Week Four was defined by one word; almost. It was almost a great day filled with upsets. It almost shook up the national picture, and it almost made me very happy. After a one-week hiatus due to a dreaded Fall wedding (shoutout to the Bride and Groom for a wedding so fun I forgot I was missing college football), my weekly recap is back.
I watched fourteen consecutive hours of football today, and life does not get any better than that.
It was the annual “Checker Neyland” game in Knoxville as Tennessee hosted Florida. And finally, Tennessee has a meaningful, signature win over Florida, 38-33.
The Gators came in having won 16 of the last 17 matchups. That’s what will happen when you hire Derek Dooley, Butch Jones, and Jeremy Pruitt in a row. But, current head coach Josh Heupel looks to be the real deal and he has that offense humming.
Hendon Hooker looks as good as any quarterback, or player for that matter, in America. The sixth-year senior announced his arrival right into the thick of the Heisman race with a signature performance Saturday. He was 22-28 for 349 yards and two touchdowns and had 13 carries for 112 yards and another touchdown. Those are great stats. But, what’s most impressive about Hooker is the way he commands that offense. He looks like an extension of Heupel out there, and when you have the natural talent he does, that’s going to lead to great results.
It’s not just him excelling on the offensive side, though. Tennessee’s All-American candidate receiver Cedric Tillman was out with a knee injury Saturday. No matter, because the rest of the Vols stepped up. Notably, living, breathing soap opera Bru McCoy finally paid off all of that drama with the signature performance of his career so far, and his 70-yard reception showed all of the reasons why he was thought of so highly as a recruit. Jabari Small added 90 yards on the ground, too. The defense is a work in progress. But, they play with a lot of consistent effort and that is not something that could be said for a lot of the last fifteen or so years of a program that lived in a strange world between purgatory and hell.
As for Florida, too much Anthony Richardson was a big problem. The quarterback’s physical talent is undeniable. He probably has the strongest arm in the country to go with outstanding mobility. But, 61 called plays for Richardson (44 pass attempts, 17 rushes) is too many for a player that is wildly inconsistent in the passing game and is flanked by good running backs whose primary focus is to run the ball. Justin Shorter, who was the nation’s top wideout recruit a few years ago before flaming out at Penn State, had a career day with 7 catches for 155 yards. Florida kept playing, even after falling behind by 17 late in the fourth quarter. They scored twice and recovered one of the all-time great onside kicks after the 2nd late touchdown to give themselves a puncher’s chance to take the lead. Their effort fell short, but they’re on the right track with Billy Napier.
A Tale of Two Cities
Let’s face it. Lincoln Riley and Brent Venables are going to be linked together for as long as they stay at USC and Oklahoma respectively. The two, who could not be more different, will always be compared, as Venables is Riley’s replacement at Oklahoma, the school that Riley must have thought was not as good of a job at USC. And on Saturday, they both played in dogfights. But, only one won.
In Norman, the Sooners gave up over 500 yards of offense, including an astonishing 275 yards on the ground, to a Kansas State team that just scored 10 points against Tulane en route to a 41-34 loss. They simply could not get a stop when they were chasing the game late. I was told by Sooner fans in the offseason that Venables would fix the lack of toughness they’ve shown on defense the last few years. That’s a problem they had blamed on Riley. But, he may have shown that was not the case.
That’s because, in Corvallis, Oregon, his defense played their best game yet against a genuinely good Oregon State team. They had to, because that USC offense led by Caleb Williams that had been so dominant in their first three games was downright bad Saturday. They only mustered 17 points against the Beavers, and 14 of those came in the fourth quarter. But, that maligned defense that’s given up a ton of yards refused to break on Saturday and kept USC in the game in a first half in which Williams was a dreadful 6-16. They held an Oregon State offense that came in averaging a shade over 45 points a game to just 14. This Trojan defense, which has been so reliant on turnovers, did force another four on Saturday. But, they were pretty good without the turnovers, too. They held Oregon State to only 320 yards en route to a big road win.
People will say “it’s only Oregon State” and there is some truth to that. But Oregon State is pretty good this year, with wins over Boise State (who may actually be bad) and Fresno State (who is good) already. And, Oregon State has derailed Trojan seasons before, most notably in 2008. It’s a character-building, toughness win for Lincoln Riley’s team, the type of win that I was told he couldn’t get and that Venables would bring to Norman.
Texas A&M got thoroughly outplayed by Arkansas on Saturday, except on the scoreboard where they won 23-21. A 99-yard scoop and score of a KJ Jefferson fumble at the goal line and a field goal that was an inch from being good cost the Razorbacks a game they should’ve won. Thankfully for the Aggies, Max Johnson looked to be a huge upgrade from Haynes King for their offense.
Ohio State finally showed those trademark spurts of destruction that Ryan Day’s offenses have shown us since he got to Columbus when they scored touchdowns on their first four possessions against Wisconsin en route to a 52-21 win that was not that close. If you give CJ Stroud time and space, he is going to tear your defense to shreds. Wisconsin is sneaky bad, and Paul Chryst’s seat should be getting warm. Especially when Jim Leonhard is right there.
Clemson survived a game Wake Forest team in double overtime due to DJ Uiagalelei’s best game as a Tiger. Don’t get me wrong, he still looked bad at times, but he is starting to understand he has receivers on the outside that can win contested catches. That Clemson defense does not look the same without Venables coordinating it, and Wake Forest’s Sam Hartman shredded it all day.
Missouri’s 17-14 loss at Auburn was the dumbest loss I’ve seen in a while. Twice Missouri had better than 99% chances to win the game and both times they snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in terrible fashion. It’s a rare game where both coaches are in hotter seats than they were before the game.
Michigan struggled a little bit en route to a 34-27 home win over Maryland. But, they struggled with Rutgers early on last year, and they went on to win the Big Ten.
Speaking of Michigan teams, Mel Tucker is stealing money from Michigan State. He got a 10-year $95 million fully guaranteed extension last year and the Spartans have been bad since. They were dominated by a pretty good Minnesota squad 34-7 in a game that was not as close as the score. That’s two straight blowout losses for the Spartans, who aren’t getting the same payoff from the transfer portal as last year.
Texas is not back, at least when Quinn Ewers isn’t playing. A Bijan Robinson fumble cost them the game and they lost 37-34 to Texas Tech in embarrassing fashion.
The Down Bad Team of the Week, which is now going to be an every-week tradition in this column, is Miami. The Hurricanes got thoroughly beat by Middle Tennessee, 45-31, as they gave up 507 yards and were outgained by 140 yards. I think Mario Cristobal is the guy, but we can ask serious questions about what he does to quarterbacks. Justin Herbert looked ordinary at times at Oregon under Cristobal, and Tyler Van Dyke went from a first-round pick to benched by the end of September.
That Kansas offense under Lance Leopold is the real deal. Jalon Daniels is a real Heisman Candidate, and his 19-23 for 324 yards and 4 touchdowns to go along with 83 yards and a touchdown on the ground led Kansas to a 35-27 win over previously undefeated Duke. Kansas sits at 4-0 and looks like a definite bowl team, and maybe more. That’s a truly strange thing to type.
Follow Garrett Carr on Twitter @RealGarrettCarr