Wow. In one of the wildest college football weekends in recent memory, seven games involving a ranked team were decided in the final minute, six teams in the AP Top 25 lost – including three in the top 10 – and a ball kicked off the right leg of Texas A&M kicker Seth Small sent shockwaves throughout the college football world.
Let’s recap the action from another crazy college football Saturday.
#1 ALABAMA at TEXAS A&M
- What happened: Texas A&M had seen a 31-17 3rd quarter lead evaporate in the face of 21 Alabama unanswered points, but much-maligned QB Zach Calzada led a gutsy, game-tying drive before the Aggie defense forced Alabama to go three-and-out. A&M got the ball back with 2:00 left, and Calzada marched the Aggies 54 yards for Small’s game-winning field goal.
- Turning point: After Alabama blocked a punt to cut A&M’s lead to 24-17 midway through the third quarter, Devon Achane returned the ensuing kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown, giving the Aggies some breathing room to address their offense, which had stagnated after halftime. The Aggies ran only 6 plays in the third quarter to Alabama’s 24.
- Impact: Alabama’s loss opens the door for even more chaos in the College Football Playoff race. The Tide need to win out to make the playoff, and should they fail to accomplish that, the SEC will not get two teams into the playoff. Suddenly, a team like Oregon has life again.
#2 GEORGIA at #18 AUBURN
- What happened: The Bulldogs asserted themselves as the nation’s best team with a 34-10 victory at Auburn. Georgia fell behind 3-0 and then reeled off 24 unanswered points behind a stifling defense and big-play offense.
- Turning point: After Georgia had scored a TD with 9:10 in the second quarter to stretch the lead to 17-3, the Auburn defense had stopped the Dawgs on four consecutive drives. After a long Auburn drive stalled in Georgia territory, Georgia QB Stetson Bennett connected with WR Ladd McConkey for a 60-yard touchdown pass, ending any chance of an upset.
- Impact: Georgia’s win and Alabama’s loss bumps the Dawgs into the #1 ranking ahead of a showdown in Athens next weekend with undefeated #11 Kentucky. Georgia controls its own destiny for the CFP behind the nation’s top-ranked scoring defense.
#4 PENN STATE at #3 IOWA
- What happened: Penn State led 17-3 when QB Sean Clifford went down with an injury, and the moment proved too big for backup QB Ta’Quan Robinson. The Hawkeye defense turned up the heat, the Kinnick Stadium crowd made their influence felt, causing 8 false starts, and Iowa QB Spencer Petras overcame a 1-9 start to complete 16 of his last 22 passes for 181 yards and 2 TDs.
- Turning point: Sean Clifford’s injury swung the momentum of the entire game. Three of Penn State’s five drives with Clifford under center resulted in points, compared to one of the last eleven with Roberson at the helm.
- Impact: Iowa moved up to #2 in the country in the latest batch of rankings and will be favored to be undefeated heading into the Big Ten Championship game. The Hawkeyes avoid playing Ohio State, Michigan, and Michigan State this year and could potentially could still get a CFP bid even with a loss in the Big Ten Championship.
#9 MICHIGAN at NEBRASKA
- What happened: Michigan survived a spirited Nebraska effort under the lights in Lincoln to pull out a 32-29 win over the Cornhuskers. Nebraska outscored the Wolverines 22-6 in the third quarter, but the Michigan defense forced a fumble and turnover on downs on the last two Nebraska drives to seal the win.
- Turning point: With the score tied 29-29 with 1:45 in the fourth quarter, Nebraska QB Adrian Martinez fumbled. Michigan recovered and set up Jake Moody for the game-winning 39-yard field goal.
- Impact: Michigan heads into the bye week undefeated and ranked #8 in the country, a dramatic turnaround after last year’s debacle. It hasn’t always been pretty for the Wolverines, but they’ve gotten the job done. Michigan controls its own destiny for the CFP, but it won’t be easy, with trips to #10 Michigan State and #7 Penn State on the docket before hosting #6 Ohio State in the season finale.
#6 OKLAHOMA vs. #21 TEXAS
- What happened: Just the second-largest comeback in Oklahoma history. Texas raced out to a 28-7 first quarter lead behind QB Casey Thompson and RB Bijan Robinson, but the Sooners never panicked. Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley made a gutsy call to bench QB Spencer Rattler with true freshman Caleb Williams, and the Sooners never looked back.
- Turning point: After the Longhorns scored a TD after Rattler’s second turnover of the game, Riley inserted Williams full-time. The Sooners would put up 38 points with scores on seven of nine drives after the switch, including the game-winner as time expired.
- Impact: Though there’s reason for optimism in Austin, bragging rights in the Red River Rivalry still belong to Oklahoma. The Sooners continue to keep winning and remain in the running for a CFP spot.
#14 NOTRE DAME at VIRGINIA TECH
- What happened: Trailing 29-22 after a Braxton Burmeister touchdown with 3:55 remaining extended the Hokie lead, QB Jack Coan re-entered the game in relief of injured QB Tyler Buchner, who had replaced Coan in the first half. Coan led the Irish down the field for a touchdown and two-point conversion, and after the Notre Dame defense forced a Hokie three-and-out, Coan again maneuvered the Irish into field goal range, where Jonathan Doerer made the game-winner from 48 yards.
- Turning point: On Jack Coan’s first three drives, the Irish offense ran 13 plays for 18 total yards. On Coan’s two 4th quarter drives, Notre Dame ran 14 plays for 120 yards with Coan going 7-10 for 93 yards and a TD.
- Impact: Notre Dame should be a heavy favorite in all remaining games and should be able to get young players experience while still making a New Years Six bowl. Unfortunately for the Irish, the 12-team playoff isn’t here yet.
- Having played quarterback my entire football career, I’ve experienced losing an offseason QB battle in high school and getting pulled from a game while playing QB for a team in Germany. During those humbling times, it’s hard to swallow your pride, continue to be a team player, and work your tail off to regain your spot. Therefore, I want to tip my hat to Georgia QB Stetson Bennett and Notre Dame QB Jack Coan:
- Bennett was replaced midway through last season by the uber-talented JT Daniels, but never quit working and in the wake of Daniels’ injury earlier this season has re-asserted himself as the starter and leader of the nation’s best team. Against Auburn’s strong defense, Bennett averaged 16.5 yards per completion and 11.0 yards per attempt, threw 2 TDs, and did not turn the ball over.
- Coan was benched for the second consecutive game against Virginia Tech but rather than pouting or threatening to leave the program he transferred into this year, he mentored his replacement, true freshman Tyler Buchner, throughout the game, before reentering after Buchner’s injury and sparking Notre Dame to the comeback victory.
- The unsung hero of Iowa’s win over Penn State? Iowa punter Tory Taylor. His nine punts averaged 44.2 yards and pinned Penn State inside the 20-yard line six times, including three times inside the 5-yard line. James Franklin commented on Taylor’s impact postgame, stating “Their punter could have been the MVP of the game, pinned us deep. Ta'Quan [Roberson, PSU QB] getting his first real game experience backed up on the one-yard line, two-yard line multiple times did not make it an ideal situation for a guy getting his first significant time.”
- Alabama’s loss to Texas A&M ended the Crimson Tide’s winning streak against unranked opponents at 100. Now, Notre Dame owns the longest winning streak over unranked opponents at 36 games. This stat illustrates a couple things. First, boy, has Alabama been dominant and seldom do the Tide play down to the level of their opponent. Second, Brian Kelly deserves immense credit for stabilizing the Notre Dame program during his tenure. The Irish beat the teams they should, but will Kelly ever be able to take the next step?
- As a current high school QB coach, I am really interested to watch how Lincoln Riley – who I think is brilliant – handles the Sooner QB situation over the next few weeks. Riley replaced starter and preseason Heisman favorite Spencer Rattler with talented true freshman Caleb Williams after Rattler fumbled midway through the second quarter against Texas with the Sooners trailing 35-17. All Williams did the rest of the way was throw for 212 yards and 2 TDs to go along with 88 yards rushing. Much like Tyler Buchner did for Notre Dame, the running threat that Williams provided also allowed Kennedy Brooks and the OU rushing attack to break out – the Sooners finished with 339 yards rushing.
BIGGEST WINNERS OF THE WEEKEND
- Cincinnati: Alabama’s loss to Texas A&M lessened the chance of two SEC teams making the playoff, as a second Alabama loss to Georgia in the SEC Championship would eliminate the Tide. Bearcat fans will be rooting hard for Georgia, Penn State (who still has games against Ohio State, Michigan, and Michigan State), and Notre Dame the rest of the season.
- Kickers: For as much grief as college kickers take (much of it deserved), kickers this weekend were clutch in the big games:
- Oklahoma K Gabe Brkic went 4-4 on FGs in the Sooner win over Texas
- Iowa K Caleb Shudak went 3-3 on FGs in the win over Penn State
- Michigan K Jake Moody went 4-4 on FGs in the win over Nebraska, including the game winner with 1:24 remaining
- Texas A&M K Seth Small went 2-2 on FGs in the Aggie win over Alabama, including arguably the biggest kick in A&M history to win the game as time expired. Did anyone else think he hooked it when it left his foot though?
- Notre Dame K Jonathan Doerer hit his second game-winning field goal of the season to beat Virginia Tech
- Oklahoma: The Sooners continue to just survive and advance, and in a season where top teams continue to rack up losses, there’s something to be said for that. Oklahoma overcame a 41-23 deficit late in the 3rd quarter to knock off archrival Texas. An undefeated Oklahoma team will be in the CFP, and the Sooners should be favored the rest of the way.
- Kevin Warren: Iowa’s win over Penn State was exactly what the Big Ten – and commissioner Kevin Warren – needed. This was the best possible outcome for the Big Ten to get multiple CFP bids. Iowa will be favored to enter the Big Ten Championship game undefeated, and if the Hawkeyes beat either an undefeated Michigan team, or lose a rematch to one-loss Penn State, the Big Ten would likely get two bids. After a rough 2020 for the conference perception-wise in his first year as commissioner, this has to feel good for Warren.
BIGGEST LOSERS OF THE WEEKEND
- BYU: Quietly, the Cougars had snuck into the top-10 with 3 victories over Pac-12 opponents and entered the Boise State game without having trailed on the season. However, BYU was uncharacteristically undisciplined on Saturday. Four turnovers, nine penalties, and only 26:26 time of possession doomed BYU to a 26-17 loss and ended their longshot playoff hopes.
- Scott Frost: A spirited Nebraska effort against Michigan came up just short, as QB Adrian Martinez fumbled with 1:45 remaining, setting up the Wolverines for the game-winning field goal. Frost was visibly distraught on the sidelines and even though the Huskers play hard and have punched above their weight this year with close losses to Oklahoma, Michigan State, and Michigan, you get the feeling that in year 4, the patience with moral victories is wearing thin. Frost’s tenure is starting to conjure memories of Charlie Weis at Notre Dame – both are alums who promised to restore the glory of their alma mater but came up short.
- Ed Orgeron: LSU’s magical 2019 season is a distant memory at this point, and the listless 42-21 loss to Kentucky is going to ratchet up the temperature on Coach O’s seat even higher. Tiger fans thought that they had a coach who could end the crimson-colored stranglehold on the SEC, but instead it appears they have the second coming of Gene Chizik. Barring a miraculous turnaround – which is difficult to see given five of LSU’s six remaining games are against ranked opponents – it’s difficult to see Orgeron getting another chance in 2022. You’d have to think that 2019 offensive coordinator Joe Brady (now with the Carolina Panthers) or Baylor coach Dave Aranda would be at the top of the list to replace Orgeron.
- James Franklin: The criticism of James Franklin has always been that while he is a dynamic recruiter, he is not a good gameday coach. That criticism will only get louder following Penn State’s loss to Iowa on Saturday. The Nittany Lions jumped out to a 17-3 lead and were rolling until QB Sean Clifford was knocked out of the game with an injury. Backup QB Ta’Quan Roberson seemed completely unprepared to play and Penn State had eight (!) false start penalties, inexplicably continuing to use a clap to snap the ball in a raucous Kinnick Stadium. Penn State’s eleven drives with Roberson under center netted only 48 total yards and 3 points.
BIGGEST GAMES OF WEEK 7
- UCF at #3 Cincinnati
- #12 Oklahoma State at #25 Texas
- #11 Kentucky at #1 Georgia
- Purdue at #2 Iowa
- #19 BYU at Baylor
- #5 Alabama at Mississippi State
- TCU at #4 Oklahoma
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