2023 College Football: Week 4 Takeaways

In what must be an uncommon occurrence, twelve of the AP Top 25 teams faced each other across 6 matchups. Given that nothing too exciting happened outside of those games (except (4) Florida State barely surviving Clemson), I thought we’d look at each of those 6 duels. However, as some of them feature teams we’ve discussed quite a bit, I’m going to focus more on the teams that we haven’t mentioned. These games are listed in order of their kickoff times. Let’s see what we can infer from this slate of games in my week 4 takeaways!

(13) Alabama Throttles (15) Ole Miss 24-10

Alabama got a win here, but they still look poor offensively. QB Jalen Milroe is the clearly the best they’ve got, but he threw a pick in the end zone and missed a few other easy throws. Since this is our 3rd week in a row dealing with Alabama, let’s move on to Ole Miss. The Rebels came into this game 3-0, but they weren’t without questions. A QB competition during camp ended with Jaxson Dart retaining his starting job. He has been steady but not overpowering in Lane Kiffin‘s offense. In this game, Dart did next to nothing. He went 20/35 for 244 yards and an INT, adding a rushing TD in the first quarter.

As a team, the Rebels ran for just 1.9 yards per carry. In their defense, Alabama’s defense was suffocating. The Tide have been carried by that defense all season, and this contest was no different. Dart was sacked 5 times, short-circuiting numerous drives. The momentum shift came when K Caden Davis missed a 34-yard field goal that would have given Ole Miss a 10-6 lead to end the first half. The Rebels would score just 3 points in the second half. We know Alabama is going to be competitive because of its defense and ground game. Can we expect the same from Mississippi? Against better teams, they seem to often come up short.

(11) Utah Defeats (22) UCLA 14-7

Somehow, Utah continues to beat quality opponents without QB Cam Rising. With their starting QB still attempting to return from his ACL tear, the Utes’ defenders took matters into their own hands. They earned a pick six off UCLA’s Dante Moore on the very first play from scrimmage. From there, the defense pitched a shutout until less than 4 minutes remained in the 4th quarter. The Utah offense only earned 7 points. Luckily for them, so did UCLA’s. Utah DE Jonah Elliss (10 tackles, 5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks) was a menace. LB Kain Medrano (10 tackles, 2.5 TFLs, 2 sacks) did work for UCLA.

Moore had an atrocious game. He was 9/29 at one point and finished slightly better (15/35 with an INT). His 234 passing yards and TD stuffed the stat sheet, but a lot of that was on one drive at the end of the game. Utah managed to sack him 7 times, one of which caused him to lose a fumble, and he showed no pocket awareness. The fans who clamored for him to be the permanent starter after he replaced Ethan Garbers against Coastal Carolina need to understand that he is not a veteran player. He’s a raw freshman. That is going to limit what UCLA can do this year, but the future may still be bright.

(10) Oregon Demolishes (19) Colorado 42-6

I’m sorry Buffalo fans. I tried to gently warn you that your team has some serious flaws without Coach Prime taking a receipt. The offensive and defensive lines aren’t yet beefy enough, and the defense can be a sieve at times (especially without Travis Hunter). I suspect we’ll have plenty more to talk about with Colorado all year, so let’s give Oregon its due. Like Utah above, the Ducks also carried a shutout well into the 4th quarter. However, unlike the Utes, the Oregon had a 42-0 at that point, so they pulled all their starters before allowing a score.

The defense sacked QB Shedeur Sanders, previously a Heisman candidate, 7 times. Offensively, QB Bo Nix outperformed his counterpart, finishing 28/33 for 276 yards, 3 TDs, 1 rushing TD, and an INT. He found WR Troy Franklin (8/126/2) early and often. Interestingly enough, it is Nix who now enters the Heisman spotlight. He has been quietly stellar all year for a team that has scored 38+ points in every game. Should Oregon and USC both reach their November 11 meeting undefeated, the winning QB between he and Caleb Williams could become the favorite for the award.

(21) Washington State Bests (14) Oregon State 38-35 in a Shootout

We won’t discuss defense here; there wasn’t much to be found between the last 2 Pac-12 members left standing.. Based on all the scoring, you might assume that both team’s QBs had great days. That’s actually only true for one of them. WSU’s Cameron Ward was sensational, finishing 28/34 for 404 yards, 4 TDs, and a rushing TD. That completion percentage (82.4%) is stellar, but the yardage total tells you that he was doing this while still taking shots down the field. The coaching staff showed high confidence in him when they called a fake punt on 4th and 10 at their own 29. The drive ended in a TD.

Ward didn’t do all this on his own. Two receivers, Kyle Williams (7/174/1) and Josh Kelly (8/159/3) feasted against a normally stout Beaver defense. I’m not entirely sure what happened to that unit. Their previous high in points allowed this season was just 17. Maybe Washington State’s offense was just that stellar. The bigger concern is ORST’s offense. Specifically, QB DJ Uiagalelei looked like his Clemson self, and I mean the version that got him replaced. He went 17/34 for 198 yards, a TD, and an INT. At least he salvaged some production with 61 yards and a TD on the ground.

Unfortunately, his old issues resurfaced. He seemed tentative throwing down the field, and that may have been justified. Many of his passes were inaccurate, as if he wasn’t seeing the field well. RBs Deshaun Fenwick (11/101/3) and Damien Martinez (100 scrimmage yards) did their absolute best to keep the Beavers in the game. With 1:12 left, the team executed a great onside kick attempt, but WSU ultimately recovered it to seal the win. The Pac-12’s remnant suddenly looks great, with Washington, Oregon, USC, and WSU as strong contenders. Too bad that they’ll likely beat each other up and ruin their mutual playoff chances as usual.

(6) Ohio State Survives (9) Notre Dame 17-14

If you fell asleep during the first half of this game, I can’t fault you. Ohio State scored 3 points before the break, and that was 3 more than Notre Dame had. These defenses are good, but I can’t even say they were the reason for the offensive struggles. The two teams combined for 1 sack (earned by ND’s Jordan Botelho), and neither squad recorded a takeaway (fortunately you get 6 from me this week!). Execution issues, including failed 4th down plays (such as runs for no gain on 4th and 1) and a missed FG (by ND) seem like more probable culprits.

OSU had a 10-0 lead in the 3rd quarter before ND showed signs of life. The Irish scored TDs on two straight drives even though QB Sam Hartman (17/25, 175 yards, TD) wasn’t at his best. The running game was consistent, churning out 176 yards and a score. Ohio State went to sleep until late in the 4th quarter. That coincided with WR Marvin Harrison Jr getting hurt, but he eventually returned. RB TreVeyon Henderson (14/104/1) and WR Emeka Egbuka (7/96) to do the heavy lifting. Egbuka especially delivered when his team needed it most.

With the defense holding the Irish, OSU got one last drive to come back from 14-10. QB Kyle McCord (21/37, 240 yards) threw incompletions on 3 of his first 4 passes on the drive but remained poised. Driving to the ND 13, McCord was nearly sacked but managed to throw the ball away with 15 seconds left. However, the officials incorrectly called grounding. McCord’s RT moved inside of his position, so he was in the tackle box. The ball went past the line of scrimmage, so there should not have been a penalty. That changed 2nd and 10 to 3rd and 19 and also cost the Buckeyes their final timeout (to prevent a 10-second runoff).

Ohio State converted that 3rd down anyway on a nice pass to Egbuka, who went down at the 1. Following a spike and an incompletion, with just 3 seconds left on the clock, RB Chip Trayanum punched the ball in for a walk-off score (they did still have to kick the PAT). An elated OSU team celebrated, while the home crowd most certainly did not. As an independent, Notre Dame does not play a conference championship game, so they can’t afford a single extra slipup if they want to make the CFP. OSU now has a top-10 win on their resume, leaving Michigan and Penn State as their main obstacles. Speaking of PSU…

(7) Penn State Shuts Out (24) Iowa 31-0

I apologize for definitely not saving the best for last. This game just happened to be the last of the 6 to finish. You’re probably used to Iowa teams with great defenses and abysmal offenses by now. Michigan transfer QB Cade McNamara was supposed to fix that though. That has not transpired. He passed for 191 yards in week 1, and his total has dropped every week since. This game, he completed a measly 5 of 14 passes for 42 yards. He also fumbled twice, losing one of them, and he was mercifully benched for Deacon Hill (who only threw 2 passes). It’s not like the running game helped; Iowa ran for 20 yards on 17 carries.

Penn State wasn’t playing great in the first half either, earning just 10 points. That didn’t matter at all though, as their defense made things easy until the offense got in rhythm. QB Drew Allar took no risks, completing 25 of 37 pass attempts for 166 yards but 4 TDs. The Nittany Lions went methodically down the field, relying heavily on the run (57 carries for 215 yards as a team). This win frankly exposes the Hawkeyes as pretenders in the Big 10. If Allar can just be a bit better than Sean Clifford was the past few seasons, perhaps PSU won’t be in a distant third place behind Ohio State and Michigan for once.

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