A look at the highs and lows in the Saturday that was in college football.
Take a look at Michigan State Coach Mark Dantonio on the sideline and it can seem as though there’s one emotion in play at all times.
The personality of his team — the one with a penchant for pulling off all sorts of surprises over the last half-decade — can be all over the place.
Sometimes it’s bold. Sometimes it’s wise. Sometimes it’s efficient. But almost always, the Spartans are perfectly content to stay in the hunt and wrest a game away in the final minutes.
All of the above was on display in Saturday’s 21-17 triumph at Penn State, a result that effectively finishes off the Nittany Lions as a national title contender. Their playoff hopes died last year with back-to-back losses at Ohio State and Michigan State. The same thing just happened, only with both contests in Happy Valley and a bye week wedged between the two.
Penn State (4-2, 1-2 Big Ten) will be left wondering how it frittered away a game in which it averaged 6.2 yards a play, got 162 rushing yards from Miles Sanders and committed just one turnover, a fumble on its first possession that led to a punt.
The real error was letting Michigan State linger after taking a 17-14 lead on a field goal with 9:21 to go. Michigan State’s next possession ended in a fake field goal, the sort of thing the taciturn Dantonio seems to dust off in spotlight games once or twice a year. It didn’t work, but it was worthwhile for gifting the world with a pass intended for 6-foot-4, 300-pound defensive tackle Raequan Williams.
Penn State’s next mistake was to burn off just 70 seconds before handing it back to the Spartans with 4:09 to go. The Nittany Lions then messed up again after Michigan State took a cautious approach and punted with three timeouts in hand. They went three-and-out and back on defense with 1:19 remaining.
And now it was time for the efficient version of the Spartans to show up, rattling off three first downs in five plays. Three snaps later, Felton Davis III hauled in a 25-yard touchdown pass to win it.
Once again, Michigan State (4-2, 2-1) hung around long enough to make an opponent pay. The Spartans have now won 10 of their last 15 games against teams ranked in the top 10 of the Associated Press poll. And they could get another shot or two to expand that success later this season with Michigan (next week) and Ohio State (Nov. 10) both due for visits to East Lansing.
Iowa State. October has arrived, and it’s time for the Cyclones to become a giant pain for the rest of the Big 12.
Iowa State handed Oklahoma its only loss of the regular season last year, and it also stymied Texas Christian in an impressive midyear stretch. This year, the Cyclones have dropped 48 points on Oklahoma State and now own a 30-14 victory over West Virginia.
Oh, and Iowa State (3-3, 2-2 Big 12) got some unexpected quarterback magic, just like last year. Freshman Brock Purdy threw for 254 yards and three touchdowns in his first career start.
UCLA. The long wait for the Bruins’ first victory under Chip Kelly is over. Joshua Kelley rushed 30 times for 157 yards and three touchdowns as UCLA (1-5, 1-2 Pac-12) pounded California, 37-7.
Oregon. Let’s not go bananas suggesting the Ducks are back by dint of their 30-27 overtime win over Washington.
For starters, beating a Huskies team that entered with one loss already isn’t the most earth-shattering development. Also, Washington had a chance to win it on the final play of the fourth quarter. And perhaps most significantly, Oregon was a playoff team four years ago and went 9-4 in 2015. If the Ducks have been gone, it hasn’t been for long.
That said, there’s plenty for Oregon (5-1, 2-1 Pac-12) to celebrate after getting crushed by its Pacific Northwest rival the last two years. The Ducks got 111 yards and two touchdowns (including the game-winner) from tailback CJ Verdell, and now find themselves tied in the loss column atop the Pac-12 North. They easily could still be undefeated, but this should take the sting out of last month’s loss to Stanford.
Saturday represented growth for Mario Cristobal’s bunch. Oregon dominated for 40 minutes against Stanford but found a way to lose. The Ducks didn’t dominate a more tested and experienced Washington team and navigated a path to victory.
Kansas State. What’s the best way to handle a tenuous quarterback situation that’s left a septuagenarian coach in an especially prickly mood? Generate a dominant run game and render the issue moot.
The Wildcats ran it 55 times in their 31-12 win over Oklahoma State, with running back Alex Barnes taking 34 carries for 181 yards and four touchdowns. Quarterback Skylar Thompson rushed 12 times for 80 yards for the Wildcats (3-4, 1-3 Big 12), who took a step toward salvaging something of their season while dealing the Cowboys their third conference loss.
Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish (7-0) survived a visit from Pittsburgh, earning a 19-14 victory. All that really matters for Notre Dame is staying undefeated, which means winning when at its best (Stanford) and when it is relatively underwhelming (Ball State, Pittsburgh). So far, the Irish have done just that.
Central Florida. The Knights (6-0, 3-0 AAC) are in the same boat as Notre Dame, other than one obvious problem: Even if they go undefeated, they’re not a great bet to land a playoff berth. But even if there isn’t much hope, there’s always an argument so long as there’s a zero in the loss column.
That was in peril for much of the day at Memphis, which led by as many as 16 points. But McKenzie Milton engineered a comeback capped by seven-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter and Central Florida nabbed a 31-30 victory in a rematch of last year’s conference title game.
Nate Stanley. The Iowa quarterback threw six touchdown passes in a 42-16 drubbing of Indiana, the most for any Hawkeye since Chuck Hartlieb had seven against Northwestern in 1987.
West Virginia. The No. 6 Mountaineers burned their playoff mulligan at Iowa State. They still have Oklahoma and Texas to come.
Miami. The Hurricanes’ 16-13 loss at Virginia was their fifth setback in their last seven trips to Thomas Jefferson’s University. Bet they didn’t see that coming when they joined the ACC almost a decade and a half ago.
Also, that’s two losses for Miami (5-2, 2-1). No playoff this year for the Hurricanes.
Wisconsin. Another two-loss team that is toast for playoff purposes. The 15th-ranked Badgers were crushed, 38-13, at Michigan
Auburn. Good heavens, have things gone sideways on coach Gus Malzahn’s Tigers (4-3, 1-3 SEC), who followed up last week’s loss to Mississippi State with a stunning 30-24 setback at home against Tennessee.
The same Tennessee that hadn’t won an SEC game since 2016. The same Tennessee that began the day ranked 100th nationally in total offense (360 yards a game), 107th in passing offense (182.8) and tied for 113th in turnover margin (minus-four).
Naturally, Jarrett Guarantano threw for 328 yards and two touchdowns for the Volunteers (3-3, 1-2). And naturally Tennessee didn’t have a giveaway while turning three Auburn miscues into 14 points.
Now the sobering part for the Tigers, who are less than a year removed from what amounted to a playoff play-in in the SEC title game: They still have to visit Alabama and Georgia. What could have been a fun season has devolved into something stunningly pedestrian.
Washington. The loss at Oregon finishes off the Huskies’ playoff hopes and removes what was probably the Pac-12’s best hope of getting a 12-1 team to Selection Sunday.
This one will sting a bit more, considering Washington (5-2, 3-1) was in fine shape for a go-ahead score after converting on fourth and three at the Oregon 33-yard line with a little more than a minute to go. But Peyton Henry missed wide right from 37 yards out on the final play of regulation to send it to overtime — and set up the Huskies for their second setback.
Nebraska. The Cornhuskers are almost inventing ways to lose at this point. Nebraska led by 10 after a field goal with 5:41 to go at Northwestern, and still held a touchdown advantage after pinning the Wildcats at their 1-yard line with 2:02 to go.
Northwestern had no timeouts, but it still completed the length-of-the-field march with 12 seconds to spare. Then Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez threw an interception in overtime. And then Drew Luckenbaugh made a 39-yarder to cap Northwestern’s possession for a 34-31 victory. And just like that, the Cornhuskers are 0-6 for the first time in program history and somehow more miserable than they already were this season.
Rutgers’ pass offense. That the Scarlet Knights (1-6, 0-4 Big Ten) are not good is not news. And at this point, they don’t merit piling on unless things go really south.
Saturday’s showing in a 34-7 loss at Maryland qualifies. Rutgers was 2 of 17 for 8 yards and five interceptions, with starting quarterback Artur Sitkowski taking most of the statistical shelling. The team’s passing efficiency rating was a robust -43.11. Yuck.
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