With the first raindrops in months dousing the wildfires plaguing the Pacific Northwest, the only smoke remaining in the region this weekend was coming off the backs of Oregon players as they jetted past UCLA defenders en route to the end zone. Oregon is on fire right now and is trying to crash the playoff party along with Tennessee, who cruised to victory in the annual SEC midseason bye week/FCS game and a TCU team, who outscored Kansas State 21-0 in the second half to stay undefeated.
On the other hand, UCLA and Ole Miss saw their playoff dreams go up in a blaze, and some heat is certainly being felt in the seats of Kirk Ferentz and Jimbo Fisher, whose teams stumbled to more disappointing losses in what is now certainly a lost season. Speaking of Flames, BYU got burned as well, becoming the latest casualty of the Hugh Freeze redemption tour with a 41-14 loss to the Flames of Liberty University.
Now, let’s get to the rest of the Week 8 action.
OREGON 45 UCLA 30
With Autzen Stadium rocking after a 49-yard touchdown pass from Bo Nix to Troy Franklin, Oregon coach Dan Lanning – the youngest head coach in the Power Five – made the gutsiest call of his young career. Kicker Andrew Boyle recovered the ensuing onside kick, the Ducks scored 8 plays later to extend the lead to 24-10, and never looked back en route to a dominating 45-30 victory over previously undefeated UCLA in a game that was not as close as the score indicated.
Nix was the hero of the game, completing 22 of 28 passes for 283 yards and 5 TDs, while also adding another 51 yards on the ground. He was complemented by RB Bucky Irving, who had 164 total yards and a TD, and the aforementioned Franklin, who would finish with 8 catches for 132 yards and 2 TDs.
Oregon’s aggressiveness, embodied by Lanning’s onside kick call and the Ducks’ perfect rate on 3 third-down conversions, was the difference in this game. Oregon scored on its first 7 possessions and even though UCLA’s offense rolled up 448 yards and the Bruins scored on their first 5 possessions (excluding a kneel down at the end of the first half), you never got the feeling that UCLA could win this game. The Ducks punched, punched, and punched again as they extended their home winning streak to 23 games and completely overwhelmed the UCLA defense.
Oregon looked left for dead after being blown out by Georgia in the opener (and barely surviving Washington State a few weeks ago), but all of a sudden, the Ducks are passing the eye test, improving each week, and are very much alive for the CFP with a road trip to Utah and the Pac-12 Championship Game remaining as chances to impress the committee.
CLEMSON 27 SYRACUSE 21
DJ Uiagalelei’s reemergence as an offensive force had been the main catalyst behind Clemson’s undefeated start, but after 2 interceptions and a goal-line fumble that Syracuse returned for a 90-yard touchdown, Dabo Swinney turned to true freshman Cade Klubnik to provide a spark. Even though Klubnik only completed 2 passes, he still made an impact as the Tigers broke through in the fourth quarter, outscoring the Orange 17-0. Will Shipley’s 50-yard scamper for a touchdown with 11:26 remaining in the game proved to be the winning score.
While Swinney’s decision to bench Uiagalelei and Shipley’s 172 yards and 2 TDs will get the headlines, the story of this game was the Clemson defense rising up and refusing to lose. After Syracuse scored to extend the lead to 21-7 with 1:53 remaining in the first half, the Orange wouldn’t threaten again. Syracuse could only manage 90 second-half yards on 29 plays, as Dino Babers made the questionable decision to run the entire offense through QB Garrett Shrader (26 passing attempts, 21 rushing attempts) while only giving RB Sean Tucker – who came in averaging over 100 rushing YPG – 5 carries. Tucker averaged 10.8 YPC, but for whatever reason was not a focus of the gameplan.
Syracuse still remains in the running for a New Years’ Six Bowl berth but will need to regroup quickly with a talented but inconsistent Notre Dame team coming to town next weekend. Clemson heads into its bye week at 8-0 and will travel to South Bend to face the Fighting Irish on November 5th.
TCU 38 KANSAS STATE 28
For the second week in a row, TCU trailed by double digits in the second half but found a way to rally, stay undefeated, and take sole possession of first place in the Big 12. Max Duggan continued to make a dark horse push for the Heisman Trophy with 280 yards passing and 3 TDs, and Kendre Miller rushed 29 times for 153 yards and 2 scores.
Kansas State QB Adrian Martinez got knocked out of the game early, but Will Howard, who filled in capably last year as well, led 4 first half touchdown drives as the Wildcats seized a 28-10 lead. However, Duggan led the Horned Frogs 91 yards in the final 3 minutes of the first half to cut the halftime deficit to 28-17, and then the Frogs doubled up with a score on the first drive of the second half. TCU would go on to outscore the Wildcats 21-0 in the second half as Kansas State self-destructed. The 5 Wildcat second half possessions went as follows: missed field goal, interception, turnover on downs, missed field goal, interception.
TCU has won a school-record four straight games against ranked opponents and travels to Morgantown next weekend for a game against 3-4 West Virginia. November road trips to Austin and Waco loom as the toughest tests remaining for the Horned Frogs.
~ With the first batch of College Football Playoff rankings set to come out at 7 PM EST on November 1st, here’s how I would rank the top ten. It’s worth emphasizing that the CFP rankings are independent of any polling and are based off factors like quality wins, strength of schedule (ahem, Michigan), and the eye test.
- Georgia (7-0) – Owns a 49-3 victory over a top-ten Oregon team with an average margin of victory of 32.6
- Tennessee (7-0) – Owns victories over four teams ranked at gametime, including Alabama and LSU
- Ohio State (7-0) – Has not defeated a currently ranked team but is the nation’s most statistically complete team with the #2 scoring offense, #4 total offense, #5 scoring defense, and #2 total defense
- Clemson (8-0) – Has the most wins in the country right now and beat two ranked teams (Wake Forest, Syracuse)
- TCU (7-0) – Has 4 wins in a row against opponents ranked at the time of the game
- Michigan (7-0) – The lowest ranked undefeated team due to strength of schedule and recent struggles in victories over Maryland, Iowa, and Indiana
- Oregon (6-1) – Arguably the most impressive team in the country since an opening loss to Georgia and owns a top-ten win over UCLA
- Alabama (7-1) – Not penalized too much by a close loss on the road to Tennessee, especially with a road win at Texas and victory over ranked Mississippi State and (at the time) Arkansas
- Oklahoma State (6-1) – Two victories over ranked teams at the time of the game with the only loss in double overtime against TCU
- UCLA (6-1) – Sneaks in at #10 on the strength of the victory over Utah, which is a better victory than those by USC, Wake Forest, or Penn State
~ Oklahoma State’s 41-34 victory over Texas was one of the wildest games of the weekend, as the teams combined for over 1000 yards of offense and 75 points. However, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a game with the penalty discrepancy of this one. The Cowboys were not whistled for a single flag while the Longhorns committed 14 penalties for 119 yards. Texas’ undisciplined play was one of the differences in the game as Oklahoma State overcame a double-digit deficit in the second half to pull out the victory in Stillwater.
~ Spencer Sanders threw for 391 yards in the Oklahoma State win, but the Cowboy defense deserves much of the credit for the victory. Quinn Ewers had been unstoppable since returning from injury, but in the second half, Oklahoma State held him to just a 32% completion rate (8-25) and intercepted him on the last 2 possessions of the game as the Longhorns were trying to drive for the tying score. Ewers may have thrown for 319 yards, but his inaccuracy down the stretch (he finished 19-49 passing) was a big reason that Texas could not extend drives. The Longhorns went just 3-17 on third down and could not convert on either of their fourth down tries.
~ Until this weekend, I never realized it was possible for a team to give up 54 points but still feel its defense played relatively well. That changed in Ohio State’s 54-10 victory over Iowa. Coming off a bye week during which offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz promised to make some offensive adjustments, Iowa instead turned the ball over 6 times (including a pick-six) and put up a paltry 3.4 yards per pass and 2.2 yards per rush. 8 of Ohio State’s 10 scoring drives went for less than 55 yards, as the Hawkeye offense constantly gave one of the nation’s best offenses great field position. Iowa QB Spencer Petras threw an interception on the first play of the game and was benched at halftime. His backup, QB Alex Padilla, somehow was even worse and fumbled the snap on his first play, leading to another easy Buckeye score.
~ Kirk Ferentz has a tough decision to make, because he is at the point where he needs to choose between family and legacy. He is the longest tenured coach in college football and deserves immense credit for resurrecting the Iowa program into one of the most consistent programs in college football. However, he risks making the same mistake that his predecessor Hayden Fry made by staying past his expiration date and leaving the program in the same state he found it (due in large part to his son’s ineptitude as offensive coordinator). Watching Iowa’s offense is like watching a car wreck in slow motion. The Hawkeyes have just 5 offensive touchdowns in 7 games and Saturday marked the third game where the Iowa defense outscored the Iowa offense. That is unfathomable in 2022. At this point, I would not be surprised if Iowa started punting on third down to pin teams back and see if its defense can force a safety, much like Fieldling Yost’s Michigan teams used to do in the early 1900s.
~ Oregon – I wrote in this column after Week 1 that Oregon may have made a huge mistake with Dan Lanning’s hire. I was wrong. The Ducks looked completely uninspired in that matchup with the defending national champions, which was hard to understand. However, since then, Oregon has been on a tear, Lanning and offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham have figured out how to make Bo Nix into one of the best QBs in the nation, and Oregon has played with a swagger and physicality missing for much of the past decade, even under Mario Cristobal. Lanning outcoached Chip Kelly on Saturday and his team feeds off his aggressive nature. I wouldn’t hate to see a rematch between Oregon and Georgia.~ LSU – The Tigers were in a 17-3 hole after the first play of the second quarter and it looked like more of the same from a Brian Kelly-coached team against a top-ten opponent. However, yesterday things were different. LSU went on to score 42 of the next 45 points, led by QB Jayden Daniels. The Arizona State transfer threw for 248 yards and 2 TDs and constantly gashed the Rebel defense with his legs in the second half, finishing with 121 yards rushing and 3 TDs. Don’t look now, but LSU is tied for the SEC West lead with a bye week before a massive matchup with Alabama in Baton Rouge.
~ Wake Forest – The Demon Deacons continue to just quietly get things done, speaking to the phenomenal coaching job that Dave Clawson has done in Winston-Salem. Wake Forest moved to 6-1 with a 43-15 victory over Boston College, the only blemish being the double overtime loss at Clemson. A November stretch of NC State, North Carolina, and Syracuse will determine whether the Deacons can compete for their first New Years’ Six bowl berth since the 2006 Orange Bowl.
~ Tulane – The Green Wave entered the AP rankings last week for the first time since Shaun King quarterbacked the 1998 team and validated their spot by jumping out to a 35-0 lead against Memphis, en route to a 38-28 victory. Tulane is currently 2 spots behind Cincinnati as the highest ranked Group of Five team, setting up a massive road trip to take on the Bearcats in the season finale Thanksgiving weekend (and potentially a rematch in the American Championship). Win out and the Green Wave will be in the New Years’ Six.
~ Syracuse – There are two ways to look at Syracuse’s 27-21 loss to Clemson on Saturday. On the positive side, the Orange gave the Tigers all they could handle on the road, easily covered the 13.5-point spread, and showed that they belong in the top 25. On the other hand, this game was a massive missed opportunity for the program. Syracuse blew a double-digit fourth quarter lead against a team that benched its starting quarterback and as described in the game recap, decided to use its best player as a decoy all game. There’s no rest for Syracuse either with a visit from Notre Dame next weekend.
~ Texas A&M – The Aggies continued to disappoint with 30-24 loss to South Carolina on Saturday. Texas A&M obviously has talent – heck, they took Alabama to the wire in Tuscaloosa – but in their first game since that heartbreaking loss to the Tide, A&M immediately fell behind 17-3 in the first quarter and couldn’t finish the comeback. This is not a program known for patience, and Jimbo Fisher’s seat is starting to get warm. Fisher likely gets another year as long as the Aggies make a bowl, but you can bet he won’t be the playcaller in 2023.
~ Miami – Hurricane boosters have to be asking, “we jettisoned Manny Diaz for this?”. On Saturday, Miami turned the ball over 8 times in a loss to Duke. After Tyler Van Dyke got injured, backup Jake Garcia tossed 3 interceptions and lost 2 of his team’s 5 fumbles. It could have been even worse, as the Canes managed to recover 2 of their other fumbles. Miami is sitting at 3-4 with games against Florida State, Clemson, and Pittsburgh still coming up, putting a bowl bid in jeopardy. Mario Cristobal was supposed to bring toughness, discipline, and physicality back to a program that has been lacking it for the better part of 2 decades, but this team is still a ways away.
~ BYU – Was it last year or last month that BYU was ranked 12th? Losses to Oregon, Notre Dame, and Arkansas were understandable, even if they sting, but a 41-14 loss to Liberty in a game the Cougars led 14-3 shakes this program to its core. A defense that prides itself on physicality allowed Liberty to rush for 300 yards, with Dae Dae Hunter putting up 213 alone. BYU does deserve some credit for being willing to play a road game at Liberty – and the Flames are good, having lost to Wake Forest by a point – but this is still not a game a program like BYU should be losing, let alone being blown out in. From a Notre Dame perspective, is that 8-point win over BYU really something we should be hanging our hat on?
BEST GAMES OF WEEK 9
- #2 Ohio State at #13 Penn State, 12 PM, FOX
- Notre Dame at #16 Syracuse, 12 PM, ABC
- Florida vs. #1 Georgia, 3:30 PM, CBS
- #9 Oklahoma State at #22 Kansas State, 3:30 PM, FOX
- #19 Kentucky at #3 Tennessee, 7 PM, ESPN
- Michigan State at #4 Michigan, 7:30 PM, ABC