College Football, Week 3: We Had Comedy, We Had Mystery

Week 3 was weird wire to wire, but not without warning. There was spectacle in College Station. There was fantasy in Tempe. The signs were there: Kicking off play with a Thursday-night contest in reliable bat country like Lubbock is just asking for it. Of course the highlight of TCU–Texas Tech was Tech’s mascot scampering around the sideline trying to catch a wild fox that had wandered into the stadium. It’s only natural that Saturday night wound down with a substantial officiating controversy in Wisconsin–Arizona State. And just like the almanac said, a firefight broke out in the midday showpiece game between the Crimson Tide and the Aggies, with noted gunslinger AJ McCarron flinging touchdown passes about. The almanac’s words are written in what looks like blood, and its covers feel suspiciously scaly to the touch. Don’t worry about that now.

Ain’t No Ceiling, Only Blue

• No. 1 Alabama 49, no. 6 Texas A&M 42. If you’re not feeling sort of smugly blessed, a little overfull from rich visuals, and needing an emotional belt-loosening, here’s a courteous suggestion: Go rewatch Tide-Aggies. You cannot have consumed deeply enough from this cornucopia, a profusion of football happenings crafted to satisfy the vast majority of palates. CBS microphones captured Nick Saban telling Kevin Sumlin during their postgame handshake “You took 10 years off my life.” Despite suspicions that time as we experience it has no meaning to Saban, such a sacrifice must be ardently cherished given how grumpy he can get about having to take time off from recruiting to do things like coach in the national title game.

In the clash between Johnny Fuckin’ Football’s mad magic and Alabama’s rules of order, natural law reasserted itself, but not before the Tide got good and eroded. Johnny Manziel set a school record for passing yards (464), and did so against a Saban defense. Manziel’s 562 yards of total offense trails only his 2012 bombardment of Louisiana Tech for most offensive production by a single player in a single game in SEC history. Manziel’s favored target, sophomore receiver Mike Evans, set a school record of his own with a 279-yard outing. A&M’s 628 yards of offense are the most allowed in Tide history.

So how did Bama outlast, if not outblast, the Aggies? In a fashion contrary to popularly accepted Tuscaloosa doctrine: by the grace of McCarron’s throwing arm. In less than the span of one quarter’s time, the senior quarterback tossed off three touchdown passes to three receivers to pull his team out of a 14-0 deficit and establish the Tide’s first lead of the game. He also recorded the score that ended up being the difference between a regulation victory and overtime, with two and a half minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. Also, he’s fully healthy on the field for the first time since the 2011 Arkansas game. Can you tell?

Blessings bestowed by this football contest, in no particular order:

1. The Bandersnatch. A big damn made-up play needs a big damn made-up word. It’s the second quarter. Manziel’s pocket is invaded. He scoots back to midfield. Alabama’s Jeoffrey Pagan sheds his blocker and gets Manziel by the jersey. Manziel yanks himself free and runs backward five more yards. While falling backward, with five Alabama defenders closing in, he throws this pass, which is pulled down by Edward Pope, because of course it is.

2. Lofty swings. Did you think, somewhere in the process of Bama reeling off five touchdowns to go up 35-14, that we were through in College Station? We did. So did CBS. “It’s like a race car being one lap ahead,” said Gary Danielson, not unreasonably. “If they don’t run out of gas or get in a wreck, they’re going to win.” Win the Tide did, but only by a one-touchdown margin. Manziel threw four of his five touchdown passes in the last 25 minutes of the game.

3. Narrative ass-kicking. Most crucially, this was a contest captivating enough to wrest the national attention away from dumb column-bait diversions and back to the only place it belongs this time of year: that stretch of green between the bleachers, and the marvels displayed thereon.

Bat Country Is Portable

• Arizona State 32, no. 20 Wisconsin 30. Badgers–Sun Devils kicked off at 10:30 p.m. ET, sharing the latest start time of Week 3 with Arizona-UTSA. It was 97 degrees in Tempe at the start of the game, and Arizona State was sporting the best blackout uniforms in college football. The stage was set for a hellish finale. The game was close-fought, and Arizona State clung to a two-point lead late in the fourth quarter, which is about when the tentacles came out. Watch the below video to see what a bleary-eyed audience saw in the dark hours of Sunday morning: Wisconsin in the red zone, with 18 seconds left on the clock. Game-winning field goal try time, yes? Nah:

Instead, we got this slow-building boil of futility, in which the Pac-12 officiating crew took a few seconds to look around and just really take in the night desert air, until, wouldn’t you know it, time’s up! The Big Ten has already taken aim at the refs. The Pac-12 reviews calls on Mondays, but will surely comment. Our granddaddy, were he alive, would’ve called everybody involved A Bunch of Lollygaggers, which is way more insulting than it might sound.

[UPDATE: The Pac-12 has reprimanded the involved officials.]

Curiosities of the Pac-12

• No. 16 UCLA 41, no. 23 Nebraska 21. The headliner game of the noon slate provided an object lesson in one of our favorite pet peeves: the difference between “straight points” and “unanswered points.” Like so: After UCLA’s Ka’imi Fairbairn kicked an early field goal to pull within 7-3, Nebraska scored 14 straight points to post a 21-3 lead midway through the second quarter. They were not unanswered points, though, because the Bruins answered, quite rudely, starting with Paul Perkins’s touchdown run just before halftime. That kicked off a run of 38 unanswered points by the Bruins, who shut out the Cornhuskers for the entire second half and walked out of Lincoln with a 41-21 win.

Now that we’ve got the semantics out of the way, let’s address a more difficult question, to wit: What the corn-fed hell is wrong with Nebraska’s defense, and what can be done about it? There was a time, say 2009-10 or thereabouts, when it looked like Bo Pelini had cleaned up the Superfund site the Nebraska defense had become under Bill Callahan. But the Cornhuskers have now allowed an average of 40 points and 524 yards over their prior five outings dating back to last season’s disastrous Big Ten championship game. Without any kind of a deep passing game (quarterback Taylor Martinez managed only three completions of more than 15 yards), that defensive largesse does not bode well for the Huskers.

The Bruins, meanwhile, composed themselves admirably following last week’s death of wide receiver Nick Pasquale — you won’t find a better human moment from Week 3 than Jim L. Mora addressing Pasquale’s family in his postgame on-field interview, searching for the right words and finally just repeating, “We did it for your son” — and have established themselves as the early favorites in the Pac-12 South.

The conference depth argument is generally a goofy one, but top to bottom, is there a league more stuffed with fascinating what-ifs than the Pac-12? What are we to make of Washington, which blew Boise State out of the polls in Week 1 and beat Illinois by 10 on a neutral field in Week 3? Have we really seen what Stanford’s capable of in victories over San Jose State and Army? Will Oregon’s buzz saw hit a snag in its midseason dates with Washington, UCLA, and Stanford? And what kind of world are we living in when we’re impressed by USC’s margin of victory over Boston College?

Profiles in Profiteroles: When Cream Puffs Attack

Which is worse, would you say?

• No. 11 Michigan needing Akron, a team with a 27-game FBS road losing streak, to fail to convert a potential game-winner from the 4-yard line with five seconds to go?

• Northern Illinois requiring 11 sacks, plus any kind of fourth-quarter scoring streak, even if it was only 10 points, to beat Idaho?

• Buffalo taking five overtimes to beat an FCS team, albeit a ranked one, by a field goal?

• Temple losing at home to an unranked FCS team in occasionally spectacular fashion?

• FIU following up the indignity of being a three-point underdog at home to a ranked FCS team by losing to that team, 34-13? Also, Mario Cristobal was FIU’s coach at one point, and it was somebody’s conscious decision that he not be anymore. Wasn’t that a neat plan?

Capriciously Dispensed Decorations

Grape Job! We’re sure you tried your best, but …

Grape-Job

Bowling Green. It’s really sad that this blocked punt didn’t end up mattering too much.

Texas. Just because you didn’t allow 550 rushing yards again doesn’t mean allowing 272 rushing yards is OK, Longhorns.

• Louisiana Tech. If that ball had just hit the crossbar after hitting both uprights, it would’ve activated the little-known Golden Goalpost rule, handing you an automatic victory, Bulldogs, which you sorely needed.

• Texas again. This is terribly unfortunate symbolism.

• Smoothest transition: Kenny Guiton. Ohio State’s senior backup quarterback, making his first start in place of the injured Braxton Miller, recorded four touchdown passes against Cal. Pretty smooth.

• Most surprising use of upper limbs: Blake Bell. The Oklahoma quarterback, in his first start, did things with his arms you might not expect him to do, like throw the football in his hand: Bell was 27-of-37 on the night for 413 yards and four scoring passes, rushing just 10 times for 24 yards.

• Best method of visor-based travel: Steve Spurrier’s foot. The HBC responded to a cheeky question about how he gets grass stains out of his field-flung visors by explaining that he’s given up his signature tantrum-finishing move, only to hold himself to his word by … kicking his visor.

Quote of the Day

Rutgers head coach Kyle Flood’s opening statement, following the Scarlet Knights’ win over Eastern Michigan: “Good afternoon. I don’t know if there’s anything better than winning a game and having your daughter hand you one of these fancy bracelets that seems to be the rage of the young people.”

Weeknight Football: You Are Not Forgotten

Inspired by Texas Tech’s 20-10 Thursday-night victory over no. 24 TCU, we present a gift for the entire Big 12: “The Rally Fox Song.”

This song is set to the tune of “Sandstorm,” and we are sorry about that, but it made the lyrics so much easier to write, and the actual lyrics to “Sandstorm” are fairly forgettable. Ready? It goes something like this:

[Fading in.]

fox fox fox FOX FOX FOX
fox fox fox FOX FOX FOX
fox fox fox FOX FOX FOX
fox fox fox FOX FOX FOX

Rally rally fox rally rally rally fox
rally rally rally fox rally rally rally fox
Go!
rally rally rally fox rally rally rally fox
Go!
rally rally rally fox rally rally rally fox
Go!

[Repeat.]

Laff Riot

The story of Week 3, as told through the thumbs of a nation.

Filed Under: College Football, Nick Saban

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Holly Anderson is a staff writer at Grantland.

Archive @ HollyAnderson