Bouncing back, getting even and other Week 9 developments
The great Lou Holtz once said that you’ll never get ahead by always trying to get even, and Lou’s a wise man. Sure, he’s picked Notre Dame a few too many times, but the Irish are undefeated this year, so he might be on to something.
Of course, in college football, we love a good revenge story. What’s better than really sticking it to a rival? What’s more fun than showing up a coach who didn’t recruit you? What fills your heart more than looking like a Heisman contender one game after fans were ready to kick you to the curb?
Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm probably won’t consider Saturday’s performance an act of revenge, but it was certainly a case of some serious redemption. The sophomore had the worst game of his career two weeks ago in a loss to LSU, and the chorus of fans eager to see hot-shot freshman Justin Fields take the starting job grew awfully loud. Instead, Fields was absent from Saturday’s festivities against Florida, and Fromm was a magician, throwing for 240 yards and three touchdowns in a 36-17 win over No. 9 Florida.
If Fromm’s performance silenced the anxious Georgia fans though, the Bulldogs faithful got a taste of revenge, too. Back in 2013, they’d assigned the derisive nickname “Third and Grantham” to their former defensive coordinator, Todd Grantham, who struggled to get his unit off the field in big moments. On Saturday, Georgia took full advantage now that Grantham is on the opposite sideline, coaching the Gators’ defense. Georgia converted 8-of-14 third-down tries Saturday, including all four touchdowns.
In Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men,” revenge is at the forefront of the novel’s conflict, and it ends poorly for Lennie. We’re not sure how that would apply to Texas here, but Tom Herman has stretched the comparisons before, so anything’s possible. Nevertheless, Oklahoma State put a dagger through the Longhorns’ playoff hopes with a 38-35 win. Taylor Cornelius was superb, accounting for five touchdowns in a win that proved, while Texas is indeed not back, mullets never go out of style.
That’s nothing compared to the revenge exacted by Wake Forest on Saturday. In the aftermath of “Wakeyleaks,” the Demon Deacons have made tormenting Louisville a habit, and Saturday’s 56-35 win was particularly sweet.
First, there’s Matt Colburn, Wake’s top tailback who posted touchdown runs of 74, 56 and 12. Colburn, you may recall, was one of the early commits to Louisville back in the 2015 class, only to have the Cardinals pull his scholarship just before signing day. Bad move, Bobby Petrino. Colburn ran for a career-high 243 yards in the win — or 39 more yards than Louisville has run for as a team in any game this season.
And think Wake coach Dave Clawson likes rubbing it in? After Louisville swiped his plays in 2016, the Deacons have won two straight against the Cardinals, putting up a combined 98 points. Must be tough to defend the Deacs when you don’t know what’s coming.
Or how about a little revenge by Pitt tailback V’Lique Carter? In the Panthers’ last game against Notre Dame, Carter was left off the travel roster. He didn’t have a single carry all season entering Saturday, but when Pat Narduzzi finally gave him a touch, he made the most of it. Carter had seven carries against Duke and racked up 137 yards and two touchdowns. Think Narduzzi might bring him along for Pitt’s trip to Virginia next week?
Kansas doesn’t get revenge often, but when it happens, it’s usually against a team from Texas. The Jayhawks’ last Big 12 win came in 2016 against the Longhorns, and they hadn’t beaten TCU since 1997. It came, fittingly, due to a butt fumble (Darius Anderson collided with a lineman’s posterior and fumbled in the red zone) and included a late-game safety, but hey, revenge isn’t always perfectly executed.
And then, of course, there’s Christian Wilkins. The Clemson defensive tackle has been complaining about his head coach for weeks, as Dabo Swinney steadfastly refused to let the 315-pound senior play quarterback, despite a depth chart woefully absent significant experience or athletic 300-pounders. But Wilkins managed to prove his offensive prowess Saturday, rushing for a 1-yard TD (behind 340-pound lead blocker Dexter Lawrence) against Florida State. It’s not exactly the same as taking the snap and tossing a bomb, but it’s yet another feat of athleticism for Wilkins, who’s also blocked a kick, caught a pass and ran to convert a fake punt over the years.
So maybe Swinney won’t let Wilkins play QB. Can we at least get the guy a lifetime achievement award for big-man offensive brilliance? After all, as Alfred Hitchcock once said, “Revenge is sweet, but it’s not fattening.”
Week 9 Hot Takes
N’Keal Harry is Not Human
We’re sure the Pac-12 has done some genetic testing to prove otherwise, but there’s simply no way Harry is a mere mortal. He’s already established himself as one of the most physically imposing receivers in the country, bu this catch in a win over USC on Saturday was just — well, inhuman. It takes a special catch to ensure your 92-yard punt return touchdown isn’t the game’s biggest highlight.
Reading Is Fundamental, Pass Protection Is Not
After last year’s photo of Jimbo Fisher’s Christmas tree setting out with the trash in his front lawn as he negotiated his way to Texas A&M so perfectly summed up the Florida State season, you’d have been reasonable to assume nothing like that could happen again. And you’d be wrong. Want an image that perfectly explains 2018 in Tallahassee? We give you “Shirtless Man Reading a Book.” Tough to blame the guy for diving into some reading rather than watching the latest horror show for FSU — one in which Willie Taggart promised changes after players “quit” in a blowout to Clemson — but unless we was thumbing through “A Complete Idiot’s Guide to Quickly Fixing an Offensive Line,” its probably not going to help much.
Mark Stoops is the Ideal Date for a Metal Show
Yes, Kentucky’s on-field performance was amazing, but nothing tops Stoops crowd surfing in the locker room after the win.
D’Eriq King Looks Like Tecmo Bo
All the pre-game buzz was about Houston playing without its start defensive lineman, Ed Oliver. And while no one doubts Oliver’s talent, it might be worth noting that no one on the Cougars’ roster is doing more this season than their QB.
King put on a show against previously undefeated USF on Saturday, totaling 551 yards and seven touchdowns in the win. None of his touchdowns was more impressive than his 47-yard run that included a few bounces off tacklers, a ridiculous sidestep and then a spin move that looks like it came from a video game.
How good was the performance? King is one of seven QBs to post 550 yards and multiple TDs both rushing and passing in the last decade. Of the other six, two won the Heisman (Baker Mayfield and Johnny Manziel) and two more are currently NFL starters (Patrick Mahomes and Dak Prescott). Pretty impressive company.
Oh, and it’s probably worth noting that Houston is now 7-1, in control of its destiny in the American and scored 40 or more in every game this season.
You Can Only Spell Defense Without A-C-C
The ACC might be a dumpster fire outside of Clemson, but it’s a fun dumpster fire. Week 9 was an offensive onslaught for ACC teams, which combined to score 521 points — or nearly 75 per game. It started with Georgia Tech’s onslaught against Virginia Tech on Thursday and ended with the back-and-forth fireworks at the Carrier Dome as Syracuse topped NC State 51-41. Of the seven games, six went over the Las Vegas total, and three — Cuse-NC State, Wake-Louisville and Duke-Pitt — topped 90.
The top four seems pretty clear for the first playoff rankings release this week, with Alabama and LSU off and Clemson and Notre Dame cruising in Week 9. The order of the next group is a big question — Michigan? Oklahoma? Georgia? — but it looks like a pretty clear line of demarcation after the top seven. But who comes next?
Here’s where UCF fans start throwing things at their computer screens. Yes, we know Knights. You’re undefeated again. Take it up with the committee.
But how about Kentucky? The only loss the Wildcats have endured this season came on the road in overtime. No, this isn’t a great offense, but the same can be said about LSU and, at least when they’re on the road, the Wolverines, too. What Kentucky has is an elite defense that held Drew Lock and Missouri to just 49 yards and 0-of-8 on third-down conversions in the second half Saturday and a chance at unseating Georgia next week to take control of the SEC East. And sure, the resumes aren’t exactly the same, but let’s remember that while LSU lost to Florida, Kentucky had no trouble beating the Gators in Gainesville.
Out West, the Pac-12’s playoff hopes are on life support, and for good reason. But with a dramatic win over Stanford, Washington State remains alive. Of all the one-loss Power 5 teams, the Cougars are getting the least amount of love so far, but wins over Utah, Oregon and Stanford all look pretty impressive, and a three-point loss on the road against a healthier USC team isn’t bad. Maybe the committee will take Mike Leach’s team more seriously than the AP voters have thus far.
And in the Group of 5 yes, there’s UCF. We’ll bang the drum to get the Knights in the conversation, but the more interesting debate right now might be who steps up if UCF slips somewhere along the way. A New Year’s Six bid awaits the highest ranked Group of 5 team, and with Appalachian State and USF losing this week, the waiting list is wide open. Certainly Houston deserves a good, long look, but Utah State also continues to cruise — and gets a lot of love in some of the advanced metrics.
So while the first set of rankings may not be full of drama, there’s definitely some intrigue as we make our way down the list.
1. Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama: Down week for Tua. Didn’t throw a single touchdown. We’ll keep him in the top spot anyway.
2. Kyler Murray, Oklahoma: Ho-hum, another game with nearly 400 total yards and four touchdowns. The 2019 baseball season can’t get here soon enough for Big 12 defenses.
3. Dwayne Haskins, Ohio State: He’s on shaky ground after the Purdue loss, but there’s ample time to return to the mix.
4. Will Grier, West Virginia: He’s completing 70 percent of his throws with 26 touchdowns, and he’ll get his shot at some spotlight games with Texas (next week) and Oklahoma (in the finale) still coming up.
5. D’Eriq King, Houston: How is this guy not getting more attention? King is utterly annihilating teams, and he’s racked up 39 touchdowns on the season.
Raining on Parades, Week 9
Because we avoid Rat Poison at the behest of college football’s finest coach, here are our critiques of teams riding high after Week 9 wins.
• Georgia ran 10 plays against Florida from inside the 7, and none found the end zone. The lowlight was a 6-play drive that started at the Florida 1-yard line and ended a half-yard further back. Against a ridiculously good Kentucky defense next week, Georgia better figure out its goal-line offense.
• Penn State was up 10 and driving in the fourth quarter to salt away the game, only to fumble the ball. Another turnover went for a pick-six, and it was only a flubbed play by Iowa that kept the Nittany Lions from another brutal loss. This follows a pattern, where Penn State blew a 31-17 fourth-quarter lead against Appalachian State (prevailing in OT), blew a 26-14 fourth-quarter lead in a loss to Ohio State, blew a three-point lead with 19 seconds to play in a loss to Michigan State, and saw Indiana come back from down 33-21 in the final minute to have a chance to win. No lead is safe with the Nittany Lions.
• After four straight games with at least 120 yards on the ground, Travis Etienne has just 84 yards over his past two games. Is that a concern for Clemson? Eh, probably not. Dabo Swinney allowed 11 different players to carry the ball Saturday against Florida State. Still, Etienne has a Heisman campaign to play for, so let’s get the kid a few more touches.
• Alabama’s insistence on an off week seems pretty soft. Shouldn’t the Tide have at least played a pick-up game against a biker gang or something?
Let’s Go Bowling
With a win over North Carolina, Virginia moves into first place in the ACC Coastal, but it also secured bowl eligibility for the second straight year Saturday. The last time the Hoos went to bowls in back-to-back seasons was 2002 through 2005 under Al Groh. That’s huge progress for Bronco Mendenhall’s crew.
Two other ACC teams earned bowl eligibility in Week 9, too. Boston College is going bowling for the fifth time in six years under Steve Addazio, and the Eagles remain the last hope for the ACC to unseat Clemson in the Atlantic. Meanwhile, Syracuse earned its first six-win season since 2013 with a huge win over NC State.
Others getting bowl eligible this week: FIU, Penn State, Army, Troy, West Virginia, Utah and Louisiana Tech and Boise State.
No Easy Wins for the Buffal-Oh-Nos!
Colorado tailback Travon McMillian ran 75 yards for a touchdown early in the third quarter Saturday, giving the Buffs a comfortable 31-3 lead over hapless Oregon State. And that should’ve been the point in which everyone switched the channel and forgot this game was even being played. Except for one small issue… The Beavers weren’t rolling over. Oregon State came back to tie the game with a TD pass with 29 seconds left, only to miss the PAT (because this is still Oregon State), sending the game to OT. Colorado’s offense couldn’t get it done though, and the Beavers won 41-34. It marked just the fourth time in the past decade in which a team had a 28-point lead in the second half and still lost. The really bad part? It’s the second time in that span Colorado has done it (2010 vs. Kansas).
Big Ten Worst
So, who saw this coming? We’re through nine weeks and your Big Ten West leader is… Northwestern? Yup, the same team that lost to Akron and Duke is 5-1 in conference play and has a head-to-head win over two of its three top competitors, Purdue and, thanks to Saturday, Wisconsin. What’s that mean? Well, aside from proving Akron would win the division, it also means that, should a one-loss Big Ten East team need a signature win in the title game to ensure a playoff berth, it probably isn’t going to get the chance.
Iowa recorded two safeties against Penn State. That’s the first time that’s happened in an FBS game since Memphis had two against Tulane in 2015. In fact, of Iowa’s 24 points, none came via offensive touchdown. The Hawkeyes had a pick-six, a fake kick for a TD and two field goals to go with the safeties.
Plays of the Day
On a Saturday when some of the top teams took the week off, the highlight reel was still awfully good. A few of our favorites:
Middle Tennessee’s Reed Blankenship picks off a pass in the end zone and goes 100 yards for the score.
Oregon State receiver Isaiah Hodgins makes one of the best touchdown grabs you’ll see, hauling it in one-handed then using the concentration to hang on as he goes to the ground.
Texas State hasn’t had much to cheer for this season, but in our Pillow Fight game of the week vs. New Mexico State, Jeremiah Haydel skied over an Aggies defender to haul in a score, and the Bobcats won 27-20.
Under-appreciated Play of the Week
Matt Jarzynka grew up in a town of about 1,000 people called Loup City, or as Wikipedia notes, the Polish Capital of Nebraska. There’s not a lot going on in Loup City. In high school, Jarzynka played 8-man football, because teams couldn’t field a full roster. Still, he ended up in a Huskers uniform and was happy to just be a part of the team. Much like the famed “Rudy,” Jarzynka never played a snap — until Saturday. He got in during a rout of Bethune-Cookman, and on a first-down play midway through the fourth quarter, he — like Rudy — got a sack (only Jarzynka wasn’t offsides… don’t @ us). After the game, Jarzynka tweeted about the moment.
Under-appreciated Win of the Week
No, Delaware State isn’t going to make a late push for the FCS playoff, but the Hornets did pick up win No. 1 Saturday, topping North Carolina Central 28-13. The Hornets entered the game 5-47 since the start of the 2014 season, and this marked their first win by more than 3 points in more than four years. So, congrats to Del State, but the long wait for the first win of the season remains for UTEP, Tennessee Tech and VMI — the lone winless teams in all of Division I.
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