Week 9 CFB Breakout Performers

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Maryland QB Taulia Tagovailoa

Not many high-profile debut disasters come to mind that were as bad as Taulia Tagovailoa’s for Maryland. A little over a week ago against Northwestern in the late season opener, Tagovailoa looked helpless behind a putrid Maryland offensive line. For one, he failed to earn even 100 yards passing despite throwing the ball 25 times. Worse yet, he threw three interceptions without finding the end zone once. Tagovailoa was irrefutably horrific.

The Alabama transfer turned that ship around real quick in his second start. Tagovailoa erupted by completing 26-of-35 passes for 394 yards (11.3 yards per attempt), three touchdowns, and just one interception, ultimately leading to a 45-44 upset over the Gophers. Sure, it helps that Minnesota’s kicker missed an overtime extra point, but that Maryland was in this game in any capacity is a testament to Tagovailoa’s showing.

Simply looking like a competent quarterback would have been a plenty good enough benchmark for Tagovailoa to reach against Minnesota on Friday night considering his debut, but he was so much more than that. Tagovailoa looked like a bona fide stud, at least as much as anyone can in Maryland’s offense.

What’s more is that Tagovailoa did so through multiple avenues. He, of course, dominated through the air, but he was also a problem on the ground, which was not true in his debut. Tagovailoa carried the ball eight times for 64 yards and a pair of scores on Friday, which is quite a far cry from his pitiful three carries for -16 yards against Northwestern the previous week.

Maryland RB Jake Funk

Look, when a team like Maryland upsets a team like Minnesota, of course there are going to be multiple breakout stars. There is no other way for a massive underdog to pull off such a victory.

Funk is a particular kind of breakout star, though. The 5-foot-10, 205-pound redshirt senior had never earned more than 200 yards in a season. His previous high was 173 yards in 2019, and he always hovered somewhere near the 150-yard range. At no point in Funk’s career has he been more than a depth player.

It was not like Funk had clearly stepped into a starting role this year, either. He earned just six carries in the Oct. 24 opener against Northwestern, which tied for first with two other players. Sure, he was seeing an uptick in production, but he did not appear to be “the guy” out of the gate in 2020.

Perhaps that changes now. In the upset over Minnesota, Funk carried the ball 21 times for 216 yards. Yes, Funk broke his single-season record for yardage in four quarters against the Gophers. He tacked on a receiving touchdown, too, which was his first since 2017.

It’s just one game, but since Funk was already more in the mix this year than in previous years, it feels safe to say that a game like this should thrust him into a permanent role as the starter.

Tulane WR Duece Watts

Watts entered the weekend with 10 catches for 192 yards, all of which he earned in the first handful of games this year. He had been a JUCO player up until this season, so he had no other FBS performances to compare to. None of his performances through the early portion of this year were particularly impressive, though. 40 yards here, 35 yards there, 50 yards here, whatever.

In Week 9 alone, Watts had 114 yards and two touchdowns. Though the 114 yards did not quite match his career total to that point, his two touchdowns were twice that of what he entered the weekend with. Watts, a junior, really put himself in a different light with this kind of performance.

It is tough to tell how much confidence one should place in Watts doing this again. Watts was a three-star JUCO product in Tulane's 2020 signing class and has consistently produced something every week this year. Watts has never earned fewer than 38 yards, so there is at least some degree of consistency and baseline to his game. Perhaps he can hit these heights again when Tulane inevitably get into a shootout with East Carolina next week.

San Diego State RB Greg Bell

Bell is a former Nebraska transfer. Though he earned some playing time with the team in 2018, Bell never really found his footing there, and ultimately transferred out after realizing the switch to Scott Frost as HC may not have been for him. It is pretty common for players to bail when the coaching staff that recruited them leaves, which is likely all that happened with Bell.

In any event, Bell took his year off in 2019, as per transfer rules, and has returned in 2020 with some spark. His first game against UNLV in SDSU's debut win this season was solid, though not exactly game-changing. This week was different.

Against Utah State in Week 9, Bell erupted for just over seven yards per attempt. He carried the ball 22 times for 157 yards and found the end zone once, establishing himself very comfortably as the team's leading back. Bell's efforts made it easy for SDSU to get ahead and stay ahead, ultimately choking their opponents out of this game via time of possession. SDSU possessed the ball for almost 38 minutes, leaving Utah State with just 22 minutes to make things happen.