Cleaning Up the Mess: Week 1
Cleaning Up the Mess is here to make sense of what just happened at your weekend-long television party. Who put Goldfish in the blender? And why is the thermostat on 42?
This week: A&M sends the Gamecocks back to the bars early. LSU is doing drunk magic tricks. And who left these think pieces about “piercing the armor of a powerhouse” in the living room?
The early slate of games on Saturday offered nothing but panic button scenarios for programs ranked high within the preseason top 25. Ohio State beat Navy 34-17 though the first quarter’s score of 7-6 more accurately indicated the clear and present danger of the Buckeyes losing in Baltimore. UCLA overcame a plucky Virginia squad that wanted no part of seeing west coast infidels celebrate on the sacred grounds once walked by Thomas Jefferson. The only dominance on display was a Doug Nussmeier-coached Michigan offense who blew out Appalachian State in a rematch to prove that Brady Hoke takes every game seriously rather than stoney bologna predecessor, Rich Rodriguez. Once again, a poor showing in the noon slot.
The 3:30 slot started when Dana Holgorsen decided “fuck it, turn up” with play calls signs that were designed to infuriate as much as they were to lull opposing players, fans into sexual day dreams complete with Red Bull and Nascar. This could be the only explanation for Alabama not completely eviscerating West Virginia or, maybe the Mountaineers were that good. Clint Trickett, former Florida State backup and NASCAR driver, threw for a total of 365 yards for the day keeping Alabama on their toes. In true Crimson Tide fashion, as soon as the nation hinged on an unforeseeable upset the Tide took victory from the jaws of defeat. Derrick Henry began the beating the drum of the classic Bama Death March by rushing for a 19 yard TD which put Alabama up 27-17 in the third quarter. The 10 point gulf would remain until the final whistle. The failures of a traditionally strong defense were exposed by a 4-8 team which probably says more about the play of West Virginia than it does about Kirby Smart.
The first of the two most evenly matched games began in Athens and ended with a gigantic stat line for Todd Gurley. Gurley, who led the Georgia offense, broke the school record with 293 yards in all-purpose yardage. This is quite an achievement for a school whose last record shattering, Herculean back was named Hershel. That team also went on to win a national championship. Jeremy Pruitt’s new defensive scheme glued together late to hold Clemson to 21 points and 291 yards. In a SEC East that saw South Carolina lose mightily, Missouri grab victory lackadaisically and Florida still doing Florida things, Georgia is a clear favorite to win the division and maybe even compete for a national title with a schedule that is without Alabama or LSU. Mark Richt is always on the hot seat but if there is no absurd injury bug as the Bulldogs experienced last year, the seat could be a Brookstone ergonomic achievement.
Florida State’s “sure thing” in an opening game with Oklahoma State was far from that. The Cowboys threw everything but the kitchen sink at a Seminole team who is clearly missing the defensive centerpiece in Timmy Jernigan. Of course, it helps when your quarterback is a Heisman winner and one of the threats under center. Jameis Winston and the Seminoles were able to stave off a late charge from the Pokes and land comfortably back within the good graces of national pundits. The toughest game that the Seminoles will experience is in Louisville, where a Bobby Petrino team lay in wait to play spoiler but until then the easy pickings of the ACC provides a cushy schedule on the way to the playoff.
LSU and Wisconsin rounded out the night with a performance that seemed ripped out of another era. After a day of mostly high scoring affairs, the Badgers and Tigers were determined to turn back the clock and highlight power, force meets force football. The Badgers went into the half with a three point lead on the strength of human eighteen wheeler Melvin Gordon. The second half started with a delay of game penalty for LSU which lead to Wisconsin possession and another battering ram play for Gordon. With the Badgers up ten, LSU utilized Kenny Hilliard to return the same favor. Hilliard rushed for 118 yards on the day with freshman wunderkind Leonard Fournette getting limited touches. The Bayou Bengal secondary proved to be the catalyst for the LSU comeback which notched a Jalen Mills interceptions that led to a Hilliard touchdown. The Tigers would go onto escape Houston 28-24. With excellent offensive line play from Wisconsin, the LSU front seven was wrecked which is a concern for the Tigers as they look at a schedule where they play Auburn and A&M on the road.
The lasting lesson from week 1 is that the pieces are now on the field are playing but the long term picture is still murky. There are more questions than answers with few teams making the bold statements required to place them as sure things. As time goes on, that picture will come more into focus but until then, the certainties of this season is as about as out of focus as your friend’s drunken Instagram.
- USC thrashed last year’s Mountain West champion Fresno State. The Trojans racked up a total of 701 yards with QB Cody Kessler accounting for 394 passing yards and four touchdowns. USC was able to hold the high octane offense of the Bulldogs to 13 points. This is all a bright spot for a team that sorely needed it after a week of a false Baywatch rescue and accusations of head coach Steve Sarkisian being a racist. The dust has far from settled on the off the field allegations and will be a factor during the Trojans’ preparation for perennial dream crusher Stanford.
- Baylor and Tennessee hosted a night of blow outs on Sunday against two teams who have given fits to teams within Power 5 conferences. The Baylor Bears hosted SMU in the newly built, Cosmos space craft known as McLane Stadium. The Bears racked up 45 points, 574 yards of total offense, and gained one of the most lost sailgaters along the Brazos River. The other school with a sailgating tradition was able to contain human pinball Chuckie Keeton until the 4th quarter when the Utah State Aggies scored their only touchdown of the game. The 38-7 line is a hopeful end result for a Tennessee Volunteer team that struggled mightily except against opponents who weren’t completely decimated by injury.
- North Dakota State gave coaches and athletic directors in power conferences another reason not to schedule them when they beat Iowa State. Though it’s not hard to reduce the SO PROUD PAUL RHOADS to his knees, it’s still a lasting image of what might happen to YOUR team if they don’t heed warning or be forced to grovel at the feet of officials.
- The Thursday night Boise State – Ole Miss game was more inconsistent than AMC’s original programming. Dr. Bo Wallace was back in the first half to the tune of three interceptions before making up for his errors with 483 passing yards and four touchdowns. Ole Miss’ defense also emerged as a physical force that looked like heat seeking missiles bent on mass destruction to any nearby object. While the game was wildly sloppy, it was filled with some of the hardest hitting moments of the young 2014 season.