Winners and Losers from Week 4 of College Football

Ian Wharton@NFLFilmStudyFeatured Columnist IVSeptember 23, 2018

Winners and Losers from Week 4 of College Football

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    Week 4 of the college football season took time to bring an upset and close games, but the contests got better as the day went on.

    Headlined by Old Dominion's stunning win over Virginia Tech, the slate featured upsets from Texas Tech and Texas, as they beat Oklahoma State and TCU, respectively. Alabama, Georgia, Michigan, Stanford and West Virginia's statement victories in key matchups will keep some continuity in the polls. 

    Overall, early conference play saw exciting, meaningful results across the country.

    The Heisman Trophy race brought varying performances, though. Quarterbacks Justin Herbert, Tua Tagovailoa, Dwayne Haskins, McKenzie Milton and Will Grier continued to post huge numbers. But contenders AJ Dillon and Drew Lock weren't impactful for their teams in key losses.

    Read on for all the winners and losers from the full slate of games.

Winner: UCF's Outlook

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    The self-crowned 2017 national champions continued to blitz opponents as they took down Lane Kiffin's Florida Atlantic Owls on Friday night. The Knights are 3-0 and will continue to rise in the polls. Some may doubt how they'd do against better competition, but they're proving they belong in the Top 10 conversation.

    Head coach Josh Heupel's offense is a little less explosive in terms of downfield throwing than former UCF coach Scott Frost's was, but that hasn't stopped quarterback McKenzie Milton from entering the Heisman race. He helped the Knights pull away in the second half of the 56-36 win, as he finished with 387 total yards and six touchdowns (three passing, three rushing). He was also their leading rusher.

    The Knights shut down the Owls' passing game in impressive fashion. FAU signal-caller Chris Robison completed half of his 26 throws for 124 yards and three interceptions. UCF gave up 36 points but made big plays when it needed to.

    Its most important stretch will come at season's end, when it'll play Temple, Navy and Cincinnati before it finishes at South Florida. The good news is the Knights will have home-field advantage in the first three contests, and only Navy has the recipe to be a nuisance because of its scheme and consistency executing it.

Loser: Oregon Being Oregon

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    Chris Pietsch/Associated Press

    Oregon has had more than its share of broken dreams and missed chances to claim glory over the last decade. The school's had a knack for finding ways to lose crucial games. It didn't matter if it was under head coaches Chip Kelly, Mark Helfrich or Willie Taggart, the Ducks have made life harder on themselves at the worst times.

    We can add Mario Cristobal to that list of cursed coaches.

    Instead of having his team kneel three straight times starting at the 1:41 mark and bleeding the clock to around 10 seconds after Stanford used its last timeout, Cristobal had the Ducks run the ball. It nearly worked, but at 51 seconds, running back CJ Verdell fumbled. The Cardinal recovered, kicked a game-tying field goal and won in overtime, 38-31.

    Oregon dominated the time-of-possession struggle (36:33 to 23:27) but lost the turnover battle by three. It also allowed 7.96 yards per play, so it's not it like was flawless. But the Ducks should have closed this one out.

Winner: Hot-Seat Head Coaches

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    After appearing here previously, the hot-seat trio of Tom Herman, Kevin Sumlin and Willie Taggart each earned a needed victory.

    Texas' 31-16 win over TCU was one of the week's most impressive games, as the Longhorns showed how much they've progressed over the season's first month. TCU was on par with a powerful Ohio State for much of last week's matchup, yet it was not the better team Saturday against Texas.

    Herman's Longhorns have shown more of an offensive identity since he took over more control of the unit. The young talent came through against coach Gary Patterson's speedy Horned Frogs.

    Meanwhile, both Sumlin's Arizona Wildcats and Taggart's Florida State Seminoles took care of business.

    Sumlin still hasn't figured out how to utilize quarterback Khalil Tate in his scheme, as Tate had just nine completions for 152 yards this week. Amazingly, he has only 32 yards on the ground this season. But running back J.J. Taylor exploded for 284 yards and two touchdowns as the team finished with 442 rushing yards in the 35-14 win over Oregon State.

    The Seminoles looked more like a quality team in the 37-17 victory over Northern Illinois, as quarterback Deondre Francois exploded for 352 yards passing and two TDs. The Huskies had only six yards rushing, and most of their points were set up by three FSU lost fumbles.

    It was a needed win for a program that has had terrible press in Taggart's first season.

Loser: Virginia Tech Drops Stunner to Old Dominion

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    Jason Hirschfeld/Associated Press

    If it weren't surprising enough to see the 0-3 Old Dominion Monarchs win 49-35 against No. 13 Virginia Tech, the numbers are even more revealing of how thoroughly they outplayed the Hokies.

    Backup quarterback Blake LaRussa, who entered the day with 743 yards through the air and four career passing touchdowns, fueled the Monarchs' 28-point fourth-quarter flurry. He threw for 495 yards and four touchdowns Saturday, notably destroying the Hokies secondary with arching deep balls to Travis Fulgham and Jonathan Duhart.

    On top of the passing success, the Monarch got 130 yards on 20 carries from running back Jeremy Cox.

    The Hokies' defensive failure aside, head coach Justin Fuente's passing game also found itself limited. Quarterback Josh Jackson never got comfortable, as he completed only eight of 16 passes before leaving with what appeared to be a badly injured ankle. Backup Ryan Willis wasn't much better, also completing half of his attempts.

    The loss is devastating for the Hokies. The Monarchs had fallen to Liberty, Florida International and Charlotte by a combined 53 points before this and had scored only 55. 

    After starting with a promising win, the Hokies' season looks like it could have been lost Saturday afternoon.

Winner: SEC Elites

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    There was hope that the country's top-two rated teams, Alabama and Georgia, would be challenged Saturday. Alabama hosted Texas A&M, and Georgia traveled to Missouri, but neither had much to sweat over.

    Auburn walloped Arkansas at home, while LSU allowed Louisiana Tech to hang around but maintained its undefeated record (4-0).

    Once again the Aggies stayed within range for some time against a Top Five team, but unlike Clemson, the No. 1 Crimson Tide's talent advantage shone through in their 45-23 victory. With quarterback Tua Tagovailoa at the helm, their offense is too diverse as long as he's sharp. Without a threatening foe on the schedule for the next month, the Tide will keep rolling.

    For Georgia, the 43-29 victory over Mizzou was about its athletes. QB Jake Fromm had a great day, but the receivers won jump balls at will and need to be recognized. Mecole Hardman, Jeremiah Holloman and Riley Ridley carried the offense whenever called upon, as each had at least 60 yards in the passing game.

    The Tigers survived once again, winning 38-21. They have a 2017 Miami Hurricanes feel to them despite their immensely talented defense. Their offensive line and wide receiver play isn't consistent enough to trust, but there's no question they've positioned themselves to have a shot at the conference title.

Loser: ACC's Afternoon

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    The ACC had the roughest midday of any conference. Just as Boston College looked like a threat to challenge the Top 20 and become a competitor in the Atlantic division behind Clemson, Purdue rope-a-doped the Eagles. The Boilermakers entered the game 0-3, yet the outcome wasn't in doubt for long as they rolled to a 30-13 win.

    Virginia smacked Louisville 27-3 in Atlantic play. The Cardinals' downfall has been sharp, and it's even clearer how much quarterback Lamar Jackson was propping up a bad roster. Virginia was supposed to be a bottom-two team in the conference, but it outclassed its opponent.

    Speaking of bad teams, Larry Fedora's North Carolina pulled off a 38-35 upset of Pittsburgh. The Tar Heels looked as if they could start 0-8 based on their first two games, but they squeezed career-best performances from running back Antonio Williams (16 carries, 114 yards, 2 TDs) and quarterback Nathan Elliott (22-of-31, 313 yards passing, 2 TDs). Meanwhile, the Panthers couldn't manufacture consistent offense.

    We also can't forget Notre Dame's 56-27 dismantling of Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons were shredded, as Irish quarterback Ian Book had all day to throw. While the Irish were the better team heading in, Wake Forest was expected to hold its own after showing enough in the first few weeks to have a shot at winning.

Winner: Buffalo Bulls

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    The only thing better than blowing out a team in a power conference is getting a fat paycheck for doing it. And that's precisely what the Buffalo Bulls accomplished as they smacked Rutgers 42-13 on the road. The Bulls held a two-score lead by the end of the first quarter, and the cushion swelled to 35-6 after two frames.

    This wasn't surprising to anyone who's paid attention to the MAC school. Buffalo is 4-0 for the first time since 1981 thanks to three stars—quarterback Tyree Jackson, wide receiver Anthony Johnson and defensive end Khalil Hodges—and a well-rounded roster. Jackson has 12 passing touchdowns and needs more attention as a 6'7" dual-threat playmaker.

    Buffalo set its school record for most points against a Big Ten opponent by racking up 445 yards. It also earned $900,000 to do it, per Keith Sargeant of NJ.com. While Rutgers is embarrassing its conference with its 1-3 start, the Bulls are good. They could crack a New Year's bowl game if they continue at this pace.

Loser: Big 12 Pretenders

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    The Big 12 suffered two major blows to its conference contender pool and nearly lost its primary CFP threat, Oklahoma. No. 17 TCU's defeat against Texas hurt after the Horned Frogs had seemingly proved to be a good second-tier team even in a loss to Ohio State. But then No. 15 Oklahoma State shockingly lost to Texas Tech 41-17 at home.

    Both teams will drop considerably in the rankings. The Red Raiders' win will help coach Kliff Kingsbury maintain job security, but it removes the Cowboys as a potential surprise entrant to the playoff discussion. Giving up 397 yards passing to Alan Bowman and 121 yards rushing to Demarcus Felton at home in prime time can't happen if you're Mike Gundy and his staff.

    Oklahoma and West Virginia are left as unblemished Big 12 contenders. Still, Oklahoma narrowly escaped with a 28-21 home win against Army, as the Knights drained the clock to slow quarterback Kyler Murray and Co. Their overtime affair was much too close for comfort.

Winner: Ian Book and the Notre Dame Offense

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    One of the upset-watch games of the day was Notre Dame against Wake Forest. Despite having a dominant defense, the Fighting Irish looked vulnerable in recent weeks as the offense stumbled repeatedly. It took another poor performance from starter Brandon Wimbush for Notre Dame to finally get some dynamic quarterback play.

    Junior Ian Book came in and showed the Demon Deacons no mercy. He was electric, producing 325 passing yards and five total touchdowns in only his third game with extended playing time. There should be a legitimate quarterback controversy in South Bend.

    Head coach Brian Kelly simply had a better offense with Book at the helm. Book’s ability to find receivers and quickly pull the trigger was something sorely missing. The Fighting Irish will massively benefit from having an adept passing threat moving forward, so if they decide to go with Book, watch for them to rise up the rankings.   

Loser: Friday Night Defenses

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    Holly Hart/Associated Press

    There were three marquee games Friday night as the UCF Knights, Penn State Nittany Lions and USC Trojans held chalk. Still, the defensive coordinator from each of those teams has to be disappointed with his unit. All three games saw at least 75 total points scored.

    The Nittany Lions continued to allow opponents to hang around until late in the game. It hasn't cost them, as they've reached 4-0, but the 35-point fourth quarter they put up in the 63-24 win over Illinois isn't likely to repeat itself every week. Ohio State is next on Penn State's schedule, and it'll have to clamp down on a much more powerful offensive unit than Lovie Smith's Illini.

    Meanwhile, the Knights won, but both defenses hemorrhaged scores. That Huepel and Kiffin's offenses put up 92 points is impressive, and the total could've been higher because the Owls threw three interceptions. Neither offense faced much resistance.

    Finally, the nightcap between USC and Washington State had fans holding their collective breath. USC looked outmatched once again until its late surge, as it stunned Washington State with a blocked field goal with 1:41 remaining for the 39-36 win. But allowing 36 points at home to first-year starter Gardner Minshew is far from ideal for coach Clay Helton's Trojans.

Winner: Miami's Offense with N'Kosi Perry

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    The final score of Miami and Florida International was 31-17, as the Hurricanes became overly conservative in the second half of the game. Don't let the fact that Miami yielded 17 points in the fourth quarter overshadow the most important storyline of this contest, though. The emergence of N'Kosi Perry can change its season outlook.

    Sun Sentinel reporter Christy Chirinos tweeted that head coach Mark Richt told WQAM that the plan was always to put Perry into the game on the third series and evaluate from there. The fact that he stayed in should say all that needs to be about what he thought about his tryout.

    Perry posted 256 total yards and three touchdowns, most notably hitting tight windows on the few intermediate throws he attempted. Though Miami did protect him by calling a bevy of screens, Perry made the most of it.

    The obvious passing limitations that senior Malik Rosier has should force Richt to start the freshman Perry. For the Canes to realize their upside and make noise in the ACC, they need Perry's passing ability to open up everything else for Travis Homer and Co.      

Loser: Bill Snyder’s Upset Specials

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    Four games into the Kansas State Wildcats' season, Bill Snyder's bunch has managed just 16 points against two Power Five teams: Mississippi State and West Virginia. While the Wildcats were underdogs in both contests, Snyder's team wasn't competitive in either. The Wildcats' proper execution and reliability aren't there like they've been before during these key moments.

    Their 35-6 loss against WVU on Saturday revealed a nonfunctioning offense against a Mountaineers defense that isn't known for stoutness. Outside of relying on receiver Isaiah Zuber (10 catches, 133 yards) to create everything, the Wildcats offense can't walk away with any positives.

    At least the defense grabbed three interceptions, including one from Will Grier on WVU's opening drive. It's not a surprise that Grier and his plethora of weapons were too athletically gifted to slow. It's still disappointing, though, that the Wildcats appear so far removed from their signature upset specials.

Winner: K.J. Costello and Justin Herbert

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    The Stanford Cardinal pulled off a miraculous comeback by winning 38-31 in overtime in Eugene, Oregon. And it was quarterback K.J. Costello—not running back Bryce Love—who did the heavy lifting.

    His rapport with receivers Kaden Smith and JJ Arcega-Whiteside is special. The Ducks were at the mercy of this passing attack despite the Cardinal running 32 fewer plays than Oregon. Costello's efficiency was something unseen from a Stanford quarterback in years.

    Even in a loss, Justin Herbert was mostly brilliant throughout the night. His blend of velocity and ball placement was terrific. He converted several first downs by fitting the ball into tight windows. He should still be in the Heisman mix despite everything crumbling around him in this game.

    Just consider that in regulation, he completed 25 of 27 passes for 331 yards, with one of those incompletions being a drop and the other a dump-off pass in the backfield. Overtime wasn't as kind to him, as Stanford's defensive backs clamped down on their assignments, but Herbert did as well as the team could ask.

Loser: Drew Lock’s Heisman Odds

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    Few, if any, expected the Missouri Tigers to defeat the powerful Georgia Bulldogs. The fact that they kept the final tally within two scores is a positive, and they had a chance to get down one score late in the fourth. The Tigers cost themselves dearly by allowing a blocked-punt touchdown return and a fumble return for a score. 

    Knowing just this, most would assume Heisman candidate and Tigers quarterback Drew Lock had a great showing, but he was more of a detriment than not. The big-armed quarterback completed only 23 of 48 passes and responded poorly to any sign of pressure. He was strip-sacked at a key moment in the second half and was quick to throw the ball away into empty space whenever a rusher started to get near.

    His situational play was a mess, too. His decision to throw short on crucial fourth down down 11 with five minutes left especially stood out.

    Of course, this is what the Bulldogs do because they're so talented. They resemble Alabama's tremendous 2016 defense that helped the Tide score 15 non-offensive touchdowns. But the huge Heisman and NFL draft-related questions around Lock weren't answered in a positive manner with this performance, and he has to take on similarly talented defenses in South Carolina and Alabama on the road in the next two weeks.