Saturday Snaps: Breaking down the best of Week 11 in college football

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No. 4 Oregon 51, Utah 27

Marcus Mariota routinely turns tough situations into scoring opportunities, and the Oregon quarterback came through when it counted once again on Saturday. Thanks to Mariota’s late efforts, the No. 3 Ducks got past No. 17 Utah 51-27 in Salt Late City.

With Oregon nursing a slim three-point lead in the fourth quarter, its offense shot itself in the foot with penalties and faced a second-and-25. Instead of stalling, Mariota hit Dwayne Stanford for a 34-yard touchdown pass to get the Ducks out of a jam and inflate their lead to 37-27 with 10:29 to play. It was the first of three straight scoring drives the Ducks used to seal the game.

The score won’t reflect it, but Utah missed a chance to seize momentum early in this contest. Utes’ receiver Kaelin Clay caught a Travis Wilson pass and took it 78 yards for a touchdown to give his team a 14-0 lead in the second quarter. But Clay unknowingly fumbled the ball before crossing the goal line, and Oregon’s Joe Walker picked it up and took it 100 yards the other direction while Clay celebrated. Walker’s score knotted the game at 7-7, and the Utes never truly regained momentum.

Oregon scored another 17 points after that touchdown to take a 24-10 lead to the half. Wilson, who threw for 296 yards and two touchdowns, eventually helped the Utes climb back to 30-27, but Mariota engineered two late scoring drives to stay in control while the Ducks’ defense limited Utah’s offense.

Traveling to Salt Lake City is no easy task for a Pac-12 team, especially one whose offensive line has suffered a string of injuries this year. Even on Saturday, Oregon’s veteran center, HronissGrasu, left with an injury in the second half. Mariota remains the likely frontrunner for the Heisman Trophy right now, and his candidacy is even more remarkable when considering what little protection he’s had this year. He finished with 353 total yards and four total touchdowns against the Utes.

As a team, Oregon had to have this win to stay in the playoff conversation. Its only remaining regular-season games are Colorado and Oregon State. With the victory, the Ducks clinched the Pac-12 North title, which means they'll play in the conference title game. A win there should punch this team's playoff ticket. -- Zac Ellis

No. 5 Alabama 20, No. 16 LSU 13 (OT)

When Alabama and LSU meet, they usually put on a show. That was the case again on Saturday, as the Crimson Tide edged the Tigers 20-13 in overtime.

As soon as LSU sophomore quarterback Anthony Jennings’ fourth-and-10 pass attempt fell incomplete in overtime, it became abundantly clear: Alabama (8-1) is in the driver’s seat for a spot in the inaugural College Football Playoff.

How did we get here? Well, the SEC’s best have recently beaten up on one another. Ole Miss was undefeated before falling to LSU and Auburn in consecutive games. Auburn lost to Mississippi State and Texas A&M, while LSU dropped games to Mississippi State, Auburn and Alabama.

Alabama, with just one loss, at Ole Miss on Oct. 4, was ranked No. 5 in the selection committee’s rankings last Tuesday. Following No. 3 Auburn’s 41-38 loss to Texas A&M on Saturday, it should move into the top four. But the road ahead won’t be easy: Bama hosts Mississippi State next week and Auburn on Nov. 29.

The Crimson Tide have a lot left to do, but they’re in familiar November position. -- Ben Glicksman

• GLICKSMAN: Alabama beats LSU to keep playoff hopes alive

No. 14 Ohio State 49, No. 8 Michigan State 37

Ohio State wanted to remind the country of its potential Saturday, and that message came through loud and clear against Michigan State. The No. 14 Buckeyes sunk the eighth-ranked Spartans for the ninth time in 11 games, 49-37, in East Lansing.

Braxton who? That’s a question many Buckeye fans have asked this season, and their quarterback proved why once again Saturday.

Barrett, who has started all season in place of an injured Braxton Miller, was the best player on the field against Michigan State. The Big Ten's leader in total offense (294 yards per game) shined on his biggest stage of the season, completing 16-of-26 passes for 300 yards with three touchdowns and rushing for 86 yards and two more scores. He threw two touchdown passes within the final four minutes in the first half to help Ohio State rally from behind and enter intermission with a 28-21 lead, from which it never looked back.

Barrett was a relative unknown at the beginning of the season, but the quarterback might be the most dynamic player in the Big Ten right now. For a Buckeyes team looking to make a last-ditch playoff case, that’s just what it needs. -- ZE

• ELLIS: J.T. Barrett leads Ohio State to critical win over Michigan State

No. 6 TCU 41, No. 7 Kansas State 20

In what may wind up as the Big 12’s unofficial championship game and an elimination game for the College Football Playoff, No. 6 TCU proved it is on another level. Quarterback Trevone Boykin and the Horned Frogs controlled their matchup with No. 7 Kansas State, piling on the points in a 41-20 win.

TCU’s offense has been inconsistent and sometimes out of sync (just reference last week’s 31-30 win over West Virginia), but when the Horned Frogs are clicking offensively, they might be the most fearsome attack in the country.

Boykin amazed, racking up four total touchdowns (one passing, three rushing) as he built on his darkhorse Heisman campaign by terrorizing a sturdy Kansas State defense. The junior contributed perhaps his top highlight of an already electrifying season by flipping into the end zone for a rushing score.

But what was most impressive was Boykin’s decision-making. He didn’t commit a turnover, and consistently made the correct choice to either extend the play and pass or to tuck the ball and run. The result was nicely balanced statline with 23-of-34 passing for 219 yards and 17 rushes for 123 yards.

The college football world has seen plenty of powerful offenses led by dynamic quarterbacks. What separates TCU is its diversity of weapons. Even with running back B.J. Catalon out, Aaron Green stepped up to punish the Wildcats. Green carried 18 times for 171 yards, including a 65-yard score that helped pushed the game out of reach. Despite facing a potent Kansas State defense that held Auburn to just 20 points, the Horned Frogs racked up 6.8 yards per play and almost scored at will. -- Colin Becht

• BECHT: TCU looks playoff-bound after dominant win over Kansas State

No. 18 UCLA 44, Washington 30

It wasn’t even three months ago that pundits chatted about Brett Hundley as a potential Heisman winner and UCLA as a playoff contender. That was before the Bruins took a snap. Before the lackadaisical performance to open the season at Virginia, before the inexplicably close shave against Memphis, before Hundley was sacked 10 times against Utah.

Some consider the Bruins the most disappointing team in college football this season. They are heavily penalized, they (somehow) blew out Arizona State but played nailbiters against inferior squads (Memphis, Cal, Colorado). But on Saturday, the UCLA that the pundits expected to see all year arrived in Washington … in the tenth game of the season.

Hundley finished 29-for-36 for 302 yards passing with two touchdowns, and Myles Jack made one of the most electrifying plays of the year as the Bruins traveled to Seattle and thrashed Washington 44-30 on Saturday.

While UCLA remains on the outside looking in at the Pac-12 South race (Arizona State is now the prohibitive favorite after its dominant win over Notre Dame), the Bruins finally showcased their versatility on offense. Washington received another outstanding offensive performance from Shaq Thompson (16 carries, 100 yards) but couldn’t keep pace with UCLA’s attack.

Remember that UCLA, for all its unsatisfactory play, has still only lost two games. And if Arizona State slips up between now and the end of the season, the Bruins could be back in a conversation they haven’t been in since September. -- Gabriel Baumgaertner

No. 2 Florida State 34, Virginia 20

Florida State again found itself having to rally from an early deficit against an ACC foe. And once again, the Seminoles managed to survive. Jameis Winston shook off two interceptions to help his team overcome trouble against Virginia and win 34-20 in Tallahassee. 

Cavaliers quarterback Greyson Lambert threw two touchdown passes in the first quarter to put Florida State in an early 13-7 hole. But the ‘Noles owned the second quarter, where they ballooned their lead to 28-13 at halftime thanks to two Winston touchdowns before the break. 

The Wahoos weren’t done, however. Florida State’s Dalvin Cook coughed up a fumble in his team’s territory with less than nine minutes to play in the third quarter, which Virgina recovered at the ‘Noles’ 23-yard line. One play later, Lambert hit Canaan Severin in the end zone to cut Florida State’s lead to 28-20.

Winston and his offense responded by driving for two straight field goals from Roberto Aguayo. Meanwhile, the ‘Noles’ defense kept Virginia stymied.

Winston finished 22-of-35 for 261 yards, one touchdown and two picks while receiver Rashad Greene caught 13 balls for 136 yards and one score against a strong Virginia defense. Florida State remained unbeaten and in the playoff hunt with only games against Miami, Boston College and Florida remaining. Even with Saturday’s loss by Notre Dame, which is arguably Florida State’s best win, it’d likely take a Seminoles loss to keep them out of the nation’s top four teams. -- ZE

Texas A&M 41, No. 3 Auburn 38

The magic that defined Auburn’s 2013 season was nowhere to be found in Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday. Texas A&M recovered two fumbles in the fourth quarter and halted the third-ranked Tigers’ late rally to steal a 41-38 win on the Plains.

Momentum seemed to be trending Auburn’s way late in the fourth quarter. That didn’t stop Gus Malzahn’s team from giving the game away.

The Tigers fumbled the ball twice in their final four offensive snaps to squash any shot at a comeback against Texas A&M. As quarterback Nick Marshall and the offense knocked on the door of the end zone trailing 41-38 with 2:37 to play,Marshall botched a handoff to running back Cameron Artis-Payne on second-and-goal. Texas A&M recovered and seemingly had the game in hand.

However, the Aggies went three-and-out and punted from deep in their own end zone, giving Malzhan’s squad one final shot to inch into field-goal range or strike for a game-winning touchdown. But bad luck struck again as center Reese Dismukes snapped the ball before Marshall was ready. The snap bounced off Marshall’s legs, and Texas A&M recovered again, allowing the Aggies to kneel out the clock. Malzahn suffered his first home loss as Auburn’s head coach, and surprisingly the offense’s decision-making was to blame. -- ZE

• ​​​ELLIS: Late miscues doom Auburn as Texas A&M steals upset win

No. 9 Arizona State 55, No. 10 Notre Dame 31

Arizona State students camped out at the beginning of the week for the best seats to watch the Sun Devils play Notre Dame. They didn’t really know what to do. Camping out before Arizona State football games is a bit of a foreign concept; some students brought TVs and played NBA 2K15, while others decided to go tanning. One guy had a badminton racket and hit a birdie to a friend without a racket.

Football isn’t the first thing that comes to mind for students in Tempe, and the late arriving crowd reflected that. But they’ll figure it out. They have to. After beating Notre Dame 55-31 on Saturday afternoon, the Sun Devils moved to 8-1 (6-1) and improved their résumé for the College Football Playoff committee. 

As’s very own Lindsay Schnell wrote this week, the Sun Devils’ “path to the playoff is clear, even if Arizona State is again getting largely left out of the national conversation.” The conversation can’t ignore the Sun Devils any longer, not after their matinee showing against the Fighting Irish. Arizona State raced to a 34-3 lead and used a late surge to squash Notre Dame.

Coach Todd Graham’s squad has been very impressive outside of a 62-27 loss to UCLA on Sept. 25, and it should be favored in matchups with Oregon State (Nov. 15) and Washington State (Nov. 22) in the coming weeks. If it avoids a letdown game, it'll look to lock up the Pac-12 South in a clash at Arizona on Nov. 28.

The idea of controlling one’s destiny can be frightening or invigorating. We’ll see how Arizona State handles that reality over the next few weeks. -- Martin Rickman

• ​RICKMAN: Arizona State starts hot, finishes strong to beat Notre Dame

Texas 33, No. 23 West Virginia 16

This was the one Charlie Strong had been waiting for. His Texas defense had performed admirably in most games this season, he just had to wait for the offense to improve. Everything finally came together Saturday, as the Longhorns downed West Virginia 33-16.

Texas built its lead by pounding the ball on the ground anchored by a physical offensive line. Running back Johnathan Gray racked up 101 yards on 10 carries with three scores while teammate Malcolm Brown added 90 yards on 20 carries. Texas got little help from quarterback Tyrone Swoopes, who completed just 11-of-29 passes with one touchdown and an interception, but its ground game was so effective Saturday that Swoopes wasn’t needed.

Since losing to Alabama in its season opener, West Virginia had scored at least 30 points in every game. But the Mountaineers didn’t even reach the end zone until the fourth quarter as Texas held quarterback Clint Trickett to 5.2 yards per attempt. When Dreamius Smith scored West Virginia’s first touchdown, pulling the Mountaineers within 14, the Longhorns defense responded to ensure it preserved the victory. Cedric Reed sacked Trickett in the end zone for a safety and then forced quarterback to fumble on West Virginia’s next possession.

By usual Texas standards, this season will hardly be memorable. But Saturday’s win offered a sign of what Strong can mold the Longhorns into. That’s a valuable indicator looking ahead to Year Two. -- CB

No. 12 Baylor 48, No. 15 Oklahoma 14

History said Baylor faced long odds at Oklahoma on Saturday. The Bears had never won in Norman (0-11 all time) and had never beaten a team ranked in AP Poll on the road under Art Briles (0-11). None of that mattered this time around, though, as Baylor scored the game’s final 45 points to sink the Sooners 48-14.

Oklahoma appeared to be in control when quarterback Trevor Knight hit wide receiver Durron Neal for a nine-yard touchdown to put the Sooners up 14-3 in the first quarter. Meanwhile, quarterback Bryce Petty and Baylor’s offense couldn’t find its rhythm in the early moments.

However, the Bears flipped a switch in the second quarter, on both sides of the ball. After Corey Coleman reeled in a 33-yard score to narrow the deficit to 14-10, Baylor linebacker Bryce Hager picked off Knight and returned it 36 yards to the Oklahoma one-yard line. Devin Chafin punched in a score to give the Bears a 17-14 lead. They didn’t look back, scoring again before the half for a 24-14 edge.

Baylor continued its dominance in the second half, with Petty looking like his usually efficient self. He went 32-of-42 for 387 yards. Since suffering its only loss in a 41-27 defeat at West Virginia on Oct. 18, Baylor has scored 108 points in its last two games. Saturday’s win marks the program’s first road victory over a ranked foe since 1991, snapping a streak of 37 consecutive losses. -- ZE

• ELLIS: Baylor makes its playoff case in rout of Oklahoma

No. 20 Georgia 63, Kentucky 31

Georgia’s loss to Florida last week was shocking, embarrassing and possibly heartbreaking if Missouri hangs on to win the SEC East. So forgive the Bulldogs for having a little edge Saturday. They vented all their frustration against Kentucky, dominating the Wildcats for a 63-31 win.

Georgia began piling it on right from the opening kick as Isaiah McKenzie took the kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown. The Bulldogs opened up a 21-0 lead in the first 10:03 of the game, and while Kentucky briefly made an appearance with 24 points in the second quarter, Georgia’s offense simply never slowed.

Quarterback Hutson Mason contributed his best performance of the season, completing 13-of-16 passes for 174 yards with four touchdowns (yes, he threw more touchdowns than incompletions). Running back Nick Chubb, still filling in for the suspended Todd Gurley, added his fourth straight game with over 140 yards on the ground, gaining 170 yards on 13 carries with one score. Sony Michel saw his first action since breaking a bone in his shoulder against Tennessee and racked up 84 yards on 16 carries with a touchdown. McKenzie wasn’t done after his kick return score, taking a punt 44 yards to the house in the third quarter.

Unfortunately for Georgia, this victory, no matter how lopsided, can’t erase last week’s defeat, when the Bulldogs struggled offensively in their 38-20 loss to Florida. Georgia has the tiebreaker over Missouri but will still need the Tigers to lose to leap back to the top of the SEC East standings.

For Kentucky, a season that began so promisingly with five wins in the Wildcats' five six games has since taken a sharp downward turn. Kentucky has now dropped four straight and will need a road win over Tennessee or Louisville to get to bowl eligibility. Mark Stoops’ team has made definite improvement over last year’s 2-10 squad, but it still has several steps ahead of it before it can compete on a weekly basis in the SEC. -- CB

Minnesota 51, Iowa 14

The Golden Gophers and Hawkeyes squared off in a key Big Ten West Division showdown, and Minnesota delivered an all-around dominant performance. After Iowa took a 7-0 lead early in the first quarter, coach Jerry Kill’s squad rattled off 51 unanswered points, sealing the blowout win before the teams broke for halftime.

The star was redshirt sophomore tight end Maxx Williams, who made five catches for 46 yards with three touchdowns. He made a number of ridiculously difficult grabs, as the 6-foot-4, 250-pounder laid out for four-yard score in the second quarter and reeled in the catch of the day with a 25-yard gain along the sidelines.

Watch that catch again. Williams’ footwork seems to defy the laws of physics.

Minnesota improves to 7-2 (4-1) heading into a formidable closing stretch: The Gophers host Ohio State (Nov. 15) before playing at Nebraska (Nov. 22) and at Wisconsin (Nov. 29) to end the regular season. -- BG