Despite a fierce NC State defensive line, Tajh Boyd managed to rally Clemson to a win. (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
A buffet of blowouts. That’s what Week 4 of college football had in store as the country’s top programs largely beat up on lesser opponents. Results like Ohio State’s 76-0 win over Florida A&M and Louisville’s 72-0 victory over FIU kept us flipping from game to game all weekend. In fact, No. 5 Stanford’s meeting with No. 22 Arizona State constituted the week’s only matchup between ranked opponents, and even that game wasn’t as close as the final score indicated.
Thanks to a less-than-exciting slate, very few outcomes had noticeable effects on the current state of the Heisman race. It’s been said in this space before, but true Heisman candidates perform on big stages against big opponents, and there simply weren’t many big stages in Week 4. Instead, many Heisman hopefuls reinforced the status quo; as expected, Johnny Manziel ran all over SMU, AJ McCarron came through in key moments against pesky Colorado State and Teddy Bridgewater tossed a few more touchdowns.
That’s why we start things off this week with the current Heisman leader, who held off an upset bid in a hostile environment under the Thursday-night spotlight.
Heisman Watch – Week 4
1. Tajh Boyd, QB Clemson
2. Marcus Mariota, QB Oregon
3. Johnny Manziel, QB Texas A&M
4. Aaron Murray, QB Georgia
5. AJ McCarron, QB Alabama
6. Teddy Bridgewater, QB Louisville
7. Jameis Winston, QB Florida State
8. Todd Gurley, RB Georgia
9. Melvin Gordon, RB Wisconsin
10. Brett Hundley, QB UCLA
Player of the Week
Tajh Boyd, QB Clemson
Week 4 stats: 24-of-37 passing, 244 yards, three TDs; 13 rushes for 38 yards
No. 3 Clemson’s trip to NC State looked very much like a trap game for the Tigers, and for good reason. In 2011, the Wolfpack throttled seventh-ranked Clemson 37-13 in Raleigh, and Boyd played a big part in that loss, throwing two picks and no touchdowns. It was a learning experience for a quarterback on a path to Heisman contention two years later.
Boyd made up for that shoddy sophomore outing Thursday, and he did so against a talented NC State defensive line that landed the first punch early. The Wolfpack sacked the senior twice in the Tigers’ opening drive, and Clemson, which came in averaging 45 points per game, didn’t reach the end zone until late in the first half. Dabo Swinney’s team held a slim 13-7 lead in the third period before Boyd found Martavis Bryant with touchdown tosses on two straight series to put the game away.
Boyd and Oregon’s Marcus Mariota both boast compelling arguments for the early lead in the Heisman race. But it’s hard to completely ignore what Boyd has done against stiffer competition. He put up five total touchdowns against No. 5 Georgia in Week 1, and then after a cakewalk against South Carolina State, Boyd came alive late against a defensively sound NC State team that upended third-ranked Florida State in Raleigh last season. Most importantly, Boyd has yet to throw an interception while completing at least 60 percent of his passes in each game.
Things looked grim for Murray when North Texas picked off the Georgia quarterback in the end zone of the Bulldogs’ second series. The Mean Green hung around until the third quarter, when Murray punched in a one-yard touchdown run and then found Chris Conley in the end zone to spark Georgia’s 24-0 run to end the game. Murray’s three touchdown strikes put him at 102 career touchdown passes, second only to former Florida quarterback Danny Wuerffel (114). That could be a sign of things to come -- Wuerffel won the Heisman in 1996.
People are finally starting to notice Melvin Gordon and the powerful Wisconsin rushing attack. In his first season as a starter – he previously backed up the departed Montee Ball – Gordon leads the country with 624 rushing yards and is tied for third with seven rushing touchdowns. But it might be Gordon’s effectiveness with each snap that ultimately gets him more attention: The sophomore averages a ridiculous 11.8 yards per carry, also tops in the country. It will be fun to watch him take on the Ohio State defense next week in Columbus.
Hundley probably should have cracked the Heisman Watch after his Bruins overwhelmed Nebraska in Lincoln last week. UCLA’s romp over New Mexico State this weekend was no surprise, but Hundley kept his name in the Heisman mix as a darkhorse prospect. He’s completed at least 65 percent of his passes in all three starts, and he already proved his effectiveness on the road against the Cornhuskers. Keep an eye on Hundley as Pac-12 play begins, especially if UCLA manages to jump into the top 10.
LSU’s offense has been one of the season’s early surprises, and Hill’s production has improved with each game. Against UAB he carried the ball six times for 50 yards and one touchdown; against Kent State, he had 11 carries for 117 yards and two touchdowns; and against Auburn on Saturday, he managed 25 carries for 183 yards and three scores. Hill still faces obstacles in the Heisman race, however. He missed the Tigers’ opening game against TCU, and voters might hesitate to support a player whose offseason arrest prompted that absence.
As UCLA rises up the rankings, so too will Brett Hundley in the Heisman chatter. (Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
It’s not like Miller’s starting job is truly in jeopardy as backup Kenny Guiton continues to pick apart sub-par defenses in Columbus. But with every game the junior misses due to a knee injury, his chances of remaining in the Heisman hunt become slimmer. There are still plenty of opportunities for Miller to impress once he takes the field again – for starters, the Buckeyes welcome a smash-mouth Wisconsin team to town next week – but Heisman history dictates that Miller’s shot at the trophy is losing ground.
Maybe Michigan can’t to get motivated against lesser opponents, but whatever the reason, Gardner’s production dips against weaker teams on the Wolverines’ schedule. Against Notre Dame in Week 2, Gardner was superb with four passing touchdowns and 294 yards in a victory. But against Central Michigan, Akron and UConn, Gardner struggled. He threw seven interceptions to only three touchdowns while completing a mere 54 percent of his throws. Somehow the junior didn’t complete a pass in the second quarter against the Huskies on Saturday.
Tweets of the week:
That’s what it takes for Clemson’s quarterback:
The stat-stuffing continued for Johnny Manziel against SMU:
This can’t be what Brady Hoke had in mind for his Michigan offense:
Video of the week:
Tajh Boyd goes up top for his second straight touchdown pass to Martavis Bryant, which finally put things out of reach for NC State: