Can Penn State squeeze into college football's front seat?
Confetti from a college football weekend, part 4.
There are dictators in this world who envy U.S. college football programs and their knack for mind control. Penn State decreed that everyone should wear white for Saturday’s game with Iowa. Most of the 110,830 did.
In turning Beaver Stadium into a giant snowbank, Penn State also buried the football and dared the 24th-ranked visitors to find it.
The result was a 31-0 victory and perhaps the trademark that the Nittany Lions needed to be taken seriously, at least before they try, yet again, to breach the Michigan-Ohio State blockade in the Big Ten.
Not only has Penn State failed to turn over the ball in four games, and is the only team to do so, but it held onto the ball for 45 minutes and 27 seconds. In a 60-minute game. If anyone has heard of a time-of-possession statistic that exceeds that, please pass it along. And this wasn’t against Delaware or UMass, who are both on Penn State’s schedule. Iowa had 20 yards rushing, 76 yards overall and four first downs.
The Hawkeyes began the second half with four three-and-outs and a fumble, and never got past the Penn State 25-yard-line. Their deepest penetration in the second half was Penn State’s 47.
Of course, a strong nor’easter could paralyze Iowa’s offense, too, and it has become a heavy wind in the face of offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz, whose dad Kirk is the head coach. There is suddenly a clause in Brian’s contract that requires Iowa to average 25 points and win seven games. If not, all bets are off when it expires next summer.
Twenty-five points? Iowa couldn’t have scored 25 against Penn State until the cows came home, which can take a long time in Iowa. The Hawkeyes only ran 33 plays, let alone points, at Penn State, which ran 97. At the moment Iowa has 85 points and three wins, after it beat Utah State, Iowa State and Western Michigan. There are no behemoths left on its schedule and quite a few tomato cans, so it’s possible that Ferentz can pull this off. But it’s odd that a school would saddle one of its coaches with another pressure point.
Penn State goes to Ohio State three games from now, plays at Maryland two weeks after that, and plays host to Michigan the week after that. It’s like having Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer in your half of the draw in every tennis tournament you play. Can the Nittany Lions split the double-team this time?
Well, they have a well-credentialed quarterback in Drew Allar, a 6-foot-5 sophomore who was the nation’s top QB recruit while in charge of the Medina High (Ohio) Battling Bees. That’s not to say he will be as productive as Trace McSorley, but he can loosen defenses for sophomore running backs Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen. Their own defense is airtight, having given up only 12 third-down conversions in four games.
The truth is that Penn State would be a CFP contender regardless of the unofficial stadium dress code, provided it can deal with a different kind of glare.
In other confetti from a college football weekend:
Florida State 31, Clemson 24 (OT)
— Just as Miami haunted Florida State in Bobby Bowden’s day, Clemson had become the orange cloud over Tallahassee. The Seminoles had not beaten the Tigers since 2014. That changed Saturday at Clemson, but not without duress. FSU needed a spectacular 24-yard TD catch by Keon Coleman in overtime to escape Death Valley.
— Clemson seemed the better team all day and had a chance to validate it when Jonathan Weitz lined up for a 29-yard field goal. Weitz had been the second-string kicker and left the program with one year of eligibility left, taking Clemson courses on-line. Dabo Swinney put out an SOS when his presumed kicker began struggling, and Weitz answered. But he steered his kick to the left, with 1:47 left, and the Seminoles were grateful to get to overtime.
— Clemson ran for 146 yards and got a 25-for-38 day from QB Cade Klubnik. The Tigers led 17-10 until Kalen DeLoach sacked Klubnik, recovered his fumble and took it 56 yards for a tying touchdown in the third quarter. It was Florida State’s 10th consecutive win and it was Clemson’s second ACC loss. Things have changed; this was the first time in seven seasons that the Tigers were underdogs at home.
Ohio State 17, Notre Dame 14
— The Buckeyes had snapped the ball seven times inside Notre Dame’s four yard line and come up with no points. But on the game’s final play, Chip Trayanum wedged his way to the goal line and scored the 1-yard touchdown that made the difference. Trayanum is a transfer from Arizona State who scored 10 touchdowns there but thought he was going to play linebacker in Columbus.
— Coach Ryan Day took the occasion to blister ex-Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz, who was on hand to commemorate the Irish’s 1988 national title but who also had said the Irish would win this game because Ohio State lacked physicality. “What he said about our team, I can’t believe,” Day said. “I don’t know where the narrative comes from, but it stops tonight.” However, it’s easier to be physical when the Notre Dame defense only has 10 men on the field, as it did on the final two plays.
— Kyle McCord brought back no memories of C.J. Stroud or J.T. Barrett (now the assistant QB coach of the Detroit Lions). But he did rise up when the time came, converting a fourth-and-7 and a third-and-19 (after an intentional grounding call) on Ohio State’s final drive. He also did it with little help from Marvin Harrison Jr., who injured an ankle and, even though he returned, could only manage three catches for 32 yards.
Alabama 24, Ole Miss 10
— It will be more difficult to take away Jalen MIlroe’s job this time. The quarterback sat out last week’s shaky win over South Florida, then went 17 for 21 against Ole Miss with a touchdown and a pick, and also ran 16 times. His 33-yarder to Jalen Hale gave ‘Bama a 17-7 third quarter lead.
— Had the game been closer, Nick Saban might have taken a third-quarter incident to the Supreme Court. The Crimson Tide was given only three downs after Roydell Williams appeared to fall short of a first down deep in Rebel territory. He actually gained first-down yardage, so Milroe’s sneak created a second down. Alabama was given only two plays before it got to fourth down, and kicked a field goal for a 9-7 lead when it could have gone for a touchdown.
— Ole Miss went 2-for-8 on third down conversions in the second half, and Alabama held Quinshon Judkins to 56 yards on 13 carries. Saban is now 29-3 when coaching against one of his former assistants, like Lane Kiffin of Ole Miss.
Oregon 42, Colorado 6
— Oregon coach Dan Lanning seemed particularly irked by the audacity of Deion Sanders and Colorado, along with their commerce, social-media impact and early success. Up by 21-0, Lanning ordered a fake punt, which was as successful as everything else Oregon tried in this no-contest.
— Bo Nix replaced Shadeur Sanders on the Heisman Hopeful list, as the Ducks sacked Sanders seven times. Oregon outgained Colorado 522–199, and Nix hit 28 of 33 passes for 276 yards. Colorado’s defensive malfunction wasn’t a surprise. The only team the Buffs have come close to stopping was Nebraska. And too much is being asked of Shadeur. Colorado hasn’t rushed for more than 72 yards in any game.
— In the pregame locker room, Lanning told the team that Colorado’s “Cinderella story” was about to end and that “they’re fighting for clicks, we’re fighting for wins.” As we know, Oregon hasn’t been shy about social-media engagements over the years, and Lanning seemed more pumped about beating a team that went 1-11 last year than seems reasonable. As for Deion, he called it a “good old fashioned butt kicking” and said the Buffs played like “hot garbage.” As for Lanning’s combativeness, Deion merely said, “Our confidence offends their insecurity.”
Utah 14, UCLA 7
— The Utes have won the Pac-12 the past two years and seem determined to become the league’s last champ. They sacked UCLA freshman quarterback Dante Moore seven times, three and a half by Jonah Elliss, and denied the Bruins on 14 of 17 third downs.
— But the Bruins (3-1) might have the defense to make a run at their first Pac-12 title since 1989. Utah got a 21-yard interception TD from Karene Reid on the first play of the game and only scored one touchdown thereafter. In the second half UCLA forced punts on all six Utah possessions. Cameron Rising, the quarterback who has led Utah to the past two Rose Bowls and gotten hurt in both of them, still hasn’t played.
— Moore was 15 for 35, and the longest UCLA rushing play went 12 yards. Counting the championship games, Utah has won 18 of its last 21 games against Pac-12 teams.
Washington State 38, Oregon State 35
— No quarterback is playing better than WSU’s Cameron Ward, who now has 13 touchdown passes and no interceptions. Against the Beavers, Ward went 28 for 34 with four scores, as the homestanding Cougars led 35-14 after three quarters. At one point he completed 14 consecutive throws.
— Kyle Williams and Josh Kelly caught 15 of those passes for 333 yards, and Washington State hassled D.J. Uiagalelei into a 17 for 34 night.
— These schools are the two orphans abandoned by the Pac-12’s impending dissolution, and neither knows which league will adopt them in 2024, if any. Fans in Pullman held signs proclaiming this game “the Pac-2 championship.” Said Jake Dickert, who is now 14-9 as the Cougars’ coach: “I’ll say it again. We belong.”