College football had a party in Week 10, and none of the cool kids showed up. No Alabama or LSU, no Ohio State or Penn State, no Oklahoma or even Minnesota. OK, so Clemson swung by, said hello, raided the fridge and dropped 59 on Wofford, but that hardly counts.
Instead, Saturday was for the second tier of playoff candidates — not the favorites but the teams waiting in the wings for someone else to screw up. It was like the deleted scenes from a season of “The Bachelor”: no roses but enough melodrama that you can’t help but watch.
Start in Jacksonville, Florida, where the one-loss Gators and one-loss Bulldogs faced off in what amounted to a playoff elimination game. The Bulldogs’ defense sure looked ready for a late push for an SEC title, utterly suffocating Florida’s ground game to the tune of 19 total yards in a 24-17 win. There was a lot to like about Georgia’s performance. The Dawgs were dominant on third down. Jake Fromm had a solid game, completing 20 of 30 for 279 yards and two scores. Lawrence Cager continues to be one of the top non-QB transfers of the 2019 season. Yet it still felt a bit flat.
Nearly from the outset, Georgia seemed on the verge of breaking the game wide-open but never quite did. The offense never went three-and-out, but it settled for kicks on three of five red zone drives. D’Andre Swift had a nifty 30-yard run, but his other 24 carries amounted to 56 yards. Coming off a couple of lackluster offensive performances — albeit one in driving rain — the 24 points against Florida didn’t exactly erase concerns about the Bulldogs’ ability to move the ball against good teams. Against Power 5 opponents, no current playoff contender is scoring less than Georgia (26.3 per game). The defense is good enough to keep Fromm & Co. in every game, but as the South Carolina loss three weeks ago showed, the offense has to do its job, too.
Out west, the Pac-12’s playoff hopes have been on life support nearly all season, but Utah managed to toe the line just a bit longer, escaping an upset attempt by Washington 33-28 on the strength of a game-changing pick-six by Jaylon Johnson in the third quarter. The Utes — along with Georgia and Oklahoma — have losses that won’t be easily shrugged off by the playoff committee, and like Clemson, they don’t have a single win that offers a clear picture that there’s something special simmering beneath the surface. But they’re alive, and thanks to USC’s loss to Oregon, the Utes control their destiny in the Pac-12 South.
Oregon scores on offense, defense and special teams, including three Justin Herbert touchdown passes to Juwan Johnson.
As with Georgia, Oregon’s defense was terrific Saturday, clearly looking ready for a run to the playoff. The Ducks nabbed four takeaways and utterly tormented Kedon Slovis, trouncing USC 56-24. That looks like a score a playoff team would put up, but there were some cracks in Oregon’s stellar facade. Oregon was flagged 12 times for 157 yards and didn’t run the ball well, and the offense was boom-or-bust. Auburn’s lackluster affair against Ole Miss on Saturday didn’t exactly put a shine on the Ducks’ résumé either. None of that matters much compared to a blowout win of that magnitude, but when there’s a “1” in the loss column, the committee’s going to be looking closely at the little things.
Then there’s SMU. The Mustangs probably weren’t legitimate playoff contenders anyway. The committee can give lip service to adding a Group of Five team, but it wasn’t going to happen. Still, the glimmer of hope was officially extinguished when Brady White and Memphis proved to be too much. It’s a shame. We can only imagine the type of parade they would throw for a claimed — but far from official — national title in Texas. It could’ve put UCF to shame.
When the dust settled, Georgia, Utah and Oregon survived and advanced. If the Bulldogs win the SEC, they’ll almost certainly nab a playoff berth. If Oregon or Utah wins out, either could have a case — maybe a strong one. But while all three used Week 10’s spotlight to remind the committee that they’re still alive and kicking, they all showed a few signs of why they’ve been relegated to the playoff back burner, too.
Can we get a do-over?
It’s time to set your clocks back an hour, but a number of schools that made big-name coaching hires before the 2018 season wish they could turn the clock back two full years.
Willie Taggart looks to be on his way out at Florida State after a dismal performance against rival Miami. The Noles have essentially relegated their QBs to the role of Sykowski in “Office Space” — “I bring the ball to Cam Akers!” “… then I gotta ask, why don’t we just direct snap to Cam Akers?” — yet Saturday was awful for the offense, with Miami racking up nine sacks and 16 tackles for loss. FSU needs to win two of its final three — at BC, Alabama State, at Florida — to qualify for a bowl.
Scott Frost was supposed to finally bring Nebraska back to relevance, but instead, the Cornhuskers have been horrific this season. The preseason expectations were high, but Saturday’s final-drive loss to woeful Purdue marked a new low point. A glass-half-full fan might hold out hope due to seven one-possession losses since the start of last season, but the lack of progress offers far more reason to think that Nebraska remains a long way off from its glory days.
At Arizona, Kevin Sumlin was supposed to bring the high-powered offense that turned Johnny Manziel into a Heisman winner to the desert, where Khalil Tate awaited. That hasn’t gone well, and Saturday’s blowout home loss to Oregon State was among the most embarrassing defeats for the Wildcats in years.
Chad Morris looks equally overmatched at Arkansas. The Razorbacks had arguably their best chance for an SEC win on Saturday, hosting Mississippi State. Instead, it was another blowout, 54-24, as Kylin Hill ran for 234 yards. Arkansas has lost 22 of its past 23 in conference play, including an 0-14 mark under Morris.
Jeremy Pruitt, Joe Moorhead and Chip Kelly have all endured their share of criticism, and even Jimbo Fisher’s Texas A&M team hasn’t managed to win its biggest games.
Meanwhile, a few of the names that flew beneath the radar in that same hiring cycle have made huge strides.
Jonathan Smith has Oregon State looking good, and the Beavers’ 4-4 record this season accounts for one more win than they had the previous two seasons combined. Billy Napier has Louisiana at 6-2 with one of the most explosive offenses in the Group of Five. Sean Lewis has Kent State 2-2 in MAC play. The Golden Flashes haven’t won three conference games since 2013.
Then there’s SMU’s Sonny Dykes and Oregon’s Mario Cristobal. Dykes took an L on Saturday, but he has SMU in a place it hasn’t been since the mid-1980s. Meanwhile, Taggart’s replacement has Oregon hopping on the recruiting trail and still in the mix for a playoff berth.
The lesson: The obvious choice for a coaching hire isn’t always the right one.
Not quite Heisman Five
If you’re in the mix to win the Heisman in 2019, you earned yourself a Saturday off in Week 10. With no news on Joe Burrow or Chase Young, let’s take a look at five guys who aren’t going to get an invite to New York City but are nevertheless doing some impressive things this season.
1. Sam Howell, UNC
His team is under .500 after yet another one-possession loss (UNC’s fifth!) to Virginia, but there are nothing but good things to say about the freshman QB. Howell finished 15-of-29 for 353 yards and four touchdowns against the Cavaliers, his fourth 300-yard game of the season. His 26 touchdown passes lead the ACC, and he’s one of two QBs in college football with at least 2,400 passing yards, 25 TDs and no more than five picks. The other? Heisman favorite Joe Burrow.
2. Jamie Newman, Wake Forest
After missing last week’s game against FSU because of an injury, Newman returned to work Saturday against NC State, posting 317 yards and five touchdowns. For the season, Newman is completing better than 67% of his throws, with 25 total TDs and five picks.
3. Isaiah Hodgins, Oregon State
Hodgins had his fourth game of the season with at least seven catches and 120 yards. With Oklahoma State star Tylan Wallace done for the season, Hodgins is in good position to finish the season leading all Power 5 receivers in yards (895, third) and touchdowns (12, first).
4. Dillon Gabriel, UCF
The Knights won’t be claiming a national title this season after losing two games, but they seem to have found a star at QB. Although a number of freshman have gotten plenty of hype — Howell, Bo Nix, Hank Bachmeier — Gabriel has been as good or better than any of them. In a win over Houston on Saturday, Gabriel completed 70% of his throws for 298 yards and three TDs, and his season numbers stand at 23 touchdowns, five picks and nearly 10 yards per pass.
5. Jalar Holley, Miami
This one isn’t about the stats. It’s about the form. There are no better moves in college football than Holley’s sideline dance routines, and he provided a nice Halloween twist Saturday during a dominant win over Florida State.
He’s back at it, this time with the Thriller dance ���� pic.twitter.com/wa18WWi4G4
– ESPN (@espn) November 2, 2019
Big bets and bad beats
• Way back on Oct. 5, Navy and Air Force delivered a rarity: a game between the service academies that easily went over the total (the number was 46.5, and Navy won 34-25). That, according to ESPN Stats & Info, marked the second time in the past 18 games between the academies that they hit the over. So what happened when Air Force and Army went at it Saturday? Back to reality: A 17-13 Air Force win that didn’t come within two TDs of the number.
• How big was Ian Book‘s late scramble to defeat Virginia Tech? Pretty big if you were crazy enough to bet the Hokies’ money line. Book’s score erased a six-point Virginia Tech lead with less than a minute to play. The Hokies were 17.5-point underdogs and would’ve paid out at +600, the biggest upset by point spread for Tech in at least 40 years. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be.
• Coastal Carolina scored on a CJ Marable run with 30 seconds to play to pull within one against Troy. The Trojans were favored in the game by three, with a chance to cover — or at least get the push — in overtime. The only problem? Coastal rolled the dice on a 2-point try … and it worked. The Chanticleers won 36-35, covering by three.
• UTSA’s offense scored on its second drive of the game at Texas A&M (-37.5), then went into hibernation, with its next eight drives including seven punts and one turnover on downs after failing on a fourth-and-1 try. When the Aggies pushed their lead to 45-7 midway through the fourth quarter, A&M backers could’ve felt fairly comfortable with a cover. Unfortunately, Jimbo Fisher wanted to get his backup QB some work, and Zack Calzada wasn’t up to the task. His second-down throw with five minutes to play was picked off by Dadrian Taylor and returned 58 yards for a touchdown. Final score: 45-14 and a 6.5-point cover for the Roadrunners.
• TCU trailed by 10 with less than a minute to play and faced a fourth down. Go for it? Nah. Some folks had the over, and TCU wanted to oblige. Jonathan Song booted a 40-yard field goal to put the score at 34-27, eclipsing the Vegas total by a half-point.
Can he get to NYC?
The Heisman favorites have largely remain unchanged this season, and aside from some occasional love for Jonathan Taylor or Chase Young, it has been an all-QB affair. But if someone’s going to break up the QB monopoly, it should be Oklahoma State’s Chuba Hubbard, whose numbers are downright eye-popping.
Hubbard posted his fourth 200-yard game of the season on Saturday, running for 223 on 20 carries in a 34-27 win over TCU. His 92-yard TD run was the longest allowed by TCU since 2007, and he followed that with a 62-yarder. He leads FBS in rushing by more than 300 yards over the next closest competitor. His 1,604 rushing yards are the most through nine games since Tulane’s Matt Forte in 2007, according to ESPN Stats & Info.
Of course, Forte didn’t sniff a Heisman invite that season, either.
Reason No. 643 that the ACC is unpredictable
Miami toppled Florida State on Saturday, and Pitt survived another close one against Georgia Tech. For the season, that moves the Canes to 5-4 and Pitt to 6-3.
How close have things been in the ACC this season? Those 5-4 Canes are exactly 21 points from being 9-0. Those 6-3 Panthers are exactly 34 points from being 0-9.
Georgia converted 12 of 18 third-down tries in its win over Florida, a high-water mark for the Bulldogs against a ranked opponent since their Belk Bowl win over Louisville in 2014, according to ESPN Stats & Info.
The defensive coordinator in both games? That’d be Todd Grantham, who coached at Georgia from 2010 through 2013.
Going the long way
Notre Dame fans were certainly frustrated after the Irish went 17 plays — plus four Virginia Tech penalties — only to settle for a 35-yard field goal try in the fourth quarter. Then the kick missed. It was just the fifth drive this season of at least 17 plays by a Power 5 team that didn’t result in points.
The Irish made up for it in the end, however. Book’s TD capped an 18-play drive, which, according to ESPN Stats & Info, marked the longest scoring drive by Notre Dame since 2005 vs. Pitt.
Under-the-radar play of the week
We all love big-guy TDs, but it’s worth remembering that big guys don’t always have to score for a play to be elite, and there are degrees of big guys — big, very big and, of course, Darrion Daniels big.
The Nebraska defensive tackle found a ball in his hands after an ill-advised Purdue shovel pass, and he rumbled 18 yards before being tackled by Boilermakers tailback Zander Horvath, who was at a 100-pound disadvantage. Who made the more impressive play? Probably Horvath, but he gets deducted points for ruining what should’ve been the jiggliest touchdown of the season.
Don’t get me wrong, this is glorious. pic.twitter.com/HEj7184c1k
– Timothy Burke (@bubbaprog) November 2, 2019
Under-the-radar game of the week
Even if the big guys in FBS all took the week off, another Division I undefeated provided some serious drama. Dartmouth moved to 7-0 in divine fashion, with one of the most ridiculous Hail Mary plays of recent years. Set aside the ugliness of Harvard’s 6-3 lead heading into the game’s final play. The last-gasp scramble-and-throw from QB Derek Kyler bounced off the hands of two Harvard defenders and found a home in the arms of Dartmouth’s Masaki Aerts for the win.
Dartmouth beat Harvard on a wild Hail Mary �� pic.twitter.com/FATykfMdlV
– ESPN College Football (@ESPNCFB) November 2, 2019