Winners and Losers from Week 8 of College Football

Ian Wharton@NFLFilmStudyFeatured Columnist IVOctober 20, 2019

Winners and Losers from Week 8 of College Football

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    The college football schedule produced a wild slate of games featuring several Top 25 matchups for the second week in a row. The contenders separated themselves from the field by earning close victories, while many pretenders fell by the wayside in key battles. We're here to break down the winners and losers of Week 8.

    Of course, with an upset of Wisconsin, near upset of Texas and close games for Oregon and Florida, there's going to be movement in the Top 25. Clutch performances from quarterback Joe Burrow (LSU), Kyle Trask (Florida) and Charlie Brewer (Baylor) loom large, with each of their respective programs winning tough road games. 

    These are the games that create legendary storylines. Ahead are the winners and losers based on the results of this week's key matchups.

Winner: Second-Tier SEC Contenders

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    Both Alabama and LSU were able to pull off comfortable wins this week, but it's the next group of SEC teams that are this week's winners. Georgia, Florida and Auburn all avoided what would've been a disastrous second loss of their respective seasons, meaning the conference remains deep with contenders ready to leap upwards if either of the two favorites stumble.

    No. 9 Florida was most at risk early on, as South Carolina looked poised to pull off an upset at home. But Gators quarterback Kyle Trask eventually settled in, and Florida's defense took advantage of the fact Gamecocks QB Ryan Hilinski was playing on a balky knee. The Gamecocks couldn't maintain their high level of execution for four quarters.

    In the West division, No. 11 Auburn ripped through Arkansas with ease, demolishing the Razorbacks 51-10. Tigers signal-caller Bo Nix was efficient again, but his team really dominated this one on the ground. Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn's crew had eight different ball-carriers tally at least two carries, totaling 298 yards in a dominant performance.

    Finally, the No. 10 Georgia Bulldogs, who were seeking redemption for last week's loss to South Carolina, took care of business in the pouring rain at home against Kentucky. Their recipe remained the same as always: relying on their rushing attack to do the dirty work and their defense to stay imposing. It would be nice to see them open this offense and allow quarterback Jake Fromm to develop outside of his current role, but head coach Kirby Smart seems dead-set against that based on play-calling.

Loser: The State of the U

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    Outside of Top 25 upsets, the biggest shocker of the day was Georgia Tech's road upset of Miami. The Yellow Jackets pulled off their second win of the year with a 28-21 overtime victory, which leaves the Hurricanes, who fell to 3-4 on the season, as a massive loser this week.

    It took numerous surprising plays for Miami to squander this game. On top of running back Jordan Mason's one-yard touchdown in overtime, Georgia Tech also scored on a fumble recovery in the end zone, a 41-yard pass by punter Pressley Harvin III and a 35-yard pass from quarterback James Graham to receiver Ahmarean Brown. Miami helped its opponent by missing three field goals, all from 34 yards or less. 

    Despite losing leading rusher DeeJay Dallas to injury in the first half and quarterback N'Kosi Perry getting banged up, this loss comes down to the Hurricanes simply beating themselves too often. Their offense still had 157 yards on the ground and plenty of missed red-zone opportunities. They've still been unable to find a real answer at quarterback, which helped negate a solid defensive performance.

    The hype surrounding Miami and head coach Manny Diaz is gone for now. 

Winner: Lovie Smith and Illinois

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    Who would have guessed that Lovie Smith would have a better signature win at Illinois than Jim Harbaugh would at Michigan?

    That's exactly what happened as the Illini withstood No. 6 Wisconsin's powerful running game. The best part is that Smith pulled the upset while starting former Wolverines castoff Brandon Peters under center. 

    In a complete team effort, Peters completed just nine of 21 passes but connected on two touchdowns and didn't throw a single interception. Running backs Reggie Corbin and Dre Brown made an impact with 153 yards and one score on 28 touches. Overall, the Illini put on an impressive four-quarter performance against the Badgers.

    This was Lovie's 12th win at Illinois in 43 games; the embattled head coach needed to show real progress this season, and he delivered with this win, even if the team is still just 3-4. There's an actual future for this program, which is trending in the right direction.

Loser: Expectations for Wisconsin-Ohio State

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    The stage was set for a major Big Ten showdown again next week, with No. 6 Wisconsin traveling to Columbus to take on No. 4 Ohio State in a game that would have major implications for the conference. But that was before the Badgers fell 24-23 to Illinois on Saturday. 

    Wisconsin not only drops behind Minnesota in the Big Ten West, but it's also likely out of the College Football Playoff conversation altogether.

    The Badgers hadn't trailed once all season long until the ball soared through the uprights on Illinois' game-winning field goal. They lost this game despite being 30-point favorites thanks to six penalties for 60 yards and three turnovers. It's the type of loss that overshadows the fact that star running back Jonathan Taylor had 132 yards and became the fastest player in history to rack up 5,000 yards on the ground. 

    The fallout from this game will reverberate into next week; their upcoming contest with Ohio State no longer looks as interesting considering how the Buckeyes have dominated all of their opponents thus far. If Wisconsin lost to Illinois, it's not going to withstand the roster Ohio State head coach Ryan Day has at his disposal. The Buckeyes are simply too fast and athletic for Wisconsin.

Winner: The Heisman Trophy Race

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    It was a great weekend for the majority of Heisman Trophy hopefuls. Only Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor, who still had 132 yards and a score on the ground, suffered a loss. But his individual play was once again fantastic.

    Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields started the slate of games on Friday with an efficient showing. He outgained Northwestern by himself, with 202 total yards to the Wildcats' 199. His ability as a dual-threat QB is as good as anyone in the nation, even if the stats weren't as gaudy as some of his peers.

    Oklahoma signal-caller Jalen Hurts posted huge numbers once again. The Sooners blasted West Virginia 52-14, with Hurts almost perfect on 16-of-17 passing for 316 yards and three touchdowns. He also led the team in rushing with 75 yards and two scores. 

    LSU QB Joe Burrow is the top pocket passer in the nation, and he continues to carve up the competition. He tallied 327 yards and four touchdowns on 25 completions against Mississippi State. His accuracy and poise is scary good, and he's able to hit any throw from a variety of platforms. His 2019 rise has been meteoric. 

    Unfortunately, we only saw one half of football from Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. He was injured in the first half against Tennessee as he tried to avoid a tackle. He had completed 11 of 12 passes for 155 yards and one interception in his time on the field.

    It's shaping up to be a close race between this group. The emphasis on LSU-Alabama later this year may determine who the favorite is.

Loser: Trevor Lawrence's Decision-Making

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    Clemson totaled 551 offensive yards and piled up 21 points in the fourth quarter to secure a comfortable 45-10 win against a rambunctious Louisville team. But as is becoming all too common this season, Clemson stumbled over itself on offense, and the conversation surrounding quarterback Trevor Lawrence's turnovers just won't go away.

    Though Lawrence compiled 233 yards and three touchdowns on 20 completions, his decision-making remains questionable. Just one year after displaying tremendous understanding of defensive leverage and anticipation, he's thrown several interceptions directly to defenders this year. His two interceptions this game were ugly, and his 25-yard heave to teammate Justyn Ross was another prayer that was thankfully answered.

    He now has eight interceptions in 190 pass attempts compared to just four in 397 attempts last year. Though the Tigers can still compete for the national title if Lawrence is uneven, we've seen him transcend this play. For now, his decision-making is the key weakness to watch for Clemson because it opens them up to a potential upset.

Winner: Group of Five Contenders

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    It was a big day for the ranked Group of Five contenders. No. 19 SMU, No. 21 Cincinnati and No. 24 Appalachian State were each able to take care of business at home, combining to win their respective battles by 80 points. 

    SMU got a double-digit win over Temple, which reinforced the quality of their team right now. The Owls are a gritty, tough squad with a formidable defense, yet Mustangs quarterback Shane Buechele pierced through them with ease, compiling 457 passing yards and six scores. 

    Cincinnati was the only team of those three that had a hard time putting away its foe. Sophomore quarterback Desmond Ridder struggled to deal with the constant pressure from Tulsa's defense, but the Bearcats found reprieve from running back Gerrid Doaks. Doaks led the team in rushing with 91 yards on the ground and three total touchdowns.

    Not to be forgotten are the undefeated Mountaineers. At 6-0 and coming off a 52-7 win against UL Monroe, this is one of the best iterations of the program we've seen. Running backs Darrynton Evans and Marcus Williams Jr. were the offensive stars of the game.

    Each of these programs need to continue their ascent in the polls, and they're controlling what they can by winning handily against every opponent they've faced.

Loser: Jim Harbaugh and Michigan

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    Michigan received a lot of flak at the start of the season after losing to Wisconsin and barely edging out Army and Iowa, but it had the chance to relieve those concerns by defeating Penn State on the road. It was a tough task considering the game was in Happy Valley, but head coach Jim Harbaugh had a chance to get a statement win for Michigan. But Saturday wasn't that night, despite having the opportunity to tie Penn State in a goal-to-go situation with two minutes left.

    The Wolverines lost 28-21, leaving Harbaugh 1-10 against AP Top 10 teams since 2015. He avoided a blowout, but his resume has to leave alumni and the current administration frustrated. They're clearly behind Ohio State and Penn State, and possibly Wisconsin, in the conference's pecking order. 

    It appears Harbaugh missed on quarterback Shea Patterson, who has struggled mightily after transferring from Ole Miss with immense expectations. And with Notre Dame and Ohio State still looming, the heat will only increase. Losses against those two rivals might push Harbaugh to the middle of the hot seat once and for all.

Winner: Pac-12 Conference Depth

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    Both of the Top 15 Pac-12 teams who played Saturday proved their mettle by grinding out tough wins. No. 12 Oregon continues to hang around as a CFP dark horse by beating No. 25 Washington despite Huskies quarterback Jacob Eason's excellent performance. Meanwhile, No. 13 Utah nearly shut out upstart No. 17 Arizona State, winning 21-3 at home.

    Oregon's victory was a gritty performance. Their defense continually slowed the Huskies on third down, compounding an issue that Washington head coach Chris Petersen has faced all year long in conversion situations. This opened the door for a clutch go-ahead drive in the fourth quarter, led by Oregon's run game and completed with Justin Herbert's fourth touchdown pass of the game.

    Utah lurks as a dangerous defensive-minded program coming off an impressive victory against the Sun Devils. The Utes held Arizona State quarterback Jayden Daniels to just 25 yards on 4-of-18 passing with their tight coverage schemes and deep array of pass defenders. This is one of the most fundamentally sound front sevens in the nation, and it paid off against a freshman quarterback who struggled to adjust to a hostile road environment.

    These two teams headline a deep conference. It wouldn't be surprising if the competition cannibalizes itself down the stretch and produces a Rose Bowl winner. But for now, both Oregon and Utah are holding out hope they can sneak into the playoff discussion.

Loser: Jeremy Pruitt's Fumble Reaction

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    Handling a loss gracefully is a difficult concept for most coaches, but there's a certain line that shouldn't be crossed when a player makes a mistake. Unfortunately, Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt did just that when quarterback Jared Guarantano fumbled the ball on a quarterback sneak on the goal line. The fumble was picked up and returned 100 yards by Alabama for a touchdown.

    The mistake sealed the game for the Crimson Tide. Down 28-13 prior to the fumble, the Volunteers had the chance to potentially make a big move against the Tua Tagovailoa-less Tide had they scored. After Guarantano's costly error, Pruitt scolded him and made contact with his facemask as the quarterback returned to the sideline.

    This type of behavior simply isn't acceptable. There's no need to belittle Guarantano or show him up. He knows the situation and understands the mistake, but grabbing his facemask is simply going too far.