News & Analysis

College Football Week 9: Team of the Week, key takeaways, player awards and more

Florida head coach Dan Mullen will not be happy that Saturday's game vs. LSU has been postponed because of a COVID-19 outbreak on his team. Usp Ncaa Football South Carolina At Florida S Fbc Usa Fl

A College Football Playoff candidate went down, Michigan State — a three-touchdown underdog — upset Michigan at the empty Big House, and there was a brawl at The Swamp between Florida and Missouri that ended with Dan Mullen single-handedly hyping up a limited Gators crowd on an empty field.

What a fun Halloween.

And now that the first run of our analysis is finalized and available in PFF's CFB Premium Stats+, we get to fill you in on everything you might have missed while providing further analysis on yesterday's games. Here we present to you the PFF Team of the Week, big takeaways and player awards from Week 9 of the 2020 college football season.

PFF TEAM OF THE WEEK

Offense

QB: Matt Corral, Ole Miss
RB: Travis Etienne, Clemson
RB: Trey Ragas, Louisiana
WR: DeVonta Smith, Alabama
WR: Elijah Moore, Ole Miss
WR: Ricky White, Michigan State
TE: Jalen Wydermyer, Texas A&M
LT: Kyle Spalding, San Diego State
LG: Jacob Capra, San Diego State
C: Tyler Linderbaum, Iowa
RG: Jake Stetz, Boise State
RT: Zachary Thomas, San Diego State

Defense

DI: Phidarian Mathis, Alabama
DI: Terrance Newman, SMU
EDGE: Daelin Hayes, Notre Dame
EDGE: Alex Wright, UAB
LB: Micah McFadden, Indiana
LB: Baylon Spector, Clemson
CB: Patrick Surtain II, Alabama
CB: Dreshun Miller, West Virginia
S: Trey Rucker, Wake Forest
S: Isheem Young, Iowa State
FLEX D: Malachi Moore, Alabama

3 BIG TAKEAWAYS

1. Clemson’s offense looked better than anticipated, but the defense can’t afford to play like this again next week

The offense didn't roll like it would have had Trevor Lawrence out there, but true freshman D.J. Uiagalelei looked better than expected. He finished the day with a passing grade above 80.0 and didn’t record a single turnover-worthy play as a passer. The first big-time throw of his collegiate career came on a third-and-16 strike to Amari Rodgers late in the first quarter on the drive that ultimately ended on a Boston College scoop-and-score fumble. Uiagalelei then delivered another, this time to Travis Etienne, in the midst of their comeback in the third quarter.

He struggled to hit those Lawrence-esque out-routes, but overall, we have no bones to pick with Uiagalelei, who led the team's second-most efficient game of the season in terms of EPA per pass play generated. We do, however, have some bones to pick with the defense that got lit up in the first half.

Phil Jurkovec and Boston College came out guns blazing by attacking downfield, and the Tigers had no answer. Clemson gave up seven catches over 10 yards downfield for 155 yards and two touchdowns in the first half. Things got better in the second half, but this was still by far the defense’s worst performance of the season — it was actually their worst outing since Week 13 of the 2018 campaign from an EPA per pass allowed standpoint.

With no Trevor Lawrence next week against the Fighting Irish and Uiagalelei having to go up against perhaps the best defense in college football, Clemson's pass coverage need to return to their early-season standard — when they were a top-three-graded unit.

2. Mac Jones and DeVonta Smith might be the best QB-WR connection in college football right now

At this point, Alabama quarterback Mac Jones has to be considered the favorite for the Heisman trophy. Obviously, I’m taking Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields over Jones in a heartbeat if I had to choose a quarterback to win a game with, but no one can deny that Jones has had the best year of any quarterback in college football up to this point. An argument can be made about BYU’s Zach Wilson, but considering the difference in competition level, Jones has the upper hand.

The Crimson Tide quarterback added another impressive game to his resume on Saturday against Mississippi State, producing an 80.0-plus PFF grade for the sixth time in six games this season. Jones did let a couple of turnover-worthy throws slip, but he made up for it with a multitude of big-time throws deep downfield. Jones completed four 20-plus-yard throws for 153 yards and two touchdowns, all of which were to his star wide receiver DeVonta Smith, who finished the game with 11 catches for 203 yards and four touchdowns.

Smith added another elite game to his grading profile on Saturday, and this outing now makes him the highest-graded wide receiver in college football. He showed off his route-running chops and his top-notch ball skills while connecting with Jones for a 154.9 passer rating when targeted.

The Heisman front-runner????

Mac Jones????DeVonta Smith

pic.twitter.com/DJNbhmuAJG

— PFF College (@PFF_College) October 31, 2020

3. Cincinnati might be the favorite to grab that last CFP spot

With Oklahoma State losing in overtime to Texas, Cincinnati will enter the top six in the AP Top 25, and that puts them right next to Notre Dame as the front-runners for the fourth and final spot in the CFP, assuming Ohio State, Alabama and Clemson occupy the first three spots.

After shutting down SMU, one of the Group of Five's best offenses in Week 8, Cincy did the same thing in Week 9 against Memphis. The Bearcats won by a whopping 39 points and held the Memphis passing attack to negative EPA per pass play for the first time this season. Overall on the season, Cincinnati has allowed positive EPA (i.e., a successful play for the offense) on 33.1% of their plays — the third-best rate in college football behind San Diego State and Clemson.

The best thing we saw from the Bearcats on Saturday wasn’t their defense. While the defensive unit played well relative to their counterparts, it was arguably their worst outing of the season. That says a lot about this unit, but quarterback Desmond Ridder finally made plays with his arm deep downfield. He had more deep passing yards against Memphis (109) than he had in the first four games combined (78). Ridder had a poor grade on throws of 10 or more yards downfield in his first four games at 67.3 but improved that mark to 88.8 against the Tigers.

If this type of play from Ridder comes back out against their next big test, UCF, here in a few weeks, I can’t see the Bearcats losing. They may not hang with whoever ends up grabbing the No. 1 seed in the CFP, but as of now, I think the Bearcats are the front-runners for that final spot.

OTHER NOTES/OBSERVATIONS

  • Maryland’s Taulia Tagovailoa looked like a completely different player in his second career start. He posted a 92.2 PFF grade against Minnesota — over 50 grading points higher than his first career start against Northwestern the week before. Tagovailoa made a lot of great plays off-structure, and his decision-making took a complete 180.
  • Justin Fields had another great day against the Nittany Lions, with few inaccurate balls to speak of. There was one turnover-worthy throw from him near the end of the first half when he locked in on his target Chris Olave on an out-route, and Penn State cornerback Joey Porter Jr. jumped it and dropped the interception, but that was one of just a couple of bad throws he had. Fields has now put up an 85% adjusted completion percentage on passes thrown 10-plus yards downfield to start the year, ranking first in the FBS by over six percentage points.
  • This year was a big year for cornerback Shaun Wade and his NFL Draft stock, as he made the transition from the slot to the outside. This week did not help him out at all. Wade went up against Penn State’s Jahan Dotson all game long, and he allowed six catches on eight targets for 119 yards and two touchdowns — with no plays on the ball.
  • The Notre Dame passing offense was efficient, but Ian Book didn't wow against a bad Georgia Tech defense. The quarterback posted a sub-60.0 passing grade with no big-time throws and a turnover-worthy play.
  • Well, we found out who Michigan really was, as they got taken down by Michigan State and struggled on both sides of the ball. Their outside corners combined to allow an FBS-high 11 first downs in coverage and put together the lowest coverage grade of the week. On the offensive side of the ball, Joe Milton had far too many missed throws and ranked 67th of 88 quarterbacks in Week 9 in negatively graded throw rate.

OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE WEEK

QB Matt Corral, Ole Miss

Who would have thought that this guy, who was two weeks removed from a six-interception performance and a 30.8 passing grade against Arkansas, would be the best player of Week 9 and have a record-breaking day? Not me!

Corral had himself a near-flawless outing in Ole Miss’ 54-21 win over Vanderbilt. His passing grade after the first review sits at an incredible 96.1. Not only is that the best single-game grade of 2020, but it’s also the best we have ever recorded in the PFF College era (since 2014, a minimum of 20 pass attempts). Corral was automatic when throwing over 10 yards downfield, completing 13-of-15 such passes for 271 yards and five touchdowns with five big-time throws. And of those two incompletions, just one of those was a flat-out uncatchable ball — his only not-so-good throw of the game.

DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE WEEK

Edge Daelin Hayes, Notre Dame

Hayes was a force to be reckoned with in the pass-rush and was constantly making Georgia Tech true freshman Jeff Sims’ job a lot more difficult. He had not one but two strip-sack fumbles and tacked on three additional pressures and a couple of other pass-rush wins on the day. That helped give him the highest pass-rush grade we have recorded in 2020 at the position and an impressive 35% win rate.

TRUE FRESHMAN OF THE WEEK

WR Ricky White, Michigan State

Just a week after catching one pass for 5 yards while dropping another, White busted off six explosive plays of 15-plus yards against Michigan and tied for the most yards per route run we have seen in 2020 by a Power Five wide receiver, at 7.54. There was no stopping the former three-star recruit for Michigan — he fried Vincent Gray on a double-move early in the second half then got him again on a nine-route later on in the quarter. He then won a couple of contested targets on other go balls in the game.

ARE YOU KIDDING ME, @Only1RW ???????? pic.twitter.com/CRyveLBPIe

— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) October 31, 2020

OFFENSIVE LINE OF THE WEEK

San Diego State Aztecs

In their 38-7 win against Utah State on Saturday, San Diego State’s line didn’t allow a single sack or hit on their quarterback and lost just three total reps on 29 pass plays. As phenomenal as that protection is, their collective run-blocking is the key reason they take home offensive line of the week. San Diego State had the fourth-most-efficient rushing attack of the week, averaged an astounding 7.9 yards per designed run play, and trailed only the Air Force triple-option for most designed rushing yards in Week 9 with 397. San Diego State’s offensive line presented the ball-carrier on average with 5 yards before contact — the second-highest of the week on those designed run plays.

Starting right tackle Zachary Thomas led the unit and was nearly perfect on the Aztecs’ zone concepts, receiving a 96.0 run-blocking grade on such plays. Thomas had a career day in Week 8 when he posted a 92.1 PFF grade and managed to top that here against the Aggies.

SECRET SUPERSTAR OF THE WEEK

QB Jack Sears, Boise State

Sears was one of the five highest-graded passers of Week 9, and he had the same amount of big-time throws as total incompletions (three). Of those three incompletions, only one was an inaccurate throw — one was a throwaway, and the other was a perfectly thrown ball that was broken up. He opened up the game with a play-action, 50-yard dime to C.T. Thomas that resulted in a touchdown, and connected with him again for a deep touchdown late in the third quarter. In all, Sears went a perfect 4-of-4 for 169 yards and three touchdowns on throws of 20-plus yards downfield.

THAT IS HOW YOU GET A GAME GOING!!

Jack Sears gets his @BroncoSportsFB career going with a TD just 10 seconds in. pic.twitter.com/prWRczWAi5

— CBS Sports Network (@CBSSportsNet) October 31, 2020

PLAY OF THE WEEK

It seems like we have a catch of the year candidate every week, so it’s no surprise to see that this time around it comes from San Jose State’s Tre Walker, who showed his top-notch body control on this toe-tapping touchdown:

What a catch by @SanJoseStateFB‘s @BambinoTre ???????????? pic.twitter.com/D7h33kxY7T

— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) November 1, 2020

AN EARLY LOOK AHEAD TO WEEK 10…

The fifth and final Power Five conference finally kicks off this next weekend, so you know what that means. PAC 12 after dark is BACK!

East Coast folks will get to enjoy Washington State vs. Oregon State and Washington vs. Cal at 10:30 p.m. ET kickoffs, but the perhaps the most intriguing game of the day is a noon eastern kickoff as Arizona State takes on USC. All eyes will be on true sophomore quarterback Kedon Slovis to see if he takes that next step forward to elite status after he dazzled with his accuracy in 2019, ranking behind only Joe Burrow in accurate passes thrown beyond the line of scrimmage.

Before we get to the PAC 12 on Saturday, though, we get a huge game on Friday night as the BYU Cougars take on the Boise State Broncos. Zach Wilson wasn’t as finely tuned as he has been on Saturday against Western Kentucky, but he still led BYU to one of the more efficient passing attacks of the week and put up a respectable 79.5 passing grade. This is the big opportunity for the Cougars to show that they are worthy of being considered a CFP team. It won’t be an easy task, as the Broncos have fielded the sixth-highest-graded defense over the last two weeks and second-most efficient passing attack.

Midday Saturday we get essentially an SEC Championship play-in game as the Georgia Bulldogs take on the Florida Gators. Dan Mullen has the Gators’ passing offense wheelin’ and dealin’ this year, and he has placed them in the conversation as one of the best in the country. After Week 9, Florida ranks sixth in the FBS in EPA per pass play generated, but they’ll have to face their toughest test of the year against Georgia as they have shut down every passing attack they have faced outside of Alabama.

October 24th, 1987 — that was the last time Indiana beat Michigan in football. This week, they’ll get them at home at Memorial Stadium and hope to end that streak and keep their undefeated record and high ranking alive. If they win this one, they will be inching closer to the top 10 in the AP poll for the first time since 1969.

As great as all these games are, none matters more than Clemson and Notre Dame. This one is bound to cause madness if the Fighting Irish are able to pull off the victory over the Trevor Lawrence-less Tigers.

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