Saturday Snaps: Breaking down the best of Week 4 in college football

College football Week 4: Breaking down Saturday's best games.
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No. 1 Florida State 23, No. 22 Clemson 17

Florida State’s defense stuffed Clemson when it absolutely had to, and Karlos Williams ran for a 12-yard touchdown to lift the Seminoles to a 23-17 overtime win that may have saved the Seminoles’ national title hopes. The ‘Noles won without quarterback Jameis Winston, who was suspended after shouting sexual obscenities while repeating an Internet meme on campus Tuesday. This matchup wasn’t pretty, but Florida State survived.

The Seminoles escaped without the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, but they showed some flaws that could come back to haunt them later in the season. The offensive line didn’t dominate the Tigers the way it did last October, and the defensive line got pushed around it ways it never did last fall.

Fortunately for Florida State, its defensive line came up huge late. Eddie Goldman stripped Clemson’s C.J. Davidson in the waning moments when the Tigers appeared headed toward an easy game-winning field goal. That allowed the Seminoles to force overtime and allowed backup quarterback Sean Maguire another chance after he threw a crippling interception with 2:14 remaining. In overtime, the Tigers handed to Adam Choice on fourth-and-inches. Goldman blew up the play, and Chris Casher and Reggie Northrup tackled Choice for a loss.

Florida State’s ground game, which produced -12 yards (including sacks) in regulation, came alive in overtime. The Seminoles ran Williams twice, covering the 25 yards they needed to save their ACC Atlantic Division title chances, their league title hopes and keep them alive in the race for the College Football Playoff. -- Andy Staples

For a complete recap and analysis of Florida State's victory over Clemson, read Andy Staples' three thoughts on the win.

Mississippi State 34, No. 8 LSU 29

For what seems like an eternity, people have been saying that Mississippi State -- and sixth-year coach Dan Mullen -- needed to win a big game. The Bulldogs kept coming so close in the loaded SEC West, but they couldn’t reach up and take it, like a kid trapped under a frozen pond, gnawing and thrashing for air.

Well, they finally broke through on Saturday with a 34-29 win over LSU in Death Valley. This wasn’t an instance of a team stealing one. Although the Tigers made a late charge, Mississippi State went to Baton Rouge and grabbed a win it deserved.

In a division filled with good teams, wins like this matter. It doesn’t prove that the Bulldogs have arrived (after all, they have a tough stretch ahead of them), but they might just have their ticket and are standing in line for departure.

With few returning SEC quarterbacks, Dak Prescott was expected to elevate his game to another level. Other players might have folded under the bright lights, but Prescott hasn’t. He did it all against a stout LSU front seven. If Mississippi State needed a third-and-long conversion, Prescott bought time and moved the sticks. If the Tigers brought pressure, Prescott managed to evade it.

Prescott finished with 373 total yards (268 passing, 105 rushing) and three touchdowns. Plenty of guys are September Heisman Trophy candidates, but the Bulldogs star has the skill set to make things happen all year. -- Martin Rickman

​​​​For a complete recap and analysis of Mississippi State's victory over LSU, read Martin Rickman's three thoughts on the win.

No. 4 Oklahoma 45, West Virginia 33

Stars are born (and die) every day. Thus is the universe. College football energy is always transferred, waiting for us to gravitate to the next bright thing like cats chasing a laser pointer.

That’s why it’s so fun to tune in and see guys like Samaje Perine take the stage, politely bow and proceed to wreck shop. The true freshman rushed for 242 yards yards and four scores as Oklahoma escaped a feisty West Virginia team 45-33 in Morgantown to move to 4-0.

Perine made his second career start after getting nine carries and 67 yards in the Sooners’ win over Tennessee last week, but he was used like a true power back against the Mountaineers. His number was called in short-yardage situations and when Oklahoma needed him most, and he largely negated a lukewarm performance from quarterback Trevor Knight (16-of-29 for 209 yards with no touchdowns and one interception).

Perine’s third touchdown (with 1:00 left in the third quarter) put Oklahoma up 38-27 and settled the Sooners down after things got a little wild and wacky. And his fourth score put an exclamation point on a strong road win.

The last thing other Big 12 teams want is to have to worry about another element to Oklahoma’s game. The defense alone can keep head coaches up at night. But Perine's star has been born, and we’re all taking notice. -- MR

No. 24 Nebraska 41, Miami 31

In a matchup that would have had major national title implications had it been played about 15 years earlier, Ameer Abdullah delivered a championship-worthy performance. The Nebraska running back did yeoman’s work, rushing 35 times for 229 yards with three total touchdowns in the No. 24 Cornhuskers’ 41-31 win over Miami.

Abdullah’s production was remarkably consistent. He produced an incredible amount of yards despite rushing for no more than 26 on a single carry. Instead Abdullah flayed the Hurricanes with 1,000 little cuts, picking seven or eight yards on nearly every carry. Quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. also contributed to Nebraska’s rushing onslaught, gaining 96 yards on 13 carries. The Cornhuskers racked up 343 yards on the ground as a team.

With the rushing attack churning up yards, Armstrong didn’t need to turn to his arm much but was efficient when he did, completing 9-of-13 passes for 113 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. The Cornhuskers hit their offensive stride and pulled away from the Hurricanes in the game’s middle two quarters, scoring on four of five drives bridging halftime to turn a 14-7 deficit into a 30-21 lead.

With an ineffective ground game (76 yards on 3.3 yards per carry), Miami’s offense relied almost completely on true freshman Brad Kaaya, who delivered but not without mistakes reflecting his inexperience. The quarterback tossed three touchdowns but also two interceptions and what would have been a third pick had a roughing the passer call not bailed him out.

Nebraska concludes its shaky nonconference slate on a high note. After nearly suffering a disastrous loss to McNeese State in Week 2, the Cornhuskers notched a good momentum builder before easing into Big Ten play with a home contest against Illinois next Saturday. As long as Abdullah -- who has yet to tally fewer than 110 total yards in a game -- stays healthy, Nebraska looks to be a serious contender in the Big Ten West. -- Colin Becht

Indiana 31, No. 18 Missouri 27

While Georgia and South Carolina suffered losses in the first three weeks of the season, defending SEC East champion Missouri looked like it might be primed for another under-the-radar run. Any such talk will be tabled, however, after Indiana stunned the No. 18 Tigers 31-27.

The Hoosiers are easy to overlook given their recent track record. Yet despite coordinator Seth Littrell’s departure to North Carolina this offseason, they appear to be lethal on offense. Tevin Coleman leads the Big Ten in rushing, an impressive feat given the production of Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon and Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah. Coleman came through again on Saturday, carrying 19 times for 132 yards with a touchdown and making three receptions for 57 yards. D’Angelo Roberts also ran for two scores, including the game-winner with 22 seconds left.

Quarterback Nate Sudfeld is hardly a Heisman Trophy candidate, but he was smart with the ball in this one, avoiding any turnovers while going 18-of-33 for 252 yards with a touchdown. His 44-yard completion to Coleman late in the fourth quarter set up Roberts’ winning score.

Given Indiana’s defensive woes, excitement about the team should be tempered. This is the same squad that lost to Bowling Green 45-42 a week earlier. But behind a prodigious attack, Indiana has a puncher’s chance in every game it plays. -- CB

​​​​For a complete recap and analysis of Indiana's victory over Missouri, read Colin Becht's three thoughts on the win.

No. 3 Alabama 42, Florida 21

Alabama’s matchup with Florida wasn’t pretty, but the Crimson Tide pulled away. Nick Saban’s squad shook off a bevy of turnovers to beat the Gators 42-21.

Maybe Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin deserves a little bit of credit. It looks like the Crimson Tide might have the SEC’s most lethal passing duo.

Blake Sims, who had previously been locked in a quarterback competition with Jake Coker, looked like the clear leader of Bama’s offense. He went 23-of-33 for 445 yards with four touchdowns, 335 and three of which came before the half. Sims appeared to injure his shoulder late in the third quarter, but he returned to the field after being examined in the locker room.

Still, Cooper was the star of this one, and he looks more like a Heisman Trophy contender with each passing week. Cooper made 10 catches for 201 yards with three scores, setting a school record with 20 career touchdown receptions. Cooper had 736 receiving yards in 2013. He has 655 through four games in ‘14.

There is plenty of season left, but this much is clear: Alabama’s offense looks mighty dangerous when Sims and Cooper are clicking. -- Zac Ellis

​​For a complete recap and analysis of Alabama's victory over Florida, read Zac Ellis' three thoughts on the win.

Utah 26, Michigan 10

Michigan’s hopes for a win were already smothered in a wet blanket – then it began to pour. Crippled by an inept offense that through two games against Power Five opponents has yet to produce a touchdown, the Wolverines fell to Utah 26-10.

Starting quarterback Devin Gardner was pulled midway through the fourth quarter after completing just 14 of 27 passes for 148 yards with two interceptions. His replacement, sophomore Shane Morris promptly tossed a pick on his fourth attempt, the last play before the game was delayed for 144 minutes by lightning. By the time lightning struck, the Utes already led by 16, an insurmountable margin given Michigan’s lack of offensive momentum, and the soaked fans that filled in Michigan Stadium had little reason to wait out the storm.

With losses to Notre Dame and Utah sandwiched between victories over Appalachian State and Miami (OH), the Wolverines have yet to offer any reason to believe they are improved from last year’s 7-6 squad or the 8-5 team of the year before. That lack of progress explains why coach Brady Hoke’s job security rests somewhere between “slim” and “none.” Sure, realistically Michigan cannot win a strong Big Ten every year, but if the Wolverines prove to not even be able to compete during one of the conference’s worst years, it’s very hard to see Hoke returning for a fifth season.

Michigan showed no ability to consistently move the ball, marching 50 yards for a field goal on the game’s opening drive before failing to put up any points on offense for the rest of the game. The Wolverines’ lone touchdown came when defensive tackle Willie Henry intercepted a screen pass and returned it seven yards to the end zone. In addition to Gardner’s ineffectiveness in the passing game, Michigan gained just 3.3 yards per carry for 118 yards on the ground.

The Wolverines wasted a strong defensive performance that held Utah to 286 total yards. That defensive effort kept Michigan in the game. Henry’s pick-six tied the game at 10-10 midway in the second quarter, and the Utes did not score an offensive touchdown until early in the third quarter (Kaelin Clay scored Utah’s first touchdown on a 66-yard punt return in the second quarter).

Michigan hosts Minnesota next week to kick off its Big Ten campaign, but the schedule offers no favors to the Wolverines’ already beleaguered conference hopes as they must travel to Michigan State and Ohio State. Gardner now has as many interceptions as he has touchdowns for the season (five), so perhaps Morris will see more time under center. He was thrown into a tough situation trailing against a stingy defense amid a downpour, so Michigan can hope his future results will prove more favorable. Hoke’s employment may depend on it, no matter how much athletic director Dave Brandon claims to support the embattled coach. -- CB

No. 21 BYU 41, Virginia 33

The game plan for Virginia was simple: Slow down Taysom Hill. And through about 36 minutes, it worked. But Hill has been a headache for defenses for a while now, and with BYU squarely in the spotlight, he did what he does best – he ran. And BYU beat Virginia, 41-33.

With the Cougars trailing 16-13 early in the third quarter, Hill shook a would-be tackler, found the edge, broke more tackles and made his way into the end zone. It’s plays like this that make you think BYU’s quarterback could end up with an invite to New York and the Cougars could earn an invite to one of college football’s most prestigious bowl games.

BYU is now 4-0 with wins over two Power Five teams in Texas and Virginia, as well as two wins over the American Athletic Conference. The Cougars have a Mountain West team in Utah State on Oct. 3 next. The schedule isn’t daunting (on the surface) the rest of the way. It’s still way too early to dream of an undefeated season, but Hill gives BYU a chance in each and every game with his ability to turn broken plays into good ones, like an artist carefully gathering the debris that’s washed up on shore with a plan.

Hill finished with 187 yards through the air and 72 more on the ground with three total touchdowns. He had a hard time getting going against the Cavaliers defense, but that may say more about Virginia than it does about BYU, as Mike London’s team -- despite a very challenging non-conference schedule -- continues to fight and claw for relevance and respect with its back against the wall. -- MR

East Carolina 70, North Carolina 41

It’s no coincidence that East Carolina has a giant outline of the state of North Carolina with the Pirates logo painted on the field at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. East Carolina thinks it is the best team in the state, and after wins over ACC teams Virginia Tech and North Carolina in back-to-back weeks, the Pirates are playing like it, too.

Pirates quarterback Shane Carden racked up the yards again, throwing for 438 yards on 30-of-48 passing, as East Carolina put up 789 yards overall in its 70-41 win over North Carolina. Had it not been for a couple of well-executed trick plays by the Tar Heels, including a Ryan Switzer touchdown pass and a fake field goal for a touchdown, this game wouldn’t have even been this close.

All week long the narrative was that North Carolina wanted revenge after East Carolina came into Chapel Hill and trounced the Tar Heels, 55-31. Saturday’s game not what revenge looks like. Instead it was more of the same.

Now in the American conference, it’s looking like the Pirates should have no trouble adapting to their new digs. With two wins over ACC Coastal Division foes, East Carolina might have a case at being the best team in that side of the conference, as well. If only the Pirates could play Duke and have a chance to prove it. -- MR

No. 19 Wisconsin 68, Bowling Green 17

When running back Melvin Gordon stumbled out of the gate in 2014, some people rushed to judgment. Gordon was supposed to be a Heisman Trophy hopeful, but he ran for just 178 yards -- 38 in a 37-3 win over Western Illinois in Week 2 -- through the Badgers’ first two games.

Well, patience is a virtue. Gordon is clearly still one of the best backs in college football. He carried 13 times for 253 yards with five touchdowns -- an average of 19.5 yards per attempt -- in Wisconsin’s 68-17 rout of Bowling Green on Saturday.

Gordon made things easy for the Badgers, but some costly turnovers by the Falcons certainly helped. Coaches talk about turnovers like an apocalyptic beast bent on destruction. When they affect a game the way they did in this one, fans can begin to understand why.

Bowling Green was trailing 21-10 in the second quarter. It was driving with a chance to score. Then quarterback James Knapke threw an interception, and the momentum for first-year coach Dino Babers’ team dissipated. Gordon ripped off a 50-yard touchdown run a few plays later.

Knapke fumbled on the Falcons’ next possession, and Wisconsin took advantage. Gordon scored again, this time on a three-yard scamper. That separation was all the Badgers needed to switch to an all-ground attack led by Gordon and quarterback Tanner McEvoy (11 carries, 158 yards, one touchdown). Wisconsin rushed for 644 yards.

This is the sort of performance his fans have come to expect from Gordon, so many take for granted that he’ll deliver one every game. Maybe it’s time to appreciate him a bit more before he’s off to run all over NFL defenses. -- MR

Iowa 24, Pittsburgh 20

Heading into halftime on Saturday, Pittsburgh seemed primed to start 4-0. The Panthers led 17-7 and workhorse tailback James Conner had rushed for 100 yards with a touchdown. But the Hawkeyes kept Pitt out of the end zone in the second half while rallying to capture a 24-20 victory.

The ground game was expected to be a major storyline here: The Panthers came in averaging 344 rushing yards per contest, while the Hawkeyes were allowing 65.7. Iowa hadn’t previously surrendered a rushing score before this weekend.

While Pitt gashed Iowa early, that Hawkeyes’ defense found its footing after the break. It limited Conner to just 55 yards in the final 30 minutes. The Panthers were forced to rely on quarterback Chad Voytik, who went 19-of-29 for 250 yards.

After Iowa’s Mark Weisman barreled in for one of his two rushing scores to give the Hawkeyes a 24-20 lead with 6:56 to play, the Panthers moved into Iowa territory. But Voytik threw three straight incomplete passes at the Hawkeyes’ 29-yard line, including one on fourth-and-10 to turn the ball over with 1:37 remaining.

Pitt could still be a surprise contender, and Conner is a machine. He broke Tony Dorsett’s record for the best four-game rushing start in team history (699 yards). But the Panthers had a chance to be 4-0. They couldn’t capitalize. -- ZE

Georgia Tech 27, Virginia Tech 24

How quickly momentum has flipped for the Hokies. Two weeks ago Virginia Tech shocked Ohio State in Columbus and appeared to be a legitimate contender in the ACC Coastal Division. Now, after a 27-24 loss to Georgia Tech in which Frank Beamer’s squad gave away the game, the Hokies have fallen to 2-2 (0-1 ACC).

Quarterback Michael Brewer, the Hokies’ hero in the upset of the Buckeyes, made three regrettable decisions that led to 17 Georgia Tech points, including kicker Harrison Butker’s game-winning 24-yard field goal as time expired. Though he was on target at times, Brewer tossed three interceptions, the second of which -- an ill-advised screen pass -- was returned for a 41-yard pick-six to give Georgia Tech a 17-16 lead early in fourth quarter.

Brewer seemingly redeemed himself on the next drive when he recovered a fumble from back Marshawn Williams and raced 21 yards for a touchdown, rescuing the Hokies from potential disaster and putting Virginia Tech back in front. But his final error, a pick under pressure with the score tied 24-24, doomed the Hokies.

However, blame for the loss does not completely fall on Brewer’s shoulders. Virginia Tech allowed Georgia Tech’s triple-option attack to rush for 250 yards (5.7 per carry). Yellow Jackets quarterback Justin Thomas showed the speed that won him a scholarship offer to play in the Alabama secondary, racing past defenders for 165 yards with a score. Though he completed just 7 of- 19 passes, Thomas managed to move the ball through the air when needed, throwing for 83 yards on Georgia Tech's game-tying and game-winning drives.

Saturday’s victory is the highlight of a strong start for the Jackets, who improve to 4-0 and begin ACC play with a critical road divisional win. They have a bye next week before hosting Miami on Oct. 4. -- CB