Gordon’s Left Foot: The College Football Recap

It was a fine, solid, decent week in college football. Not great, because that would imply the promise of high drama was realized, and that didn’t happen very often Saturday. It was a bit of a day-long tease, in fact, with game after game ending one or two plays short of delirium. But as a table-setter, which is all we can really ask, Week 3 delivered.

First, let’s begin with some …

Apologies

That no. 1 ranking next to Oklahoma’s name didn’t feel quite right. As I mentioned in the preview post, the Sooners are 1-5 in their past six BCS bowl games, and they’ve had some trouble beating Texas over that same stretch. I didn’t trust them, and maybe I got a little too swept up in the narrative of Florida State’s resurgence.

In any case, it was a thorough underestimation. If I had to compare the Sooners defense on Saturday night to a historic landmark, it would be the Berlin Wall, pre-1989. You could break through only if you got really, really lucky. (Or if you had authentic western chocolate, a classic weakness of the East Germans and Bob Stoops.) It looked like a national championship-caliber unit, and the offense showed impressive resilience, too.

The breakthrough for quarterback Landry Jones came with about eight minutes left in the fourth quarter. After dominating play, Oklahoma found itself, unbelievably, tied at 13 with the Seminoles. Some missed opportunities in the red zone and a lucky desperation pass from Florida State backup QB Clint “Broomstick” Trickett had left the Sooners drowning in the noise of the Seminole faithful. The ghosts of the ‘90s were threatening to swarm and conquer as Jones faced third-and-12 on the OU 41. But the man named after a coach calmly found Ryan Broyles across the middle for 22, and struck pay dirt on the next play with a touchdown bomb to Kenny Stills. Choppy video below:

I’m still not ready to put Oklahoma above Alabama as national title favorites (The Sooners still face no. 19 Texas and no. 7 Oklahoma State on the road), but they are off to a great start this year. As for Florida State, the ceiling appears to be an ACC championship and a BCS bowl. Only in college football can your title hopes go up in smoke by Week 3.

Hey, Did Auburn Lose Yet?

In this week’s installment, I’m happy to report that …

Auburn lost! The Tigers’ 17-game winning streak and our long national nightmare are both over, as unranked Clemson handled its grim business in Death Valley. The biggest stars of the 38-24 win were Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd and receiver Sammy Watkins. Boyd threw for 386 yards and four touchdowns, and Watkins had 10 catches for 155 yards. Dig the speed on this 65-yard dash:

Uh Oh, These Guys Might Be Really Good

Along with Clemson, Georgia Tech put the world on watch with a crushing 66-24 win over Kansas. Along the way, it racked up 768 yards of offense, and earned itself a no. 25 ranking in the AP poll.

What’s insane about Yellow Jackets is that they barely pass. In fact, they ran the ball on 88 percent of plays from scrimmage. There were just four completions all day, and the running game accounted for more than 600 total yards. Here are 95 of those yards, courtesy of Orwin Smith:

It was a smackdown of the most egregious variety, but you have to wonder if Georgia Tech’s one-dimensional approach is sustainable against the big boys. Stay tuned.

Top 25 Battles

Besides Oklahoma-Florida State, the only other clash of the ranked came on Thursday night, when no. 3 LSU dominated no. 25 Mississippi State on the road 19-6. Without Jordan Jefferson, LSU’s offense looks very suspect, but its defense might be the best in the country. For now, LSU is so good that Les Miles can be conservative, even cautious, with Jarrett Lee and the passing game. That will change when LSU begins to face better offenses — sooner or later, there will be a reckoning. But it didn’t come in Starkville.

Mississippi State quarterback Chris Relf was sacked three times, and rushed for only 10 yards on 16 carries. It’s the second tough loss in a row for Mississippi State, and in the brutal SEC West, the Bulldogs are more likely to end the year at 6-6 than they are to see another national ranking.

Implosion of the Week

As rumors circled that their school was headed to the ACC (later confirmed), the Pitt Panthers managed to blow a 17-point fourth-quarter lead to Iowa. James Vandenberg was the QB in charge of the largest comeback in Hawkeye history, and two of his last three touchdown passes went to Kevonte Martin-Manley, including the leaping game-winner.

Upsets of the Ranked

We had four Top 25 teams go down to unranked usurpers, but it’s hard to call any of them a true surprise. In fact, the ranked team was actually the road underdog in all four. We’ve already talked about Auburn-Clemson, a result that felt predictable. It’s always difficult to play Clemson on the road, and Auburn had been surviving on luck and last-second heroics for too long. Here were the other three:

1. Notre Dame over no. 15 Michigan State, 31-13. We knew nothing about the Spartans, besides the fact that they beat up on two nobodies to start the year, and we knew Notre Dame’s two losses could have been wins with a little common sense. Sure, I may have picked Michigan State to win, solely because I expected the Irish mental miscues to persist, but the result in South Bend is logical. What’s more shocking is that the Irish managed to coast while amassing only 275 yards of total offense, compared to the Spartans’ 358. Part of that is down to George Atkinson III’s 89-yard kickoff return, but MSU still missed some chances.

2. Miami over no. 16 Ohio State, 24-6. Nobody who saw Ohio State’s home escape against Toledo last week expected the undefeated season to last very long. Plus, there was the karmic aspect of this game. Ohio State got caught cheating, so it’s only fitting that it suffered a lopsided loss to a pristine program like —

Sorry, I’d finish this paragraph, but Nevin Shapiro hasn’t paid me in like a month.

3. Illinois over no. 22 Arizona State, 17-14. Which brings us to …

A Ride on the Gambling Emotional Roller Coaster

This was almost an instant, hilarious classic. The Illini managed to stave off the last Arizona State attack. They tried to run off as much clock as they could on the final possession, but still found themselves facing fourth down at the ASU 41 with four seconds left. Coach Ron Zook had a choice to make. Rather than punt, he opted to have quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase run backward until the clock expired.

Now for the important information: Illinois was a 1.5-point favorite (two points in some places). When Scheelhaase lined up under center for the last time, they were up three.

He took the snap, began sprinting backward, and the clock hit zero. But, wonder of wonders, he didn’t stop. Suddenly, an unthinkable outcome began to seem possible — was Scheelhaase going to keep running all the way to the end zone? Was he going to take an elective safety? It wouldn’t matter to Illinois football, who would still win by a point, but it would matter to anyone who gave Illinois football more than just their hearts.

Disaster, along with high comedy, was averted when Scheelhaase went to the ground after running 28 yards back to his own 31. But what suspense!

A Great Finish

Sometime just before the OU-FSU game, Scott Van Pelt said that in Week 3 we were “still waiting for a signature moment.” Basically true, with a small asterisk.

Earlier in the day, at the end of a game that not many people noticed, there was some anti-magic in the air at Boston College. The Eagles had struggled against the visiting Duke Blue Devils, which is never a fun reality for a college football team. With under three minutes on the clock, BC got the ball at its own 21, trailing 20-19. The dormant offense came to life, and Boston College marched all the way to the Duke 5. There, Duke’s Walt Canty made a timely third-down hit on Andre Williams, forcing Nate Freese to trot out for the winning field goal. It was a 23-yard gimme, but Freese didn’t wear the expression of someone about to punch in a chip shot. In fact, he looked terrified. The video below doesn’t show his pre-kick petrifaction, but it shows the result well enough:

If you listen closely, you can hear the clang when the ball hits the upright. That is music to nobody’s ears. It produces photographs like this. Poor, poor Freese.

Worst Chant at a Football Game

Early on in Temple’s near upset against Penn State, a flag was thrown against the Nittany Lions. The Temple fans seized the moment and began to chant “You can’t do that! (clap-clap clap-clap-clap)”

It’s hard to explain how much I hate this. Not only is the chant eight kinds of lame, but it belongs, if anywhere, at a basketball game. Part of the charm of a football crowd is its ability to keep things simple and be really, really loud. The trend of fans becoming enamored of their own wit makes me want to ban private institutions from competition. But I checked with the NCAA, and I still don’t have that kind of power. YET.

See you Thursday for the Week 4 preview.


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Filed Under: Gordon's Left Foot, Auburn, Clemson, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Illinois, Kansas, LSU, Miami, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Penn State, Shane Ryan, Texas

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Shane Ryan is a contributing writer for Grantland. His book about the young stars of the PGA Tour will be published by Random House in early 2015.

Archive @ ShaneRyanHere