After a relatively sedated start during the early slate, Week 8 of the 2020 college football season went off the rails.
AP Nos. 8 (Penn State), 17 (Iowa State) and 19 (Virginia Tech) each suffered losses by a one-score margin within less than an hour of each other. Penn State’s loss was particularly absurd, as the Nittany Lions got the ball back with the lead with less than two minutes remaining only to somehow lose by a fraction of an inch in overtime.
Speaking of overtime, while all those “more important” games were going on, Rice missed what would have been a game-winning field goal in overtime on a QUADRUPLE DOINK. Because of COVID-19 cancellations, the Owls waited all this time to play their first game of the season, just to go out like that. Brutal.
And, sadly, one of the most exciting players in the country suffered a season-ending injury.
What else do the evening and late games have in store for us?
More winners and losers will be added throughout the night.
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Three weeks ago, Arkansas ended a 20-game SEC losing streak dating back to October 2017, and now it looks like the Razorbacks might be the fifth-best team in that conference.
Et tu, Rutgers?
The Scarlet Knights entered the Big Ten’s opening weekend with a 21-game conference losing streak dating back to November 2017, but they went on the road to East Lansing and snapped that skid with a 38-27 victory over Michigan State.
During that losing streak, Rutgers only averaged 7.8 points per game. It was shutout five times. All nine losses last season were by at least a 27-point margin.
Yet, the Scarlet Knights came out and marched right down the field on a 75-yard touchdown drive to open the 2020 season.
And then, the real story of this game began: Michigan State turnovers.
The Spartans fumbled the ball away on their first offensive snap. Three plays after getting the ball back, they did it again. The second one was a strip-sack which gave Rutgers the ball at the MSU 1, which led to a 14-0 lead moments later.
On their third possession, Michigan State turned it over on downs—which technically doesn’t count as a turnover, even though “turn” and “over” are literally in the description of what happened. MSU’s fifth possession ended in an interception and the sixth on a fumble.
The Spartans offense would add three more official turnovers and one more turnover on downs in the second half. That’s a total of seven turnovers; nine if you want to count the failed fourth-down attempts.
Aside from the opening possession, Rutgers did not have a single drive of 55 or more yards. But it didn’t need to with all those short-field opportunities.
In its first six seasons after joining the Big Ten, Rutgers never had a winning record in conference play. At 1-0, that’s no longer the case.
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Whether you root for Alabama or hate the Crimson Tide with every fiber of your being, there’s no denying that Jaylen Waddle was one of the most entertaining talents in the country.
Among players who entered Week 8 averaging at least four receptions per game, Waddle’s rate of 22.3 yards per catch ranked best in the country. Not only was he averaging 140 receiving yards per game, but he also had at least 120 in each of Alabama’s first four contests—including the 90-yard bomb that essentially broke Georgia in last week’s “Game of the Year.”
On the opening kickoff against Tennessee, though, Waddle suffered a broken ankle and will reportedly miss the rest of the 2020 season.
It’s probably going to be a Tua Tagovailoa sort of situation in which the injury does nothing to dissuade the NFL from making him a high first-round draft pick next spring, but it’s a shame we won’t get to watch him anymore.
Waddle entered the week with the fourth-best odds of winning the Heisman, per Action Network, and by far the best odds among non-quarterbacks.
Even without the star wide receiver, Alabama’s offense was no worse for wear in a blowout win over the Volunteers. Mac Jones continued his usual routine of throwing darts all over the field for nearly 400 yards. Sophomore Slade Bolden—who made two receptions last season and zero in Alabama’s first four games this year—capitalized on the “next man up” situation with six receptions for 94 yards.
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Heading into Saturday, Texas State was leading the nation in cumulative punt-return yards with 158 of them—spread across six games. The Bobcats were the only team with multiple returns of 40 or more yards. In the entire season, there had only been 10 such returns.
Heck, in the entire 2019 season, Alabama (five) was the only team with more than two returns of 40 or more yards.
Where am I going with this, you might be wondering?
Kansas State’s Phillip Brooks single-handedly had four punt returns of at least 40 yards in his team’s 55-14 victory over Kansas—a 55-yarder for a touchdown in the first quarter, a 40-yard return early in the second quarter, a 52-yard touchdown right before halftime and a 42-yard return early in the fourth quarter.
Of the bunch, the best was the one that ended the first half. Kansas State called a timeout with four seconds remaining to force Kansas to punt it, and the move paid off.
Add it all up, and that’s 189 punt-return yards—more than KSU had all of last season (163).
Aside from Oklahoma’s Ryan Broyles racking up 209 yards against Oklahoma State in 2009, that’s the most punt-return yards in a single game against an FBS opponent since 2003.
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The first 57 minutes between Penn State and Indiana were moderately entertaining.
The last three (plus overtime) were complete chaos.
Penn State scored on its opening drive prior to developing a case of turnover-itis. One interception set the Hoosiers up for a short field goal; another put Indiana at the PSU 4 for an easy touchdown. And after that score gave Indiana a 17-7 lead, the Nittany Lions put together a long, 12-play drive just to fumble the ball away again.
Eventually, though, Penn State’s talent advantage paid dividends. Sean Clifford ended the third quarter with an impressive 35-yard scramble for a touchdown. And then late in the fourth quarter, Clifford unleashed a howitzer and connected with Jahan Dotson for a 60-yard, go-ahead touchdown.
At that point, even though the score was only 21-20, it felt like Penn State had the game well in hand. When Shaka Toney followed suit with two sacks of Michael Penix Jr. in the process of forcing a turnover on downs, the game was effectively over.
Instead of running out the clock on a victory, though, Devyn Ford immediately ran in a touchdown from 14 yards out and gave Indiana a prayer of coming back—even though the Hoosiers barely had 100 yards of total offense with 100 seconds remaining in the game.
Out of absolutely nowhere, the Hoosiers marched 75 yards down the field for a touchdown and a two-point conversion to tie the game at 28-28.
Penn State still had a little bit of time left to try to win in regulation and got some help from a preposterously terrible decision by Indiana’s kicker to squib kick the kickoff not even across the 50. But Jordan Stout’s 57-yard field-goal attempt came up maybe two feet short and the game went to overtime.
The Nittany Lions scored first to take a 35-28 lead, followed by Indiana making it 35-34 on an incredible Whop Philyor touchdown reception on 3rd-and-goal from the 9.
Rather than prolonging the game, Hoosiers head coach Tom Allen decided to do exactly what we always want the underdog to do in these situations but very rarely does: He went for two. Penix scrambled to his left and at full extension barely got the ball across the plane before it touched out of bounds. The replay review honestly could have gone either way, but they went with the call on the field for what resulted in a massive upset.
During the broadcast on FS1, it was repeatedly noted that Indiana had lost 42 consecutive games against AP Top 10 opponents, with its last victory coming against No. 9 Ohio State in 1987. So much for that 33-year streak.
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The Thursday night showdown between Appalachian State and Arkansas State was supposed to be a high-scoring affair. App State has an excellent rushing attack, while Arkansas State passes about as well as any team in the country and doesn’t play a lick of defense.
Instead, it was App State’s quarterback leading the scoring and Arkansas State’s passing game that was shut down.
Mountaineers QB Zac Thomas had just two passing touchdowns in his first three games combined, but he went off for four passing touchdowns and a rushing score in the 45-17 victory. Dating back to last November, it was the third time in his last nine games that Thomas had exactly five total touchdowns with four of them coming through the air.
(The App State run game was still quite potent. Thomas finished off most of the scoring drives with a pass, but the Mountaineers rushed for at least 300 yards for the third time this season.)
The real surprise, though, was how well the secondary stifled Arkansas State’s two-QB system.
To be clear, it’s not the good play by the defense that was a surprise. The Mountaineers had only allowed one passing touchdown in their first three games, and that came with three minutes remaining in a 52-21 victory over Campbell. They entered the week with what was statistically one of the best secondaries in the nation.
Rather, the surprise is that anyone was able to bottle up this usually potent aerial assault.
In each of their previous four games, the Red Wolves had at least 330 yards and three touchdowns via the pass. Last Thursday, they torched Georgia State for 551 passing yards and eight touchdowns. But after back-to-back games in which both Layne Hatcher and Logan Bonner had at least three passing scores, neither one was able to find the end zone against the Mountaineers.
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In our Week 8 expert predictions, I chose Ole Miss vs. Auburn as the most exciting game between unranked teams, in part because: “The rest of the early-afternoon slate is liable to be riddled with blowouts, which would make this game even more entertaining by comparison.”
Suffice it to say, it’s not all that surprising that Ole Miss vs. Auburn was the only early game with any last-minute drama whatsoever. But while that wasn’t a surprising development, it was a disappointing one.
No. 1 Clemson, No. 5 Ohio State, No. 14 North Carolina and No. 20 Kansas State each won at home by a margin of at least 26 points. There was about a 15-minute window in the third quarter when Syracuse threatened to make things mighty interesting against Clemson, but the Tigers responded with three touchdowns in under six minutes of game time.
No. 25 Coastal Carolina also won its home game (vs. Georgia Southern) by double digits. They were all knotted up at 14-14 for the first 21 minutes of the second half before the Chanticleers scored two touchdowns in quick succession to end that one in a hurry.
Temple at Memphis also had some middle-of-the-fourth-quarter intrigue, but the Tigers took a 41-29 lead with a little over two minutes remaining and won by that final margin.
Eleven of the 12 early game were won by double digits and did not have a single lead change in the final 22 minutes. Even the close game ended with a whimper when Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral ran past the line of scrimmage before throwing short of the end zone on a last-second attempt to tie the game.
At least that one had some fun back-and-forth action up until that point, though, culminating in a remarkable 42-yard touchdown reception by Auburn’s Seth Williams with 1:11 remaining on the clock.
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I thought No. 3 Notre Dame at Pittsburgh had “Upset Special” written all over it.
I was very, very wrong.
Pitt’s rushing defense has been sensational, holding its first six opponents to 1.9 yards per carry, 61.5 yards per game and two total touchdowns. And Notre Dame’s passing game was perhaps the biggest red flag among all teams with College Football Playoff aspirations with just three passing touchdowns through four games.
That Panthers run defense held up relatively well. Notre Dame ran 50 times for 115 yards. Only one of those 50 rushing attempts went for more than 10 yards. The Fighting Irish did have a pair of rushing touchdowns, but they both came from two yards out.
However, Ian Book threw for 312 yards and three touchdowns, and the Notre Dame defense completely shut down everything the Kenny Pickett-less Pitt offense tried to do in a 45-3 blowout.
One of Book’s touchdowns was a bit controversial. On 3rd-and-14 early in the second quarter, he connected with Ben Skowronek on a deep ball down the sideline for a 73-yard score. Skowronek pushed off to create some separation, but it went uncalled.
The game was basically over from there. Pitt did not have another offensive possession of 30 or more yards as it was forced to rely upon a backup quarterback against a rock-solid defense. The Panthers managed just 162 yards of total offense in a game that was never close.
Notre Dame will face Georgia Tech next Saturday before the colossal Week 10 showdown with Clemson.
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Virginia Tech entered this week as one of the most potent offenses in the country. The Hokies had scored at least 38 points in each of their four games. They were averaging 312.0 rushing yards per contest.
But in a 23-16 loss to Wake Forest, that offensive prowess suddenly vanished when they got close to the red zone.
They did score a touchdown from 39 yards out, but here’s what happened on drives that made it inside the Wake Forest 38:
- Missed 42-yard field goal
- Successful 28-yard field goal after failing to turn 1st-and-goal from the WF 4 into a touchdown
- Interception on a pass forced into the end zone from the WF 15 with 10 seconds remaining in the first half
- Interception on a first-down pass from the WF 37
- Successful 31-yard field goal
- Missed 51-yard field goal
- Successful 54-yard field goal
That’s a total of nine points out of seven possessions in field-goal range. And that’s not good.
It’s especially not good because Wake Forest’s defense is especially not good. The Demon Deacons had allowed an average of 35.0 points and 481.3 total yards in three games against ACC opponents.
The Hokies did manage 28 first downs and 433 total yards, but some lot of good it did them on the scoreboard.
They are now 3-2 and certain to drop out of the AP Top 25 (they were No. 19), and even if they were to upset Clemson on Dec. 5, they have virtually no hope of reaching the ACC Championship Game now.
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Malik Willis spent two years at Auburn as the backup to Jarrett Stidham, and then he entered the transfer portal when it became apparent that either Bo Nix or Joey Gatewood would be the starter in 2019.
“I never really got a chance to throw the ball at Auburn, and that’s not a knock on Coach [Gus] Malzahn or Auburn. They were great,” Willis said in July 2019, per ESPN’s Chris Low. “I just never got a chance in games to show that I could throw it. It was all in practice, and I look forward to showing what I can do in Coach Freeze’s offense.”
He’s certainly getting that chance now with undefeated Liberty.
In Saturday’s 56-35 win over Southern Miss, Willis completed 24 of 31 passes for 345 yards and six touchdowns, setting career highs in both yards and touchdowns. He also rushed 12 times for 97 yards and a seventh score.
The most recent player to have at least 300 passing yards, 75 rushing yards and seven touchdowns in a single game was D’Eriq King with Houston in October 2018. Despite their reputations as dual-threat box-score stuffers, not even Lamar Jackson, Kyler Murray or Jalen Hurts ever had a game quite like what Willis just did.
Liberty is now 6-0 and has won each of its last four games by at least three scores. The Flames will have Week 9 off in advance of a major test at Virginia Tech on Nov. 7. That Hokies defense is nothing special, though, so Liberty just might pull off a stunner if Willis can carry some of this momentum into that game.
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In 2019, Jack Coan had the best season by a Wisconsin quarterback since Russell Wilson’s one year as a graduate transfer in 2011.
Granted, the collection of Joel Stave, Bart Houston, Alex Hornibrook and Tanner McEvoy didn’t exactly set the bar high. But Coan completed nearly 70 percent of his passes, accounted for 22 touchdowns and did not have a single game with multiple interceptions. Impressive stuff for a guy whose primary job was to hand the ball to Jonathan Taylor, and it was good enough that he was expected to remain the starter this season.
However, he had foot surgery following a non-contact injury in early October and is out indefinitely, which meant redshirt freshman Graham Mertz got the start Friday night against Illinois.
Given how well he performed, it’s hard to imagine anyone else taking a meaningful snap for the Badgers in the next few years.
Mertz completed each of his first 17 pass attempts before Garrett Groshek dropped a pass on 3rd-and-19 midway through the third quarter. It was his only miss of the night, finishing 20-of-21 for 248 yards and five touchdowns in a 45-7 victory over Illinois.
The Illini defense was lacking, to say the least. On three of the five touchdowns, there wasn’t a defender within five yards of the receiver. As we’ve learned from watching Trevor Lawrence against ACC defenses over the past few years, though, it’s plenty possible for a quarterback to look great while a defense looks awful. And regardless of the coverage, Mertz threw some beautiful balls against Illinois.
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As has been belabored many times over the past few weeks, the Big 12’s dreams of putting a team in the College Football Playoff more or less boil down to “Oklahoma State or bust.”
Perhaps if Kansas State wins out, it could finish in the Top Four and get a shot at a national championship. However, opening the season with a home loss to Arkansas State put the Wildcats in quite the early hole. So, yeah, Oklahoma State or bust.
With a 24-21 win over Iowa State this week, though, that scenario lives to see another day.
Spencer Sanders was back at quarterback for the first time since mid-September, and he was, understandably, a little rusty. He threw a pair of interceptions, each of which resulted in a Cyclones touchdown less than five plays later. But he also had more than 300 combined passing and rushing yards and two touchdowns to help balance the ledger.
On one key drive in the second quarter, Sanders ran for a first down on 3rd-and-5, threw for a first down on 3rd-and-10 and scrambled for 13 yards on 3rd-and-14, resulting in a much more manageable fourth-down attempt. One play after Chuba Hubbard successfully converted that 4th-and-1, the star running back ran in a touchdown from 32 yards out.
Shane Illingworth was OK in Sanders’ stead for a few weeks, but there’s no way the Cowboys score on that drive without Sanders’ play-making ability.
Up next for Oklahoma State is a home game against Texas, followed by road games against Kansas State and Oklahoma. The 4-0 start has been impressive, but getting to 7-0 will be a substantial challenge. The defense might be up to the task, though. The Cowboys are only allowing 12.0 points per game, which is more than enough for this star-studded offense.
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Minnesota could not have asked for a much better start than it got in the season opener against Michigan. Not only did the Golden Gophers force the Wolverines to punt on 4th-and-30 on the first drive of the game, but they also blocked the punt to immediately start in the red zone and scored a touchdown two plays later.
It was all downhill from there.
Michigan RB Zach Charbonnet ran 70 yards for a touchdown on the next snap, followed by Minnesota going three-and-out and not even punting the ball into Michigan territory.
After getting a stop and benefiting from a missed 38-yard field goal, Tanner Morgan got leveled on the first play of the subsequent “drive,” fumbling the ball to Donovan Jeter for another Wolverines touchdown.
Then, after a lengthy drive for a field goal, Minnesota’s special teams allowed a long kickoff return to put Michigan inside the 10 for another quick touchdown.
It was just more of the same all night long in Michigan’s 49-24 statement win on the road.
Aside from that initial blocked punt, the Wolverines didn’t even try another one. They either scored a touchdown (six) or missed a field goal (three) on each of their next nine possessions.
Defense was a big question mark for Minnesota coming into the season. It’s an even bigger one now. The Golden Gophers lost seven starters from last year, and that resulted in a rather pitiful performance against a Michigan team breaking in a new starting quarterback and a bunch of new receivers.
For what it’s worth, Joe Milton looked good at QB for the Wolverines. He didn’t have to deal with much pressure—either in the form of pass rush or critical junctures in the game—but he might be the answer for what now appears to be the top challenger to Ohio State in the Big Ten.