After Further Review: Clemson, Alabama both out of playoff picture, and does anyone play defense?

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 11, here’s a closer look at some of the most interesting outcomes of Week 10.

Notre Dame 35, Clemson 14

Clemson’s offensive struggles in Saturday night’s one-sided loss to Notre Dame weren’t surprising. It has been well-documented how poorly Clemson’s offense played in 2021, the program’s first three-loss season since 2014. And though the Tigers have shown signs of improvement this season, it felt like only a matter of time before those issues resurfaced on a big stage.

But it was surprising how Notre Dame was able to manhandle Clemson’s defensive front. This Tigers defensive line was supposed to be comparable to star-studded units of Clemson’s past, including the 2018 group that yielded three first-round NFL draft picks.

Notre Dame is completely one-dimensional on offense, yet Clemson’s heralded front got pushed around at the point of attack all night. Clemson knew Notre Dame was going to run the ball, but still couldn’t stop it.

Notre Dame running back Audric Estime (7) and the Irish offense ran all over the once-vaunted Clemson defensive front on Saturday night. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Notre Dame had just 85 passing yards but ended up rushing for 265 yards in the win. That’s the most rushing yards Clemson has allowed in a game since 2016, when Lamar Jackson and Louisville went for 273. Back then, Clemson had the offense to overcome a rare off night from its defense. These days, that isn’t the case.

In a game between two teams ill-equipped to play from behind, Notre Dame deserves credit for the way this game transpired. In the first quarter, the Irish blocked a punt and returned it for a touchdown. That allowed the defense to go to work and completely stifle Clemson’s unimaginative offense.

And with Clemson’s offense continually sputtering, Notre Dame’s offense began to show signs of life. Over time, the Clemson defense began to wear down. Those 2 or 3-yard runs from the Irish turned into 6 or 7. And by the fourth quarter, we saw Notre Dame convert a third-and-13 on a simple handoff up the middle.

It was Clemson’s first loss in more than a calendar year, but it’s the kind of game that should force head coach Dabo Swinney to take a long look in the mirror. Clemson is still an excellent program, but it has fallen from the elite tier of the sport.

- Sam Cooper

LSU 32, Alabama 31

Tuesday’s College Football Playoff rankings are going to have unfamiliar faces in the top four. Sure, we’re used to seeing Ohio State and Georgia near the top of the rankings at this point. But No. 6 Alabama’s loss to LSU and No. 4 Clemson’s loss to Notre Dame on Saturday night mean the top four is going to be especially unique.

How so? Tuesday’s CFP rankings are set to be the first rankings in eight seasons to not have either Alabama or Clemson in the top four. You have to go back to the third edition of the 2014 rankings — the third set of CFP rankings ever — to find a top four without either the Tide or Tigers.

Think about that for a second. By now, it has become commonplace to have Alabama or Clemson in the College Football Playoff. One or both has made each of the eight previous playoffs. But they’ve been so good and so dominant over the past decade that one or both teams has always been in the top four when the rankings have been released.

That run is about to end. And there’s a very good chance that this season’s CFP won’t feature either team for the first time ever. No two-loss team has ever made the playoff. Alabama now has the deck stacked against it. And Clemson could end up behind a host of other one-loss teams if it finishes the season at 12-1.

The inevitable 12-team College Football Playoff will be exceptionally fun because it will bring us more games and more teams in the playoff mix. One of the criticisms of the four-team format is that teams like Alabama and Clemson have dominated the postseason. Perhaps this year is the precursor to the 12-team format. If there’s ever a time for the Clemson and Alabama stranglehold to be broken, 2022 is the season. Will anyone seize the opportunity? Or will stalwarts Georgia and Ohio State carry the torch for the old guard?

- Nick Bromberg

Alabama head coach Nick Saban is likely going to miss out on the College Football Playoff this year, which is rare for his program. (AP Photo/Tyler Kaufman)
Alabama head coach Nick Saban is likely going to miss out on the College Football Playoff this year, which is rare for his program. (AP Photo/Tyler Kaufman) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

USC 41, Cal 35

At 8-1 and No. 9 in last week’s playoff rankings, USC is still firmly in the national championship hunt. But the performance of the Trojans' defense is not trending in a positive direction.

USC has won its two games since the 43-42 loss at Utah on Oct. 15, but the defense has performed poorly on both occasions. In Week 9, USC beat Arizona 45-37 but allowed the Wildcats to gain 7.87 yards per play — the most it’s allowed on a per-play basis all season. Arizona marched up and down the field and could have been in a better position to pull off an upset had it executed better in the red zone.

And then on Saturday vs. Cal, USC eked out a 41-35 win while allowing the Golden Bears to gain 469 yards on 6.42 yards per play. This is a Cal team that hadn’t scored more than 24 points in a game since late September, yet quarterback Jack Plummer was able to throw for 406 yards and three touchdowns in the Coliseum.

For Plummer, a Purdue transfer, it was the second-highest yardage output of his career. His previous high in a Cal uniform came when he threw for 278 yards against UNLV on Sept. 10.

Cal was worse on a per play basis against all but one other team this season. Even UC Davis, an FCS program, had better success than USC did vs. the Cal offense.

The Trojans jumped out to a 27-7 lead but were just unable to put the Golden Bears away. Cal scored touchdowns on four of its final five possessions, turning what should have been a runaway victory for the Trojans into a nail-biting affair.

This doesn’t bode well for USC moving forward. After hosting lowly Colorado on Friday, the Trojans have a massive showdown with crosstown rival UCLA on Nov. 19 at the Rose Bowl. It’s a game that could decide a spot in the Pac-12 title game.

- Sam Cooper

California's Jeremiah Hunter helped the Bears rack up 469 yards of offense on Saturday in a loss to USC. (AP Photo/John McCoy)

SMU 77, Houston 63

The Mustangs and Cougars’ historic performance got overshadowed by Clemson’s loss to Notre Dame and Alabama’s loss to LSU.

To recap, the two AAC teams combined for the most points ever in a non-overtime FBS game. And they came close to setting the record for a game that included extra periods. The record for the highest-scoring game at the top level of college football was set in 2018 when Texas A&M beat LSU 74-72 in seven overtimes. The 146 points scored in that game across the four quarters and seven overtimes helped spur the changes to college football’s overtime rules that are in place today.

Houston and SMU almost got to 147 points. The Cougars had the ball down 14 with 3:35 to go. They drove to the SMU 9 with 1:52 left and had first and goal. But Clayton Tune’s pass to the end zone on first down was intercepted and SMU ran out the clock. Had Houston scored a TD and kicked an extra point, the record would have been broken.

SMU quarterback Tanner Mordecai came within two touchdowns of tying the FBS record for most TD passes in a game. The record is, coincidentally, held by former Houston QB David Klingler. He threw for 11 TDs in a single game in 1990. Mordecai had as many TDs as he did incompletions on Saturday. He finished 28-of-37 for 379 yards and nine scores through the air. He also rushed for a TD to put his total at 10 for the day.

Tune, meanwhile, threw for 527 yards and seven touchdowns, though he threw three interceptions. The two teams combined for 1,352 yards, the most total yards in a game so far in 2022. But while SMU and Houston combined to break the regulation scoring record, they came well short of the single-game yardage record. That record is 1,708 yards between Oklahoma and Texas Tech in 2016 when Patrick Mahomes had 734 passing yards and 819 total yards.

SMU’s Rashee Rice had nine catches for 86 yards and became the first WR in college football to break the 1,000-yard mark in 2022. Rice now has 71 catches for 1,068 yards. Tennessee’s Jalin Hyatt is second in the country with 970 yards.

The loss also likely ended Houston’s chances to make the AAC title game. The Cougars are now tied for fourth with SMU at 3-2 in the conference. Had Houston beaten the Mustangs, it would have been tied for second with UCF and Cincinnati at 4-1 and a game back of Tulane.

- Nick Bromberg

NC State 30, Wake Forest 21

It looks like NC State has found its quarterback of the future.

After a season-ending injury to senior Devin Leary, the coaches initially turned to Jack Chambers. Chambers, a graduate transfer from Charleston Southern, came in off the bench vs. Florida State and started vs. Syracuse and Virginia Tech. But Chambers struggled, and head coach Dave Doeren began to rotate in freshman MJ Morris in the Virginia Tech game. It became clear by late in the first half that Morris was the best option.

That night, Morris led a come-from-behind 22-21 victory and carried that strong play over to Saturday night’s game vs. No. 21 Wake Forest. Morris started slow but made some big throws late in the first half. He dropped in a beautiful 44-yard deep ball to Keyon Lesane to set up a 12-yard touchdown pass to Lesane a few plays later.

Morris added another touchdown pass, this time to Darryl Jones, before halftime and stayed hot to open the third quarter. On the Wolfpack’s opening drive of the second half, Morris was completely in command as NC State added to its lead with a 15-play touchdown drive.

By the time the night ended, Morris had completed 18 of his 28 attempts for 210 yards and three touchdowns. He also added 43 rushing yards in the win. Are those eye-popping statistics? No. But it was still a very encouraging performance by a quarterback expected to redshirt when the season began.

Things looked bleak after Leary went down, but Morris is giving NC State fans a glimpse into a the future as Doeren tries to keep the Wolfpack program among the best in the ACC.

Duke 38, Boston College 31

Duke is bowl eligible. With the way David Cutcliffe’s tenure ended — a combined 5-18 record with just one ACC win over the past two seasons — this is a remarkable feat in the program’s first season under Mike Elko. The Blue Devils are now 6-3 on the year following Friday night’s 38-31 road win over Boston College. It marked Duke’s third ACC win of the season as Riley Leonard threw for 158 yards and rushed for 96 in the win.

It’s been three full seasons since Duke had a winning record or played in a bowl. With one more win over its final three games, both of those streaks will be snapped. Elko is doing a fantastic job.

Liberty 21, Arkansas 19

Coming out of the bye week, Arkansas looked poised to end the season strong. The Razorbacks started 3-0 before losing three straight in a tough stretch that featured injuries to many key players. But before the much-needed week off, Arkansas notched a road win over BYU. And coming out of the bye, the Hogs had a convincing road win over Auburn to improve to 5-3. That set the stage for Saturday’s game vs. Liberty, Arkansas’ first home game in more than a month.

But instead of keeping the winning ways going, Sam Pittman’s team laid an egg and lost 21-19. Arkansas was lifeless in the first half, falling behind 21-3. There was a second half rally, but it was too late. Will things spiral? Or will Arkansas come back next week with a renewed focus? LSU, on the heels of its massive upset of Alabama, will visit Fayetteville. It feels like it could be a letdown spot for LSU, opening the door for Arkansas to pull off a major upset of its own.

Arkansas coach Sam Pittman saw his team suffer an ugly 21-19 loss to Liberty on Saturday. (AP Photo/Michael Woods)
Arkansas coach Sam Pittman saw his team suffer an ugly 21-19 loss to Liberty on Saturday. (AP Photo/Michael Woods) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)