What looked like a sleepy day in college football found a fifth gear late on Saturday night as Penn State upset No. 2 Ohio State and LSU running back Leonard Fournette ran all over the Ole Miss secondary in his return from injury. Here are the key takeaways from Week 8:
It never felt like the Buckeyes were in serious jeopardy of losing to Penn State on Saturday night. A 21–7 lead in the third quarter felt safe, and Penn State’s offense trudged along but rarely threatened. But the Nittany Lions brought it to within a touchdown early in the fourth quarter and cut the lead to four just four minutes later.
And then Grant Haley returned a blocked Ohio State field goal 60 yards to give the Nittany Lions a 24–21 lead that they wouldn’t surrender.
Alabama remains the king
When Texas A&M took a 14–13 lead over Alabama in the third quarter, some may have thought the Tide were ripe for an upset against the No. 6 team in the nation. Whoever thought that thought wrong. With the help of its ninth defensive touchdown of the season and yet another standout performance from freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts, the Tide dominated the Aggies in the second half for a 33–14 win in Tuscaloosa, further solidifying their status as the No. 1 team in the nation.
Factor in Ohio State’s shocking loss, and it’s clear that nobody appears to be in Alabama’s orbit in 2016. The defense routinely brutalizes any opponent that enters its path, Hurts gives the offense a dual-threat quarterback that it hasn’t had in the past six seasons, and receivers Calvin Ridley and ArDarius Stewart are fearsome deep threats that keep any thinking defense out of press coverage. Defenders Reuben Foster, Tim Williams, Jonathan Allen (who scored his second TD of the season on Saturday), Minkah Fitzpatrick and Da’Shawn Hand are all potential first-round picks whenever they enter the NFL draft. The point? Even by Alabama’s standards, this team might be a juggernaut.
Read Pete Thamel’s assessment of another major win for Nick Saban’s powerhouse in a game where the Tide were far from perfect.
Houston’s Cinderella season is definitively over
Is Tom Herman’s price tag going down? Maybe that’s unlikely, but SMU’s Chad Morris looks like a pretty hot coaching candidate himself after the Mustangs’ 38–16 rout of No. 11 Houston on Saturday night. Herman’s Cougars were a preseason darling and were expected to compete for a playoff spot despite playing in the American Athletic Conference. That talk became supercharged after their impressive Week 1 upset of Oklahoma. Now, the Cougars will drift into general irrelevance until they play Louisville on Nov. 17. They’ll also likely drop from No. 11 in the AP poll to unranked after being throttled by 3–4 SMU, a team that was barely competitive against its other major opponents (Baylor, TCU) and that was routed by Temple.
Herman’s trademark speedy offense and quarterback Greg Ward Jr. were dysfunctional against the Mustangs. Ward logged only 241 passing yards, a season low, as well as just 17 yards rushing. This was the same player who cut up Oklahoma’s defense for 321 yards and two touchdowns and 396 total yards of offense against Tulsa last weekend. The Cougars were outgained 406–303 on the night and never appeared to recover from two early turnovers.
Herman will still be the hottest coaching candidate in the nation once the season ends (and will likely be coaching Texas or LSU by the beginning of next season), but this was far and away the worst loss he’s taken as the Cougars’ head coach. Look for Morris, the former Clemson offensive coordinator tasked with turning around one of the nation’s worst programs in SMU, to surface as a candidate for the Baylor job if the Bears decide to not bring back interim head coach Jim Grobe.
Leonard Fournette is back, folks
After LSU fired Les Miles following its loss to Auburn, its season looked lost. It sat at 2–2, star running back Leonard Fournette was nursing injuries and neither Brandon Harris nor Danny Etling brought any confidence at quarterback. Since defensive line coach Ed Orgeron assumed interim duties, the Tigers have played inspired football and have inserted themselves as a SEC spoiler. If Fournette resembles the player he did on Saturday night against Ole Miss, the Tigers could be a formidable threat when they meet Alabama on Nov. 5.
Fournette rushed for a spectacular 284 yards on 16 carries and logged touchdown runs of 59, 76 and 78 yards during the Tigers’ 38–21 victory over Ole Miss in Baton Rouge. It was their third straight win, and they have reestablished themselves as a force in the SEC West. The Bama game should now have the same buzz that it’s received in years past, even if Miles won’t be on the sidelines.
West Virginia is for real
Last week, the Mountaineers limited one of the nation’s most prolific offenses to 17 points and 379 yards. That same offense logged 415 yards of total offense in the first half against one of the Big 12’s best teams in Oklahoma on Saturday. When West Virginia throttled Texas Tech 48–17, the nation saw that defensive coordinator Tony Gibson had coached up a pretty good defense. By the end of the Mountaineers’ dominant 34–10 victory over TCU on Saturday, the nation knew the defense is particularly good.
The Big 12 is known for its host of high-flying offenses, but most of its defensive units have struggled to keep up with the spread offenses that have overtaken the conference. For a more detailed look at the Mountaineers’ strong performance, consult Chris Johnson’s thorough takeaway of the great day in Morgantown.
Auburn looks like a second-half spoiler
In its opener against Clemson, its loss to Texas A&M and its low-scoring win over LSU (the game that got Les Miles fired), Auburn looked like a mid-tier SEC team at best. After a 56–3 throttling of Arkansas on Saturday night, the Tigers look like a team that could finish with ten wins … if they can beat Alabama, of course. After having no offensive rhythm to start the year, Gus Malzahn’s squad ran past an overmatched Arkansas defense. Literally.
The Tigers accounted for an astonishing 543 rushing yards and nine yards per carry in their 53-point win, Auburn’s biggest margin of victory against any SEC team since 1970. The catalyst was burly running back Kamryn Pettway, who steamrolled the Razorbacks’ defense for 192 yards on 27 carries and two touchdowns. Pettway ran for 169 yards against Mississippi State last weekend and has announced himself as one of the best backs in the SEC.
For more on Auburn’s throttling of the Razorbacks, check Ben Estes’s three thoughts on one of the season’s most notable blowouts.
Mike MacIntyre should be a coach of the year candidate
Colorado hasn’t simply struggled the last decade, it’s been one of the nation’s most futile major programs. On Saturday, the Buffs won their sixth game for the first time since 2007, and it came against a Stanford team that has reached three Rose Bowls over the past four seasons. Colorado’s 10–5 victory over the Cardinal in Palo Alto was a hallmark for MacIntyre and an awakened Buffs program, smothering Christian McCaffrey and a struggling Stanford offense to reach bowl eligibility for the first time in a decade and boost its chances of winning the Pac-12 South.
Running back Phillip Lindsay logged another strong game with 131 yards on 12 carries (he left in the third quarter with an ankle injury), and quarterback Sefo Liufau kept the offense out of trouble with 135 yards passing and the game’s lone touchdown. It was an admittedly sloppy win for the Buffs, but an appearance in the conference championship game is not out of reach.
Not bad for a program that won just one conference game in 2015.
Let’s look at some stats from Oklahoma’s 66–59 win over Texas Tech
Texas Tech QB Patrick Mahomes finished 52 of 88 for 734 yards, five touchdowns and one interception.
Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield finished 27 of 36 for 545 yards and seven touchdowns.
Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon rushed for 263 yards and two touchdowns and logged 114 yards receiving for three more touchdowns.
Oklahoma’s Dede Westbrook finished with nine catches for 202 yards and two touchdowns. He now has 35 receptions, 776 yards and 10 touchdowns over his last four games.
Seven Texas Tech WRs logged at least 44 yards receiving.
Each team finished with 854 yards of total offense.
The lesson? Big 12 football can be a profoundly silly place.