NCAA Football

Clay Helton's Success vs. Utah Shows Just How Good USC Can Be

LOS ANGELES — For the first time all night, USC linebacker Cameron Smith looked confused and lost. Moments after USC pulled off a 42-24 stunner of No. 3 Utah, the true freshman emerged from an impromptu press conference on the floor of the L...

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Celebrating College Football's Spoiler Weekend

It was an unassuming Saturday. In fact, up until 10:11 p.m. Eastern time, one might have called it boring. Uneventful. Unsatisfying.

An average slate of football games played out as such with few exceptions. Although we love the sport regardless of the parameters, the harsh, simple reality of an ordinary week was settling in.

Then college football happened. Then it happened again.

Hopefully you stuck around long enough to see it all unfold. In a matter of 60 minutes, two Top 10 teams fell—the latest purge in a season mighty comfortable with movement.

One was, in many ways, expected. The other was anything but.

For the second week in a row, a College Football Playoff hopeful lost on a bizarre, walk-off special teams play—the kind of play that unfolds in slow motion and generates equal amounts of destruction and euphoria. These kinds of moments don’t happen often—once a year, if we’re lucky. And yet, it happened again.

Last week, the Football Gods dealt Michigan the heartbreak. This week, it was Georgia Tech doing the dealing.

Yes, that Georgia Tech—the one that entered Week 8 with only two victories. The one that has acquired the label of one of the nation’s most disappointing teams this season.

With No. 9 Florida State tied with the Yellow Jackets, 16-16, deep in the fourth quarter at Bobby Dodd Stadium, Roberto Aguayo, the nation’s best kicker, set up for a long field goal that would have given the Seminoles the win. 

With the kicker being the closest thing to a sure thing the sport has when it comes to field goals, it felt like Aguayo would drill the 56-yarder, even though his distance was being pushed. For another week, it felt as though Florida State would dodge a bullet and stay undefeated. 

Then it happened.

Another week, another nail-biter decided with no time left and special teams on the field. This week, it was Georgia Tech’s Lance Austin taking the blocked field goal back 78 yards the other way to give the Yellow Jackets a 22-16 win.

Brandon Gaudin, the voice of Georgia Tech on IMG Sports Network, delivered the appropriate emotion for the moment through the radio waves:

After Austin scored, Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson unleashed a rare smile. His tongue fell out of his mouth. He tried to put the win into the appropriate words—moving past all the prior losses and disappointments that led to this moment.

“That’s what it’s all about,” Johnson said on the telecast following the win. “That’s college football.”

This was not an outcome we expected—not after Tech lost to Notre Dame, Duke, North Carolina, Clemson and Pittsburgh. In fact, prior to Florida State, the Yellow Jackets' best victory came against Tulane in Week 2. That was also their last win. That was a long time ago.

But despite the defeats, one after the next, Georgia Tech had shown signs of putting it together these past few weeks. And, yes, with quarterback Justin Thomas, the talent is still in place. The formula to produce unexpected results, like this one, was still very much alive.

USC knows all about this position. Once a team with national championship dreams, the Trojans are now without their head coach and have three losses to their logo.

Still, in welcoming No. 3 Utah to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, they were a slight favorite over the undefeated Utes on Saturday, per Odds Shark. It was a strange circumstance for a program still in search of solid footing. But again, there's that talent.

With all hopes for this season seemingly lost and many inside the program's walls looking ahead to next year, interim head coach Clay Helton’s team didn’t need a last-second miracle to conquer its opponent. It didn’t need one final touchdown drive, either. 

Beginning in the middle of the first quarter, showing a solid serving of youth and speed—the kind of ability and potential that makes you wonder how it got to this point—USC clobbered Utah 42-24. Freshman linebacker Cameron Smith became a star before our eyes, picking off three Travis Wilson passes and returning one for a touchdown. 

A late Utah score made this game look closer than it was. This was pure, uncut domination. By conquering the Pac-12’s final undefeated team, USC made the conference’s College Football Playoff hopes even murkier. (Not that the Trojans care. And they shouldn't.) 

“Losing is not acceptable. We’re USC; we’re supposed to win,” linebacker Su’a Cravens told reporters following the game. “We’re not supposed to be 3-3.”

One could look at USC’s victory and simply note that the favorite won. One could also argue that the Trojans, with young talent jumping off the screen, were supposed to do this all along.

This could be said about both programs that upended Top 10 teams Saturday.

And yet, to do so wouldn't encapsulate the moment. It wouldn't do either performance the appropriate justice. Despite the fact both of these proud schools have had to reshape expectations, there’s something admirable about watching a team plop an M80 in the mailbox for no good reason at all and run away with a smile.

It’s about pride. It’s about possibility. It’s about playing for yourself and, selfishly, about the entertainment that hops in the sidecar and comes along for the ride. There will be no national championship for these two teams. There will be no trophy or NCAA-approved rings. But the moments will sit with us for a while.

They are the natural resources that power this giant ship known as college football. In the midst of a lifeless Saturday, at a time where excitement was completely lost, USC and Georgia Tech decided it was time to change all that. And now, with two Top 10 teams out of the most recent equation, one question remains.

Who's next?

Oh, we are not done. Dreams and expectations will continue to crumble, and programs will continue to push forward with cruel intentions—the mission to break hearts and carry on. For some, now two months into the year, it’s all that’s left.

When there is nothing left to lose, the anatomy of an upset is drastically simplified. And with so few sure things this deep into the season, this is not the last you've heard from a team you pronounced dead weeks ago.  

Hail to the spoilers, Saturday and beyond.

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Texas A&M vs. Ole Miss: Game Grades, Analysis for Aggies and Rebels

Following an SEC West matchup that, once it finally came to a close, could only be described as merciful, the nation's most cluttered division cleared some of its murkiness as No. 24 Ole Miss downed No. 15 Texas A&M, 23-3, within the friendly confines of Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. With the victory, the Rebels improved to 6-2 (3-1 SEC), while the Aggies fell to a dismal 5-2 (2-2 SEC). 

For more details, check out the NCAA box score here

Up next for Ole Miss, the Rebels travel to the Plains to face a struggling Auburn squad. Meanwhile, A&M will return to College Station to take on South Carolina. 

 

Pass Offense: Compared to many of Chad Kelly's previous games this season, his 26-of-41 performance for 241 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions certainly ranks near the bottom. However, in the end, his play was enough to propel his squad to victory. 

Rush Offense: The Ole Miss game plan clearly called for a purposeful rushing attack, as Jaylen Walton led a group of backs in a 230-yard display. While no touchdowns were scored, Walton and his group set the tone for the offensive line while providing critical balance for the offense as a whole. 

Pass Defense: While it may be easier to credit A&M quarterback Kyle Allen for the Ole Miss pass defense's success, some praise must fall on the defensive backs for their tight coverage. The second half was nearly perfect, as midway through the fourth quarter the Aggies had negative pass yards and just one completion.

However, a quarterback change proved Ole Miss was still vulnerable to surgical passing strikes, with backup Jake Hubenak producing 46 yards on six completions. 

Rush Defense: With the entire game to analyze, the simplest description of this unit would be stingy. The Ole Miss defensive front embarrassed the A&M offensive line and contained starter Tra Carson and backup James White to just 79 yards on the game. 

Special Teams: After a first half in which kicker Gary Wunderlich drilled three of his first four field goals, the Ole Miss special teams unit didn't find itself on the field for additional scoring opportunities later on. Instead, the Rebels punted the ball on multiple occasions to pin the Aggies deep. 

Coaching: Considering Ole Miss' body of work in this game, head coach Hugh Freeze obviously took mental preparation seriously, as the memory of the Memphis loss all but faded away. Penalties took their toll at points, but poor A&M play and an overall solid defensive performance kept any glaring mental errors from being exposed. 

 

Pass Offense: The fact that Allen was removed midway through the fourth quarter says more than enough about how this part of the A&M offense performed. After going 11-of-18 for 90 yards and an interception in the first half, Allen finished the day with one more completion, two fewer yards and 22 consecutive passes with no positive gain. 

Rush Offense: Carson had 14 carries for 48 yards and one fumble. After kicking off the game with obvious attempts to run the ball, A&M soon abandoned it as Ole Miss secured leverage behind the Aggies' struggles tossing the rock. Carson and White concluded the evening with just a combined 79 yards on 23 carries. 

Pass Defense: Statistically, Kelly ended the game below his season averages, throwing just two scores on 241 yards passing with three interceptions. At times throughout the game, the Aggies pass rush disrupted Ole Miss' rhythm, and the only true breakdown in coverage came on a Laquon Treadwell touchdown in the third quarter. 

Rush Defense: After A&M was totally dismantled by Alabama last weekend at the hands of Derrick Henry, Ole Miss took a page from the Tide's playbook, and its committee of running backs, led by Walton, combined for 230 yards. The Rebels rushing attack acted complemented its passing game, preventing A&M from focusing all of its attention on one aspect. 

Special Teams: Outside of Drew Kaser's 10 punts, which averaged 47.9 yards, and the lone Taylor Bertolet field goal, the special teams unit struggled mightily. Usually perfect returner Christian Kirk was completely ineffective, muffing a punt along the way, and the kickoff-return unit was only able to bring out two against the Rebels. 

Coaching: The pregame preparation, the constant mental lapses on offense and the overall way this game was managed all present serious questions about the coaching staff at Texas A&M. Kevin Sumlin has been a beacon of solidity over the past three seasons, but this game will bring about some issues for both him and his staff that will need to be addressed in the coming weeks. 

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Florida State's Playoff Hopes Take Huge Hit with Heartbreaking Georgia Tech Loss

Florida State was far from the nation's most impressive undefeated team heading into Week 8. The No. 9 Seminoles were the third-lowest ranked team with a perfect record in the Power Five—ahead of No. 12 Iowa and No. 14 Oklahoma State.

But Jimbo Fisher's young team still had full control of a potential playoff push heading into Saturday night, and it had found some offensive rhythm in its last two ACC wins.

That all changed Saturday in Atlanta, though, after one fateful kick from Roberto Aguayo.

Georgia Tech blocked a potential game-winning 56-yard try from Aguayo and ran it back 78 yards for a touchdown as time expired.

According to Bill Bender of Sporting News, the heartbreaking 22-16 loss to the Yellow Jackets was the first ACC defeat in more than three years for Florida State.

Now the Seminoles must recover from one of the wildest finishes in recent memory and fight to survive in the ACC and College Football Playoff races.

Florida State held a 10-point lead at one point in the second quarter in spite of some red-zone miscues, but a second half filled with errors doomed the Seminoles to back-to-back goose eggs on the scoreboard.

As Corey Clark of the Tallahassee Democrat notes, the offense would receive most of the blame for the loss to the Yellow Jackets.

After halftime, Georgia Tech held Florida State to just 15 yards on eight carries. With top running back Dalvin Cook visibly banged up, the game went into the hands of quarterback Everett Golson.

The passing success Golson had in previous games against Miami and Louisville didn't carry over against a desperate Georgia Tech defense.

With a primarily pass-first attack operating on a little less than 11 minutes of possession time, the Seminoles went 1-of-5 on third downs in the second half and had their first offensive turnover of the season, a circus interception that went from game-sealing touchdown to huge stop for the hosts.

While the defense forced Georgia Tech to punt on the ensuing drive, the FSU offense couldn't move the ball offensively and add to its three-point lead. On third down, Golson didn't seem ready for the snap, and he was whistled for intentional grounding and a loss of 14 yards.

The flag was just one of six in the second half on Florida State—and several of them were huge.

Early in the fourth quarter, Florida State had two false starts deep inside the Georgia Tech red zone. Golson threw his interception right after the second one.

The Seminoles also had an illegal-formation penalty on their next drive, and their final one featured another false start a couple of plays before Aguayo's missed field goal from long range.

The first fourth-quarter miss of Aguayo's incredible college career led to a tricky situation for the Florida State special teams unit. Even though he hesitated before returning the blocked kick, Georgia Tech's Lance Austin was still able to pick up the ball, get a few key blocks and find his way into the end zone.

According to Clark, Fisher said his young team practiced what to do in that situation, but—like on Saturday night—it wasn't successful at it.

The final play was one more missed opportunity for a Florida State team that had several chances to put Georgia Tech away Saturday night and remain unbeaten.

Now the path to another ACC title and a return to the College Football Playoff is even more treacherous for the Seminoles.

Even with its lower spot in the rankings compared to other undefeated outfits—even one-loss Alabama was ahead of it in this week's AP poll—Florida State still had the inside track to a spot in the final four if it won out.

That would be a tall task even with a win over Georgia Tech, sure, but no other program is more familiar with "survive and advance" than Florida State. In its long ACC winning streak, the Seminoles pulled out more than their fair share of close calls.

Considering the amount of inexperience and inconsistency Florida State has this season, this team may have shocked some experts by carrying the winning ways of the title squads into the past seven weeks. 

As Bud Elliott of Tomahawk Nation put it on Twitter, the errors that hurt Florida State on Saturday night against Georgia Tech are symptoms of the youth throughout the depth chart.

But these young Seminoles aren't out of the big races just yet. They'll need to string together a few huge wins and maybe even get some help, but don't count them completely out.

A road win over a Clemson team that just floored Miami 58-0 away from home would be beyond impressive for Florida State's resume. Add a victory over rival Florida, which is still a highly ranked front-runner in the SEC East, and the 'Noles would be tough to ignore for the playoff committee in this chaotic season.

While Georgia Tech might look like a bad loss at first glance, the Yellow Jackets had lost five straight games to teams with only four combined losses. Several of them were close calls, too.

If Georgia Tech can turn its season around, the Seminoles will get a nice boost for their playoff hopes.

Does Florida State have the raw talent to win big? Definitely.

The question now is if the Seminoles are able to correct their repeated mistakes and pick themselves up off the canvas for the first time in a long time.

That will be the difference between staying in the race for championships and some more stinging losses.

 

Game statistics courtesy of StatBroadcast. Unless otherwise noted, other statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com.

Justin Ferguson is a college football writer at Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JFergusonBR.

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Ohio State vs. Rutgers: Game Grades, Analysis for the Buckeyes

No. 1 Ohio State hadn't had a truly dominant performance on both sides of the ball this season, but that changed in a big way when it blasted Rutgers 49-7 in High Point Solutions Stadium Saturday night.

Quarterback J.T. Barrett shined in his first start of the season for the Buckeyes (8-0), leading an offense that piled up 528 total yards and averaged 7.5 yards per play. On the other side of the ball, Joey Bosa and the Silver Bullets flexed their muscle, giving up just 293 yards of total offense to the Scarlet Knights (3-4), 90 of which came on the final drive against the second-team unit.

  

Ohio State Buckeyes Grade Analysis

Pass Offense

It looked like Ohio State was in for another quiet night through the air after the first quarter when Barrett completed just two of three passes for 31 yards. But that changed in a big way in the second when Barrett connected on a quick out-route to Michael Thomas, who broke a tackle and raced 50 yards for a touchdown. On the next drive, Braxton Miller got behind the defense and hauled in an insane 45-yard catch to set up Ohio State's second score.

That first half set up a big performance for Barrett, who finished the game completing 14 of 18 passes for 223 yards and three touchdowns (against no interceptions).

 

Run Offense

It's been a recent trend for Ezekiel Elliott to struggle in the first half, and that was certainly the case against Rutgers Saturday night. Ohio State's star running back was bottled up for 15 yards on nine carries, but he did punch in a two-yard touchdown for the game's first score. It was Barrett who paced the run game through two quarters, as he piled up 85 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries.

But like previous weeks, Elliott and Ohio State's offensive line wore down the defense in the second half. Elliott had a huge second half, highlighted by a 55-yard touchdown run, as he finished with 142 yards and two scores. 

 

Pass Defense

Leonte Carroo is one of the most lethal wide receivers in all of college football, and he's been absolutely torching defenses as of late. In the two games leading up to Saturday night's showdown, Carroo had hauled in 14 receptions for 291 yards and an incredible six touchdowns. Scarlet Knights quarterback Chris Laviano has been an efficient game-manager, completing nearly 70 percent of his passes with a 12-6 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

The Buckeyes limited the passing attack effectively in the first half, though, as Laviano threw for just 99 yards, 55 of which went to Carroo. The second half went worse for Rutgers after Carroo re-tweaked his ankle. Laviano finished with just 10 completions for 117 yards and an interception.

 

Run Defense

Ohio State was absolutely gashed by Penn State running back Saquon Barkley for 194 yards on just 26 carries last week, and it raised some big questions about Ohio State's ability to stop the run. Those issues were compounded when Tommy Schutt broke his wrist against Penn State, taking away Ohio State's best run-stuffing defensive tackle.

It looked like it was going to be a long night for the defense when Rutgers running back Paul James took his first four carries for 35 effortless yards. But the front seven tightened things up and shut the Scarlet Knights' rushing attack down. The Buckeyes allowed just 104 rushing yards on 29 carries Saturday night.

 

Special Teams

Much like Ohio State's offense and defense, the special teams units could do no wrong against the overmatched Scarlet Knights. 

Jalin Marshall got loose for a 29-yard punt return in the first half. Gareon Conley broke free to block a punt early in the fourth quarter. The only negative came in the first half when punter Cameron Johnston got a bad bounce on a 29-yard punt. But that was the only hiccup in an otherwise solid outing. 

 

Coaching 

J.T. Barrett's first start of the season makes you wonder what the coaching staff was seeing in practice to stick with Cardale Jones at quarterback for so long. But that mistake was corrected before the most important stretch of the season—the back-to-back games against Michigan State and Michigan—as Barrett is the clear choice for this offense.

Ohio State came in with a game plan to establish the ground game and ease Barrett into the passing attack, and that was executed to perfection. 

 

David Regimbal is the Ohio State football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.

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With J.T. Barrett, Buckeyes Look Like National Champion Favorites Once Again

Ever since Ohio State won last season's College Football Playoff, Las Vegas odds have favored the Buckeyes to repeat as college football's champion in 2015.

But after seven weeks of sloppy play, inconsistent performances and unforeseen close calls, Ohio State finally looked the part of college football's championship favorite on Saturday.

Turning in its most complete performance of the season, Ohio State dominated Rutgers from start to finish in Piscataway, New Jersey, outgaining the Scarlet Knights 528 to 293 in what was ultimately a 49-7 Buckeyes road victory on prime-time television.

It marked the first time all season this Ohio State team looked like its predecessor from a year ago, and for good reason: The Buckeyes had their quarterback back, with J.T. Barrett making his first start of the season.

"Played very well," Meyer said of Barrett's performance in his postgame press conference. "Energized us."

What the Cardale Jones experiment possessed in substance—Ohio State was 7-0 with the national champion-winning quarterback in its starting lineup this season—it lacked in style, as the Buckeyes eked out uninspiring victories over the likes of Northern Illinois and Indiana.

Ohio State remained college football's No. 1 team and Las Vegas' national champion favorite despite its surface struggles, but that was more so due to the lack of a viable alternative than anything else.

When Barrett—who was Ohio State's starter a year ago before breaking his ankle in the regular season finale—provided a spark as a situational signal-caller in wins over Maryland and Penn State in the past two weeks, the writing seemed to be on the wall. 

The reigning Big Ten Quarterback of the Year rewarded his coach's faith by returning to his 2014 form, tallying 324 total yards and five touchdowns against the Scarlet Knights in what was indisputably the best performance by a Buckeyes quarterback all season.

Perhaps most importantly, with the longest leash he's been given as a passer since his return from injury, Barrett completed 14 of his 18 attempts for 223 yards and three touchdowns, looking every bit like the player who rewrote the Buckeyes' quarterback record books a season ago in the process.

"I think he's in full swing now," Meyer said. "He was really efficient throwing the ball, checking it down when you're supposed to check it down, taking a shot and being accurate."

Combined with another strong outing from running back Ezekiel Elliott (142 yards, two touchdowns) and a defense that surrendered just seven points after allowing 10 to the Nittany Lions a week ago, Barrett's performance made Ohio State once again look like college football's national championship favorites, even if it's held that title all along.

Earlier this week, the Buckeyes were listed with 12-5 odds to successfully defend their crown, per Bovada (via Odds Shark), after possessing 9-4 odds following a 34-27 escape from Indiana at the start of Big Ten play.

With how well Ohio State played Saturday, oddsmakers could have another shift in order.

The Buckeyes still have some question marks, although they were noticeably less glaring under the lights of High Points Solution Stadium on Saturday. Nevertheless, Ohio State's rushing defense could eventually become a cause for concern, as it allowed 104 yards on the ground to the Scarlet Knights, one week after surrendering 194 rushing yards to Penn State's Saquon Barkley.

But with the way the Buckeyes looked with Barrett in the starting lineup, any issues Ohio State may have suddenly seem relatively minor—especially in comparison with the rest of college football's happenings on Saturday. The day saw No. 2 Baylor lose quarterback Seth Russell to a broken bone in his neck, No. 3 Utah fall to USC, No. 9 Florida State suffer its first loss of the season, losing to Georgia Tech, and No. 8 Alabama pull off a close call against Tennessee.

And then there's No. 7 Michigan State's flair for the dramatic, as the Spartans allowed Indiana to hang around until there were five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, a week after escaping Ann Arbor unbeaten thanks to the most improbable of plays.

The Buckeyes, meanwhile, appear to be hitting their stride at the right time.

"I think it was a turning point for us," Barrett told ESPN sideline reporter Heather Cox after Ohio State's win. "We just gotta keep pressing, keep going and not get comfortable. But I think as an offense and as a team, we executed on both sides of the ball and on special teams as well. It was a good team win for us, but we know we can get better."

With an off week ahead followed by games against Minnesota and Illinois, the Buckeyes will have a chance to do just that before embarking on a three-week stretch that could include its three toughest tests of the season. Ohio State has its work cut out for itself with contests against Michigan State, Michigan and potentially the Big Ten title game to close out the campaign—three weeks that will likely determine whether or not the Buckeyes make the College Football Playoff.

But for the first time all season, Ohio State seems like a team capable of not only doing just that, but one that could very well successfully defend college football's crown.

"I think we've improved every week. I think we're playing at a very high level right now," Meyer said. "There's a good mindset in there. We have to continue to keep getting better. We know what's coming down the pipe here and some really tough games coming up. Some teams get better; some teams don't. We're getting better right now."

After Saturday's performance, it'd be tough to disagree.

 

Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Big Ten lead writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. All statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com. Odds provided by Odds Shark. Recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.

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Loss vs. USC Shows Utah Was Always a Playoff Cinderella, Never a Favorite

Utah enjoyed a nice a run near the top of the national polls, but a 42-24 loss at USC proved it never truly belonged there.

That's not to say the Utes aren't good. They are. They're very good. They earned their No. 3 ranking. They just always had a stinker like Saturday's in them.

Quarterback Travis Wilson threw four interceptions in the loss, continuing a trend of recklessness that's plagued his entire career. As good as he can look on his best days, he's still the guy who threw six interceptions against UCLA two years ago.

At some point, he was bound to turn into a pumpkin.

But Wilson wasn't alone in overachieving through seven weeks. Utah as a team had been punching above its weight.

One major story before the game concerned the lack of respect shown to Utah by Las Vegas. Sportsbooks opened USC, a team with three losses but rich history and brand recognition, as a 3.5-point favorite over Utah, a team with no losses but modest history and brand recognition. That spread rose as high as minus-6.5 before kickoff, according to Odds Shark.

But USC wasn't favored because it's sexier. That was just the narrative talking. Sportsbooks are too smart to get caught up in that.

USC was favored because it's better.

MGM race and sports director Jay Rood, one of the men responsible for setting the lines, explained the number Friday to Lance Pugmire of the Los Angeles Times. Here's what he had to say:

In this spot, people see a ranked team versus an unranked team that's gone through some adversity and…just about every parlay ticket we've taken has Utah.

People think this is a tailspin for USC, but I don't see it as a tailspin. They just need to stabilize a bit. They have the No. 1 recruiting class, NFL talent all over the roster. All it takes is the coaches to say the right things and to put the guys in the right spots, and that team can play with anyone in the country.

Other, more transparent metrics came to the same conclusion.

Bill Connelly's S&P+ ratings at Football Study Hall, for example, ranked USC No. 11 and Utah No. 18 before the week. It gave the Trojans a 63 percent chance of winning. Like Vegas, it would not call Saturday's outcome an "upset."

It would call Saturday's outcome foreseeable.

So where does Utah go from here?

The good news is it can still make the College Football Playoff.

Even though it was highly overrated, it navigated the first half of its schedule unblemished, which gave it some margin for error.

More than that, it has a workable schedule. Even the S&P+ ratings—a metric that ranked Utah 15 spots lower than the Associated Press poll—think the Utes can finish 11-1:

Those numbers will change based on Week 8's results, but they still provide a general template. Utah should be favored in its five remaining games, with only minor scares against Washington, Arizona and UCLA.

When you add up those probabilities, Utah still stands a decent (26 percent) chance of winning out. Doing so would launch it to the Pac-12 Championship Game with an 11-1 record. From there, one more win would make it a very serious playoff candidate.

Defensive back Tevin Carter hinted at that after the game, saying "the season's not over," per Utah's official Twitter account:

Carter has a point, which is why it's too early throw dirt on Utah's grave. But it's not too soon to pick up the shovel.

Wilson has another bad game in him, because that's who he is: the 2015 version of Bo Wallace.

To extend that metaphor, Utah might be the 2015 version of 2014 Ole Miss: a defense-first team that started hot, rose higher than anyone thought possible, successfully hosted College GameDay…but never really felt like it belonged.

Even those who ranked Utah in the top three, which wasn't necessarily misguided, had to know this outcome was possible.

The clock was always ticking toward midnight.

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Loss vs. USC Shows Utah Was Always a Playoff Cinderella, Never a Favorite

Utah enjoyed a nice a run near the top of the national polls, but a 42-24 loss at USC proved it never truly belonged there. That's not to say the Utes aren't good. They are. They're very good...

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Utah vs. USC: Game Grades, Analysis for Utes and Trojans

Freshman linebacker Cameron Smith snatched three interceptions, and the USC Trojans upended the third-ranked Utah Utes 42-17 on Saturday in Los Angeles.

Utah jumped out to a 14-7 lead, but Smith's pick-six capped a 21-point second quarter that gave USC momentum it never relinquished.

Pass Offense: Travis Wilson started 9-of-9, but the shiny box score numbers didn't represent how poorly the senior quarterback had played. It was clear mistakes were coming, and they certainly did. Wilson finished with four interceptions. Britain Covey tallied seven receptions for 129 yards and two touchdowns.

Run Offense: One of the biggest reasons Utah came up short was it failed to give star running back Devontae Booker enough touches. He tallied 52 yards in the first half but only received four carries after the break. Wilson added 35 rushing yards.

Pass Defense: The Utes registered four sacks, but Trojans quarterback Cody Kessler recorded 9.4 yards per attempt. Screens and drags consistently hurt Utah, which surrendered 11 first downs through the air.

Run Defense: Although the defense surrendered just 2.6 yards per carry, the Utes couldn't use their overall success against the run in the most clutch moments. USC converted a pair of 4th-and-goal snaps for touchdowns. Even after a quiet first half, Gionni Paul had a career-best night with 17 tackles, including 5.5 for loss. Utah Football quoted head coach Kyle Whittingham:

Special Teams: Andy Phillips blasted a 53-yard field goal and hit all three extra points, while Tom Hackett averaged 43.2 yards per punt. Cory Butler-Byrd needs to learn taking a touchback is typically better than forcing the issue. He managed just 15.3 per kick return.

Coaching: Kyle Whittingham's decision to go for it on 4th-and-2 probably changed the game, but it was an admirable call. Wilson shouldn't have thrown the ball across his body and over the middle. On another note, Utah straying from Booker was a poor coaching decision.

Pass Offense: The connection between Kessler and JuJu Smith-Schuster is flat-out deadly. They hooked up eight times for 143 yards and one touchdown. Kessler completed 21 of 28 passes for 264 yards and the one score. Adoree' Jackson chipped in six catches for 37 yards.

Run Offense: USC didn't do much on the ground, but it did enough. Ronald Jones II totaled 73 yards and a touchdown, while Justin Davis accumulated 66 yards and a score. Kessler and fullback Soma Vainuku each had a 1-yard touchdown.

Pass Defense: Delvon Simmons notched two sacks and Su'a Cravens—who grabbed an interception with two seconds remaining—added another, but the star of the night was Smith. The freshman linebacker snatched three picks, highlighted by his 55-yard pick six.

Run Defense: The Trojans had a little bit of trouble limiting Booker during the first half, but it's not their fault Utah ignored him during the latter frames. USC allowed 3.5 yards per carry and held an opponent under 100 rushing yards for the second time this season.

Special Teams: Alex Wood buried all six extra points but absolutely yanked a 36-yard field goal wide left. The punt coverage unit surrendered a 40-yard return, and Jackson went nowhere on two ill-fated attempts to break a big one. Keely Eure of USCFootball.com quoted interim head coach Clay Helton:

Coaching: Defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox assembled an outstanding game, and USC held Utah to a 3-of-13 mark in late-down situations. Additionally, a play-calling adjustment in the second quarter that featured quick passes helped the offense establish a much-needed rhythm.

 

Follow Bleacher Report college football writer David Kenyon on Twitter: @Kenyon19_BR.

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Utah vs. USC: Game Grades, Analysis for Utes and Trojans

Freshman linebacker Cameron Smith snatched three interceptions, and the USC Trojans upended the third-ranked Utah Utes 42-17 on Saturday in Los Angeles...

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Does Texas A&M Have a Starting Quarterback After Ole Miss Fiasco?

It’s late October, which means there's a lot of screaming from college football fans, and none of it has anything do with Halloween.

Saturday there were screams of horror from Florida State fans after the Seminoles lost to Georgia Tech on a blocked field goal, and there were exasperated screams from Tennessee fans yet again after their ninth straight loss in the “Third Saturday in October” rivalry with Alabama.

But screams of pure frustration may be the worst. Just ask a Texas A&M fan.

The Aggies’ passing game wasn’t just bad during their 23-3 loss to No. 24 Ole Miss on Saturday night, it was beyond putrid. Granted, a lot of that had to do with the Rebels’ swarming defense, which was playing with a renewed swagger after a bye week, but sophomore quarterback Kyle Allen’s season completely came apart.

Allen got off to an average start, completing 10 of his first 12 passes for 91 yards, and he would have gladly taken those numbers the rest of the game. But after that, he completed just two of his next 22 attempts, and both were for negative yards. 

While fans were begging for freshman quarterback Kyler Murray to be inserted, the Aggies went 0-for-13 passing in the third quarter and tallied just 27 total yards. They finished with just 66 total yards in the second half.

It was a miracle that the Aggies were only down by 20 points, but they could have been down by two and it probably wouldn’t have made any difference.

When head coach Kevin Sumlin finally did make a change with roughly 11 minutes to go, he opted for sophomore Jake Hubenak, who had attempted just one pass this season coming in.

At Blinn Junior College last year, he completed 216-of-333 passes (64.9 percent) for 4,052 yards and 47 touchdowns with nine interceptions in eight games. He’s definitely more of a pocket passer than Murray, and perhaps Sumlin thought that might be the better option at that point in the game.

But waiting so long was inexcusable, and the way the Aggies have handled their quarterbacks can only leave us with two conclusions:

  1. Murray, who looked as confused as anyone about not being used, isn’t ready to handle anything beyond spot situations.
  2. The extensive quarterback competition that dragged on for a long time appears to have come back to bite the Aggies.

Now, with seven games down, does Texas A&M (5-2, 2-2 SEC) really have a starting quarterback?

It’s a worthwhile question. After all, the passing game is their offense’s identity.

Just to back up a little, when the Aggies came into training camp, the quarterback battle was played up as a three-way competition, though most assumed it was primarily between the youngest guns.

Allen, who led A&M to a 41-38 victory at then-No. 3 Auburn last season, started the last five games of 2014 and was named the Liberty Bowl MVP.

So the job was his, right?

Wrong. The Aggies were trying to keep Murray happy as well. The son of Aggies legend Kevin Murray, who led the Aggies to consecutive Southwest Conference titles in 1985 and 1986, is considered small for a college quarterback, but he was named the Gatorade National Player of the Year.

It’s now obvious that decision came at the expense of Allen’s development.

Saturday night, with both teams’ seasons on the line, Ole Miss played with a lot of emotion, while Texas A&M looked like it was still trying to recover from last week’s 41-23 loss to Alabama, in which the Crimson Tide returned three of their four interceptions for touchdowns.

Allen completed 20 of his 40 attempts for 263 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions in that game, while Murray in relief went 2-of-4 for 21 yards and one pick.

What Alabama and Ole Miss both figured out was that Texas A&M still doesn’t have a running game and still can’t run between the tackles. Without that balance, both defenses went after the quarterbacks, and the outcome made their defensive backs look good. 

Consequently, we’re left with Allen’s final line of 12-for-34, 88 yards, no touchdowns and one interception, which adds up to a passer efficiency rating of 51.2.

At least the Aggies can take their time figuring out their next step, because the loss essentially eliminated them from SEC contention and killed their playoff hopes for another year. 

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Christopher Walsh is a lead SEC college football writer. Follow Christopher on Twitter @WritingWalsh.

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FSU vs. Georgia Tech: Game Grades, Analysis for 'Noles and Yellow Jackets

The finish inside Bobby Dodd Stadium was one for the ages as the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets knocked off the Florida State Seminoles 22-16 on a blocked kick returned for a touchdown.

It was Florida State that appeared to have the game in its hands with 10 seconds remaining as Roberto Aguayo was attempting a 56-yard field goal, but it was Georgia Tech's Lance Austin that wound up in the end zone for the winning score. 

The two key numbers in this game were 34 and 82. It was the 34 minutes that Georgia Tech possessed the ball that helped it sustain drives on offense and keep the ball away from Florida State. The other number (82) was the amount of rushing yards that Dalvin Cook had. That is not a terrible number, but the ineffectiveness to consistently run the ball hurt Florida State's offense on Saturday night. 

Everett Golson finished with 210 yards on 20-of-30 passing, but it was a red zone interception (his first of the year) that turned out to be a pretty big play. The Florida State defense played well at times, but it gave up too many chunk plays. The Yellow Jackets only mustered 67 total passing yards, but they were still able to consistently run the ball. 

Quarterback Justin Thomas finished with 88 yards on the ground, including a 60-yard score. His pass to Brad Stewart in the fourth quarter on fourth down was undoubtedly one of the biggest plays of the game. Georgia Tech played like a team that had nothing to lose, and it was a big first ACC win for them. 

For Florida State, the loss breaks up a 28-game ACC win streak, but all of its goals are still on the table. With Clemson still on the schedule (Nov. 7), the Seminoles still control their own destiny. 

 

Georgia Tech Game Grades 

 

Passing Offense

Let's be honest. There wasn't much there in the passing game for Georgia Tech. The long pass on fourth down to Stewart in the fourth quarter was huge, but Thomas never got anything going in this game. With the way Tech ran the ball, Thomas was not forced to make a lot of plays through the air. 

 

Rushing Offense 

This was the rushing offense we knew was going to play big in a game like this sooner or later. The Yellow Jackets ran the ball very effectively on Saturday night, averaging 5.3 yards per carry. As a team they rushed 49 times for 261 yards, and Thomas made some big plays with his legs. 

 

Pass Defense 

The pass defense gave up some plays, but overall it was a solid effort for this group. The interception in the end zone was one of the biggest plays of the game, and Golson was limited to 210 total passing yards. 

 

Rush Defense 

The Yellow Jackets defense did a great job of containing Cook in this game. A running back that good is going to get yards, so holding him to 82 yards on 17 carries was a win in that matchup. 

 

Special Teams 

Special teams is what won this game for Georgia Tech. The blocked kick for a touchdown was the obvious play of the game, but Harrison Butker was solid in this one too, going 3-of-3 on his kicks. 

 

Coaching 

Paul Johnson's game plan was very effective Saturday night. His team was not able to throw the ball very well, but he stuck with the running game and mixed things up enough to keep drives going. His defensive staff also did a very good job of limiting Cook to only 82 yards. 

 

Florida State Game Grades 

 

Passing Offense 

It was an above average effort for the Seminoles' passing attack on Saturday night as they threw for 210 yards on 20 completions. This is not a team that is supposed to beat opponents with a ton of yards through the air, but the interception in the fourth quarter was a crucial mistake. 

 

Rushing Offense 

Cook appeared limited with his hamstring injury, but Florida State's inability to establish a run game is ultimately what hurt the team. The 'Noles averaged only 2.9 yards per carry as a team, which kept a lot of pressure on Golson to move the ball through the air. 

 

Pass Defense 

It was a solid effort by the Seminoles secondary, but we have to consider the team it was playing. Georgia Tech did not have a lot of passing in the game plan, but we still can't take away from this group. They did an excellent job of forcing Thomas into two interceptions early in the game, but a couple of deep passes helped Georgia Tech flip the field position. 

 

Rush Defense 

The Seminoles rush defense did not play well on Saturday night. They flew to the ball and made tackles for loss at times, but they were not able to consistently stop the Tech rushing attack. Georgia Tech was largely one-dimensional in this game, but Florida State could not keep the Yellow Jackets from sustaining drives. The Seminoles allowed 261 yards and 5.3 yards per carry, so it was not a great effort from this unit. 

 

Special Teams 

Of course the final play will be the special teams play that stands out, but it was a pretty good effort otherwise from the Seminoles. Aguayo connected on three of his four field goal attempts, and Cason Beatty averaged 50.0 yards per punt. 

 

Coaching 

Some of the coaching was questionable in this game. It's tough to figure out why Georgia Tech ran the ball so effectively, given the fact that its passing game was almost nonexistent. It's not entirely clear how much of a factor Cook's health was, but the offensive play-calling should have gotten him more involved. He did not even have a carry in the third quarter, and he was limited when he did carry the ball. 

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Utah vs. USC: How Utes' Loss Impacts AP Rankings, CFP Picture

So this is why Odds Shark listed the USC Trojans as 3.5-point favorites against the Utah Utes. The last two weeks have been nothing but a bumpy roller-coaster ride for the ...

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Utah vs. USC: How Utes' Loss Impacts AP Rankings, CFP Picture

So this is why Odds Shark listed the USC Trojans as 3.5-point favorites against the Utah Utes.

The last two weeks have been nothing but a bumpy roller-coaster ride for the Trojans, with former head coach Steve Sarkisian being fired in the process. The team can forget all of that now. USC came back to Los Angeles and put a beatdown on the No. 3-ranked Utes, 42-24.

Unranked to begin the season, Utah stormed into the Associated Press Top Five with wins over the Michigan Wolverines, Oregon Ducks and California Golden Bears. The Utes had the talent to run the table and represent the Pac-12 in the College Football Playoff, but a loss to an underachieving USC team may have ended the Utes' playoff dreams after quarterback Travis Wilson's four-interception day.

Trojans linebacker Cameron Smith had three of those interceptions. Yahoo Sports' Pat Forde summarized the day:

Since most of Top 10 took care of business Saturday (aside from Florida State), Utah could take a huge drop down the rankings and possibly out of the Top 10.

If Stanford takes care of business at home against Washington, that should move the Cardinal into the right side of the Top 10. Then there's Iowa if the voters feel the undefeated Hawkeyes deserve some recognition for their 7-0 start. One loss can drop a team further down the polls, even against a ranked team. Look at Texas A&M, who dropped six spots last week after losing to Alabama.

Imagine what a loss to an unranked, underwhelming USC team could do to the likes of Utah. If the Utes fall out of the Top 10, that would likely take them out of the playoff picture, leaving Stanford to wave the Pac-12 flag.

USA Today's Dan Wolken disagrees with the notion that the Utes are out of this, though:

"Utah still has a very clear path to the Pac-12 South title and is by no means out of the College Football Playoff race, but the Utes were exposed a bit on Saturday and will absolutely not survive down the stretch unless Wilson throws with more accuracy and takes care of the ball," he wrote.

Wolken even had a unique take on his playoff field:

LSU and Clemson both won in convincing fashion Saturday. One of those two teams will find itself in the No. 4 spot, with TCU possibly jumping into Utah's spot. Depending on how LSU fares against Alabama in Tuscaloosa on Nov. 7, the playoff field could be set in stone for the foreseeable future.

The common theme in college football this year is clear: One loss can shake up everything. Utah still leads the Pac-12 South, and winning its last five games will ensure a showdown with Stanford in the conference title game.

But as it stands, Stanford is the top dog of the Pac-12, and Utah has plenty of questions it needs to address going forward if the Utes want to jump back into the playoff race. The Utes still have to go to Tucson to play a struggling Arizona team that always performs down the stretch as well as Washington.

If it comes down to Utah and Stanford for a spot in the playoff, Stanford will be there.

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Ole Miss Rebounds with Win vs. Texas A&M, Still Controls Its Destiny in SEC West

After getting blown out by Florida earlier in the month and then getting worked on the road by Memphis of the American Athletic Conference last week, Ole Miss was down.

It wasn't out, despite injuries to defensive linemen Robert Nkemdiche and Isaac Gross, linebacker C.J. Johnson, safety Tony Conner and center Robert Conyers.

With a head-to-head win over Alabama in hand and a game looming on Nov. 21 with undefeated LSU, the Rebels entered Saturday night's matchup with Texas A&M in Oxford in control of their own SEC West destiny. 

To celebrate, they controlled the game for a full 60 minutes in a 23-3 win over the Aggies.

Quarterback Chad Kelly threw for 241 yards and two touchdowns, wide receiver Laquon Treadwell hauled in five passes for 102 yards and a score, and the Rebel defense was all over Aggie quarterback Kyle Allen all night long.

Just how good was that defense? 

The normally explosive Aggie offense managed just 192 yards, quarterback Kyle Allen completed just 12 of his 34 passes before being benched and the Aggies rushed for only 58 yards on the night.

The strong defensive showing was something Ole Miss desperately needed.

Head coach Hugh Freeze admitted after the game that mounting injuries too a toll on his Rebels, according to Courtney Cronin of the Jackson Clarion-Ledger.

I'd say that confidence is now restored.

The win is a huge boost to a Rebel team that desperately needed something good to break its way after a tough month of October.

It also should give them a boatload of confidence heading into a stretch run that sets up well for the Rebels (6-2, 3-1 SEC) to potentially push for their first ever SEC Championship Game appearance.

They travel to Auburn next week for a noon tilt against a 4-3 Tiger team that, while better than they were in early October, is hardly intimidating. Plus, a hangover could be in order for Gus Malzahn's crew after losing a four-overtime heartbreaker at Arkansas on Saturday afternoon.

Then the Hogs come to Oxford, followed by a bye and another home game against LSU.

Can you say "SEC game of the year?"

Whatever the outcome of LSU's game against Alabama that immediately precedes its matchup with the Rebels, the Magnolia Bowl could be huge for the College Football Playoff, SEC West and New Year's Six races. 

Ole Miss, though, could also be the worst enemy of its own conference.

If the Rebels win out and claim the SEC title, that road loss to Memphis could play a huge factor in whether or not the conference gets a team in the College Football Playoff. Not only could the undefeated Tigers be a roadblock for the Rebels, but the Rebels could be a roadblock for Alabama if the Crimson Tide run the table. After all, Ole Miss would have an SEC title and a straight up victory over Alabama in its back pocket.

As Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated noted on Twitter, things could get sketchy for the SEC if Ole Miss gets hot:

Ole Miss isn't going to worry about that right now.

For now, it looks like the team that went into Alabama in mid-September and shocked the Crimson Tide.

Is it flawed? Of course.

The Rebels still struggle to run between the tackles, and many of the injury concerns will linger into next week and beyond. 

Show me a team in college football that isn't flawed, and I'll show you a unicorn. They simply don't exist.

Welcome back to contention again, Ole Miss. It's like you never left.

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Statistics are courtesy of cfbstats.com

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report, as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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Western Kentucky vs. LSU: Game Grades, Analysis for the Tigers

The No. 5 LSU Tigers (7-0, 4-0) defeated the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (6-2, 4-0), 48-20, on Saturday night in Baton Rouge. 

While much of the focus was on running back Leonard Fournette—and rightfully so—sophomore quarterback Brandon Harris passed for 286 yards and three scores. It was the third straight solid start for Harris, and he has yet to throw an interception in 2015. 

The Tigers are off next week before traveling to Alabama on November 7 to face the Crimson Tide. 

 

Pass Offense: Harris was good. The conditions were bad, especially in the first half, but Harris hung tough in the pocket and made some big plays downfield. His maturation is coming at the right time for the Tigers.

Run Offense: Fournette ran for 150 yards on 26 carries. He was terrific, getting the tough yards all night as he broke numerous tackles. He didn't have the highlight-reel run everyone expects, but he got better as the game wore on. 

Pass Defense: Western Kentucky passed for 325 yards on 61 attempts. However, that is expected. LSU allowed only one big play all night. The Tigers kept everything in front of them, limiting one of the more explosive offenses in the nation to settling for shorter gains. 

Run Defense: Outside of one run, WKU did nothing on the ground. Overall, LSU allowed 103 yards, 35 of which came on one play. 

Special Teams: Kicker Trent Domingue remains perfect on the season, as he connected on both his attempts. No fake field goals this week for the Tigers.

Coaching:Les Miles and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron called a good game for Harris. They called for several deep shots, knowing WKU's defense had eight or nine players in the box on every play. The defense did a good job of limiting big plays in the passing game. 

 

Bryan Manning covers college football for the Bleacher Report, and you can follow him on Twitter @bdmanning4

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Winners and Losers from Week 8 of the 2015 College Football Season

It's always the weeks you least expect that provide some of the wildest finishes. 

Week 8 of the 2015 college football season looked grim on paper, but it didn't completely disappoint. It yielded a pair of overtime games, a Hail Mary, a fat-guy touchdown and some of the most absurd catches you'll see this year. 

However, it did also produce some potentially season-defining games. Miami's 58-0 loss to Clemson could be the moment that officially ends the Al Golden era with the Hurricanes. 

With the second half of the season officially underway, who were the winners and losers from Week 8? We break down all that was good, bad, ugly, gorgeous and more in the following slides.

 

As a reminder, Winners and Losers is live while evening games are ongoing. Fear not, as we'll update this post throughout the night as events warrant. 

Begin Slideshow

Utah vs. USC: Score, Highlights and Twitter Reaction

The No. 3 Utah Utes suffered their first loss of the season against the unranked USC Trojans, 42-24, on Saturday, leaving their College Football Playoff hopes in serious jeopardy.

All-Pac-12 running back Devontae Booker was limited to 62 yards on 14 carries against a Trojans defense that ranked seventh in the conference against the run entering the matchup. Quarterback Travis Wilson didn’t offer much more, going 24-of-36 for 254 yards with two touchdowns and four interceptions. A minor bright spot was the 129 yards from wide receiver Britain Covey, who hauled in the two touchdown passes.

Booker’s Heisman Trophy hopes continue to dwindle with Utah’s slouch through the middle of the season, with Saturday's loss coming on the heels of a sloppy Week 7 scare against the Arizona State Sun Devils. ESPN.com's Heisman rankings tabbed Booker as high as No. 5 as recently as two weeks ago. He’ll likely need the Utes to run the table to have a chance of hoisting the trophy.

However, the story wasn’t Utah's offensive struggles; it was the Trojans’ defensive dominance. USC entered the contest giving up 402.5 yards per game but was allowing only 21.3 points per game, good for third in the Pac-12.

True freshman linebacker Cameron Smith accounted for three interceptions—the first time for a USC player since 1991, per CBS Los Angeles. He had Wilson’s number all evening, as Yahoo Sports' Pat Forde noted:

A dazzling offense that was anchored by quarterback Cody Kessler, who finished 21-of-28 for 264 yards and a touchdown, complemented the defense. The Trojans also ran for a combined 139 yards on 34 carries between running backs Ronald Jones II and Justin Davis, who each had a score.

Kessler's primary target, wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, put on a show as well, hauling in eight catches for 143 yards and a touchdown. The two connected for the proverbial dagger: a 25-yard score that helped extend the lead to 42-17.

USC's official Twitter account shared the replay:

It was a benchmark win for a Trojans team that has endured a topsy-turvy season. USC opened the year at No. 8 in the Associated Press Top 25, then strung together three losses in four games entering Saturday in the midst of the lingering off-field saga of former head coach Steve Sarkisian, who has since been replaced by interim coach Clay Helton.

But a change on the sidelines might have been what the team needed, per Bleacher Report's Bryan Fischer:

Not many would imagine a playoff contender to be an underdog against a three-loss team that had recently fired its head coach. But Las Vegas called it earlier this week, tabbing the Trojans as three-point favorites in the opening line, per Odds Shark.

Clay Travis of Fox Sports pointed out the irregularity:

USC will take on the California Golden Bears, losers of two straight, in a winnable Week 9 matchup—particularly if the Trojans stick to the stout ground game they employed against the Utes.

Utah still sits atop the Pac-12 South at 3-1 in the conference, 1.5 games ahead of Arizona State and UCLA, which it will play on Nov. 21. But the Utes' chances in the playoff picture are in peril, as the current AP Top 10 houses six undefeated teams. Much can and will change before the season ends, but the Utes no longer control their own destiny.

 

Postgame Reaction

The win was one of the Trojans' most monumental in nearly a decade, per ESPN Stats & Info, when Pete Carroll was still on the sidelines and churning out BCS wins like clockwork.

They accomplished the feat by doing something no team had done to Utah all season, per Michael Yam of the Pac-12 Network:

The Trojans celebrated in style in the locker room following the game, courtesy of USC Athletics:

Helton drew praise for his game plan, but he reverted attention to his players in his postgame press conference, telling reporters, per the Daily Trojan, "This team is the definition of 'Fight On’.”

USC is still alive in the Pac-12 South, sitting at 2-2 in conference play with Arizona State (which it beat) and UCLA (which it plays Nov. 28). The Trojans now hold the tiebreaker with Utah, but they will need the Utes to lose at least once more to reach the Pac-12 championship game.

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Texas A&M vs. Ole Miss: Score, Highlights and Twitter Reaction

In as thorough of a victory you will see between two ranked opponents, the No. 24 Ole Miss Rebels defeated the No. 15 Texas A&M Aggies 23-3 on Saturday night in Oxford, Mississippi.

Both teams were coming off losses, with Ole Miss falling to the Memphis Tigers and Texas A&M being outplayed by the No. 8 Alabama Crimson Tide a week ago.

But Saturday was the first time all year that Texas A&M has played a true road game, as its first six games were all in the state of Texas. This was the latest a team has played its first true road game of the season since 1928, according to the ESPN telecast.

The Aggies were out of sorts in enemy territory, and it showed. The offense had no rhythm, and its playmakers did little to get things going. Ole Miss outgained A&M 471-192 on Saturday night. 

Aggies quarterback Kyle Allen couldn't get anything going and experienced a stretch in which he saw 14 straight attempts fall incomplete. He finished the day 12-of-34 for just 88 yards.

The Rebels offense looked more fluid, which could have been because of the return of offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil, who was suspended for the first seven games of the season. Quarterback Chad Kelly had plenty of time to pass, even with the likes of sack master Myles Garrett pursuing him, while the running game was eating up chunks of yards.

Ole Miss rushed for 230 yards on the night.

 ESPN.com's Edward Aschoff was watching:

Ole Miss got on the board first after Kelly threaded the needle to Evan Engram from seven yards out. ESPN College Football shared the replay:

Kelly started off hot, completing 12 of his first 14 passes before cooling off. He finished the night with 241 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions.

A&M's start wasn't as successful. The Aggies punted on their first three possessions, and their fourth ended when Ole Miss recovered a botched handoff. 

Garrett finally got the better of Tunsil, breaking his way into the backfield on a screen play, deflecting the pass and intercepting it all on his own. Max Olson shared ESPN's replay of the interception:

Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee summed it up best:

It came a play after a chop-block penalty wiped out a 43-yard Ole Miss touchdown pass. But Texas A&M couldn't take full advantage of the turnover and settled for a field goal.

The turnover parade was in full swing by the end of the second quarter. Freshman star Christian Kirk fumbled an Ole Miss punt, giving the ball back to the Rebels in the red zone. Kirk was a non-factor Saturday, catching his first pass with nine minutes left in the fourth quarter.

But on the following play from scrimmage, Jordan Wilkins had the ball ripped out of his hands by Armani Watts on the A&M 14-yard line.

Wait—there's more. On the next play, Allen's pass was deflected and intercepted by Kendarius Webster, giving Ole Miss another chance to extend its lead before the half. It was the third turnover in 38 seconds, as Fox Sports Southwest's Greg Tepper looked on:

Ole Miss, though, couldn't punch it into the end zone again as it tacked on another three to end the first half with a 16-3 lead.

But the Rebels did come out swinging in the third as Kelly hit Laquon Treadwell on a 58-yard bomb to open up the lead to 20 points. It was the longest play from scrimmage that the Aggies have allowed all season. 

ESPN shared the replay:

Rebels alum and current Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Donte Moncrief loved what he was seeing:

In the fourth quarter, A&M decided to bench Allen, but instead of inserting Kyler Murray, who has been Allen's backup all season, it went with sophomore Jake Hubenak. In three minutes, he had half as many completions as Allen had all night but was just as unsuccessful when it came to finding the end zone.

Post-Game Reaction

Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze was happy to have his best offensive lineman back in action. It looked like he hadn't missed much time at all, let alone seven games:

On the opposite side, Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin obviously was not happy with his team's effort, saying that they "got whipped," in his postgame press conference:

A win like this might have saved Ole Miss' season, who will surely move up in the rankings next week. Combined with Alabama's continuous rise in the polls, a team that Ole Miss beat, things are looking up for the Rebels despite their two losses on the year.

They still sit in third in the SEC West behind Alabama and LSU. While they will be hoping for an LSU loss to create a three-way tie at the top if they stay at one loss, Ole Miss still has an opportunity to play the Tigers on Nov. 21. If they can start rolling by using the momentum of this win, the SEC West is in for an exciting finish this season. 

 

Stats courtesy of ESPN.com.

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FSU vs. Georgia Tech: Score, Highlights and Twitter Reaction

The Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (3-5) snapped their five-game losing streak in epic fashion Saturday night after blocking Florida State's potential game-winning kick and returning it 78 yards to down the nation's No. 9 team, 22-16.

ESPN provided footage of Lance Austin's block and game-winning score: 

Florida State kicker Roberto Aguayo hadn't missed a fourth-quarter field-goal attempt in his collegiate career prior to the last-second disaster at Bobby Dodd Stadium. Furthermore, the loss was the first for Florida State (6-1) in the regular season in 35 months, according to ESPN.com's Field Yates

Fox Sports' Stewart Mandel and ESPN.com's Matt Fortuna noted Alabama and Florida State have now experienced similar heartbreaks:

Florida State's offense struggled all night. The Seminoles managed just 280 yards of total offense as quarterback Everett Golson completed 20 of 30 passes for a modest 210 yards, no touchdowns and his first interception of the season. Golson's pick was the first turnover by the Seminoles in 439 snaps, according to Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman.

Golson's interception seemed to sink Florida State. Driving with a chance to go up by 10 points, the quarterback dropped back on third down with just over eight minutes remaining in the fourth quarter and was picked off in the end zone following a Georgia Tech tip drill.

The Seminoles received solid contributions from running back Dalvin Cook, who toted the rock 17 times for 82 yards and Florida State's lone touchdown. Cook's biggest impact came on Florida State's final drive, when a couple of clutch runs and a reception put Aguayo in position to kick the potential game-winner.

Tomahawk Nation's Bud Elliott put Florida State's inconsistent effort into perspective:

As always, Georgia Tech did its damage on the ground. Quarterback Justin Thomas led the Yellow Jackets with 13 carries for 88 yards, including a 60-yard touchdown, as illustrated by ESPN College Football on Twitter:

Running back Marcus Marshall tacked on 16 carries for 69 yards. As a team, Georgia Tech posted 261 of its 328 total yards on the ground and nabbed the upset victory despite Thomas throwing two interceptions and completing just four of 10 passes for 67 yards. 

The fashion in which Florida State lost was stunning, but the result wasn't terribly surprising, given how fallible the Seminoles have appeared throughout the season. They beat Wake Forest by only eight points a week after putting up a meager 14 points on Boston College, and they needed nine fourth-quarter points to hold off Miami at home on Oct. 10.

They should be able to rebound at home next week against Syracuse, but a Nov. 7 road date with No. 6 Clemson looms. The Tigers have emerged as the class of the ACC over the past few weeks, and Florida State should be the underdog for that tilt, barring unforeseen developments. 

For Georgia Tech, Saturday was a major confidence booster. Head coach Paul Johnson's squad hadn't tallied a win since thrashing Tulane on Sept. 12, and defeating a Top 10 team should provide the Yellow Jackets with extra fire as the regular season winds down.

 

Postgame Reaction

Johnson kept things short and sweet in summarizing the win, according to ESPN PR: 

Thomas, who helped keep Georgia Tech competitive throughout, explained how he turned interceptions into motivation, per the program’s official Twitter account:

Georgia Tech also received congratulatory Tweets from some famous alumni:  

Conversely, Florida State wasn’t in the mood to discuss the outcome after its 28-game ACC winning streak was snapped: 

"It was our turn," Johnson said, per ESPN.com's Brett McMurphy. "We’ve had so many that have gone the other way." 

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