– Their Loss is Our Gain –
For a weekend that lacked a large quantity of marquee matchups, there sure was a lot of exciting football. Some of the top teams in the country proved to be mortal again, while others suffered significant injuries that could reshape the landscape of a once certain playoff picture. With the first half of the season in the books, we turn to the home stretch for some exciting and heartbreaking moments. Who will be the next major program to suffer humiliation? What surprise team will make an unprecedented run through October? Who will turn another team’s misfortune into their own glory?
Iowa State @ Oklahoma
This game was supposed to an easy one for Baker Mayfield and the Sooners. Oklahoma owned a record of 74-5-2 against Iowa State heading into Saturday. The Sooners have the #1 overall offense in the country and the nations #44 defense. On the opposite sideline, Iowa State has just the 60th ranked offense and the 82nd ranked defense. The Sooners had beaten Ohio State early in the year and established what looked to be a stranglehold on the Big12 after Oklahoma State lost to TCU. Baker Mayfield was inside the Top 3 on most every pundits Heisman list and this game should have been one for him to pad the stats. Mayfield didn’t disappoint in this game but like Lamar Jackson, he can’t do it alone.
There’s an old adage, defense wins championships. If you look at the other teams in the Top 5 going into Saturday, they all rank in the Top 12 of Total Defense. The Sooners have failed on the defensive side of the ball in recent seasons and it looks to be much this year. Take the New England Patriots for example. Tom Brady is the best QB in the league. The Patriots have a great coach, skill players and lead the league in Total Offense. They are the defending Super Bowl Champions. Their problem? They can’t play defense. Neither can the Sooners, at least not consistently.
Iowa State did a lot of things right and while they should embrace this win and celebrate it, they should also come back to reality and know that the Sooners lost the game more than the Cyclones won it.
Michigan State @ Michigan
While several people around College Football see this as an upset, I feel that it was about time we found out who Michigan really is. The Wolverines are exactly the opposite of who all your famous names around ESPN thought they were. Instead of being a threat to other B1G opponents, they are an almost identical twin of the SEC’s Florida Gators. If this was 25 years ago and Steve Spurrier was still the Head Ball Coach running the Fun N Gun, that would be a compliment. Sadly, Spurrier is probably golfing or doing a shirtless commercial for anti-wrinkle cream. Either way, it wasn’t a compliment and short of comparing Michigan to UTSA, it doesn’t get much worse.
We knew the Wolverines were good on defense but we weren’t sure how their offense would stack up against an opposing Top 50 Defense. The answer was very clear. Harbaugh and Michigan need to hit the reset button and find some sort of identity. They managed just 300 yards of offense and turned the ball over 5 times. O’Korn averaged just 5.7 yards per attempt and finished with a QBR of 19.9. Even if Speight was going to return this season, the Wolverines are missing the skill players to move the ball consistently.
This is now Jim Harbaugh’s team. These are his recruits. We all wanted to know what his team would look like and how his players would perform. We have our answers and it doesn’t look promising. I had Michigan 16th going into this weekend and they won’t make an appearance in my Top 25 the rest of the season. They were ranked #17 by the AP Poll after their loss to Michigan State but with games remaining against Penn State, Wisconsin and Ohio State, their hopes of making a decent bowl game are diminishing quickly. The ESPN FPI has the Wolverines losing all three contests against the previously mentioned foes. It is also possible Michigan falls to Maryland on the road. Look for the Maize and Blue to finish 7-5.
Moral Victories and Great Wins
Air Force @ Navy
I told you Saturday morning that this one would be fun to watch. Find one game that had a better ending than this one. Air Force came into this game a huge underdog to undefeated Navy. The Falcons were 1-3 facing the Midshipmen who are known for their triple-option rushing attack. Navy came into the contest ranked 1st in Rush Offense and 12th in Total Offense while Air Force was ranked 124th in Rushing Defense and 60th in Total Defense. The Falcons gave it everything they had and with only 1:53 left in the 4th quarter, Air Force took the lead 45-41 on a 51-yard pass from Worthman. It looked as if the Naval Academy’s ship was sunk. With just under a minute to go, Navy faced a 4th and 3 at their own 32-yard line. Zach Abbey had completed only 2 passes throughout the game until he connected with Colon for a 25-yard, game-saving, throw and catch. With just 15 seconds remaining on a third and ten from the AF 16-yard line, Abbey again threw a perfectly placed ball, this time to Carmona, for the game-winning touchdown.
Navy remains undefeated and sits at 5-0 while Air Force drops to 1-4 but the grit and determination of the Falcons almost dethroned the Midshipmen. While there aren’t moral victories in football, I believe Air Force garnered some respect from their military counterpart. USA, USA, USA!
LSU @ Florida
I was tough on Orgeron last week and rightfully so, but as I dish out the blame, I must also give the Bayou Bengals some praise. LSU could have given up on their season, their fans and their coach. While it still wasn’t pretty, the Tigers came away with a win in the Swamp against Florida. LSU was physical upfront on the offensive line and racked up 216 yards rushing on 48 attempts for an average of 4.5 ypc. Etling was more efficient than he has been all season, going 9/16 for 125 yards with a touchdown and no turnovers. This was a big step forward for Orgeron and Canada as well as the entire LSU offense.
The defense still has work to do. Florida still ranks only 102nd in Total Offense and the Tigers allowed the Gators 5.1 yards per carry. That number is .81 yards per carry more than their average. If the Tigers can become more physical on the defensive line, this team can become a good bowl team. LSU has a long way to go before they will be competing with Alabama and Auburn again but this was a step in the right direction.
Arkansas @ South Carolina
I think the only team hurting more than the Gamecocks are the Houston Texans. USC has had a bevy of injuries on offense this season. The Gamecocks have had three OL go down, they lost star wideout Deebo Samuel and now lose K.C. Crosby. Last week Terry Googer had to be carted off the field and taken to the hospital (was later released and came back to the stadium under his own strength). If there ever was a team I’d be scared to play offense for, it would be the Gamecocks.
However, they played mad against Arkansas. In the preseason, I said that USC would be lucky to escape this season at 6-6. While that might still be true, after pounding the Razorbacks 48-22, the Gamecocks are 4-2. I don’t care what fan you ask, at 4-2 with games against terrible Tennessee and Florida teams remaining and a date against Wofford, they would feel pretty good right now. It is reasonable to assume that USC will beat either Tennessee or Florida and Wofford. That gets the Gamecocks to a bowl game and if they can manage a win against Vanderbilt, that would put them at 7-5 with healthy expectations going into the final recruiting push.
K.J. Henry (USC’s biggest remaining target) has announced a decision date. If he chooses the Gamecocks over rivals Georgia and Clemson, this would be a big win off the field.
Olympus hasn’t fallen but it looks shaky
I wrote in my article last week that Alabama had trouble with mobile quarterbacks. That is no secret and Texas A&M sure knew it as well. The Crimson Tide had beaten Ole Miss and Vanderbilt by 122 combined points. The way the Aggies played against South Carolina, you would have thought the game against Bama would have been a snooze-fest by the end of the first quarter.
The Aggies forced Alabama to do something it hadn’t done all season, turn the ball over. Through 5 games, the Crimson Tide have kept the pigskin safe and secure. Against the Aggies, that wasn’t the case. Not only did A&M force a fumble by Senior Wideout Foster but the Aggies also put pressure on Jalen Hurts tallying 3 sacks and 9 tackles for loss. The Tide had only given up 4 sacks in the 5 previous games.
Kellen Mond went 19/29 for 237 yards against the 12th ranked Passing Defense. Mond did throw an interception in the red zone (from the Bama 10) but the defense for A&M backed him up by forcing a safety. Mond also had 14 carries in the ballgame. While he wasn’t spectacular running the ball, it did make the Tide account for his legs and ultimately produced more open spaces to throw the ball.
The Tide need to be worried because they haven’t fixed the part of their defense in years. Manziel ran roughshod over Alabama and in the past two National Championship Games, Deshaun beat the defense up and down the field. Nick Saban needs to accept that mobile quarterbacks are becoming the norm or they will find themselves losing to a team they shouldn’t.
The early storylines were whether Kelly Bryant could manage the offense like Deshaun Watson. The questions now should be, can Kelly Bryant bring consistency to the offense. If you go back to last season, the first 6 games were very inconsistent for the Tigers offensively. The Tigers scored 19 against Auburn, sputtered in the first half against Troy, blew out SCST and then jumped out to an early lead against GT but only managed 3 points after the half.
This offense is looking eerily similar to that of the Tigers in 2016. Now, the Tigers did win the National Championship but that was with Watson. Under Kelly Bryant, Clemson cannot afford to fall behind early in a game. Against Wake Forest, the Tigers scored 14 points in the opening 9 minutes. It wasn’t until midway through the 3rd quarter that the Tigers managed their next points. Between points 14 and 21, the drives ended as follows: Missed FG, Fumble, Punt, Punt, and Interception.
Wake Forest does rank 30th in Total Defense and 14th in Passing Defense but the Tigers should have been able to maintain their momentum (especially playing at home). Clemson currently ranks T-25 in Total Offense but only 64th in Passing Offense. Clemson can run the ball effectively with 4 backs who are more than capable but the passing game must be more effective. It doesn’t help when the wide receivers are dropping balls on every drive and that needs to be cleaned up.
The biggest problem with the Tigers might now be the ankle of Kelly Bryant. What makes him so effective on offense is his ability to run. Regardless of the location of the injury (whether high or low), Bryant will be more careful not to aggravate the injury further. I expect him to start against Syracuse but only play one half if the Tigers have a comfortable lead. Clemson gets lucky as the Bye Week comes at a perfect time.
First Four In
Clemson, UGA, Penn State, TCU
First Four Out
Alabama, Miami, Wisconsin, Washington
My Top 25
- Penn State
- Ohio State
- Virginia Tech
- Washington State
- Notre Dame
- Oklahoma State
- Michigan State
- Georgia Tech
- Texas Tech
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