National

After Further Review: Alabama's uncharacteristic loss, Penn State's abysmal showing, Notre Dame's good vibes vanish

There are so many games over the course of a college football weekend that some slip through the cracks and others require further examination the next day. Before we turn the page to Week 8, here’s a closer look at some of the most interesting outcomes of Week 7.

Tennessee 52, Alabama 49

When Texas A&M's anemic offense found success moving the ball through the air against Alabama, it seemed like a sign that the Crimson Tide could be in for a long day defensively against Tennessee. But 52 points? That was unexpected.

Alabama puts defensive backs into the NFL at an incredible rate, so it was remarkable to see Jalin Hyatt and the rest of the Tennessee receiving corps running free through Nick Saban's secondary over and over again. Hyatt had an incredible day, catching six passes for 207 yards and five touchdowns. Yes, five.

Alabama also had a whopping 17 penalties in the loss. So many things about the game were wholly uncharacteristic of Saban-coached teams, yet Bama fans shouldn’t go into panic mode just yet.

When you've got Bryce Young on your team, you're going to win most games you play. After missing the A&M game with a shoulder injury, Young was incredible on Saturday. He threw for 455 yards and two touchdowns and was so close to guiding the Tide to a victory in the final minute.

With the score tied 49-49, Alabama had a first-and-10 at the Tennessee 32-yard line with 34 seconds remaining in regulation. On first down, Young threw the ball away. On second down, he found star running back Jahmyr Gibbs over the middle for what should have been a big gain. But Gibbs dropped the pass. Had he caught it, Alabama would have been in position for a chip shot field goal to win. Instead, after another incompletion on third down, Alabama had a try from 50 yards out. It missed and there were still 15 seconds on the clock.

That set up the heroics from Hendon Hooker and the Tennessee offense. Hooker completed passes of 18 and 27 yards to put Chase McGrath in position to connect on his game winning 40-yard field goal as time expired.

It was a brutal turn of events for Alabama, which saw its 15-game winning streak over Tennessee snapped. But with Young on the field and a very navigable schedule ahead, you should still expect to see Alabama in Atlanta for the SEC title game in December.

- Sam Cooper

Michigan 41, Penn State 17

It’s no secret that Penn State has frequently come up short in big games under head coach James Franklin. Following Saturday’s beatdown in Ann Arbor, PSU is now 2-14 against Top 10 teams during Franklin’s tenure. A lot of those games were very close. This one wasn’t.

Michigan’s physicality in the trenches is no secret. The Wolverines rode a fantastic rushing offense to a Big Ten title and College Football Playoff appearance last season, but it was still startling to see just how dominant Michigan was against the Nittany Lions. The numbers speak for themselves: 55 rushes, 418 yards, four touchdowns. Domination.

Michigan moved the ball at will from the opening series, but Penn State held on three of UM’s four red zone trips in the first half. By that point, Michigan had already run 53 plays to Penn State’s 14. So even when Penn State took a 17-16 lead early in the third quarter, it felt like only a matter of time before the dam broke.

And boy did it break. A 67-yard touchdown run from Donovan Edwards was the first leak. And then a 61-yard burst from Blake Corum broke the game wide open.

All the while, Penn State's offense sputtered. Sean Clifford broke loose for a 62-yard run to set up the team's lone offensive touchdown. And then a pick-six that bounced off two PSU defenders and into the arms of Curtis Jacobs improbably gave the Nittany Lions a 14-13 lead. That score was nowhere near reflective of the game being played.

It's easy to pin what transpired on the defense. The line was manhandled and the linebackers were frequently out of position or taking poor angles. But the offense was just as much to blame. PSU's defense has kept it in so many games in recent seasons as the offense sputtered. In this one, it looked like the offense had no plan. With freshman running backs Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen getting bottled up by the Michigan front, PSU offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich had nothing to pivot to. Even with the Michigan pass rush getting in Clifford's face, many of Penn State's passing plays were slow developing and toward the sideline.

Even with Jahan Dotson now in the NFL, Penn State has a solid receiving corps. Parker Washington and Mitchell Tinsley are good Big Ten players, yet there wasn't enough of an effort to get them the ball with room to make plays after the catch — Washington especially. Clifford is a sixth-year senior and in his second season with Yurcich. Yurcich and Franklin should know how to play to Clifford's strengths.

To have this kind of performance coming off a bye week does not reflect positively on this coaching staff. Other than a visit from Ohio State, Penn State has a manageable schedule ahead with a path to nine or even 10 wins. If this staff can't maximize this season with Clifford at the helm, the allure of turning the page to five-star freshman Drew Allar will get only stronger.

- Sam Cooper

Stanford 16, Notre Dame 14

The Cardinal’s 11-game losing streak against teams at the top level of college football is over.

Stanford squeaked by Notre Dame on Saturday night to move to 2-4 on the season and get its first win over an FBS opponent since upsetting then-No. 3 Oregon 31-24 in overtime on Oct. 2, 2021. It’s also Stanford’s first win over Notre Dame since a 38-20 win over the Fighting Irish in 2017.

The victory wasn't pretty. While Tanner McKee was 26-of-38 for 288 yards passing, Stanford was forced to kick three field goals and needed to force two Notre Dame turnovers to seal the win. Audric Estime appeared to put Notre Dame in position to take the lead with less than seven minutes to go, but he fumbled at the end of a 22-yard run and the Irish never got back into Stanford territory.

The win doesn't all of the sudden mean Stanford is a contender in the Pac-12; the Cardinal have games against UCLA and Utah remaining on the schedule and play Washington State in between. It's still a huge victory for a program that was looking for one. Stanford entered the 2021 season boasting that it was the only team in the country to play 12 Power Five opponents. And while the season got off to a 3-2 start, it went off the rails in the second half and those struggles carried over into 2022.

Notre Dame, meanwhile, is 3-3 overall and 1-2 at home. Saturday's loss means that it's the first time since 2007 that neither Notre Dame nor Stanford had a winning record after their matchup.

All the good vibes from the Irish's wins over North Carolina and BYU are gone as the Irish have games at an undefeated Syracuse in Week 9 and against an undefeated Clemson in Week 10. It's not a stretch to say that Notre Dame could find itself 4-5 after playing Clemson on Nov. 5.

- Nick Bromberg

Texas 24, Iowa State 21

It's been excruciating to be an Iowa State fan over the past month. The Cyclones started the season 3-0 and got a 10-7 win over Iowa in Week 2. It was easy for an Iowa State fan to be optimistic, even with Breece Hall and Brock Purdy no longer on the roster.

But ISU now sits at 3-4 after the first four games of Big 12 play. And its last three losses have been especially close. After losing 31-24 at home to Baylor, Iowa State was a good kicking day away from a win in a 14-11 loss at Kansas. Kansas State then came to Ames and won an ugly Farmaggedon 10-9 and the Cyclones' late comeback against Texas ultimately fell short thanks to two brutal mistakes late in the fourth quarter Saturday.

ISU took its first lead since the first quarter when Hunter Dekkers scored on an 11-yard TD run with 11 minutes to go. Texas responded with an 11-play drive to re-take the lead on a Xavier Worthy TD catch on fourth down.

Iowa State should have been in position to have first-and-goal to grab the lead again.

Wide receiver Xavier Hutchinson had been phenomenal over the course of the game in Austin. He finished with 10 catches for 154 yards as Texas' secondary couldn't cover him. And he got wide open on ISU's final drive of the game. He just couldn't make the catch as he somehow dropped a pass all alone inside the Texas 10 with 2:35 to go.

Hutchinson came back to get a crucial third-down catch two plays later and get Iowa State into field-goal range but that was ISU’s penultimate play of the game. Dekkers got smashed by multiple defenders while running with the football on the very next play and fumbled.

The Cyclones are currently the only team without a win in the Big 12 heading into their bye week. But we're not exactly sure if Iowa State is the worst team in an exceptionally even and deep Big 12 given the nature of its losses. And given Iowa State's propensity for close games this season, don't be surprised if it gives Oklahoma State and TCU scares in November. The Cyclones are going to get an unexpected victory if they keep playing hard.

- Nick Bromberg

Purdue 43, Nebraska 37

The Purdue offense rolled up over 600 yards on Saturday night in the Boilermakers’ win. And yet the Huskers were still in the game at the start of the fourth quarter.

Purdue jumped out to a 17-point lead in the second quarter before Nebraska cut the deficit to two touchdowns before halftime. The Huskers scored 17 points in the third quarter to trim Purdue’s lead to four and spur some hope in Lincoln and Omaha. But Purdue countered with 9 straight points to open the fourth quarter and keep Nebraska at an arm’s length for the rest of the game.

Nebraska was in the game thanks to an interception, a blocked punt and a missed field goal by Purdue. Without those three events, there's no telling how close the game would have actually been. Purdue had 38 first downs to Nebraska's 15 and had the ball for nearly 43 minutes. Nebraska put up 37 points in just 17:18 because it averaged 12 yards per pass. But Casey Thompson also threw two interceptions.

The win moves Purdue to 3-1 in the Big Ten and positions the Boilermakers near the top of a very mediocre Big Ten West. Who'd have thought the biggest game of the year in the division would happen in Champaign? Purdue and Illinois are currently tied atop the West and face each other Nov. 12. That game could end up being for the right to play in the Big Ten title game.

At the moment, it's hard to see anyone else getting there from the conference. Minnesota is the only other team in the division that has an overall record over .500 and the Gophers lost to Illinois on Saturday as QB Tanner Morgan left the game with an injury. Nebraska remarkably finds itself in third place in the division at 2-2 and hosts Illinois in two weeks. If Nebraska gets a win, the West race could get even closer.

- Nick Bromberg

Extra points

North Carolina 38, Duke 35: Quietly, UNC is sitting in a great position in the ACC Coastal. Despite a terrible defense, the Tar Heels are finding ways to win games. UNC is now 6-1 with a 3-0 mark in conference play and sits alone atop the Coastal standings after a dramatic road win over much-improved Duke. The Blue Devils stormed back from a 10-point deficit to take a 35-31 lead in the fourth quarter, but the Tar Heels' Drake Maye made big plays in the final minutes to get his team a win. The freshman QB led the Tar Heels on a nine-play, 74-yard drive that was capped off by a game-winning touchdown pass to Antoine Green with 16 seconds left in regulation. Maye threw for 380 yards and three TDs in the win. He also rushed for 70 yards. He's just a true freshman, but he already looks like one of the best quarterbacks in the ACC.

Michigan State 34, Wisconsin 28 (2OT): MSU desperately needed a win and it found a way to get it done. Entering the weekend, MSU had lost four straight games all by a double-digit margin. Things were getting ugly for Mel Tucker's group, so the Spartans really needed to find a way to pull off an upset of Wisconsin before the bye week. They got it done. MSU allowed a fourth-down touchdown with 2:04 remaining and then badly botched sending its field goal unit on the field for a game-winning try at the end of regulation. But MSU regrouped in overtime and got the win, thanks in part to a Wisconsin fumble. With Michigan, Illinois and Penn State — all on the road — still on the schedule, a bowl feels like a long shot. At least there are reasons to feel good in East Lansing for the time being.

LSU 45, Florida 35: Defense was apparently optional in The Swamp on Saturday. Florida and LSU combined for 80 points, but Florida's defense looked especially porous. LSU's offense hadn't impressed to this point in the season but managed to score touchdowns on its first six possessions. The Tigers had TD drives of 75, 73, 75, 83, 75 and 88 yards en route to a 42-21 lead. It's a major concern for a Florida group that has not shown much consistency in Year 1 under head coach Billy Napier. Now 4-3 on the season entering a bye week, the Gators need to regroup before facing off with No. 1 Georgia on Oct. 29. Getting to bowl eligibility for this team is no guarantee.