College football week 8: yet another dazzling display of the unexpected. Like week 7, this weekend’s slate of games produced multiple upsets that shook the Top 25. Consider that by AP rankings, we witnessed losses by #3 Clemson, #6 LSU, #7 Texas A&M, #8 Louisville, #9 UCLA, #11 South Carolina, #15 Georgia, #20 Washington, and #22 Florida. As a result, the week 9 AP Top 10 now features three newcomers in #5 Missouri, #8 Baylor, and #10 Texas Tech, and a returnee in Stanford at #6. It’s amazing that despite a road loss to Utah only two weeks ago, Stanford has gone from its high of #5 to #6 with only a brief fall in between; such was the attrition we’ve seen over the past couple of weeks.
The week 8 upset roundup must begin and end in the SEC, where four ranked teams fell hard. Most surprising was LSU’s loss at Ole Miss. The Tigers had previously looked like the best one-loss team in the nation, with only a narrow defeat against a fully healthy Georgia in Athens sullying their record. The Rebels on the other hand had been wildly inconsistent. Somehow, Bo Wallace and company managed to put it all together just long enough to pull the stunner.
Georgia falling at Vanderbilt was somewhat more foreseeable. The Bulldogs are decimated by injury, lost a key defender to a bogus targeting call, and had another costly special teams miscue. They got away with such a mistake at Tennessee, but couldn’t survive it this time around as a bad snap on a punt late in the game helped Vandy score the eventual game-winning touchdown.
Speaking of the Vols, they didn’t let their heartbreaking loss to Georgia stick with them. Give credit to Butch Jones and his players for standing up against the Gamecocks. This time there were no screw-ups on the final scoring drive as a field goal capped the comeback.
Florida looked awful against Mizzou, though it’s debatable whether the Gators lay down or the Tigers are really this good. Even without QB James Franklin, Missouri was dominant, earning a coveted spot in the Top 10 as its reward. More importantly, the 7-0 Tigers now lead the SEC East by two games. Bear in mind that this team dodges Alabama and LSU; home games against South Carolina (week 9) and Texas A&M (regular season finale) appear to be the only true challenges left in advance of the SEC title game.
Still, for all the SEC drama, the biggest games of the week happened elsewhere. Here are the best and worst matchups.
Best Win of The Week: Florida State 51, Clemson 14 in Clemson
This blowout was the inescapable choice for the game of the week before it was even over. Vegas warned you that Florida State should be taken seriously, and even if you didn’t want to believe the line, you had years of Clemson being Clemson to go on. The Tigers, as usual, sabotaged what was shaping up to be a stellar season by failing in all facets of the game against the ‘Noles. So much for homefield advantage.
Numbers don’t always tell the story. In this case, as skewed as some of the stats are, they don’t necessarily convey just how one-sided a fight this was. FSU outgained Clemson 565 yards to 326, but the Tigers were held to a paltry 181 yards of total offense before a pair of garbage time drives padded the total. Florida State was incredibly efficient, converting eight of 12 third downs and averaging 12.7 yards per attempt through the air. Clemson struggled to keep drives alive, finishing five of 15 on third down with two of those five coming in the fourth quarter.
Perhaps the biggest differentiator was the number of turnovers. The ‘Noles suffered a rare Jameis Winston interception but managed to force a pair of picks by Tajh Boyd. The FSU defense tacked on two fumble recoveries as well; though Clemson had the game’s first possession, it ended after a single play when Lamarcus Joyner forced the ball out of tight end Stanton Seckinger’s hands. Three plays later it was 7-0. That lead grew to 10, then 17 when Joyner’s strip sack and second forced fumble was returned for a touchdown by Mario Edwards, Jr.
Clemson answered with a scoring drive to make it 17-7, and when Bashaud Breeland picked Winston in the red zone, it looked like the Tigers might make a game of it. Instead, FSU forced a punt and, two possessions later, went up 24-7. 27-7 at halftime, this one didn’t get any less ugly for Clemson throughout the second half as Winston and the FSU attack kept pouring it on. Florida State’s freshman phenom would finish with 444 yards on 22 of 34 passing. Devonta Freeman (84 yards) led the by-committee rushing attack that totaled 121 on the ground.
Boyd, meanwhile, had a day to forget, completing only 17 of 37 attempts for a mere 156 yards and one touchdown. His two interceptions and the costly fumble helped ruin any chance at a rally, and his teammates, particularly on the defensive side, did nothing to pick him up.
For a matchup of Top 5 teams, this was as large and thorough a blowout as you’re likely to see. Somehow Clemson managed to stay in the AP Top 10 despite the drubbing, and with only South Carolina the only remaining challenge on the schedule, the Tigers could end up a one-loss team. But unless FSU stumbles, it will be the Seminoles representing the Atlantic Division in the ACC title game.
Honorable Mention: Stanford 24, UCLA 10 in Palo Alto
UCLA was probably overrated. The Bruins’ best win had come at Nebraska, and the Cornhuskers aren’t all that good. Stanford was coming off one of the most surprising losses of the year, but rahter than suffering any hangover effect, the Cardinal went right back to work and salvaged their season. They still control their own destiny and are probably the best one-loss team at the moment.
Worst Win of the Week: Ohio State 34, Iowa 24 in Columbus
The Ohio State defense didn’t look like it was taking Iowa seriously. It didn’t look prepared. It didn’t look awake. And when All-American cornerback Bradley Roby was tossed for a targeting foul the situation went from mildly concerning to downright dangerous.
To say that the Buckeyes were outplayed isn’t entirely accurate; it’s more appropriate to point out that the Iowa offense kept Braxton Miller and company on the sidelines. Iowa’s strategy was simply to hold the ball, and the Hawkeyes did that very effectively throughout the first half. Ohio State ran only 25 plays (plus a kneel-down) before the break as Iowa controlled the ball for more than 18 minutes of play en route to a 17-10 lead. If you want to upset your conference’s best team on its own turf, limiting its offense to three meaningful possessions in two quarters is a great way to do it.
Unfortunately for the Hawkeyes the game was 60 minutes long, and in the third quarter the Buckeyes remembered who they are. In stark contrast to the preceding periods, OSU ran 34 plays, held the ball for nearly 12 minutes, and found the endzone twice. It was pure dominance that should have easily secured the game. However, a defensive breakdown allowed Iowa tight end Jake Duzey to get behind the secondary for a 75-yard touchdown catch-and-run that tied the game at 24.
When a 245-pound tight end outruns your defensive backs, you know you have some issues.
Heading into the fourth quarter, Ohio State was looking at the very real possibility of an upset even though it had seized momentum after a slow start. But spectacular plays by Miller and tailback Carlos Hyde served as the back-breaker for the Hawks.
On third and seven, Miller found himself with nothing open down the field. As he scrambled to keep the play alive, Iowa’s pressure drove him out of the pocket to the right. Miller raced toward the sideline still looking for a target, but finding nothing, whirled around and cut the play back across the field. The move caught Iowa off guard, and the Hawkeyes’ lack of defensive speed was exposed as Miller raced around the left edge for a nine-yard gain and first down. That conversion was critical, because the next featured an outstanding individual effort by Hyde. His 19-yard touchdown run included power running, a tightrope act, and a dive for the paint.
The Buckeyes defense stifled Iowa on the ensuing possession, and a Drew Basil field goal set what would be the final score of 34-24. Tyvis Powell’s interception of a Jake Rudock pass locked up OSU’s 19th-straight win.
Highlight reel moments aside, this game isn’t one to remember for the Buckeyes. Favored by 17.5, OSU should have controlled this one from start to finish. Surviving and advancing may be a suitable mantra when you’re playing top-tier teams, but these are the ones that need to be stress free. If Ohio State keeps playing the edge, sooner or later it’s going to tumble.
(Dis)Honorable Mention: Miami 27, UNC 23 in Chapel Hill
The Hurricanes were beaten and battered before escaping with a win on Thursday night. Multiple turnovers and several key injuries kept a struggling Tarheels squad in this one for far too long, and Miami will need to step up its game if it wants to take the Coastal.
Upset of the Week: UCF 38, Louisville 35 in Louisville
Apparently UCF didn’t buy into its position as double-digit underdogs. The Knights didn’t just cover the 12.5-point spread, they trashed Louisville’s perfect season, vaulted themselves to #23 in the AP poll, and served notice that the road to the AAC title runs through Orlando.
Thanks to conventional college football wisdom, known in this case as illogical stupidity, the #23 Knights are ranked in the AP poll three spots lower than the team they just beat. The Coaches Poll is even more egregious with Louisville at #16 and UCF at #25. UCF’s only loss came against South Carolina (ranked #12 at the time) by a mere three points, but evidently the voters aren’t paying attention. The results are indefensibly stupid.
No matter. Keep winning and everything else will take care of itself. And if UCF can handle Houston next week, it could limit the damage to that single defeat in 2013.
Things started poorly for the Knights on Friday. After driving the length of the field to open the first quarter, QB Blake Bortles was intercepted at the goalline, and Louisville went 80 yards the other way for a first quarter touchdown. Later in the period, UCF returned the favor, forcing a fumble after a Ryan Hubbell catch and recovering the ball in their own endzone to thwart the Cardinals’ bid to go up by 14. Unable to capitalize, UCF had to punt it away, but managed a defensive stop. On the following drive, UCF stumbled down the field, enudring a false start penalty and a fumble at the Lousiville four yardline before finding the endzone to tie things at seven. Given what would come next that fumble recovery was huge; had the Cards grabbed a second takeaway and prevented UCF’s score, things might have ended very differently.
Knotted at 7-7, the game began to go in the Cards’ favor. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater led a tocuhdown drive that sent Louisiville into the lockerroom with 14-7 halftime lead that ballooned to 21-7 on the third quarter’s first possession and 28-7 after a 30-yard scoop-and-score off of a fumbled fourth-down. UCF was literally giving away its shot at victory thanks to an inability to hang onto the ball.
With under eight minutes in the third quarter, the game was at a tipping point. UCF had to have seven to prevent Louisville from taking its three-score advantage and salting things away. Enter Storm Johnson.
The talented tailback ripped off a 27-yard rush to position the Knights in plus territory and would punch it in from the one to trim Louisville’s lead to 28-14. After his defense forced a Senorise Perry fumble inside the Louisville 20, Johnson grabbed a 20-yard touchdown toss from Bortles to pull the Knights within seven.
Though still trailing, UCF had the momentum as the pressure shifted to Louisville. The Knights defense rose up again, sacking Bridgewater to force a punt. The Cardinals’ run defense would falter again, this time yielding consecutive 30-yard and 12-yard rushes by William Stanback that tied the score at 28. UCF took the lead on a field goal before Bridgewater was finally able to solve the Knights defense. Louisville’s nine-play, 88-yard march had the look and feel of a game-winner and put the Cards up 35-31. Unfortunately, the hosts left too much time on the clock.
Given three minutes, Bortles went to work. Completions of 28, 11, and 14 yards keyed an 11-play drive as the Knights converted three third downs, including a third-and-ten, to find the endzone one last time. It was a shocking turn of events; after getting out the big lead, overcoming UCF’s rally, and going the length of the field late in the fourth, both the Cards and their fans had to believe that they had avoided the upset. But when it matter most, the Louisville defense faltered and UCF took full advantage.