Seven points for the day’s games
By Raphielle Johnson
The first Saturday of the college football season has come and gone and there were some definite games of interest. The headliner was a dud (Alabama 34, Clemson 10) that leaves more questions than answers for the ACC favorite. Two ranked teams went down (Virginia Tech and Pittsburgh) with one being able to site youth while the other may have been given too much preseason respect for its recent track record. There were a few close calls for schools facing Football Championship Subdivision opponents, but Appalachian State wasn’t involved in one of those games. Now here are the seven key happenings of the day, followed by previews of Sunday’s games.
- Clemson…here we go again?
Well, so much for the hype about winning the ACC and possibly making a run at a national title. The Tigers played an uninspired brand of football in the Georgia Dome against #24 Alabama, falling behind early and showing little fight to get back into the game besides a kickoff return by C.J. Spiller to start the second half. Speaking of “Thunder and Lightning”, those guys on this night were Bama’s Glenn Coffee and true freshman Mark Ingram. Both players ran for at least ninety yards on the night, while C.J. Spiller and James Davis combined for twenty yards on eight carries.
Not sure what the game plan was in terms of getting those two touches, but they did not see enough of the football. Partly to blame would be Alabama’s mastery of the clock, possessing the ball for 41:13 of the ballgame. Zero net yards rushing for the Tigers on the night, which is a serious letdown given the firepower in their backfield. But the offensive line, which had to replace four starters heading into the season, was absolutely dominated by Alabama. The same goes for their smallish defensive line.
- As for the Crimson Tide, are they another contender in the SEC?
They just might be an option in the SEC West, but they’re going to face much tougher (both physically and mentally) teams once they hit conference play. John Parker Wilson (22-30, 189 yards and two touchdowns) was effective in managing the game and getting the ball in the hands of their playmakers. WR Julio Jones may not have impressed in the yardage area, but the freshman was one of many first-year players to impress for Coach Saban. As the youngsters get more plays under their belts the Tide should become an even bigger threat. Expect the Crimson Tide to be 4-0 heading into their game at Georgia on September 27th.
- The “Pitt to the BCS” talk may have been a little premature.
The Panthers looked to be in good shape in the first stages of their game against Bowling Green, jumping out to a 14-0 lead early in the second quarter behind the tough running of LeSean McCoy and a solid defensive performance. The score from that point on: Bowling Green 27, Pitt 3. Pittsburgh simply took their foot off the gas, allowing the Falcons to not only get back into the game but take control of it. Pitt outgained Bowling Green 393-254, but it was their four turnovers (three fumbles lost) that did them in. But I wouldn’t quit on Pittsburgh just yet, as their goal of winning the Big East is still on the table. It’s just that now they have a concrete example of what they can’t do if they’re to reach that objective.
- East Carolina pulls off the upset by giving Virginia Tech a taste of its own medicine.
T.J. Lee’s return of a blocked punt with just less than two minutes remaining in the game resulted in the Pirates knocking off #17 Virginia Tech 27-22 in Charlotte. While this game came down to a special teams play, the fact is that ECU was the better team on this afternoon. The Pirates outgained the Hokies 369-243 and went 7-13 on third downs. Given how closely ECU played Virginia Tech in last season’s game, the term “upset” may be a little extreme and the Pirates were a serious contender in Conference USA heading into the season.
As for the Hokie offense, the clamoring for the removal of Tyrod Taylor’s redshirt will begin. Virginia Tech is devoid of playmakers on the offensive side of the ball, and many will recall what the addition of Taylor did for their fortunes in 2007. They also finished with just 104 yards on the ground for an average of three yards per carry, which is not enough to get the job done for the defending ACC champions. Can Sean Glennon win games with his arm? After the first game of the season, the answer may not be the one Hokie fans want to hear.
- The Mike Sherman and Rich Rodriguez eras don’t get off to the best of starts.
It’s better to start off with the more stunning result, Texas A&M losing at home to Arkansas State 18-14. The Red Wolves outgained the Aggies 415-303 for the game, and someone needs to explain how A&M gave up 255 yards on the ground. RB Reggie Arnold and QB Corey Leonard both ran for at least 85 yards, with Arnold going for 145 on twenty-one carries. Four Aggie turnovers would be the best explanation for why they couldn’t expand upon their 14-3 halftime lead. But the pressing concern has to be the run defense, as there are some pretty good teams in the Big 12 that can exploit such a weakness.
As for the Wolverines, who fell to Utah 25-23 at home, they probably should have been beaten far worse than the two-point final. But thanks to the Utes squandering numerous opportunities in the red zone, Michigan had a shot to pull this one out late. The quarterback position lacked consistency for Michigan, with Nick Sheridan making way for Steven Threet in the second half due to a couple of turnovers. But the surprise in the statistics would be the lack of a rushing attack for the Wolverines, racking up a paltry thirty-six yards on twenty-five carries. Utah finished with the same number of yards, but Utah QB Brian Johnson finished with -66 yards by himself.
So where do these two teams go from here? Both teams can point to turnovers as the main cause for their poor play, and they both had chances to win the game that they simply didn’t take advantage of. But I look at the conferences that they play in and think that the Aggies may be in a little more trouble than the Wolverines.
- Injuries end the day for Beanie Wells, Jeff Owens and Jeremy Maclin.
Now we’re not sure about the severity of their injuries at this point in time, but these are three players that their teams can’t afford to lose for a long period of time. Wells pulled up lame with a right foot injury in the fourth quarter of Ohio State’s beating of Youngstown State, and it would probably be a safe bet that he won’t play against Ohio next weekend in anticipation of their showdown at USC in two weeks.
Georgia defensive tackle Jeff Owens went down in the first half with an apparent right knee injury in the first half of their 45-21 victory over Georgia Southern. While Owens may not be a skill position threat like Wells and Maclin, his loss would be a serious blow for a Bulldog team that has been dealing with injuries to its men in the trenches the past couple of weeks. They may not need him for Central Michigan next weekend, but they go to Columbia to take on South Carolina on the 13th.
Maclin went down in the second half with a right ankle injury, and just like the other two he wasn’t touched. The early report is a sprain, which is much better than the worst case scenario regarding lower body injuries and untouched players. Southeast Missouri is next on the schedule for the Tigers, so I wouldn’t expect to see him on the field either.
- Bad starts for Ty Willingham and Greg Robinson in a critical year for their programs.
Previewing the games involving Washington and Syracuse, I felt that neither head coach could afford a blowout loss in regards to their job security. Well, both went on the road and had a tough go of it. Oregon physically whipped the Huskies on both sides of the football, dropping their rivals 44-10 in the conference opener for both. Jake Locker had little time to make things happen with his arm or legs, and the Husky defense had no success slowing down Oregon’s offense (496 total yards- 255 in the air and 241 on the ground). Not a good way in which to kick things off for the Huskies.
As for Syracuse, they also took a whipping on the road but at least they were competitive for a while before their lack of an offense did them in. And the defense wasn’t much better, as the Orange gave up 484 yards of offense (269 on the ground). The final nail in the coffin was a Brendan Smith interception returned for a touchdown late in the third quarter. And the trio of running backs that were supposed to kick-start the Syracuse offense (Doug Hogue, Curtis Brinkley and Delone Carter) combined for 117 yards on twenty-one carries. Not terrible, but when your passing game produces just 103 yards you’re in trouble.
So which coach is in worse shape? Well there isn’t much room for optimism for either team as they both have tough non-conference schedules to complete along with conference games against teams that for the most part have more talent. Both teams should improve some as the season progresses, but if their line play doesn’t improve then their fan bases are in for yet another long season.
3:30 PM ET Kentucky at Louisville on ESPN
The battle for bragging rights in the Bluegrass State once again opens the season after last season’s schedule afforded both a couple of warm-ups. Both teams lost a lot on the offensive side of the football, but the Cardinals may be better equipped to fill in some of those holes. Keep an eye on Louisville QB Hunter Cantwell, who played well as a starter a few seasons ago while Brian Brohm was out injured. I like Louisville to defend their home turf behind a defense that should be better under new defensive coordinator Ron English.
7:40 PM ET Colorado State at Colorado on Fox Sports Net
Steve Fairchild begins his run as CSU head coach with this bitter rivalry game in Denver. And unfortunately for him the Buffaloes stand to be better than they were in 2007, when they needed some late heroics to pull out the victory. But this game is one where the talent on the field really doesn’t matter; the Rams like knocking off the Buffs that much. Expect a spirited game, but Colorado will win behind QB Cody Hawkins. And highly-touted running back Darrell Scott makes his debut for the Buffaloes, which is another point of concern for CSU.
Best Individual Performance on Saturday: Navy RB Shun White (19 carries, 348 yards and three touchdowns in the Midshipmen’s 41-13 win over Towson)