College football Week 6 highlights: Top plays, games, takeaways

ByDavid Hale ESPN logo
Sunday, October 8, 2023

Oklahoma coach Brent Venables wasn't worried about all the pomp and pageantry, ebbs and flows, big plays and fried, well, everything, in this year's Red River Rivalry. Instead, he told his team to "embrace the chaos."

Chaos was everywhere Saturday.

Quinn Ewers threw picks on two of his first six passes, then completed 19 straight.

Oklahoma's special teams unraveled in spectacular fashion.

The Sooners' defensive front engineered havoc at the line of scrimmage.

Dillon Gabriel threw for 285 yards, ran for 113 and looked as much a magician as a quarterback.

There were seven lead changes and three ties.

And in the most chaotic moment, when Texasgrabbed a lead on a 47-yard field goal with 1:17 to play, Venables' team was cool as a cucumber. (Albeit a fried cucumber covered in chocolate and powdered sugar, we assume.)

It was the type of game where, when it's over, you just want to drive the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile out into the middle of the desert, play the bongos naked and ponder whether time is a human construct or simply the nature of a simulated universe that we're all living in. Or, you know, whatever Matthew McConaughey has planned for the rest of the night.

Gabriel took his team 75 yards on five plays in just 1:02, dodging pressure in his face on one last heave into the back of the end zone to Nic Anderson for a game-winning touchdown in an absolutely epic send-off to the Big 12 -- or was it an early welcome to the SEC? -- at the Cotton Bowl.

A year ago, Oklahoma was annihilated, embarrassed and overwhelmed in a 49-0 loss to Texas.

On Saturday, the Sooners moved to 6-0 on the season, and delivered a devastating blow to Texas' immense hopes for 2023.

Here's the part where we make the joke about Texas disappointing again. You know the drill. Nearly every year, we all get excited that Texas is back, even if, in the back of our minds, we're certain that return to the national conversation will be short-lived.

Every year we embrace its return out of some sense of loyalty or nostalgia, eager to recall a simpler time, only to spend some sad October Saturday doubled over in pain, sobbing and begging God's forgiveness for dedicating ourselves to this wretched abomination of disparate parts that was never intended to be consumed by the masses.

Basically, Texas is the McRib of college football.

And yet, that doesn't feel right this time around. This wasn't the usual embarrassment of losing to Kansasor blowing a 21-point fourth-quarter lead or texting a disgraced Ohio Stateassistant "OK, cool. Hook 'em" or "Horns Down" chants or pet monkeys hell-bent on attacking innocent trick-or-treaters. This was a loss, but somehow felt like a step forward -- a game in which Texas proved worthy of the hype, just a little less explosive than the Sooners.

On the Crimson side of the Cotton Bowl, Oklahoma had its own share of questions to answer. Venables took over a program that, if it wasn't at the true precipice of college football's elite, it was certainly close. Then the Sooners went 6-7 in Year 1, Gabriel missed his first Red River game and the whispers of the Sooners' step backwards as they prepared for a 2024 move to the SEC grew from whispers to a low grumble.

But this year was going well. Oklahoma won its first five games, all by at least two touchdowns, but all against entirely pedestrian competition. Saturday was a true test, one filled with emotion and pressure and, yes, chaos.

Well, Venables eats chaos for breakfast. (Also, Cookie Crisp.)

There's a script where Texas won Saturday, where Oklahoma's missteps on special teams and Ewers' late heroics coalesced into a dramatic victory in which the masses really would've argued, preached, believed that Texas was, indeed, back.

There's another script, though, where those special teams struggles never materialized, where Oklahoma cashed in with a TD on that long drive before the half, where all the things that went against them went the other way and it was a Sooners blowout.

Neither ended up true, and that's good, because this game was the type of chaos this season needed.

Texas needed to take a punch -- maybe five or six -- and show it was tough enough to keep getting off the mat. It did, even in a losing effort.

Oklahoma needed to make a few mistakes to show that this team had grown from the immature, inconsistent, unreliable group that lost seven games a year ago. Indeed, the Sooners showed they had not just grown, but had internalized those tough lessons and emerged as something more than just talented or experienced or, well, good.

They're survivors, and chaos feels just like home for a team like that.

Canes endure epic collapse

You might've figured at kickoff nothing could get uglier than the Hurricanes' uniforms, which looked like someone spilled a few shades of off-brand Mountain Dew flavors onto black jerseys, but you'd have been wrong.

Things got much, much, much uglier for Miami.

It was bad enough that the Canes' offense flubbed its way through three quarters of football, with QB Tyler Van Dyke being picked off three times, including once in the end zone, which was part of five total turnovers in the game for the Hurricanes.

Still, Miami's stout D kept things close -- Georgia Tech had just 61 yards in the first half -- and a Henry Parrish TD run and a 39-yard field goal put the Canes up 20-17 late in the fourth quarter.

That's how it should've ended.

Miami ran more than five minutes off the clock, with 10 plays and 52 yards down to the Georgia Tech 30 with just over 30 seconds to play. All the Hurricanes had to do was take a knee.

Instead, they handed off the ball to Don Chaney Jr., who promptly fumbled. Georgia Tech recovered at its own 26 -- but still trailed by 3 with just 25 seconds left.

That's how it should've ended, too. But it didn't.

Miami had Haynes King backed up on a second-and-10, a last-chance heave all that was left in the Yellow Jackets' playbook. And King said afterward he knew the heave was going for six as soon as it left his hand.

His throw went over the top of the Miami D -- how? Please, Miami, explain how this happens? -- and found Christian Leary, who finished off a 44-yard completion with a game-winning touchdown.

Saturday marked the 108th anniversary of Georgia Tech's 222-0 win over Cumberland, which stands as, technically, the worst loss in college football history. But that game had nothing on what the Yellow Jackets delivered in Miami Gardens on Saturday night. They didn't win by 222, but this was so, so, so much more painful.

How bad was it?

Pitbull has been downgraded from Mr. Worldwide to Mr. Corner of 36th and South near the IHOP.

Traffic on A1A in South Beach is just a bunch of Chevy Cavaliers.

The pool at The Clevelander had to be evacuated because of a bathroom incident.

There are losses. There are bad losses. There are losses that haunt a coach on his deathbed. And then about 100 miles past that is how Miami lost Saturday.

Bama's back, baby

Alabama's offense wasn't exactly clicking on all cylinders on Saturday against Texas A&M, but the Crimson Tide clearly have their QB.

Jalen Milroe threw for 321 yards and three touchdowns as Alabama dumped the Aggies 26-20. Since being benched against USF in Week 3, Milroe is completing 73% of his passes, averaging 10.8 yards per pass, with six touchdowns and two turnovers.

That's the good news.

The bad news is, Alabama couldn't run the ball at all. No, seriously, the Tide had minus-13 yards rushing in the first half. Nick Saban ran for more yards than his offense did before the break. By game's end, Alabama had upped its output to a whopping 23 yards, which marked the third-lowest total of Saban's tenure in Tuscaloosa, with both previous instances coming against LSU (2007 and 2021).

Still, it was enough to carry the Tide past an Aggies team that struggled in the red zone, settling for chip-shot field goals in the first quarter and in a late comeback attempt in the fourth.

A&M's veteran QB Max Johnson, who missed his kids' JV soccer game for this, completed 14 of 25 passes but threw a costly interception and was flagged for intentional grounding in the end zone, resulting in a safety. In his 27th year of college football, those were frustrating mistakes, but in fairness, it's hard to play football with so many sets of keys in your cargo shorts, and he did remind all of his teammates to use the bathroom before getting on the bus after the game, which was helpful.

Buffs back in win column

Coloradopicked up win No. 4 on the season Saturday night, officially surpassing their preseason Vegas total.

Regardless, the Buffaloes nearly blew a late 24-17 lead as Arizona State's Trenton Bourguet engineered a 13-play, 94-yard drive to tie the game with a touchdown with just 50 seconds left to play. But this is Colorado in 2023, and there's always a bit more drama in store.

Shedeur Sanders completed his next pass for 43 yards to set up the game-winning field goal.

After the game, Coach Prime donned an oversized sombrero and Groucho Marx glasses for his on-field interview, said he was furious with several innocuous quotes from Kenny Dillingham, ranked all five of his sons plus every other relative dating back six generations and inked his entire team to a new NIL deal with NASA, whereby each team gets its own rocket ship.

Cards, ACC keep rolling

Break up the ACC! Wait, no, don't break it up. Forget what we said, FSU board of trustees. It's just a figure of speech.

Let's rephrase: How about the ACC?

Six weeks into the season, a league that spent much of the summer fending off rumors of its demise now has a reasonable claim as the country's best, with three teams still undefeated, including Louisville, which pulled off a stunner against Notre Dameon Saturday.

Jawhar Jordan ran for 143 yards and two touchdowns, Jamari Thrash hauled in eight catches, including a TD, and the Louisville defense continued to haunt the dreams of Notre Dame QB Sam Hartman, who was picked off three times in the Cardinals' 33-20 win. Louisville is now 6-0 in Jeff Brohm's first season as head coach, and with a manageable schedule the rest of the way, can rightly clam dark horse status in the playoff race.

Louisville also snapped Notre Dame's 30-game regular-season winning streak against the ACC, which dated back to 2017 -- which might have left the conference without something to be incredibly embarrassed by, but thankfully Miami stepped up to fill that void.

Meanwhile, Florida Statekept chugging along in Week 6, thumping Virginia Tech39-17, finally getting its ground game going behind Trey Benson, who ran for 200 yards and two touchdowns.

And in Chapel Hill, Tez Walker finally saw the field after the NCAA realized that every decision it's ever made is wrong, and he helped spark a brilliant performance from QB Drake Maye, who threw for 442 yards and three touchdowns in a 40-7 win over theSyracuse Orange.

Maye had no trouble with Jim Boeheim's 2-3 zone -- ah, we mean Rocky Long's 3-3-5 -- completing passes to 11 different players.

Mack Brown, the country's oldest head coach, is now 5-0, continuing a terrific 2023 for the Boomer generation, along with "The Golden Bachelor" and Lou Holtz living rent free in Ryan Day's head (though, admittedly, also overpaying for a condo in Boca). Next up for North Carolinais the undefeated Miami Hurric-- oh, no. Oh, we're now being told to temper the ACC excitement as Miami is proving why the league is not allowed to have nice things.

Bowers keys Dawgs' dominance

Well, all that talk about whether Georgiahad another gear can be relegated to the list of "things that happened in September we'll completely deny moving forward," alongside the Cubs playoff chase, all Taylor Swift/NFL commentary and that alien corpse in Mexico that might or might not have been made from cake.

In what was billed as a battle between undefeated SEC teams, the Bulldogs looked the part and Kentuckylooked utterly overwhelmed. Carson Beck threw for 389 yards and four touchdowns, Brock Bowers had seven catches for 132 yards, and Georgia's D held Kentucky's explosive run game to 55 yards in the 51-13 win -- the Bulldogs' first point-spread cover of the season.

But there is still one serious concern for Georgia.

This is entirely believable. Has Kirby Smart nodded his head like yeah when "Party in the USA" plays during a TV timeout at Sanford Stadium? Sure. But does he understand the context of any of that? Absolutely not. The man has more important things to do. Though, we're willing to wager he has Billy Ray Cyrus' "Some Gave All" on cassette in his truck right now.

LSUwins a shootout

Jayden Daniels ran for 134 yards and a touchdown, threw for more than 12 yards per pass and three more TDs, and LSU still had to sweat out its Week 6 game vs. Missouri.

Such is life with the SEC's most exasperating defense.

A week after LSU allowed Ole Missto circumnavigate the globe on offense, the Tigers looked nearly as inept against Brady Cook and the, um, other Tigers.

Cook threw for 411 yards -- including 149 to Luther Burden III -- and Missouri led 22-10 at one point, but Cook's streak of 365 straight pass attempts without an interception was snapped on a ridiculously athletic grab by Harold Perkins Jr. in the second quarter. Cook also threw a pick-six at the game's end, and Perkins later foiled Lex Luthor's scheme to rob Fort Knox.

If you're counting -- and, frankly, we hope you have access to a quantum computer if you are -- LSU has allowed 94 points and 1,233 yards in its past two games. Of course, it has also accounted for 98 points and 1,170 yards of offense.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, LSU games have now gone over the betting point total 10 straight times and, according to Gov. Kim Reynolds, all Bayou Bengals games will come with an explicit content warning when shown in Iowa.

Where's _hi_ State's O?

If Week 5 was the moment we were all forced to ask whether Georgiawas the elite team we'd come to expect in 2023, Week 6 raised the same questions about Ohio State.

Yes, the Buckeyes ultimately cruised past Maryland37-17 by scoring the game's final 27 points, but with TreVeyon Henderson out and the run game scuffling, there were more than a few moments Saturday when Ohio State's offense, which looked as explosive as any in the country on paper, appeared woefully short of weapons.

Of course, one of those weapons was Marvin Harrison Jr., which is like saying you're short on cash aside from that trillion-dollar bill in your back pocket.

For the game, Ohio State averaged 1.9 yards per rush. (That's bad.)

Harrison, on the other hand, averaged 20.4 yards per catch. (That's good.)

Kyle McCord targeted Harrison 15 times -- more than half of his 29 throws -- for eight catches and 163 yards. The rest of the offense, total, managed just 219 yards on 47 plays.

It's entirely possible we've yet to see anything close to the full artillery at Ohio State. Henderson's health matters, and the ground game will have better days. It may be Ohio vs. the world, but it certainly doesn't have to be Harrison doing all the fighting.

But in this year's Big Ten, there's not much margin for error, and Ohio State's offense -- 23 points vs. woeful Indiana, 17 vs. a strong Notre Dame-- needs to find a new gear if it's going to survive the remainder of a season that still features dates with Penn State, at Wisconsinand at the Big House.

Heisman Five

We can't officially give a Heisman Five vote to Haynes King, who was only 12-of-25 with two picks for Georgia Tech on Saturday. But his last throw was good enough that he earns honorable mention credentials here.

1. WashingtonQB Michael Penix Jr.

Washington was off this week, but to keep his arm loose, Penix spent Saturday throwing fish at Pike's Place Market. He finished his shift 35-of-36 for 480 pounds of fresh fish. The Gorton's Fisherman officially entered the transfer portal as a result.

2. USCQB Caleb Williams

In what was probably his worst game of the season, Williams still accounted for four touchdowns, erased a 17-point deficit, rallied his team to what should have been a game winner late in the fourth, overcame a penalty-addled drive in second overtime, and managed a dizzying run into the end zone in triple OT to secure a USC win. We're docking him points though because some of us really needed to get a few hours' sleep before our kids pounce on us Sunday morning.

3. OklahomaQB Dillon Gabriel

After missing last year's Red River game, Gabriel added his name into the rivalry's history books with an epic performance, throwing for 285 yards, rushing for 113, and accounting for two touchdowns, including a late, game-winning pass to Nic Anderson. Afterward, he had the ball deep fried and ate it with some hot fudge and vanilla ice cream.

4. GeorgiaTEBrock Bowers

After a quiet start to the season in which Bowers was toying with his prey like Jigsaw in the "Saw" movies, he's truly unleashed terror on Georgia's competition. Bowers' past three games: 24 catches, 410 yards and four touchdowns. He is a bad, bad man.

5. Florida StateQB Jordan Travis

Travis threw for two touchdowns in the Seminoles' 39-17 win over Virginia Tech, which amounted to another solid, largely mistake-free game that still lacked any real fireworks. And for some people, that's a reason not to buy into Travis as a Heisman candidate. Our reaction to that take ...

Under-the-radar game of the week

The Rhode Island Governor's Cup was on the line Saturday, as URI faced off against Brown.

Now, you might ask how it's possible to play a football game in a state that's only 94 yards wide. Luckily, kickoff was at low tide.

The two teams traded scores well into the third quarter, highlighted by a 50-yard receiving TD by the Rams' Kahtero Summers and a 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Rhode Island's Randy Jordan.

Brown kept hanging around, however, and was driving into URI territory with under a minute to play, but Jake Willcox threw his second interception of the day to seal Rhode Island's win and secure the Governor's Cup, which, of course, is just a bowl of chowder.

Under-the-radar play of the week

We like to celebrate when big guys do something ridiculously athletic, and what happened at the end of Eastern Michigan's 24-10 win over Ball Statewasn't exactly that. But it was entertaining.

On fourth-and-21, Ball State's QB Layne Hatcher completed a pass to Marquez Cooper, who was immediately thumped by EMU's Bennett Walker and coughed up the catch. The ball bounced straight out of Cooper's grasp and flew backward, into the waiting hands of EMU's 280-pound defensive lineman Tim Grant-Randall.

Now, we'll give credit to Grant-Randall for holding on to the football which, frankly, mostly caught him. But what we can't abide is him coming to his senses after running 5 yards in the wrong direction. Grant-Randall, likely surprised to have the ball in his hands to begin with, stared ahead of him and saw nothing but green to the end zone. The wrong end zone, of course, but an end zone nonetheless. He was smart enough to quickly stop his momentum and hit the turf to effectively end the game, but we so much would've preferred he enthusiastically sprinted into Ball State's end zone instead.

Somewhere, Jim Marshall is shaking his head, knowing how much better this could've been.

Rebels pull away late

Ole Missscored the final 10 points of the game against Arkansason Saturday to finish out a 27-20 win that keeps the Rebels in the mix in the SEC West.

Meanwhile, the Arkansas offense continued to struggle, leading to yet more complaints directed at offensive coordinator Dan Enos. Last week, Enos responded directly to many of his critics. This week, he's asked we share an open letter with all Razorbacks fans instead.

Dear Hogs Nation,

Due to the incredibly large number of emails I've received, I've chosen to address you as a group rather than my usual approach of replying to each of you individually. Don't agree with that decision? Well, tell me what you would've done? Nothing? That's what I thought.

Anyway, I have become aware that many of you are dissatisfied with our offensive production once again. Perhaps you noticed that we only had 36 yards rushing and are angry about that. Well, that's why I'm the playcaller. This was all part of my plan because running the football is boring. Do you really want to watch boring football? No. Of course not.

OK, I see a few of you are pointing out that we ran a QB sneak on third-and-goal from the 9. Well, what would you have done? Literally anything else? Hah! That's not innovative, kids. That's why I'm the OC here.

And I see one of you is having some trouble getting several million dollars in frozen assets out of Nigeria. Let me tell you something, sir. Your plan to use my social security number and checking account to extricate those millions, while sharing a reasonable fraction with me -- that, sir, is innovative! I'm in. And when we get our hands on that cash, let's go all-in on the crypto market. You with me?

OK, I'm going to watch some film now which is an important way to understand the subtle brilliance of all 288 yards we had on offense against Ole Miss. You people wouldn't understand that nuance because you just watch in real time and assume getting sacked is bad.

I look forward to all of your apologies next week. But also I'll be out of the office most of Sunday, so if you need me to educate you during that time, please call my cell.

Another Eagles escape

Just looking for a little drama on Saturday? Boston Collegegames are basically one long episode of "Lost" -- strange, inexplicable, poorly plotted but seriously enthralling.

Through six weeks, the Eagles are 3-3. All three wins, including Saturday's 27-24 squeaker against Army, have come by three points. Two of the three losses have also come by a field goal or less.

Basically, the "C" in BC stands for "cardiologist."

BC lost its opener in OT after storming back from a 21-7 deficit in the fourth quarter.

It took a top-five Florida Stateteam to the wire, only to be stopped by a brutal late flag.

It nearly blew a 10-point lead against Holy Cross. It erased a 21-7 deficit againstVirginiato win.

And Saturday, Thomas Castellanos' fourth touchdown run of the game gave BC another win, just moments after Army had seemed to put the game away with a long TD pass called back by a penalty.

Struggling Georgia Tech,UConn, Virginia Techand Pittare all left on the schedule, so BC certainly has a path toward a bowl game, if it can avoid quite so much drama moving forward. Or it can follow the "Lost" formula, drag things out to the final week against Miami, and then get eaten by a smoke monster.

On a win streak

Week 6 began with four winless teams.

It ends with just two.

Virginiatopped William & Mary 27-13 behind 132 rushing yards from Perris Jones, while UConnupended Rice38-31 on Saturday, giving each team Win No. 1 for 2023.

The Cavaliers had been oh-so-close before, losing by 1 to James Madison, 3 to NC Stateand 3 to Boston College, but they finally landed a finishing blow Saturday, providing yet another big win for Thomas Jefferson over the British monarchy.

UConn, meanwhile, had its own struggles in close games, but two long TD throws from Ta'Quan Roberson got the Huskies their first W of the year, and dealt Rice a loss so embarrassing JT Daniels will now transfer again.

Just two teams remain winless heading into Week 7: Nevada, which was off this week, and Sam Houston, which fell to 0-5 on Thursday with a 21-16 loss to Liberty.

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