Under heavy scrutiny since the start of last season, No. 5 Clemson’s offense drove a 51-45 win against No. 16 Wake Forest that may represent a major turning point as the Tigers attempt to return to the top of the ACC and the College Football Playoff.
The face of Clemson’s struggles on offense, junior quarterback DJ Uiagalelei threw for 371 yards and five touchdowns to keep pace with Wake Forest’s Sam Hartman, who finished with 337 yards and a school-record six scores.
Asked to lead the Tigers to a must-have win, this offense delivered a second 500-yard game in a row — doing so for the first time since 2020 — and a resounding response to the questions and doubts that had been gathering for more than a year.
Uiagalelei’s performance was his best since his freshman year, when he had two superb starts as the replacement for an injured Trevor Lawrence. Sophomore running back Will Shipley ran for 104 bruising yards and a touchdown, his seventh.
Talk about a shift in the conversation: Clemson now might face more issues on defense than on offense after failing to keep Hartman and the Demon Deacons under wraps.
TOP 25 RUNDOWN:Scores and results from the biggest games in Week 4
An inexperienced and thin secondary is the Tigers’ weakest link after giving up at least 250 passing yards for the third game in a row. Wake is the third team to throw for at least four touchdowns without an interception against Dabo Swinney-coached Clemson and the second with six scores, joining Ohio State in the 2021 Sugar Bowl.
Even a defensive front loaded with talent was mostly held in check by Wake’s veteran offensive line, though this group stepped up late in the fourth quarter and in overtime.
Next week pits Clemson against No. 11 North Carolina State, which has a potent passing game of its own behind quarterback Devin Leary. If the offense puts together another strong performance and the defense rebounds against an elite opponent, the Tigers will have earned a seat among the top four teams in the country.
Clemson, Wake Forest and others make the cut for this week’s list of winners and losers:
This is a team and a program quickly on the rise in the SEC East. No. 12 Tennessee reversed years of futility in the rivalry and beat No. 22 Florida 38-33, putting even more wind into the Volunteers’ sails in what is shaping up to be a breakout second season under coach Josh Heupel. His work with Hendon Hooker is what really stands out: After failing to get off the ground at Virginia Tech, he’s thrown 39 touchdowns and just three interceptions since arriving in Knoxville, including 349 yards and two scores against the Gators. Tennessee had topped Florida just once since 2005.
The best story in college football continues: Kansas stayed unbeaten by beating Duke 35-27 behind another red-hot Saturday from quarterback Jalon Daniels, who has played his way into early Heisman Trophy contention. Daniels completed 19 of 23 throws for 324 yards, ran a team-leading 83 yards and had five touchdowns, giving him 15 scores and just one turnover on the year. Picked to improve in coach Lance Leipold’s second year but still top out around four wins, the Jayhawks are now headed for bowl eligibility and Leipold becomes one of the hottest coaches on the market.
The Fighting Irish are beginning to right the ship after a rough start under coach Marcus Freeman. Like Clemson, a stumbling offense sparked a key win: Notre Dame gained 576 yards, 287 on the ground, and beat North Carolina 45-32 for a second victory in a row after losing to Ohio State and Marshall to open the year. Behind a great game plan from coordinator Tommy Rees, quarterback Drew Pyne threw for 289 yards and three scores.
Beating previously unbeaten Iowa State 31-24 asserts No. 17 Baylor’s place among the top teams in the Big 12 and brings some clarity to the conference race heading into October. The win also saw a rebound from first-year starting quarterback Blake Shapen, who struggled in the Bears’ loss to No. 23 Brigham Young and last week’s win against Texas State but hit on 19 of 26 passes for 238 yards and three touchdowns against the Cyclones. ISU came into Saturday allowing quarterbacks to complete just 51.4% of their throws and giving up only 5.2 yards per attempt.
Forget Kansas. Is James Madison the success story of the season? In the program’s first year in the Bowl Subdivision, the longtime Championship Subdivision power remained unbeaten by scoring the game’s final 29 points to shock Appalachian State on the road 32-28. Once down 28-3, the Dukes gained some momentum with a 75-yard scoring drive near the end of the second quarter and then scored twice on a short field in the second half to pull off a major Group of Five upset.
The Mario Cristobal honeymoon is over, and quickly. After losing a winnable game to Texas A&M last Saturday, No. 25 Miami suffered a 45-31 loss to Middle Tennessee that confirms the Hurricanes’ place among the biggest disappointments in the Bowl Subdivision. With his team already relegated to non-factor status, Cristobal must tackle another major situation early in his first year: Tyler Van Dyke was pulled in the third quarter after completing just half of his throws with two interceptions. That he’s taken a step back after a huge freshman season reflects poorly on the new staff.
Steve Sarkisian can relate to Cristobal’s thud of a debut. His was even worse: Texas failed to reach a bowl game in one of the worst seasons in recent program history. How much better are things in Sarkisian’s second year? The No. 19 Longhorns lost 37-34 in overtime at Texas Tech, undone by a series of mistakes in regulation and a crucial fumble in overtime from star running back Bijan Robinson, and have clearly failed to build upon this month’s morale-building loss to Alabama. Instead of competing for a spot in the New Year’s Six, the Longhorns seem like an afterthought in the Big 12.
After tapping into the transfer portal to fuel an unexpectedly successful 2021 season, Mel Tucker has clearly failed to perform another rebuild and keep Michigan State in the mix for a New Year’s Six bowl. Pushed around last weekend by Washington, the Spartans were humiliated in a 34-7 loss to Minnesota that should give the Gophers some Top 25 consideration.
Count this among the worst losses of the season: Missouri missed a 26-yard field goal as time expired in regulation and then fumbled away the likely game-winning touchdown in the first overtime to lose 17-14 to an Auburn team seemingly playing out the string under embattled coach Bryan Harsin. Instead, the nature of the ugly loss will put Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz on a hot seat as the Tigers head toward a losing finish.
Worst team in the country? At the very least, Massachusetts, Hawaii, Florida International and New Mexico State have company near the bottom. Handed a miserable situation by his predecessor, new Colorado State coach Jay Norvell is clearly going to need some time to get the Rams back to respectability after losing 41-10 at home to Sacramento State.