College Football, Week 5: Let's Make a Pact

[If you're looking for words about Lane Kiffin's firing, click here.]

There’s something about certain college teams that certain pro sports franchises will never be able to emulate. Maybe you were born into your allegiance and your parents were, too, or maybe you shipped off to your alma mater sight unseen and its teams just got their claws into you at a vital formative stage of your existence. However you arrived at your cheering interest, if you want to, you’re practically guaranteed the ability to hold on to it for life, with the chance to pass it on to your children. The odds are astronomically against your FBS football program being disbanded; no callous owner is going to threaten to move your university to London if nebulous thresholds for ticket sales aren’t met. This inextricably embeds college identities into the landscape of the communities they inhabit, and the osmosis works both ways, with deeply regional streaks of localized weirdness affecting how college programs are regarded and celebrated.

With that kind of genetic history driving fandom, it’s so easy to feel 12 to 14 times a year like college football games are the end of the world or herald the dawn of a new golden age. The brevity of the season gives each contest greater urgency, and with that comes the race to hyperbole. One for the record books is quantifiable. Instant classic is not; it presumes full knowledge of what will stand the test of time and survive the changing tastes of the ages, and is applied too liberally, which only cheapens the classification.

You’re going to hear Saturday’s LSU-Georgia tilt called “a classic” a lot. The thing is, in this case, everybody who’s saying so is absolutely correct. We promise you never to abuse the term, and we promise you now that we’re using it in earnest.

We Went There: No. 9 Georgia 44, no. 6 LSU 41

That had to be fun for America to watch,” said Mark Richt in his postgame remarks, and he, too, was not exaggerating. An aggressively beautiful day, even for Athens. A riotously loud, packed stadium. Two top-10 teams led by quarterbacks on campaigns to best their on-field reputations. An SEC-unseemly display of scoreboard histrionics. Possible conference and national title bids at stake, possibly. Breath-snatching action, fourth-quarter lead changes, late-game heroics, and postgame tears. A curtain call for the home team in the deepening twilight. Short of LSU’s live tiger mascot breaking free of his enclosure in a postgame fit of temper and ransacking a nearby exotic bird facility, there’s so little left to want that we were not given Saturday afternoon. (Next year, Mike. Next year.)

There was no chance for Zach Mettenberger and Aaron Murray to live up to their QB1 reunion show billing, until they did, padding their highlight reels with plays like Mettenberger’s throw in triple coverage to Jarvis Landry and Murray’s 33-yard third-quarter connection with Chris Conley that’s simply jotted down in our notes as “HOW IN THE HELL.” Mettenberger’s 372-yard aerial output was a career high, as were Landry’s 156 receiving yards. Murray has broken several records already this season and is chasing more, sitting at second in Georgia history in career passing yardage and second in conference history in total offense.

Georgia’s unfortunately nicknamed Gurshall rushing tandem was once again separated by injury, with Todd Gurley sidelined early on a hurt ankle, but Keith Marshall executed a dramatic save with a career day of his own. Marshall’s personal-best 20 rushing attempts for 96 yards made up nearly half of the Bulldogs’ 196-yard rushing output. LSU’s Jeremy Hill experienced a turnaround of his own, in forward-yardage fortunes, contained to just 86 yards on 21 carries. This does count as an off day for Hill, who recorded 183 yards on 25 carries last week, and 117 on 11 the week before.

This brings us around to the bewildering display by Georgia’s defense, which did that to Hill while also graciously extending the Bayou Bengals 449 yards’ worth of hospitality, and which coupled magnificently timed sacks in the game’s waning minutes with allowing LSU to score both of its fourth-quarter touchdowns running the same play. As unaffiliated third-party observers, this isn’t a complaint. Without Georgia’s defense holding LSU back on first and second downs, we wouldn’t have been treated to, in chronological order:

• Mettenberger throwing a 48-yard touchdown pass on third-and-7
• Hill breaking loose for a 16-yard gain on third-and-1
• Mettenberger throwing a 39-yard touchdown pass on third-and-9
• Mettenberger completing a 25-yard pass on third-and-10
• Mettenberger completing a 25-yard pass on third-and-22

That’s entertainment.

Changing things up a bit with less than 90 seconds on the clock, Mettenberger converted a second-and-17 with an 18-yard pass to Odell Beckham. Mettenberger’s next four heaves from LSU’s 35-yard line all fell incomplete, and Murray trotted in to run out the clock with 58 seconds remaining. Richt clutched his quarterback, and his former quarterback, and teared up on camera with Tracy Wolfson. Richt earned his modest postgame declaration, the one about giving America a treat. And he earned that midfield moment.

“You don’t get many opportunities like that,” Richt said afterward, “and have it come out the way it did.” He’d know. Georgia under his rule has been hugely successful and, almost since he set foot in Sanford Stadium, even more hugely overshadowed by what-ifs. They span almost his entire career here. If they’d only beaten a Ron Zook team, they could have played for the title in 2002. If only Murray’s final pass in the 2012 SEC championship game hadn’t been tipped. Saturday night in Athens, without even playing a complete game, the Dawgs trotted home with a very large pelt. The knock on both Murray and Richt has been their record against the big’uns — and it’s past time to knock that shit off.

Spinning this forward: LSU’s far from out of the BCS picture, but the Dawgs are in the most advantageous possible position for a one-loss FBS program, with the loss (to Clemson in Week 1) coming early enough to give them plenty of time to recover, and with their built-in perception cushion as an SEC team. The biggest hurdles remaining between Georgia and a return trip to the SEC title game this December are Florida’s defense and Auburn’s offense. Even if they suffer a conference loss, the Dawgs could still take the East thanks to their head-to-head advantage over South Carolina. The Tigers, meanwhile, still have to get past Florida, Alabama, and Texas A&M, not trip over their own tails against Ole Miss or Arkansas, and hope Alabama loses to somebody. It’s nice to hope things, isn’t it?

Elsewhere in Footballvania

No. 14 Oklahoma 35, no. 22 Notre Dame 21. Tommy Rees threw eight interceptions for the Fighting Irish in 2010, 14 in ’11, just two in ’12 (going from 411 attempts to 59 helps), and already has five in ’13. Three weeks after his two-pick outing against Michigan, Rees added three more to his season tally, all of which were converted into touchdowns by the Sooners. Corey Nelson’s pick-six off Rees on the game’s third play from scrimmage, plus a quick score by Damien Williams on OU’s ensuing drive, gave the Sooners a two-touchdown lead in the game’s first three minutes, a lead the Irish wouldn’t surmount the rest of the afternoon. Oklahoma’s Blake Bell had a relatively sedate outing compared to last week’s barnstorming of Tulsa (which, you know, Tulsa), completing 22 of 30 passes for 232 yards and two touchdowns and rushing for an additional 59 yards.

No. 4 Ohio State 31, no. 23 Wisconsin 24. Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: The Buckeyes and Badgers walk into a stadium, and play a tightly contested game, and OSU walks out with a win, and the bartender says “Better luck next year,” and the badger on the barstool doesn’t say anything because badgers cannot talk. Wisconsin chased Ohio State for almost the whole game, falling behind 7-0 in the first three minutes of play, tying it up on a gaudy 36-yard score from Joel Stave to Jared Abbrederis, and falling behind again courtesy of the quite-operational Braxton Miller, only to never catch up again. The Badgers outgained the Buckeyes, 399 to 390, 207 of those via the Stave-Abbrederis connection. Miller threw for 198, rushed for 83, scored four touchdowns, and is now OSU’s all-time leading rusher at the quarterback position.

No. 1 Alabama 25, no. 21 Ole Miss 0. If this doesn’t do it for Ole Miss’s status as new SEC West maybe-contender, the approaching games against Texas A&M and LSU will, and the Rebels have to play Auburn before those even happen. Nick Saban had a lot of feelings this week, and he took them out on the nearest would-be speedy targets (holding the Fightin’ Ackbars to less than half of their average 2013 offensive yardage) and also on his false-starting layabout of an undefeated top-ranked national title-defending team.

No. 12 South Carolina 28, UCF 25. Mike Davis remains good at football; the continued conspiracy to deal ignominious losses to any team that might be needed to bolster Louisville’s strength of schedule is proceeding apace; and Tyler Hull may not be America’s fleetest punt returner, but he sure is our favorite.

No. 16 Washington 31, Arizona 13. Actual football not as closely fought as the battle for sartorial supremacy between Washington’s helmets and Arizona’s color-blocked jersey sleeves. Interested parties should be salivating over Washington’s next three games: at Stanford, home versus Oregon, and at Arizona State.

No. 10 Texas A&M 45, Arkansas 33. Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen is back, while Texas A&M receiver Mike Evans can do this.

Iowa 23, Minnesota 7. In the most important rivalry game of the weekend, based on our exclusive metric that relies solely on trophies at stake, the Hawkeyes were rewarded for their efforts with a large metal pig.

Profiles in Profiteroles

No. 25 Fresno State 42, Hawaii 37. You know how you laugh off your mom admonishing you that nothing good ever happens after midnight, and besides, you’re time zones away, having a grand old time laying 42 points on Hawaii in three quarters in Honolulu? Only then the Warriors go and score five touchdowns in the final 21 minutes of game time, and you have to rely on a last-minute interception to keep from endangering your bid to emerge as the undefeated darling of the 2013 non-AQs? We’ve all been there, right?

UNLV 56, New Mexico 42. Another place we have all been: racking up 497 rushing yards, 400 in the first half, only to lose. (This is your regularly scheduled reminder that the Lobos have a running back named Kasey Carrier, and that if this ever comes up at a fancy party, you should impress your fancy friends by casually pointing out that Carrier’s 192 rushing yards in Week 5 don’t even come close to comparing to his 291 rushing yards in Week 2.)

Malevolent Manipulation of Events by an Omnipotent and Crabby Hand of the Week

AIRBHG’s quarterback-devouring cousin has a terrible temper. Lost to ailments of varying degrees of severity in Week 5: Kolton Browning, Keenan Reynolds, Stephen Morris, Tom Savage, Connor Shaw, Clint Trickett, and Washington State’s QB1 and 2. Did we leave anybody out? We probably left somebody out. Can everythingback De’Anthony Thomas go in here? How about Christian Bryant? Good grief.

Grape Job!

Grape-Job

We’re sure you tried your best, but …

UConn: You may have actually waited too long into September to fire Paul Pasqualoni. Godspeed, P-Pasq. The many scary faces on the first page of your Google Image search results will live forever in our hearts.

Cal: Good on you for managing 325 yards of offense against Oregon. We’re still convinced you’re going to be a lot of fun. We’re sorry your visit to Eugene was so moist. Now, about those five turnovers.

Boston College: You just can’t let Florida State hang around like that.

USC: Firing Lane Kiffin at three in the morning, at the airport, after losing Marqise Lee, is actually, literally adding insult to injury, and are you really in a place where you want to tee up jokes like that?

Oklahoma State: It should concern you that West Virginia’s 21 changes to the two-deep coupled with a bye week’s worth of preparation on your part culminated in … whatever this was.

USC, again: I mean, honestly:

Tennessee: STOP THAT. STOP THAT RIGHT NOW.

USF: We’re not actually sure you’re trying your best, at all.

Laff Riot

The story of Week 5, as told through the thumbs of a nation.

Filed Under: College Football

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Holly Anderson is a staff writer at Grantland.

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