There’s a relentlessness and a purpose to this LSU team, and it was on display nearly every time the Tigers touched the ball. Quarterback Joe Burrow had as many touchdowns as incompletions (three apiece), throwing for 293 yards. He took turns finding Ja’Marr Chase (127 yards and two touchdowns) and Justin Jefferson (123 yards and one touchdown). Clyde Edwards-Helaire (13 carries, 134 yards, two touchdowns) anchored the running game.
While LSU was busy with quick strikes, scoring five times on drives of five plays or less, Florida (6-1, 3-1) was commendably persistent. It strung together long possessions into the second half. Each of its touchdown drives covered 75 yards, each lasted at least eight plays and all but one came off an LSU score.
It was a fine test for the Tigers, one of the two best they’ve received so far (it’s either this or their 45-38 victory at Texas on Sept. 7 taking top honors). A past LSU team would have engaged in a drawn-out slog with Florida. This outfit simply contented itself to summoning ruthless responses every time it was pushed.
Halfway through the season, it’s perfectly clear this is who the Tigers are, thanks in large part to the addition of passing game coordinator Joe Brady helping to modernize a plodding offense. With another impressive victory in the books, LSU is a step closer to what might may be the game of the year: A Nov. 9 visit to Alabama that looks like it will be oozing playoff ramifications.
Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish navigated one of their most challenging remaining games, fending off Southern California 30-27. Notre Dame (5-1) rushed for 308 yards as it reached the midpoint of the regular season with its playoff hopes alive.
The biggest problem of the day for the Irish was arguably Georgia’s home loss to South Carolina. Notre Dame lost at Georgia last month, and it would surely be behind the Bulldogs in a queue of one-loss teams. (Of course, Georgia would add victories over Florida, Auburn and the SEC West champion if it were to finish with one loss).
Penn State. Survived a night game at Iowa with a 17-12 triumph, which is no small thing. The Nittany Lions (6-0, 3-0 Big Ten) didn’t pile up many style points with their 3.8 yards per play, but pin a fair bit of that on the host Hawkeyes (4-2, 1-2). Iowa was coming off a 10-3 loss to Michigan — the team set to visit Penn State in one of next week’s most noteworthy games.
Wisconsin’s defense. The Badgers smashed Michigan State, 38-0, their fourth shutout of the season. Wisconsin (6-0, 3-0 Big Ten) hadn’t reached that figure since posting five shutouts in 1930. Don’t put it past Paul Chryst’s team to get there next week; the Badgers will pay a visit to Illinois on Saturday before closing the month in a titanic matchup at Ohio State on Oct. 26.
Tua Tagovailoa. The Alabama junior set a school record for career passing touchdowns during his 293-yard, four-touchdown outing in the Crimson Tide’s 47-28 defeat of Texas A&M. Tagovailoa, whose 81 career TD passes surpassed A.J. McCarron’s 77, set the record just halfway through his second season as a starter.
Clemson. After a close call at North Carolina and then an open date, Clemson got back to looking like Clemson. And the Tigers (6-0, 4-0 ACC) took it out on Florida State (3-3, 2-2), which was utterly overmatched in a 45-14 road loss.
Quarterback Trevor Lawrence (17 of 25, 170 yards, three TDs, one interception) was on point for the most part, and the Tigers scored touchdowns on four of their first five possessions en route to a 42-0 lead.
Clemson has won five in a row against its ACC Atlantic Division rival, and the gap between the two programs doesn’t look likely to shrink much in the near future.
Tennessee. There aren’t many teams that needed a reason to feel good about themselves more than the Volunteers. And they got one with their 20-10 defeat of Mississippi State, sealed late in the fourth quarter on Jarrett Guarantano’s 39-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Byrd.
This doesn’t solve everything for Tennessee (2-4, 1-2 SEC), which has the misfortune of visiting Alabama next week. But it does provide some hope the Vols can rustle up four victories in their last five games (South Carolina, UAB, at Kentucky, at Missouri, Vanderbilt) and show some progress after a miserable start to the season.
Bowling Green. This won’t get much attention, but the Falcons ended a nine-game skid against Battle of I-75 rival Toledo, claiming a 20-7 victory as Grant Loy threw for 185 yards and a touchdown and rushed for 137 yards and another score in Coach Scot Loeffler’s most meaningful result in his first year at the school.
The Falcons (2-4, 1-1 Mid-American) had suffered through three consecutive losing seasons, but even coaches like Dino Babers (0-2) and Dave Clawson (1-4), who parlayed success at Bowling Green into ACC jobs, had not done well against the Rockets. The victory also ended a far weirder streak: The Falcons had lost eight conference home games in a row before Saturday’s surprise.
Georgia. The top six teams in the preseason Associated Press poll entered the day 31-0. Sure, they’d shuffled spots in the rankings, but it was still some combination of Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, LSU, Ohio State and Oklahoma.
Georgia became the first of the preseason favorites to absorb a loss, dropping a 20-17 double-overtime decision to South Carolina in a game neither team seemed capable of finishing off. In the end, it was Georgia kicker Rodrigo Blankenship’s missed 42-yard field goal that finally brought an end to things.
That changed with the Bulldogs (5-1, 2-1 SEC) failing to string together enough on offense despite not having a three-and-out all day. It was Georgia’s first loss to an unranked opponent since 2016 (28-27 against Georgia Tech) and its first to unranked team when the Bulldogs themselves were ranked since 2015 (Tennessee 38-31).
To be sure, Georgia has used up its mulligan for playoff purposes. It will need to handle Florida, Auburn and Texas A&M next month and the SEC West champ in a potential conference title game to have a realistic chance at earning its second semifinal trip in three years
Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons are no longer unbeaten after a rollicking 62-59 loss to Louisville.
Three things worth pointing out from perhaps the most entertaining game of the day outside of Florida-LSU. One, Louisville freshman quarterback Evan Conley was 12 of 18 for 196 yards and two touchdowns in relief, the second consecutive week he’s come in to help sew up a Cardinals victory. Two, Wake wideout Sage Surratt produced a 12-catch, 196-yard, three-touchdown effort. And three, the Demon Deacons are now 0-7 coming off an open date under Coach Dave Clawson
Memphis. And then there were three undefeated Group of Five teams. The Tigers (5-1, 1-1 American) took a 30-28 loss at Temple, severely hampering their chances of landing a New Year’s Six bowl berth.
The remaining unbeatens outside the power conferences: Appalachian State, which improved to 5-0 Wednesday; SMU (6-0), which has the week off; and Boise State, which is 5-0 entering its home game late Saturday against 4-1 Hawaii.
Vanderbilt. The Commodores were right around .500 each of the last three seasons: 6-7, 5-7 and 6-7, with a pair of bowl losses thrown in. It will take quite a finish to get there again this year. Vanderbilt fell to 1-5 with a 34-10 loss to UNLV (2-4).
BYU. The Cougars reach the midpoint of their utterly weird season at 2-4. BYU picked off Tennessee and Southern Cal in overtime last month, but has since dropped three in a row — including Saturday’s 27-23 setback against a South Florida bunch that hasn’t been impressive this year.
Backup quarterback Jaren Hall, making his first career start, was a solid 15 of 23 for 148 yards and a touchdown, but the redshirt freshman was sacked five times and left with an injury. That opened the door for the Bulls to score the final 13 points and erase a nine-point hole in the fourth quarter.
Rutgers. It’s almost unfair to pick on the Scarlet Knights (1-5, 0-4 Big Ten). They’ve fired their coach and their top quarterback and tailback have decided they would rather sit out the rest of the season and keep their options open rather than burn a year of eligibility.
Still, when a team completes 5 of 13 passes for one(!) yard in a 35-0 loss at Indiana, it’s worth mentioning. Then again, things could be worse. This was the team, after all, that had a 2-of-17, eight-yard, five-interception passing performance at Maryland last season.
Takeaways from Week 7′s weeknight appetizers:
Oregon’s defense was on point again. It was worth mentioning last week when Oregon — the increasingly clear Pac-12 favorite — surrendered a touchdown to California. It was the first time an opponent reached the end zone against the Ducks in more than a month.
Oregon remained stingy in Friday’s 45-3 rout of Colorado, improving to 5-1 (3-0 Pac-12) and making a case it owns one of the nation’s best defenses. During a five-game winning streak, the Ducks have allowed a measly 25 points. And as much of the Pac-12 has crumbled around it, Oregon at least harbors some playoff hope.
The toughest remaining test might be next weekend when the Ducks head to Washington (though believers in Arizona State could make a case that Oregon’s visit to the desert on Nov. 23 is more arduous). Regardless, Oregon’s defensive strength makes it a team to watch in case there is an unusual level of tumult elsewhere.
Coastal chaos. Everyone in the ACC Coastal Division now has a conference loss thanks to Miami’s 17-9 defeat of Virginia. The Cavaliers were the last in the seven-team division to absorb a setback in the ACC, and it was an especially disappointing showing since they were coming off an open date while the Hurricanes had just lost at home to struggling Virginia Tech.
The Coastal winner has finished with at least two ACC losses in five of the last seven years (with 8-0 North Carolina in 2015 and 7-1 Miami in 2017 as the exceptions). It looks like it’s headed in that direction again this fall.
The Heisman horse race
The Heisman Trophy Watch is a popular pundit pursuit, but let’s emphasize it for what it is: a consideration of who is most likely to win it not who should win it.
So let’s start by emphasizing the award’s recent voting history and use that as a template rather than arguing who is actually the best player in the country. Because let’s face it, the Heisman has often ended up in the hands of the best quarterback on a top-five team — 15 times since 1992, in fact. With a largely similar voter pool, it’s easy to envision an outcome in December similar to the recent past.
Quarterbacks have a built-in advantage. It didn’t used to be this way. In a 12-year stretch from 1972 to 1983, not a single QB won the Heisman. But the tide turned with the selections of Andre Ware (1989) and Ty Detmer (1990). Quarterbacks have accounted for the last three Heisman winners, eight of the last nine, 11 of 13, 16 of 19 and 21 of the last 30.
Running backs can win it, though — especially if they play at Alabama. The three non-quarterbacks to claim the Heisman in the 21st century: Derrick Henry (2015), Mark Ingram (2009) and Reggie Bush (2005). The former two backs were on national title teams with the Tide, while Bush famously played for Southern Cal, though as a result of NCAA sanctions you’ll no longer see his name on the official log of winners.
Wide receivers barely register. Quick, name every wideout who was a Heisman finalist since Michigan’s Desmond Howard won it in 1991. The total is five: Alabama’s David Palmer (1993), Marshall’s Randy Moss (1997), Pitt’s Larry Fitzgerald (2003), Alabama’s Amari Cooper (2014) and Oklahoma’s Dede Westbrook (2016).
Neither do defensive players or (especially) offensive linemen. Charles Woodson (1997) is the lone primarily defensive player to claim the Heisman, though there were four finalists in the last 10 years (Nebraska’s Ndamukong Suh in 2009, LSU’s Tyrann Mathieu in 2011, Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o in 2012 and Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers in 2016). You might be surprised to learn there has been an offensive lineman among the finalists in the last 25 years: Ohio State’s Orlando Pace in 1996.
It’s best to be on a top-five team in the final regular season rankings. Such has been the case for 23 of the last 28 Heisman winners. The exceptions: Florida’s Tim Tebow (the Gators were ninth in the AP poll entering the postseason in 2007), Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel (10th in 2012), Baylor’s Robert Griffin III (15th in 2011), Louisville’s Lamar Jackson (15th in 2016) and Texas’s Ricky Williams (20th in 1998).
So where does that leave things as the season approaches its midpoint?
[Note: All stats entering Saturday’s games.]
1. QB Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama (1,718 yards, 23 TD, 0 INT passing; 45 yards, 2 TD rushing). The Crimson Tide star checks all the boxes: A quarterback with name recognition based on past exploits who is playing almost flawlessly this season for the nation’s No. 1 team.
2. QB Jalen Hurts, Oklahoma (1,523 yards, 14 TD, 2 INT passing; 499 yards, 7 TD rushing). Technically not on a top-five team at the moment (the Sooners sit at No. 6), the former Alabama starter could become the third consecutive Sooner quarterback to win the Heisman — and the third in a row to have transferred into Norman.
3. QB Joe Burrow, LSU (1,864 yards, 22 TD, 3 INT passing; 62 yards, 2 TD rushing). The season’s breakout star and the leader of the Tigers’ revitalized offense, Burrow has showdowns with Florida, Auburn and Alabama coming in the next month.
4. QB Justin Fields, Ohio State (1,298 yards, 18 TD, 1 INT passing; 283 yards, 8 TD rushing). And here’s a third transfer in a row. Fields had no trouble settling into a star role with the Buckeyes after arriving from Georgia.
5. RB Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin (745 yards, 12 TD rushing; 12 receptions for 114 yards and 4 TD). The junior nosed past Melvin Gordon for third on the Badgers’ career rushing list last week and is 225 yards away from passing Montee Ball for second.
6. RB Chuba Hubbard, Oklahoma State (1,094 yards, 13 TD rushing; 5 receptions for 22 yards). Tough to argue against the inclusion of the nation’s leading rusher, a workhorse who is also tops in the FBS in carries with 162 (18 more than second-place A.J. Dillon of Boston College).
7. RB J.K. Dobbins, Ohio State (826 yards, 6 TD rushing; 7 receptions for 44 yards and 1 TD). The junior is averaging 7.12 yards per carry, and while the top-five spotlight helps, the presence of a potent quarterback probably limits Dobbins’s ceiling in this exercise.