College Football Week 4 Takeaways: Notable grades, advanced stats and more

Minnesota's Tanner Morgan throws a pass against Michigan State during the first quarter on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022, at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing. 220924 Msu Minn Fb 077a

Three CFP contenders handle tight games: Michigan, Clemson and USC faced stiff tests in Week 4, but each of the top-10 squads prevailed.

No. 6 Oklahoma not so lucky: The Sooners lost at home to Kansas State, with WIldcats QB Adrian Martinez collecting four touchdowns and 148 yards on the ground.

Minnesota is team to beat in Big Ten West: The Golden Gophers handled Michigan State in Week 4 to remain unbeaten and to stay atop the conference division.

Week 4 of college football helped weed out the contenders from the pretenders. Three top-10 teams barely survived in Michigan, Clemson and USC. Meanwhile, Oklahoma and Arkansas weren’t so lucky, suffering their first losses of the season.

Here are the biggest storylines from Week 4.

Three College Football Playoff contenders overcame adversity

Week 4 provided the first true tests for four College Football Playoff contenders: Michigan, Clemson, Oklahoma and USC. None of them played a top-75 opponent in PFF’s power rankings heading into Week 4, and all four looked vulnerable Saturday. 

No. 4 Michigan squeaked by Maryland, winning 34-27 at home. In that contest, Wolverines quarterback J.J. McCarthy looked nothing like what he showed in the first three games. McCarthy sported a 92.5 grade heading into Week 4, ranking second among Power Five quarterbacks. Against the Terrapins, he mustered just a 49.1 grade. The good news is that, even without much of a passing game, the Wolverines' offense can still rack up yardage through star running back Blake Corum, who rushed for 243 yards and two touchdowns on 30 attempts.

Fifth-ranked Clemson needed two overtime periods to take down No. 21 Wake Forest, 51-45, in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. A beat-up Tigers secondary was exposed by Demon Deacons quarterback Sam Hartman to the tune of 337 yards and a school-record six touchdowns. The Clemson offense did prove it can survive in a shootout. Quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei earned a very impressive 87.6 grade with five big-time throws and no turnover-worthy plays. If he keeps that up and Clemson’s defense plays up to its standard, the Tigers will be tough to beat.

In what was expected to be a shootout, No. 7 USC eked out a 17-14 win on the road over Oregon State. Trojans quarterback Caleb Williams had a Heisman moment in his game-winning hole shot to Jordan Addison, but he didn’t look very worthy of the trophy throughout the night. Williams completed just 44% of his passes for 180 yards and a touchdown. It was the Trojans’ defense that deserved an award last night, forcing four interceptions from what was the Pac-12’s highest-graded quarterback in Oregon State’s Chance Nolan.

One contender didn’t survive

The only one of those four CFP contenders to actually lose Saturday was sixth-ranked Oklahoma, who fell at home, 41-34, to Kansas State. The Sooners’ defense had no answer for the Wildcats’ offense. Overall, the Wildcats averaged 0.281 expected points per play, the most allowed by a Brent Venables-coached defense in a regular season game since 2018.

Most EPA/play allowed in a game by a Brent Venables-coached defense (since 2019)
Team Year Week Opponent EPA/play allowed
Clemson 2020 Playoff Semifinal Ohio State .431
Oklahoma 2022 4 Kansas State .281
Clemson 2019 National Championship LSU .169

Oklahoma’s offense hasn’t missed a beat after losing head coach Lincoln Riley and quarterback Caleb Williams to USC. The defense is going to take some time to catch up.

Ohio State’s offense looks unstoppable, and it’s not even at full strength

Ohio State didn’t just survive against Wisconsin; it thrived. The third-ranked Buckeyes demolished the Badgers, 52-21, in Columbus.

Entering the game, Wisconsin’s defense slotted in at 11th in PFF’s power rankings and figured to give Ohio State some issues. Instead, the Buckeyes put up 539 yards of total offense and averaged a staggering 0.319 expected points per play.

Ohio State proved it can torch opponents both through the air and on the ground. Quarterback C.J. Stroud targeted only four receivers for the game in Emeka Egbuka, Julian Fleming, Marvin Harrison Jr. and Cade Stover. The Badgers still had no answers, as Stroud threw five touchdowns, looking like the favorite for the Heisman Trophy. Running backs TreVeyon Henderson and Miyan Williams each tallied 100-plus yards on the ground.

And that all came without wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba, who’s nursing a hamstring injury. He was PFF’s top wide receiver in the country entering the season

The Buckeyes' offense looks like the best in the country, even without their best weapon. Once Smith-Njigba returns, this offense will enter a different stratosphere.

Minnesota is the team to beat in the Big Ten West

PFF entered Week 4 very bullish on Minnesota, a team tied for 12th in our power rankings heading into the week. Despite that, the Golden Gophers remained unranked entering their contest with Michigan State, mainly due to playing the easiest schedule in the country prior to the bout. Minnesota proved the hype was warranted, demolishing the Spartans, 34-7. 

Quarterback Tanner Morgan continued his fantastic start to the season with a 92.9 grade against Michigan State. He’s currently the highest-graded quarterback in the country (95.3) and is a legitimate Heisman contender if he keeps up his stellar play.

Minnesota looks primed to win its first division title in three years.

Miami is free falling

The biggest shock of Week 4 came in South Beach when Middle Tennessee upset No. 25 Miami (FL), 45-31. This is Miami’s second loss in as many weeks, after losing No. 24 Texas A&M last week. 

The Hurricanes were 25.5-point favorites entering the game, making this the team's biggest upset defeat since 1978. Quarterback Tyler Van Dyke has just a 48.7 PFF grade over his past three games, fifth-worst among Power Five quarterbacks in that span. He was benched in the third quarter for Jake Garcia.

Miami ranked 13th in the AP poll with a potential first-round quarterback at the helm just two weeks ago. Now, the Hurricanes are 2-2 and that quarterback is in danger of losing his job. 

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