Week 9 wrap

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Ronald Jones, Sam Darnold help No. 21 USC bounce back to beat Arizona State

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The month of October was a bizarre one in the Pac-12 as teams zigged while you thought they were going to zag. Nobody embodied that more than No. 21 USC and Arizona State entering the weekend.

The Trojans’ normally high-powered offense was stuck in neutral. The Sun Devils’ defense was punching way, way above their weight. As a pivotal Pac-12 South battle loomed, would these strange trends continue on Pac-12 After Dark? The answer: no, not at all. Sam Darnold and USC broke out of their slump to bounce back and beat ASU on Saturday night in Tempe, using numerous big plays to capture a 48-17 victory that probably wasn’t even as close as the final score line would indicate.

The one time Heisman favorite had one of his best outings of the season after a disastrous result in South Bend last week, tossing three touchdown passes and racking up 266 yards all told against a defense that had stymied some pretty solid passers the past few weeks. Wideout Tyler Vaughns was the recipient of most of those passes and continued his stellar play by posting career highs of 126 yards and two scores. The tandem was so impressive one almost forgot about Rose Bowl hero Deontay Burnett as he had a quiet night despite 49 yards and a trip to the end zone.

Not be outdone, running back Ronald Jones returned to his early season form and racked up 216 yards on the ground. The junior was a big play machine in the dry desert air too, bursting through the line for a pair of 60+ yard scores on the night.

The Trojans’ 607 yards of offense had spoiled a good month on defense for Todd Graham’s Sun Devils. A terrible third down performance (1/12 in the game) and mediocre run game didn’t help their efforts either. Quarterback Manny Wilkins threw for 259 yards but found the end zone, somewhat incredibly, only once under wild circumstances.

That came right at the end of the first half after the signal-caller launched a bomb toward the end zone. The play was initially ruled a catch at the one yard line but was reviewed and eventually ruled as a touchdown on the longest Hail Mary play in recent college football history. The teams were eventually brought back from the locker room to kick the extra point but in the end, it will go down as a footnote in this one.

The victory by the Trojans keeps them in the lead for the Pac-12 South title and presents quite the interesting game in the Coliseum next Saturday. USC is set to host Arizona in what is looking very much like a fascinating battle between some pretty explosive offenses based on how this weekend has turned out.

Baker Mayfield guides No. 10 Oklahoma to another shootout win over Texas Tech

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We all know Baker Mayfield used to play quarterback for Texas Tech. And we all know how it ended. Mayfield remembers, and he made sure his former team did, too.

In two previous games against the Red Raiders, Mayfield led Oklahoma to a 63-27 win in 2015 in which he averaged 9.6 yards per attempt, and a 545-yard, 7-touchdown effort in a 66-59 track meet victory in Lubbock last season. In his swan song against Texas Tech, Mayfield on Saturday night completed a ho-hum (for him) 22-of-34 passes for 281 yards with four touchdowns and an interception in a 49-27 win.

The game started similar to how last season’s finished: all offense, all the time. The teams both scored touchdowns on their first three possessions, and only a missed extra point provided the difference to give No. 10 Oklahoma a 21-20 lead early in the second quarter.

But the defenses bowed up to close the half, forcing scoreless possessions on seven of eight touches to close the half. A 5-yard Rodney Anderson run gave Oklahoma a 28-20 advantage at the break, and 1-yard Mayfield run to open the second half provided some cushion for the Sooners.

Texas Tech answered with Nic Shimonek‘s fourth touchdown pass of the night, but the Red Raiders would not score again. Mayfield found Mark Andrews for a 7-yard score to push the lead back to two touchdowns, then hit CeeDee Lamb for a 14-yard strike at the end of the third quarter to close the scoring for the night.

A last-gasp, 14-play drive for Texas Tech ended in a turnover on downs at the Oklahoma 2-yard line with 11:16 left, and the Red Raiders did not get the ball back. Oklahoma moved 65 yards in 18 plays, eating every one of the 676 remaining seconds to secure the win. Led by Anderson’s 181 yards, Oklahoma rushed 47 times for 336 yards on the evening.

Shimonek completed 22-of-36 throws for 322 yards with four scores and an interception, and Tre King led the Red Raiders on the ground with 113 yards on 24 carries.

The win pushed OU to 7-1 on the year and allowed them to keep pace with Big 12 leader Iowa State ahead of next week’s Bedlam showdown with No. 11 Oklahoma State. Texas Tech (4-4, 1-4 Big 12) has now completely whittled away a 4-1 start with only one obvious win (vs. Baylor on Nov. 11) remaining on the schedule.

Kentucky lights Butch Jones’s seat on fire with second defeat of Tennessee since 1985

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For all of the things Butch Jones hadn’t done in his five seasons as Tennessee’s head coach, there was at least this: he hadn’t lost to Kentucky. At least not yet.

That changed Saturday night, as the Volunteers fell 29-26 to the Wildcats in Lexington, clinching a bowl game for Kentucky and, in what is all but a formality at this point, the end of the Jones era in Knoxville.

Kentucky accepted the ball to open the game and promptly fumbled, leading to a 30-yard Brent Cimaglia to put Tennessee on the board first. Wildcats running back Benny Snell, Jr., made up for his mistake by carrying the load on Kentucky’s next possession, including a 6-yarder across the goal line.

Tennessee responded with a nice 69-yard possession of its own, but the drive stalled at the Kentucky 6-yard line, forcing a 24-yard boot by Cimaglia, pulling the Vols within 7-6 late in the first quarter.

Kentucky fumbled again on its next touch, but Tennessee failed to capitalize when Cimaglia missed a 44-yarder.

Snell punched in a 2-yard score to open the second quarter, giving Kentucky a 14-6 lead, but Tennessee pulled within one with a 7-play, 75-yard drive. Ty Chandler‘s 1-yard rush gave the Volunteers their first offensive touchdown in almost four full games.

However, Kentucky answered with an identical drive: seven plays, 75 yards, punctuated by a 1-yard rush, Snell’s third of the half.

Now apparently unstoppable, an unleashed Tennessee offense responded with a 10-play, 71-yard drive that again concluded on a 1-yard Chandler (22 carries for 120 yards) rush with 1:25 to play before the break.

Tennessee returned to its regular, non-touchdown-scoring ways in the second half, though. The Vols registered a first-and-goal at the Kentucky 9 and then went backward, forcing a 30-yard Cimaglia field goal. The Vols’ defense forced another Kentucky fumble on the next possession, handing the offense the ball inside the UK red zone. But the Vols went backward from there, and a 45-yard Cimaglia connection gave Tennessee a 26-21 lead with 13:24 left in the game.

The Volunteers forced a three-and-out on Kentucky’s next touch and could have put the game away with a touchdown, but again the drive stalled and again Cimaglia trotted out for another field goal — which he missed from 43 yards out.

Those missing three points would prove crucial when Kentucky took over at its own 11 with 4:43 remaining. The Wildcats methodically moved down the field, leaning largely on Snell’s legs. Stephen Johnson leaped in for an 11-yard go-ahead touchdown with 33 ticks remaining, then found Snell for a 2-point conversion to put the Wildcats up three.

Tennessee moved to its own 49 with two seconds remaining, allowing Jarrett Guaranto to load up for another Hail Mary, which he completed to Jeff George — for 48 yards, leaving the Vols two yards short of a game-winning touchdown.

Snell finished the night rushing 27 times for a game-high 180 yards and three touchdowns. Kentucky sacked Guarantano seven times and surrendered none, helping the ‘Cats out-rush Tennessee, 289-203.

The loss snapped a 5-game winning streak over Kentucky and handed Tennessee (3-5, 0-5 SEC) just its second loss to its neighbors from the north since 1985.

The win lifted Kentucky to 6-2, making the Wildcats bowl eligible in October for the first time since 2007 and keeping them alive in the SEC East race behind Georgia.

J.T. Barrett gives impassioned postgame speech, Urban Meyer heaps praise on his QB

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Just a few weeks ago, fans and media alike were calling for J.T. Barrett to be benched.  Saturday night, the Ohio State quarterback thrust himself squarely into the Heisman Trophy discussion while simultaneously keeping his Buckeyes in the thick of College Football Playoff contention.

Trailing by 18 points on two occasions to No. 2 Penn State, Barrett — with a huge assist from a swarming defense — was the triggerman behind No. 6 OSU’s remarkable come-from-behind win that left the Buckeyes in complete control of the Big Ten East.  And, to put them in such a position, the ofttimes embattled signal-caller put on a performance that will live in Buckeye lore.

All Barrett did was complete 33 of his 39 passes — he completed his last 16 to set a single-game school record — for 328 yards, four touchdowns and, most importantly, no interceptions.  For good measure, he led the team in rushing with 95 yards on 17 carries.  By any measure, it was a virtuoso performance from a player who’s taken shots from many sides over the past couple of years.

Afterward, and perhaps because of the sting of the criticism that’s built up, the normally-reserved Barrett let loose with a rousing stream of emotion that let those inside the locker room know just how much this game — and those listening — meant to him.

Not to be outdone, Urban Meyer heaped unadulterated praise on the redshirt senior quarterback in his postgame press conference.  Below is just a brief snippet of the adulation the head coach expressed for Barrett in his exchanges with the media, in quotes distributed by the team:

You guys can figure out all the records. I’ll just tell you, man-to-man, this is one man talking about another man. I don’t know if I’ve ever had more respect for a human being and as a person, because you earn respect and you witness people in very dire straits at times, tough situations.

I’ve never had a kid play perfect, but damn he was close tonight — 33 of 39. I can count four drops off the top of my head and two penalties that kept him from big completions. And he’d be the first one to tell you he’s a product of those around him, which he is — receivers and offensive line played. That’s the No. 1 defense in America, we have great respect for. And I just can’t — just how proud of J.T.

Q. You said earlier in the week teams are won by leadership. J.T., you see him behind the scenes… What did you see this week in him?
COACH MEYER: I think I’ve had him for five years. I’ve seen it ever since he’s been playing for us. I heard about this J.T. Barrett guy, and he came on as a redshirt freshman. And he wasn’t tall enough, wasn’t this or that. But he’s tough as a lion and he has an incredible skill to lead others.

Since wetting the Week 2 bed in a loss to Oklahoma — barely completed 50 percent of his passes, season-low 183 yards passing, no touchdowns, one interception — Barrett has been on an absolute roll.  In the ensuing six games, he’s completed 75 percent of his 176 pass attempts, thrown 22 touchdowns and zero interceptions.  Throw in 327 yards and another four touchdowns on the ground, and you have someone who should very much be in the thick of the Heisman talk.

“I think that H word is appropriate after today’s game,” Meyer said when asked if Barrett’s performance today was Heisman Trophy candidate quality.

Based on the last six games, I’d say it’s more than appropriate.

Ohio State’s comeback win, Michigan State’s 3-OT loss gives Buckeyes total control of B1G East

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In a span of a few minutes Saturday evening, significant clarity was brought to the race in the East division of the Big Ten.

First, No. 6 Ohio State, which had trailed by 18 points twice, completed an improbable comeback in stunning No. 2 Penn State.  Then, not long after, Northwestern finished off a three-overtime upset of No. 18 Michigan State.

Coming into Week 9, OSU, PSU and MSU were tied atop the East standings at 4-0.  Exiting it…

What it means is that, thanks to the Buckeyes’ win Saturday, OSU would clinch the division with wins the next three weeks against Iowa on the road and Michigan State and Illinois at home.  Such a scenario would leave the annual regular-season finale against hated rival Michigan a non-factor when it comes to deciding the division* — again, because they own the head-to-head tiebreaker on the Nittany Lions.

Th division will be further clarified next weekend as Penn State faces Michigan State.  A PSU win would mean that OSU would have to lose two of its last four in order to be overtaken by the Nittany Lions in the division.  An MSU win, meanwhile, would make the Nov. 11 road trip to Columbus even more important for all involved.

More than likely, the winner of the East, regardless of who it ultimately is, will face Wisconsin in the conference championship game as the Badgers are 5-0 in league play and lead the West division by two full games over 3-2 Northwestern.

(*The hatred and want to win The Game will always be there regardless of the records of either teams and whether it means anything divisionally. Thanks in advance for not bitching and/or whining and/or moaning and/or bemoaning.)