Somebody once said that time was a flat circle, that everything we have done or ever will do, we will do over and over and over again, forever.
OK, that somebody was Matthew McConaughey in “True Detective.” And sure, he ripped it off from Nietzsche, but it sounded better coming from him. And, in some ways, the Minister of Culture at Texas has a point. After all, you can’t spend months in the desert, shirtlessly slapping at bongos without figuring out a few important universal truths.
And so here we are again. Texas, my friends, is not quite back.
But on the other hand, things do change. That flat circle gets folded in on itself. We step through a black hole and wake up in some universe we don’t understand. Or, at least that’s what we took from “Interstellar.” Honestly, the movie was pretty confusing. The important takeaway here, however, is that LSU has an offense. Like, an honest-to-goodness, modern, effective, dangerous offense. And boy did Joe Burrow and co. show it off on Saturday.
LSU’s 45-31 win in Austin was a statement. The Tigers won a few games last year when no one was expecting it, but it always felt more like smoke and mirrors and defense. These guys though, this offense — Burrow completed 31-of-39 passes for 471 yards — a whopping 12 yards per pass — with four touchdowns. That hasn’t happened since … ever. Guess Texas is not DBU after all.
This was no one-off performance, either. Burrow’s last six games: 72% completions, 1,915 yards, 19 touchdowns and two interceptions. There are fierce powers at work in the world, McConaughey said in “Mud.” Burrow is one of them.
The last time LSU beat Alabama was a 9-6 slugfest in 2011 that was about as fun to watch as “Failure to Launch.” In that game, the Tigers completed just nine passes for 91 yards. Since then, LSU is 0-8 vs. the Tide, getting shutout three times, never cracking 17 points and accounting for a grand total of four touchdown passes. Four. That’s what Burrow had on Saturday against Texas.
Alabama has cruised to a 2-0 start against Duke and New Mexico State, which tells us a big fat nothing about the Tide. But LSU, well this was a performance that matters, and the Tigers look like they might just be good enough to shake up the power structure in the SEC West. To do this on the road, to do this despite Texas’ ability to keep getting up off the mat, to do this with offense — this feels like a genuine step forward for LSU, a true deviation from an offense that looked stuck in the past for far too long. Ed Orgeron was no one’s choice to truly change LSU’s approach, to rewrite this script that we’d seen play out for the Tigers for the better part of a decade. And yet, here we are.
For Texas, it’s another setback on that seemingly endless path back to national prominence. The Longhorns showed plenty of fight, and it’s hard not to envision a world where they cashed in on just one of eight plays from inside the 10 in the first half, where the outcome was different. But this is reality for Texas still. The flat circle.
There are bigger tests down the road. For LSU, dates with Florida and Auburn are on the docket before traveling to Tuscaloosa. For Texas, redemption can be found in Dallas against Oklahoma.
For now though, LSU has offered the first truly seismic shift to the playoff picture, blossoming before our eyes into a legitimate contender.
And at Texas … well, that’s what we love about the “Is Texas back?” joke. We get older, and it stays just as funny. Alright, alright, alright.
Six lessons from Week 2
Week 2 isn’t exactly the point in the season when everything becomes clear. In fact, it’s mostly a waste. There were 28 games this week in which an FBS team played an FCS opponent (not counting Illinois’ game against UConn) and just 11 games between two Power 5 teams. Blowouts abound. Nearly two dozen teams topped 50 — even Ball State! So, did we learn anything? It might take a slightly more discerning eye, but yes, there were lessons amid the blowouts in Week 2, and we’re here to clear things up.
1. Clemson isn’t going to lose an ACC game. Yeah, this isn’t breaking news, but the Tigers’ dominance of Texas A&M and Syracuse’s nightmare against Maryland only underscored the huge gap between the Tigers and the rest of the Atlantic Division. What’s more concerning for Clemson opposition after Saturday’s shellacking of the Aggies is that it’s hard to figure what the game plan would be to shut down this offense. In Week 1, Georgia Tech played two safeties over the top and forced Trevor Lawrence into a bad game. Travis Etienne responded with 205 yards rushing. So in Week 2, A&M decided to load up against the run, and Etienne was held to just 53 yards on 16 carries. No biggie. Lawrence threw for 268 and Lyn-J Dixon, Etienne’s backup, ran for 79 and a TD. Good luck trying to crack that code.
2. We’re going to need NASA to keep tabs on Jalen Hurts’ numbers this year. The Oklahoma QB had another 300 yards of offense and three touchdowns and barely saw the field in the second half against South Dakota. Through two games, Hurts has completed 83% of his throws, totaled 814 yards, nine TDs and no picks. Compare that to Oklahoma’s last three Heisman winners through two games:
Kyler Murray: 64% completions, 607 yards, 7 TDs, 1 INT
Baker Mayfield: 84% completions, 702 yards, 6 TDs, 0 INT
Sam Bradford: 77% completions, 581 yards, 7 TDs, 2 INT
3. Michigan will make the playoff. Think about it: 100% of top-10 teams that narrowly escape Army in overtime at home have made the College Football Playoff. That’s just good math. Of course, it’d also probably help if Michigan averaged better than 2.4 yards-per-carry (as it did against Army).
4. Scott Frost angered the football gods when UCF claimed a national title. That’s the only explanation for the bad breaks for Frost at Nebraska. He’s coached the Huskers for 14 games, and he’s already lost five times by five points or less, including Saturday’s absolute collapse against Colorado. The Huskers led 17-0 in the first half and had a 31-24 lead with less than a minute to play, but fell in OT. The lesson? Don’t ever take something that rightly belongs to Alabama. Nick Saban has connections.
5. Week 1 isn’t a great forecaster. Sure, it’s fun to overreact to the opening week’s outcomes, but a lot can change between the first and second Saturdays of the season. Those teams that suffered miserable losses in the opener? They did OK in their follow-up performances. Missouri was upset by Wyoming, but rebounded with a resounding win against West Virginia. Purdue was stunned by Nevada, but picked off Vandy with ease on Saturday. South Carolina was an offensive mess in a loss to North Carolina, but Ryan Hilinski threw for 282 en route to 72 points vs. Charleston Southern. And even Tennessee — oh, no. That Georgia State loss appears to have been a pretty good predictor of what’s to come. Stay safe on Rocky Top, Vols fans.
6. It’s going to be a long year in Tallahassee. Florida State escaped with a 45-44 overtime win vs. ULM, thanks to a missed PAT. (Note to ULM: Be sure your kickers are properly hydrated moving forward.) That’s not a good look, coming one week after a brutal loss to Boise State. In the two games, FSU has been outscored 41-14 in the second halves (not counting OT), and has allowed back-to-back runners to go over 100 yards (Robert Mahone, 142, and Josh Johnson, 126). And if you’re counting at home, Florida State has inked 60 blue-chip recruits over the past four years. Boise State and ULM combined to sign six.
1. Jalen Hurts, Oklahoma
We’ve been giving this some thought, and we’ve come to the conclusion that Lincoln Riley knows how to coach up QBs. Just remember, you heard it here first.
2. Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama
Tagovailoa has more passing yards, passing TDs and a better completion percentage through two games this year than he did last season.
3. Joe Burrow, LSU
Over their past six games, Burrow has completed a higher percentage of passes, thrown for more yards and tossed the same number of TDs as Tagovailoa.
4. Trevor Lawrence, Clemson
It’s not been a great start statistically, but look at some of the throws Lawrence made against Texas A&M, and it’s obvious a breakthrough performance is on the horizon. He’s just biding his time. Perhaps next week, considering his opponent (Syracuse) just gave up 63 to Maryland.
5. Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin
He’s rushed for 100 yards in seven straight games. The last Big Ten runner to get to eight in a row was … Jonathan Taylor, back in 2017. Before that, however, none had done it since Ezekiel Elliott had 15 straight, ending in 2015.
Anderson gets a warm welcome
Blake Anderson took a leave of absence as head coach at Arkansas State on Aug. 19, just hours before his wife, Wendy, died of cancer. While he wasn’t coaching the team against UNLV on Saturday — he plans to return full time next week against Georgia — he visited the team in the hotel before the game, and he got an extraordinary reaction from his team.
Arkansas State head coach Blake Anderson returns to the team for the first time since his wife, Wendy, passed away from breast cancer.
There’s no ‘O’ in UCLA
We’re old enough to remember when Chip Kelly was an offensive genius. It was a different time. The Big East got a BCS bowl bid. Grumpy Cat clawed his way into our hearts. These days though, Kelly’s status as an offensive guru feels like a distant memory. UCLA lost to San Diego State 23-14 on Saturday, falling to 0-2 for the first time since 1943, according to ESPN Stats & Info. Both losses were to Group of Five teams. Overall, UCLA is 3-11 in Kelly’s 14 games as head coach and has averaged just 23 points per game. That’s worse than Kansas during that same stretch.
Take your ball and go home
Maine and Temple faced off in field hockey Saturday on Kent State’s campus and were tied at zero through one overtime. So, how’d it end? It didn’t.
As part of guidelines set out before the matchup, Kent State ended the match before a second OT could be played in order for the football team to kick off at 12:05 p.m.
“We regret today’s game had to be stopped during overtime play per field guidelines as previously discussed,” said Dan Griffin, Kent State’s director of athletics communication. “We recognize the hard work and dedication of all student-athletes. The safety of our community, including student-athletes and visitors is always our first consideration.”
Maine’s official Twitter account offered its frustration, and a good bit of handwringing followed as fans and media wondered why football came ahead of field hockey.
— UMaine Field Hockey (@UMaineFH) September 7, 2019
New faces, new places
It was a good week for coaches in new places. Houston’s Dana Holgorsen, Utah State’s Gary Andersen, ECU’s Mike Houston, Georgia Tech’s Geoff Collins, Louisville’s Scott Satterfield, Western Kentucky’s Tyson Helton and Coastal Carolina’s Jamey Chadwell all won. That leaves just five still seeking win No. 1: Miami’s Manny Diaz, Walt Bell at UMass, Jake Spavital at Texas State, Tom Arth at Akron and Hugh Freeze at Liberty.
Oh, so close
Maryland QB Josh Jackson had an exceptional first half in the Terrapins’ thrashing of Syracuse, completing 17-of-28 for 277 yards and three touchdowns. It seemed like one of the most unlikely streaks in college football was destined to fall. Believe it or not, according to ESPN Stats & Info, Maryland hadn’t had a 300-yard passer since Oct. 12, 2013 — back when the Terps were still part of the ACC. The only Power 5 team with a longer streak was Georgia Tech, which ran an option offense until this season. So, how’d Jackson celebrate ending that awful run? Ah, he didn’t. In the second half, Jackson was 4-of-10 for just 19 yards, and he didn’t throw a pass on the Terps’ final three drives. For the game, he finished with 296. Sometimes, it’s just not meant to be.
Twitter poll of the week
Army took Michigan to overtime in the Big House, the second straight season the Black Knights fell in an extra period to a top-10 opponent. Think Army’s option offense might look appealing to some other programs that can’t recruit blue-chip talent but want to compete with the big boys? Not likely. With Paul Johnson’s retirement last year at Georgia Tech, there are no Power 5 programs running the option, and it doesn’t seem like fans think that’s apt to change any time soon.
With Army playing well & Paul Johnson retired, question for y’all: Will we ever see another Power 5 team run the option full time?
— THE™️ David Hale (@ADavidHaleJoint) September 7, 2019
Under the radar win of the week
Southern Illinois hasn’t had a winning season since 2013, but it’s made a habit of taking FBS teams to the brink. The Salukis led Memphis at the half in 2017 and played one-possession games against FAU in 2016, Indiana in 2015, Illinois in 2013 and Marshall in 2009. What they hadn’t done since 2007, however, was pull the upset over an FBS opponent. Mission accomplished on Saturday, as Southern Illinois annihilated UMass 45-20. It’s the largest margin of victory by an FCS team vs. an FBS opponent since 2017, when Western Illinois beat Coastal Carolina 52-10. That was Coastal’s first FBS season. This is Year 8 for UMass, which has never finished an FBS season better than 4-8.
Under the radar play of the week
Mercer was backed up deep in its own territory, late in the first quarter against Presbyterian, when QB Robert Riddle went deep, looking for sophomore Rob Lake. Lake caught the ball in stride and sprinted for the end zone. The result was a 98-yard TD reception, the longest offensive play in Mercer history. And oh by the way, it was the first catch of Lake’s career.
Robert Riddle connects with Rob Lake down the sideline for a 98-yard touchdown in Mercer’s 45-7 win vs. Presbyterian.
Best bets and bad beats
Lines courtesy Caesars sportsbook
Bettors weren’t exactly picking an upset when New Mexico State traveled to Alabama on Saturday. The Tide closed as a 55-point favorite. That’s a huge number, but if anyone’s going to get that kind of respect in Las Vegas, it’s the Tide, who were also 55-point favorites against Georgia State in 2013, according to ESPN Stats & Info. Bama, which won 62-10 on Saturday, didn’t cover that one either, winning by just 42. Alabama’s biggest spread in the Nick Saban era was in 2012, when the Tide were favored by 55.5 against FCS Western Carolina and won by a mere 49 points. Overall, the 55-point spread is the highest in any FBS vs. FBS game since 2013, when Florida State was a 57-point favorite against Idaho. Of the 10 teams favored by at least 55 against an FBS opponent, only two covered the spread — though one was the largest spread in the past 40 years, as the 1989 Houston Cougars, who were a whopping 59-point favorites against the post-death penalty SMU, won by 74. Saban now 0-5 in games with 50-plus point spreads.
Illinois closed as a 21.5-point favorite when it traveled to UConn on Saturday. How crazy is that? According to ESPN, Illinois hadn’t been favored by that much in any game against an FBS opponent since 2013, when Miami (Ohio) was a 26.5-point dog in Champagne, Ill., but the Illini haven’t been favored by 20 or more in a road game since at least 1991. It’s easy enough to understand why. Illinois is a woeful 5-29 in true road games since 2012, losing by an average of nearly 19 points. The Illini looked just fine on Saturday, but still didn’t come close to a cover, ending with a 31-23 win. Still, Illinois is 2-0 to start the season for the sixth time in the last seven years. (Of note: They’re 13-48 the rest of the way in those seven seasons.)
Clemson fans got to celebrate a big win over Texas A&M, but Tigers backers got one of the worst beats of the early season. Clemson closed as a 15.5-point favorite, and it went up 24-3 with 5:50 to go in the third quarter. It looked like an easy cover until Texas A&M drove 91 yards on 16 plays on its final drive, finding the end zone with six seconds to play on a fourth-down pass from Kellen Mond. How ridiculous is that? Clemson has allowed just nine TD drives of 91 or more since Brent Venables was hired as defensive coordinator in 2012. This was the first since 2017, when Lamar Jackson led Louisville on a 95-yard drive. Venables’ defenses have allowed even fewer 16-play drives — just five since 2012. And the last time Clemson allowed a drive that included both 16 or more plays and 91 or more yards? That’d be 2007 against Maryland.
Bettors with the under in the Colorado-Nebraska game were feeling good at the half, with the Huskers ahead 17-9 and the total set at 65. The second half, however, didn’t work out quite so well. Colorado’s furious second-half comeback meant regulation ended tied at 31. But this wasn’t just a bad beat for the under folks, who at that point should’ve been counting their losses. Overtime proved to be ugly for the over bettors, too. Colorado booted a field goal to go up three, and Nebraska missed its kick for the tie. The final total: 65. A push. Over the past decade, less than 18 percent of overtime games ended with only three points being scored after regulation.