Winners and Losers from Week 4 of College Football
The first three weeks of the 2020 college football season were quite tame compared to the usual standard of noon-to-midnight madness every Saturday.
But goodness gracious, did we make up for lost time with the SEC joining the fray this week.
No. 3 Oklahoma and No. 6 LSU both lost at home to unranked opponents.
No. 8 Texas needed a frantic 15-point comeback and overtime to avoid losing to a team that almost lost to Houston Baptist two weeks ago.
Lane Kiffin got 613 yards of total offense in his Ole Miss debut against No. 5 Florida, only to be topped by Mike Leach getting 632 yards in his first game coaching for Mississippi State against No. 6 LSU.
And while No. 4 Georgia eventually cruised to a 37-10 victory, the Bulldogs had five freaking points at halftime against Arkansas.
Here we thought it would be a light day of work for just about everyone in the AP Top 10. Instead, anarchy ruled the first nearly full day of the season.
Winner: Mississippi State's Mike Leach and K.J. Costello
If you thought the #Pac12AfterDark Mike Leach experience was fun, it only took one game to confirm that his move to the SEC is going to be an incredible action/comedy movie worth watching every single Saturday.
Leach's Air Raid offense has always been prolific, turning no-name quarterbacks into Heisman candidates who lead the nation in passing. But this time around, he snagged an already-good quarterback in Stanford transfer K.J. Costello, got to pair him with a solid group of receivers and one of the best running backs in the nation (Kylin Hill) and immediately built an offense capable of decimating SEC records.
Opening the season against the reigning national champions, Costello threw for 623 yards and five touchdowns, leading the Bulldogs to a 44-34 victory in which they incredibly rushed for just nine yards as a team.
LSU's star cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. missed this game after spending Friday night in the hospital with an acute illness, and you have to believe that played a huge factor here. Stingley likely would have been matched up with Mississippi State's best receiver, Osirus Mitchell, and he almost certainly would have kept him from racking up 183 yards and two touchdowns.
But Stingley's absence doesn't explain Hill's 158 receiving yards out of the backfield, nor JaVonta Payton putting up 122 yards, darn near matching his total from the entire 2019 season (147 yards).
As we've seen for years, it's nearly impossible to defend all of the receivers in Leach's offense, no matter how much talent and athleticism you have in your secondary.
That means this will be a trend throughout Mississippi State's season and that Costello is a serious threat to win the Heisman. No, it won't be 623 passing yards every game, but 60 passing attempts is going to be par for the course, or darn close to it. Not saying Costello's NFL potential is this high, but buckle up for a Tua Tagovailoa type of statistical season from the Bulldogs quarterback.
Loser: Oklahoma Sooners
Two weeks ago, Kansas State's defense was helpless in a 35-31 loss to the Sun Belt's Arkansas State, followed a few hours later by current (but soon to change drastically) AP No. 3 Oklahoma moving the ball at will in a 48-0 win over Missouri State.
It seemed like it would be a brutal combination for the Wildcats. And when the Sooners took a 14-0 lead on the first play of the second quarter—after Kansas State had gone three-and-out on its first two possessions—an impending rout looked inevitable.
When Oklahoma went up 28-7 midway through the third quarter on Spencer Rattler's fourth passing touchdown of the day, I'll be honest, I turned the game off. Even with three screens running, there was too much going on during the early slate to waste precious real estate on a blowout.
But then Oklahoma's defense completely imploded.
Kansas State opened its next drive with a 77-yard Deuce Vaughn reception, scoring a touchdown moments later. On the next drive, Wildcats quarterback Skylar Thompson hit Justin Gardner for a 78-yard gain. Another short touchdown ensued. After an Oklahoma turnover, Vaughn had another 35-yard gain to set up yet another K-State touchdown.
In about 10 minutes of real time, this game went from "Not worth watching" to "Wait, where's the remote for the main screen?!"
Oklahoma still led 35-28 at that point, but let's just say that a one-possession game in the fourth quarter was not expected for any of the AP Top 5 teams this week.
And that's when the Oklahoma offense joined its defense in implosion mode.
On its first nine drives of the game, Oklahoma either scored a touchdown (five), committed a turnover (three) or had a turnover on downs (one). The Sooners did not attempt a punt until the fourth quarter, and emphasis on "attempt," because the first one got blocked by Kansas State and led to a game-tying score two plays later.
The once-unstoppable Sooners offense managed just four yards of total offense on its next two drives and punted two more times. In between those punts, Kansas State took the lead on a 50-yard field goal. The Sooners got the ball back with less than a minute remaining, but Rattler threw his third interception of the day to make it back-to-back seasons of Oklahoma losing to Kansas State.
The Wildcats outscored the Sooners 24-0 in the final 17 minutes of the 38-35 upset.
It didn't keep the Sooners from reaching the College Football Playoff last year, but they definitely need to win out from here to have any hope this year.
Winner: Florida's Kyle Trask-to-Kyle Pitts Connection
Florida's defense was...not great against Ole Miss.
Lane Kiffin's Rebels incredibly racked up 613 total yards and 35 points against a Gators team that allowed just 306.7 yards per game in 2019. Per Sports Reference, it was just the second time since 2000 that the Gators allowed more than 536 yards in a single game.
And yet, they covered the two-touchdown spread in a 51-35 victory because Ole Miss had no answer for Kyle Trask and Kyle Pitts.
The senior quarterback lit up the Rebels secondary for 416 yards and six touchdowns. It was the first time Florida had at least six passing touchdowns in a game since Chris Leak against South Carolina in 2004. Trask also joined Tim Tebow (482 yards vs. Cincinnati in 2010 Sugar Bowl) as the only Gators to eclipse 400 passing yards in a game since 2001.
So much for the notion that offenses are struggling because of the most unusual offseason.
Trask's favorite target—as will usually be the case—was his tight end, Kyle Pitts.
The 6'6" All-American had eight receptions for 170 yards and four touchdowns. The second score came with five seconds remaining in the second quarter and was one of the most impressive catches you'll see all year, spinning and snagging a ball at his ankles while falling down near the pylon. The third one was a 71-yard strike down the middle of the field on which he stiff-armed a would-be tackler. And on the fourth one, he just went up and got it between two defenders at the back of the end zone.
Not your typical tight end, to say the least.
Florida better figure out its defensive issues if it expects to live up to the hype as the SEC East favorite, but that passing performance hit us right in the 2019 LSU feels.
Loser: Yet Another Attempt to Beat the Ragin' Cajuns
The Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns surged into the AP Top 25 after a 31-14 Week 2 road win over then-ranked Iowa State. They returned both a punt and a kickoff for a touchdown, but it was otherwise a game with very little separation.
Last week against Georgia State, the Ragin' Cajuns fell behind 14-0 in the first half before storming back for a 34-31 overtime victory.
This Saturday's game against Georgia Southern was somehow even more dramatic than the first two, but it still ended in victory for Louisiana.
The Eagles struck first with an 85-yard touchdown drive that ended early in the second quarter. Louisiana came right back with an 83-yard touchdown drive of its own. When Georgia Southern went 66 yards for a short field goal in the third, Louisiana immediately matched it with a 67-yard drive that ended in a game-tying chip shot late in the final minute of the third.
Louisiana took its first lead on a touchdown with about 10 minutes remaining, but Georgia Southern reclaimed the lead with a touchdown and a two-point conversion with less than a minute to go in regulation.
Levi Lewis led the Ragin' Cajuns down to the Georgia Southern 36 to set up an anything-but-a-sure-thing 53-yard field-goal attempt.
Nate Snyder missed two field goals against Iowa State, missed one against Georgia State and shanked a 34-yard attempt at the end of the first half in this game. But he calmly stepped up and drilled a game-winner as time expired on a 20-18 final.
Next up for the Ragin' Cajuns is a road game against Appalachian State on Wednesday, Oct. 7. There aren't many must-watch midweek games, but you're going to want to set a reminder to watch that one.
Winner: Appalachian State's Rushing Attack
Speaking of Appalachian State, get a load of what the Mountaineers did against Campbell in their final game before facing the Ragin' Cajuns.
Campbell's run defense was already not great this fall. The Fighting Camels gave up 284 yards on the ground against Georgia Southern and 193 yards at Coastal Carolina. Those two FBS opponents combined for six rushing touchdowns against the FCS foe.
But Appalachian State took that to another level with 404 rushing yards and seven touchdowns in a 52-21 victory.
Daetrich Harrington had a brutal performance in last week's loss to Marshall, finishing with just 12 carries for 30 yards. He rebounded in a huge way with 32 carries for 211 yards and four touchdowns against Campbell.
It wasn't quite the best individual performance of the early season. SMU's Ulysses Bentley IV had 227 yards (on just 19 carries) against North Texas last weekend. But Harrington became the second 200-yard rusher of 2020.
Nate Noel was equally impressive with 14 totes for 131 yards and a score.
Aside from going three-and-out on their opening drive, Appalachian State was unstoppable, as was to be expected.
Loser: Brock Purdy's "Fumble-Ception"
Last week's loss to Louisiana notwithstanding, Brock Purdy has had a fine career as Iowa State's quarterback. He was great when injuries unexpectedly thrust him into the starting role as a freshman in 2018, and he came back in 2019 and was just as good.
But in the third quarter of Iowa State's 37-34 win over TCU, Purdy threw one of the ugliest passes you'll ever see.
Well, technically, it wasn't a pass...because he threw it backward.
Purdy spun out of a would-be sack from a corner blitz, but he spun himself right into another pass-rusher. Rather than simply take the sack after doing a 450-degree spin, he tried to throw the ball out of bounds—which, to be clear, would have been intentional grounding anyway, because he was nowhere close to getting out of the pocket.
However, he was also nowhere close to getting the ball out of bounds. He lofted it almost straight up in the air to La'Kendrick Van Zandt—the man who originally hit him on the blitz, did a barrel roll and hopped up to find a gift coming his way. Van Zandt was able to practically walk into the end zone for a fumble recovery touchdown.
Good thing Purdy had Breece Hall to bail him out. Iowa State's running back had 154 rushing yards and three touchdowns in the close victory.
Purdy might be a first-round draft pick next April, but let's hope that play makes an appearance as a blooper on his draft-night highlight reel.
Winner: Pittsburgh's Defense vs. Louisville
The Pittsburgh Panthers entered Week 4 with the best defense in the nation, holding their first two opponents to just 2.7 yards per play and 10 total points.
But shutting down Austin Peay and Syracuse was one thing. Louisville's trifecta of QB Malik Cunningham, RB Javian Hawkins and WR Tutu Atwell was bound to be a much stiffer test for Pittsburgh.
Outside of Hawkins breaking loose for a 75-yard touchdown, though, the Cardinals were unable to get much of anything going in the 23-20 Pittsburgh win.
That was the theme of Pitt's first games, too. Austin Peay had one 57-yard gain but was limited to 80 total yards aside from that. Syracuse got a 69-yard touchdown reception from Taj Harris and managed just 102 other yards on the day. Take out the big Hawkins run, and Louisville had 148 total yards.
Cunningham had thrown for at least 300 yards and three touchdowns in each of his first two games, but the Panthers secondary gave him no windows and no breathing room. Cunningham was sacked seven times and completed just nine of 21 passes for 107 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions. (Prayers up for Cunningham, who was carted off the field after his head slammed the turf on the game-sealing interception.)
With the win, the Panthers improved to 3-0 in advance of early October games against North Carolina State and Boston College that this defense should be able to win. The next major test will come on Oct. 17 at Miami for what may well be an AP Top 15 showdown that no one could have predicted a month ago.
Loser: Kentucky's Ability to Finish Drives
One of the biggest unknowns heading into the SEC's opening weekend was what Kentucky's offense would look like without Mr. Everything Lynn Bowden Jr.
The answer: pretty solid, until it got into the red zone.
Beginning the season on the road against Auburn was a tall task, but the Wildcats were up to the challenge. On its opening possession, Kentucky went 93 yards, punctuated by a 35-yard Kavosiey Smoke rushing touchdown. Terry Wilson went 4-for-4 through the air. The Wildcats converted three third downs. Things were looking good.
They gained 36 yards on each of the next two drives into Auburn territory, but they were unable to come away with points—which pretty well sums up the game. Kentucky outgained the Tigers 384-324 and held the ball for 13 minutes longer than Auburn did, but they were only able to score twice in the 29-13 loss.
It wasn't for lack of opportunity, though. Kentucky got the ball inside the Auburn 50 on each of its four first-half possessions, but the drive chart merely reads: touchdown, turnover on downs, punt, interception.
The interception was the back-breaker. Kentucky ran four plays inside the Auburn 3, and it sure looked like Christopher Rodriguez Jr. got into the end zone on one of them. But on 3rd-and-goal from the 1, Wilson was picked off.
He got some redemption with a third-down touchdown pass late in the third quarter to bring the Wildcats back to within 15-13. But then, finally, the Auburn defense buckled down and held the Wildcats to just one yard on their next three possessions.
Kentucky did get back inside the Auburn 15 with less than two minutes remaining, but it resulted in Kentucky's third and final turnover of the day.
Perhaps they'll have better luck against the Ole Miss defense next week.
Winner: Friday Night Football
Normally by this point in the season, there have already been several incredible Thursday or Friday night college football games. But with all of the postponements/rescheduling/delayed seasons because of COVID-19, that simply hasn't been the case this year. Through the first three weeks, there were only four total games played on Thursday or Friday, and not one of those games was particularly entertaining.
That trend continued when UAB blew out South Alabama 42-10 on Thursday night, but Middle Tennessee and UTSA flipped the script with a highly entertaining Friday showdown.
Led by Asher O'Hara's 372 passing yards and 61 rushing yards, MTSU smoked UTSA in total yards, first downs and time of possession. The Blue Raiders had five touchdown drives, each of which went at least 72 yards.
UTSA, on the other hand, didn't have a single scoring drive of more than 66 yards, because it didn't need to. Thanks to two interceptions, a big kickoff return and one woeful 21-yard punt on 4th-and-33, the Roadrunners started four possessions in MTSU territory, scoring touchdowns on three of them.
MTSU kept overcoming those mishaps, though, and had a chance to tie the game with a little over one minute remaining. O'Hara put together a 13-play touchdown drive to make the score 37-35. However, the two-point conversion attempt was forced into heavy coverage and fell incomplete. It was the third time an MTSU touchdown resulted in only six points, as there was a blocked PAT in the third quarter and a failed two-point attempt earlier in the fourth.
UTSA had no trouble with the onside kick recovery and improved to 3-0. Best of luck getting to 6-0 (or even 4-2) with an upcoming slate at UAB, at BYU and vs. Army, but 3-0 is still impressive for a team that went 4-8 last year.
Loser: Texas Tech Trying to Close out Texas
It's no surprise that Texas vs. Texas Tech was a high-scoring affair. In three of the last five meetings between these programs, the losing team scored at least 34 points. And Texas Tech's defense already appears to be worse than usual, which is really saying something, as the Red Raiders gave up 572 passing yards in a season-opening nail-biter against Houston Baptist.
It was, however, a big surprise to see Texas Tech take a 56-41 lead over No. 8 Texas with less than four minutes remaining.
While the entire world (present company included) carefully crafted their "LOL! Texas back?" tweets, veteran quarterback Sam Ehlinger kept his composure and went to work.
After a pooch kick gave Texas the ball at its own 41, Ehlinger took the Longhorns 59 yards in four plays. They then recovered the onside kick and went 42 yards for another touchdown, tying the game with a two-point conversion.
Texas started with the ball in overtime and wasted little time scoring a touchdown in three plays.
During those three drives with no margin for error, Ehlinger completed eight of nine passes for 106 yards and three touchdowns. He also ran three times for 18 yards, including a key third-down conversion with his feet.
As impressive as he was, it just looked like Texas Tech gave up on defense.
On the two Texas possessions before Ehlinger's stretch of dominance began, the Red Raiders sucked the life out of the Longhorns offense. Texas did itself no favors with major penalties on both drives, but even on the plays that counted, the Longhorns lost 12 yards. Factor in the penalties, and they lost 37 yards of field position on those two possessions.
For that offense to suddenly become unstoppable is a major indictment against the Texas Tech "prevent" defense. Had the Red Raiders kept the pressure on, the Big 12 would have been practically eliminated from the College Football Playoff picture.
Winner: American Athletic Conference Front-Runners
No. 13 UCF's season started with a bang last week, scoring at will in a 49-21 win over Georgia Tech. Sophomore quarterback Dillon Gabriel threw for 417 yards and four touchdowns as the leader of an offense that put up 660 total yards.
Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
Playing at East Carolina this week, Gabriel once again went over the 400-yard mark (408, to be exact) with four touchdowns as the Knights cruised to a 51-28 victory.
UCF's top returning receiver from last season, Tre Nixon, missed this game with a collarbone injury, but it didn't hurt the offense much. Both Jaylon Robinson (150 yards, two touchdowns) and Marlon Williams (13 receptions for 136 yards) went over the century mark for the second straight game. UCF's rushing attack is no joke, either, eclipsing 200 yards and scoring multiple touchdowns in both games.
Would be nice if the defense could start holding opponents below 450 total yards in the near future, but this offense is special.
No. 14 Cincinnati, on the other hand, dominated with defense in a 24-10 victory over No. 22 Army.
The Bearcats didn't get out to the best start. Quarterback Desmond Ridder fumbled on the third play of the game, which Army's Jabari Moore returned for a touchdown. Two drives later, Ridder threw an interception, setting the Black Knights up in Cincinnati territory.
But it was all downhill from there for Army. The triple-option offense was unable to capitalize on that field-position gift, barely making it into the red zone before a turnover on downs.
Army—which marched straight through its first two opponents with virtually no defensive resistance—had more three-and-outs (four) than points (three) after that fumble recovery touchdown, finishing the evening with an uncharacteristic 182 rushing yards and no scores on the ground.
Expect more of the same from these teams next week, as UCF hosts Tulsa and Cincinnati welcomes South Florida.
Loser: Under Bettors in Alabama-Missouri
It was a strange opening day for most of the SEC's supposedly best teams. LSU lost to Mississippi State. Georgia struggled with Arkansas until midway through the third quarter. Florida was atypically awful on defense. Texas A&M was taken to the wire by Vanderbilt.
But at least Alabama looked good, right?
Najee Harris had three rushing touchdowns and more than 100 total yards from scrimmage. The tandem of Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith hauled in 16 receptions for 223 yards and two scores.
Despite those solid performances by Alabama's three biggest stars, people who bet the under had to be feeling good when it was a 35-6 ballgame midway through the fourth quarter.
The total bounced between 55 and 56.5 throughout the week, so no matter when you got it, it was going to take more than two touchdowns to hit the over. And with Alabama basically just trying to run out the clock and avoid injury, two scores seemed unlikely.
The bad beat began with a 54-yard touchdown pass when Alabama completely lost Mizzou running back Tyler Badie in coverage. Missouri's longest drive of the game up until that point was 55 yards, so 54 yards on a single play was a significant change of pace.
Things were still promising with the total at 48 and Alabama punting with less than four minutes remaining. Missouri fumbled the punt, though, which led to a Crimson Tide field goal. Still, only at 51 points and barely two minutes remaining for a backup quarterback.
Connor Bazelak started the drive with back-to-back incompletions before finding Jalen Knox for a 15-yard gain on third down. Then another first down. And another. And another. Suddenly Missouri was in the red zone with less than 20 seconds to go.
The Tigers saved all three of their timeouts until this meaningless drive and used them up to get one last shot. On 4th-and-1 with four seconds to go, Bazelak scrambled for a seven-yard touchdown, bringing the total to 57 points with zeroes on the clock.
Winner: Trestan Ebner, Baylor
Every now and then, Baylor's Trestan Ebner shows up in a big way.
As a freshman in 2017, he had eight touches for 163 yards and scored three fourth-quarter touchdowns in nearly leading the Bears to a miraculous come-from-behind win against West Virginia.
The following year, he had 90 rushing yards, 109 receiving yards and two touchdowns in the Texas Bowl win over Vanderbilt.
But the senior's 2020 debut against Kansas left both of those previous performances in the dust.
Ebner had a one-yard rushing touchdown in the first quarter, an 18-yard touchdown reception in the second, a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to open the third quarter and an 83-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
He only got 13 touches, but he finished with a Christian McCaffrey-like 272 all-purpose yards and four scores in the 47-14 Baylor victory.
Per Sports-Reference, Ebner becomes the first player with at least one rushing touchdown, one receiving touchdown, one kick-return touchdown and four total touchdowns against an FBS opponent since T.Y. Hilton did it for Florida International in 2010.
Loser: Florida State Seminoles
It's hard to believe it's only been seven years since Florida State was an undefeated national champion, because the team that took the field for the first half against Miami looked like it could go winless.
Nine months ago, Miami and Florida State were in similarly uncomfortable positions of mediocrity. Both rivals went 6-7 with pathetic showings in their bowl games.
But while Miami actually did something about it, signing multiple immediate-impact transfers and evolving into a legitimate contender overnight, Florida State appears to be worse than it has been at any other point since the U.S. bicentennial.
By halftime, Florida State had just 105 total yards and was trailing its rival 38-3. And it was even uglier than it sounds. Miami scored a touchdown on each of its first five possessions and added a field goal just before halftime.
As powerless as it was to slow down Miami's offense, Florida State's O-line was equally overmatched by Miami's defense. Offensive line has been a major issue for the Seminoles over the past three-plus years, and it was especially bad against the 'Canes. Backup FSU quarterback Jordan Travis had nearly half of his team's total yards in the first half, because it kept bringing him in just to have any hope of scrambling out of the constant pressure.
The second half wasn't nearly as bad, but the 'Noles were still outscored after the intermission, losing 52-10.
That 42-point margin of defeat ties the sixth-worst in Florida State history and was just the third loss by 40 or more points since 1981. The other two were a 63-20 loss to Lamar Jackson-led Louisville in 2016 and a 59-10 loss to Clemson in 2018, when the Tigers were on their way to a 15-0 national championship-winning season.
Miami and D'Eriq King are good, but that good? We'll see. For now, this just feels like a new low for Florida State.