--- A pivotal early-season SEC East matchup came down to the wire, as FLORIDA escaped with a 26-20 win over TENNESSEE following a Hail Mary pass from Feleipe Franks to Tyrie Cleveland as time expired. The game – featuring two embattled coaches in Jim McElwain and Butch Jones – was predictably a slog through three quarters, and the Gators led 6-3 before a short pick-six that caromed off a receiver’s hands gave them a two-score lead early in the fourth. The Vols missed a field goal (one of three on the game) on the following drive; Florida followed that up with a long Malik Davis run – a 74-yard scamper that ended with him fumbling the ball out of the back of the end zone for a touchback. Tennessee’s offense woke up immediately after that: the Vols scored a John Kelly rushing touchdown on the ensuing, fairly quick drive to make the score 13-10. Cleveland had a nice kick return to set up a Florida touchdown, and the Gators led by ten with five minutes left.
The Vols went 75 yards in two plays to pull the score back to 20-17: a long completion to Kelly put them in range, and Quinten Dormady dropped in a beautiful touchdown pass to Ethan Wolf between defenders. Franks threw an interception in his own territory on the next Florida drive – another pick that went through a receiver’s hands. Tennessee got the ball down to the nine-yard line but didn’t run the ball with Kelly – who had 237 total yards of offense on the game – and had to settle for a field goal after three straight incompletions. That left enough time on the clock for Franks and Florida: it looked as if the game was headed to overtime until he uncorked a bomb to Cleveland after scrambling from the pocket; Cleveland had roasted the safety on a deep post route and made a diving catch as the clock hit zero.
It wasn’t exactly a battle of wits between McElwain and Jones, but Florida held on for a crucial win in their first game since the embarrassing season opening loss to Michigan. It was a fittingly sloppy game – and one that gave the Gators a leg up in the SEC East race early on.
--- The biggest game of the weekend didn’t wind up being much of a contest, as CLEMSON went to LOUISVILLE and won handily, 47-21. This may have been the most impressive win of the young season: the Tiger defense largely held reigning Heisman winner Lamar Jackson in check until garbage time (he still threw for over 300 yards and had three passing touchdowns), but Clemson’s offense may have been even more impressive. Quarterback Kelly Bryant shined in his first road start and outplayed Jackson; Clemson gained 613 yards of total offense split almost evenly between passing and rushing; they didn’t turn it over once. The game was effectively over in the third quarter: Dorian O’Daniel scored on a pick-six off of Jackson on Louisville’s first drive of the second half; the Cardinals went three-and-out on the next drive and Clemson had a methodical touchdown drive to make it 33-7.
They won a slugfest the week before against Auburn, but on Saturday, Clemson indicated that they may have a playoff-caliber offense to pair with their fantastic defense. In two weeks, the Tigers travel to Blacksburg to take on Virginia Tech – quite possibly the best team in the ACC Coastal – in what will be a huge matchup. Clemson hosts Florida State in November. As for Louisville, they’ve had poor defensive performances in all three of their games and while the schedule gets much easier in the short-term, it seems as if they won’t be able to challenge Clemson or Florida State for the ACC Atlantic title.
[More after the JUMP]
--- In a rematch of one of college football’s classic games, USC and TEXAS went down to the wire, with the Trojans winning on a field goal in double overtime over the Longhorns. Texas’s defense – which was absolutely destroyed by Maryland at home in the season opener – was phenomenal through most of the game against USC, and it was a scoreless tie through the first 27 minutes. They stuffed Trojan running back Ronald Jones on fourth-and-goal from inside the one-yard line in the first quarter. USC opened the scoring late in the second with a touchdown pass from Sam Darnold to Deontay Burnett; after a Texas punt, Darnold threw a deflected pick-six to DeShon Elliott. On the final play of the half, Darnold dropped back, evaded the rush, and hit the check-down to Jones – the Texas defense had been in Hail Mary prevent and Jones, who reversed field and picked up a few key blocks, ran all the way into the end zone to put USC up 14-7 at the half.
Much like the first half, the second was bereft of scoring (aside from a Texas field goal in the third quarter) until very late. Neither team was able to run the ball at all – both had just 1.9 yards per carry total – but the two quarterbacks put up plenty of yards through the air. In the penultimate drive of regulation, Sam Ehlinger hit rangy Collin Johnson (who finished with 191 yards receiving) with a deep ball to put the Longhorns into the red zone and threw a go-ahead touchdown to Armanti Foreman with less than a minute remaining. It was enough time for Darnold and USC: with 30 seconds left, no timeouts, and the ball at midfield, he juked an unblocked blitzer and threw a completion up the seam to running back Stephen Carr to get into field goal range; after a completion to Steven Mitchell to set up a shorter attempt, Chase McGrath hit a 31-yarder to send the game to overtime.
On the first play of overtime, Darnold linked up with Burnett in the back of the end zone again for a touchdown; Texas survived a holding call (with a long pass to Johnson to get a first down on second-and-20) and scored on a throwback pass to the tight end. In the second stanza, the Longhorns moved the ball down near the goal line, and Ehlinger was stripped by Christian Rector on a run up the middle. USC played for a field goal and McGrath snuck it inside the right upright to seal the 27-24 win for the Trojans. That USC was able to escape with a win bodes well for their playoff chances; that Texas was able to go toe-to-toe with a potential playoff squad on the road a few weeks after an awful debut indicates that they could pull an upset or two in Big 12 play.
--- MISSISSIPPI STATE hosted LSU to open SEC play for both teams, and the Bulldogs won in a shocking 37-7 rout over the Tigers in a game that surely ended Ed Orgeron’s brief honeymoon period as LSU’s permanent head coach. MSU outgained the Tigers by almost 200 yards; quarterback Nick Fitzgerald accounted for four total touchdowns, and self-inflicted errors (namely penalties and missed blocks) doomed LSU. The teams traded touchdown drives in the second quarter after a scoreless first; Fitzgerald capped a run-first two-minute drill with a short touchdown run to give the Bulldogs a 17-7 lead heading into halftime. Mississippi State scored on their first four drives of the second half and held LSU scoreless to pull away for the big win. Fitzgerald – an enormous dual-threat quarterback – was masterful in Dan Mullen’s offense, though running back Aeris Williams was also able to find plenty of success (146 yards rushing) against what’s normally a tenacious LSU defense. Based on this game (as well as Auburn’s offensive ineptitude), it appears that Mississippi State is the best team in the SEC West behind Alabama, and their trip to Athens to take on Georgia suddenly looks like a very important game.
--- Two then-ranked Pac-12 teams lost on the road against two of the better Group of Five programs. UCLA traveled to MEMPHIS for what was a 9:00 Pacific Time start and lost a wild shootout to the Tigers, 48-45. Both quarterbacks put up absurd numbers: UCLA’s Josh Rosen threw for 463 yards (on 56 attempts) and four touchdowns as well as two interceptions, including one in the fourth quarter deep in Memphis territory; Memphis’s Riley Ferguson had over ten yards per attempt, threw for 398 yards, and had six passing touchdowns. Rosen’s late interception was returned into UCLA territory and Memphis faked a field goal – a pitch back to the kicker led to a frantic lob to the end zone and the ball was intercepted; the Bruins got the ball with just under three minutes and a chance to tie or win, but an offensive pass interference penalty torpedoed the drive and the line was unable to protect Rosen on fourth down, leading to an incompletion.
--- In the nightcap, SAN DIEGO STATE scored the go-ahead touchdown with less than a minute left and defeated STANFORD, 20-17, following a delay due to a stadium light malfunction in the fourth quarter. Both running backs had outstanding performances: Cardinal running back Bryce Love scored two touchdowns from over 50 yards out and set up another with a 47-yard scamper; SDSU’s Rashaad Penny has been a statistical marvel thus far this season and he had 175 yards and a touchdown on the ground. Stanford’s anemic passing attack was a huge liability: they had just 3.8 yards per attempt passing and Keller Chryst threw two picks. The Cardinal ran just 44 plays all game and were minus-three in turnover margin. In the third quarter, David Shaw elected to kick a field goal on fourth-and-one from the Aztec four-yard line – helping further solidify his reputation as one of the most conservative coaches in college football. At 1-2, Stanford’s off to a very disappointing start and Washington appears to be the clear favorite in the Pac-12 North.
Power Five vs. Power Five
--- OKLAHOMA STATE took PITTSBURGH to the woodshed, and won 59-21 despite letting up off the gas for most of the second half. The Cowboys scored touchdowns on all seven of their first half drives; Mason Rudolph put up 497 yards on 32 passing attempts and threw for 5 touchdowns; Pat Narduzzi’s vaunted quarters defense looks to be terrible for the second season in a row. Oklahoma State has looked great thus far in 2017 and hype already seems to be growing for Bedlam in November against Oklahoma.
--- PURDUE may be the biggest surprise in the country so far: they went to MISSOURI and absolutely destroyed the Tigers. The Boilermakers scored touchdowns on their first three drives, all 75 yards or longer; they outgained Mizzou almost two to one; they held onto the ball for over 43 minutes(!) of game time. The offense and defense each turned in dominant performances and Purdue looks like they could make some noise in the Big Ten West. Their conference opener against Michigan next week seems like it will be far more competitive than many thought before the season.
--- In an upset that flew under the radar, VANDERBILT took down KANSAS STATE, 14-7. Neither team surpassed 300 yards of offense, and Vandy took the lead in the fourth quarter on a touchdown drive with a short field following an interception. Kansas State drove the ball into the red zone with less than a minute left, but – on fourth-and-eight – KSU quarterback Jesse Ertz was only able to scramble for seven yards.
--- TEXAS TECH won the second leg of their home-and-home against ARIZONA STATE – predictably, it was a shootout (and the 52-45 final score was fewer total points than last year’s game). Tech raced out to a 21-3 first half lead and ASU eventually battled back to tie the game in the fourth quarter, but Nic Shimonek (who had 543 yards and 6 touchdowns) led the Red Raiders down the field for the winning touchdown with two minutes left.
--- Last season, CAL had an awful defense, but after a shaky start, they held OLE MISS scoreless for almost the last three quarters of the game to win 27-16. Rebel quarterback Shea Patterson threw two long touchdown passes on the first plays of their respective drives, but he had three total picks – the last of which was returned for a touchdown to seal the game’s outcome.
--- BAYLOR lost their third straight game to start the season, and DUKE moved to 3-0 with their second win over a power conference opponent (after beating Northwestern last week). The Blue Devils ran the ball effectively; a pick-six early in the fourth quarter made it a two-score game and Duke eventually won by a 34-20 margin.
--- The Mike Riley era took a turn for the worse as NEBRASKA lost at home to NORTHERN ILLINOIS – Tanner Lee threw two early pick-sixes and the Huskies won despite being outgained by 171 yards. The Huskers took the lead in the fourth quarter, but NIU answered immediately by putting together their first sustained drive of the game and punched in a touchdown to win 21-17.
--- WISCONSIN destroyed BYU on the road. Alex Hornibrook played a near-perfect game: he only threw one incompletion and had four touchdowns through the air. BYU might not be any good, but it was a masterful performance from the overwhelming Big Ten West favorites.
--- The other Big Ten team to lose to a Group of Five team this week was ILLINOIS, as they dropped a Friday night contest to USF, 47-23. The game was on track to break the record for penalties for quite a while (there were 26 total in the first half), but the refs swallowed their whistles in the blowout and they didn’t get the record.
--- KENTUCKY gave up a long touchdown pass to SOUTH CAROLINA’s Deebo Samuel on the first play of the game, but rebounded for a solid 23-13 road win over the Gamecocks. Benny Snell ran for two Wildcat touchdowns and Samuel – South Carolina’s best player – was lost for the season with an injury.
--- TEXAS A&M trailed at the half to LOUISIANA LAFAYETTE, but recovered for what wound up being a comfortable win – Kevin Sumlin’s job is safe for another week.
--- Brandon Wimbush had a poor day passing (completing less than half of his passes for just 96 yards), but he ran for over 200 and scored four rushing touchdowns to lead NOTRE DAME to a 49-20 blowout over BOSTON COLLEGE. Irish running back Josh Adams ran for over 200 yards as well and ND went for over 10 yards per carry in the win. The Don Brown era must feel so long ago in Chestnut Hill.
--- In what’s sort of an odd regular matchup, EAST CAROLINA leapt out to a 17-7 first quarter lead over VIRGINIA TECH… and the Hokies wound up winning 64-17. Josh Jackson threw for five touchdowns on the game.
--- WASHINGTON STATE won 52-23 over OREGON STATE as Luke Falk threw for six touchdowns.
--- KANSAS lost to a MAC team by two scores and no one was surprised.