Six college football teams enter November with perfect records. Sorry, Michigan, SMU and San Diego State.
Our reporters break down Week 9, from the Big Ten to the ACC.
Different directions for Michigan State and Michigan
The Michigan-Michigan State game featured both teams ranked in the AP top 10 for the first time since 1964, with both squads undefeated.
They both had strengths and weaknesses, but after the Spartans’ 37-33 win, we can make some extrapolations about both teams.
There are no debates anymore about Michigan State running back Kenneth Walker III’s Heisman candidacy. Walker had 197 rush yards and five touchdowns, three of which came in the second half when the Spartans needed him most.
“I will say, three of his touchdowns today, I wasn’t expecting a huge play,” quarterback Payton Thorne said. “On the first one, we were in the huddle, and I said, ‘Let’s just forget the red zone, let’s just score right here,’ and he did, so that was good. The other one was not a home run play, but as you see with him, any play could be a home run. The O-line was doing a good job, I’m sure he’ll give them credit.”
As good as Walker and the Michigan State offense was in coming back from a 16-point second-half deficit, the Spartans’ secondary still has some issues. The Michigan State defense gave up 406 passing yards and three touchdowns to Michigan’s quarterbacks.
The defense is giving up 300.5 pass yards per game, which is fourth worst among all FBS teams. To reach the Big Ten championship game and ultimately the College Football Playoff, Michigan State will have to get through Penn State and Ohio State. The Nittany Lions are averaging 267 pass yards per game, No. 34 among all teams, while Ohio State is averaging 346.3 yards per game, sixth best in the country.
Michigan is now 89-2 in games that it led by 16 or more points at any point in the second half since 2004. After scoring on all but one of the six drives in the first half, Michigan scored on only two of its seven drives in the second half. Its final three possessions ended with a J.J. McCarthy fumble, turnover on downs and a Cade McNamara interception. Not taking full advantage of scoring opportunities ultimately cost Michigan.
On the bright side, Michigan’s passing game was one of the bigger question marks for the Wolverines. McNamara had his best game of the season. Plus, the Michigan secondary got torched by Michigan State in 2020, but was able to limit Thorne to 196 yards and no touchdowns.
The biggest takeaway from this game, though, is that for all the talk about how different this team is and that the leaders on the team have taken on more accountability, Michigan still hasn’t shown it can close an important game away when needed.
Michigan is 2-9 on the road against AP-ranked teams under Jim Harbaugh, which is the worst win percentage by a coach with a single school in such games. Penn State is a road game for Michigan, while Ohio State will be in Ann Arbor, but the Wolverines will likely have to win out for a chance at making the Big Ten Championship game. — Tom VanHaaren
Miami has its quarterback of the future
When Miami lost D’Eriq King for the season with a shoulder injury, the situation looked bleak. But if there is any silver lining to a season that has not gone quite as expected, it is this: The Hurricanes seem to have found their quarterback of the future.
Since taking over for King, Tyler Van Dyke has coolly led the Hurricanes’ offense with a confidence that has become increasingly contagious. On Saturday, he delivered his best performance yet in a 38-34 upset over Pittsburgh, throwing for 426 yards and three touchdowns.
“The guy walks off the field after throwing a touchdown pass like it’s just a walk in the park,” coach Manny Diaz said afterward. “He’s got such a cool demeanor. That was a rough environment. Pitt, they take pride in making life hard on opposing quarterbacks and to be able to hang 38 points on them and throw for 426, that’s pretty special.”
In these past two wins over ranked opponents, Van Dyke is completing over 75% of his passes and has thrown for a combined 751 yards, seven touchdowns and only thrown one interception. Not bad for a quarterback who went into preseason camp behind King and splitting reps with fellow freshman Jake Garcia, projected by some to have the greater upside of the two.
But Garcia is hurt too, leaving the spotlight to Van Dyke — and he has completely taken advantage. We saw glimpses in his first two starts against ACC opponents, as he put together impressive second-half performances against both Virginia and North Carolina in heartbreakingly close losses. Diaz spoke about the need for Van Dyke to play with more confidence from kickoff forward.
Maybe it helped that Van Dyke talked a little trash the week leading up to NC State, when he said he was not too worried about the ranked Wolfpack because Miami had beaten them the previous year.
Cocky? Sure. Bulletin board material? Absolutely. But Miami has been missing that type of swag, and Diaz chose to embrace those words and use it as a rallying cry for his team. The confidence has clearly rubbed off. Despite the 2-4 start, Miami has not given up on the season and is playing harder than ever. Younger players are making plays to help Van Dyke, including running back Jaylan Knighton and receivers Key’Shawn Smith and Xavier Restrepo.
Two weeks ago, bowl eligibility seemed out of reach and questions persisted about Diaz and whether he would keep his job. Those questions still linger, but suddenly it feels as if Miami could win out and salvage an 8-4 record — nearly the same as one year ago. The Hurricanes have zero games left against teams with winning records.
Look at those four losses: Alabama and Michigan State are a combined 15-1. They lost to Virginia and North Carolina by a combined five points. When seen through that prism — and the youth movement that has shown the pieces are in place to build around — there is reason for optimism. That’s why the upcoming month is so important not only for Miami, but also for Diaz. — Andrea Adelson
Where’s the love for Wake Forest’s Sam Hartman?
What a story Hartman has been on and off the field. He has been sensational for a Wake Forest offense that has scored 35 or more points in all eight games this season and ranks fifth nationally in scoring at 43.4 points per game, a big reason the Demon Deacons are 8-0 and ranked in the top 10 of the Associated Press poll for the first time in school history.
Hartman’s experience has allowed them to do a little bit of everything on offense. This is the fourth straight season that he has started in a game at quarterback, so there’s not much of anything he hasn’t seen. Hartman will be the first to say he has big-time players around him. Jaquarii Roberson and A.T. Perry are both averaging more than 17 yards per catch and have combined for 14 touchdown receptions. Christian Beal-Smith, Justice Ellison and Christian Turner are all averaging 4.5 yards or more per carry, and Wake Forest’s offensive line has given up just 11 sacks in eight games despite the Deacons attempting 260 passes.
It’s not like Hartman is a statue, either. He’s one of only two FBS quarterbacks with more than 2,400 passing yards and 200 rushing yards. Virginia’s Brennan Armstrong is the other.
Alabama’s Bryce Young, Pitt’s Kenny Pickett and Ole Miss’ Matt Corral are also having terrific seasons and will get a ton of Heisman Trophy consideration, but don’t forget about Hartman when listing the best quarterbacks in the country this year. Hartman has thrown 22 touchdown passes and only three interceptions, and he is completing 65% of his passes. In his past four outings, he has passed for 1,514 yards and 13 touchdowns.
He’s easy to cheer for, too. Hartman wears eye black in the shape of a cross under his right eye in remembrance of his adopted brother, Demetri Allison, who died by suicide in 2015. Hartman still wears his late brother’s old jersey number, No. 10. — Chris Low
Oregon’s head-to-head win over Ohio State should matter — for now
For about a month, Ohio State’s offense has cruised against weaker, unranked opponents, lending some credence to the possibility that the Buckeyes have improved so much since Sept. 11 when they lost at home to Oregon that they should be ranked ahead of the Ducks in spite of the head-to-head result.
And then they faced Penn State.
Yes, Ohio State has improved significantly since it lost to Oregon, particularly on defense, but there was nothing about the Buckeyes’ performance against PSU that should negate the head-to-head result against Oregon. When faced with more even competition, Ohio State looked vulnerable at times on Saturday, struggled to get the Nittany Lions off the field on third down and needed four field goals and a fumble return to supplement a struggling offense that delivered just enough big plays.
Ohio State is oozing potential, and if the Buckeyes win out, their strength of record is projected to climb to third — meaning the average top-25 team would have a 19% chance to finish 12-1 against Ohio State’s schedule. At that point, it’s not only possible but likely Ohio State’s résumé would trump the head-to-head result against Oregon in the eyes of the selection committee.
We’re not there yet, though.
Coach Ryan Day was correct on Saturday evening when he said his team earned a gritty win against the Nittany Lions. So did the Ducks in Columbus. — Heather Dinich
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