Wednesday, July 17, 2024

College football Week 4 overreactions: Ohio State silences doubters, Clemson has a Dabo Swinney problem

College football’s highly anticipated fourth week is officially in the books, and it lived up to the hype. Three of the six matchups between ranked teams came down to one possession, while top-15 teams like Florida State and LSU were pushed to the brink against unranked competition. 

Granted, Florida State’s unranked competition was Clemson, a team it hadn’t defeated since 2015. Coach Mike Norvell answered his biggest challenge yet with a thrilling overtime win against the ACC powerhouse, shifting the dynamics in a conference typically dominated by the Tigers. 

Notre Dame and Ohio State squared off in a game that had the big-time feel of a College Football Playoff semifinal. The Fighting Irish watched a late lead slip away when the Buckeyes rose to the moment with a go-ahead touchdown in the final seconds. The Pac-12 had another big day anchored by a thrilling contest between its two holdovers, Oregon State and Washington State. The Cougars held on for a 38-35 win in a showcase of what the other conference schools are leaving behind. 

There’s a lot to take away from such a loaded slate, so here are the biggest overreactions we could pull from an exciting weekend of action. 

Don’t question Ohio State’s physicality

Calling out Lou Holtz after beating Notre Dame was a weird move for Buckeyes coach Ryan Day, but we can chalk it up to pent up frustration. The biggest criticism Day’s tenure at Ohio State has been a perceived lack of physicality. While that may have been true in the past — particularly in losses to Michigan — the Buckeyes showed Saturday that they’re as tough as any team in the nation. 

Notre Dame’s defensive game plan was obvious: Do everything possible to take away the passing game and make Ohio State win at the line of scrimmage. And win the Buckeyes did, with both touchdowns coming on the ground. TreVeyon Henderson had 14 carries for 104 yards, averaging well over 7 yards per touch. 

Ohio State’s offensive line had its best game of the year against its toughest competition yet, allowing just two tackles for loss and one sack. Even Ohio State’s defense was up for the challenge. The Buckeyes held Notre Dame scoreless for almost three whole quarters and stopped the Irish in plus territory three times during their first five offensive drives. 

Clemson has a Dabo Swinney problem 

Clemson’s offensive assistants received a lot of the blame for the football program’s sharp downturn over the last couple of years. At some point, though, it’s time to direct criticism towards the coach. Swinney went against his own philosophy by going outside of his circle and hiring Garrett Riley as offensive coordinator, but the early returns aren’t great. That’s strange for a guy who developed a Heisman Trophy finalist (TCU quarterback Max Duggan) and engineered the nation’s No. 9 scoring offense just last season. It’s not like Riley suddenly forgot how to run an offense. Rather, Clemson’s offensive issues can be chalked up to its inability to effectively recruit and develop multiple elite skill position players since the Trevor Lawrence years. That falls on Swinney, as does his refusal to properly use the transfer portal to address any outstanding issues. 

A lot of what went wrong in Clemson’s loss to Florida State also falls on Swinney. He completely mismanaged the Tigers’ final drive by playing for a field goal with a kicker who wasn’t even on the roster last week. Clemson has cycled through assistants, but Swinney is the constant. He has to find answers quickly, or his team is going to fall further and further behind.

Florida State’s CFP path is far from a cakewalk 

No one would be wrong to think that Florida State cleared its biggest hurdle yet by beating Clemson. The last time the Seminoles walked into Death Valley and beat the Tigers, they went on to win the national championship. It might also be easy to look around the ACC, which has six teams at .500 or worse, and seriously wonder if anyone can challenge Florida State. 

But the Seminoles still face many potential pitfalls. That Oct. 21 game against Duke will be a huge challenge. The Blue Devils beat Clemson by 21 points in Week 1 and should be considered serious contenders in the ACC. Miami (Nov. 11) looks like it’s on its way up as well, led by a resurgent Tyler Van Dyke at quarterback. 

Florida State cannot rest on its laurels just because it got the Tiger-sized monkey off its back — a lesson that it should have learned a week ago against Boston College. Its path to the playoff is tough enough, though the perception around the ACC may suggest otherwise. 

Cameron Ward, say hello to the Heisman Trophy race

The Washington State quarterback deserves to be a household name. Those that didn’t know learned about him Saturday. Ward put on a masterclass against a strong Oregon State defense, completing 82.4% of his passes for 404 yards and four touchdowns. 

On the stat sheet, he is outperforming likely NFL first-round picks Drake Maye and Caleb Williams. Ward’s passing numbers stand up against any name in the country. After struggling with decision-making last year, Ward is now just one of two FBS quarterbacks with at least 1,000 yards passing and no interceptions. He also has three touchdowns on the ground. Ward is the catalyst behind Washington State’s 4-0 start — its best since 2017 — and the reason why the Cougars have high hopes in the Pac-12 this year. For that, he belongs in the Heisman conversation. 

Alabama’s biggest issues haven’t vanished

Alabama’s comfortable 24-10 win against Ole Miss was a nice rebound after a tough couple of weeks. Jalen Milroe is clearly the answer at quarterback. No one else should take any snaps the rest of the year unless Milroe gets hurt or the game is already out of hand. Nick Saban may have resolved his quarterback question, but the Crimson Tide still have serious issues exiting their big win. 

The offensive line looked no better than it did a week ago when it allowed five sacks against USF. Ole Miss was able to get to Milroe four times, marking the third straight game in which Alabama’s allowed at least four sacks. Milroe’s athleticism makes up for it some, but he still needs time to process plays and make throws. 

Alabama also stills struggles to finish drives. The Crimson Tide had five red zone possessions and scored just one touchdown against the Rebels. Otherwise, it settled for three field goals and a Milroe interception. Alabama gave Ole Miss plenty of chances to keep this game competitive and maybe even come out with a win, but the Rebels didn’t capitalize. Saban’s squad won’t be so fortunate all year.  

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