Winners and Losers from Week 4 of College Football
No. 13 Wisconsin got a statement win over No. 11 Michigan in a game that delivered as one of the biggest winners and the biggest losers of Week 4.
The big winner, of course, was Wisconsin. Though its year-to-date shutout streak ended just a couple of minutes shy of 11 quarters, it embarrassed Michigan to instantly emerge as one of the top candidates to join Alabama and Clemson in the College Football Playoff. A late October road game against Ohio State now looks like the only thing that could keep Jonathan Taylor and Co. from running the table.
And both Michigan and Jim Harbaugh were big losers from the early slate, as we'll spend the next few days once again debating whether he should still be the coach there.
Michigan wasn't the highest-ranked team to suffer a loss, though. No. 10 Utah lost to USC on Friday night to all but eliminate the Pac-12 from the CFP conversation, and No. 7 Notre Dame lost the high-profile nightcap at No. 3 Georgia—but the Fighting Irish managed to come away from that L still smelling like roses.
Read on for the rest of this week's biggest winners and losers.
Winner: Tulane's Dramatic Comeback Victory
There were two pigskin games Thursday night. One was a battle between teams in the NFL's AFC South, and the other pitted a pair of college football's AAC squads against one another. One was highly entertaining long past the time most of us on the East Coast typically go to bed on a weeknight, and the other was so unappealing that Tom Brady couldn't bear to watch.
Thankfully, we got the awesome game.
Tulane trailed Houston 28-7 early in the second quarter of what looked like it was going to be a career night for Cougars quarterback D'Eriq King. The Green Wave flipped the switch from there, though, shutting down Houston's high-octane offense while scoring 24 unanswered points to take the lead. Houston tied it up with a field goal with 21 seconds remaining, setting the stage for what everyone assumed would be some overtime fun.
Everyone except for Tulane head coach Willie Fritz, that is.
Fritz called a gutsy fake kneel on which Amare Jones broke free for an 18-yard gain, followed immediately by a 53-yard bomb from Justin McMillan to Jalen McCleskey for the game-winning touchdown.
McMillan was just hoping to get into field-goal range, targeting his best receiver at the Houston 25 in a sea of white jerseys. However, the Cougars defensive backs just ricocheted off McCleskey rather than wrapping him up, after which ESPN's Pat McAfee couldn't help but cackle as McCleskey broke free for the score.
A bonus winner/loser award goes out to those who bet the spread on this one. Tulane closed as a four-point favorite, per Vegas Insider. If you took the road team and the points, you were feeling pretty confident in a win when it was 28-7. But that last-second touchdown gave the Green Wave a 38-31 victory and a cover no matter when during the week you placed your bet.
Congratulations/condolences on your improbable win/loss, bettors!
Loser: The Pac-12's CFP Hopes
The Pac-12 entered the 2019 season with three teams ranked in the Nos. 11-15 range of the AP Top 25: Oregon, Washington and Utah. While it never felt likely that the league would break its College Football Playoff drought this year, those were the three teams presumed to have the best chance of doing it.
Oregon lost to Auburn in Week 1, Washington lost to California in Week 2, and Utah finished off the trifecta with its 30-23 Friday night loss at USC.
To the surprise of no one, the Utes dominated the Trojans in the ground game. At the start of the fourth quarter, Utah had 238 rushing yards compared to negative-17 for USC.
But the 10th-ranked Utes never led because they had no answer for USC's passing attack.
Trojans freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis got knocked out of the game on the second play, but Matt Fink—who opened the season at No. 3 on the depth chart behind Slovis and JT Daniels—had an incredible night. After missing his initial target, Fink completed eight consecutive passes for 138 yards and two touchdowns. He finished with 351 yards and three scores in the 30-23 victory. Michael Pittman Jr. was the biggest benefactor of Fink's performance, racking up career highs in receptions (10) and yards (232).
Just like that, it's bye-bye, Utah. There will be a lot of one-loss teams in the conversation for a playoff spot, but a nonconference schedule consisting of BYU, Northern Illinois and Idaho State did the Utes no favors. Even if they win out from here, it would take an awful lot of chaos in the other Power Five leagues for the Utes to even sniff the top four.
There's technically still some hope for the Pac-12. California is still undefeated, and while there's nothing close to a juggernaut in the conference, getting to 13-0 in a league with only two bad teams (UCLA and Oregon State) would be no small feat. But let's file that away under "highly unlikely," given how wildly unreliable Pac-12 teams have been over the past few years.
Winner: So Many Quarterbacks in the Early Slate
The noon ET slate of Week 4 games was—to put it lightly—noncompetitive. There were 12 games, and only one of them was decided by fewer than 14 points. But what it lacked in drama, it more than made up for with a copious amount of ridiculous quarterback performances.
Heisman front-runners Tua Tagovailoa (Alabama) and Joe Burrow (LSU) slaughtered their opposing secondaries. Tagovailoa had more touchdowns than incompletions in his pummeling of Southern Miss, going 17-of-21 for 293 yards with five scores. Burrow was equally impressive on the road against Vanderbilt. He stayed in the game longer than Tagovailoa did to wind up with 398 yards and six touchdowns. Neither SEC stud threw an interception.
Syracuse's Tommy DeVito bounced back nicely from last week's stinker against Clemson, torching Western Michigan for a combined passing and rushing total of 372 yards and five touchdowns. Wake Forest's Jamie Newman had an almost identically dominant game against Elon, finishing with 368 combined yards and five touchdowns. Both ACC quarterbacks went 27-of-35 through the air and recorded nine rushing attempts.
California's Chase Garbers had a career day against Ole Miss. The redshirt sophomore had previously never thrown for more than 238 yards or three touchdowns in a game, but he went off for 357 yards and four touchdowns in the Golden Bears' second road win over a Power Five opponent (they also won at Washington in Week 2). We know that defense is legit, so Cal could be quite the sleeping giant if Garbers keeps throwing well.
Last but definitely not least was Iowa State's Brock Purdy. Despite not taking a snap in the fourth quarter, Purdy threw for 435 yards and three scores and also rushed for 75 yards and three more scores in the Cyclones' 72-20 victory over Louisiana-Monroe. Had he stayed in the game, Purdy probably could have set some FBS records. As it is, he joins Clemson's Tajh Boyd as the only other player in the past 20 years to gain at least 425 yards through the air and 75 on the ground with at least three touchdowns via each route.
Loser: Jim Harbaugh and the Michigan Wolverines
In every way, shape and form, Michigan was manhandled by Wisconsin.
The Wolverines eventually scored a pair of touchdowns to make the final margin (35-14) look a little more respectable to anyone who didn't watch the game, but this was a bloodbath courtesy of the Badgers.
By the time Wisconsin took its 35-0 lead midway through the third quarter, it had out-gained Michigan by a margin of 396-127. Another statistical note from that point in the game: Wisconsin had more rushing touchdowns (five) than Michigan had first downs (four).
Without a doubt, Wisconsin was a huge winner here. So was Jonathan Taylor, rushing for 203 yards and two touchdowns in spite of A) cramps that forced him to the sideline for a good chunk of the second quarter and B) only getting 23 carries. It was a big win for a College Football Playoff contender and a big step toward someone breaking up the quarterback monopoly atop the early Heisman race.
But the bigger story remains the downfall of Michigan.
This was supposed to be the year Jim Harbaugh finally won the Big Ten, but thus far it has been two unimpressive wins and a face-pounding loss in the Wolverines' first conference game. They had two weeks to prepare for this one, but it looked like they spent the past 14 days doing anything but preparing for Wisconsin.
There's still a lot of football to be played, but this is already shaping up to be Harbaugh's worst season in Ann Arbor.
Welcome back to the hot seat.
Winner: Auburn Tigers
Auburn's play through the first three weeks left something to be desired. Yes, the Tigers won all three games. However, Oregon should have won the opener, and Auburn's offense against Tulane was anything but crisp.
That isn't to say it felt like Auburn was overrated or undeserving of a spot in the AP Top 10, but it didn't feel like the Tigers were gearing up for the games against Texas A&M, Florida, LSU, Georgia and Alabama.
After what they just did on the road against Texas A&M, though, it's time to talk about the Tigers as a legitimate candidate to win the SEC. The final score (28-20) doesn't do justice to how well the Tigers took care of business. They did to Texas A&M what Clemson did two weeks ago, with the caveat that Dabo Swinney's Tigers got to do it in front of a home crowd, while Gus Malzahn's Tigers silenced Kyle Field.
Bo Nix wasn't great at quarterback, but the true freshman was serviceable and didn't make any back-breaking mistakes, which is all Auburn needs to win games with this rushing attack and defense.
Auburn suffocated the Aggies with relentless defense. It only forced one turnover and finished with three sacks, but A&M could not put together sustainable drives until late in the third quarter after the game was effectively over. Derrick Brown was a one-man wrecking crew along that defensive line, playing a huge role in Texas A&M's paltry average of 2.7 yards per carry.
The Tigers will host Mississippi State next weekend before another colossal road test against Florida. If they happen to win both of those games, we might see Auburn at No. 1 when the first College Football Playoff Top 25 is revealed on Nov. 5.
Loser: Miami-Ohio's 5-0 Lead
Midway through the first quarter at the Horseshoe, Miami-Ohio had a 5-0 lead on Ohio State.
Anytime you see a five on the scoreboard in football, it piques your interest. The RedHawks got the first two points via back-to-back negative-yardage plays on defense after a punt that pinned Ohio State inside its 2. Following that safety, they put together a 14-play drive, getting all the way to the OSU 2 before settling for a field goal.
But if the start of that game got your "Gigantic upset in the making!" juices flowing, you were sorely disappointed.
Ohio State ruthlessly destroyed Miami-Ohio in the second quarter. Not only did the Buckeyes score touchdowns on all six of their possessions in that period—Justin Fields threw four and ran in the other two—but they also held the RedHawks to negative-seven yards and forced three turnovers.
It didn't get much better for the underdogs in the second half. Miami went three-and-out on its first four possessions and ended up with a drought of more than 25 minutes between first downs. In fact, after taking that 5-0 lead, the RedHawks achieved just four first downs while allowing Ohio State to score 11 touchdowns in a 76-5 victory.
The Buckeyes have made things look quite easy this season. This was their third consecutive win by at least 41 points. Maybe next week's road game against Nebraska will be another story, but Fields and Co. have been in cruise control for most of September.
Winner: Mathew Sexton, Eastern Michigan
As was the case all of last season, almost every Eastern Michigan game has gone right down to the wire.
In Week 1, Coastal Carolina trailed EMU by 10 with less than a minute left, but the Chanticleers kicked a field goal and recovered the ensuing on-side kick to keep things interesting to the end. Last week, Eastern Michigan beat Illinois on a last-second field goal. But this week's dramatic finish against Central Connecticut takes the cake.
Amid fourth-quarter weather delays, CCSU fought back from a 28-15 deficit to take a one-point lead on a 68-yard strike (and successful PAT) with two minutes remaining. And when Mike Glass III threw an interception on Eastern Michigan's subsequent possession, it looked like we were headed for another FCS-over-FBS upset.
With two timeouts remaining, though, the defense dug in its heels and forced a punt with 18 seconds left. As long as CCSU got the punt off, it was probably going to win the game.
Mathew Sexton made sure that didn't happen.
The senior wide receiver was untouched off the edge, blocked the punt, caught it on one hop and took it 30 yards to the house for the game-winning touchdown.
The Eagles are now 3-1 and in good early shape to become bowl-eligible for the third time in four years. Considering they only played in one bowl game in their first 41 seasons as an FBS program, head coach Chris Creighton deserves more national attention for the job he has done with this cardiac bunch.
Loser: UCF's Winning Streak
For the first time in nearly 34 months, the UCF Knights have suffered a regular-season loss. Say what you will about their strength of schedule, but this marks the end of an incredible run that likely won't be replicated anytime soon.
Pittsburgh seized an early 21-0 lead with help from two interceptions and a blocked punt returned for a touchdown. Then UCF suddenly woke up and scored 31 unanswered points in the span of less than 14 minutes to open a 10-point lead. The Knights went from dead in the water to, "Oh, they've got this in the bag," in what seemed like the blink of an eye.
But just as quickly as they caught fire, they were extinguished. UCF scored just three points in its final five possessions, keeping the door open for the Panthers to make the comeback.
UCF led 34-28 with Pitt facing a 4th-and-2 from the Knights' 3 with less than one minute remaining. Perhaps inspired by Tulane's late-game trickeration on Thursday night, Pat Narduzzi called "Pitt Special." Running back A.J. Davis took the direct snap and pitched it to wide receiver Aaron Matthews on an end around, and he found quarterback Kenny Pickett in the end zone for the game-winning touchdown.
UCF still had plenty of time left on the clock to run a two-minute drill and get down into field-goal range, but Dillon Gabriel took two sacks with no timeouts, and that was that. UCF's quest for this year's College Football Playoff ended long before we even had the chance to have the debate. Perhaps Boise State or SMU will carry the Group of Five's torch this year instead.
Winner: Shane Buechele, SMU
When SMU quarterback Shane Buechele was with Texas, TCU was his biggest nemesis.
His freshman year, TCU won 31-9 while Buechele had the worst passer efficiency rating (82.9) of his career. He completed just 41.0 percent of his passes and threw a pick with no touchdowns. The following year was a little bit better, but Texas still lost 24-7 while Buechele completed 47.7 percent of his attempts.
Those are the only two regular-season games in which he was below 50 percent. And last season, he didn't see the field against the Horned Frogs.
At long last, he had their number this year.
Buechele threw for 288 yards and two touchdowns (and rushed for a third) while guiding SMU to one of the biggest wins this program has had since receiving the death penalty three decades ago. Not only was it just the Mustangs' fifth win against an AP Top 25 team since 1987, but it also pushed them to 4-0 for the first time since 1984.
Uncharted territory to say the least. But this Buechele-led offense has a chance to do some real damage in an AAC that seems up for grabs following UCF's loss to Pitt. The Mustangs are averaging 43.5 points per game and won't play the Knights during the regular season.
They should win at least nine games for the first time since the early '80s, and they just might be this year's team that everyone falls in love with while it flirts with perfection.
Loser: Arkansas Razorbacks
And the award for most confounding loss of the week goes to...the Arkansas Razorbacks!
Playing at home against a San Jose State squad that went 3-22 over the previous two seasons, Arkansas was a three-touchdown favorite. No one is under the delusion that the Razorbacks are a bowl-bound team, but they could at least beat the Spartans, right?
SJSU marched right down the field for a touchdown on the game's opening possession and proceeded to seize a 24-7 lead by halftime. Arkansas showed up in the second half to tie the game at 24 late in the fourth quarter, but then it inexplicably went into a prevent defense that allowed the Spartans to go 75 yards in five plays for the game-winning touchdown.
San Jose State's senior quarterback Josh Love threw for 402 yards, but the bigger story was the five interceptions thrown by Arkansas quarterback Nick Starkel.
The Spartans only scored on one of the five possessions after those picks, but he killed Arkansas' offensive rhythm time and again. It was only fitting that the game ended on an arm punt that Starkel launched into double coverage down the middle of the field for no apparent reason.
For the Spartans, it was their first win over a Power Five team since they knocked off Stanford in 2006.
For the Razorbacks, this marks a new low for a program that has had a lot of them this decade. Maybe they'll win the November home game against Western Kentucky to avoid a second consecutive 2-10 season, but get ready for another rough year in the SEC for this team.
Winners: Georgia and Notre Dame
Unlike the Michigan-Wisconsin and Auburn-Texas A&M games where the loser looked powerless against a superior force, Notre Dame and Georgia played a rare contest in which both teams impressed.
Georgia was the obvious winner, taking the game 23-17. The Bulldogs weren't as dominant on the ground as they were expected to be, which meant Jake Fromm had to do more throwing than usual. He was up to the challenge, though, only throwing six incompletions all night and hitting Lawrence Cager with a beautiful back-shoulder ball for a 15-yard touchdown on a third-down play in the fourth quarter. If he ends up a Heisman finalist, that throw will feature prominently on his highlight reel.
The Dawgs were outstanding on defense too. A muffed fair catch by Tyler Simmons was the only reason Notre Dame was able to score a touchdown in the first 56 minutes. The Fighting Irish run game was (predictably) nonexistent, and the two interceptions of Ian Book were huge, each resulting in Georgia field goals.
But in defeat, Notre Dame was arguably the more impressive team.
Most were expecting Georgia to win this game somewhat comfortably, but Notre Dame had the ball with a chance to win in the closing seconds. The Irish have gotten a bad reputation for not showing up in big games over the past few years, but they went toe-to-toe with Georgia in a true road game. If they happen to win out from here, that won't be forgotten.
And that winning-out proposal seems a lot more feasible after we saw Virginia (at Notre Dame next weekend) struggle at home with Old Dominion, Michigan (vs. Notre Dame on Oct. 26) get blown out by Wisconsin and Stanford (vs. Notre Dame on Nov. 30) not show up in the slightest for a third consecutive week. If the Irish keep playing with the intensity they displayed against Georgia, they could run a freight train through these next nine games and stick around the playoff conversation.
Loser: Mike Gundy's Luck with Gadget Plays
Oklahoma State almost pulled off a bit of a stunner, coming within seven points of upsetting No. 12 Texas on the road.
Had the two trick plays in the second half gone differently, we'd be singing the Cowboys' praises right now.
Tom Herman went into his bag of flair first, running a modified flea-flicker to reclaim a 28-23 lead late in the third quarter. Sam Ehlinger handed it off to Keaontay Ingram for what started out looking like a sweep. He gave the ball to Jake Smith on a reverse, and then Smith flipped it back to Ehlinger, who found a wide-open Cade Brewer down the sideline for a 25-yard touchdown.
A few possessions later with the score still the same, Oklahoma State was facing a 4th-and-1 from just outside the red zone. Mike Gundy took too long trying to decide what to do, and the Cowboys were hit with a delay of game penalty. On what was then a 4th-and-6, they lined up for a field goal but faked it. Holder Jake McClure tried to pitch it to Jelani Woods, but the Longhorns were all over it.
Why they didn't just hand the ball to the nation's leading rusher, Chuba Hubbard, on 4th-and-1 is anybody's guess. But Texas capitalized on the failed conversion, scoring a touchdown six plays later to put the game on ice.
No rest for the weary in this conference. Oklahoma State has to turn around and face undefeated Kansas State next Saturday.
Winner: Anthony Gordon, but Not Washington State
There were quite a few eye-popping individual stat lines in the late games.
Colorado's Tony Brown made nine receptions for 150 yards and three touchdowns in the 34-31 upset of No. 24 Arizona State. Both Toledo's Bryant Koback and Colorado State's Marvin Kinsey Jr. rushed for more than 200 yards, combining for five touchdowns in the third quarter of that game alone. And UCLA's Dorian Thompson-Robinson caught fire in the second half to finish with 564 combined passing and rushing yards with seven touchdowns.
But the biggest and brightest star was Washington State's Anthony Gordon.
Gordon is no stranger to big outputs. He threw for at least 420 yards and three touchdowns in each of Wazzu's first three games, leading Mike Leach's Air Raid offense to 49.3 points per game. The competition (New Mexico State, Northern Colorado and Houston) was nothing special, but he was already leading the nation in passing yards and touchdowns heading into Week 4.
He padded his lead in both categories with a performance for the ages.
By halftime, Gordon had thrown for 308 yards and five touchdowns. He added two more touchdowns early in the third quarter to tie Gardner Minshew's school record and give Washington State a 49-17 lead, at which point we began to wonder if he would take another snap. But thanks to a combination of horrific Cougars defense and special teams, a never-say-die attitude from the Bruins and a hefty dose of #Pac12AfterDark, Gordon just kept heaving.
He broke Minshew's record on a 33-yard strike to Easop Winston Jr.—his fourth TD catch of the night. He further broke it on a 65-yard catch-and-run by Max Borghi. And yet, his 570 passing yards and nine touchdowns weren't enough. UCLA scored 50 points in the final 19 minutes to win 67-63.
What a preposterous ending to a week that began with that fake kneel Thursday night.