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Saturday Snaps: Breaking down the best of Week 5 in college football

No. 18 USC 35 Oregon State 10

For all the talk of the up-tempo attack that USC was going to employ, it’s been the defense that has defined the Trojans in their wins. USC bounced back from its loss to Boston College a couple weeks ago to dominate Oregon State in total yards, 461-182, and force two turnovers in a 35-10 win.

The Trojans got some help from Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion, who tried to force throws and looked generally out of sorts against the athletic USC secondary. The elusive X-Man that is Su’a Cravens seemed to be around the ball at all times.

A Hail Mary at the end of the first half from Cody Kessler to Darreus Rogers gave USC a 21-10 lead at the half and allowed the Trojans to stick to their game plan.

It was a calm and otherwise uneventful offensive performance from a team that needed a calm and otherwise uneventful game after the ugly upset at the hands of the Eagles on Sept. 13. The lack of depth has the potential to hurt Steve Sarkisian’s team down the road, but for now there’s enough talent there to keep it in the Pac-12 South hunt. -- Martin Rickman

No. 8 Notre Dame 31, Syracuse 15

Everett Golson couldn't have asked for a worse start against Syracuse on Saturday night. The quarterback lost fumbles on Notre Dame’s first two possessions and threw a pick on the Fighting Irish’s fourth series. But three first-quarter turnovers (and four overall) weren’t enough to spoil a big night for Golson, who helped No. 8 Notre Dame clinch a 31-15 win.

Golson rebounded from his sorry start to complete 33 of 40 passes for four touchdowns and a career-high 363 yards. He connected on 26 straight passes, tying an FBS record for consecutive completions set by East Carolina’s Dominique Davis in 2011. That mark bested the Irish record of 14 set by Brady Quinn, Ron Powlus and Tommy Rees.

The final score didn’t tell the whole story of this matchup. Notre Dame converted 9 of 14 third downs and rang up 6.6 yards per play on offense, but five total turnovers soured an otherwise impressive outing. Luckily for the Irish, its defense kept Syracuse quarterback Terrel Hunt and the Orange offense in check. Syracuse’s offense couldn’t stay on the field (3 of 15 on third down) and didn’t score a touchdown until the fourth quarter.

Notre Dame’s sloppy effort was enough against the Orange, but it might not be in later games. Notre Dame welcomes Stanford to South Bend next week and faces road games against Florida State, Arizona State and USC later. The Irish have a tough enough slate to earn a spot in the playoff discussion if they finished unbeaten. We just haven’t seen enough of Notre Dame yet. We’ll know a lot more next week. -- Zac Ellis

Missouri 21, No. 13 South Carolina 20

Missouri suffered one of the SEC’s worst losses of the season in last week’s 31-27 defeat to Indiana but rebounded Saturday with a 21-20 upset of No. 13 South Carolina.

The Tigers’ offense couldn’t get anything going for much of the night. Quarterback Maty Mauk and company compiled just 181 yards and seven points on their first 13 possessions. But everything changed in the fourth quarter.

Mauk engineered scoring drives of 68 and 51 yards to give Mizzou the lead. The Tigers’ final scoring march featured two fourth-down conversions, including tailback Russell Hansbrough’s one-yard touchdown run with 1:36 to play. Missouri’s defense then stepped up to force quarterback Dylan Thompson and South Carolina into a turnover on downs to seal the result.

Through three quarters, Missouri didn’t look like a contender. But the Tigers stood tall in the fourth to improve to 1-0 in SEC play. -- Zac Ellis

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

Miami 22, Duke 10

Miami needed a big win in the worst way. All it took was a little well-timed rain and a guy named Waters to get the Hurricanes one, as they beat Duke in Miami 22-10.

With a sudden rainstorm keeping Miami from kicking a field goal early in the second half, the Hurricanes opted to keep the offense on the field despite facing fourth-and-19. Quarterback Brad Kaaya (21 of 35 for 226 yards with two touchdowns) tossed to Herb Waters from 28 yards out to give the Hurricanes a 16-7 lead. The score gave Miami enough breathing room to ground out the game with Duke Johnson, a thing Miami would like to do all the time if at all possible.

Johnson finished with 144 rushing yards and a score as the ‘Canes rebounded from last week’s loss to Nebraska. Miami hasn’t had many high points since starting last season 7-0. Three straight losses, not to mention the even bigger loss of Johnson to injury for the remainder of the 2013 season, put the Hurricanes in a tailspin. After finishing the regular season with back-to-back wins, Miami got roughed up by Louisville in the bowl game -- and again by the Cardinals to open the ‘14 season.

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There are plenty of problems with Miami that aren’t easily correctable, but a win over the defending ACC Coastal champions will help. In a side of the conference that is completely up for grabs, any sort of positive momentum, perceived or otherwise, makes a difference. -- MR

Clemson 50, North Carolina 35

Last week, Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson spelled ineffective starting quarterback Cole Stoudt. On Saturday, Stoudt replaced Watson -- because Clemson brought in its backups.

Watson ended any discussion about who should be under center for the Tigers, tossing a school-record six touchdown passes in Clemson’s 50-35 victory over North Carolina. Not bad for a true freshman.

Watson eviscerated the Tar Heels secondary, completing 27 of 36 passes for 435 yards and those six touchdowns before Stoudt entered to finish the game. Before hyping up Watson too much, remember that this is the same North Carolina defense that gave up 70 points to East Carolina last week. Still, Watson hardly looked like a quarterback making his first career start.

Watson got started early, finding Germone Hopper for a 74-yard score on Clemson’s opening drive before hitting him again for a 50-yard touchdown early in the second quarter as Clemson built a 20-0 advantage. Watson never allowed North Carolina to get back into the game even as the Tar Heels scored 28 second-half points. The Tar Heels pulled within eight points early in the third quarter, but Watson calmly responded with an eight-play, 75-yard drive, capped by a 24-yard pass to Mike Williams.

After a slow start, North Carolina’s offense hit a high gear. Marquise Williams completed 24 of 38 passes for 345 yards with four touchdowns, including long scoring strikes to T.J. Thorpe and Ryan Switzer. It was the type of game that would normally produce a win. But on Saturday, Williams’ effort was clearly second best. -- Colin Becht

No. 22 Ohio State 50, Cincinnati 28

If Ohio State is going to have any shot at winning the Big Ten this season, the Buckeyes’ defense has to play better than it did in the team’s 50-28 win over Cincinnati on Saturday. Ohio State gave up 422 yards and looked generally perplexed in pass coverage all game.

Three big plays came from Cincinnati wide receiver Chris Moore, who had touchdown catches of 60, 83 and 78 yards. Bearcats quarterback Gunner Kiel added to his quickly growing touchdown total, throwing for 352 yards and four scores.

One of the bright spots for the Buckeyes was the running of sophomore Ezekiel Elliott (29 carries for 188 yards with one touchdown). He hit the hole with confidence, caught four passes for 45 yards and got to the edge. With that added element, the pressure was off quarterback J.T. Barrett (25 of 35 passing for 324 yards with four touchdowns), who seems to be getting more comfortable every week.

Ohio State had 45 first downs, and the offense appears to be rounding into form finally after an adjustment period following the loss of quarterback Braxton Miller for the season. Barrett oozes potential and fits well in Urban Meyer and Tom Herman’s scheme. Now he and the rest of the offense need the defense to start playing catch-up. -- MR

No. 1 Florida State 56, NC State 41

North Carolina State coach Dave Doeren told Wednesday that his team had to work harder than Florida State because “there’s a gap” between the two teams. That hard work almost paid off in a big way. The Wolfpack stormed out to a 24-7 lead in the first quarter and led 38-35 midway through the third before the No. 1 Noles imposed their will to avoid the upset, winning in Raleigh, 56-41.

A week after being suspended for the Clemson game after getting up on a table and parroting an explicit phrase out of an Internet meme, Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston outdueled NC State’s Jacoby Brissett to keep the ‘Noles undefeated and move them to 2-0 in ACC play.

It was hard not to think back to last week’s 23-17 win over the Tigers and wonder how backup quarterback Sean Maguire would have fared in the high-scoring affair against the Wolfpack. The Seminoles needed every bit of Winston’s 365 passing yards and four touchdowns (as well as a well-timed turnover that gave the ‘Noles the ball at the NC State six-yard line with 3:51 left in the third quarter) to escape.

Simply put, this Florida State team isn’t as dominant as it was last year. It’s not going to blow past teams in the first half and be able to rest starters the rest of the way. To stay in the College Football Playoff hunt, Winston needs to be as good as he was against the Wolfpack on a regular basis (and limit mistakes like the interception he threw in the fourth quarter). As the world saw last year, he is fully capable of doing so. -- MR

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

No. 6 Texas A&M 35, Arkansas 28 (OT)

Texas A&M remains a major threat in the SEC West after surviving a wild matchup with Arkansas on Saturday. The No. 6 Aggies outlasted the Razorbacks 35-28 in overtime behind a late second-half surge.

Texas A&M sophomore quarterback Kenny Hill came into the 2014 season with big shoes to fill. While Hill might not be Johnny Manziel, he showed in this one that he can be just as clutch as the Heisman Trophy winner.

After Arkansas took a 28-14 lead with 5:02 remaining in the fourth quarter, Hill gathered his teammates on the sidelines. “I said, ‘We got this,’” he told CBS’ Allie LaForce after the game. “'Trust me, I promise I’ve got y’all.'”

Hill proceeded to lead Texas A&M to 21 unanswered points. He connected with wide receiver Josh Reynolds for a 59-yard touchdown to tie the game with 2:08 to play, and he found Malcome Kennedy for a 25-yard score to put the Aggies ahead for good. The A&M defense stepped up on the ensuing possession to seal the win.

Hill finished 21 of 41 for 386 yards with four touchdowns. He made a few mistakes, including one interception, but got it done when he counted. Hill showed why he could be a legitimate Heisman candidate down the road. -- ZE

For a complete recap and analysis of Texas A&M's victory over Arkansas, read Zac Ellis' three thoughts on the win.

Minnesota 30, Michigan 14

The 20-ounce bottle of Diet Coke I purchased from the office vending machine didn’t arrive with two discounted tickets to the Michigan-Minnesota game on Saturday. Looks like I owe the vending machine a high-five. Watching the Wolverines’ confused offense sputter against a middle-of-the-road Big Ten foe is something that, frankly, nobody should be subjected to at this point. Judging by his team’s performance in a 30-14 loss, coach Brady Hoke may not be around to watch it much longer, either.

Michigan turned in yet another listless effort at the Big House and surrendered the Little Brown Jug for only the fourth time since 1968. As a large, unhappy and shockingly quiet crowd looked on, the Wolverines fell behind an opponent they have historically dominated. The program’s 26-10 rain-delayed home loss to Utah last week was embarrassing, but understandable. Getting run off the field and looking unprepared against the Golden Gophers is unforgivable.

Hoke tried a new quarterback (redshirt freshman Shane Morris) in an attempt to awaken the offense from a season-long slump. It didn’t work. Morris struggled to complete passes, threw a pick-six and took several enormous licks -- he was trotted back on the field despite looking wobbly and disoriented -- before Devin Gardner was eventually put in to replace him. The Wolverines’ attack was outgained 381-183. Their defense looked helpless as Minnesota fed running back David Cobb 32 times for 183 yards and appeared to concede on a series of misdirection plays. -- Gabriel Baumgaertner

​​For a complete recap and analysis of Michigan's loss over Minnesota, read Gabriel Baumgaertner's column on the defeat.

No. 16 Stanford 20, Washington 13

Washington’s defense responded time and time again as every other aspect of the team left it in a hole. The Huskies defense held Stanford to a field goal after Ty Montgomery returned the opening kickoff to the Washington 35-yard line. It held the Cardinal scoreless after the Huskies turned the ball over on downs at the Washington 46. And with Stanford driving for the go-ahead score at the start of the fourth quarter, the Huskies forced a fumble at their own 16-yard line to preserve a 13-13 tie.

Unfortunately for Washington, it asked its defense for one too many bailouts, and Stanford finally broke through to secure a 20-13 victory in Seattle. Midway through the fourth quarter, coach Chris Petersen opted for a fake punt at the Washington 41, gambling because the Huskies offense hadn’t produced points since its first drive of the second quarter. The gamble failed, and Stanford capitalized on the short field for the winning touchdown, a five-yard scramble from quarterback Kevin Hogan.

Stanford’s defense was equally dominant Saturday, matching the Huskies stop for stop. The Cardinal held Washington quarterback Cyler Miles to 98 passing yards, and the Huskies gained just 81 yards on the ground on 38 carries. Had the Cardinal managed even a semblance of similar execution on offense, they could have won in a rout.

Instead, the Huskies’ defense did everything it could to keep the team in the game, picking off Hogan once and recovering two fumbles, the first of which linebacker Shaq Thompson returned 32 yards for a score. But the standout defensive effort could only carry Washington so far. Petersen will have to answer for a disastrous fake call, and the Huskies’ offense can only relive its wasted opportunities. -- Colin Becht

No. 12 Georgia 35, Tennessee 32

Georgia needed three yards on Saturday. The Bulldogs called on No. 3, and Todd Gurley delivered.

Gurley converted a fourth-and-three with just over a minute remaining to prevent Tennessee from gaining a final possession. With the chains moved, No. 12 Georgia ran out the clock on a 35-32 win. It prevented further chaos in a wild SEC East.

The Bulldogs needed some help in this one, benefiting from a seven-point gift in the fourth quarter. Trailing 28-25 with 4:38 remaining, Volunteers quarterback Justin Worley took the snap from Tennessee’s one-yard line and botched his handoff to tailback Jalen Hurd. Georgia’s Josh Dawson recovered the ball in the end zone to put the Dawgs ahead by 10 points.

But the Vols weren’t done. Worley, who sat out three second-half drives with an elbow injury, led Tennessee 58 yards in seven plays capped by a touchdown pass to Marquez North. After Georgia recovered the onside kick, offensive coordinator Mike Bobo didn’t get fancy. The Dawgs ran Gurley on their final six plays. The junior tailback finished with a career-high 208 rushing yards (7.4 per carry) with two touchdowns. He reeled off 138 in the second half.

Georgia’s shot at reaching the SEC title game would’ve looked bleak with a loss to the Vols. Coach Mark Richt’s crew already dropped a game to South Carolina, and two losses would've been nearly impossible to overcome. But with this narrow victory over the up-and-coming Vols, the Bulldogs are alive for now. -- ZE

Northwestern 29, Penn State 6

The silver lining for Northwestern throughout its uninspiring 1-2 start was that it had yet to begin Big Ten play. On Saturday, in a game that could go a long way toward reversing their season, the Wildcats opened the conference slate with a 29-6 win at previously unbeaten Penn State.

Northwestern’s offense looked energized early after sluggish performances in losses to Cal and Northern Illinois and a win over Western Illinois. The Wildcats spread the ball around to 10 different receivers, as quarterback Trevor Siemian found holes in the Nittany Lions’ secondary. Even though Penn State was able to slow Northwestern’s attack in the second half, the Wildcats' two first-quarter touchdowns provided a large enough cushion. A pick-six from linebacker Anthony Walker late in the third quarter and a forced fumble that led to a field goal in the fourth helped seal the deal.

Nittany Lions quarterback Christian Hackenberg never seemed comfortable, in part because Penn State’s offensive line had a hard time dealing with pressure. The Wildcats recorded four sacks, compared to just one for the Nittany Lions. Penn State’s line couldn’t open up holes for the running game, increasing the burden on Hackenberg. The sophomore finished 22 of 45 for 216 yards. At one point Hackenberg and running back Bill Belton were seen arguing on the sidelines.

This is a tough loss for a Penn State team that entered this weekend 4-0. It will need to regroup before visiting Michigan and hosting Ohio State in consecutive games. Meanwhile, few teams in the country were more in need of a big win than Northwestern. The Wildcats delivered that with an impressive effort, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. -- Chris Johnson