In Ohio State's final non-conference contest, which doubled as its biggest blowout of the year thus far, Buckeyes at all levels of the depth chart had a chance to improve their stock this week.
Not every team rolled with as much ease this past weekend, however, as there were plenty of upsets, close calls and surprising turns across college football while the first third of the regular season came to a close.
Here's a look at which players, units, teams and coaches saw their stock rise on Saturday and which ones are on a downward trajectory.
Buckeye pass rush
It turns out the Buckeyes can rush the passer after all.
That ability was called into question in a major way three games into the season, and the group responded to quell those concerns on Saturday, notching nine sacks against Akron to more than double its previous season total of four, with six different defensive linemen getting in on the act.
Haskell Garrett led the way with three by himself, while true freshman Tyleik Williams continued to show glimpses of a bright future with two sacks of his own. In fact, eight of the nine sacks came from Ohio State’s defensive tackles, as Antwuan Jackson, Ty Hamilton and Jerron Cage all contributed to the Buckeyes’ grand total as well.
The only defensive end to record a sack was true freshman Jack Sawyer, who had the first of his career on the night to the undoubted delight of many fans.
Snaps for backups
With a daunting Big Ten schedule facing Ohio State the rest of the way, this might have been the last chance for the Buckeyes’ backups to gain some experience.
And boy did they ever.
Kyle McCord and Jack Miller handled all the quarterback responsibilities, 10 different Buckeye players caught passes – including the first-ever for Emeka Ebguka and Marvin Harrison – two tight ends not named Jeremy Ruckert hauled in receptions, and Evan Pryor got his first five career carries as a Buckeye, including a fourth-quarter touchdown.
On defense, three first or second-year Buckeyes recorded sacks, 31 players in total had at least one tackle, and true freshmen like Reid Carrico, Jordan Hancock, Jakailin Johnson and Jantzen Dunn all saw the first snaps of their Ohio State careers.
What can’t this guy do?
Ryan Day said after the game that third-year safety Ronnie Hickman is “starting to build a little bit of a reputation” as a standout defender for Ohio State, and after returning his second interception in as many games for a 46-yard touchdown, Rocket’s statistical feats are starting to sound rather impressive for the Buckeyes.
Hickman has nine more solo tackles than anyone on the team (20), eight more total tackles (33) and also leads the team in picks, with two. I think it’s safe to say the bullet has arrived in Columbus.
Even with first-round talents like Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson on the roster, Jameson Williams’ exploits at Alabama – and on Saturday in particular – are likely to have Buckeye fans wondering how the coaching staff let him slip through the cracks.
Jameson Williams is GONE— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) September 25, 2021
100-YARD KICK RETURN TO START THE GAME pic.twitter.com/cIgR6hcHVW
Williams took not one but two kick returns to the house against Southern Mississippi, going 100 and then 83 yards, and his one reception in the game went for an 81-yard touchdown. Williams became the first Crimson Tide player to ever return two kickoffs for touchdowns in the same game, and the first FBS player in the last 15 years to score three touchdowns of at least 80 yards in the same game.
Several Ohio State players reacted to Williams’ huge game on Twitter, and the speedy wideout’s stock has only gone straight up since leaving the Buckeye program.
Only in the rarest of cases can a team raise its stock in a loss, and especially one in which it scored just 13 points. But given Rutgers’ history in the Big Ten conference, a one-touchdown loss to Michigan might as well be a win.
Greg Schiano’s defense shut out Harbaugh and company in the second half, as the Wolverines failed to move the chains on the first four possessions of the final half, and it took a late Rutgers fumble for Michigan to be spared a full comeback.
The mighty Wolverine run game looked mortal Saturday, as the Scarlet Knights limited Michigan to just 112 yards on the ground, and Rutgers still looks like a viable foe in the Big Ten East.
Ohio State's LB depth
Perhaps the story of Saturday’s game was not the game itself, but the sideline blowup that resulted in senior linebacker K’Vaughan Pope leaving the game in frustration in the first half, and subsequently tweeting out some not-too-friendly words about the program.
Day dismissed Pope from the program the following day, and with his entry into the transfer portal Monday, he wasn’t the first fourth-year linebacker to do so in the last week.
Last night I let my emotions get the best of me. For that I want to apologize to my teammates, coaches and Buckeye Nation. I made a mistake and know that I need to be better and do better. Im going to take this time to reflect and work on my mental well-being.— KVaughan Pope (@VonP04) September 26, 2021
Dallas Gant did the same this past Wednesday, a move that Day did not seem too pleased with when addressing it after the Akron game, and the Buckeyes are suddenly down two veterans in Al Washington’s position room.
Down goes Dabo, once again.
Clemson’s Week 1 loss to Georgia was certainly forgivable, but a 27-21 loss to NC State will almost certainly knock the Tigers out of College Football Playoff contention in 2021.
The warning signs were there when Clemson barely snuck out of last week’s Georgia Tech matchup with a win, but the Tiger offense continued to sputter against NC State, with D.J. Uiagalelei failing to eclipse 200 yards passing for the fourth-straight game to start the year.
The absence of Trevor Lawrence at quarterback has been glaring, and Clemson is now just 5-4 in its past nine games, with four of those wins coming against unranked opponents.
To call it a bad non-conference loss would not quite be doing it justice.
Even in its loss to Ohio State, Minnesota looked like it could be a player in the Big Ten West. Losing star running back Mohamed Ibrahim certainly didn’t help matters, but the Golden Gophers have fallen a long way from their 2019 success after losing to Bowling Green State on Saturday.
The biggest upset of the college football season just happened:— Ben Fawkes (@BFawkes22) September 25, 2021
Bowling Green (+31) beats Minnesota 14-10 and cashes as high as 40-1 on the moneyline (South Point).
A 30-0 win over Colorado seemed like Minnesota’s way of exorcising the demons of an eyebrow-raising 31-26 win over Miami (Ohio) in Week 2, but it appears those concerns were more than legitimate after all, as the Gophers fell 14-10 this weekend to a team that was the worst in the MAC in 2020.
The hits just keep on coming for Big Ten teams in non-conference affairs this weekend, as Wisconsin surrendered 31 points in the fourth quarter to lose 41-13 to Notre Dame.
Criticism can hardly be placed solely on the Badger defense, though, as two of those touchdowns came on pick-sixes thrown by Graham Mertz, and another Fighting Irish score came on a kickoff return.
Wisconsin actually had a 13-10 lead early in the fourth quarter, but completely bottomed out thereafter in a dramatic and one-sided turn of events.
Mertz has now thrown six interceptions to just one touchdown through three games, and the Badgers are just 1-2 on the season with Michigan up next.
You know it's bad when a home crowd is booing the preseason Heisman favorite in the first half.
Oh my. The #Sooners crowd is loudly chanting, WE WANT CALEB after that Spencer Rattler interception.— Jason Kersey (@jasonkersey) September 26, 2021
That’s exactly what happened in Norman on Saturday when Spencer Rattler threw his third interception in four games, as the restless crowd began chanting to put in Rattler’s understudy.
Oklahoma survived another close call with a 16-13 win over unranked West Virginia, and without the outlier of a five-touchdown performance against FCS opponent Western Carolina in Week 2, Rattler’s touchdown to interception ratio would be 3:3 in 2021.