Four Downs on Week 4: Utah Goes Scorched Earth on Oregon


What a wildly, wonderfully bizarre Saturday Week 4 produced. For those who doubt just how profoundly one week can change the college football, look no further than Oregon.

The Ducks kickoff Four Downs for Week 4.

First Down: Utah Lays Waste to The Duck Dynasty

If Alabama’s one-score loss to Ole Miss in Week 3 revealed cracks in the foundation of the Crimson Tide dynasty, Oregon’s 62-20 defeat at the hands of Utah Week 4 was the Visigoths sacking Rome.

The Utes laid siege to Autzen Stadium as no opponent has. Sure, the Ducks sustained home defeats in recent years — many, in fact. But Autzen losses to USC in 2011, Stanford in 2012 and Arizona in 2014 were all single-score decisions.

Moreover, Oregon rallied from the 2011 and 2014 home defeats to win the Pac-12.

What Utah perpetrated Saturday night, however, was different. The Utes attacked fundamental deficiencies in Oregon football that can’t be remedied without completely overhauling.

Much as the Visigoth’s pillaging of Rome in 410 was a prelude to the fall of the Western Roman Empire, we may look back on Week 4 as the Ducks’ vulnerability being irrevocably exposed.

The inexperience of Oregon’s secondary had been exploited in each of the previous three contests against Eastern Washington, Michigan State and Georgia State, but Utah took it to another level with quarterback Travis Wilson throwing for four touchdowns and running back Devontae Booker tossing a fifth.

Booker’s touchdown pass was just filthy. That wasn’t merely salt in the wound; more like a tap-dance on the burning wreckage of the Oregon empire.

The Ducks have had defensive problems they ironed out before, but the offense buoyed them while doing so. Oregon has now failed to score 30 points against two physical defenses, and against Utah, was especially putrid.

Vernon Adams’ broken finger complicated matters, but the offensive line was disrespected by #SackLakeCity both in pass protection and run-blocking.

Oregon became the preeminent Pacific power in 2009, the same season USC’s seven-season stranglehold on the West relented. If there was any one moment that captured the fall of the Trojan Empire, it was USC’s 55-21 blowout loss to Stanford.

Oregon’s loss tonight has the same feel, with Booker’s touchdown pass functioning as the proverbial, What’s your deal?

Second Down: Fortune Favors The Bold

Week 4 proved the value of risk-taking, nowhere more than in The Swamp. Butch Jones went conservative with his decision to take the safe extra point following Jalen Hurd’s touchdown rush in the fourth quarter.

And why not? It’s not like the Florida offense is built to score a pair of touchdowns in 10 minutes. Technically, that’s true — the Gators’ two, fourth-quarter strikes were just three minutes apart.

After mounting just two scoring drives through the first 56 minutes, one of which began just 29 yards from the goal line, the Florida offense looked bless.

Credit the Football Gods, who rewarded Jim McElwain for going for it on fourth down five times, while punishing Jones for his frugal PAT call.

Before you strain your eyes rolling them back, consider Florida’s game-winning play, a 63-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Will Grier to Antonio Callaway, came on fourth down.

Third Down: Living Well Is The Best Revenge

Georgia Tech dropped its second straight Saturday and began its defense of the ACC Coastal in a hole with a loss at Duke. The Yellow Jacket offense has been uncharacteristically sluggish the last two weeks.

Conversely, points have come in bunches for former Georgia Tech quarterback Vad Lee and his undefeated James Madison Dukes.

James Madison went to 4-0 with its 48-45 defeat of SMU. Lee provided offense in the Dukes win — oh, did he provide offense — exceeding 500 total yards on his own, and approaching 600 individual yards.

That’s right: Vad Lee went for 289 yards and three passing touchdowns, with another 276 rushing yards and two more touchdowns. His fifth score of the night won it for the Dukes.

Lee was a finalist for the 2014 Walter Payton Award, given to the top offensive player in the FCS. Last year’s winner, Villanova quarterback John Robertson, is out with injury. Fellow runner-up Vernon Adams is battling his own struggles now in the FBS at Oregon.

Lee is looking like a strong front-runner for the 2015 Payton Award.

Fourth Down: College Football’s Best Division?

Pundits argued throughout the offseason whether the SEC West or Pac-12 South was college football’s best division. In theory, these were clearly the two pace-setters. In practice? Well…

In the SEC West, Auburn and Arkansas are a combined 3-5. Both were expected to compete for the division championship. The Razorbacks let a late lead slip away against Texas A&M Saturday. Ole Miss, coming off a win at Alabama, nearly slipped up against Vanderbilt.

In the Pac-12 South, Arizona State’s performed well below expectations. The Sun Devils were drilled at home by USC, which was fresh off a home loss to Stanford. Arizona was similarly blown out by UCLA at home.

Utah and UCLA carry the South’s banner, but are the division’s only unbeatens.

Meanwhile, American Athletic West division teams Houston and Navy both moved to 3-0 Saturday. With Memphis’ win Thursday over Cincinnati, the AAC West has more undefeated teams than either the Pac-12 South or SEC West.

Of course, these things are subjective. The only Power Five conference wins the AAC West has thus far are over Kansas and Louisville.

But then, Tulsa gave Oklahoma reason to sweat in Week 3. Hmm…

In no way am I contending the American Athletic West would beat either the Pac-12 South or SEC West in a crossover challenge a la basketball’s ACC-Big Ten Challenge. But, in the context of its own level, the American Athletic West might be the best division.

Navy, Houston and Memphis all look like viable championship contenders. Ditto Tulsa, which has been explosive offensively under first-year head coach Philip Montgomery.

The AAC West also has a dark-horse Heisman contender in Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds. If Reynolds continues to have the kind of performances he put together Saturday against UConn, he really should enter the Heisman conversation.

His three rushing touchdown, one passing score effort Saturday comes on the heels of rushing for five touchdowns against East Carolina — the same East Carolina that beat Virginia Tech in Week 4.

Reynolds has history in his sights.