Week 1 College Football Recap: SEC dominance, Ohio State's offense and everything else from Saturday
It’s 2:17 AM on the East Coast, and a marathon, fourteen-hour day of watching college football is done. I am equally exhausted and excited because once again, this is the greatest, most fun, sport on the planet.
The first true Saturday of the season had everything you could ask for. Yes, the headlines were the two top-eleven matchups of Oregon vs. Georgia and Notre Dame vs. Ohio State, and both of those games delivered for different reasons. But, we were reminded over and over today that college football is about a lot more than crowning a champion.
It’s also about a 7-3 game with no touchdowns with Iowa and South Dakota State, or a 63-61 game between North Carolina that featured sixty-two, yes, sixty-two, points in the fourth quarter. There was something for everyone this Saturday. Here are a few of my overarching thoughts and my current playoff standings.
Georgia is terrifying, and the SEC makes a statement
It was a banner day for the SEC, headlined by Georgia ruining former Georgia Defensive Coordinator Dan Lanning’s first game as head coach at Oregon by a tune of 49-3.
It wasn’t that close. Oregon, known for their speed and athleticism, looked to be in quicksand on both sides of the ball. It was like a high school game between a team looking for a state title and another hoping to win a few games. Except, Oregon is one of the best programs in the country. That’s how good Georgia was today.
The defense is still sensational, and Nolan Smith looks like he is fulfilling the potential that earned him the status as one of America’s premier recruits four years ago. Stetson Bennett (25-38, 368 yards, 2 TD) looks in complete command of the offense, and if you do not have Stetson Bennett Heisman futures in your portfolio, now would be the time to do so.
The thing that stood out the most to me about Georgia today was its tight ends. I believe no team in college football history, and maybe not in the NFL either, has had a tight end room with three athletic freaks of the caliber of Brock Bowers, Arik Gilbert, and Darnell Washington. All three were big-time recruits and Bowers was the best tight end in college football as a true freshman last year for my money.
Gilbert was in a car accident earlier in the week and his role was limited, and the other two only had four catches. But, it’s what their presence, as all three of them are excellent blockers as well as threats in the passing game, does for Todd Monken’s offense. It’s impossible to match personnel when two or three of those guys are on the field, and Monken knows it. Georgia’s offense may look old-fashioned. It’s not. It’s simply the next evolution of football in terms of getting as many big, strong and fast players on the field at one time. Georgia has more of those guys than any other team in America.
After the game, Georgia Coach Kirby Smart said, “We have better players.” That they do.
Georgia wasn’t the only SEC East team to make a statement. Florida used a late touchdown and a boneheaded interception by Utah’s Cam Rising with his team down three and the ball inside the ten-yard line to upset the 7th-ranked Utes, 29-26. It’s a dream start for new Gator head coach Billy Napier, and needless to say, he endeared himself to the home fans quickly.
It must be said that the two highest preseason-ranked teams in the PAC-12 have now lost, as the conference dies a slow, painful, self-inflicted test.
Alabama looked excellent, Arkansas squeaked out a win over a scrappy Cincinnati team that wouldn’t quit, and the SEC is 13-0 this week heading into tonight’s Florida State-LSU game.
Ohio State’s offense doesn’t look quite right
All offseason long, we were all bombarded with people saying just how unstoppable the Buckeye offense will be. After all, they returned Heisman-favorite CJ Stroud, the best receiver in America last year in Jaxon Smith-Njigba, and dynamic sophomore tailback Treyveon Henderson, not to mention the other five-star talent surrounding those three.
So, many thought they would march up and down the field on Notre Dame in the day’s marquee game between the two top-five teams. That’s not what happened, as the Buckeye offense only scored 21 points.
Yes, Njigba battled an injury for most of the game and ultimately sat for nearly three quarters in total. But, in Ryan Day’s tenure in Columbus it never really mattered what receivers were and were not healthy, the offense always kept clicking. It wasn’t the case last night, as Ohio State never completed a pass in their trademark deep passing game. They only had three catches over 20 yards and the longest play, a 31-yard touchdown hookup from Stroud to Marvin Harrison Jr. was only that long because of a whiffed tackle by the Notre Dame secondary.
This is part of a trend from Stroud against better competition. He was not exactly dominant in games last year against Oregon, Michigan, Nebraska, and Penn State, four of the better defenses he faced. I’ve thought for quite some time that Day’s scheme is so good and his recruiting at skill positions accumulates too much talent that it’s the situation, not the individual quarterbacks, that allows such big numbers in the passing game. CJ Stroud has yet to do anything in a Buckeye uniform to move me off that position.
The running stats, with Henderson and backfield mate Miyan Williams both averaging almost exactly six yards a carry, look better than how Ohio State actually ran the ball. Ohio State, who struggled mightily last year in short-yardage running situations, failed early in the game on a 3rd and 2, and a few possessions later, facing a 4th and 3 at the Irish 40-yard line, Ryan Day elected to punt. Electing to punt in that situation sent a very clear message that Ryan Day simply does not trust this running game to pick up yards in short-yardage.
In fact, for three quarters it was evident Notre Dame was the tougher team in the trenches. Give Ohio State credit, though, as both lines took over in the 4th quarter and did enough to win 21-10.
Still, that’s not an offense that can score a lot on Alabama or Georgia, and that’s a problem for the Buckeye’s title aspirations.
Good first impressions
We already talked about new Florida coach Billy Napier, and both USC’s Lincoln Riley and Oklahoma’s Brent Venables had their teams ready to play this weekend and both squads won by blowouts.
Out west, USC trounced Rice by a score of 66-14 thanks in part to three pick-sixes, two of them off the hands of Owl receivers. The Trojan run defense was still a little suspect, but they looked great in the other facets of the game, albeit against one of the worst teams in FBS. Caleb Williams and company shined, the offensive line, derided a year ago, was exceptional in both the run and pass game, and it looked like a Lincoln Riley offense that is going to be very dangerous very soon.
In Norman, The Sooners topped another bottom-tier FBS team in UTEP, 45-13. The offense had some bright spots, especially in the run and downfield passing game, but looked like a work in progress that may take new play-caller Jeff Lebby a little while longer to truly gel.
It was the Sooner defense that kept me watching. It was the first time in quite some time I can remember a Sooner defense truly playing fast and downhill. It paid off, too, as the Oklahoma defense had six sacks and nine tackles for loss. They picked off a pass, too, and forced three fumbles. Though they didn’t recover any of those fumbles, they will in the future if they keep creating chances like they did Saturday afternoon.
Notre Dame lost, but they kept that game much more competitive than many thought, and they were a well-prepared and well-coached football team for first-year head coach Marcus Freeman. Notre Dame isn’t a program that hangs its hat on moral victories, but it’s tough to not be excited for the Irish’s future after last night.
The last big coaching debut is tonight, as Brian Kelly and LSU take on Florida State. If Kelly is anything like the other new coaches at top-tier programs, Florida State could be in serious trouble.
College Football is so damn fun
Enough talk about the traditional powers. Saturday was a wacky day of college football, and the noon slate especially was chaotic.
The zaniest game of the day, and, as of Friday evening, the most expensive get-in price of any game in the country, was UNC traveling to Boone to take on in-state rival Appalachian State.
After the Mountaineers took a two-touchdown early in the second quarter, the Tar Heels scored 34 unanswered points to go up 41-21 entering the fourth. At that point, it was going to be a great win for the Tar Heels against a very good Appalachain State team in a tough environment.
And then chaos happened. In twelve minutes, there were twelve touchdowns scored. The tenth touchdown, a 31-yard pass from Chase Brice to Dashaun Davis with 31 seconds left gave the Mountaineers a chance to win the game in regulation when coach Shawn Clark elected to go for two. Brice, who finished a remarkable 25-26 on the day, overthrew a wide-open receiver in the end zone, and it appeared that would be that, 56-55 UNC, with App State out of timeouts.
That is until Tar Heel Bryson Nesbit took the onside kick attempt in for a touchdown. Great right? Except If he falls down on the ball, UNC takes one knee and the game is over. Instead, after Mack Brown dumbfoundingly decided to kick the extra point to go up eight instead of ending the game with a two-point conversion, Appalachain State went right down the field and scored, only to fail again on the two-point conversion try. The Mountaineers scored 40 points in the fourth quarter, and it was not enough. Incredible.
That wasn’t the only wild early game. East Carolina outplayed top-fifteen North Carolina State all day, only to miss the game-tying extra point late in the fourth quarter and then miss a game-winning field goal to lose 21-20.
Later on, Houston survived a 3OT game with a very good UTSA team, and Liberty beat Southern Mississippi in 4OT.
I have to talk about the atrocity that was South Dakota State and Iowa. The Hawkeyes won 7-3 with a field goal and two safeties against their FCS foe. I love great defensive slugfests. This was not that. South Dakota State, entirely outmanned on the offensive side of the ball was overmatched against a genuinely excellent performance from the Iowa defense. The Iowa offense, coordinated by head coach Kirk Ferentz’s son Brian, is a show of nepotism so grandiose that North Korea would blush. Hawkeye signal caller Spencer Petras played as if he had won a raffle to be a quarterback for a day and the offensive line, which both Ferentz’s had raved about all Summer could not even get a little push against the Jackrabbit defense.
Having Phil Parker be the defensive coordinator with Brian Ferentz running the offense is akin to a two-on-two basketball team of Michael Jordan and Michael Scott. How a top-flight program has not scooped up Parker yet is beyond me. Parker coaches national championship caliber defenses pretty often, only to have daddy’s favorite son take an offensive scheme most commonly found in Tecmo Bowl and implement it in 2022.
Just one change in order from my preseason playoff predictions.
Ohio State (1-0)
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