College football Winners and Losers from Week 3: Clemson's defense dominates
Clemson's defense is for real after keeping Lamar Jackson and Louisville in check
Say this for Texas and USC: They know how to draw up memorable games. Nearly 12 years after the 2006 Rose Bowl for the BCS national championship, the Longhorns and Trojans played in another thriller, even if the stakes were lower. USC got the 27-24 double-overtime win, but not without causing a few heart conditions throughout the great Los Angeles area.
Less dramatic was Clemson's win over Louisville. The Tigers' defense was the star of the game, limiting former Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson to one touchdown through the first three quarters. From this game to Florida's incredible Hail Mary win over Tennessee, a lot happened in Week 3 of the college football season.
What were the highlights from Saturday of Week 3? What were the moments some programs want to forget? We hash out the best and worst below with this week's version of Winners and Losers.
Winner -- Clemson's defense (again): The final tally of the box score says Louisville had 433 yards and 21 points against Clemson, but that's kind of a lie. Not the numbers -- those are true -- but things were never that good for the Cardinals. Clemson did just about everything right to make quarterback Lamar Jackson uncomfortable in the pocket. The Tigers' defensive line did a fantastic job getting pressure in different ways and linebacker Dorian O'Daniel baited Jackson into a pick. Clemson won with a blend of straight-up, hat-on-hat force and disguised alignments. On defense alone, Clemson is playoff material.
Loser -- Louisville: Even at home, at night, and with the best quarterback in the game, it was going to be a tough task for Louisville to beat Clemson. Given the Cardinals' pass protection issues, this felt like a potentially bad matchup. Still, did anyone think Louisville would have just one touchdown by the fourth quarter? And that score was on a heck of a creative play by Jackson. All of this begs the question: Where would Louisville be without its reigning Heisman winner? Part of what makes great players great is what they're worth in wins. How many wins is Jackson worth by himself?
Winner/Loser -- Texas' defense: Yeah, Poona Ford had a game with his penetration and run stuffing, and linebacker Malik Jefferson was showing off incredible vision and closing speed. This has been such a liability for Texas over the past few years and it was, from start to finish, the best it's been in a long time. That's a positive sign.. Yeah, the Longhorns had an all-too-familiar, facepalm-worthy defensive lapse right before the end of the first half when they allowed a 56-yard touchdown pass. Tell me you didn't watch that game and see a night-and-day difference between Week 1 and Week 3, though. The most impressive area of improvement was in run stopping. The Trojans didn't even average two yards per rush. Defensive tackle
Loser -- Auburn's drive chart: Don't let a quiet 24-10 win over Mercer distract you from the fact that the Tigers had 12 offensive possessions and either punted, failed to score or turned the ball over on eight of them. Auburn's offense statistically wasn't a mess -- quarterback Jarrett Stidham threw for 364 yards. Still, the failure to finish drives is just another problem for this offense that hasn't taken off like many thought it would. When it comes time for SEC play, can Auburn get it done?
Winner -- Tennessee running back John Kelly: Other than Florida's , Kelly was about the only good thing in the Tennessee-Florida game. Kelly's hard running kept the Vols' offense alive with the junior finishing at 19 carries for 141 yards and a score. For all of Tennessee's offensive ineptitude (more on that below), he was the bright spot. And he'll remain that bright spot throughout the season. Hint to the Vols coaching staff: Feed him.
Loser -- Tennessee coach Butch Jones: The only reason why Jones is listed and not Florida coach Jim McElwain is because McElwain's team won 26-20. To be sure, neither coached anywhere close to their best game. The Vols squandered scoring opportunities in plus-territory and the red zone. Play calling was routinely either conservative, unnecessarily cute or questionable given down-and-distance situations. It took seemingly forever to feed Kelly the ball on offense -- he was practically nonexistent in goal-line situations -- and the Vols were somehow not lined up correctly for the Gators' Hail Marry attempt. It's easy to question play-calling in a loss, but this wasin almost every aspect.
Winner/Loser -- UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen: Let it be know that I like Rosen a lot. His arm talent is undeniable and he makes plenty of sweet, NFL-level throws. To his credit, he's played mostly well in the Bruins' first three games (1,283 yards, 13 TDs, 2 INTs). He should be one of the first quarterbacks taken in next year's NFL draft if he chooses to declare, but the one thing that continues to be an issue for Rosen is forcing passes. He did it against Memphis on Saturday and it came back to bite him in the form of two interceptions, including a pick-six. A couple of other passes possibly could have been picked. Rosen's pass protection has been poor and running for his life has been part of his game, and that's not his fault. Neither is the fact that UCLA couldn't stop Memphis, thus forcing the offense's hand to try to play hero ball. However, it's worth wondering if Rosen feels like he has to make every play. That's, unfortunately for him, a detriment.
Winner -- Oklahoma State wide receivers: Quarterback Mason Rudolph is great. He's worthy of being in the Heisman discussion. Let's deviate from that for a minute, though. What makes Oklahoma State's offense so tough to defend are the weapons Rudolph has at his disposal. Four receivers eclipsed 100 yards in a 59-21 win over Pitt. It's not just the James Washington show. (It never was.) Jalen McCleskey had three touchdowns while Marcell Ateman and Dillon Stoner had one each.
That depth is really why this offense runs at the level it does. Rudolph has the utmost confidence in an entire starting receivers group. That means the throws he would make to Washington are the ones he'd make to Stoner. From the first drive, it was clear Oklahoma State was in control. Good thing some idiot didn'tor anything.
Loser -- Nebraska: Coach Mike Riley isn't on the hot seat. Not yet. Drop a game to Rutgers or Illnois -- Nebraska's next two opponents -- and we can talk. But there's no other way to slice it: losing 21-17 to Northern Illinois is a bad look. Quarterback Tanner Lee threw three interceptions, including two pick-sixes, but not everything was on him. Nebraska couldn't block and keep the pocket clean. It says a lot about how bad the offense was when the opposing team scored a single touchdown and won. Getting beat up front by a MAC team -- and these are not the Orange Bowl Huskies of 2012 -- is deeply concerning.
Winner -- Brandon Wimbush and Josh Adams: The quarterback and running back combo for Notre Dame rushed for more than 200 yards a piece in the Irish's 49-20 win over Boston College. Adams led the team with 229 yards while Wimbush added 207 yards and four touchdowns. It might just be Boston College, but racking up a couple of deuces on the ground in a single game is worthwhile. I mean, Paul Johnson was jealous.
Winner -- Your new Group of Five team du jour: Congrats, Memphis. You're now the trendy Group of Five team to potentially make a New Year's Six bowl. Yes, South Florida carried that crown in the offseason, but after Week 3, there's no comparison. The Tigers have the better statement win -- even if UCLA is flawed -- and the Bulls have been slow-starting, sloppy or both. Memphis quarterback Riley Ferguson looks like the real deal with the way he manipulated the Bruins defense and dropped dimes. It's entirely possible Memphis and South Florida meet in the AAC championship, which would be a lot of fun.
Loser -- You get a flag! And you get a flag! Everybody get's a flaaaaaaaag! If you missed South Florida's win over Illinois on Friday night -- and we certainly wouldn't blame you if you did -- you missed a real contender for ugliest game of the year. The two teams , 26 of which came in the first half alone. The officials could have let at least a few slide, and that's frustrating, but what transpired was either explicit performance art or two not great teams playing football.
Winner -- Your new Group of Five team du jour (Part II): With a 20-17 win over Stanford, San Diego State now has back-to-back wins against Pac-12 opponents and has beat three straight Power Five opponents for the first time ever. The Aztecs are 24-3 since Oct. 3, 2015 and have the resume to slip into a New Year's Six bowl slot. With star running back Rashaad Penny, this team is legitimately good and will challenge the likes of Memphis and South Florida for big-bowl access.
Loser -- SMU's Hail Mary defense: Florida wasn't the only team to complete a Hail Mary. TCU threw one to end the first half in the Battle of the Iron Skillet against SMU, and the Mustangs absolutely -- perhaps on principle? -- refused to make a play on the ball. So allow me to quote the immortal words of one Thomas Fornelli: A literal Iron Skillet could have defended this Hail Mary better.
Winner -- Purdue: After two games, it was fair to assess that the Boilermakers were improved under coach Jeff Brohm. And, yet, they were likely still underrated. That won't be the case any more after handling Missouri 35-3. Purdue led 28-3 at the half and made one mistake -- a tipped interception that led to a Tigers field goal. Mizzou's defense has been porous, so having the Tigers as home favorites given Purdue's offensive success seemed weird. However, the Boilermakers were just 2-13 in true road games dating back to 2013. In that way, this was a statement win. Brohm has given this team life, which many figured he would. How many thought he'd do it this quickly?
Loser -- LSU: Tennessee had the frustrating and ultimately stunning loss, but LSU had the soul-crushing loss. Ed Orgeron's team got absolutely worked by Mississippi State in Starkville. The Bulldogs rolled with the running game (5.9 yards per rush) so LSU never had much of a chance to let star running back Derrius Guice get going. It didn't help that LSU lost two players to targeting ejections and racked up nine penalties for 111 yards. There was no push in the trenches from LSU's defense and the Tigers' offense was overmatched with no passing game capable of playing catch-up. Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen is good at what he does and he has an argument as the next-best coach in the SEC behind Nick Saban. He completely outcoached Orgeron and his staff on Saturday.
Winner -- Rutgers: Hey, man, the Scarlet Knights beat Morgan State 65-0. It was Rutgers' first win in literally a calendar year. The last program victory was over New Mexico on Sept. 17, 2016. Here at W&L, we appreciate all streaks of misery coming to an end.
Loser -- Anyone who has to face Vanderbilt's defense: The Commodores beat Kansas State 14-7 and have allowed a mere 13 points in three games. Granted, those opponents are Middle Tennessee (not a good team), Alabama A&M (technically a football team) and the aforementioned Snydercats (not a traditionally explosive offensive team). Still, a college football defense could give up 13 points merely by accident. This is a stout unit and Alabama just so happens to come to town in Week 4 ...
Winner -- Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett: With all the huffing and puffing about Ohio State's problems in the passing game, it can be easy to forget that Barrett is a decorated player. The senior now has another record to his name as the Big Ten's all-time leader in touchdowns. With 107 scores, Barrett surpasses the previous record set by Drew Brees, and after the 38-7 win over Army, Barrett received the game ball. Barrett has taken some heat for his performances lately, but he's been a good teammate and he's done a lot of things right over the years. Good on him.
Loser -- The Josh Allen hype: It's not Allen's fault that he got tagged with first-round draft pick hype this offseason. Lord knows I was high on him. Maybe too high. He was fun in some late-night Mountain West games a year ago. He's a big kid with a bigger arm and some moves, and those are all good things to have as a college quarterback. However, this season just hasn't panned out for him like it was supposed to. Allen went 9-of-24 for 64 yards and a pick in a 49-13 loss to Oregon. That puts him at one touchdown and eight interceptions against Power Five opponents dating back to last season. It's not all on him; he lacks playmakers around him and playing from behind usually isn't a recipe for success. This has been a disappointment for Allen and the Cowboys. That's a safe and accurate take no matter what was expected of them prior to the season.
Loser -- Sad field goals: Kicking field goals when you're down 56-0 with seconds remaining is sad. Icing the kicker attempting said field goal is savage. Congrats, Penn State, on being the coldest team in Week 3. With Georgia State attempting a 31-yard field goal with 11 seconds remaining, Nittany Lions coach James Franklin called a timeout. The field goal attempt? No good. Just ... the disrespect. Damn, man.
Winner -- Duke coach David Cutcliffe: The Blue Devils beat Baylor 34-20 to move to 3-0. It also happened to be Cutcliffe's 63rd birthday, and there's no better way to celebrate your birthday than with a win and a little dance. As for the coach's moves? We'll give him a pass considering the occasion. Well done.
- It's somewhat customary for defenses to let up in a blowout, but Wisconsin's second-half defense has been spectacular. The Badgers have yet to allow any points in the final 30 minutes of their three wins.
- Savor it while you can, I suppose. Florida scored its first two offensive touchdowns of the season over Tennessee. However, the Gators' defense has still outscored the offense with three pick-sixes.
- This is more of the Oregon we've come to expect. The Ducks have scored at least 42 points in each of its first three games this season under Willie Taggart. Not only that, the Ducks have scored 42 points in each first half.
- Washington State quarterback Luke Falk threw six such touchdown passes against Oregon State in a 52-23 win. Falk has 22 passing scores against OSU for his career. That's ... a lot.
- How's this for sustained drives: In its win over LSU, Mississippi State had just one three-and-out, and it was midway through the fourth quarter when the game was in hand.
- Vanderbilt's 14-7 win over No. 18 Kansas State was the program's first nonconference win over a ranked opponent since 1946.
- Washington wide receiver Dante Pettis is running away as the best return man in college football. With his 77-yard punt return against Fresno State, Pettis has tied NCAA records for career punt returns for touchdowns (8) and consecutive games with a punt return for a score (3).
- With 363 passing yards in a loss to Cal, Ole Miss quarterback Shea Patterson fell 37 yards short of being the first SEC quarterback to ever throw for 400 yards in three consecutive games.
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