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Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Winners and Losers from Week 6 of College Football

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    Texas A&M upset Florida

    Texas A&M upset FloridaSam Craft/Associated Press

    A common thread throughout Week 6 of the college football season has been the number four.

    AP No. 4 Florida suffered its first loss of the season against Texas A&M.

    It took four overtimes to crown a winner in the latest edition of the Red River Rivalry.

    And despite entering the afternoon with zero touchdown passes in his college career, Missouri quarterback Connor Bazelak torched LSU’s secondary for four touchdowns in a stunning upsetwinning by four points, no less.

    Alabama running back Najee Harris didn’t get the memo, though. He scored five touchdowns against the helpless Ole Miss defense.

    Here are the winners and losers from Week 6 of the college football season.

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    Mizzou QB Connor Bazelak

    Mizzou QB Connor BazelakAssociated Press

    After two weeks, it looked like Missouri was stuck between a rock and a hard place at quarterback.

    TCU transfer Shawn Robinson started each of the first two games against Alabama and Tennessee, but all he had to show for it was a garbage-time, broken-coverage touchdown against the Crimson Tide. But redshirt freshman Connor Bazelak wasn’t any better in relief of Robinson with one interception and no touchdowns in 35 attempts.

    Facing the reigning national champions this week, Mizzou head coach Eli Drinkwitz decided to let Bazelak make the first start of his college career.

    Suffice it to say, it won’t be his last.

    Despite facing a secondary with elite talents Derek Stingley Jr. and JaCoby Stevens, Bazelak darn near had as many touchdowns as incompletions. He completed 29 of 34 passes for 406 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions in Missouri’s 45-41 upset of No. 17 LSU.

    A lot of it was effortless. On the 41-yard touchdown strike to Micah Wilson in the third quarter, there wasn’t an LSU defender within 15 yards of the receiver. Same goes for the 69-yard pass to Chance Luper to set up the game-winning touchdown midway through the fourth quarter.

    Bazelak was impressive throughout, but goodness, that LSU defense is a hot mess. The Bayou Bengals legitimately might give up 60 points against Florida next week.

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    Florida QB Kyle Trask

    Florida QB Kyle TraskSam Craft/Associated Press

    When the SEC made the decision to play a 10-game scheduleadding two more cross-divisional games to the usual eight-game slatethere was no question that Florida was the contender that drew the short end of the stick.

    Alabama added games against Missouri and Kentucky. LSU picked up Vanderbilt and Missouri. (That Missouri game ended up being way more of a problem than anyone expected.) Georgia added Arkansas and Mississippi State. Auburn acquired a home game against Tennessee and a road game against South Carolina. For all four, that sounded like two more wins.

    But one of Florida’s two “bonus” games was this week’s road game against Texas A&M.

    The Aggies got out to a rough start, barely beating Vanderbilt before getting smoked by Alabama. Before the season began, though, it was a projected loss for Florida. And on an afternoon when defense was mutually optional, Texas A&M was able to protect home field.

    Gators Heisman candidate quarterback Kyle Trask had another fine day, throwing for 312 yards and four touchdowns. On each of Florida’s first four possessions, he led the offense on a touchdown drive of at least 75 yards.

    Terrible defense was an ominous cloud hanging over Florida’s impressive start to the season, though, and it was more than the offense could overcome this week. A&M’s Isaiah Spiller rushed for 174 yards and two touchdowns, but it was Kellen Mond’s third-down conversions that broke Florida’s back over and over again.

    The Aggies were 12-of-15 on third down (and converted their only fourth-down attempt), and the dagger was Mond finding Chase Lane for a 16-yard gain on 3rd-and-8 with less than a minute remaining in a tied game. The Aggies were at the Florida 35, so an incomplete pass would have meant a 53-yard field-goal attempt for Seth Small, whose career long is 52 yards. Instead, they converted and were able to win 41-38 on a chip shot a few plays later.

    Florida could still absolutely make the College Football Playoff if it wins out, but with this defense, that seems unlikely.

    And on that subject, maybe the Aggies have a playoff pulse again? Road games against Tennessee (Nov. 14) and Auburn (Dec. 5) will be significant challenges, but it would be hard to argue with a team that goes 9-1 with a road loss to Alabama. Stay tuned on that front, but at least Texas A&M’s offense finally showed up this week.

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    Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

    The buildup to the Red River Rivalry felt anything but normal. Even seven months into a pandemic, there was just something surreal about the thought of Texas and Oklahoma squaring off with a combined record of 3-3 in front of fewer than 25,000 fans at the Cotton Bowl.

    The game itself, though, delivered with its usual dose of complete and utter chaos.

    Texas fumbled on its second snap of the game. After taking a 10-0 lead, Oklahoma turned the ball over on three consecutive possessions. Then the Sooners blocked a punt to set up a short touchdown.

    And that was just in the first 21 minutes.

    A 17-17 halftime tie turned into a 31-17 lead for Oklahoma after the usually-quick-strike Sooners put together an uncharacteristic 17-play, 87-yard, eight-minute touchdown drive. Oklahoma still led 31-17 when Woodi Washington picked off Sam Ehlinger in the end zone with five minutes remaining.

    A newbie to this rivalry might have changed the channel, thinking the game finished. But we all know this game is never over until it’s over.

    Texas got the ball back less than 30 seconds later and scored in a hurry. After forcing another three-and-out, Ehlinger and Co. regained possession on their own 26 with less than two minutes and no timeouts remaining. No problemo. Ehlinger ran and threw and ran his way down the field for the game-tying score to force overtime.

    Or should I say overtimes, because they were just getting warmed up.

    Ehlinger and Spencer Rattlerwho spent most of the second quarter on the bench after a disappointing starteach led touchdown drives in each of the first two overtimes, followed by Cameron Dicker and Gabe Brkic each missing a field goal in the third overtime.

    Rattler connected with Drake Stoops for a 25-yard touchdown in overtime No. 4, and then Tre Brown intercepted an Ehlinger pass into the end zone to finally end the game after nearly five hours.

    Ehlinger ended up with a Lamar Jackson-like stat line of 287 passing yards, two passing touchdowns, 112 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns, but it wasn’t enough.

    Both the Longhorns and the Sooners are now sitting at 2-2. Will either one play for the Big 12 title?

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    Georgia Tech QB Jeff Sims

    Georgia Tech QB Jeff SimsDanny Karnik/Associated Press

    Houston’s 2020 college football season finally got underway Thursday night, and that first quarter was some kind of ugly for the Cougars.

    On their opening possession, they went for it on 4th-and-4 in Tulane territory and threw a pick-six. They did score a touchdown on their second drive, but the third one resulted in another defensive touchdown when Clayton Tune got strip-sacked and the fumble was recovered in the end zone. Houston then went three-and-out on its fourth possession and lost yet another fumble on the fifth drive.

    After Tulane marched down the field for another touchdown, Houston was down 24-7 with three turnovers less than 17 minutes into the game.

    Things changed drastically from there, though. Houston scored touchdowns on six of its next eight possessions, including a kickoff returned 97 yards for a touchdown after the only time Tulane was able to score during that 30-minute stretch. The Cougars turned a 24-7 deficit into a 49-31 victory.

    The Friday night game between Louisville and Georgia Tech followed a similar script, except Louisville’s early touchdowns were the product of nice drives rather than turnovers returned for points. Cardinals quarterback Malik Cunningham had a rushing touchdown and two passing touchdowns in the first half as Louisville opened up a 21-7 lead with less than two minutes remaining in the second quarter.

    Then, Georgia Tech’s offense came to life.

    The Yellow Jackets went 75 yards in four plays to make it a one-score game before halftime. And after going three-and-out to open the third quarter, they scored touchdowns on five of their next six possessions. Meanwhile, Louisville couldn’t get anything going and shot itself in the foot with a pair of second-half fumbles. After trailing 21-7, Georgia Tech went on a 39-6 run for a 46-27 victory.

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    North Carolina RB Michael Carter

    North Carolina RB Michael CarterGerry Broome/Associated Press

    Perhaps the biggest reason I liked North Carolina as a fringe CFP contender in the preseason was the return of running backs Michael Carter and Javonte Williams. Each half of that dynamic backfield duo had at least 1,100 yards from scrimmage in 2019.

    Even in an abridged season, it looks like they could both get there again this year after stomping a mudhole through Virginia Tech’s front seven.

    Williams rushed for 169 yards and two scores and added three receptions for 55 yards. He’s now at 416 yards and seven touchdowns through three games.

    And he wasn’t even UNC’s best running back today.

    Carter racked up 214 rushing yards and two touchdowns, plus a 15-yard reception. He’s now at 494 yards from scrimmage on the year.

    Quarterback Sam Howell had a fine day, as well, throwing for 257 yards and three touchdowns with just five incompletions. He paced the Tar Heels to touchdowns on each of their first three possessions, and they never looked back from that 21-0 advantage.

    Virginia Tech briefly clawed back to within one score at the end of the third quarter, but that lethal Tar Heels offense went 15-yard pass, 18-yard rush, 23-yard rush and 12-yard pass on four consecutive plays to keep the Hokies at bay in what was ultimately a 56-45 victory.

    North Carolina is now 3-0, and it’s hard to envision a loss coming any time soon. The next five games are against Florida State, North Carolina State, Virginia, Duke and Wake Forest. Keep rushing like they did against Virginia Tech, and the Tar Heels are going to annihilate all of those teams.

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    Tennessee QB Jarrett Guarantano

    Tennessee QB Jarrett GuarantanoJohn Bazemore/Associated Press

    No. 14 Tennessee could not have asked for a much better first half than the one it played at No. 3 Georgia. On the second play of the game, a snap sailed over the head of Georgia QB Stetson Bennett and was recovered in the end zone for a Volunteers touchdown. The offense didn’t get rolling until midway through the second quarter, but they scored two more touchdowns and had a late goal-line stand to enter the intermission with a 21-17 advantage.

    But that upset-minded team never showed up in the second half.

    Less than a minute into the third quarter, Tennessee signal-caller Jarrett Guarantano was strip-sacked on 3rd-and-long, gifting Georgia the ball in the red zone.

    The Bulldogs were only able to get a field goal out of it, but three plays into Tennessee’s next drive, Guarantano turned it over again via an interception. Again, Georgia only managed to get three points. However, there was no question that all of Tennessee’s first-half momentum had found its way into Georgia’s camp.

    The Vols finally got a first down on their third possession of the half, but then they immediately gave those yards away with a pair of false starts. Facing 2nd-and-10, they were forced to punt two plays later.

    But at least they gained yards before punting that time. Tennessee lost 17 yards before punting on its subsequent drive, including a sack-fumble that offensive lineman Cade Mays was just barely able to recover.

    After the punt, Georgia marched down the field for a touchdown. Lather, rinse, repeat on the next drive: three-and-out followed by a Bulldogs TD.

    The cherry on top was Georgia linebacker Monty Rice sacking Guarantano, knocking the ball loose, scooping it up and returning it for a touchdown.

    Within the first 20 minutes of the second half, Georgia scored 27 points, and Tennessee had nine yards of total offense. (Minus-six yards if you want to factor in their three false starts.) The Vols looked like a legitimate SEC East contender in the first half, but that Georgia defense asserted its will in the second half and won this game by more than 20 points (44-21) for the fourth consecutive year.

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    Liberty's Emanuel Dabney

    Liberty’s Emanuel DabneyAssociated Press

    Freshman Daniel Sparks took over as Louisiana-Monroe’s punter last week against Georgia Southern, and his second Saturday on the job was an absolute nightmare.

    The winless Warhawks had a lot of trouble moving the ball against undefeated Liberty, which meant there were a lot of punting situations.

    The four in the first quarter weren’t too bad. There was a 38-yard punt returned 38 yards by Demario Douglas, but each of the other three traveled at least 44 yards without a return.

    On the fifth punt attempt, though, Sparks fumbled in the end zone, and it was recovered by Treon Sibley for a Liberty touchdown.

    After going three-and-out to start the second half, Sparks again had to punt from his own end zone. This time, instead of simply scooping up an easy touchdown, Sibley blocked the punt, and it was recovered by Chancellor Smith for another Liberty score.

    The next time he took the field, Sparks was at least able to get the punt away. However, the punt coverage team was unable to contain Douglas, who returned it 73 yards for another touchdown.

    All told, that’s three touchdowns for Liberty’s punt block/return unit, which had not previously scored on a punt since joining the FBS ranks in 2018.

    The Flames will travel to Syracuse next weekend, looking to improve to 5-0.

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    Arkansas QB Feleipe Franks

    Arkansas QB Feleipe FranksButch Dill/Associated Press

    Arkansas may be 1-2, but this team is a whole heck of a lot better in its first year under Sam Pittman than anyone was expecting.

    In the opener against Georgia, the Razorbacks were up 10-5 midway through the third quarter before the Bulldogs ran away with a blowout. The following week, Arkansas shocked Mississippi State, shutting down an offense that had picked LSU to shreds for more than 600 passing yards.

    And this week, the Razorbacks should have beaten Auburn.

    Florida transfer Feleipe Franks was great for the Hogs, throwing for 318 yards and four touchdowns. Excluding the three-play drive at the end of the second quarter, there was one stretch where Arkansas scored on five consecutive possessionsfour touchdowns and one field goal. But because of a missed extra point and two failed two-point conversions, the Razorbacks only got 28 points out of those scores.

    With less than a minute remaining, though, that was enough.

    They were leading 28-27 when Auburn QB Bo Nix tried to kill the clock. He fumbled the snap, picked it up and spiked it, which is a penalty.

    It also should have been a fumble, because he spiked it backward.

    And Arkansas had clearly recovered said fumble. But the replay official evidently didn’t see it that way. He allowed the Tigers to retain possession with merely an intentional grounding penalty. Anders Carlson had shanked a 34-yard field-goal attempt on Auburn’s previous possession, but he was able to convert on the 39-yard game-winning try.

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    Kentucky celebrates a pick-six against Mississippi State

    Kentucky celebrates a pick-six against Mississippi StateAssociated Press

    Kentucky’s offense had a terrible time trying to move the ball against Mississippi State. Outside of a 51-yard Terry Wilson scramble early in the second quarter, the Wildcats didn’t have a single gain of 20 or more yards. They managed just 10 first downs and 157 total yards.

    And they won by 22 points.

    That’s because Mike Leach’s offense apparently used up all of its magic in the season opener against LSU and was rendered completely incapable of putting points on the board in this game.

    K.J. Costello threw for 232 yards, but he averaged just 4.2 yards per attempt and threw four passes to the wrong team. Backup quarterback Will Rogers came in and was even less effective, averaging 2.9 yards per attempt with two picks.

    As had been the case in Mississippi State’s first two contests, the running game was nonexistent, too. The Bulldogs did a little better than the 16 carries for nine yards against LSU, but not by much. They had just 14 carries for 20 yards against Kentucky.

    The only points Mississippi State managed to put on the board were from a safety on a ball snapped about 10 feet over the head of punter Max Duffy.

    Well, that’s not entirely true. Mississippi State did put points on the board when Kentucky linebacker Jordan Wright scored on a pick-six. And Costello practically gave Kentucky another touchdown when Joshua Paschal returned an interception 76 yards to the 2-yard line, leading to a TD one play later.

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    Alabama head coach Nick Saban and DB Daniel Wright

    Alabama head coach Nick Saban and DB Daniel WrightL.G. Patterson/Associated Press

    While Kentucky was putting together one of the best defensive efforts we’ll see this season, Alabama’s D was laying one of the biggest eggs in program history.

    Alabama ended up winning by a two-touchdown margin, but it was never comfortable. It wasn’t until the final 200 seconds that the Crimson Tide finally led by multiple scores, despite scoring on what felt like every single offensive possession.

    Until those final few minutes, every time Alabama scored, Ole Miss answered.

    The Rebels scored 48 points, gained 647 yards and did not commit a single turnover. Through the air, on the ground, it didn’t matter. They found holes all over the field and became just the seventh team to ever score at least 48 points in a game against Alabama, and just the third to do so in the past half-century.

    Credit to head coach Lane Kiffin and offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby for a well-called game, but a lot of it was just dreadful defense.

    The first major red flag came early in the second quarter. Ole Miss was facing 3rd-and-27 near midfield and gained 22 yards on a simple draw play to Jerrion Ealy. The Rebels then converted on 4th-and-5 when Alabama completely neglected to defend the left side of the field, leaving Ealy wide open to make an 18-yard reception out of the backfield.

    There were other disturbing sequences, but that was the one where it really started to feel like Ole Miss might be able to hang around for as long as it did. And if Alabama doesn’t shore up that defense in a hurry, it is going to be in a lot of trouble next week against Georgia. Because Najee Harris isn’t going to be able to do to Georgia what he did to Ole Miss.

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    Alabama RB Najee Harris

    Alabama RB Najee HarrisRogelio V. Solis/Associated Press

    It was a good night to be a running back.

    Notre Dame’s Kyren Williams averaged nearly 10 yards per carry en route to 185 yards and two touchdowns in a 42-26 win over Florida State. Marshall’s Brenden Knox went over the century mark and scored three times while the Thundering Herd improved to 3-0 with a win over Western Kentucky.

    But the biggest names had the biggest performances.

    Clemson’s Travis Etienne carried the ball 17 times for 149 yards and two touchdowns in a 42-17 win over Miami. Etienne also made eight receptions for 73 yards, finishing the night with more total yards from scrimmage (222) than the entire Hurricanes offense (210). The 72-yard touchdown run was the major highlight, showcasing his out-of-this-world explosiveness.

    Even Etienne’s night paled in comparison to what Najee Harris did, though.

    Alabama’s star running back ran 23 times for 206 yards and five touchdowns in Alabama’s 63-48 victory. He became just the fourth player since the start of the 2017 season to rush for at least 200 yards and five scores in a single game.

    On many occasions, he simply avoided would-be tacklers with incredible cuts and speed. On others, he just plowed through the Rebels who tried to bring him down.

    Neither Etienne nor Harris entered the week as a top-five candidate to win the Heisman, but they are both certainly going to factor into that race moving forward.

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