Winners and Losers from Week 5 of College Football

Brad Shepard@@Brad_ShepardFeatured ColumnistSeptember 29, 2019

Winners and Losers from Week 5 of College Football

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    Chris Seward/Associated Press

    What a wild weekend for college football.

    The defending national champion Clemson Tigers nearly went down to North Carolina, but a stuffed two-point conversion with 1:17 left in the game saved their title defense. Wisconsin embarrassed itself with throwback jerseys that should be thrown out after Saturday's rugged win over Northwestern.

    Thankfully for both contenders, they've still got spotless records.

    Texas A&M also survived, while Oklahoma and new star quarterback Jalen Hurts thrived. Hurts' old buddy Tua Tagovailoa and his crimson arsenal of firepower found plenty of room to torch Ole Miss in Tuscaloosa, and there was a lot of excitement in the Thursday and Friday games, too.

    There were a lot of winners and losers from the week so far, so let's sort them all out. Be sure to check back later as this story is updated with more slides as the prime-time and West Coast games go final.

    Let's take a look at some big (and bad) storylines from Week 5 of college football.

Winner: Oklahoma's Offense Is so Good, It Hurts

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    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    This is exactly what head coach Lincoln Riley and Oklahoma fans envisioned when the Sooners persuaded Jalen Hurts to come to Norman after he decided to transfer from Alabama.

    All the graduate transfer has done thus far is light up the college football world, proving he's a perfect product for Riley's system. He may just be on his way to becoming OU's third consecutive Heisman Trophy winner.

    He looked the part Saturday against Texas Tech, torching the Red Raiders in a 55-16 laugher. His biggest weapon was receiver CeeDee Lamb, whom he connected with for seven receptions, 185 yards and a trio of touchdowns. It was Hurts who made it all tick, though.

    He was brilliant yet again, finishing with 415 yards on 17-of-24 passing with three touchdowns and one interception. He added 70 rushing yards and another score on the ground.

    Learning from former quarterbacks coach Dan Enos and offensive coordinator Mike Locksley at Alabama helped Hurts retool his passing skills and look like a better all-around quarterback. Once it became clear the Crimson Tide were Tua Tagovailoa's team, Hurts sought greener pastures.

    That took him to Oklahoma, where Riley and Co. have him looking like a potential first-round draft pick. After all, the NFL now has as many dual-threat quarterbacks as dropback passers, and Hurts, who can beat you with his arm or feet, is the best signal-caller in college football.

    Whether or not Texas Tech was a worthy foe is debatable, but with Hurts and Lamb playing like they were Saturday, few will be a match for the Sooners.

Loser: Clemson's Clueless Offense

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    Chris Seward/Associated Press

    It's time for Clemson fans to be concerned.

    How many times can you play poorly, shrug it off and expect to continue to win? On Saturday, it nearly came back to bite the defending national champions, who haven't looked like one of the nation's top four teams to date yet in 2019.

    Sure, there's plenty of time for the Tigers to find their championship form, and they have a schedule devoid of Top 25 opponents to sharpen their skills against. But if they play anything like they did against North Carolina, it's not going to take a gold-standard team to hand them a loss.

    After a Tar Heels touchdown closed the gap to 21-20 with 1:17 left in the game, the Tigers were a failed two-point conversion away from suffering an embarrassing loss to a team Mack Brown has playing well above its abilities right now.

    Instead, Clemson defensive end Xavier Thomas sprinted down the line of scrimmage on Tar Heels quarterback Sam Howell's read-option play, smothered him before he could reach the pylon and kept the Tigers' undefeated season alive.

    With Clemson's soft schedule, it may not make the College Football Playoff with a loss. That play may have saved its chance at a title defense.

    Meanwhile, what's wrong with the Tigers? Sophomore quarterback Trevor Lawrence entered the season as a favorite for the Heisman Trophy, but he appears to have regressed, especially considering he still has so many weapons around him. Running back Travis Etienne has carried the offense so far, but he had just 67 yards on the ground Saturday.

    There's a lot to fix. Thankfully for the Tigers, they get to do it with an undefeated record. Saturday was an alarming showing.

Winner: The "Other" Alabama Wide Receiver

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    Vasha Hunt/Associated Press

    You may have forgotten about DeVonta Smith. With all the talent in Alabama's receiving corps, led by defending Biletnikoff Award winner Jerry Jeudy, it's easy to do.

    Obviously, Ole Miss forgot it needed to cover Smith. Or, maybe the Rebels tried and just couldn't.

    Whatever the case, Smith's career day helped quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and the Crimson Tide overcome a sluggish start and dominate the Rebels, 59-31.

    Just how good was Smith's day? Well, maybe not quite as memorable as him catching Tagovailoa's 41-yard scoring strike to beat Georgia in overtime for the national championship two years ago, but pretty awesome nonetheless.

    Smith finished the day with 11 catches for 274 yards and an eye-popping five touchdowns. It was an amazing day for the Tide, who still have a flawed defense but have so many offensive weapons that it may not matter.

    On a day when defending national champion Clemson sputtered, Bama shined. Tagovailoa set the school record with his 86th total touchdown, and he's needed just 20 starts to do it. 

    Entering the game, Smith was the third-leading receiver on the team with 20 receptions for 263 yards and three touchdowns, behind Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III. On Saturday, Smith made sure opponents won't forget about him from now on.

    But what do you do? It's nearly impossible to cover that trio and Jaylen Waddle. Alabama is a well-oiled machine that is firing so well right now it seems nobody can stop it from marching toward another College Football Playoff.

Loser: Wisconsin's Style Points

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    The only thing uglier than Wisconsin's slow-trickle 24-15 win over Northwestern on Saturday was the Badgers' throwback uniforms.

    The rugged victory may not have been pretty, but it's how Paul Chryst-coached teams win. When you battle against a team as well-coached as Northwestern, it's sometimes expected, even if the Wildcats clearly were outclassed talent-wise.

    Running back Jonathan Taylor still got his yards, churning out 119 with a touchdown. But quarterback Jack Coan was nowhere near the weapon he'd been earlier in the season, and certainly not the same player he was in last weekend's beatdown of Michigan.

    If anything, though, it should be a bit of a relief for Badgers fans that this team can win ugly when part of its game is off. Coan threw for just 113 yards, no touchdowns and an interception, so points were difficult to come by.

    Thankfully for the Badgers, their defense was ready.

    Outside linebacker Noah Burks' 68-yard pick-six was the second defensive score of the day, and at the time, it meant the Wisconsin defense had scored more points than it had allowed so far this year.

    Though that changed when the Wildcats scored, the Badgers are still stout on that side of the ball. They're allowing an average of just 7.3 points through the first four games of the year, and they seem to be getting stronger each game.

    The Badgers may need to burn those jerseys, but they should keep the game plan; they'll probably need it a few more times in conference play before the season ends.

Winner: The Malzahn Way

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    Whenever Auburn is expected to be a national title contender, it always seems the Tigers fall flat. If nobody is really talking about them, they show up and shock the college football world.

    It's the Gus Malzahn way.

    One year, Tigers fans will be talking about biting the buyout bullet and moving on. The next, he draws up offense like the Picasso on the Plains.

    Welcome to the latter.

    This team is legitimate, and it proved itself again Saturday night when it took care of business at home, pummeling Mississippi State in every facet of the game in a 56-23 win. Everything Malzahn called worked.

    The running game continues to be brilliant, as it has all season. Hiring former AU star Cadillac Williams as the running backs coach has proven to be a fantastic fit, and he has everybody running well behind that big, strong offensive line—two areas that were weaknesses a year ago but are now strengths.

    The Tigers have perimeter weapons, and true freshman quarterback Bo Nix enjoyed the best game of his young career against the Bulldogs, finishing the night with 391 total yards and three touchdowns. He still has room to grow, but it's clear he's adapting and evolving.

    Malzahn is adapting, too. He's tailoring his offense to Nix's skill set to go along with perhaps the best defense in the SEC.

    Yes, Alabama, LSU and Georgia have been impressive so far. But don't doubt Auburn at this point. The Tigers probably want you to, though.

Loser: The Rest of the Big Ten

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    Nati Harnik/Associated Press

    Wisconsin has been a nice little story with its big-time rebound from last season's struggles. Penn State has some explosive abilities and has looked strong on both sides of the ball. Iowa is its same consistent, rugged self. Minnesota is quietly and impressively putting together an undefeated early season.

    But the Big Ten is Ohio State's to lose.

    If that wasn't clear before Saturday night's thorough road trouncing of Nebraska that was every bit as ugly as the 48-7 final score, it should be now. The Buckeyes basically just ran out the clock for the majority of the fourth quarter while Scott Frost and the Huskers wanted the agony to end.

    How bad was it? Ohio State's first punt came with the Buckeyes up 48-7 and 13:22 remaining in the fourth quarter.

    Perhaps the most impressive part of the win was how OSU's defense smothered talented Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez, who could never get anything going on the ground or through the air. The Huskers began the season ranked, but it's been a tough start to the year, and Saturday was the lowlight.

    On the other hand, Buckeyes quarterback Justin Fields continued to prove all he needed was a chance. Since transferring from Georgia and gaining immediate eligibility, all he's done is surge into the top two or three of the early-season Heisman Trophy race. 

    Fields is a difference-maker, and he has a pair of running backs in J.K. Dobbins and Master Teague III who can help take the pressure off him. With a receiving corps that boasts plenty of unsung talent and a defense that is rife with elite playmakers, this is a complete team.

    It's not out of the question that another Big Ten team rises to the challenge of beating the Buckeyes, but it doesn't look likely right now. You can count on one hand the number of teams that look like they can hang with first-year coach Ryan Day's Buckeyes.

Winner: Memphis' Killer Instinct

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    A year ago, Memphis led Navy by 12 points in the fourth quarter before the Midshipmen stormed back and shocked Mike Norvell's Tigers, 22-21.

    History did not repeat itself Thursday night.

    Again, the Tigers led by 12 in the final frame, but this time, they kept the defensive pressure on, figured out the option defensively and sustained the advantage for a 35-23 win.

    After a slow start, Memphis veteran quarterback Brady White made some big plays in the fourth quarter to push his team ahead. The result was a big AAC win against a team that entered undefeated that keeps Norvell's team on the cusp of the Top 25 and gives the Tigers their first 4-0 start since 2015.

    Freshman running back Kenneth Gainwell got started with a 75-yard touchdown run on Memphis' first offensive play and had another electrifying night. With White surrounded by weapons like receiver Antonio Gibson and a defense that seems to improve and adjust as games go on, this season could hold big things.

    Memphis opened the season with a win over SEC foe Ole Miss, and though everybody talks about UCF and Boise State as the Group of Five teams with the most national clout, you'd better not forget about Memphis.

    The best team in Tennessee proved again on Thursday night it can beat opponents at their own game, even if it prefers lighting up scoreboards.

    There was no frenetic Navy comeback like a season ago, which shows growth and improvement under Norvell in his fourth season at the helm.

Loser: The Early-Season Maryland Hype Train

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Remember when Maryland was ranked?

    After Friday night's 59-0 loss to Penn State in College Park, where the Terrapins were embarrassed in every facet of the game, it seems like eons ago.

    Maryland coach Mike Locksley's team lost a disappointing game to Temple in Philadelphia two weeks ago and had a bye to prepare for the Nittany Lions.

    It didn't help at all.

    James Franklin's Lions showed Maryland's first-year staff what a real ranked team looks like. It all started with sophomore quarterback Sean Clifford, who is quietly becoming one of the biggest playmakers in the Big Ten.

    Clifford struggled in a lackluster win over rival Pittsburgh two weeks ago, but he's been otherwise brilliant this season. He was again on Friday, completing 26 of 31 passes for 398 yards and three touchdowns while leading the team in rushing with 54 more yards and a score. The Terps had no answer for Clifford, who is blossoming in his first year leading Franklin's offense.

    On the other side, Maryland transfer quarterback Josh Jackson started the season hot, but he's crashed back to earth in the past two games. Against Penn State, he flashed the inconsistency he often demonstrated at Virginia Tech.

    Part of that, of course, was because of the Nittany Lions' defense, which looked legit. Everybody is talking about how Ohio State is blowing its opponents out, and Wisconsin has joined the Buckeyes as the early-season Big Ten story, but do not forget about PSU. The Lions look like a rebound season is on the way.

    Few expected Locksley's team to be a force this year, so there's still plenty of time to rally, but this team has lost every bit of momentum it built early in the season.

Winner: Arizona State's Comeback Kid and Swarming Defense

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    Arizona State freshman quarterback Jayden Daniels had plenty of help from his friends, but late-game, ice-water drives are becoming signature statements for the first-year signal-caller who has poise beyond his years.

    In a rugged Pac-12 matchup with Cal, Daniels calmly led his Sun Devils on a 15-play drive that chewed up more than six minutes of the clock and ended as Eno Benjamin crossed the goal line with 4:41 left to give the Sun Devils a lead over the Golden Bears in what eventually became a 24-17 win in Berkeley.

    It was reminiscent of Daniels' often steady, sometimes spectacular game-winning drive in another defensive struggle that resulted in a win over Michigan State earlier this year. Friday night's loss dropped Cal from the ranks of the unbeaten, leaving the conference with no undefeated teams.

    The rebound was big for the Sun Devils, who lost a disappointing home game to Colorado a week ago.

    Daniels needs to add weight to his thin 6'3", 175-pound frame, and he doesn't always make the best decisions with the ball. But he is a threat to beat teams with his arm or legs, and he was a load for Cal to handle for much of the game. It didn't hurt matters that he had Benjamin beside him in the backfield, either.

    The running back broke tackles all night against coach Justin Wilcox's relentless defense, and he still nearly ran for 100 yards in the victory.

    Any time Herm Edwards' team wins, defense is probably going to be a key element, and it was against Cal. But the Daniels-Benjamin combo is dangerous with the game on the line. This team isn't elite yet, but the Sun Devils have enough on both sides of the ball to make plenty of noise in the Pac-12.

    Cal found that out the hard way, and the Bears will tumble from their No. 15 perch as a result.

Winner: College Football's Best Name and His Huge Game

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    When one thinks of the Oklahoma State Cowboys during Mike Gundy's tenure, the first thing that comes to mind is a prolific air attack with lots of high-flying receivers who put up video game numbers.

    They're so much more than that this year, though.

    On Saturday, they followed last week's disappointing loss to Texas with a thorough 26-13 waxing of Kansas State, ending first-year coach Chris Klieman's unblemished early season.

    While the Cowboys continued to prove they could chew up yardage with first-year starting quarterback Spencer Sanders throwing to dynamic receiver Tylan Wallace, neither of those guys is the offensive centerpiece. That would be sophomore running back Chuba Hubbard.

    Hubbard again was magnificent in a key-game setting Saturday night, finishing with 296 rushing yards on 25 carries and a touchdown. His highlight-reel play was one of the biggest of the day—an 84-yard scoring run where he blazed past a slew of Wildcats. He later ripped off a 44-yard scamper.

    With Sanders' ability to keep teams honest with his legs and Hubbard perhaps even being more valuable than former Oklahoma State running back Justice Hill, who put together a great career in Stillwater, the Cowboys are dangerous.

    This season has gotten off to a strong start with first-year offensive coordinator Sean Gleeson calling the shots, and the best thing for Cowboys fans is Sanders and Hubbard have at least one more season together.

    Saturday's win was the biggest of the year for OSU, and it won't be the last big-time victory for this young team.

Loser: The Fuente Flop at Virginia Tech

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    The number 45 was not kind to the Virginia Tech Hokies on Friday night.

    Duke handed the once-proud Hokies a 45-10 shellacking in Lane Stadium, and after that debacle, it's fair to wonder what the heck is wrong with the Justin Fuente era in Blacksburg.

    Not only did David Cutcliffe's team roll up 45 points against legendary defensive coordinator Bud Foster in what will be his final year on the Hokies' sideline, but it was also the team's worst home loss in 45 years.

    Just how bad was it?

    This was Virginia Tech's worst loss as an ACC team, dating back to its inclusion in 2004. And according to ESPN, it's even worse than that. The setback was Tech's worst home conference loss since 1950 when they were in the Southern Conference and lost 54-0 to William & Mary during a 0-10 season.

    For Duke, meanwhile, it was the Blue Devils' biggest ACC road win since 1989.

    Considering the Hokies finished last season 6-7 after nearly not making a bowl game, this year's 2-2 start and 0-2 ACC record is alarming. Fuente was known as a brilliant offensive mind when he took the gig after a wildly successful tenure at Memphis.

    Fuente started strong in Blacksburg, taking over from Frank Beamer in 2016, but the past two seasons have been far below the lofty standards set by the past couple of decades of excellence. No disrespect to Duke, but this wasn't a beatdown by a Clemson-like team, either.

    With Miami, Rhode Island and North Carolina coming up, the Hokies need to turn it around in a hurry before the schedule gets tougher.

Winner: Texas A&M's Survival Skills

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    That breeze coming from Arlington, Texas, was a collective sigh of relief from the Texas A&M contingent who nearly saw a debacle of epic proportions.

    Even with high expectations, nobody said Year 2 under coach Jimbo Fisher was going to be easy. Early-season losses to top-ranked Clemson and an upstart Auburn team that looks like an SEC West contender had the Aggies sitting at 2-2 entering Saturday's game against Arkansas.

    With the Razorbacks struggling and coming off a loss to San Jose State, that should have been a cakewalk victory, right?

    Think again.

    A&M sweated the entire way, squeaking out a 31-27 win over the Hogs that wasn't safe until backup Arkansas quarterback Ben Hicks' fourth-down pass from the Aggies' 19-yard line fell incomplete in the final minute.

    This was a matchup A&M simply had to win, with games against Alabama and LSU, among other capable SEC opponents, still on the schedule. And the Aggies did pull it off, even if it wasn't the way they wanted to.

    The result dropped Chad Morris' Razorbacks to their 13th consecutive conference loss. Morris has still never beaten a Power Five opponent as a collegiate head coach.

    The Aggies got an excellent effort from quarterback Kellen Mond, who threw three touchdown passes, including two to Quartney Davis. 

    Pollsters obviously still thought a lot of A&M despite the two losses: The Aggies were the only ranked two-loss team entering Saturday. Whether they'll still be ranked remains to be seen, but there are lots of issues, especially on the defensive side of the ball.

    Morris hopes to use a moral victory as a stepping stone, but the Aggies have a long way to go to become the SEC contender they were expected to be.

Loser: Matt Fink in His Encore

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    Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

    With JT Daniels (torn ACL) out for the season and Kedon Slovis (concussion protocol) ruled out again for the Washington game, this was Matt Fink's opportunity to show everybody he could lead this proud program on a consistent basis.

    After torching Utah a week ago, he found it much tougher sledding against Washington's elite secondary. The Huskies intercepted him three times, and he threw for just 163 yards in a 28-14 loss.

    Two of those interceptions came in the red zone with the Trojans trailing by double digits. It was that kind of day for USC. It may be that type of topsy-turvy season after Daniels' injury, as they're now 3-2.

    From those three interceptions, the Huskies wound up with 14 points. That included Salvon Ahmed's crushing 89-yard scoring scamper after one of Fink's red-zone interceptions, which came late in the third quarter with the Trojans trailing 20-7.

    A scoring strike could have closed the gap to less than a touchdown. Instead, Fink faltered, and Ahmed put the game out of reach.

    The flavor of the day was missed opportunities for USC, which also saw Washington recover a fumble in the end zone for a first-half touchdown. Nothing went the Trojans' way, and while it's difficult to place blame on a quarterback who started the year third on the depth chart, USC needs Fink to produce.

    How long will Slovis be out? When he returns, is it his gig, or will it be an open battle? Fink had the opportunity to make that a much harder decision on coach Clay Helton, but he couldn't take advantage.

    Washington seemed to get back on track in a big way with the win.

Winner: Notre Dame's Improving Defense

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    It's possible to win even while losing, and it seems the Notre Dame defense did so last week in a close road loss at Georgia.

    Though the Fighting Irish offense didn't look great in that game, Irish defenders flew around the field, looked faster than a lot of people expected they would and mixed senior leadership with impactful youth.

    That performance carried over into Saturday against Virginia in which the Irish smothered quarterback Bryce Perkins on their way to an important 35-20 win.

    Notre Dame had eight sacks, led by senior Julian Okwara's three. Okwara also forced a fumble, and the Irish should remain in the Top 10.

    While Brian Kelly's team faces an uphill battle to get back to the College Football Playoff, the season is far from lost. There is a lot to play for, and there's no telling what will happen to the top of the rankings. College football is bonkers, as we all know, and the Irish can keep winning style points.

    It all starts with defense. With Ian Book at quarterback—and when the Irish get their running back stable healthy—they'll be fine offensively. The defense had to replace several playmakers, but the unit's blossoming at the right time.

    Though Perkins flashed his electric ability and threw for 334 yards, he also was forced into throwing a pair of interceptions and never found room to roam. He had 16 carries for minus-29 yards, and his feet are a huge part of the Cavaliers' success.

    Notre Dame took away that part of his game, and it gained an impressive victory in the process.