College News & Analysis

College Football Week 9: PFF’s Team of the Week and Player Awards

The final stretch of the 2021 college football season is fast approaching, which means playoff talk is getting louder and award races are starting to heat up. And after historically good performances from Michigan State running back Kenneth Walker III and Oklahoma quarterback Caleb Williams, the race for the Heisman Trophy — the most prestigious award in college football — got just that little bit tighter.

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 9 of the 2021 college football season.

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QB: Caleb Williams, Oklahoma Sooners
RB: Kenneth Walker III, Michigan State Spartans
RB: Terion Stewart, Bowling Green Falcons
WR: Jake Bailey, Rice Owls
WR: Deven Thompkins, Utah State Aggies
WR: Tre Turner, Virginia Tech Hokies
TE: Peyton Hendershot, Indiana Hoosiers
LT: Bamidele Olaseni, Utah Utes
LG: Shamarious Gilmore, Georgia State Panthers
C: Nathan Eldridge, Oregon State Beavers
RG: Connor Wood, Missouri Tigers
RT: Logan Bruss, Wisconsin Badgers


DI: Jalen Carter, Georgia Bulldogs
DI: Dion Novil, North Texas Mean Green
Edge: Deangelo Malone, Western Kentucky Hilltoppers
Edge: David Ojabo, Michigan Wolverines
LB: Jalen Graham, Purdue Boilermakers
LB: Nakobe Dean, Georgia Bulldogs
CB: Tyrique Stevenson, Miami Hurricanes
CB: Charles Brantley, Michigan State Spartans
S: Ji’Ayir Brown, Penn State Nittany Lions
S: Daniel Isom, Washington State Cougars
Flex: Jalen Pitre, Baylor Bears

Offensive Player of the Week: RB Kenneth Walker III, Michigan State Spartans

Kenny Heisman.

In less than a year, Kenneth Walker III has gone from a quality veteran back for Wake Forest to a legitimate Heisman contender for Michigan State.

Walker entered this Week 9 game — the Spartans' biggest game of the 2021 season — as one of the highest-graded and most elusive ball carriers in college football, and he sustained his elite level of play despite facing the highest-graded run-defense in college football. The Michigan State back earned a 90.8 rushing grade across 23 attempts against the Wolverines, breaking 13 tackles and averaging 7.0 yards after contact per attempt in the process.

Highest single-game rushing grade vs. Michigan in the PFF College Era
Player Rushing Grade
1. Kenneth Walker, Michigan State (2021) 90.8
2. Dalvin Cook, Florida State (2016) 88.4
3. Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin (2019) 81.6

Three of his five touchdowns came on a run of 20 or more yards, even though Michigan had given up only one 20-plus-yard touchdown run on the year before this weekend.

After this standout performance, it’s fair to say that he should be the leader in the clubhouse for the Heisman Trophy.

Defensive Player of the Week: LB Jalen Graham, Purdue Boilermakers

Graham came away with two clutch interceptions against Nebraska in Week 9, one of which he took to the end zone for Purdue’s first score of the game. It was just business as usual for the Purdue linebacker, who has had a standout year dropping into zone and limiting big plays. 

Graham added two passing stops and allowed 13 total yards in his coverage. For the 2021 season, Graham has allowed only 80 yards in total, with seven plays on the ball and seven total passing stops. He put on a dominant performance Saturday that helped Purdue beat Nebraska outright as underdogs.

True Freshman of the Week: QB Caleb Williams, Oklahoma Sooners

The Sooners' five-star quarterback takes home PFF’s True Freshman of the Week Award for the fourth straight week, thanks to yet another 90.0-plus PFF grade.

Williams earned a 92.8 PFF grade against Texas Tech on first review, the highest of any Power Five quarterback this week. And while he did have one turnover-worthy throw, but that was one of just a few mistakes on the day. 

The Oklahoma quarterback completed six of his seven deep pass attempts over 20 yards downfield for 218 yards and three touchdowns. He totaled six touchdowns on passes thrown over 10 yards downfield, which is the most by any FBS quarterback in the 2021 season.

Williams now boasts a 94.8 overall grade through Week 9 of his true freshman campaign and is on track to record the highest single-season PFF grade ever given to a first-year player.

Offensive Line of the Week: Notre Dame Fighting Irish

After their disastrous start to the 2021 season, few would have expected this unit to take home PFF Offensive Line of the Week honors this year. However, the group has found its footing of late.

The Irish linemen enjoyed their best game of the season in pass protection on Saturday. For the first time in 2021, the Notre Dame offensive line wasn’t responsible for a single sack or hit on the quarterback; they allowed only three pressures on 28 dropbacks for the night and were instrumental in Notre Dame's offensive success.

Notre Dame Offensive Line in 2021
First 5 Games Last 3 Games
60.5 PFF Grade 85.8
68.7 Pass-Block Grade 84.5
58.9 Run-Block Grade 86.8
31.7% Pressure Rate Allowed 13.5%
20 Sacks + Hits Allowed 2

Secret Superstar of the Week: Edge David Ojabo, Michigan Wolverines

The 6-foot-5, 240-pound edge defender grew up in Scotland, where he played soccer and basketball before moving to the United States and becoming a track and basketball star. He didn't pick up football until his junior year of high school after the Rutgers head football coach called him and told him to do so. Ojabo did, and he received 35 offers after his first season playing and learning alongside former Penn State Nittany Lion and now Baltimore Raven Odafe Oweh.

Ojabo ended up at Michigan and hardly played in his first two years, but he is now playing a featured role in the Wolverines’ defense and destroying the offensive linemen in front of him.

On first review, Ojabo earned a 93.4 pass-rush grade against Michigan State on Saturday, with a 30.4% win rate and three combined sacks and hits on the quarterback. Now, Ojabo owns a 90.7 pass-rush grade for the 2021 season, making him one of nine Power Five edge defenders with a grade above 90.0 through Week 9.

Play of the Week: Notre Dame running back Kyren Williams turning what would have been a loss into a 91-yard score

Very few running backs are able to avoid the dreaded negative play when they are hit five yards behind the line of scrimmage, but Notre Dame’s Kyren Williams did just that this weekend by stiff-arming a defender into the turf and taking the run 91 yards into the end zone.

This play bolstered the Irish’s win probability from 77.3% to 93.7%, and it was one of Williams' five explosive runs of 10-plus yards against the Tar Heels.

Biggest Game-Changing Moment: Marcus Jones‘ game-winning 100-yard kickoff return

SMU and Houston were tied at 37 apiece with 30 seconds left to play and staring overtime in the face. However, Houston cornerback and return specialist Marcus Jones turned the game in another direction as he took the SUM kickoff 100 yards to the house. 

This game had major ramifications, as the winner would be all but locked into the AAC title game with Cincinnati. Jones’ go-ahead kickoff return for a touchdown wasn’t just the biggest play of Week 9, but it was the biggest play of Houston’s season.

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