Saturday Snaps: Breaking down the best of Week 9 in college football

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No. 14 ASU 24, Washington 10

Washington couldn’t do anything on offense against Arizona State on Saturday, so it took the defense for the Huskies to get back in the game. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough. Taylor Kelly hit Gary Chambers for the go-ahead touchdown and the Sun Devils staved off an upset by Washington to hold on, 24-10.

Arizona State seemed in control with a 10-0 lead in the third quarter before defense struck for Washington. John Timu picked off Kelly for a 63-yard touchdown return, and suddenly it was a 10-7 ballgame in Seattle.

Midway through the final period, Cameron Van Winkle knocked in a 23-yard field goal to knot the game at 10-10. But the Sun Devils responded by driving 75 yards in nine plays and capping the series with Kelly’s 7-yard pass to Chambers.

The Huskies, who averaged just 4.0 yards per play, had one final shot with about a minute left. That's when Arizona State’s Armand Perry intercepted Washington quarterback Troy Williams on fourth-and-25 and returned it 61 yards for a touchdown. That sealed a 24-10 victory.

Arizona State got the win, but it might’ve come at a cost. Kelly took a hard hit after his touchdown toss to Chambers, and the coaching staff took his helmet on the sideline in the final moments. If Kelly suffered a concussion-related injury, his status for the future may be in doubt. That could be tough news for a team that faces ranked foes Utah and Notre Dame in the next two weeks. -- Zac Ellis

No. 19 Utah 24, No. 20 USC 21

All USC needed was a first down. But in a game of inches, that’s all it took for the Trojans to lose on Saturday.

USC failed to convert a fourth down late in the game and Utah's ensuing drive resulted in a game-winning touchdown. The No. 19 Utes took home a 24-21 win over the No. 20 Trojans on Saturday night in Salt Lake City.

With 2:08 to play, USC coach Steve Sarkisian opted to gamble on a fourth-and-two from the Utes’ 28-yard line. If the Trojans converted, they would likely be able to run out the clock with a 21-17 lead. But receiver Nelson Agholor scampered left and stepped out of bound one yard short of the first-down marker. In turn, Utah got the ball back on its own 27-yard line. 

Utes’ quarterback Travis Wilson responded by leading his team on a 11-play, 73-yard drive and capped it off by hitting Kaelin Clay for a 1-yard touchdown, giving Utah a 24-21 lead with just eight seconds left. USC had one more shot. With just one second left in the game, quarterback Cody Kessler dropped back for a Hail Mary – all too common in the Pac-12 -- but Utah sacked Kessler to seal the win.

Sarkisian will likely catch flack for his fourth-down gamble, but the play call was a smart one. Agholor simply stepped out of bounds a yard short. USC was the more efficient team on offense (5.2 yards per play compared to the Utes’ 4.6), and only one yard prevented the Trojans from celebrating a three-game winning streak.

Instead, it was Utah that clinched its third straight victory. It comes at a good time, too, as the Utes prepare to face Arizona State, Oregon and Stanford in consecutive weeks. They’ll have to play a more complete game against that competition, but getting past the Trojans is a good first step for a team with a 3-1 conference record. -- ZE

No. 13 Ohio State 31, Penn State 24 (2OT)

Penn State used 17 unanswered points in the second half to force overtime against Ohio State, but the Buckeyes rallied to win, 31-24, in Happy Valley on Saturday night. Despite falling behind 17-0, the Nittany Lions managed to put a scare into Ohio State before Joey Bosa clinched the Buckeyes with a sack on fourth down in double overtime.

Ohio State didn’t need quarterback J.T. Barrett to do a whole lot early, with the defense rolling and the ground game functioning as the focal point against the Nittany Lions. But defensive tackle Anthony Zettel’s critical pick-six with 13:37 left in the third quarter gave Penn State some much-needed energy on a night when the Nittany Lions were dragging offensively. Barrett’s second interception with 13:34 to play in the game reignited the Penn State crowd.

The redshirt freshman had been close to flawless in Ohio State’s four previous games, but he’s still not quite an experienced vet, and it showed in a hostile environment -- it likely didn’t help that Barrett sprained his knee at the end of the first half, according to coach Urban Meyer. Barrett finished the night 12-of-19 for 74 yards, a touchdown and those two picks, but he used his legs to make things happen in crunch time. He rushed for touchdowns in the first and second overtime periods and had 75 yards on the ground for the night. -- Martin Rickman

No. 24 LSU 10, No. 3 Ole Miss 7

No. 24 LSU proved again Saturday why it’s hard to win a night game in Death Valley. The Tigers scored on a late drive and stepped up on defense to grab a 10-7 win over previously unbeaten Ole Miss.

Down 7-3 with 11:06 to play, LSU set up shop at its own 5-yard line. The Tigers needed to move down the entire field against one of the toughest defenses in the country late in a game in which they hadn’t reached the end zone through three-plus quarters.

But Ole Miss’s defense, seemingly gassed, couldn’t get LSU off the field. The Tigers’ rushing duo of Kenny Hilliard and Leonard Fournette spearheaded a 13-play, 95-yard drive that included 12 straight runs. Once LSU reached the Ole Miss 3-yard line, Anthony Jennings dropped back and hit Logan Stokes from three yards out for the go-ahead score.

The Tigers dared Ole Miss and its front seven to stop their running game, and the Rebels couldn’t do it. This was the LSU power run game we'd come to expect in years past. -- ZE

• ELLIS: Clutch late drive stout defense spur LSU upset of Ole Miss

No. 5 Auburn 42, South Carolina 35

While LSU and Ole Miss scraped for points in a defensive showdown in Baton Rouge, two of college football’s finest offensive minds compiled one of the SEC’s most entertaining games this year some 420 miles northeast in Auburn. Steve Spurrier and Gus Malzahn each drew up masterful gameplans -- highlighting the talents of their star players and keeping both defenses on their heels throughout the course of Auburn’s 42-35 win over South Carolina.

Tigers quarterback Nick Marshall continued his spectacular season, finishing with 228 yards of total offense and four touchdowns (one throwing, three rushing). Running back Cameron Artis-Payne, one of the most unheralded contributors in the SEC, compiled his fifth game of 100-plus yards rushing, finishing with 166 rushing yards and one touchdown.

Initially, South Carolina seemed well-positioned to pull an upset. Dylan Thompson (who played the most active game of his career, finishing with 383 yards, five touchdowns and three interceptions) drilled Shaq Roland with a 32-yard touchdown pass on the game’s first possession but was intercepted by Auburn’s Cassanova McKinzy inside the red zone to deny the Gamecocks an opportunity to take a 14-0 lead. After Auburn tied the game at seven on a Nick Marshall touchdown pass to Brandon Fulse, the game became a back-and-forth tilt that featured five ties and five lead changes.

South Carolina running back Mike Davis, regarded as a preseason Heisman candidate, flashed the speed and strength that was supposed to make the South Carolina offense one of the conference’s best. With Pharoh Cooper racking up 127 yards receiving and two touchdowns, one wonders why South Carolina has endured so many struggles on offense this season, especially under Spurrier’s direction. The Gamecocks converted their first five fourth downs in the game, an astonishing streak that was derailed when Spurrier daringly went for a 4th-and-14 from Auburn 19 down 42-35.

Auburn’s defense showed some leaks, but those had more to do with South Carolina’s expert playcalling than any major defensive issues. The Tigers now travel to Ole Miss, fresh off of its loss to LSU, in a high-profile SEC showdown. Auburn’s quick-strike offense against the Rebels’ rangy, punishing defense could be one of the top matchups of the year. -- Gabriel Baumgaertner

No. 4 Alabama 34, Tennessee 20

Alabama couldn’t have asked for a better start in its visit to Tennessee. After making some noise of their own, the Volunteers couldn’t muster a comeback and fell 34-20.

No. 4 Alabama topped Tennessee thanks to its early offensive success, which was fitting considering the occasion. Saturday marked the first return of offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin to Knoxville since the former Tennessee head coach left the Vols in 2010. Kiffin didn’t enjoy a warm reception, but his offense had little trouble handling Tennessee’s defense.

Alabama’s first play from scrimmage was an 80-yard touchdown pass from Blake Sims to Amari Cooper. The Crimson Tide scored on its next two possessions to take a 20-0 lead. Sims ran in a 28-yard touchdown on his team’s first series in the second quarter for a 27-0 cushion. By all accounts, Alabama was in total control.

But Tennessee made things interesting. After coach Butch Jones subbed in backup quarterback Josh Dobbs in place of starter Nathan Peterman, the Vols closed the gap to 27-10 by half. Dobbs hit Josh Malone for a 9-yard pass midway through the third quarter pull within 10.

The Tide responded in kind, however, with a 28-yard touchdown run from Derrick Henry to give Alabama a 34-17 lead. Dobbs and the Vols’ offense didn’t have enough juice to keep up after that.

Cooper and Sims formed a lethal duo again for Alabama. Cooper, who caught nine passes for 224 yards and 2 TDs, became the first player in team history with two 200-yard receiving games in a single season. Sims, meanwhile, completed 14-of-24 passes for 286 yards and two touchdowns. The Crimson Tide’s defense controlled Tennessee’s inexperienced offensive line, as well, and kept the Vols from extending drives in the second half.

Alabama’s offense has seemingly returned to a dangerous level in its last two games after scoring just 14 in a win over Arkansas and 17 in a loss to Ole Miss. Now the Tide will have to travel to LSU on Nov. 8, which is suddenly a much more intriguing matchup after the Tigers’ upset of Ole Miss on Saturday. -- ZE

No. 15 Arizona 59, Washington State 37

This game would be notable for the offensive outburst, but in this year’s Pac-12, 96 combined points merely blends in. That doesn’t make it unimpressive, especially Arizona’s outburst that gave the Wildcats a 31-0 lead en route to a 59-37 victory over Washington State.

Arizona struck before its offense could even do any damage as Jordan Dascalo returned a punt off of Washington State’s opening possession 53 yards for a score. Anu Solomon followed with three touchdown passes to quickly distance the Wildcats from the Cougars. The redshirt< freshman quarterback finished 26-of-38 for 294 yards with five touchdowns, each to a different receiver.

With Washington State trailing for nearly the entire game, Mike Leach’s Air Raid attack transformed to an even higher level as Connor Halliday attempted 79 passes, 16.5 passes above his already record-setting average. Halliday completed 56 of those attempts, gaining 489 yards and four touchdowns, but he could never get the Cougars closer than 15 points.

Arizona’s win puts the pressure on Arizona State, USC and Utah to keep pace in the Pac-12 South with the Wildcats, who still have just one loss in conference play. Arizona finishes its regular season with matchups against the Utes and the Sun Devils, so the Wildcats should have a significant say in their final conference standing. -- Colin Becht

No. 1 Mississippi State 45, Kentucky 31

Around 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, the caravan of Mississippi State team buses rolled down University Ave. toward Kentucky’s Commonwealth Stadium. The undefeated Bulldogs were at last taking their No. 1 ranking for a ride, having spent the previous weekend on a bye, allowing everyone to wonder how they might handle their new standing: With a clang, or with a thud?

After a 45-31 victory over Kentucky, there might not be easy answers. The Bulldogs clung to a one-score lead entering the fourth quarter, but they ultimately survived behind timely plays from a previously shaky defense and big runs from tailback Josh Robinson. It wasn’t near perfect, but it was a win, and whether that’s enough depends on your perspective.

The 5-foot-9 Bulldogs tailback with thighs as thick as sewer pipes will carry the ball. He’ll probably carry a few defenders with him. And, sometimes, he’ll look like a guy who could tow a jackknifed tractor-trailer out of a muddy highway median. Robinson finished with 198 yards on 23 carries, and while Mississippi State justifiably rides quarterback Dak Prescott, its Heisman Trophy candidate, Robinson revved hotter as the engine on Saturday.

The drive that led to a Prescott touchdown and a 24-10 lead in the third quarter was jump-started by three straight Robinson runs totaling 34 yards. Then came what was thought to be his highlight of the day: A run where he started to his left, bounced off seven tacklers, then reversed field and bolted around the edge for 22 yards while carrying a few Kentucky tacklers on his back for the last few paces. That fueled the drive that put Mississippi State up 31-17.

That was thought to be his highlight of the day, however, because the knockout blow came later. Robinson stormed through the line and an arm tackle and then cut back many yards down the field, all the way to a 73-yard touchdown run with 11:46 left to play. It made it 38-24 and seemed to drain all the energy from the place. On its first three touchdown drives, Mississippi State spread its play-calling evenly: 18 rushes, 14 passes. It grew increasingly clear as the day wore on that a little imbalance and a lot of Robinson might have been the better plan all along. -- Brian Hamilton

​ HAMILTON: Mississippi State outlasts Kentucky to remain unbeaten

No. 10 TCU 82, Texas Tech 27

TCU pushed on the gas pedal against Texas Tech and simply didn’t let up. The Horned Frogs scored 45 points in the second half to overwhelm the Red Raiders in an 82-27 win. Yes, you read that score correctly.

TCU’s offense didn’t waste much time before taking complete control in the second quarter. After Texas Tech’s Ryan Bustin knocked in a 38-yard field goal with 8:35 until halftime, the Red Raiders trailed TCU 31-20. The Horned Frogs’ rout was on from that point.

Quarterback Trevone Boykin and his offense scored 30 unanswered points over the span of eight minutes, exploding the margin into a 61-20 lead by the middle of the third quarter.

Texas Tech didn’t help its case with four turnovers, including three in the first half from quarterback Davis Webb. But the Red Raiders defense just didn’t have an answer for the TCU offense. Boykin completed 22 of 39 passes for a career-high 433 yards and a TCU-record seven touchdowns. The Frogs finished with 785 yards of offense and a whopping 9.1 yards per play, a mark aided by 305 rushing yards.

TCU’s offense is the theme of its season so far and a complete transformation from a year ago. Co-offensive coordinators Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie have done a remarkable job of turning around this unit and helping mold Boykin in a viable quarterback. That’s why coach Gary Patterson’s squad looks like the most dangerous team in the Big 12 race. TCU’s biggest remaining tests will come in the next two weeks in consecutive games against a hot West Virginia team and Kansas State. -- ZE

No. 22 West Virginia 34, Oklahoma State 10

No. 22 West Virginia continued its growth into a surprise Big 12 contender with a 34-10 win over Oklahoma State on Saturday.

The Mountaineers, fresh off an upset of No. 5 Baylor in Morgantown, kept the Cowboys scoreless in the second half to win their fourth consecutive game. Dana Holgorsen’s crew received contributions from a number of players, including quarterback Clint Trickett, who completed 21 of 30 passes for 238 yards and two touchdowns. Wendell Smallwood ran 23 times for 132 yards and Mario Alford caught seven passes for 136 yards and one score. But the defense also did its job, holding Oklahoma State to 2-for-14 on third down.

West Virginia looked in control early as Trickett connected on touchdowns passes of 19 and 79 yards in the first quarter. But Oklahoma State owned the second quarter, cutting the lead to 14-10 at halftime. Despite committing only one turnover and failing to convert a third down, the Cowboys trailed by only four points at intermission.

That’s when the Mountaineers turned up their defensive pressure. Oklahoma State managed just 133 yards of offense after halftime and surrendered a key turnover late. Dravon Henry picked off Cowboys’ quarterback Daxx Garman with 4:44 to play and returned it for a touchdown to balloon the Mountaineers’ lead to 27-10. That ended Oklahoma State’s shot at a late rally.

Suddenly, West Virginia holds a 4-1 record in the Big 12. Next week’s matchup could shake up the conference picture even more. The Mountaineers face TCU in a meeting of high-powered offenses next Saturday.

Despite hot-seat talk during the offseason, Holgorsen< has his team clicking midway through the season. It still has plenty to prove against the Horned Frogs – and later against Kansas State – but this is obviously a different Mountaineers team than the one that struggled last year. -- ZE

No. 8 Michigan State 35, Michigan 3

Michigan State took care of business Saturday against in-state rival Michigan in a 35-3 win that says a lot more about the No. 8 Spartans right now than it does Michigan. The Wolverines are reeling and likely aren’t a bowl team. But the way the Spartans were able to maintain focus and dominate all over the board showed that Michigan State is locked in, which is certainly a good thing leading into its showdown with Ohio State in a couple weeks.

Rivalry games are weird, and weird things always happen in them. This was one of those games. Michigan had 37 yards (and minus-five rushing yards) in the first half but trailed just 14-3. The Spartans had 256 yards, but a missed field goal after a long drive and a fumble recovered by Michigan (the Wolverines’ first recovered fumble and just their fourth takeaway this season) kept the margin closer than it otherwise would have been.

The Spartans’ second-half performance got closer to what Mark Dantonio likely wanted. Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner threw a pick-six to RJ Williamson to put Michigan State up 21-3, and Michigan’s offense continued to run headfirst into a brick wall at every opportunity until a touchdown late in the fourth quarter. The Spartans finished with a 446-186 advantage in yards and held the Wolverines to 3.9 yards per passing attempt and 2.3 yards per rush. -- MR

​ RICKMAN: Michigan State trounces Michigan, awaits Ohio State

No. 11 Kansas State 23, Texas 0

It may not be flashy, but Kansas State is still unbeaten in Big 12 play. The Wildcats improved to 6-1 (4-0) after stifling the Longhorns in the Little Apple.

Bill Snyder’s team did what Bill Snyder-coached teams do best: It limited mistakes and steadily wore down its opponent. Kansas State committed just three penalties for 25 yards. Texas had seven for 66. The Wildcats also dominated the time of possession battle 39:14 to 20:46 and received strong showings from quarterback Jake Waters (who played through an injured shoulder) and a stout but underrated defense that held the ‘Horns to an average of just 3.78 yards per play.

A week after surviving a back-and-forth affair in a 31-30 victory over Oklahoma, Kansas State was firmly in control of this one from the get-go. It handed the Longhorns their first shutout loss since Oct. 9, 2004.

Texas, meanwhile, continues to show inconsistent flashes under coach Charlie Strong. The defense made two impressive red-zone stops in the first quarter, and tackle Malcom Brown looked, again, like one of the best at his position in the nation. But quarterback Tyrone Swoopes was largely inaccurate, a thin offensive line was manhandled -- it didn’t help when Kent Perkins went out with an injury on the Longhorns' opening series -- and the offense coughed up a costly turnover, a fumble on an attempted reverse midway through the third quarter. Texas could be scary if its offense clicks. However, it’s clear that’s a long way from happening.

Moving forward, it’s up to Kansas State to stay in the thick of the College Football Playoff chase. The Wildcats' next three games come against Oklahoma State (Nov. 1), at TCU (Nov. 8) and at West Virginia (Nov. 20). -- Ben Glicksman

No. 16 Nebraska 42, Rutgers 24

For Rutgers to have stood a chance at Nebraska, it had to stop Ameer Abdullah. It couldn’t make that happen. The Cornhuskers dynamic tailback gashed the Scarlet Knights for a program-record 341 all-purpose yards in a 42-24 win on Saturday.

Abdullah, whose 146.3-yard rushing average ranked fourth nationally entering this week, reached that number by halftime. He carried 16 times for 149 yards with two scores by the break as Nebraska built a 21-7 lead. He finished with 225 rushing yards at 11.8 yards per carry. He added 26 receiving yards and 90 return yards.

Rutgers’ chance at a second-half rally took a hit when quarterback Gary Nova limped to the sideline at the end of the second quarter. Nova, who suffered an apparent leg injury, did not return. Backup Chris Laviano led the Knights to three second-half scoring drives, but the defense couldn’t stop Abdullah and quarterback Tommy Armstrong. The Huskers tallied 455 yards of offense, on 7.2 yards per play.

Abdullah remains one of the top non-quarterback candidates for the Heisman Trophy. He now has 1,249 rushing yards with 17 rushing touchdowns. The one blemish on his résumé is a poor performance in the Huskers’ biggest game to date, as he managed just 45 yards on 24 carries in a 27-22 loss to Michigan State on Oct. 4. That could hurt him in the race, but his overall stats could make up for it.

Now 7-1 overall and 3-1 in league play, Nebraska remains in the hunt to win the Big Ten West Division. After playing Purdue next week, it will face Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa in consecutive weeks. -- ZE

North Carolina 28, Virginia 27

Virtually every ACC Coastal matchup is important in the division race, but North Carolina’s 28-27 road win over Virginia feels especially critical. The Tar Heels took a step forward last week and stopped their slide against Georgia Tech with a 48-43 win. They kept themselves alive in the division by stealing one in Charlottesville on Saturday. North Carolina is now 2-2 in conference play and 4-4 overall and needs just two wins in its last four games to become bowl eligible.

The Cavaliers appeared in control and driving up 27-21, but quarterback Greyson Lambert missed a defender in plain sight, throwing an interception right to defensive tackle Nazair Jones with just over six minutes remaining. A few plays later, North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky threw a 16-yard score to Mack Hollins (two catches, 120 yards, two touchdowns) to put the Tar Heels up 28-27. Hollins then recovered a surprise onside kick on the next play.

Virginia did enough on its defensive possession to force a field goal try, but the Cavaliers got a penalty for 12 men on the field after a timeout, which allowed UNC to run out the clock to seal the win. -- MR

Wisconsin 52, Maryland 7

Despite looking shaky in recent weeks, the Badgers would like the rest of the Big Ten to know they are still contenders. They nearly blanked Maryland in a 52-7 beatdown on Saturday, stuffing everything the Terrapins had to offer, including a stretch of nine straight three-and-outs. Maryland finished with just 175 total yards and 10 first downs.

The Wisconsin offense matched its defense’s dominance, as Heisman candidate Melvin Gordon carried 22 times for 122 yards with three touchdowns, each coming in the first half. While the Badgers' offensive struggles have primarily stemmed from poor passing, quarterback Joel Stave showed nice touch, going 9 of 15 for 155 yards with two scores. Though Tanner McEvoy lacks Stave’s arm, he took a zone read 60 yards to the end zone.

This was a game that, given the Badgers’ inconsistencies, seemed likely to be competitive. It was anything but. Just ask Maryland mascot Testudo.

With only one conference loss, Wisconsin is very much alive in the Big Ten West. The Badgers finish their regular season with matchups against Nebraska, Iowa and Minnesota. Coach Gary Andersen’s team is set for a very interesting November. -- Colin Becht