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CFB Week 4: Heroes and Villains, From Ol’ Mizzou to Old Dominion

The Kickoff…

It was a disappointing, if expected, loss for Mizzou at Faurot Field. No. 2 Georgia won this one, 43-29,  by feasting on Missouri’s fatalistic, avoidable mistakes. Georgia won by striking for big plays on special teams, defense and offense. And Georgia won by preventing the Tigers’ offense from coming up with explosive plays of their own.

The Tigers were effective at small ball, rushing for 172 yards and four touchdowns. Georgia didn’t mind that at all; Drew Lock’s longest completion went for 25 yards, and that came on MU’s opening drive. Lock averaged a measly 4.6 yards per passing attempt, with an adjusted YPA of 3.7 yards. The Bulldogs were unfazed by Mizzou’s nickel-dime passing game. When the Dawgs needed to make a stop it wasn’t much of a problem. Lock completed only two of 10 third-down throws.

Lock hardly distinguished himself vs. Georgia, completing only 47.9% of his 48 passing attempts with no touchdowns and an interception. But if you watched the game you’ll know that the raw numbers were misleading. I stopped counting the number of dropped passes — including the bad-hands whiff by WR Johnathon Johnson that was captured for an interception and long return to the MU 7-yard-line.

Mizzou receivers Emmanuel Hall and Nate Brown couldn’t get separation. Hall, noticeably slowed by a groin injury, shouldn’t have been playing. Brown wasn’t at full speed either.

Lock fumbled twice. Not good.

But I agree with this opinion written by Chris Wright at Saturday Down South:

“The narrative coming in was Lock is a bully who beats up on lightweights and gets shoved into a corner against contenders. If you only looked at the box score, Saturday’s numbers aren’t going to dispel that notion. … in truth, his receivers didn’t hold up their end of the deal. Their drops neared double digits. It didn’t help that Hall was dinged up and a non-factor. Nearly every ball Lock threw was a strike, not only catchable, but thrown to a spot that a) only his guy could catch (or drop) or b) allowed his guy to run after the catch.”

Spot on.

One more thing about Lock: This game didn’t destroy his bid for the Heisman Trophy — simply because Lock wasn’t really a Heisman contender. Just because Lock (or any player) is part of the early-season Heisman discussion, it doesn’t make him a serious candidate for the award. Not with Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa pitching near-perfect games every week for the nation’s best team. And not when quarterbacks Kyler Murray (Oklahoma), Dwayne Haskins (Ohio State) and Will Grier (West Virginia) are shredding defenses and leading teams that have a legit chance to win their conferences and contend for a playoff spot.

The Opening Drive … 

1-SEC Team of the Week: Kentucky. The Wildcats smothered Mississippi State’s potent offense in a 28-7 victory in Lexington. The No. 18 Bulldogs and multipurpose quarterback Mick Fitzgerald were held to 201 yards total offense. And Kentucky running back Benny Snell rolled 175 yards rushing and four touchdowns. Snell is a good one. Earlier this season, Kentucky went to Florida and took care of the No. 25 ranked (at the time) Gators, 27-16 behind Snell slashing for 165 yards on the ground.  Kentucky, 4-0, has two wins over ranked teams. It took a while to get it done at a basketball-crazy university, but coach Mark Stoops is building a good program. The Wildcats appear to be the second-best team (to Georgia) in the SEC East. But we’ll find out Saturday when South Carolina visits Kentucky. The Cats are off to a 2-0 start in the SEC for the first time since 1977. That was a long time ago. I graduated from high school that year.

2-Back to Georgia and coach Kirby Smart. He fumed over his team’s sloppy performance and general looseness. “We didn’t play with discipline, composure, or really any physicality against the run game,” Smart squawked afterwards.  And considering Georgia’s extremely high standards, Smart was right to be steaming.  This is straight out of the Nick Saban coaching philosophy: Never let your players get complacent. Always push your players to stay hungry and strive for improvement. Smart was paying attention during his term as a longtime assistant to Saban at Alabama. So we shouldn’t have been surprised by Smart’s dissatisfaction, even after the Dawgs moved to 2-0 in SEC play after going on the road to clobber South Carolina (41-17) and Mizzou. Georgia hasn’t won its first two road games in a season since 1991, but Smart wants more. … As he should. The erratic performance against Mizzou would put the Dawgs in big trouble against tougher and more talented teams in the SEC and beyond.

3. It was a great Saturday for backup quarterbacks.

* Old Dominion backup Blake LaRussa came off the bench early to play a huge role in a stunning 49-35 upset of No. 13 Virginia Tech, passing for 495 yards and four touchdowns, and adding a rushing TD. Previously LaRussa’s best passing day was a 161-yard showing against Albany last season. In this one, LaRussa put up the most passing yards in a game against a Va Tech defense coordinated by the acclaimed Bud Foster.

* Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly undoubtedly excited to attack Wake Forest’s awul pass defense, went with junior Ian Book at quarterback instead of the erratic Brandon Wimbush. Outstanding move, as Book picked apart the Demon Deacons for 325 yards and five total touchdowns in a 56-27 rout. If Book proves to be this good going forward, the Irish are a playoff contender.

* Miami coach Mark Richt, tired of senior QB Malik Rosier’s poor accuracy, inserted true freshman N’Kosi Perry to energize the Hurricanes’ attack in a 31-17 win over Florida International. Perry accumulated 256 total yards and three touchdowns and connected on a variety of excellent throws. Perry has the potential to make Miami a more imposing team.

4. Is a quarterback change coming at Clemson? We’ll have to wait and see. But freshman Trevor Lawrence was dynamic in Clemson’s 49-21 pounding of Georgia Tech, with the Tigers scoring five touchdowns in the six drives with Lawrence at QB. Coach Dabo Swinney has started the more experienced Kelly Bryant this season while also giving Lawrence playing time. What’s next? “We’re not going to set depth charts here in post-game press conferences,” Swinney told the media after Saturday’s game.

5. No doubt about it, Oregon and coach Mario Cristobal gave away a game to visiting Stanford.  The Ducks, who were dominant into the third quarter, squandered a 24-7 lead — which should have been a 31-7 lead — in their 38-31 overtime loss to the Cardinal. And Cristobal was largely at fault for the brutal yack job. Gripping a 31-28 lead at home with around 1:40 to to go in the fourth quarter, Oregon opted to run the ball to go for a first down, only to have with running back C.J. Verdell get hit, stripped and fumble the ball.

Stanford recovered and moved in for the tying field goal to set up an OT triumph. Oregon twice had a 98 percent chance to prevail in this game based on win probability. And the Ducks still couldn’t bank a victory.

Instead of instructing his offense to take three kneel-downs and drain all but 10-to-15 seconds of the clock, Cristobal needlessly put the Ducks at risk by being overly aggressive on the final possession.

This was a typical Oregon loss, soft to the core despite all of the flash and dash and points. The Ducks had a 13-minute edge in time of possession but gifted this one to the Cardinal through incomprehensible coaching decisions and a minus-3 deficit in turnovers.

Let’s get to the winners and losers, heroes and villains for CFB Week Four… 

THE  HEROES

* Purdue quarterback David Blough is on fire. After disassembling Mizzou’s defense for a Big Ten single-game record 588 total yards last week, Blough passed for 296 yards and three touchdowns in Saturday’s 30-13 upset of Boston College. That gives Blough 857 total yards and seven touchdowns in his last two games. In beating BC, Purdue ended its 20-game losing streak against ranked opponents.

* Kenneth Murray. The Oklahoma middle linebacker established a school record with 28 tackles in OU’s surprisingly close call — a  28-21 overtime defeat of visiting Army. The Sooners ran 40 plays to Army’s 87, but Murray made a bunch of crucial stops to keep OU close.

* Texas. The Longhorns terminated their four-game losing streak to TCU with a 31-16 victory. Coach Tom Herman has won three in a row after a messy loss to inferior Maryland to open the season. Let’s calm down on the premature “Texas is back” talk, but the Longhorns are moving up and becoming the Big 12’s best bet to challenge Oklahoma for the league title.

* Alabama. But of course. After breezing to a 45-23 win over visiting Texas A&M, the Crimson Tide is 4-0 and has outscored victims 215-51 this season. According to my calculator, that’s a plus 164 in point differential. This is tops in the FBS this season, and the best point differential by ‘Bama through four games since a +170 in 1979. The ‘79 team, coached by icon Paul “Bear” Bryant, went 12-0 that season and won the national championship. With the win over Texas A&M and coach Jimbo Fisher, Alabama coach Saban is now 13-0 against his former assistants.

Alabama has outscored opponents 148-20 in the first half. QB Tua Tagovailoa has completed 58 of 80 passes this season (72.5%) for 1,033 yards, an average of 12.9 yards per attempt. He has 12 touchdowns passing, four TDs rushing, and has yet to take a snap in the fourth quarter.

* Three cheers for Old Dominion. The 49-35 upset was startling on many levels, including this: The Monarchs were 0-3 coming in, and had lost to Liberty 52-10 in Week 1. And ODU won by 14 after being downgraded as a 29-point underdog to Virginia Tech. The most improbable aspect of abmush? This: ODU roasted Va Tech’s defense for 281 yards and 28 points in the fourth quarter.  It was Old Dominion’s biggest win since restarting its football program in 2009.

* Texas Tech is the most overlooked team in the nation so far. The Red Raiders shook up the Big 12 by strutting into Stillwater to wipe out coach Mike Gundy and Oklahoma State in a 41-17 laugher. It was Tech’s first win versus Gundy and OSU since 2008. A week ago, Texas Tech attracted attention by dropping 63 points on Houston in a 14-point win. This time, freshman quarterback Alan Bowman zinged OSU for 35 completions in 46 attempts for 397 yards and two touchdowns. In the wins over Houston and Oklahoma State, Bowman passed for an astounding two-game total of 1,002 yards and seven TDs. The Red Raiders lead the FBS division with 622 yards offense per game.

* Wisconsin: By rallying for a win at Iowa, the Badgers proved they’re still the team to beat in the B1G West division. Shaking off last week’s loss to BYU, visiting Wisconsin outscored the Hawkeyes 14-0 in the fourth quarter to emerge with a much needed 28-17 victory. Quarterback Alex Hornibrook completed 17 of 22 for 205 yards and three TDs.

THE  VILLAINS

* It’s easy to keep piling on Nebraska, but the Cornhuskers continue to get worse. After a 56-10 nuking by Michigan, the Huskers have lost seven in a row (and eight out of nine) going back to last season. We have to wonder if Scott Frost realized he was taking a step down by leaving Central Florida for Nebraska out of loyalty to his alma mater. Nebraska is 0-3 at the start of the season for the first time since 1945. Ugh.

* Tennessee is bad, really bad. The worst team in the SEC is Arkansas. Based on what we’ve seen so far, Tennessee is the second-worst team in the league. The Volunteers’ 47-21 loss to rival Florida at home was absurd for a myriad of reasons, starting with six turnovers by the Vols that set up 24 points for the Gators.  Florida only outgained Tennessee by 24 yards during the game, but won by 26. Coach Jeremy Pruitt had no idea he was signing on to clean up a toxic spill.

* With Saturday’s 14-point loss to Georgia, Mizzou coach Barry Odom is 0-6 in games against ranked opponents. Mizzou lost the six games by an average of 25.3 points. The loss to the Bulldogs dropped Odom’s record against winning FBS teams to 2-14.

* Can Rutgers go any lower? How about disbanding its football program? Please? In the last three games the Scarlet Knights — a disgrace to the Big Ten — have been demolished by Ohio State (52-3), Kansas (55-14) and Buffalo (42-13.) I mean, Ohio State can do that to a lot of teams. But not KU, and certainly not Buffalo. Rutgers paid Buffalo — a member of the MAC — $900,000 to take this beating. The Knights’ remaining schedule includes games against Wisconsin, Michigan, Penn State and Michigan State.

* Say, didn’t you used to be Bobby Petrino? The 2016 Heisman winner Lamar Jackson is gone, making it work in the NFL as a backup (and future starter) to Joe Flacco. Meanwhile, the Louisville offense is starved for yards and points, and Petrino has lost his touch offensively. Saturday the Cardinals (2-2 overall) scraped out only 214 yards in a 27-3 loss to Virginia. The Cardinals have scored 17 points, total, in their two losses to Power Five teams. With Jackson as QB, L’Ville finished last season ranked third in the nation at 545 yards per game. This season the Cardinals are ranked No. 124 in the nation with an average of 287 yards per game.  One more note: Louisville has scored a total of three offensive points in the first half of its four games this season.

* TCU coach Gary Patterson. It’s one thing to lose to Texas. But what’s up with the surrender? With the Horned Frogs down by two touchdowns with 2 minutes 44 seconds remaining in Saturday’s game, Patterson opted to punt the ball back to the Longhorns. Made no sense. And TCU lost by 15.

* Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert is a formidable talent, but after completing 25 of his first 27 passes against Stanford on Saturday night, he misfired on five of his last six passing attempts with the game on the line. That was a factor in Stanford’s seven-point win in OT. By the way: According to The Athletic, the 17-point deficit was the largest erased by Stanford in a win since 1999.

* Illinois. Sigh. After threatening Penn State — leading 24-21 with 10:36 left in the third quarter — the Illini was blistered for 42 unanswered points by the Nittany Lions. According to STATS LLC, the 63-24 loss by the Illini represented the largest margin of defeat by an FBS team that led a game in the the second half since 2003. In that one, Oklahoma State led Texas 16-14 and got curb-stomped 55-16.

Thanks for reading …

-Bernie

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