Saturday Snaps: Breaking down the best of Week 14 in college football
No. 23 Boise State 50, Utah State 19
With Marshall’s loss on Friday, the path was clear for Boise State to play its way into the Group of Five’s access bowl spot with no controversy. Colorado State’s loss to Air Force was an added bonus. Under former player, assistant and now first-year head coach Bryan Harsin, the Broncos care of business against on Saturday night. With the win, Harsin's squad ensured they’ll remain ranked heading into next weekend’s Mountain West title game against Fresno State.
Boise State, whose two losses were against Ole Miss in Atlanta on the opening weekend and a 28-14 road loss to Air Force, have won seven straight and seem to have gotten stronger as the season’s worn on. During the streak the Broncos have averaged 50.57 points per game and are getting good balance from quarterback Grant Hedrick and powerful running back Jay Ajayi.
Ajayi accounted for 229 yards and five scores against the Aggies (who would have won the Mountain division outright with a win). Boise State left little to chance, jumping out to a 34-9 lead before Utate State grabbed a field goal to close out the first half. The second half was another heavy dose of Ajayi, who added a 62-yard score early in the fourth quarter and another one-yard plunge to help the Broncos run off a lot of clock with their big lead. -- Martin Rickman
No. 1 Alabama 55, No. 15 Auburn 44
Alabama won the SEC West title before taking the field against Auburn on Saturday -- thanks to Mississippi State’s loss in the Egg Bowl -- but for three quarters it seemed the Tigers would eliminate the Crimson Tide from College Football Playoff contention and crush their national title dreams for a second consecutive season. However, Alabama stormed back for a 55-44 win behind a defense that finally awoke and a receiver who couldn’t be covered.
The Crimson Tide would have been knocked out of the top four with a loss and probably would have required some serious help to get back in. Now, Alabama can likely advance to the playoff by beating Missouri in next week’s SEC title game. Still, don’t be shocked if the College Football Playoff selection committee drops Alabama behind Oregon after watching the Iron Bowl. It was an emotional win for Alabama, but the Crimson Tide gave up 630 yards to the Tigers. There is no reason Oregon, Baylor or TCU couldn’t do the same thing in a playoff game. Yet Alabama’s offense (541 total yards) also proved it can win a shootout. -- Andy Staples
No. 2 Oregon 47, Oregon State 19
This time, it went exactly as predicted.
The 118th edition of the Civil War -- one of the oldest rivalries in college football -- was expected to be a blowout, but who ever knows what will happen in rivalry games? It was supposed to be that way last year, too, but that game took a very late Oregon touchdown (the first come-from-behind drive of Marcus Mariota’s collegiate career) for the Ducks to escape with a 36-35 win.
This time, the No. 2 Ducks led start to finish, racking up 565 yards of total offense along the way to a 47-19 win. Oregon already had the Pac-12 North title locked up and will roll into Levi’s Stadium next week on a seven-game winning streak.
Early in the second quarter, Mariota hit Byron Marshall perfectly in stride for a 77-yard touchdown play. Marshall shook off an Oregon State defender on his way to the end zone, but credit goes to Mariota for a flawless throw. That’s the best way to describe his play for most of the night, and most of the season: flawless. He finished with 19-of-25 passing for 367 yards and 39 yards rushing with six total touchdowns. As the best player in college football, Mariota has all but wrapped up the Heisman, almost regardless of what happens next week in the Pac-12 title game. Oregon’s rematch with Arizona in the Pac-12 title game -- more on that in a second -- is about style points for the junior, who has 9,445 passing yards, 2,064 rushing yards, 120 total touchdowns and just 12 interceptions in his collegiate career. He’s the best quarterback to ever come through Eugene and arguably the best player in program history.
There’s one scenario in which Mariota doesn’t take home college football’s most coveted individual trophy: If the Ducks lose to Arizona -- and are effectively knocked out of the College Football Playoff race -- and Mariota plays poorly while Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon goes crazy in the Big Ten championship, Gordon could sneak in front of Mariota. But think of Mariota’s numbers this year (remember he was the front runner last season until he got hurt) and keep in mind that he’s been dominant for all of 2014 (3,103 passing yards, 597 rushing yards, 41 total touchdowns and two interceptions). Count on him giving the thank you speech in New York. -- Lindsay Schnell
No. 19 Ole Miss 31, No. 4 Mississippi State 17
At this point in the most sun-kissed of Mississippi State seasons, every game amounted to an audition. With the College Football Playoff selection committee staring discerningly at their souped-up iPads, every line delivered and every note sang is analyzed and criticized.
The No. 4 Bulldogs entered Saturday’s Egg Bowl against No. 19 Ole Miss needing a virtuoso performance, the type of win that resonated with style points, game control and any other nebulous phrase the committee may make up next week. Instead, Mississippi State flubbed its lines, sang like they gargled Tabasco sauce and got an emphatic hook from both the playoff chase and SEC title contention.
Ole Miss burst past Mississippi State, 31-17, behind a flurry of big plays, a stifling run defense and the red Pom Pom-waving crowd energy inherent to crushing your archrival’s biggest dreams. The victory by the Rebels will allow teams across the country to lobby for that fourth and final playoff spot. TCU, Ohio State and Baylor fans all cheered loudly as Mississippi State flopped in its biggest moment.
Ole Miss delivered the dagger in the cruelest fashion possible, a transcendent moment by an obscure player. Ole Miss reserve tailback Jordan Wilkins ran for 41 yards on the first play of a fourth-quarter drive and followed that up by throwing a 31-yard touchdown pass on a trick play to Cody Core. The tidy two-play, 72-yard drive with 9:14 remaining put the score at 31-17 and essentially sealed the game. For Wilkins, a redshirt freshman, the moment outshone anything achieved in his modest, young career.
Any notion of a last-ditch comeback got crushed by Ole Miss’ defense, which entered the day as the country’s top unit in points allowed and proved its mettle possession after possession.
The Ole Miss (9-3) victory puts the playoff picture in flux entering the final week, with one of the few certainties being that the Bulldogs will have a difficult time re-entering the conversation. (Their weak non-conference schedule is a glaring argument against them with two losses.)
The thing that will haunt Mississippi State (10-2) about the loss Saturday will be the glut of big plays it allowed. The Bulldogs tackled poorly, as Ole Miss ran 31 times for 205 yards.
That included a dazzling breakout performance by tailback Jaylen Walton. Late in the third quarter, Walton took a handoff from Bo Wallace, juked Mississippi State defensive back Tolando Cleveland, broke through a doggy paddle tackle attempt from Will Redmond and darted 91 yards into Egg Bowl lore. He finished with 148 yards on 14 carries. But his dash into the dark of night kicked off a celebration they’ll talk about for centuries here.
On a night when an injured Bo Wallace completed only 13-of-30 passes, Ole Miss just kept running. With everything at stake, the Rebels delivered a definitive victory in an Egg Bowl when the stakes were highest. -- Pete Thamel
No. 3 Florida State 24, Florida 19
Florida State’s survival instincts remained impeccable on Saturday, as the Seminoles overcame a stupendously bad start and four Jameis Winston interceptions to eke by Florida 24-19 at Doak Campbell Stadium.
The ‘Noles’ 28th consecutive win arrived after they held off the Gators’ last-gasp fourth-quarter drive, extended by a fourth-down pass interference flag, and put the punctuation on the Will Muschamp tenure, which officially ended with the loss.
Winston threw three picks on the Seminoles’ first five possessions. According to the official statistics, his passer rating at that time was -44.8, which is apparently a thing that can happen. Also at that time late in the first quarter, Florida State’sTerrance Smith had just returned a tipped pass 93 yards for a momentum-flipping pick-six. Then the Seminoles went to the ground, rushing four straight times to spark a 93-yard drive that was capped with a Winston pass to Nick O’Leary for the go-ahead score. That was followed by another Winston-to-O’Leary touchdown toss on the next possession. It was instructive for the ACC title game next week. Florida State might want to invest more in the rushing attack early, for three reasons.
One, Dalvin Cook. The freshman racked up a career-high 144 yards against the Gators and was by far the most reliable offensive option all afternoon; it was his 15-yard run on a third-and-18 late in the fourth quarter that set up a field goal that gave the Seminoles a critical five-point lead. Two, it allows Winston to settle into the game instead of forcing anything. Three, the worst thing any team can do against an option-based offense is turn the ball over. Going in with the mindset to control the clock against Georgia Tech in Charlotte next Saturday likely isn’t bad. -- Brian Hamilton
No. 14 Wisconsin 34, No. 18 Minnesota 24
Wisconsin can make its reservations for Indianapolis. The No. 14 Badgers took care of business and beat No. 18 Minnesota 34-24 to clinch a spot in the Big Ten title game opposite Ohio State. And after the Buckeyes’ game on Saturday, Wisconsin might be an even bigger threat for the conference title than previously expected.
Minnesota, which had lost 10 straight games to Wisconsin and 15 of its last 17, hadn’t won in Madison since 1994. But it was obvious the Gophers weren’t intimidated. They were also playing for a spot in the conference title game, and they took a 17-3 lead over the Badgers early in the second quarter on a Ryan Santoso field goal.
Wisconsin answered with a touchdown catch from Melvin Gordon and a field goal before the half to cut Minnesota’s lead to 17-12. Gordon, a Heisman Trophy candidate, was overshadowed in the first half by Gophers’ running back David Cobb. Cobb had 95 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries, while Gordon, who has rushed for more than 2,000 yards already this season, managed just 55 yards on 14 rushes.
But it was another running back who pushed the Badgers ahead in the third quarter. Corey Clement ran in a 28-yard score midway through the third quarter to give Wisconsin its first lead, 20-17. Gordon punched in another touchdown early in the fourth quarter, and the Badgers didn’t look back. -- Zac Ellis
No. 7 Baylor 48, Texas Tech 46
Texas Tech called its game against Baylor in the Texas Farm Bureau Insurance Shootout (we’ve got to work on that name) at Cowboys Stadium its bowl game. Despite playing with as much energy as the Red Raiders have had all year, it wasn’t quite enough as Baylor used four Texas Tech turnovers and Shock Linwood's 158 yards and two scores to move to 10-1 heading into next week’s game against Kansas State.
“We knew it’d be a war,” Baylor coach Art Briles said during the halftime interview on ESPN2. “It is every time, especially when people are taking shots at you. We just have to hang on and fight them off.”
Baylor got a scare when Texas Tech was called for roughing the passer with 8:21 left, as Bryce Petty took a helmet to helmet shot from Sam Eguavoen. Petty stayed down for a few moments and eventually got up and walked off on his own power. He was diagnosed with a mild concussion. With Baylor leading 35-17 at the time, Seth Russell came in and casually threw a very nice ball to Levi Norwood for 27 yards and a touchdown. Russell has seen a lot of game action this season, and it was an easy call to let him finish the game out as the team continued to evaluate Petty.
The Red Raiders showed a lot of heart in cutting Baylor’s 45-20 lead all the way down to 45-40 with 8:13 to play. After a Baylor field goal, Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes (593 yards, six touchdowns) was put in first and 30. The freshman eventually hurled a 40-yard score to Bradley Marquez. With the score at 48-46, the Red Raiders had a chance at the tie, but Baylor’s front four swallowed the pocket, forced Mahomes back and eventually brought him down.
With the win, shaky or not, Baylor is still squarely in the playoff race. The Bears have the head to head victory over TCU and can close the gap even more (in the committee’s eyes) or overtake the Horned Frogs with a good showing against Kansas State. That would give Baylor at least a share of the Big 12 title, something that seems critical as the committee seeks to parse out the most deserving four teams. -- MR
No. 6 Ohio State 42, Michigan 28
Ohio State’s postseason hopes are undoubtedly tied to quarterback J.T. Barrett, who was carted off the field after lying crumpled beneath a Michigan defender following a run for no gain. He was given an inflatable cast, and he clapped his hands in frustration as the cart headed for the tunnel. Backup quarterback Cardale Jones came in with Ohio State leading 28-21, and stars Ezekiel Elliott and Joey Bosa promptly put the game away: Elliott dashed for a 44-yard score, while Bosa forced a Devin Gardner fumble that Darron Lee recovered and ran back for a touchdown.
Before the injury Barrett was having another signature game in a year filled with them. He broke former Purdue standout Drew Brees’ Big Ten record for total touchdowns (43) in a single season on six-yard toss to Nick Vannett in the first quarter. He scampered 25 yards to tie the score at 14 with seven seconds left in the first half. He hit Devin Smith for a 52-yard gain on the opening sequence of the third quarter, and he scored a two-yard rushing touchdown on the next play.
On ESPN’s College GameDay this morning quarterback guru George Whitfield said Notre Dame’s Everett Golson often tries to be Superman when the team needs him to be Clark Kent. Barrett is the opposite. He has no problem being Kent, and his remarkable consistency is the primary reason the Buckeyes are sitting at 11-1.
This costly win over Michigan doesn’t knock the Buckeyes out of the playoff race, as every team vying for a spot in the top four has won ugly. Still, the potential loss of Barrett heading into the Big Ten title game is huge for an Ohio State squad that has struggled to defend the run. The Buckeyes don’t seem to trust backup quarterback Jones with the full playbook, and offensive coordinator Tom Hermann must decide what to do now that such a big part of his game plan missing. -- MR
No. 16 Georgia Tech 30, No. 9 Georgia 24 (OT)
Georgia Tech will have to wait until next week to vie with Florida State for the ACC championship, so in the meantime the Yellow Jackets picked up an accolade that might mean more to them: a state title.
No. 16 Georgia Tech survived No. 9 Georgia in overtime, 30-24, in Athens for the program’s first victory at Sanford Stadium since 2008. The win meant nothing to the Yellow Jackets’ ACC resume, but it might serve as a springboard heading into their major meeting with the unbeaten Seminoles next weekend.
Georgia Tech looked in control late in the fourth quarter as quarterback Justin Thomas drove the offense into Georgia territory up 21-17. But Thomas fumbled, and the Bulldogs recovered with less than three minutes to play. Georgia quarterback Hutson Mason turned the turnover into a touchdown pass and a 24-21 lead with 18 seconds left. At that point, the Jackets’ shot at a road win seemed all but over.
But Georgia Tech took the ensuing kickoff and drove into the far outskirts of field goal range. That’s where Harrison Butker drilled a 53-yard field goal to send the game into overtime tied 24-24.
The Yellow Jackets quickly scored to open the extra session on Zach Laskey’s third touchdown of the day, but they missed the extra point, leaving the Bulldogs a touchdown and an extra point away from the win. But on Georgia’s ensuing possession, Georgia Tech’s D.J. White picked off Mason at the 9-yard line to seal the win -- and the bragging rights -- for the Jackets. -- Zac Ellis
No. 22 Louisville 44, Kentucky 40
Kyle Bolin wasn’t supposed to be the hero of the game. But when Kentucky pulled ahead 40-37 with 5:31 remaining, that the Louisville third-string quarterback’s only option.
Bolin, who entered Saturday’s game only after Reggie Bonnafon (who had replaced Will Gardner after his season-ending injury) left with a leg injury, guided the No. 22 Cardinals 81 yards in seven plays for the game-winning score and a 44-40 victory over the rival Wildcats.
Although Bolin turned the ball over twice (both of which were returned for touchdowns), his 21-of-31 passing for 381 yards and three touchdowns helped Louisville overcome a sloppy four-turnover game. Star wide receiver DeVante Parker showed no lack of chemistry with the new quarterback, catching six passes for 180 yards with all three touchdowns. After seven lead changes, safety Gerod Holliman ensured Louisville’s late lead stuck by intercepting Kentucky quarterback Patrick Towles to tie the NCAA record with his 14th pick of the season.
The Wildcats, who needed a win Saturday to get to bowl eligibility, picked up 20 points on the Cardinals’ four turnovers and gained 151 yards on the ground, 126 from Stanley "Boom" Williams. But Towles completed just 14-of-29 passes for 176 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions. Apart from the turnovers, Kentucky had no answer for Louisville’s offense and surrendered 6.4 yards per play.
Although Louisville won’t play for a conference title, the Cardinals have to be moderately content with their first season in the ACC. After a stunning loss to Virginia on Sept. 13, Louisville only lost to respectable Clemson and Florida State squads. Saturday’s victory boosts the Cardinals’ win total to nine, their third straight season with at least nine wins.
For Kentucky, Saturday’s loss cements a disastrous second half of the season. After winning five of their first six games, the Wildcats dropped their last six straight to miss a bowl game for the fourth consecutive season. Although Kentucky’s 5-6 campaign is still a marked improvement over its 2-10 record of each of the past two seasons, the Wildcats remain several steps short of SEC relevance. -- Colin Becht
No. 21 Clemson 35, South Carolina 17
The “state championship” of the Palmetto State has eluded Clemson coach Dabo Swinney recently. The Tigers had lost five straight installments of their yearly matchup with in-state foe South Carolina heading into Saturday. Now, Swinney can celebrate the start of new streak after No. 21 Clemson dominated South Carolina 35-17 on Saturday.
Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson returned from a knee injury to throw for 269 yards and ring up four total touchdowns. Watson tweaked his knee again and left the game briefly, but he finished the afternoon on the field and appeared healthy.
The Gamecocks took control early by driving 70 yards in eight plays for a 7-0 lead. But it was all Clemson from that point on in the first half. The Tigers scored 21 straight before intermission, including a touchdown pass and a scoring run from Watson. At the break Clemson averaged 8.1 yards per play, while the Gamecocks were stumbling to 3.5.
The Tigers didn’t let up in the second half. Watson found Artavis Scott (seven catches, 185 yards, two touchdowns) for a 70-yard scoring catch. The quarterback later punched in a one-yard run with 2:35 left in the fourth quarter with the game firmly in hand.
The Gamecocks had been Clemson’s kryptonite for several seasons, but the Tigers’ offense didn’t have much trouble on Saturday. Offensive coordinator Chad Morris’ attack hadn’t scored more than 17 points in Clemson’s last three games against South Carolina, which were all losses. But thanks to South Carolina's porous defense, the Tigers managed 8.1 yards per play and finished 7-of-13 on third down.
This year the state championship returned to Death Valley as the Tigers added to a struggling season for South Carolina and coach Steve Spurrier. The loss dropped the Gamecocks to 6-6 on the year after Spurrier had led the program to 11 wins in three consecutive seasons. South Carolina’s defense is the likely scapegoat for the 2014 campaign, something Spurrier will have to fix going forward. Perhaps he’ll place a call to a suddenly unemployed Florida coach with a defensive background. -- ZE