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College Football Week 8 Winners and Losers: Ohio State, Penn State Go Different Directions

Ohio State’s defense blanketed Penn State to deliver a 20-12 win in one of the most important games of the regular season.

Five years after James Franklin promised the Nittany Lions would eventually graduate to join the top teams in the Bowl Subdivision, the loss reinforces the program’s place: Penn State is very good, but not elite. The Nittany Lions are treading water.

And Ohio State is finding new ways to win games in the Big Ten. Clearly influenced by back-to-back losses to Michigan, the Buckeyes are a physical team defined more so by defensive excellence than by an offense that has top-end skill talent but has taken a noticeable step back from the past two seasons.

Penn State failed to convert a single third-down attempt until there was under a minute left. The Nittany Lions averaged just 2.6 yards per attempt on 25 carries. Drew Allar hit on just 18 of 43 throws for 191 yards, an average of 4.3 yards per pass. A significant portion of his yardage and lone touchdown came on his team’s final drive after Ohio State held a 14-point lead.

The Buckeyes’ failed fourth-down attempt on the goal line and a turnover on special teams gave Penn State chances to draw even in the second half. When in similar situations in the recent past, Ohio State has pulled away from the Nittany Lions with pure offensive firepower. But the seventh win in a row in this series was sparked by a defense that may be one of the most improved units in the FBS. After Saturday, the Buckeyes are giving up just 3.9 yards per play.

This level of stinginess has been enough to offset a hit-or-miss offense that thrives when delivering the ball to All-America wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr., who had 11 receptions for 162 yards and a touchdown. Going up against the Nittany Lions’ own stout defense, the Buckeyes managed to run for 79 yards while Kyle McCord went 23 of 35 for 286 yards.

The win sets up a breezy four-game run before meeting the Wolverines to end November. Next, Ohio State goes to Wisconsin and Rutgers before returning home for Michigan State and Minnesota. This monthlong stretch will give Ryan Day and the Buckeyes’ offense more time to develop before heading into the winner-take-all rivalry game in Ann Arbor.

The immediate future is hazier for Penn State. This was an incredible opportunity to end a long losing streak against an Ohio State that has clear flaws relative to the program’s recent standard. With the loss, the Nittany Lions are once again no better than a New Year’s Six participant with Michigan still to come in November. The disappointment is palpable.


Basically buried after losing to Texas and struggling to put away South Florida in September, Alabama has put together a series of close victories culminating in a 34-20 win against Tennessee to climb right back into the College Football Playoff race. Like earlier wins against Mississippi, Arkansas and others, beating Tennessee required a toned-down offense built around quarterback Jalen Milroe, who completed 14 of 21 attempts for 220 yards and two scores with an interception. Down 20-7 at halftime, the Crimson Tide outscored the Volunteers 27-0 in the second half to avenge last year’s shootout loss. There are fewer style points than in the past but the results in league play have been familiar: Alabama is weighing teams down with a strong defense and doing a better job protecting the football while finding explosive plays downfield. And while the flash is missing, the Crimson Tide have shown extreme mental toughness in weathering the early-season swoon to look like Georgia’s biggest threat in the SEC.

Florida State

Florida State got 330 yards of total offense from quarterback Jordan Travis and remained unbeaten with a closer-than-it-looks 38-20 win against Duke. Riley Leonard was back in the the lineup for the Blue Devils, but he struggled to get things going through the air even before leaving the game in the third quarter after apparently reinjuring the ankle he hurt in last month’s close loss to Notre Dame. But the game turned at the moment Leonard left: FSU trailed 21-17 when Leonard went down but was in total control from that point forward. While Duke continues to impress even in defeat, the Seminoles managed to pull out another resourceful win against one of the top teams in the ACC and remain on track for a conference championship game appearance and potential playoff berth.


Missouri is good. Not win-the-SEC good, obviously, but this is a very improved team that is playing the best football to date under coach Eli Drinkwitz. The Tigers are now 7-1 after dispatching South Carolina, taking a 24-3 lead at halftime and then sleepwalking through the second half to win 34-12. Missouri’s defense did a nice job with Spencer Rattler, limiting him to just 5.4 yards per attempt, while the offense drew 159 yards and two touchdowns from running back Cody Schrader and a team-leading 90 receiving yards from potential All-America pick Luther Burden. Up next are Georgia, Tennessee and Florida, as Missouri prepares for meaningful November football for the first time in several years.


Matt Rhule has Nebraska pointed toward bowl play after another strong performance from a rejuvenated defense sparked a 17-9 win against Northwestern. Now 4-3, the Cornhuskers will have chances to get to six wins against a very friendly home stretch of games — Purdue, Michigan State, Maryland, Wisconsin and Iowa — and could conceivably make the Big Ten title game. While deeply flawed team from an offensive perspective — the whole offense is taped together with sticks and branches, making every positive gain an absolute adventure — that Nebraska could end the longest bowl drought in the Power Five in Rhule’s first season would be an achievement that breathes enormous life into the program heading into 2024.

Kansas State

Kansas State was all over TCU from the opening whistle of a 41-3 win that’s probably the Wildcats’ most complete performance of the season. While two tough setbacks against Missouri and Oklahoma State have knocked them out of the Top 25, the Wildcats have moments when they look like one of two or three best teams in the Big 12 — Saturday being one of them. Kansas State continues to use a very interesting two-quarterback rotation of upperclassman Will Howard and true freshman Avery Johnson, with the pair combining for 244 yards and four touchdowns without an interception with another 135 yards on the ground. Coach Chris Kleiman may have steered his team throughout a rough patch and pointed the Wildcats back toward the conference championship game.

James Franklin

Saturday’s loss drops Franklin to 1-9 against Ohio State and 4-15 combined against the Buckeyes and Michigan, the Nittany Lions’ opponent on Nov. 11. For all of the program’s wins, major-bowl appearances and overall success, there is a sense of missed chances and unrealized expectations that grows even stronger with every successive failure against the best of the best in the Big Ten. The Nittany Lions could end up with double-digit wins but losing to the Buckeyes and Wolverines would only be a reminder of how far the program still has to go before truly competing for national championships.

Southern California

Another week, another awful loss. And unlike last week’s blowout defeat at Notre Dame, this one came at home and featured more traditional heartbreak: Utah drove 54 yards in the final 1:46 and made a 38-yard field goal as time expired to beat Southern California 34-32. Quarterback Bryson Barnes had 235 passing yards, four total touchdowns and a crucial scramble on the final drive to offset Caleb Williams’ 256 passing yards and one rushing score. While this was a better performance overall than against the Fighting Irish and one that saw more moments of effectiveness from the USC defense, these two losses in a row have caused the floor to give way for the Trojans, and this year could get even worse with games ahead against Oregon, Washington and UCLA.

North Carolina

There was always this sense that unbeaten North Carolina was living on borrowed time. And then Drake Maye would throw for 350 yards and three scores to lift the Tar Heels to another high-scoring win. Luck finally ran out against an unexpected opponent, Virginia, which captured the biggest win of coach Tony Elliott’s tenure by controlling the ball and keeping Maye on the sidelines in a a 31-27 upset. The Cavaliers had possession for more than 37 minutes and ran the ball 54 times for 228 yards, offsetting the production of a UNC offense that still had 26 first downs and nearly 500 yards despite the limited touches.


Clemson continues to drift toward its worst season since 2010 after a 28-20 overtime loss to Miami. The Tigers turned the ball over three times, had a nonexistent running game and were still in position to win this game late into the fourth quarter, only to allow the game-tying field goal with under two minutes left and fail to punch it in from inches away from the end zone in the second overtime. The win basically saves Miami’s season at a possible breaking point after losses to Georgia Tech and North Carolina, and should temporarily quiet the increased scrutiny around coach Mario Cristobal. The loss is a devastating one for Clemson, essentially ending any hope of regaining the ACC crown and officially signaling a second year in a row out of the playoff.


This is the worst team in the SEC West and the worst offense in the SEC, and that’s combined to leave Sam Pittman on some shaky ground heading into the final four games of the regular season. You can write off any legitimate shot at the postseason after a 7-3 loss to Mississippi State, the Razorbacks’ sixth loss in a row and worst of the bunch. An way-too-empty stadium reflects the current state of affairs: Arkansas has gone from trendy to a total bore under Pittman.


It was fun and games when Iowa was winning. But the jokes and eyerolls at the state of Iowa’s offense will become a more serious concern after a 12-10 loss to Minnesota that saw the Hawkeyes deliver just 127 yards and fail to win despite keeping the Golden Gophers out of the end zone. Even worse, the potential game-winning touchdown on a punt return from Cooper DeJean with under two minutes left was taken off the board after officials ruled DeJean had a made a fair-catch signal. One week after the Hawkeyes had seemed to put a headlock on the Big Ten West with a win against Wisconsin, the division is back up for grabs.


Wake Forest faced Pittsburgh without its starting quarterback and his backup, leaving Dave Clawson to the turn the offense over to redshirt sophomore Santino Marucci, whose career experience before Saturday consisted of six garbage-time snaps against Norfolk State two years ago, all on special teams. You know exactly where this going. The Panthers were up 17-14 with 1:30 left after a 75-yard touchdown drive and then intercepted Marucci with just over a minute left. Even after punting back to Wake Forest only 23 seconds later, Pittsburgh needed just one last defensive stop to secure a second win in a row. But Marucci marched the Demon Deacons 48 yards in 33 seconds, connecting with Cameron Hite on a 15-yard score with seven seconds left, to hand out the Panthers’ worst loss in what has been a brutal season.

Source : Usatoday



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