College News & Analysis

College Football Week 5 Takeaways: Notable grades, advanced stats & more

Madison, Wisconsin, USA; Michigan Wolverines defensive end Aidan Hutchinson (97) rushes the quarterback as Wisconsin Badgers offensive lineman Logan Bruss (60) blocks during the third quarter at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

We expected Week 5 of the 2021 college football season to be chaotic, and it certainly didn't fall short of those expectations.

Alabama and Georgia are still in a tier of their own after 21- and 37-point wins over Ole Miss and Arkansas, respectively. Three top-15 ranked programs in Oregon, Florida and Texas A&M went down to unranked opponents. Cincinnati dominated Notre Dame in South Bend. Michigan looks like they are back.

Let’s dive deeper into some of the biggest storylines from Week 5 of the 2021 college football season.

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Notre Dame continued to stumble, and now Cincinnati has a clear path to the College Football Playoff

Concerns hovered over the Notre Dame offense ahead of the Fighting Irish's highly anticipated matchup with Cincinnati. The offensive line was performing poorly, quarterback Jack Coan had struggled under pressure and the team was set to face one of the best pass-rush units in the country.

Those problems loomed large in their 11-point loss to the Bearcats, which ultimately led to Coan's benching. Between Coan, the freshman Tyler Buchner or Drew Pyne, Notre Dame’s quarterback room combined for 16 pressured dropbacks and completed only two passes for six yards while taking two sacks and throwing two picks.

Now that the Irish’s playoff hopes are gone, the Bearcats’ hopes are skyrocketing.

The only thing that could get in the way of Cincinnati running the table and securing a CFP berth — outside of the committee itself — is consistency at the quarterback position. Desmond Ridder delivered some impressive big-time throws this week, completing seven passes over 10-plus yards downfield for 218 yards and a score, but several inaccurate throws were mixed in. It's why he earned a good but not great 72.3 passing grade on first review.

Up-and-down accuracy has been a common issue with Ridder so far. On passes thrown 10 or more yards downfield, Ridder had thrown more uncatchable passes than accurate ones heading into the week's matchup.

Cincinnati needs less of the misses and more of these beautiful dimes. 

If Ridder can be a touch more consistent, no team is coming close to stopping the Bearcats in the regular season.

Alabama and Georgia are head and shoulders above everyone else

Two of the most highly anticipated games of the week — Ole Miss at Alabama and Arkansas at Georgia — ended up being blowouts in favor of the higher-ranked team. The Crimson Tide and the Bulldogs had no issue taking down the country's No. 8 and 12 ranked teams. Both programs dominated the opposition and made the path to an undefeated showdown in the SEC title game much more likely.

Alabama held Ole Miss to the fewest yards per play of the Lane Kiffin era (4.6). Georgia, meanwhile, pressured the Razorbacks on nearly half of their dropbacks and sacked the quarterback six times. The Dawgs were among the Power Five’s five highest-graded defenses for Week 5, something they have done in four of their five games this season.

Alabama quarterback Bryce Young struggled under pressure at times against Ole Miss, but he was solid from a clean pocket, going 18-of-19 for 204 yards and two scores. As for Georgia, they needed nothing in the passing game to hang 37 on Arkansas. Quarterback Stetson Bennett only completed seven passes for 72 yards.

At this point, it looks all but certain that Alabama and Georgia will give us the game of the year come the SEC Championship game.

Jim Harbaugh’s Michigan team looks poised for a 10-win season

Expectations weren't particularly high for Michigan at the start of the season, but the Wolverines have surpassed those expectations and then some after five weeks.

The Wolverines are now 5-0 after thrashing the Wisconsin Badgers in a game that made Harbaugh's squad look like a force to be reckoned with. With the combination of defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald’s play design and their talent on that side of the ball, the Michigan defense pressured Wisconsin on 66.7% of their pass plays. The run defense was also well-disciplined across the board, evidenced by the fact they allowed only 3.1 yards per carry.

The Wolverines’ offense had to rely on the pass for a change, as they were going up against one of the best run defenses in the country. And while quarterback Cade McNamara completed six 10-plus-yard throws for 134 yards and two scores, the best throw of the day came from 2021 five-star J.J. McCarthy — Michigan's QB2.

This defense can carry the team through the Big Ten conference slate and even to double-digit wins. But to dethrone Ohio State come rivalry week, the offense will need to make some strides.

Michigan edge defender Aidan Hutchinson is the best player in the country right now

The term game-wrecker is often thrown around too loosely, but it is 100% accurate in the case of Michigan Wolverine Aidan Hutchinson.

The 6-foot-6, 265-pound senior entered the week as the highest-graded edge defender in the Power Five and will retain that spot after earning an elite PFF grade in Michigan’s big win over Wisconsin this week.

Hutchinson won on 26.3% of his pass-rush reps and produced a positive grade against the run on over a quarter of his snaps in run defense. He may not have notched a sack, but he played a part in several of the six sacks Michigan notched on the day.

Hutchinson is the best player in the country right now. He’s shot up to No. 5 on the PFF Big Board as a result and is the leader of a stout Michigan defense.


Oklahoma needs Spencer Rattler to start hitting downfield shots

Oklahoma overcame a subpar first half and managed to handle Kansas State on the road, but there was still one glaring issue with the Sooners that has been consistent in 2021: The lack of a deep passing game.

Quarterback Spencer Rattler underthrew a deep ball that resulted in an interception and failed to complete a single pass thrown over 20 yards downfield.

It was a completely different story on shorter throws, as Rattler completed 21-of-22 attempts for 238 yards and two touchdowns on passes thrown less than 20 yards downfield. That short and intermediate passing success has also been a constant theme in 2021.

Spencer Rattler by Depth of Target in 2021
19 yards or less 20-plus yards
93.7 Passing Grade 34.2
118/143 Comp/Att 3/12
1,153 Yards 102
10:2 TD:INT 0:2
117.7 Passer Rating 22.9

Rattler’s 93.7 passing grade on throws of 19 yards or less is the highest in college football and stands as the second-best of the PFF College era. Still, the Sooners need that deep passing game to open up soon. 

The absence of big plays can partly be explained by how defenses play the Sooners, as teams tend to play a two-high structure that allows easy receptions underneath to prevent explosive plays downfield — something both Rattler and head coach Lincoln Riley have acknowledged. However, Rattler has also got to do his bit and be better at knowing when and when not to take the shot downfield, and Riley has room to branch out to open up more opportunities.

Iowa’s defense is going to be a problem for teams over the rest of the regular season

Iowa traveled to Maryland in what was a strength-versus-strength battle.

The Hawkeyes’ pass defense and the Terps’ passing offense were on impressive hot streaks entering Week 5 and were going to see their biggest test to date against each other. But, in the end, there was one notable winner, as Iowa picked off quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa five times en route to a 51-17 victory.

Highest-graded FBS Defenses through Week 5 (removing games vs. FCS offenses)
Team PFF Defensive Grade
1. Georgia Bulldogs 94.6
2. Iowa Hawkeyes 92.0
3. Michigan Wolverines 90.9

It was a banner day for everyone in the secondary and a continuation of success for outside corner duo Matt Hankins and Riley Moss. Hankins didn’t allow a single catch, while Moss didn’t allow a first down and picked off a pass. The two now rank first and second, respectively, among Power Five corners in outside coverage grade.

Next week’s showdown against Penn State is Iowa’s last game of the regular season where they have to play a team ranked inside the top 25 of PFF’s Power Rankings. After that, they have a six-game swing that features matchups against four of the five worst teams in the conference. It’s the easiest remaining schedule in the Big Ten.

If Nittany Lions quarterback Sean Clifford sustains the level of play he put out in Week 5 against Indiana when he earned a poor passing grade below 60.0, Iowa’s defense should have no issue taking advantage.

USC’s Drake London is putting together a Biletnikoff kind of year

Yes, USC has been a disaster this season. They came into the year with Pac-12 title aspirations, but they have already endured double-digit-point losses and are 2-2 in conference play.

However, wide receiver Drake London has been one giant positive for this team in 2021. The 6-foot-5, 210-pound pass-catcher has been the focal point of the offense each week, and he’s routinely delivering as he showed in the Trojans’ Week 5 win over Colorado, where he earned an 82.0 receiving grade.

London delivered several highlight-reel receptions in contested scenarios against the Buffs, which has become a weekly occurrence with him. Just see it for yourself below:

London finished with four contested grabs on Saturday. He now has 13 on the year, which not only leads the Power Five but does so by a significant margin of six. And that’s not the only stat he is dominating.

Drake London’s Notable Stats through Week 5 (w/ Power Five rank)
Receiving Grade 87.1 (2nd)
Contested Catches 13 (1st)
Broken Tackles 12 (T-1st)
Explosive Receptions (15+ yard gains) 16 (2nd)
Yards per Route Run 3.44 (6th)
Target Rate 34.9% (3rd)

The sheer amount of single coverage London is seeing and beating is one of the most impressive feats in college football this season. He now has more than twice the number of receptions against single coverage than anyone else in the Power Five.

London is in the driver’s seat for the Biletnikoff — an annual award to the nation’s top pass-catcher.

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