Upsets, Close Calls and a Rising Superstar: NCAA Week 3 Round Up

There is only one place to start this round up and that is Louisville, Kentucky.

The #10 ranked Louisville Cardinals blitzed #2nd place Florida State Seminoles 63 to 20 in a shocking blowout that has almost certainly removed the Seminoles from playoff contention. The star of the show was Cardinals quarterback Lamar Jackson. The sophomore phenom utilised his legs for 146 yards and 4 touchdowns on just 17 carries. He also showed considerable arm talent,  throwing for 216 yards and another touchdown. This means Jackson has put up 18 touchdowns (8 throwing, 10 running) in the first three games of the season. His ability to cut and explode makes him a truly dynamic dual-threat quarterback who must be a favourite to win the Heisman trophy later in the year.

However a mention must be given to the Louisville defence. The Cardinals held FSU scoreless for more than two quarters of playing time and reduced heavily touted running back prospect Dalvin Cook to just 54 yards. It was a dominant performance on both sides of the ball and will surely see the Cardinals rise into the top 4 when the next AP polls are published.

This wasn’t the only surprise in the early games. North Dakota State quarterback Easton Stick held his nerve in the final two minutes against #13 Iowa Hawkeyes to drive his team into field goal range. Cam Pedersen’s 37-yard field goal gave the FBS side the win 23-21. Iowa will be twice as disappointed as a failed two point attempt by NDSU had gifted the Hawkeyes the opportunity to run out the clock. However Iowa’s offence went 3 and out to give the Division-II school their 6th consecutive victory over an FCS opponent. You do have to wonder why these schools keep putting North Dakota State on their schedules.

#22 ranked Oregon Ducks seemed to be on their way to a reasonably comfortable victory over Nebraska when they were up 20-7 late in the second quarter but the Nebraska Cornhuskers, behind the running of Tommy Armstrong Jnr, came back to win 35-32. However this game could have been the Ducks had coach Mark Heifich not decided to go for 2 after every score. Oregon went 1 for 5 on 2 point conversion attempts, which was the difference in the score.

There was still time for another ranked team to be knocked off in the late games as the California Golden Bears got the best of the #11 Texas Longhorns in a shoot out. Only once were these teams more than score apart as they matched one another throughout the game. Yet there was some controversy in the final moments. Texas had a disappointing 3 and were forced to punt. Cal’s Shane Buechele ran the kick back 55 yards however he dropped the ball before going into the endzone. The play was reviewed and no score was given however Cal were handed the ball back as no immediate recovery was evident. Cal took the opportunity to ice the game 50-43 to give the Golden Bears their first win over a ranked opponent in 4 years.

NCAA FOOTBALL: JAN 01 Allstate Sugar Bowl - Oklahoma State v Ole Miss
1 January 2016; Ole Miss Rebels v Oklahoma State Cowboys; Ole Miss Rebels quarterback Chad Kelly (10) during a game in New Orleans, Louisiana

Those teams who were upset were nearly joined by a host of other highly ranked teams.

Number #1 seed Alabama Crimson Tide were three touchdowns down to the #19 Ole Miss Rebels at the turn of the second quarter in this all top-25 clash, but bounced back behind the dual running threat of quarterback Jalen Hurts and running back Damien Harris. The duo put up 290 combined yards on the ground with their most prosperous period seeing the Crimson Tide out score Ole Miss 45 to 6. Yet the Rebels would not back down and behind the arm of Chad Kelly (421 yards, 3 TDs and 1 INT), came back to within a score before time finally beat them. Alabama winning 48 to 43.

#20 Louisiana State University Tigers did little to quell the question marks behind this recent powerhouse as they squeaked past Mississippi State Bulldogs by 3. 2015 Heisman finalist Leonard Fournette did return and had another dominant performance (147 yards, 2 touchdowns) but LSU still needed a forced fumble in the Bulldogs final drive to secure victory. Similar doubts can also be focused upon the #16 Georgia Bulldogs who were played disappointingly close by a underpowered conference rival. The Missouri Tigers had a poor season opening losing comprehensively to Western Virginia so this was seen as a relatively simple introduction to conference play for the Bulldogs. However the Tigers closed down Georgia’s run game which forced the offence into the hands of true-freshman quarterback Jacob Eason. Eason responded in an impressive fashion, posting up 3 touchdowns (to 1 INT) including a game winning 4th down throw with less than 2 minutes on the clock. The extra point gave Georgia the win but this doesn’t hide the overall performance by a side which can only be described as ‘lacklustre’.

Another game closer than many expected was #15 Tennessee Volunteers’ 28 to 19 victory over the Mid-American Conference’s Ohio Bobcats. Going into the game a four touchdown favourite, Tennessee were never behind but failed to accelerate away from their less illustrious opponents. Injury can be considered an important factor as Tennessee went in with four players missing and lost two captains before half time. However, this result will give future opponents a lot of hope. The Volunteer’s next four opponents are all ranked in the top 25.

Similarly, the #9 Wisconsin Badgers made hard work of beating the Georgia State Panthers. Georgia State had already been on the end of two comprehensive losses to unranked teams so it was a big shock when they round themselves 4 points up inside the 4th quarter. It took Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst to go to backup quarterback Alex Hornibrook to kick start the Badger offence. He helped the Badgers post 10 points in the final minutes to win 23-17 but this will do little in the way of impressing the AP Poll committee.

The effectiveness of the run game even in the era of the spread offence was clearly on display in Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium as the #3 Ohio State Buckeyes rolled over the #14 Oklahoma Sooners for 291 yards. OSU controlled the game throughout, quieting Baker Mayfield and restricting Samaje Perine to just 3.5 yards per carry while tiring the Sooner defence with their option offence. Buckeyes QB JT Barrett will have also turned some heads. He may not have thrown for a lot of yards (152) but his 4 touchdowns for no interceptions and his composure when asked to stay in the pocket really suggests he could make the transition to the pro game.

There was another home loss for a ranked team in Indiana as the #18 Notre Dame Fighting Irish failed in a late comeback after going down big to #12 Michigan State Spartans. The Spartans went on a 36 to 0 tear after conceding an opening score and clearly took their foot of the gas. Even so, their dominant front 7 still restricted Notre Dame’s running game to just 57 yards and forced the Fighting Irish to put the game into the talents hands of DeShone Kizer. He took to the challenge with gusto, getting his team to within a single score but a great time-consuming final drive sealed the game for Michigan State.

wilton-speight

One game that ended comfortably but could have been very different was #4 Michigan Wolverines 45 to 28 victory over the Colorado Buffaloes. Colorado were twice two touchdowns up on their high profile opponents but were dragged back. It looked like a game that would go down to the wire. However what appeared to be a great moment for the Buffaloes turned into disaster as quarterback Sefo Liufau hurt his shoulder while throwing a 70-yard touchdown throw to wideout Shay Field.

True freshman replacement Steven Montez was completely out of his depth, going 0 of 7 on throws, and Michigan were able to profit from great field position and a defence that quickly tired with the offence unable to sustain a drive. One interesting note is the rise to prominence of Wolverines quarterback Wilton Speight. The 6’6, 235b junior has been a figure of some ridicule since coach Jim Harbaugh was put in charge however he looked impressive in the pocket and showed some great velocity on his throws. He would definitely get serious consideration from NFL teams were he to declare early.

Auburn Tigers played a second ranked team close in 3 weeks but once again fell short, this time against #17 Texas A&M Aggies. Similarly to their week 1 loss to #5 Clemson Tigers, Auburn looked good enough to make Aggies quarterback Trevor Knight look troubled but weak enough for the Sooners transfer to be celebrated for overcoming adversity. Arguably the biggest difference between the two teams was Aggies kicker Daniel LaCamera who hit 5 field goals as the Tigers showed considerable resilience in the final quarter of the field.

It was the Christian McCaffrey show as #7 Stanford Cardinals won a defensive battle with the USC Trojans 27-10. The 2015 Heisman runner-up ran behind a pounding Cardinals O-line who gifted McCaffrey 107 yards before contact, which he maximised by consistently demonstrating that he could find the right crease to maximise his gains. He also showed his receiving talent with a 54 yard pitch and catch touchdown as he released out of the backfield. USC were still remarkably passive in offence, only putting up 10 points but at least it wasn’t the dreadful beatdown they received at the hands of Alabama. Stanford get #8 Washington Huskies in two weeks in a game that could decide the PAC-12 winners.

The college week opened with a competitive AAC game between #6 Houston Cougars and the Cincinnati Bearcats. Entering the 4th quarter there was only two points between them but three consecutive interceptions allowed the ranked team to pull away. This included back to back interceptions both returned to the house which really sealed the game both in points and in the destruction of the Bearcats confidence. Far less drama in the Friday game as #21 Baylor Bears romped away from the Rice Owls. The Owls only had 31 passing yards in the whole game and Baylor were able to rotate into their underclassman from early on.

As is expected in college football, the rest of the games involving top 25 ranked teams were blowouts.

#5 Clemson Tigers kept the South Carolina State Bulldogs to 102 total yards of offence and kept their 0 in tact. The winning margin of 59 points could have been so much bigger as Clemson effectively retired their starters at the half once they were 45 points to the good. The #25 Miami Hurricanes had a more grinding win over a spirited Appalachian State Mountaineers team who were so close to getting a shock win in week 1 over Tennessee. Consistent point scoring from quarterback Brad Kaaya underscored his argument to be given a chance at the pro level and the eventual 45 to 10 result was fair.

It was hard to shake off the feeling that #8 Washington Huskies weren’t using their game against the Portland State Vikings as preparation for their back to back games with Stanford and Oregon. Quarterback Jake Browning quickly took the Huskies to a three score lead and then the offence spent the next three periods establishing a run game that has underperformed. Once again the 41 to 3 victory was largely irrelevant

One team that paid for their blowout win were #23 Florida Gators. The result wasn’t the issue, they beat down opponents North Texas Mean Green by 32 points to 0 but it was the injury to quarterback Luke Del Rio that will really hurt the Gators. The promising sophomore was hit low with the Gators already 25 points up. He’ll definitely miss the Gators next game at Tennessee and could be out for longer. No such concern for the #24 ranked Arkansas Razorbacks in an uneventful win over Texas State Bobcats. Once again QB Austin Allen impressed but the lack of true competition leaves little to be learnt from their 42 to 3 win.

Note: All ranks are correct to the start of week 3

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