead 31-24 earlier in the game with a 12-yard pass to Pharoh Cooper with 1:48 left in the third, capping off a 12-play, 91-yard drive that seemed to wear down Kentucky. But the Wildcats absorbed the punch and punched back with a surprisingly effective Wildcat formation that appeared to bewilder the Gamecocks.
An interception by Ashely Lowery with 1:31 put the game away. South Carolina fell to 3-3 on the year, while Kentucky, now at 4-1 (its only loss came in triple-overtime to Florida, has already doubled its win total from 2013. -- MR
Georgia Tech 28, Miami 17
The ACC Coastal is a maze with no solution, and typically the team that wanders around the longest without fainting from exhaustion goes on to the conference championship game. Right now, the team in the best position to do so is Georgia Tech after the Yellow Jackets marched all over Miami with their hypnotic triple-option attack.
Justin Thomas has quietly put together a great first few weeks, but he deferred to the rest of his comrades against the Hurricanes. Georgia Tech rushed for 311 yards, paced by Zach Laskey’s 133. They combined to do what Paul Johnson wants them to do, eating up clock to the tune of a 40:11 to 19:15 time of possession differential.
The way Georgia Tech is going to win games won’t be pretty – as evidenced by the team’s squeakers over Georgia Southern and Virginia Tech – but it might be successful enough this year to get the Jackets to Charlotte. With the rest of the Coastal reeling and looking flawed, Georgia Tech could be the last team standing. -- MR
No. 25 TCU 37, No. 4 Oklahoma 33
Gary Patterson is in his 14th season as the Horned Frogs coach. He has recorded double-digit wins in eight of those years. That’s why it was so unusual to see TCU, even in its second season in the Big 12, log only four victories during the 2013 campaign, including losing five of its final six games.
Last fall’s struggles are already a distant memory.
After dominating their first three games in 2014 (20-plus-point wins over Samford,Minnesota and SMU), the Horned Frogs proved they weren’t simply feasting on cupcakes. They converted their first six third downs and raced to an early 14-0 lead against the Sooners. Oklahoma battled back to take a 31-24 advantage in the third quarter, but defensive lineman Paul Dawson put TCU ahead for good with a 41-yard pick-six in the fourth. While the Frogs’ defense surrendered a series of big plays -- Oklahoma wide receiver Sterling Shepard made seven catches for 215 yards with a touchdown -- TCU showed the type of balance that could make it an unlikely threat to win the conference. -- Gabriel Baumgaertner
For a complete recap and analysis of TCU's upset of Oklahoma, read Gabriel Baumgaertner's three thoughts on the game.
No. 9 Notre Dame 17, No. 14 Stanford 14
For anyone who missed Notre Dame-Stanford, you didn’t miss much. There’s often ugly football in rainy weather, and that’s exactly what happened in South Bend between two teams that struggled to get into the end zone. But a clutch, two-minute drive from the Irish late in the fourth quarter proved to be the difference in Notre Dame's 17-14 win.
When he fumbled early before throwing a pick on the 2-yard line, there were calls for Everett Golson’s head. For all his success this season, he has struggled with fumbles. But his final line was impressive (20 for 43, 241 yards, two touchdowns; seven carries for 34 yards, including one 33-yard scamper that set up Notre Dame’s first touchdown), as was his final pass of the game. On 4th-and-11 with 1:09 to play, Golson sidestepped a pass rush and found Ben Koyack in the corner for a 23-yard, game-winning touchdown, giving Notre Dame a 17-14 lead. That drive was aided by a pass interference call on Stanford that moved the ball to the Stanford 22, but credit the quarterback for keeping his cool and leading the Irish on a 9-play, 65-yard scoring drive.
Also worth noting: Golson is now 15-1 as a starter. -- Lindsay Schnell
For a complete recap and analysis of Notre Dame's win over Stanford, read Lindsay Schnell's three thoughts on the game.
No. 11 Ole Miss 23, No. 3 Alabama 17
The Rebels went into the break trailing 14-3, but they sprung to life when it mattered most, especially in the fourth quarter. Quarterback Bo Wallace and the offense outscored the Crimson Tide 20-3 after intermission, a stretch that included two Wallace touchdown passes in the final six minutes.
Defense and special teams came into play, too. Ole Miss set up its final score by forcing and recovering a Christion Jones fumble on a key fourth-quarter kickoff return. After Alabama regained possession following a Jaylen Walton touchdown that put Ole Miss up by six points, Rebels defensive back Senquez Golson picked off Blake Sims in the end zone. The interception sealed Ole Miss’ win.
Bama’s offense had appeared lethal through the season’s first five weeks, but an Ole Miss defense that allowed 8.5 points per game entering Saturday did its job. -- Zac Ellis
For a complete recap and analysis of Ole Miss's upset of Alabama, read Zac Ellis' three thoughts on the win.
Northwestern 20, No. 17 Wisconsin 14
Melvin Gordon rushed for a career-high 259 yards on 27 carries, chewed up the Northwestern defense for big gains of 61 and 58 yards, and consistently ground out first downs throughout the afternoon. The result of all that production? Fourteen points and a 20-14 defeat to Wildcats.
While Northwestern racked up its own yards on the ground -- true freshman Justin Jackson rushed 33 times for 162 yards -- Wisconsin sputtered behind a putrid passing attack that tossed four interceptions, including two in the end zone. Neither Joel Stave nor Tanner McEvoy could move the ball effectively through through the air, combining for 12-of-29 passing for 138 yards and one touchdown.
While two Badgers receivers caught four passes, Northwestern safety Godwin Igwebuike was the next favorite target. The redshirt freshman intercepted three passes (the two end zone turnovers and a game-sealing pick in the final minute).
The upset gives the Wildcats their second surprise victory in as many weeks as they continue to rebound after opening the season with losses to Cal and Northern Illinois. Northwestern improves to 3-2 on the season and shockingly sits atop the Big Ten West standings at 2-0. That's unlikely to last, but it represents a major momentum swing for a program that went 1-9 before its current three-game winning streak.
The Wildcats can thank their defense for the turnaround. While Saturday's effort was hardly dominant, the bend-but-don't-break strategy held up and players stepped up for key turnovers when the opportunities presented themselves. Northwestern limited Penn State to just six points in last week's victory and ranks 20th in yards allowed per play this season. -- Colin Becht
No. 7 Baylor 28, Texas 7
Baylor wasn’t sharp on offense, but the defense did its job as the Bears beat Texas for the fourth time in their last five meetings. The Texas defense challenged Bryce Petty all game, holding the typically efficient quarterback to 7-of-22 for 111 yards and two touchdowns in his worst outing of the season.
Shock Linwood (148 yards rushing, one touchdown) picked up tough yards, including plenty after contact, and helped extend drives on a day when the Bears struggled to find explosive plays. That’s a testament to Charlie Strong’s defense, which excluding the BYU game has played pretty well all season. But close losses aren’t moral victories at an established program like Texas, and it’s already a really long season in Austin.
The Baylor defense continues to look much improved over last season, holding Texas scoreless until late in the fourth quarter. The Longhorns had 334 total yards on 74 plays, and sophomore quarterback Tyrone Swoopes (15-of-33, 142 yards, two touchdowns) couldn’t get anything easy against the Bears secondary. After a 98-yard drive late in the second quarter, the Bears held, as Texas fumbled at the goal line.
Baylor got some help on special teams as well; a blocked punt and Terrell Burt 62-yard return put the Bears on the board with 9:02 left in the first quarter.
The Bears take their 5-0 record (2-0 in the Big 12) to TCU, fresh off an upset of Oklahoma. TCU’s offense is operating at a much better pace than it did a year ago, with Trevone Boykin playing at a higher level early on this season. -- MR
No. 12 Mississippi State 48, No. 6 Texas A&M 31
All eyes were on the state of Mississippi entering Week 6, and Mississippi State showed that Magnolia State football is for real in 2014. Behind star quarterback Dak Prescott, the Bulldogs manhandled Texas A&M 48-31 in Starkville.
Coach Dan Mullen’s offense is thriving with Prescott as well as running backs Josh Robinson and Brandon Holloway. The Bulldogs amassed 290 rushing yards on Saturday, controlling the tempo all afternoon long.
ESPN’s commentators kept trying to find the perfect comparison for Prescott, likening him to Tim Tebow, Johnny Manziel and Cam Newton at various parts of Saturday’s broadcast. Well, the only player Prescott needs to resemble is himself, as the junior demonstrated his skills passing, rushing and even receiving against the Aggies. He finished with 347 total yards and five total touchdowns (three passing, two rushing).
Prescott made strides toward the tail end of last season and entered this fall with increased expectations. So far he has lived up to the hype and more. The Bulldogs are rushing well and their defense looks like one of the more fearsome units in the conference. If Prescott keeps clicking, he might just end up with a trip to New York. -- MR
For a complete recap and analysis of Mississippi State's win over Texas A&M, read Martin Rickman's three thoughts on the win.
No. 20 Ohio State 52, Maryland 24
Another week, another game in which Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett continued to improve. The redshirt freshman has appeared to put the Week 2 loss to Virginia Tech behind him, and the Buckeyes are hitting their stride offensively. They outgained Maryland 532-308, as Barrett completed 18-of-23 passes for 268 yards and four touchdowns.
A loss is never good, but a non-conference defeat early in the season gave Urban Meyer an idea of what he doesn’t want his team to do. Barrett and Ezekiel Elliott provide offensive firepower for Ohio State, while the defense showed improvement against the Terps.
The Buckeyes are still a threat to win the Big Ten, and that Nov. 8 game in East Lansing against Michigan State still seems like an awful big deal. -- MR
For nearly 45 minutes of game time, Florida’s offense appeared listless. The Gators trailed Tennessee 9-0, and quarterback Jeff Driskel had thrown for a ghastly 59 yards with three interceptions. Then Jalen Tabor forced a strip-sack of Justin Worley in the waning moments of the third quarter, and Florida true freshman Treon Harris took the reins of a struggling attack.
Harris completed his first pass for 12 yards before Gators tailback Matt Jones rushed for a two-yard touchdown to narrow the deficit. Austin Hardin kicked a 49-yard field goal several minutes later, and Florida escaped with a 10-9 victory to improve to 3-1.
Defense was the key for Florida, as the Gators’ group limited the Vols to 234 total yards and a 5-of-17 conversion rate on third downs. In addition to Tabor’s turnover, the Gators' D corralled two picks, one from Vernon Hargreaves III and another from Keanu Neal that ended Tennessee’s final drive. The result was ugly, but coach Will Muschamp’s team won an SEC road game -- something it has struggled to do going on two years.
Florida has plenty to prove moving forward. It hosts LSU next week before taking on Missouri (Oct. 18), Georgia (Nov. 1) and Vanderbilt (Nov. 8). Still, the Gators have a new quarterback and, maybe, new hope. The storyline entering next Saturday in Gainesville? Wait and see. -- Ben Glicksman