No. 1 Alabama beat No. 11 Florida 29-27 on Saturday, but the Crimson Tide showed something that didn’t seem possible after two weeks. The Crimson Tide might be human after all.
The Gators made it a four-quarter game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium and offered a blueprint for others trying to do the unthinkable and beat Alabama in 2021.
Florida made that almost happen in three easy steps.
Survive the first quarter: Alabama jumped out on Florida 21-3 after the first quarter, and Bryce Young hit 12 of 16 passes for 138 yards and three TDs. The Crimson Tide has outscored its opponents 45-3 in the first quarter through three games. Most teams are done at that point. Florida weathered that first punch. Young was just 10 of 19 for 102 yards for the rest of the game. The Gators’ defense didn’t give up the big play the rest of the way.
Run the ball, stop the run: The Crimson Tide finished with 28 rushing attempts for 91 yards, and it’s clear at this point Najee Harris is missed. Brain Robinson managed 91 yards on 5.2 yards per carry and new offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien stuck with the running game. It’s just not a game-changer through the first quarter of the season.
Florida, meanwhile, had 245 rushing yards and averaged 5.8 yards per carry with a diversified attack they stuck with. The Gators scored three TDs on their first three possessions in the second half, too. That’s a credit to quarterback Emory Jones.
A dual-threat quarterback: Redshirt freshman Anthony Richardson did not play because of a hamstring injury, and that would have been an interesting wrinkle. But Jones played well. He hit 18 of 28 passes for 195 yards and shook off an early interception. Jones added 19 carries for 77 yards, and Florida had a chance to tie with 3:10 remaining on a two-point conversion that was just short.
All that still wasn’t enough to stop the Crimson Tide from extending their FBS-best 17-game win streak, and those three keys have to go right for anybody to have a chance against Alabama.
Yet, that tease of mortality is out there, now. Florida went four quarters with the Crimson Tide in a game that resembled last year’s SEC championship game. Maybe a rematch with Richardson in the fold is possible down the line. No. 2 Georgia might have a chance with that ferocious defense. No. 17 Ole Miss and Lane Kiffin could make it interesting Oct. 2. Even Jimbo at Texas A&M, Coach O at LSU and SEC West surprise Arkansas can feel a sense of hope.
Dare we say, “A New Hope” against the Alabama Death Star?
More Penn State-Auburns, please
The ABC prime-time game was fun, right?
Penn State tight end Tyler Warren leapt over the pile for a goal-line touchdown. Auburn’s Jarquez Hunter hurdled a Penn State defender on a break-away run. The Tigers had a chance to win on the final play, but Auburn’s Bo Nix’s desperation pass was broken up by Nittany Lions’ safety Jaquan Brisker.
The “Whiteout” between No. 10 Penn State and No. 22 Auburn was a fun-filled matchup, and the Nittany Lions won 28-20 with the help of a big-time performance from Sean Clifford, who finished 28 of 32 passing for 280 yards, two TDs and an interception.
One of the casualties of the SEC vs. Alliance talk is that it theoretically could hamper more matchups like this in the future.
Let’s hope it’s not like that. SEC-Big Ten matchups produce a lot of heat in bowl season, but the best hope to replicate Saturday’s atmosphere remains the potential for on-campus games in the expanded College Football Playoff. This game felt like a CFP quarterfinal.
The Nittany Lions will make the return trip to Jordan-Hare Stadium in 2022. Alabama has future home-and-homes with Wisconsin (2024-25) and Ohio State (2028-29). Nebraska has a home and home with Tennessee in 2026-27, but there should be more matchups like this scheduled in the future.
The Auburn-Penn State matchup was just the eighth on-campus matchup between the Big Ten and SEC since 2010. It was the first regular-season game at a home site between ranked teams from those conferences since No. 3 Alabama beat No. 23 Penn State 27-11 on Sept. 10, 2011.
We should not have to wait that long between matchups.
Sooners (really) can’t lose
There was beautiful nostalgia with No. 3 Oklahoma and Nebraska taking a one-score slugfest into the fourth quarter on the 50th anniversary of their fabled Game of the Century, even if it will be a Big Ten-SEC matchup next time.
Oklahoma closed out the Huskers in a 23-16 victory, but left questions about the Sooners’ resume after two one-score games against inferior non-conference opponents. Oklahoma needs to rediscover its blowout genes in Big 12 play.
Nebraska closed Oklahoma’s lead to 14-9 in the third quarter, but Isaiah Coe blocked the extra point and Pat Fields returned for a two-point conversion. Spencer Rattler hit 4 of 5 passes for 45 yards on the ensuing touchdown drive, and D.J. Graham came up with a jaw-dropping one-handed interception.
Yet the Huskers, like Tulane in the opener, still had a last-chance drive before the Sooners came up with back-to-back sacks. Rattler, a preseason Heisman favorite, averages 250.3 passing yards with seven TDs and two interceptions.
The Sooners remain clean heading into a potential seventh straight conference championship run. Still, Oklahoma does not want to take a loss and fall in that one-loss conversation with Ohio State and Clemson, not with just one ranked Big 12 team left on the schedule. It’s best to have the one-up on the Buckeyes and Tigers.
That’s something to think about with a Week 4 prime-time matchup against West Virginia. In other words, run it up Lincoln Reilly, or face those doubts.
Cincinnati passes one of its big tests
Stop questioning No. 8 Cincinnati’s top-10 credentials. The Bearcats rallied from a 14-0 deficit to beat Indiana 38-24 in one of their two prove-it games against Power 5 opponents this season.
When Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell took a field goal off the board after an offsides penalty and went for it on fourth-and-1 with 6:49 remaining against the Hoosiers, it was on. The Bearcats scored TDs on four of their last five possessions.
The truth is Cincinnati is right where it belongs. Since 2018, Fickell has led the Bearcats to the sixth-best record in the FBS, one that compares favorably with the College Football Playoff regulars.
Best FBS records since 2018
|1. Alabama 41-3, .932|
|2. Clemson 41-4, .911|
|3. Ohio State 35-4, .897|
|4. Notre Dame 36-5, .878|
|5. Oklahoma 36-6, .857|
|6. Cincinnati 34-6, .850|
Georgia is a half-game behind the Bearcats at 34-7. The next step is obvious. Cincinnati has a bye week to prepare for Notre Dame, a game that will have even more shine if the Irish can knock off Wisconsin at Soldier Field. This is the Bearcats’ best chance to appeal to the CFP committee that they need to stay in that conversation.
That game has so many coaching ties. Brian Kelly used to coach at Cincinnati. So did Irish defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman. Fickell, of course, shot down interest in the USC job. That’s because he’s the ideal fit to be Notre Dame’s next coach when Kelly retires.
Win there, and Cincinnati will have a good look at 12-0. At that point, could it bypass a step and play in the Big 12 championship against Oklahoma?
We wish we weren’t kidding.
USC snaps out of it
It was a tough week in Trojan land with the Monday firing of Clay Helton following a listless loss to Stanford. Up next was the somewhat uninspiring destiation of Washington State, and USC played like it didn’t want to be there for the first quarter plus.
USC trailed 14-0 and lost a fumble on its own 35-yard-line early in the second quarter. Starting quarterback Kedon Slovis was already lost for the game. Things were not looking bright for interim coach Donte Williams’ debut. Would this be another Trojan humbling?
Nope. From that point forward, the Trojans outscored Wazzu 45-0 behind a brilliant outing from backup QB Jaxson Dart. The freshman was 30-for-46 for 391 yards and four touchdowns, though he did have two interceptions.
Slovis is scheduled to return to practice this week, but with Dart putting up such big numbers, Williams may have to navigate an unexpected QB situation during his interim period.
Week 4 Sneak Peek
— Wisconsin-Notre Dame is an elimination game of sorts for the Badgers. Wisconsin is 5-4 in its last nine games dating back to the COVID-interrupted 2020 season. This is a big one for Paul Chyrst. Brian Kelly can become Notre Dame’s all-time win leader, surpassing Knute Rockne. Soldier Field should be rocking.
— Texas A&M and Arkansas is the best-guaranteed matchup between ranked unbeaten teams, and it’s fitting it will be in Jerry World. The Aggies have won nine straight meetings in this rivalry that dates back to 1903.
— Tennessee coach Josh Heupel gets his first taste of the rivalry with Florida, or whatever you call a matchup when one team has won 15 of the last 16 meetings. Can the Vols catch the Gators with a hangover?
Mike Norvell done at FSU?
Wake Forest beat Florida State 35-14. That’s the Seminoles’ worst loss to the Demon Deacons since a 30-0 shutout on Nov. 11, 2006. Bobby Bowden coached three more seasons after that loss. Will Norvell last three more games?
After what happened with Helton last week, you can’t rule anything out. Any feel-good material from the Labor Day comeback against Notre Dame has been lost since a Hail Mary loss to Jacksonville State and a three-TD loss to Wake Forest. Remember, Willie Taggart was fired two weeks after a 22-20 loss to the Demon Deacons in 2019. Florida State is 0-3 for the first time since 1976.
You can see the “Fire Norvell” campaign, and it’s easy to see what comes next. The “Hire Deion” movement is building. Deion Sanders won his first two games at Jackson State as a first-time coach, and no hire would bring more excitement to the program.
Would Coach Prime work in Tallahassee? The Seminoles are 14-23 since Jimbo Fisher left. Any better ideas?
— Which top 25 Michigan team should you buy more stock in? The Wolverines improved to 3-0 and average 350.3 rushing yards per game after a 63-10 victory against Northern Illinois. The three-headed attack of Blake Corum, Hassan Haskins and now freshman Donovan Edwards is imposing. Corum (407 yards, 7 TDs) averages 10.7 yards per carry. Michigan State should join Michigan in the AP Top 25 after knocking off No. 24 Miami 31-17. Kenneth Walker III (493 yards, 5 TDs) averages 8.6 yards per carry. These uneasy brothers look like identical twins. The Spartans are a better bet to be unbeaten when they meet the Wolverines on Oct. 30. We’ll buy the Wolverines if they win at Wisconsin on Oct. 2; a victory that has eluded them since 2001.
— D’Eriq King hot takes are coming given he was the first quarterback to take advantage of NIL deals this offseason.
Miami QB D’Eriq King was one of the stars of the name, image and likeness rush. Miami loses to Michigan State, now 1-2, with win a 2-point victory over Appalachian State. Partners would find him hard to activate now.
— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) September 18, 2021
King hit 38 of 59 passes for 388 yards with two TDs and two interceptions despite suffering a shoulder injury during the game. Is King worth seven-figures worth of NIL deals? That’s debatable, but NIL is designed for college players to take advantage of their opportunities, especially the ones who might not go on to NFL stardom. The market will eventually correct itself. Piling on King is unnecessary.
— Ohio State’s defense didn’t alleviate too many concerns after allowing 487 yards in a 41-20 victory against Tulsa that was a one-score game with 12:07 left in the fourth quarter. Ryan Day said defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs did not make the play calls this week, leaving them to secondary coach Matt Barnes. The good news? It won’t be easy to outrun the Buckeyes when freshman TreVeyon Henderson is loose. Henderson totaled 270 yards, the third highest single-game total in Buckeyes’ history. He scored on TD runs of 48, 52 and 54 yards. Henderson has 339 yards through three games, and it is not too early to peek at that Ohio State freshman rushing record. J.K. Dobbins set that with 1,403 yards in 2017, which broke the record of 1,237 yards set by Maurice Clarett in 2002. Henderson can be that kind of difference-maker.
— Clemson managed to weather a one-hour, 52-minute weather delay against Georgia Tech and needed a goal-line stand with a game-saving tackle by James Skalski to stave off the Yellow Jackets in a 14-8. Clemson’s defense has yet to allow a touchdown this season. Perhaps the most-surprising development for the Tigers is quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei has just one TD pass through three games, and Clemson failed to get a play of more than 20 yards against Georgia Tech. The Tigers’ perception won’t be helped by the fact the ACC remains as unpredictable as ever. The ACC Coastal does not have an unbeaten team. West Virginia beat No. 15 Virginia Tech 27-21 with a help of a goal-line stand in the Black Diamond Trophy game, and Pitt lost a 44-41 shootout with Western Michigan. No. 21 North Carolina also knocked Virginia from the unbeaten ranks in a 59-39 shootout. Sam Howell passed for 307 yards and five touchdowns and ran for 112 yards as he tries to reignite his Heisman campaign.
— Notre Dame’s Kyren Williams busted loose with a 51-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter that sealed a 27-13 victory against Purdue. Still, the Irish do not have the same-old dominant offensive line. Notre Dame totaled 120 rushing yards on 3.5 yards per carry, and through three games those numbers are at 317 yards on 2.9 ypc. The Irish have a curious +20 point differential through three games as a result. Their next two opponents, Wisconsin and Cincinnati, also have a bye week to prepare. Wisconsin transfer Jack Coan will be the subplot Saturday, but how that running game stacks up against the Badgers is the real story.
— Other than Michigan State, here is a quick roll call of unranked 3-0 teams in the Power 5: Baylor, Boston College, Kansas State, Kentucky, Maryland, Oklahoma State, Rutgers, Texas Tech and Wake Forest. Those teams had a combined record of 40-53 last season, and the Eagles and Cowboys were the only teams with winning records last season.
— Cincinnati and No. 16 Coastal Carolina are the only ranked Group of 5 schools, but Memphis made its case to join those two after a 31-29 victory against Mississippi State. The Tigers won despite being outgained 468-246 with the help of this wacky 94-yard punt return by Calvin Austin III.
SMU also improved to 3-0 with a Hail Mary from Tanner Mordecai to Jr.
Roderick Roberson for a 39-37 victory against Louisiana Tech.