Here is the countdown of the top five upsets of Week 4 where there wasn’t a whole lot of big upsets but one in particular might tilt the landscape of college football on the west coast. Upset rankings are based on the point spread (per Covers.com) and I use the Sagarin Predictor spread to break ties.
Nevada 24, Buffalo 21
Spread: Buffalo -3
You know it was a light week on upsets when a three point underdog cracks the top 5. A good rule of thumb on spreads is the home team (Buffalo) gets a three point edge so this game would essentially be a toss up if had been played on a neutral field. As it was Nevada pulled off the cross country “upset” behind their Pistol running attack featuring two 100+ yard rushers, James Butler (177) and Don Jackson (113). On the scoreboard and on yards per play (Nevada held a 6.3 to 6 advantage) this was a fairly evenly played game but it was three Buffalo turnovers that would be the deciding factor, all involving quarterback Joe Licata. While trailing 17-13 late in the 3rd quarter Licata made an errant throw into the end zone that was picked off by true freshman safety Dameon Baber, who was making his college debut. In the 4th quarter, now down 24-21, a fumbled a hand off between Licata and running back Jordan Johnson lead to another turnover. Finally on a last gasp attempt under two minutes to go on a 4th and 15 just past midfield Licata threw another interception to Baber to seal the game.
Duke 34, Georgia Tech 20
Spread: Georgia Tech -7.5
Although the score indicates there was at least some offensive fireworks here this game was dominated by defense, in particular Duke’s defense which quietly might be one of the best in the country. Georgia Tech came in ranked #20 in the AP poll but was coming off a lackluster performance against Notre Dame that quickly squashed any sleeper playoff hopes they had and this game might be a sign they aren’t a serious contender for the ACC title either. Paul Johnson’s typically potent triple option attack was snuffed out by the Duke defense as the Yellow Jackets averaged fewer than 3 yards per rushing attempt which hadn’t happened since 2011. This is now back-to-back weeks where they were held under 5 yards per attempt which matches the total number of games that occurred all of last season. After four games Duke’s defense currently ranks 5th in the nation in opponent’s yards per play (3.73). They also got a big boost from their return game in this one, first on a 69 yard punt return by Ryan Smith to the Georgia Tech 1 that set up a touchdown give them a 19-3 lead at the end of the 1st quarter. Then in the in 3rd quarter after Tech trimmed the lead to 19-13 on a field goal, kick returner DeVon Edwards took one back 100 yards for his second return touchdown of the season.
Akron 35, Louisiana-Lafayette 14
Spread: Louisiana-Lafayette -7.5
After their banner Week 2 the MAC makes it’s return the top 5 upsets with a win road win thumping of a Sun Belt “power”. Akron had a rough start to the season offensively having to play Power Five opponents Oklahoma and Pittsburgh where they combined to score 10 points and gain 331 yards. Here they found Louisiana’s defense much more inviting as they gained 458 yards at 6.4 yards per play. Quarterback Tommy Woodson wasn’t particularly accurate (13 of 29) but when he found his receiver’s hands they registered an explosive 18.3 yards per completion and he gained 93 yards on the ground as well. This loss had to be a disappointment for Louisiana, who has won nine games each of the last four seasons, as they opened the season by pushing a decent Kentucky team to the limit on the road but were surprisingly overwhelmed in this one. The 21 point margin of victory was Akron’s largest in a road game since 2002.
Utah 62, Oregon 20
Spread: Oregon -10
There are a lot of “since”‘s for Oregon after this game. The loss dropped them out of the AP Top 25 for the first time since September 2009. It was the first time since 2006 they lost a home game by more than a touchdown. The 42 margin of defeat was their largest in any game since 1985 and their largest in a home game since 1977. The defense which has been underrated in their recent glory years might be one of the worst of any Power Five conference team this season and the drop off at quarterback from Marcus Mariota to Vernon Adams and Jeff Lockie might be even starker than originally perceived. After burying Oregon let’s praise Utah in particular for the creative ways they bled out the Ducks. In an early 3rd quarter dagger Devontae Booker connected on a half back option pass to Caleb Repp to put the Utes up 41-13. On their next possession All-American punter Tom Hackett (pictured above) made a leaping one handed stab on a bad snap and then ran 33 yards to set up another touchdown. Then for their final trick they pulled off a beautifully executed fake punt return that lead a 69 yard return touchdown by Boobie Hobbs while most of the Oregon punt coverage team was paying attention to the primary returner who didn’t have the ball. Time will tell if this was a changing of the guard in the Pac-12 but it certainly felt like one.
East Carolina 35, Virginia Tech 28
Spread: East Carolina -10
East Carolina was pretty much written off for dead this season after being blown out last week against Navy. This game didn’t start well at all for them as they were quickly in 14-0 hole after turning it over twice on their first five plays to set up short fields for Virginia Tech. They did manage to erase the deficit just as quickly but in the 2nd quarter with the game tied they made an interesting strategic decision. With heavy rain coming down they pulled starting quarterback Blake Kemp from the game in favor of the more dynamic runner James Summers and it worked beautifully. Summers would be an efficient 5 of 8 for 110 yards but did his real damage on the ground running for 177 yards on 20 carries and scored two touchdowns. Virginia Tech simply was outplayed in this one with ECU holding a 6.5 to 5.7 yards per play advantage. Tech had a couple of chances late to tie the game but couldn’t move the ball into ECU territory and the game ended on a futile Hail Mary attempt.