Winners and Losers from Week 4 of the 2015 College Football Season
Week 4 of the 2015 college football season is heavy on two things: Pac-12 limelight and extraordinary heartbreak in defeat.
UT knows a little something about the latter. Both the University of Texas and University of Tennessee suffered agonizing late-game collapses, a common theme for both squads this year.
Meanwhile, it was a great day for Utah and UCLA out of the Pac-12. The Utes and Bruins handed Oregon and Arizona, respectively, devastating losses on the road while shaping up the conference standings. Plus, this week had a flair for the bizarre with trick plays and flying punters galore.
Who were the winners and losers from Week 4 of college football? We break down all that was good, bad, ugly, gorgeous and more in the following slides.
Arizona led UCLA for all of two minutes and 21 seconds. Then, the Bruins took over and never looked back.
Short-handed on defense due to injuries at all three levels—chiefly, being without linebacker Myles Jack thanks to a season-ending knee injury—UCLA showed it's still one of the best teams in the country by dominating Arizona 56-30.
A lethal dose of turnovers by Arizona (three, to be exact) helped UCLA get short fields, and the Bruins scored on six of their seven first-half possessions. Wildcats quarterback Anu Solomon left early in the game with an apparent head injury.
It's not an easy task to put a Top 25 opponent away, on the road no less, by halftime, yet that's exactly what No. 9 UCLA did to No. 16 Arizona. Freshman quarterback Josh Rosen bounced back from the worst game of his young career, throwing for 284 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
In the grand scheme of things, UCLA proved it could get past key injuries and rebound from poor performances. There will be tough games ahead since the Pac-12 appears to be an unsorted mess, but this is a playoff-caliber team, as George Schroeder of USA Today opined.
Loser: Arizona's Miscues
Make no mistake: The better team in the UCLA-Arizona game won. But it's not like the Wildcats helped themselves, either. We've already mentioned the three turnovers (to UCLA's zero), but the offense was out of sync from the get-go.
Snap issues led to some of the turnovers. Whether it was Anu Solomon or backup quarterback Jerrard Randall in the lineup, snaps were, in a word, adventurous. It was a frustrating night for what has been one of the Pac-12's better offenses this season.
The miscues gave UCLA short fields with which to work. And since the Bruins were clicking on all cylinders, it hardly seemed like they were working to put points on the board. The mistakes, coupled with Solomon's injury, meant Arizona was never able to dig itself out of its hole.
The South Division may be the stronger of the two in the Pac-12, but UCLA and USC are the obvious favorites to win that division, right?
Dear Los Angeles: You have a call from Salt Lake City. The Utah Utes would like to have a word.
Following Utah's incredible 62-20 win over Oregon in Eugene, Utah established itself as a legitimate Pac-12 South contender. The 62 points were the most ever given up at home (Autzen Stadium) by Oregon, per Jon Solomon of CBS Sports.
There were some things already known about Utah coming into the year. The one-two punch of running back Devontae Booker and quarterback Travis Wilson in the running game is as potent as any combo in the Pac-12. Against Oregon, the pair rushed for 198 yards on just 28 carries. It was known the Utes had a good defense. Sure enough, the Utes held Oregon to 5.7 yards per play and forced three turnovers.
Even Utah's special teams were on point. Utah punter Tom Hackett handled a high snap and took off for a 33-yard run because, well, when it's your night, it's your night. And it was definitely Utah's night.
So in the conversation about USC and UCLA for the Pac-12 championship, we ask: Why not Utah?
Loser: Oregon's Playoff Chances
The last time Oregon was beaten as badly as it was against Utah, Mike Bellotti was still the head coach of the Ducks. Yeah, it’s been that long. Nine years, in fact. According to Zach Barnett of FootballScoop.com, the last time Oregon lost by at least 28 points was the 2006 Las Vegas Bowl (38-8 to BYU).
Everything that was happening to Oregon—the big plays, the quick strikes, the right bounces—is usually what Oregon does to others. Utah completely overmatched the Ducks in the stunner of Week 4.
"Anything that could go wrong did. Penalties, turnovers, some odd breaks," head coach Mark Helfrich said, per Steve Mims of the Eugene Register-Guard.
Oregon’s pass defense was a major concern coming into the game. Oregon ranked last in the Pac-12 in yards per game allowed through the air and was nearly last in yards per pass attempt allowed. Sure enough, Utah quarterback Travis Wilson passed for 227 yards at 7.6 yards per attempt.
The other concern, the finger injury to Oregon quarterback Vernon Adams Jr., proved to be a secondary issue. Adams was benched in favor of backup Jeff Lockie for performance reasons, though Lockie never got Oregon back on track, either. For the record, Adams went 2-of-7 passing while Lockie completed 10 of 20 throws.
The fact that the game was over as quickly as it was became the most surprising. Rest assured, with two losses, one of which came in a blowout, Oregon’s playoff hopes are very much on life support, if not already dead.
Winner: Michigan Wide Receiver Amara Darboh
What an amazing few days it has been for Michigan wide receiver Amara Darboh. On Thursday, the 21-year-old received a certificate of naturalization, officially becoming a United States citizen. According to a brilliantly penned story by Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press, Darboh moved from the West African country of Sierra Leone to the U.S. when he was a toddler. His lifelong journey to become a U.S. citizen is officially over, and the moment was captured and shared on head coach Jim Harbaugh's Twitter account.
On Saturday in a 31-0 shutout of No. 22 BYU, Darboh had the catch of the day, a one-handed grab shown in the video above. He finished with four grabs for 57 yards and a score. Of course, Darboh wasn't the only Wolverine with a standout performance. Running back De'Veon Smith rushed for 125 yards and a touchdown. The defense did its job, holding the Cougars scoreless for the first time since 2003, as noted by ESPN.com's Brett McMurphy.
This program already looks light-years better than it did in the final months of the Brady Hoke era. It's been so long since Michigan has dominated a quality opponent like it did Saturday. This is a Wolverines team that might actually do some damage in the Big Ten.
Loser: Virginia Head Coach Mike London
Let's repeat the most important question of Friday night, asked originally by Matt Hinton of Grantland: Who within Virginia's athletic department decided it was a good idea to schedule UCLA, Notre Dame and Boise State to begin the season in nonconference play?
There are a lot of good teams that would go 0-3 with that schedule. What chance did Virginia, which is trying to get something going under head coach Mike London, have? Sure enough, the Cavaliers lost 56-14 to the Broncos. It was Virginia's second double-digit loss of this season, the first coming against the Bruins in Week 1.
As Brett McMurphy of ESPN.com tweeted, Virginia gave up more points to Boise State than the school's men's basketball team allowed in 22 of 34 games last season.
If wasn't for William & Mary, Virginia could be 0-4 right now. Instead, the Hoos are 1-3, and London looks like he's headed for his fifth losing season in six years. How London survives this year is anyone's guess. It would take nothing short of an ACC Coastal title to do it. That would require a massive turnaround, and there's nothing indicating London can get it done.
Virginia has been more than patient. Coaches get fired all the time for doing more in less time. Still, how can it expect London to get things moving in the right direction if it puts him behind the proverbial chains schedule-wise?
Winner: Stanford Running Back Christian McCaffrey
What's Stanford without a go-to running back? And the Cardinal have officially found their No. 1 guy in the backfield in running back Christian McCaffrey.
In a 42-24 win over Oregon State on Friday night, McCaffrey tallied 303 yards in three phases of the game: 206 yards rushing, 38 yards receiving and 59 yards in kick/punt returns. If there was any blemish in his stat line, it's that he didn't score a touchdown against the Beavers. Otherwise, McCaffrey was spectacular.
At 6'0" and 201 pounds, the junior doesn't fit the recent mold of big, bruising Cardinal running backs. However, his 22 rushing attempts per game is on par with previous backs like Tyler Gaffney, Stepfan Taylor and Toby Gerhart. In all, McCaffrey leads the Pac-12 with 222.3 all-purpose yards per game. At 7.6 yards per play, McCaffrey is as explosive of a weapon as the Cardinal have.
Loser: Georgia Tech
The wheels of the Georgia Tech hype train might not be completely off, but the bolts are loose and everything is starting to shake with a fury.
With a 34-20 loss to Duke, the Yellow Jackets have dropped two straight games and are now 0-1 in ACC play. For the second week in a row, Paul Johnson's offense was stuffed at the line of scrimmage. Tech averaged just 2.9 yards per carry and went 5-of-19 on third downs. The Yellow Jackets had similar issues in Week 3's loss to Notre Dame. This week, the Blue Devils got all kinds of penetration up front.
Despite the poor O-line play, Georgia Tech still had an opportunity to win. However, a pair of special teams miscues—Duke returned a kickoff for a touchdown and returned a punt to the 1-yard line—ultimately proved to be huge difference-makers.
The schedule doesn't get easier for Georgia Tech, either. Still ahead are games against Clemson, Florida State and Georgia, among others. It might be time to slow the Georgia Tech ACC title talk and start including Duke in the conversation instead.
Winner: LSU, Syracuse and the Absurd Play
"Here, you take it."
Whether officially uttered or not, that had to have been the thought going through LSU quarterback Brandon Harris' mind as he flipped the football backward to star running back Leonard Fournette while staving off a would-be sack from Syracuse.
All Fournette did was take the ball, well behind his own line of scrimmage, and run for a first down. And then some—for a 48-yard first-quarter scamper. Just like they drew it up, right? It was pure backyard football.
The Tigers got a tougher-than-expected punch from the Orange but eventually came away with the 34-24 win. In addition to being closer than expected, it was a game that featured a few crazy plays, namely ones involving punters of the aerial nature and bobbled catches.
Oh yeah, and Fournette ended up running for 244 yards and two touchdowns, but that seems little more than an afterthought.
We won't know just how good West Virginia is for another week when it travels to Oklahoma on October 3, but we do know how bad Maryland is.
And it's bad. How bad? The Terps were in a 38-0 hole and had given up 426 yards of offense to the Mountaineers...at halftime. The Mountaineers would go on to win easily, 45-6, doing practically all of their damage in the first half.
However, West Virginia didn't completely let up. In the third quarter, the Mountaineers attempted a fake punt on 4th-and-12 and got it. Exactly why is unclear, but that's about as personal as it gets.
Maryland already has losses to Bowling Green and West Virginia. Up next is a red-hot Michigan team followed by Ohio State. Other than the season-ending game against Rutgers—and maybe Indiana—there are no breaks on the schedule.
Head coach Randy Edsall just got a three-year extension in June, but this has the looks of a long, possibly bowl-less year for the Terps.
Winner: Michigan State Defensive End Shilique Calhoun
You could say Michigan State's 30-10 win over Central Michigan was, for the longest time, too close for comfort, and thus, the Spartans deserve a big ol' "Loser" stamp. While you're not wrong, Winners and Losers rarely focuses on individual defensive efforts. So that's what we're going to do here.
And Michigan State defensive end Shilique Calhoun deserves some love after playing lights-out and easily earning game MVP honors.
How's this for an effort: six tackles, 2.5 sacks, a pass breakup and a blocked field goal. And that doesn't even include other quarterback hurries.
Yeah, that'll do.
Calhoun was the Big Ten's Defensive Lineman of the Year in 2013, but Ohio State's Joey Bosa overshadowed him last season. Calhoun is one of the best at his position in the nation. He's so versatile and knows how to disrupt plays and get to the quarterback, even if it doesn't result in a sack.
Loser: The Worst Game of the Season?
It's not often games live up to their hype, but Kansas-Rutgers was everything college football fans hoped it would be...in the worst possible way.
Rutgers may have won 27-14, but this was about as ugly of a game as one could imagine. For context, the top storylines involved long-snapper dilemmas, turnover tomfoolery and players who were blatantly offsides. Compounding the offsides matter, the Jayhawks lined up in an illegal formation, so the penalties offset.
The Scarlet Knights, who won, lost the turnover battle 3-1 and committed 10 penalties.
What else do you say? This was some brutal football. In a way, everyone was the lonely, anonymous fan, sitting and waiting for things to end.
Winner: Western Michigan Wide Receiver Daniel Braverman
Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer wasn't lying this week when he said Western Michigan wide receiver Daniel Braverman was an "NFL guy. Probably the best receiver we’ve faced so far," per Tim Shoemaker of Eleven Warriors.
How's 10 catches for 123 yards and a touchdown against one of the top defenses in the country? That'll merit some turned heads and raised eyebrows.
Western Michigan had no shot at winning and fell, 38-12, but Braverman is as-advertised as a receiver. Through four games, he has 521 yards receiving and four touchdowns. His yardage total ranks him among the top 10 pass-catchers in the country.
Ohio State is probably glad it doesn't have to face him again.
Oh no, Texas. Not like this. Not again.
For the second straight week, the Longhorns were on the verge of victory and instead squandered their chance in the most agonizing, heart-wrenching way possible. Last week against Cal, place-kicker Nick Rose missed the tying extra point, and the 'Horns lost, 45-44. In Saturday's ugly 30-27 loss to Oklahoma State, a minus-six-yard punt on a botched handle from punter Michael Dickson put the Cowboys in position to score the go-ahead 40-yard field goal.
These types of losses can never truly boil down to one play, even though it feels like they can. Texas' offense, led by quarterback Jerrod Heard, was nowhere to be found in the second half. Of eight drives, one went longer than 10 yards (and resulted in an interception) and four resulted in negative yards. Heard, for as good as he's been, took unnecessary sacks.
Head coach Charlie Strong was assessed a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for losing his cool related to another holding penalty. That allowed Oklahoma State to get the tying field goal in the fourth quarter. "I probably shouldn't have gotten the call I got, but I got upset and lost my composure," Strong said, via Mike Finger of the San Antonio Express-News.
This is not just on Dickson. In fact, this was a bad game by both teams (and poorly officiated, for that matter). The Longhorns are obviously improved but have to do a better job finishing.
Winner: Large-Man Touchdowns
We here at Winners and Losers are huge advocates, so to speak, of large-man touchdowns. Note that we said "large-man" touchdowns and not "fat-guy" touchdowns. This is for two reasons. For one, we love everyone the way they are and are in no position to body shame them. Second, not all large men are fat men.
Anywho, the Big Ten had a pair of glorious large-men touchdowns Saturday. One came on an interception from Ohio State defensive lineman Adolphus Washington (6'4", 290 lbs), who returned a Zach Terrell pass 20 yards for a pick-six in the Buckeyes' 38-12 win over Western Michigan.
The other involved Penn State big man Austin Johnson (6'4", 323), who returned a fumble a whopping 71 yards for a touchdown in the Nittany Lions' 37-21 over San Diego State. Johnson's touchdown was admittedly more of the "fat-guy" variety, as the big ol' boy was huffing and puffing toward the end.
However you want to define it, though, congratulations to Washington and Johnson. You made our day.
Also, because we're fans of all large-man touchdowns, we can't forget Boise State's Justin Taimatuia (6'0", 298 lbs), who scored his touchdown in the first minute of Friday's win over Virginia.
When's it going to be, Tennessee? When are the Vols going to finally get their statement win? It was supposed to happen earlier this month against Oklahoma, but Tennessee blew its largest home lead ever and fell to the Sooners in overtime.
When's Tennessee going to beat Florida again? The Gators are rebuilding under first-year head coach Jim McElwain, yet the Vols once again gave up a second-half lead—a 13-point fourth-quarter cushion, to be precise—to lose 28-27. An Aaron Medley 55-yard field goal, which would have given Tennessee a 30-28 win, was just wide right.
When's head coach Butch Jones going to reflect the confidence the players have? As B/R colleague Barrett Sallee wrote this week, youth is no longer an excuse. Jones should also be questioned about his in-game decision-making. He was notoriously conservative against Oklahoma and opted to kick an extra point to give Tennessee 27 points in the fourth quarter instead of trying for a two-point conversion that would have potentially given the Vols 28 and a 14-point lead.
Tennessee has now suffered two heartbreaking losses in a year when it was the trendy SEC East pick. That goal is still alive, but it's taken another setback. How many more are Tennessee fans willing to endure?
Winner: TCU Wide Receiver Josh Doctson
TCU-Texas Tech ended up not being the upset special of the week. It was, however, wildly entertaining, full of offense, unbelievable catches, controversial calls, a hilarious safety and an ending that almost mirrored the Cal-Stanford finish of 1982. There’s probably not much more for which the casual fan could have asked.
In the end, TCU needed a minor-miracle tipped-ball reception from running back Aaron Green to grab the 55-52 victory over Texas Tech. However, it was the player who is credited with the “assist” on Green’s touchdown that stood out the most: Frogs wide receiver Josh Doctson.
All Doctson did was catch 18 passes for 267 yards and three touchdowns. That’s a good month for a lot of receivers. Doctson was a breakout performer last season, and he’s followed that with a senior campaign in which he was second in the Big 12 in receiving yards coming into Week 4.
TCU has clear problems, especially on defense. That could cost the Frogs down the road. They’re going to need Doctson and quarterback Trevone Boykin to have more performances like they did against the Red Raiders.
It's now been three straight losses for Arkansas since head coach Bret Bielema commented on Ohio State's strength of schedule. None of those losses had to be as gut-wrenching as the one Saturday, with the Hogs falling to No. 14 Texas A&M in overtime 28-21.
If nothing else, it was nearly a mirror image of the loss to the Aggies in 2014. Arkansas battled tough, had a fourth-quarter lead only to squander it with minutes remaining and lost in overtime. Though the Hogs offense dominated the time of possession, it was no match for A&M's quick-strike attack and Aggies receiver Christian Kirk, who had 173 yards and two touchdowns.
The numbers keep piling up for Bielema, who is now 2-13 against ranked teams, per ESPN.com's Brett McMurphy, and 0-of-13 in games decided by a touchdown or less. It also marks the fourth straight overtime loss for the Hogs dating back to 2012.
Arkansas was hoping to turn a corner after last year's late-season rally. Instead, this program looks to be in no better shape than before. That's on Bielema. Closing out close games has not been his forte, and it absolutely has to be.
Winner: Houston Quarterback Greg Ward Jr.
Don't look now, but Houston is 3-0 following an easy 59-14 win over Texas State and could very well challenge Memphis for the top of the American Athletic Conference—and perhaps a New Year's Eve/Day bowl spot.
A big reason for the Cougars' success is quarterback Greg Ward Jr., who is an absolutely perfect fit for head coach Tom Herman's offense. Against the Bobcats, Ward tallied 365 yards of offense, leading the team in passing and rushing, and he accounted for six touchdowns.
For reference, Ward is second in the AAC in total yards per game and surpassed his season average of 355 yards per game.
There aren't many marquee games on Houston's schedule, but the last month of the season gets very interesting with games against Cincinnati, Memphis and Navy.
It feels like piling on to point out that Auburn's offense is a wreck. This has been well established from Week 1. However, the Tigers may very well have hit their low point.
The 17-9 loss to Mississippi State wasn't just a game that put Auburn at 2-2 and 0-2 in the SEC. It also marked the first time since 2012 that a Gus Malzahn offense was held without a touchdown since 2012, according to Jon Solomon of CBS Sports. (That would be Arkansas State's 42-13 loss to Nebraska.)
First-time starting quarterback Sean White didn't play horribly (20-of-28 for 188 yards and one interception), but the problems on offense are bigger than him. This is a team that was terrible on third downs and couldn't get touchdowns when it needed them.
Auburn could still be bowl-bound, but the theme for this season focuses on repairing the offense one game at a time.
Winner: San Jose State Running Back Tyler Ervin
Oh yeah, Winners and Losers is up late, watching all of the football games and taking note of all of the best performances, regardless of conference. We're unbiased like that. (Except for that one team. We're totally in love with them.)
So how about a little spotlight for San Jose running back Tyler Ervin? In a 49-23 win over Fresno State—the best rivalry you've never heard about, as Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports put it—Ervin proved a valuable workhorse. The senior back carried the rock 42 times for 300 yards, a school record according to the CBS Sports Network broadcast, and three touchdowns.
Those are impressive numbers by themselves, but even more so when you realize Ervin is just 5'10" and 177 pounds. Ervin had the second-most rushing yards per game in the Mountain West heading into Saturday and easily surpassed his weekly total against the Bulldogs.
Loser: Arizona State
Arizona State sits at 2-2, but its been a bad season already for the Sun Devils against opponents that really matter. With a 42-14 loss to USC, Arizona State is now 0-2 against Power Five opponents, including Pac-12 opponents, and has lost both games by an average score of 40-15.
This is just a guess, but that type of performance is probably not what head coach Todd Graham had in mind coming into the year.
After losing quarterback Taylor Kelly and receiver Jaelen Strong, it's understandable that Arizona State might not go 10-3 again in 2015. At this rate, though, Graham's team will be fortunate to get back to a bowl game.
There are key pieces in place for Arizona State to be successful. Mike Bercovici, D.J. Foster and Demario Richard make up quite a quarterback/wide receiver/running back combination. But the defense has wilted against two powerful offenses, and the schedule doesn't provide much relief in that department. The Pac-12 South is the tougher division and Arizona State is unlucky enough to draw Oregon from the North, too.
Cincinnati Quarterback Gunner Kiel
We end this week's Winners and Losers with something that, if we're being honest with ourselves, is hard to place in either category.
There's certainly no winner in the vicious hit Cincinnati quarterback Gunner Kiel took in Thursday's 53-46 loss to Memphis, and qualifying it as a loser is adding insult to injury. The only thing it was, was hard to stomach.
The hit from Memphis defender Chauncey Lanier rendered Kiel motionless on the ground, and the quarterback had to be carted off the field. It was a frightening scene, but X-rays for Kiel thankfully came back negative, per Tom Groeschen of the Cincinnati Enquirer.
Sharing video of the hit is also a tough decision in its own way. It's not as inherently gruesome as Notre Dame quarterback Malik Zaire's fractured ankle injury or Ole Miss wide receiver Laquon Treadwell's broken leg from last year, but that doesn't make the injury any less severe. The difference is, it's taking place inside Kiel's skull. This hit, of course, happened less than a week after he took another brutal shot against Miami (OH).
Whether or not the hit was the textbook definition of targeting is secondary in this conversation. The new targeting rule, while subjective and controversial at times, has done its job. We've seen examples of when defenders have pulled up on otherwise would-be targeting hits. (Now, all we need is for the rule to apply more to offensive players targeting defenders.)
What deserves more awareness is how we view football in general. It's a violent sport. Its players are not gladiators subject to abuse for our entertainment. They aren't fantasy numbers for your team. They're people—and in college football's case, they're young men, many of whom aren't even in their 20s yet. Their whole lives are ahead of them.
Bill Connelly of SB Nation wrote an outstanding piece this week about chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and its effect on football players and those who watch football. B/R NFL columnist Mike Freeman also noted (via ThinkProgress.org) that 15 percent of pro players had suffered injuries through just two weeks of the season. The point of both of these pieces is to further advance the conversation about player safety.
Trying to make a violent game safer for its players has always been, and always will be, a natural paradox. But it's up to college administrators (and the NFL and its Players Association) to try. Get third-party doctors on every sideline. Make sure every player has access to lifetime health care. Constantly improve equipment.
There's a lot we love about football, but it's growing more into a love-hate relationship. The career lifespan of a football player is short, not just relative to other sports, but in the spectrum of one's life. Let's do everything we can to make sure that life isn't ruined forever.
Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com.