College football Week 5 highlights: Top plays, games, takeaways

ByDavid Hale ESPN logo
Sunday, October 1, 2023

Here's perhaps the single most baffling question of September: Is Georgiastill great?

Oh, the Bulldogs are 5-0 because they've played some bad teams, and they have some very good players. And they're still No. 1 in the polls because all of us watched the past two seasons of college football.

But that doesn't address the core concern that, five games into this season, we've yet to see Georgia play anything close to a truly impressive game.

The Bulldogs started slow against UT-Martin in the opener, with a touchdown three seconds from the break the only reason a 17-0 halftime score didn't look much uglier.

They started slow against Ball State, failing to score in the first quarter.

They trailed South Carolina14-3 at halftime in Week 3.

They didn't pull away from UABin Week 4 until midway through the third quarter.

And Saturday, the Bulldogs went to the wire against an Auburnteam with one of the most anemic offenses in the country.

In fairness to Georgia, Apple designed the alarm clock on its phones so the "snooze" button is far more prominent than the "off" button.

Carson Beck has been ... fine. He threw for 313 yards and a TD in the win.

The ground game has been ... fine. Daijun Edwards scored twice against Auburn.

The defense has been ... fine. Payton Thorne and Robby Ashford picked up some yards with their legs, but Auburn's passing game couldn't hit water if it fell out of a boat.

It's all fine. But we've come to expect so much more from the Bulldogs, the two-time defending champs, winners of 22 straight games. And in a year in which the SEC is one giant pile of meh, it's entirely jarring to see Georgia follow suit.

Of course, the SEC might be simply playing possum -- the same way Georgia has throughout the first halves of nearly every game it's played so far.

Is LSUgood? Ole Miss? The two teams put on defensive performances Saturday that might've ended with lesser coaches being fired on an airport tarmac. The Tigers opened the season No. 5 in the country but now have two losses after allowing 711 yards to the Rebels, who set a school record. Meanwhile, the Ole Miss defense was enough of a catastrophe, too, that Lane Kiffin spent the bulk of the game looking like a hedge fund manager who was forced to take care of his kids for a weekend after his nanny quit. So maybe neither team is elite, but at least they know how to put on a show.

Maybe Alabamais for real. The Tide do seem to have some rhythm with Jalen Milroe at QB. Besides, what are the odds they play someone tougher than USF the rest of the year?

Joe Milton looked entirely pedestrian against South Carolina, throwing two picks, but the ground game, led by Jaylen Wright, made up for it. Still, it's tough to trust a team that lost to Florida.

Part of the college football world was sleeping on Kentuckymore like it had just finished a second hot brown and was going into hibernation for a while. But Big Blue looks to be for real.

The other part of the college football world has been patiently waiting to see Texas A&Menter its inevitable doom spiral, when Jimbo Fisher fires Bobby Petrino for having a play card that doesn't include footnotes, six addendums and a foreword by Gay Talese. But the Aggies are plugging along, and they look like they might actually be a player in the West.

On Saturday, Kentucky and Texas A&M made statements: Ignore them at your own risk.

There were six SEC teams ranked behind Georgia this week, though the conference looks to be a week or two away from changing its name to "others receiving votes." Five of those seven had a loss already, and four of them were ranked in the 20s, positioned precariously between Duke and Kansas.

Kentucky (5-0) and A&M (4-1), however, were unranked.

The last time an SEC team started 4-0 and wasn't ranked entering Week 5 was Missouri in 2013. Thirty-seven SEC teams have started 4-0 after that, and all were ranked... except these Kentucky Wildcats.

Yes, seven teams were ranked heading into Week 5, but five of those seven have a loss, and four of them were ranked in the 20s, positioned precariously between Dukeand Kansas.

And despite all of that, 4-0 Kentucky found itself outside the top 25, which had to have felt like a massive insult, like calling UK a basketball school. Indeed, the last time an SEC team started 4-0 and wasn't ranked entering Week 5 was Missouriin 2013. Thirty-seven SEC teams have started 4-0 after that, and all were ranked ... except the Wildcats.

Funny thing, though: That 2013 Missouri team finally earned a number next to its name in Week 6, then beat a top-10 Georgia team en route to an SEC championship game appearance and a No. 5 ranking in the final AP poll.

Kentucky? The Wildcats will certainly be ranked next week, when they get -- wait for it -- Georgia.

On Saturday, Ray Davis utterly demoralized a Floridateam that, quite frankly, had no business being in the top 25. Davis came up just shy of the school record for rushing yards, but still finished with 280 on the ground. He became the first SEC player to run for 250 yards and score four times in a conference game since Nick Fitzgerald did it in the 2016 Egg Bowl. Kentucky won easily despite throwing for just 69 yards.

The Gators, by the way, had allowed just 328 yards rushing in their first four games of the season. They handed 329 to Kentucky on Saturday.

Meanwhile, Texas A&M went into Hog Country also unranked. The early-season loss to Miamifelt like an emphatic statement that the Aggies were, once again, all hype and no substance. The season-ending injury to starting QB Conner Weigman only made matters worse. But Max Johnson, who we're fairly certain is actually a middle-aged father of three with a Volvo, a mortgage and a comfortable job selling life insurance, threw for 210 yards and two touchdowns, and the Texas A&M defense made short work of what Dan Enos assures us is, in fact, Arkansas' offense and not an elaborate practical joke.

In other words, Saturday opened with seven ranked SEC teams that no one is actually sure are all that good, even the defending champion, and at least two more that used the early slate to shout from the rooftops that they, too, belong in the conversation.

Domers down Duke

A week ago, Notre Damewas on the wrong end of a last-minute drive by Ohio State, one final stone to the gut in a brutal rock fight of a game.

On Saturday, the Irish delivered the same pain to Duke, when Audric Estime found the end zone on a 30-yard run with 31 seconds to play for the go-ahead score in Notre Dame's 21-14 win.

It was the type of physical, grueling, nasty game that, it appears, will be Notre Dame's lot in life this season. The Irish led 10-0 at the half. The two QBs had struggled badly. The ground games couldn't get going. Duke missed two chip-shot field goals, and Notre Dame missed a third. It was two teams taking turns getting locked in a closet.

But something changed at halftime. We're going to assume Duke coach Mike Elko told his team he had audio of Lou Holtz claiming Stanfordhad a better law school, Ken Jeong was just OK in "The Hangover," and Mike Krzyzewski went downhill after he started recruiting one-and-dones.

In other words, Duke got mad -- like, Trent Dilfer-after-a-bad-penalty mad.

Seriously, Dilfer. It was just a flag. That type of behavior should be reserved for youth hockey games and wanting Chick-fil-A on a Sunday.

Regardless, the Blue Devils looked like a new team in the second half, pushing the line of scrimmage on offense routinely and tripping up Notre Dame's explosive ground game as if they had 11 Grayson Allens on defense. Riley Leonard engineered an 11-play touchdown drive to end the third quarter and an 80-yard touchdown drive midway through the fourth to take a 14-13 lead.

The Irish were down to their final breath -- a fourth-and-16 on which Sam Hartman found zero receivers downfield but instead scrambled for 17 yards and new life. Two plays later, Estime found the end zone.

The win was also the 30th straight for Notre Dame against the ACC in the regular season, marking the biggest insult to the conference since Florida State's last board of trustees meeting.

It was one final bright spot for a Notre Dame offense that has the feel of an 18-wheeler driven by a golden retriever -- lumbering, erratic and dangerous. If this is to be what's in store for the remainder of the season for the Irish, it might be best to stock up on whiskey and antacids. It could be a bumpy ride.

Clemsonsettles in

After an incredibly frustrating start to the season in which Clemson dropped its first two ACC games, the Tigers finally figured things out Saturday with a 31-14 win against Syracuse.

Figured out their kicking issues? Well, no. That's still a problem. Jonathan Weitz, the kicker Clemson pulled off the beach two weeks ago, was just 1 of 2 in field goal tries, and Clemson has now missed five kicks this year, trailing only future fellow ACC member Cal.

Figured out its red zone problems? Well, Cade Klubnik was sacked on a fourth-and-2 at the Syracuse 5-yard line. In all, Clemson was in Syracuse territory on 12 of 14 drives, but found the end zone on just four of them.

Figured out their turnover issues? The Tigers entered the game having allowed the fifth-most points off turnovers in the country (36), more than they allowed in any of the past three full seasons. The good news is they only added seven more to that total Saturday.

Figured out issues on the O-line? Ah, Syracuse did have 13 tackles for loss in the game, the most Clemson has allowed in a game since 2013.

But figured out how to get the other team to make a whole bunch of mistakes so they can finally win an ACC game? You betcha!

Syracuse had nine penalties, turned the ball over three times and gave up a short-field TD after a strange decision to attempt a 57-yard field goal near the end of the first half -- all more than enough to hand Clemson the game.

Where does this leave the Tigers? Klubnik continues to improve, throwing for 263 yards and two touchdowns. Freshman Tyler Brown looks like an emerging superstar after hauling in 151 yards, and the defense held Syracuse to less than 300 yards.

It may not have been the prettiest win, but for Clemson, any win is a good one.

West Virginiakeeps rolling

Coach Neal Brown tried to tell all those lazy reporters they'd gotten it wrong by picking West Virginia last in the Big 12, but you know how the lame-stream media is -- never admitting a mistake.

Well, we didn't technically have a vote in the Big 12 preseason poll, but we'll eat some crow anyway. Well, not literally.

The Mountaineers edged TCU24-21 in Fort Worth, Texas, on Saturday, moving to 4-1 on the season, with the lone loss coming to undefeated Penn Statein Week 1. You know who else beat TCU this year? Colorado. So, we're saying Neal Brown is essentially the Deion Sanders of Appalachia.

Heisman Five

Honorary Heisman Five nod this week to Duke's Riley Leonard, who played a heck of a game against Notre Dame, only to end it with a loss and a leg injury that looked bad. Here's hoping he's back on the field for the Blue Devils soon.

1. USCQB Caleb Williams

The more we see of USC's defense, the more we understand just how valuable Williams is. He threw six touchdown passes in the Trojans' 48-41 win. If he can just do that against Notre Dame, Utah, Washington, Oregon and UCLA later this year, too, USC might really have a special season. If not, that D needs to find some answers.

2. WashingtonQB Michael Penix Jr.

Last week, we noted that Penix had thrown 13 first-half touchdowns through four games. So what did he do for an encore in the first half against Arizona's often-hapless defense Saturday? A goose egg! We apologize for the writer jinx.

3. Florida StateQB Jordan Travis

He was off this week, which gives us time to debate an important question. Florida State's online fan base has garnered a reputation for, shall we say, aggressive commentary. But do we still call them #FSUTwitter? Or are they #FSUX now? Because that just looks like F-Sux, which, if the "F" stands for Florida, #FSUTwitter probably agrees with, but otherwise, it's just really confusing. We have to imagine Elon Musk didn't realize the important implications of this name change when he made it.

4. OklahomaQB Dillon Gabriel

Is Oklahoma good this year? Last year's defense was a mess. This year's looked to be improved. But then Saturday's game against Iowa State seemed like obvious regression. Of course, if you have Gabriel throwing for 366 yards and accounting for five touchdowns, it probably doesn't matter.

5. ColoradoQB Shedeur Sanders

So what if the shine is off the Buffaloes. Sanders continues to look terrific, and his 421 total yards and five touchdowns against USC should keep him in the Heisman discussion at least a little longer.

Under-the-radar game of the week

Utah Stateis not good.

UConnis not good.

But basic math tells us that the product of two negatives is a positive, and the Aggies and Huskies delivered the goods Saturday.

UConn went up 17-0 early. Utah State stormed back to take a 24-17 lead heading into the fourth quarter. The teams traded scores twice more, and the Aggies clung to a 34-27 lead in the game's final minute.

Jelani Stafford appeared to have UConn poised for overtime, however, when he plunged into the end zone from a yard out with 40 seconds to play. All the Huskies needed was the PAT.

Unfortunately, UConn forgot to block Ike Larsen.

You can almost hear Jim Mora yelling, "D'oh!"

UConn is now 0-5 on the season, which is entirely reassuring for those of us who'd retreated to our underground nuclear fallout shelters following last year's bowl appearance.

Under-the-radar play of the week

In any other week, Timmy McClain's 16-yard completion to RJ Harvey to convert a fourth down would've been the talk of Orlando, Florida. The ball was at the UCF30, McClain took the snap at the 25, dropped back to the 20, was pressured, then scrambled back and back and back three yards into his own end zone before breaking free and delivering a laser that might've set up a thrilling victory.

Unfortunately for UCF, they don't throw parades for almost winning. (Oh, wait ...)

UCF was actually up 35-10 entering the fourth quarter but allowed 26 unanswered points by Baylorin such comical fashion the stadium sound crew should've been playing "Yakety Sax."

Still, McClain's throw had the Knights in position late. He actually engineered an 11-play drive over the final 1:14 of the game that managed to gain only 33 yards, a feat that seems to defy physics. It all set up an ultimately fruitless 59-yard field goal try.

Instead, it was the largest fourth-quarter comeback in Baylor history and just the second fourth-quarter comeback of 25 points or more in the past 20 seasons.

So, yeah, that's probably what will be remembered.

Buffs prove treacherous for USC

No college football team had more style than Coloradofor the first three weeks of the year, but over the past two games, Oregonand USC have been more than happy to play the role of antihero, upending the Buffs' wildest dreams.

Heisman folks may still say "Welcome to New York" to Shedeur Sanders, who accounted for 421 yards and five touchdowns, but it was Caleb Williams who showed he was ready for it Saturday, throwing for 403 yards and six touchdowns in USC's 48-41 win. Still, is the Trojans' D trouble for Lincoln Riley?

Regardless, the Buffs' hot start has turned into a cruel summer -- er, fall -- with back-to-back losses, and Coach Prime may now long for the buzz he had in August. The media gaze can be delicate, but Prime's not listening to anyone who says he needs to calm down. Because there's a formula for regaining all that early hype, and it didn't require a frenetic comeback win Saturday.

Coach Prime just needs a bit more Taylor Swift in his life.

Buffs games have been jam-packed with celebrities on the sideline, but they've all been there to bask in Prime's state of grace. As we saw at last week's Kansas City Chiefs game, however, Tay Tay raises everyone's profile.

So, with that said, here's our effort to inject Colorado with a little bit of the Swiftie bump to get this once-promising season to begin again.

He only wants guys who can play

Tells others not to stay

That's what people say

That's what people say

Used to be lightning on his feet

Now he only keeps receipts

At least that's what people say

That's what people say

On Twitter ranked his sons

Then lost to USC and Oregon

But he's got all this media hype

saying Prime's gonna be alright

He's in every Geico ad

Wears sunglasses and a hat

And that's why they get mad

That's why they get mad

So the Trojans might be great, great, great, great, great

But next is Arizona State, State, State, State, State

Prime's just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake

Shake it off. Shake it off.

Did you know they're 5-0?


The Terps thumped Indiana 44-17 on Saturday to remain undefeated behind five touchdown passes from Taulia Tagovailoa. Sadly, their finest work in the game proved unsuccessful.


The Tigers managed to get by Vanderbilton Saturday and remain perfect on the season. But that's not the really surprising part. The real treat of 2023 has been the emergence of Brady Cook, who now has 11 TD passes and no picks after throwing for 395 yards and four touchdowns against the Commodores. In fact, dating back to last season, Cook has now thrown 348 straight passes without an interception -- a new SEC record, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Since that last pick, Cook is completing 68% of his throws, averaging 8.4 yards per pass, and has 19 TDs. Missouri is 9-3 in that stretch.


The Longhorns are undefeated heading into the Red River ... um ... what are they calling it now? Rivalry? Showdown? Tete-a-tete? Regardless, they easily handled No. 24 Kansason Saturday, finally breaking the game open in the fourth quarter but generally dominating throughout -- outgaining Kansas by a ridiculous 661-to-260 margin. And since Quinn Ewers got a haircut and quit his side job as the bass player in Austin's top Charlie Daniels tribute band (The Hardly Daniels Band) this offseason, he has been terrific at QB, throwing for 325 yards, running for 40 more and accounting for three touchdowns against the Jayhawks.


The Cardinals tripped over their own shoelaces for much of Friday night's game against NC State, but a 53-yard field goal by Brock Travelstead (whose last name, interestingly, is the same as a website to get great deals on hotels and rental cars) for the win. Louisville is the 15th ACC team to start 5-0 in the playoff era. Eleven of the previous 14 made it to the league's title game.

James Madison

JMU sure knows how to make things interesting. They're 5-0, with four wins vs. FBS competition coming by 1, 2, 7 and 8 points -- the last a 31-23 victory over South Alabama on Saturday. The Dukes are just the fifth FBS team in the playoff era to open 5-0 with four wins coming by one possession. In the past three calendar years, JMU has played four football seasons at two different levels and posted a 32-6 record.

Penn State

OK, you probably did know the Nittany Lions are 5-0, but we needed an excuse to showcase their goal-line set early in the third quarter of Saturday's win over Northwestern.

This could easily be used in one of those bar trivia games where you have to find the differences in each picture. Or it could be some sort of "Inception" situation. Either way, on the fourth play, Drew Allar ran straight ahead and finally found the end zone.

Later, James Franklin had the bus drive the team to O'Hare at 2 mph and stopped at every Burger King along I-90.

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