Cleaning Up The Mess 2015: 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: Award-winning college football analyst James Vasiliou is in Blacksburg to watch his Ohio State Buckeyes dot the “i” against Virginia Tech, so Rory Masterson posted this on his behalf, under his name, knowing full well that nobody would expect him to know this much about college football. Anyway, South Carolina and North Carolina offer you $75 tickets to watch a film on Earth’s lowering water levels. Purdue can’t be bothered to know anything about Marshall football. Also, I thought Sark banned drinking in the locker room.
After a long four days of college football to fill our gullets, there’s a gluttonous need to keep feeding especially after the sample size was so small. Thursday night was a morsel of games that yielded results which left the public licking the plate clean and then eating the plate. This was due to things like the unexpected fist fight between TCU and Minnesota where the Golden Gophers scared the second-best team distinction out of the Horned Frogs. There was also the Utah Utes, beating the brakes off of a Harbaugh-led Michigan team whose offensive problems are resoundingly Hoke in nature. Vegas’ favorites weren’t the talk of the town; the story lines surrounding their opposition became the main course as night faded into day, and Hawaii played Colorado or something.
Of course, the real feast was on Saturday, when the world would wake up to hear that New York’s one true team, the Fordham Rams, beat America’s Army on Friday night. That set the day for a huge run of games that included other FCS upsets over FBS teams. Phil Jackson’s alma mater of South Dakota State absolutely ruined the debut of David Beaty with a 41-38 victory over the Jayhawks. On the other side of the country, Mike Leach’s Washington State was stunned by a Portland State team that came out swinging en route to a 24-17 victory over the Cougars. The only team to flop sweat their way out of the FCS sinkhole was Indiana as they clawed their way back to the top of FBS respectability in a 48-47 shoot out with Southern Illinois.
The FCS upsets were the first few drops of blood rain in a college football opening weekend that saw numerous teams leak out from results that were needed corrections to preseason assumptions. The first of which happened in Evanston, Illinois where Northwestern slogged their way through four quarters of kicking the #21 distinction out of Stanford in a 16-6 lull. Stanford had the benefit of the doubt of being Stanford heading into the year despite the fact that graduation and the NFL Draft annihilated their defense. The bright spot with the Cardinal was seen in their offense with Kevin Hogan as a competent quarterback and raved-about back Christian McCaffrey leading. Instead, Stanford converted just 3-of-15 third downs and showed that they still have problems in finding the end zone.
Hogan looked aimless with an interception while the Wildcats’ Clayton Thurson looked like a decent addition to Northwestern’s storied tradition of decent dual-threat backs with zero errors on the day and 105 yards after throwing 12-of-24. Northwestern’s offense might not be ideal but it was their defense which ruled the day by wrangling a hapless unit into submission. The Wildcats may not be winning the Big Ten West this year with their offense but they’re likely to cause problems for division contenders who have a hard time moving the ball (*cough*Gophers*cough*).
In Nebraska, the home team was rocked by a final 50-yard Hail Mary from BYU’s Tanner Mangum that ended one of the longest opening day winning streaks in college football. Mangum was sent in for scrambling phenom QB Taysom Hill, who injured his right foot while planting it during a 21 yard scoring run in the second quarter. Hill was later ruled out of the game in the fourth quarter when he returned and was hit after a scrambled. The Cougars would learn that Hill would be out for the rest of the season while Mangum tried to upset Mike Riley’s new-look Huskers. After a day of chasing, out gaining then again chasing Nebraska, BYU had one second, fifty yards and a second string quarterback between them and the victory. Mangum lobbed the ball over a sea of red that looked more ominous than any scarlet-tinged wave into the hands of Mitch Mathews as six Nebraska uniforms swirled around him.
Mathews came down with the catch in the end zone and chaos ensued after the call was confirmed. Riley was despondent in the final moment. Nebraska wasn’t a team going into the season with any sort of national championship aspirations (the Huskers were unranked going into the game). Yet, Riley was hired as the guy to help break the Huskers out from Bo Pelini’s constructed 8-4 ceiling. I won’t go as far as to say that Riley is finished after something as improbable as a 50 yard miracle bomb but it does sting a little bit if you’re a Nebraska fan and your new coach is the dude lording over a team who just gave up a proud streak of opening wins. It’s going to be a long road upward for Riley as the Huskers have road games at Miami and Minnesota while also having to play both Michigan State and Wisconsin. We know what the ceiling is for Nebraska but will we find out what the floor is this year?
Streaks continued to be broken in Philadelphia where Penn State lost to Temple for the first time since 1941. The Nittany Lions’ offensive line was broken by the Temple Owls as QB Christian Hackenberg was ruthlessly sacked ten times. It was a mostly lopsided affair for Temple who scored a go-ahead touchdown to make the game 27-10 in the fourth quarter. The few bright spots that Penn State had have now fizzled out and shut off like a struggling neon sign that says, “JAMES FRANKLIN!” The offensive line looked miserable, the play calling has been shouted down on Twitter by former players, and Franklin even resorted to accusing Temple of deflating footballs. It was a poor showing that was pretty indicative of an annual Big Ten opening weekend.
A recent opening weekend tradition reared its head once again when Texas A&M and Alabama won their games in convincing fans. For the Aggies, the opening days of football in the Kevin Sumlin-era have amounted to eye popping games where question marks have been answered confidently with fixes to trouble areas. Last year, there was hesitancy about how the Aggies’ offense would fare against South Carolina’s dominant defense. We all know how that went. This year, the question was how much LSU’s former defensive coordinator would shore up A&M’s game on defense against a prolific Arizona State team. The result was holding the 17th ranked Sun Devils to 291 yards, a result that was six yards short of the Sun Devils’ worst output in 2014. The Aggies recorded 9 sacks, 5 forced fumbles, and 14 tackles for a loss. If there’s any evidence that the Chavis hire made an immediate impact, this is it. A&M is now a drunk with a knife and a Roman candle rather than just a drunk with a Roman candle. So, as always with buying in on Texas A&M, proceed with caution.
Elsewhere in Texas, Alabama’s annual opening weekend slaughter was led by Derrick Henry who ran for 147 yards and three touchdowns as the Tide ripped Wisconsin 35-17. The closest the Badgers got to the Tide was 7-7 until QB Jacob Coker floated a 17 yard pass to Robert Foster. From then on, the usual proceedings continued. Alabama ran the ball through the middle and pounded Wisconsin’s front seven; the most demonstrative of Alabama’s offensive philosophy during the game was a 56-yard run by Henry that scorched all Wisconsin defenders. The game left no doubt that the Tide are still rolling and the road to the SEC West title still runs through Tuscaloosa.
If there was any silver lining for the Badgers in this game, it was Joel Stave’s passing. The senior threw for 228 yards and two touchdowns on 26 of 39 attempts. Not bad considering Stave’s inconsistency at the quarterback position which bodes well for the Badgers. Wisconsin may not be as nationally relevant as Bielema’s teams of old but they can take solace in the fact that the only thing in their way for a B1G West title may be a Minnesota team that exposed some cracks in their pass defense on Thursday night.
OTHER LEFTOVER PARTY FAVORS
- UCLA’s road to Pac-12 dominance and national title contention hinges on the performance of a freshman quarterback known as Chosen Rosen. For Bruins fans, the anxiety surrounding his performance may have been assuaged by his precocious play against Virginia. Josh Rosen completed 28-of-35 passes for 351 yards and three touchdowns – a great stat line for a kid who was born in 1997 playing in his first career game. UCLA is going to be very fun this year.
- Come all ‘ye cream soda faithful! Notre Dame looked great on Saturday! QB Malik Zaire stats suggest greatness in the position; he completed 19-of-22 passes for 313 yards, and three touchdowns against the Texas Longhorns. Texas, whose defense was the only redeemable part of a skeletal team going into the season, was ripped to shreds and held to just a field goal. Is this the year when the bluebloodiest of bluebloods emerges from Brian Kelly’s 8-4 basement to get a real job and show the world that they are more than just a name? Maybe!
- The Pac-12 went into the season receiving high praise from some very smart people across the country. In their opening days, five of the conference’s teams lost. This wouldn’t be that big of a deal if it weren’t for the opponents to who the Pac-12 lost to. As mentioned earlier, ranked Arizona State and Stanford got pantsed by unranked Texas A&M and Northwestern, respectively. Washington State, on the other hand, lost to one of the worst FCS schools in the subdivision. Those losses cripple the perception of stunning depth within the conference especially given the La Liga-like structure of the league’s North division. Pac-12 damage control begins next weekend when Oregon goes on the road for a rematch with Michigan State (Psssst, Oregon’s other college team is heading to Ann Arbor, too).
- Auburn beat Louisville 31-24 in a game where the Tigers’ QB Jeremy Johnson gave the ball away as if it was a ticket to the Battle of the Carolinas game. The offense looked deadly for the Tigers in the 1st quarter until the turnovers suggested that Johnson might be the team’s biggest crutch this year. On the other side of the ball, the addition of Will Muschamp as defensive coordinator showed in the pass rush where the Tigers sacked Cardinals QB Reggie Bonnafon four times. For the first time in Gus Malzahn’s tenure, the offense might have a hitch but with the help of everyone’s frothing, lovable psychopath, their defense might be titanic.
- After a slow, offensive start in Nashville, Tennessee ran over Bowling Green for six touchdowns and 399 rushing yards in a 59-30 rout. This might not seem like anything given the opposition but the Falcons are a pretty good MAC team. The Volunteers’ rushing attack was led by Alvin Kamara who had 144 yards and two touchdowns on 15 rushing attempts. There was also some good quarterback play from Joshua Dobbs who threw for 205 yards and two touchdowns on 15-of-22 attempts. Do signs suggest a beautiful season in Knoxville? For the moment, yes.
- Hey! Watch Ole Miss DT Robert Nkemdiche play damn near every position possible against UT-Martin.