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College Football Week 8: PFF’s Team of the Week and Player Awards

Week 8 of the 2021 college football season was wildly entertaining from start to finish. Kansas scared No. 3 Oklahoma, Illinois knocked off No. 7 Penn State in the ninth overtime, Iowa State ended No. 8 Oklahoma State’s perfect season and Pitt’s Cinderella year continued with a win over Clemson.

And now that the first run of analysis is finalized and available in PFF's CFB Premium Stats+, we get to fill you in on this week’s top performers. Here, we present PFF’s Team of the Week and player awards from Week 8 of the 2021 college football season.

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PFF TEAM OF THE WEEK

Offense

QB: Sam Hartman, Wake Forest
RB: Devon Achane, Texas A&M
RB: Chase Brown, Illinois
WR: Romeo Doubs, Nevada
WR: Jaquarri Roberson, Wake Forest
WR: Tyrice Richie, Northern Illinois
TE: Ko Kieft, Minnesota
LT: Charles Cross, Mississippi State
LG: Joshua Pena, Navy
C: Luke Wypler, Ohio State
RG: Paris Johnson Jr., Ohio State
RT: Luke Goedeke, Central Michigan

Defense

DI: Neil Farrell Jr., LSU
DI: Manny Jones, Colorado State
Edge: Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon
Edge: Aidan Hutchinson, Michigan
LB: Cam’Ron Carter, Colorado State
LB: Avery Roberts, Oregon State
CB: Jay Shaw, UCLA
CB: Tyreek Chappell, Texas A&M
S: Joey Blount, Virginia
S: Coco Azema, Northwestern
Flex: Jarvis Brownlee Jr., Florida State

Offensive Player of the Week: QB Sam Hartman, Wake Forest

To no surprise, the highest-graded quarterback of the week was none other than Wake Forest quarterback Sam Hartman, who helped the Demon Deacons to 70 points in a shootout win over Army.

Hartman got through his progressions and made the right decisions in the true dropback passing game, tore Army up on Wake’s patented run-pass options and delivered accurate and anticipatory throws downfield. The redshirt sophomore completed 11 of his 15 10-plus-yard throws for 382 yards and four touchdowns. On run-pass option (RPO) pass attempts, he went 8-of-10 for 177 yards and a score.

In all, Wake generated 1.37 expected points added (EPA) per pass.

Most EPA per pass play in a single game since 2014 (min. 20 pass plays)
Team EPA per Pass
1. Georgia 2014 (W11 at UK) 1.56
2. UCF 2017 (W6 at UC) 1.42
3. Wake Forest 2021 (W8 at Army) 1.37

The Demon Deacons quarterback didn't record a single turnover-worthy play, bringing his season-long turnover-worthy play rate to 1.5%, the eighth-best in the Power Five. Wake now sits at an undefeated 7-0 record and is in the driver’s seat for the ACC Atlantic division. 

Defensive Player of the Week: Edge Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon

Thibodeaux has been one of the nation's most impactful pass-rushers this year, and he shined bright once again in Oregon's big win over UCLA on Saturday.

The 6-foot-5, 258-pound edge recorded double-digit pressures for the second consecutive week and won 14 total reps. Three of his 10 pressures ended with the QB on the ground, with one of those being a strip-sack fumble.

Thibodeaux finished the day with a 91.2 pass-rush grade, marking the third time in four games — with at least 10 pass-rushes — that he has recorded an elite mark above 90.0

Thibodeaux is essentially a Frankenstein's Monster of pass-rushers. His physical profile is seemingly perfect for playing the position at the next level. This year, Thibodeaux is showing refinement within his game and looks almost unblockable at times. At this rate, Thibodeaux is looking like the slam-dunk No. 1 overall pick in 2022.


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True Freshman of the Week: QB Caleb Williams, Oklahoma

Williams has started only two games in his collegiate career. He's taken home PFF’s True Freshman of the Week Award for both of them.

The former five-star recruit didn’t wow from a passing perspective against the Kansas Jayhawks on Saturday. He failed to record a big-time throw and made a poor decision when he ignored the checkdown and launched a deep pass into tight coverage for an interception. Williams finished with a 67.3 passing grade for the game on first review. 

However, he wowed in the ground game and even won Oklahoma the game with his instincts as a ball carrier.

Despite the lack of an explosive passing attack, Oklahoma stormed back and hung 35 second-half points on Kansas to win the game, and Williams’ special running ability was the key reason. The Sooners quarterback earned an 83.9 rushing grade for the night, featuring three explosive runs of 10-plus yards and three broken tackles on six attempts.

All three of those big runs came in the last eight minutes of the game, including this one on a pivotal fourth down that ended in a 40-yard touchdown that bolstered Oklahoma’s win probability by 13 percentage points:

Williams' presence in the running game changes the entire dynamic of the Sooners offense. He may have to work on his decision-making in the passing game, but the true freshman quarterback is performing at unprecedented levels, given his age and experience. The poise, savviness and clutch factor he brings to the table is rare to see from a true freshman quarterback. And PFF’s play of the Week courtesy of Williams showcases exactly that…

Play of the Week: Oklahoma quarterback Caleb Williams’ takeaway

Not even the most experienced starting quarterbacks would have thought to do that. But, had he not, Oklahoma would have handed the ball back to Kansas at midfield with the chance to win the game.

It was Williams' passing performance early on that put the Sooners in a tough spot, but in the end, Williams himself prevented the biggest upset of the season.

Offensive Line of the Week: Ohio State Buckeyes

Ohio State dominated Indiana in every facet in their 54-7 win in Bloomington on Saturday night, including in the trenches.

The Buckeyes’ offensive line moved the Hoosiers in the run game and was a stone wall in pass protection. They gave the backfield 3.0 yards before contact per attempt on average, helping them to eight explosive runs of 10-plus yards and 0.35 EPA per running back carry. In pass-protection, the starting unit allowed only one total pressure.

All five starting offensive linemen — Nicholas Petit-Frere, Thayer Munford, Luke Wypler, Paris Johnson Jr. and Dawand Jones — earned a PFF grade above 70.0 on first review, with three of the five being above 83.0 (Wypler, Johnson and Jones).

Secret Superstar of the Week: G Joshua Pena, Navy

Navy’s offensive line had a difficult task against Cincinnati's physical front, but left guard Joshua Pena rose to the occasion. He finished the day with the highest run-block grade of the 2021 season upon first review. The triple-option cut blocks were effective, but Pena did a little more than that. He moved defensive linemen multiple yards downfield in the run game and made few mistakes in pass protection, losing only one of his 21 pass-block reps.

His performance was night and day compared to his Week 7 outing when he put up a 0.0 pass-block grade. It was a standout performance from the first-year starter against the toughest defense he will see.

Biggest Game-Changing Moment: Clemson quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei’s shovel-pass pick-six

It’s a dark time for Clemson football. The Tigers took their third L of the season on Saturday, more than they have had in any other year since 2015.

Quarterback play was once again an issue. They found themselves in a position to make it a game on the first drive of the second half, but instead of piecing together a scoring drive for the Tigers, quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei gifted the Panthers seven points:

Clemson’s Win Probability Change: -17.4%

Uiagalelei was sent to the bench for a couple of drives as a result of that crucial mistake. He finished with a 55.1 passing grade for the game, his fourth sub-60.0 mark of the season. Clemson now ranks 61st in the Power Five and dead last in the ACC in passing efficiency for the 2021 season.

Clemson fans will be praying for some schematic adjustments and maybe even an emergence from 2022 five-star quarterback Cade Klubnik over the next calendar year.

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