Winners and Losers from Week 11 of College Football
With a bevy of cancellations and postponements leading up to Saturday, this week's college football slate was not what it could have been if Alabama, Ohio State, Georgia and others had taken the field.
Nevertheless, there was once again no shortage of compelling storylines across the sport's landscape.
The Miami Hurricanes survived a scare from Virginia Tech in the early games, while unexpected contenders Indiana and Marshall flexed their muscles with convincing wins.
Notre Dame improved to 8-0 behind a strong game from Ian Book, while Penn State fell to 0-4 for the first time since 2001 with a loss to Nebraska.
Those are among the storylines we'll touch on in this week's edition of biggest winners and losers.
Loser: A Floundering Penn State
Pegged by many to be the Big Ten team with the best shot of giving Ohio State a run for its money, Penn State checked in at No. 7 in the preseason AP Poll.
Its season began with a stunning 36-35 overtime loss to Indiana, and James Franklin's team hasn't been able to right the ship. After a 30-23 loss to Nebraska, the Nittany Lions are desperately searching for answers.
Digging a big early hole has been part of the problem.
Tyler Donohue of 247Sports and CBS called attention to the team's halftime scores this year, which show a staggering 93-26 point differential, and that raises questions about the team's preparation.
Regardless of what's to blame, Penn State is 0-4 for the first time since 2001 and staring down its first losing season since 2004.
The Nittany Lions are playing for pride at this point, and things don't get any easier next week against Iowa.
Winner: A Record-Setting Game from Illini QB Isaiah Williams
Isaiah Williams committed to the University of Illinois with a ton of hype before last season following a highlight-reel career at powerhouse Trinity Catholic in St. Louis.
The 4-star recruit was the biggest quarterback pickup the Fighting Illini have had since Juice Williams led them to the Rose Bowl in 2008, and despite calls from the fanbase for him to immediately take over under center, he redshirted last year.
He began the 2020 season buried on the depth chart, but with starting quarterback Brandon Peters sidelined with a positive COVID test and backup Matt Robinson dealing with an ankle injury, Williams earned the start Saturday.
While he completed just seven of 18 pass attempts for 104 yards, he ran wild against the Rutgers defense. He carried the ball 31 times for 192 yards, a school record for rushing yards by a quarterback.
In the process, he led the 1-3 Illini to their first win of the season, setting up a pair of fourth-quarter field goals, including James McCourt's 47-yarder in the finals seconds to clinch a 23-20 victory.
It was an exciting glimpse of what's to come for one of the most dynamic players to step foot on campus in Champaign, Illinois, in quite some time.
Winner: The Dark-Horse Heisman Candidacy of Malik Willis
In a season unlike any we've seen, why can't Liberty quarterback Malik Willis win the Heisman Trophy?
It's a long shot, especially given the quality of competition he has faced in a number of his team's wins. Case in point: the Flames' 58-14 victory Saturday came against FCS Western Carolina.
Still, his numbers are tough to ignore.
Before exiting the game in the third quarter with the outcome well in hand, Willis completed 14 of 19 pass attempts for 306 yards and three touchdowns. He also added 97 rushing yards on eight carries and two more scores on the ground.
With that, his season stat line reads as follows:
- 122-of-180 passing (67.8%), 1,645 passing yards, 15 TD, 1 INT, 700 rushing yards, 9 TD
The Auburn transfer is a bona fide star, and he still has a chance to pad his resume with games against a good NC State team next week and undefeated Coastal Carolina on Dec. 5.
For now, he can be pointed to as the biggest reason for 8-0 Liberty's rise to national relevance, even if he's just a dark-horse candidate for college football's top individual honor.
Loser: Offenses in Miami vs. Virginia Tech
The Miami Hurricanes came back from down 24-13 midway through the third quarter to eke out a 25-24 victory over Virginia Tech.
It was an exciting finish to a game that otherwise failed to deliver on expectations.
With two of the country's best dual-threat quarterbacks squaring off in Miami's D'Eriq King and Virginia Tech's Hendon Hooker, and a pair of defenses that have struggled to slow good quarterback play, it looked like we were in for plenty of fireworks.
In B/R's weekly expert questions rundown, we debated whether the two signal-callers would rack up over/under 699.5 combined passing and rushing yards.
Colleague Kerry Miller and I both took the over. I even went so far as to write: "Look for them to eclipse that 699.5 threshold and perhaps even push toward 799.5 if things stay competitive."
The game was plenty competitive, but the yardage tallies fell short:
- King: 255 passing yards, 15 rushing yards
- Hooker: 202 passing yards, 59 rushing yards
Just 531 combined yards in a grind-it-out game most expected to be a high-scoring affair.
In the end, we were treated to a close football game, and Miami avoided the upset. It just wasn't the wire-to-wire shootout fans were hoping for in a shallow slate.
Winner: Indiana Avoiding an Obvious Trap Game
After an emotional 38-21 victory over Michigan last week that snapped a 24-game losing streak against the Wolverines, it would have been easy for undefeated Indiana to look ahead to a Nov. 21 matchup with Ohio State.
It looked like the perfect trap game for a struggling Michigan State to steal a win.
Despite getting blown out 49-7 by Iowa last week, the Spartans were good enough to pull off an upset against Michigan earlier this year, and they were more than capable of taking down Hoosiers, should the latter come in unfocused.
Instead, it was another convincing win for Indiana.
The Hoosiers allowed just 191 total yards and nine first downs, pitching a 24-0 shutout to improve to 4-0.
Quarterback Michael Penix Jr. threw a pair of interceptions, but the defense picked him up by forcing four turnovers, and wide receiver Ty Fryfogle had a huge game with 11 receptions for 200 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
A trip to Columbus next week and a Dec. 5 road matchup with Wisconsin still loom large on Indiana's schedule, but for now, the No. 10 Hoosiers have earned their place in the national conversation.
Winner: The Ian Book We Expected to See
After a slow start to the season, Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book is finally playing up to his potential.
The fifth-year senior threw for 3,034 yards and 34 touchdowns last season while completing 60.2 percent of his passes, and more of the same was expected after he returned to campus.
During the team's 4-0 start, Book averaged just 178.3 passing yards and 31.5 rushing yards per game, throwing just three touchdown passes.
However, he seemingly flipped the switch with a 312-yard, three-touchdown performance through the air against Pitt on Oct. 24, and he impressed again last week when he passed for 310 yards and rushed for 67 in Notre Dame's win over Clemson.
On Saturday, he had arguably his best game of the season.
Book completed 20 of 27 passes for 283 yards and three touchdowns, while adding another 85 rushing yards and a touchdown scrambling. These are the numbers we expected out of one of the nation's top returning dual-threat quarterbacks.
There is little question the Fighting Irish can run the ball. They came into Saturday's contest averaging 227.7 rushing yards per game and 5.1 yards per carry.
Finding more offensive balance makes them a much tougher matchup for when the College Football Playoff arrives in January.
Loser: A Stalled Army Rushing Attack
With 308.1 yards per game, Army began the week second in the nation in rushing offense.
That run-heavy attack, and a stout defense that was allowing 275 yards per game, had the Black Knights 6-1. Their only loss was to undefeated Cincinnati in a hard-fought 24-10 game.
With that, the Black Knights were up to No. 22 in Bleacher Report's Top 25 rankings following their 49-3 dismantling of FCS opponent Mercer last week.
Another victory and they might have nudged into the AP Poll.
Instead, they were blown out by a Tulane team that entered play 4-4, imploding down the stretch with an ugly final five drives that the Associated Press summed up: "On their final five drives of the game, Army threw an interception, turned the ball over on downs on two straight drives, coughed it up on a fumble that led to to a scoring play for Tulane then threw an interception."
The result was a 38-12 loss in which the Black Knights' vaunted rushing game was limited to 270 yards on 57 carries.
This is still a good Army team that will give its remaining AAC opponents a tough time, but the squad's hopes of climbing into the rankings are dashed.
Winner: Colorado's Breakout Star, Jarek Broussard
The Pac-12 train has just left the station, so it's hard to jump to any concrete conclusions after two games.
That said, look out for Colorado.
The Buffaloes pulled off a minor upset with a 48-42 victory over UCLA in their opener after they were picked to finish fifth in the Pac-12 South—one spot behind the Bruins—in the conference's preseason poll.
Sophomore running back Jarek Broussard stole the show in that win, carrying the ball 31 times for 187 yards and three touchdowns to win Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week honors.
Not bad for a 3-star recruit who was largely ignored by major conference schools, due in part to his undersized 5'9", 171-pound frame.
He was at it again Saturday, serving as a workhorse with 27 carries for 121 yards in a 35-32 victory over Stanford.
After slogging through three straight 5-7 seasons, the Buffaloes finally appear headed in the right direction under new head coach Karl Dorrell, who has made a strong first impression in Boulder.
Winner: Kyle Trask Shreds Arkansas Without Kyle Pitts
Florida quarterback Kyle Trask entered the week as one of the nation's most prolific passers and a Heisman Trophy front-runner, having racked up 1,815 yards and 22 touchdowns against just three interceptions in five games.
However, he would be without top target Kyle Pitts, who was sidelined with a concussion.
The junior tight end accounted for 414 receiving yards and eight touchdowns during those five games, emerging as more of a downfield threat with a spike from 12.0 to 17.3 yards per catch.
How would Trask handle being without his go-to receiver?
Simply put: just fine.
He threw for five first-half touchdowns to give the Gators a 35-14 lead heading into halftime, and they cruised to victory from there against a solid Arkansas team.
Trask completed 23 of 29 passes for 356 yards and six touchdowns before heading to the bench in the fourth quarter with the victory well in hand.
Pitts will be missed as long as he's out, but it speaks to Florida's depth that 10 players caught a pass and five players were on the receiving end of a touchdown pass in his absence.