It’s hard to win football games. Coaches talk about this all the time, usually to explain why fans should take some 40-point underdog seriously, but it’s still probably true. At least, it was Saturday.
On a weekend in which there were zero matchups of ranked teams, we were treated to a delightful menagerie of weather delays, frisky FCS teams, brutal special-teams plays and a handful of memorably ridiculous decisions that proved, indeed, winning doesn’t come easy.
Start in Happy Valley, where Pitt had a chance to tie the score on its hated rival with a touchdown after picking up a first down at the Penn State 1. Three straight plays gained nothing. The decision on fourth down with less than 5 minutes to play? A field goal attempt. That 19-yard chip shot missed, not that it would have mattered much.
For the record, since the start of last season, when teams go for it on fourth-and-goal from the 1, they score touchdowns 70% of the time.
“We needed two scores to win,” Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi said afterward.
Well, that’s irrefutable logic. It’s the rough equivalent of saying “Weekend at Bernie’s II” wasn’t going to win an Oscar without being nominated first, but it’s nevertheless true.
Michigan State did Pitt one better a few hours later. The Spartans also looked at the NFL rule book for the number of players allowed on the field and did that one better too.
After Arizona State took a 10-7 lead with less than a minute to play, Michigan State drove down the field and into field goal territory, aided by a questionable pass interference penalty. The Spartans lined up for a 42-yarder, and Matt Coghlin drilled it. Flag. Sparty had 12 men on the field. Backed up 5 yards, Coghlin kicked again … and missed.
But that wasn’t Saturday’s low point. No, we had to wait for that one. Wait and wait and wait.
Iowa and Iowa State sat through more than three hours of delays due to weather, so perhaps that’s why Cyclones sophomore Datrone Young was so enthusiastic to get downfield on Iowa’s late punt that would’ve given Iowa State a last chance to win. Young collided with Deshaunte Jones, who was fielding the punt, and the ball rolled free, recovered by Iowa. And so it ended 18-17, Iowa.
And that didn’t even include Kentucky surrendering a 76-yard run as Florida was just trying to run out the clock or Florida State and Virginia combining for seven personal fouls or pass interference flags in the fourth quarter or Southern California’s interception in overtime. It’s hard to capture it all, really.
Was it a good day of football? Well, it depends on your definition of “good.” Was “Road House” good? Is Weird Al good? Are hot dog eating contests good? It really doesn’t matter. It was fun and it was entertaining. Head-scratching too. But that’s the subtle brilliance of a Saturday like this one.
Hurts had 99 rushing yards on Oklahoma’s opening drive because he isn’t going to even let you think there’s a chance he is not staying atop the Heisman rankings.
Even by Tagovailoa’s standards, 444 yards and five touchdowns on the road in an SEC game is pretty darned impressive.
Burrow threw a pick against Northwestern State, which constitutes big news. Aside from that, another ho-hum game with more than 400 total yards and three touchdowns.
Through three games, Fields has accounted for more touchdowns this season (12) than Dwayne Haskins had last season (11).
Through three games, Ehlinger has 12 touchdowns and no turnovers.
Week 3 panic index
We’re just three weeks into the season, but the heat is getting turned up a bit for some big-name teams. So, how bad is it? Let’s take a look.
Panic rating: Deep breaths into a paper bag
Yeah, Lawrence is off to a rough start. He threw two picks against Syracuse, giving him five on the season — one more than he had all of last season. But are we really going to worry about Lawrence? He is too good for this to last long, and the rest of the schedule is too bad for him not to put up monster numbers in the next few months.
Trevor Lawrence identifies how Clemson still has much to improve upon, but is satisfied with the positives in the Tigers’ 3-0 start.
Clay Helton’s job status
Panic rating: The “This is Fine” meme
What else can Helton say? He knows the writing is on the wall, and with a new athletic director and a brutal schedule upcoming, Saturday’s loss to BYU was probably just another flame emerging.
Panic rating: Kevin Bacon yelling “All is well!” at the end of “Animal House”
Yes, Florida came back to win at Kentucky, but the Gators lost quarterback Feleipe Franks in the process. Kyle Trask held his own, completing 9-of-13 passes for 126 yards, but it remains to be seen how the offense will respond long term. Franks is the first Florida QB since Tim Tebow to throw more than 12 TDs in a season, so it’s not a foregone conclusion that another successful passer is waiting in the wings.
The Wolverines were off this week after going to overtime against Army in Week 2, but the heat got turned up a bit with another dominant win by Ohio State. The Buckeyes trounced Indiana behind a stellar day from Justin Fields and 193 yards from J.K. Dobbins.
Illinois‘ bowl hopes
Panic rating: Jodie Foster in “Panic Room”
Yes, it’s bad. It’s intruders-in-the-house, lose-to-Eastern-Michigan bad. But hey, at least they’ve been prepared for the worst.
#goacc, retro style
For years, the #goacc hashtag — all lower case — was shorthand for the league’s woeful performances, but as Florida State and then Clemson won national titles, the social media sarcasm dwindled. Well … it’s baaaaack.
On Saturday, things got worse.
Georgia Tech fell to The Citadel, an FCS team, in one of the Yellow Jackets’ most embarrassing defeats in history.
Since the Wake-UNC game was officially a nonconference showdown, the league lost five games out of conference in Week 3.
Bob Davie didn’t make his return to his old stomping grounds in South Bend, Indiana, still recovering from a medical issue that hospitalized the New Mexico coach during the Lobos’ opener.
Davie returned to the team last week, declining to give much information about his condition, but he didn’t travel with the Lobos to Notre Dame, the place he served as head coach from 1997 through 2001.
It was just as well. Notre Dame demolished New Mexico 66-14, running its record to 2-0 versus teams coached by former Irish head coaches. The only other meeting came in 2005, when Tyrone Willingham’s Washington Huskies were thumped 36-17. That game came in Seattle, however, and with Davie’s absence Saturday, no former Irish head coach has ever made a return to Notre Dame Stadium.
@SECOfficiating comment of the week
First off, a big congratulations to the SEC officials for keeping their Twitter feed alive through three weeks. It seemed impossible they’d make it through the first Saturday without shutting things down. But that doesn’t mean SEC fans have relaxed any.
Just before halftime in the Alabama-South Carolina game, it appeared Rico Dowdle might have stretched across the goal line before his knee touched the ground. The officials called Dowdle down inside the 1 and didn’t review the play, leading South Carolina coach Will Muschamp to refuse to comment, noting, “I’ll be fined for the rest of my life if I comment on that.”
Twitter users, however, were happy to chime in.
There is no way they could have made that determination that quickly… Awful calls today.
— Jason Cuzzupe (@ZupeFiasco) September 14, 2019
Under-the-radar play of the day
In the end, it didn’t matter much as Notre Dame romped to a 66-14 win, but don’t ignore the insane catch-and-run from Irish receiver Javon McKinley late in the first half. McKinley looked like Tecmo Bo, breaking six tackles en route to the score. He hauls in the pass at the Irish 40, shrugs off his cover defender, streaks toward the sideline making another defender miss, zigzags back toward the middle of the field, spins, hits the B-button a few times for a little speed boost, then finds pay dirt. It doesn’t exactly fill the void left by the lack of the college football video game, but it still was pretty sweet.
Under-the-radar game of the day
P.J. Fleck must have done something amazing in a past life, because he has plenty of karma on his side in 2019. Minnesota moved to 3-0 with a Tyler Johnson touchdown pass with 13 seconds to play to upend Georgia Southern 35-32. It was the third straight one-possession win for the Gophers, who narrowly beat South Dakota State with a late fourth-quarter TD pass in Week 1 and needed overtime to get past Fresno State in Week 2. Minnesota is only the third team in the past decade to win each of its first three games by seven points or fewer, joining 2011 Iowa State (finished 6-7) and 2012 Oregon State (finished 9-4). So, ladies and gentlemen, your mark-it-in-ink, sure-to-happen 2019 Big Ten West champs, the Minnesota Golden Gophers.
Trailing by four with under a minute to play, Tyler Johnson wins a jump ball in the end zone for his third score of the game, clinching Minnesota’s 35-32 win.
By the numbers
Eno Benjamin scored on a 1-yard run to put Arizona State up 10-7 against Michigan State with just 50 seconds to play. The score was overshadowed a bit by how the game ended, with the Spartans blowing a late field goal attempt, but it was nevertheless noteworthy. Benjamin’s TD gave Arizona State 10 points for the 122nd straight game, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. It is both the longest active streak and the second longest in the AP poll era (since 1936) behind Louisiana Tech’s run of 125 straight from 2008 through 2018.
Jake Smith hauled in a 53-yard touchdown grab late in the first quarter against Rice. It was the second TD reception of 50 yards or more in the past two weeks for Texas, according to ESPN Stats & Information data. Total number of 50-yard TD grabs in 28 prior games under Tom Herman? Zero.
Cincinnati‘s Michael Warren had 113 yards and three touchdowns in only 12 carries in a win over Miami (Ohio). It marks the third time since the start of last season that Warren has had a game with 100 yards and three TDs on the ground. The only tailback in the country with more is Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor.
Should we ask where Murray State would finish in the SEC East? The Racers are the only team to score a touchdown against Georgia‘s defense so far this season, after the Bulldogs shut out Arkansas State. For the season, UGA’s defense has been on the field for 37 drives and given up only one TD. The only team yet to allow a TD this season is Wisconsin, which had Week 3 off.
UCF won its 27th straight regular-season game, demolishing Stanford 45-27. The 18-point beating was Stanford’s second-worst loss in a nonconference game in the past decade (after last year’s 21-point defeat to playoff-bound Notre Dame).
During UCF’s regular-season win streak, the Knights are 3-0 against Power 5 foes, all wins by double digits. Saturday’s 18-point victory follows a 45-14 win over Pitt last year and a 38-10 win over Maryland in 2017. The Knights will have a chance to add another Power 5 win to their résumé next week at Pitt.
UCF freshman quarterback Dillon Gabriel throws four touchdowns on 347 yards as the Knights take down Stanford 45-27.
Dealing with success
Maryland‘s thrashing of Syracuse in Week 2 earned the Terrapins a No. 21 ranking in the AP poll, but they’re unlikely to spend much time in the Top 25. The Terps fell to Temple 20-17, extending a streak of nearly 13 years without a win while ranked for Maryland.
Since then, 93 other teams have won at least one game while in the Top 25, and all but three other Power 5 schools have at least one win while ranked. All four of the winless teams in that span, however, reside in the same conference: Maryland, Indiana, Purdue and Rutgers.
Big bets and bad beats
Lines courtesy Caesars Sportsbook
South Carolina happily reminded bettors it is dangerous to fade a heavy home underdog, but this one had to hurt Alabama backers. The Crimson Tide were 26.5-point favorites and up 47-16 with only 15 seconds to play when Ryan Hilinski’s fourth-down pass fell incomplete. Unfortunately for Bama bettors, the Tide were flagged for roughing the passer, giving South Carolina another crack at pay dirt. Hilinski’s next pass was an 11-yard touchdown with just 11 seconds to go, helping the Gamecocks to a mind-boggling backdoor cover.
The Citadel upended Georgia Tech in a game that might’ve made former Yellow Jackets coach Paul Johnson proud. Though Tech has moved on from Johnson’s option offense, The Citadel continues to run the flexbone — and did it to perfection in Atlanta. The Citadel won 27-24 in overtime while attempting only four passes (one completion). It is the third time this year a team has attempted five or fewer passes, according to ESPN Stats & Information research, including Army’s overtime loss to Michigan and Air Force’s Week 1 win over Colgate. Those teams are 3-0 against the spread, and since 2000, teams throwing five times or fewer are 98-23 against the number.
What does Mike Gundy have against Tulsa backers? Oklahoma State covered its 14-point spread by going for it on fourth-and-1 from the Tulsa 33, up 12 with 2:41 to play. The result was a 33-yard touchdown run by Chuba Hubbard, dealing a big blow to bettors of the underdog hoping for a cover.