College football takeaways: After Alabama struggles, could Nick Saban lose to an assistant?
In Tuscaloosa on Saturday, this most bizarre college football season is about to see some degree of normalcy. This year's version of the Annual Game of the Century will take place between No. 2 Alabama and No. 3 Georgia, with some twists of the 2020 ode to the bizarre being appropriate.
The regular season marquee game will take place under the light of Tuscaloosa, a venue for so many high-end regular season games this century. But the plot will be a pinch different as Nick Saban faces his old defensive coordinator Kirby Smart and has a chance to beat former assistant coaches 22-0.
This is the rare time during Saban's Alabama regime that he does not bring the most touted defense into the matchup. Alabama surrendered 647 yards to Ole Miss on Saturday and managed to beat Lane Kiffin's Rebels (63-48).
On a Saturday when the SEC was channeling the soul of the Big 12 - or maybe the old WAC - it was the defense of Saban and Coordinator Pete Golding that opened up a shootout where you glimpse Kliff Kingsbury's presence on the sidelines could throw. "We just didn't play very well in defense," said Saban. "Maybe a game like this wakes us up a bit."
Georgia's elite defense will be on display as it did on Saturday afternoon against Alabama's high-flying offense. Defensive coordinator Dan Lanning's crew - expects to hear a lot this week - ruled Tennessee out in the second half, forcing three turnovers that resulted in 13 UGA points.
UGA doesn't have a rare talent unit as Jordan Davis, the 6-foot-6, 330-pound defender, is the only safe choice in the first round in 2021 for UGA's defense. (Defender Tyson Campbell is starting to hone this skill, but he missed five games last year with a foot injury, leaving him a bit behind in the hype department.)
UGA's defense is certainly talented and offers many future draft picks. But it's not full of freaks like the ones Clemson had on the defensive two years ago. Nor does it have the preponderance of first-round staff that some of Saban's teams had during his time in Tuscaloosa.
But Georgia has wonderful team defense, which this gem pulled off an opposing coach earlier this week.
"They don't give up free throws so you have to work for everything," said the coach. "When they flash you, they never really flash you. Like base downs, they pop a guy. They are extremely aggressive without taking risks - they move a bunch up, turn guys, and do single-backer flashes. They sell that House never.
"You only have to win once and you are second and you are 14, that's the style they play. And they have really good players. So what you see is that they are aggressive without taking risks. I know that sounds like it Jumbo shrimp. "
Alabama's trainer Nick Saban signals a touchdown against the Ole Miss Rebels on October 10, 2020. (Kent Gidley / Collegiate Images / Getty Images)
Georgia will face a crime involving jumbo stats as Alabama averages 51 points per game, making them one of the top 5 offenses in the country.
Georgia will come into play with the SEC's best defense (12.3) after the Bulldogs found a way to overwhelm Tennessee and its high-end offensive line in Saturday's second half. "What stands out is the camaraderie they have over them and they pride themselves on being good," Smart told reporters about his defense after the game. "You have no prima donna."
Every game of the century needs a marquee matchup. First year Alabama quarterback Mac Jones has executed eight touchdowns in three games and completed nearly 80% of his passes. He throws at a pair of ridiculously talented receivers - DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle - and has perhaps the best turnaround in the country in Najee Harris.
Can Smart and Lanning find a way to slow them down? This Georgia team was formed in the form of one of the old Alabama teams from Saban - defense first, with enough attack to get through. Saban used to swallow inexperienced quarterbacks like Stetson Bennett, but there are questions about Alabama's cover eligibility after surrendering 13.1 yards per try and 379 yards to Ole Miss.
It is doubtful Georgia can score 48 goals against Alabama like Ole Miss, given the Bulldogs not playing near the pace. And his defense will not be such a sieve to give them so many possessions.
However, Saban has expressed serious concerns about the current defense as Pete Golding's second season as defensive coordinator does not yet need to be identified.
"Of course we have to defend much better because they have a very good defensive team," said Saban.
While the Game of the Century brings back the familiar oversized hype this season, it will take on a different tone to which we have become accustomed. Alabama will come in with a powerful offensive, inferior defense, and perhaps with Saban, who may lose to a former assistant for the first time.
The picture says 1,000 words about LSU football
If the pain of a program and its fan base can be summed up in a single picture, The Advocate's Hilary Scheinuk managed to deliver it on Saturday. Scheinuk shot a searing picture of LSU defense coordinator Bo Pelini walking off the field after losing to Missouri, which captured him with the palm of his hand on his forehead, equally overwhelmed, helpless and angry.
After the defending champions lost 45:41, someone may tell Pelini that he must prepare soon to halt Florida's offensive next week. The image went viral on Twitter and sparked visceral reactions.
LSU has got off to a historically bad start as it is 1-2 for the first time since 1994. The Tigers have dropped more points in three games than ever before in program history. And don't attach this to LSU, which has to play three SEC games to open the season. LSU has lost to two unrated SEC teams who are fortunate enough to advance to the middle class of the league.
If you understand all the losses of the coaching staff and the squad, you can still see how far the LSU has fallen.
It's hard to find out the worst part about Missouri setting them on fire for a total of 586 yards. Was it Redshirt freshman quarterback Connor Bazelak who did it in his second career start? Or did Missouri collect 406 yards even though three of the top five wideouts - including two starters - missed the game due to COVID-19 reasons?
LSU quarterback Myles Brennan leaves the field as members of the Missouri Tigers celebrate LSU sales due to downs in the final seconds of an NCAA college football game on Saturday October 10, 2020 in Columbia, Missouri. Missouri angered the LSU 45-41. (AP Photo / L.G. Patterson)
The school, trying very hard to identify itself as a DBU, is being eaten alive by a congregation of pedestrian passers-by and recipients. The elite LSU corner Derek Stingley looked dented on Saturday and didn't seem like his all-American self. But the rest of the secondary is average like grits, and Pelini - as the picture shows - seems to have no answers. The only elite of this LSU defense is their talent for making the opposition look like world thugs.
LSU coach Ed Orgeron made a name for himself as a defensive coach. But he has spent little time running a defense as his career has been labeled as a recruiter and motivator rather than a general tactician. If you're a head coach with no great X-and-O acumen who is suddenly faced with both a gaping talent deficit and an established schematic disadvantage, this can be a long season.
Orgeron is not as bad a head coach as many thought he was after losing to Troy in 2017. But the last few weeks have reminded us that even after that, he is unlikely to be in this elite class with Nick Saban and Dabo Swinney The dominant 2019 season that led to LSU's national title.
The LSU has no more answers and the questions only get more difficult. Joe Burrow, Dave Aranda and Joe Brady do not go through this door. And the Tigers face a seven-game stretch to end the season of four games they'll be tough underdogs.
That means a lot more opportunities for painful still images.
Texas stalled again and put pressure on Tom Herman
A cloud of darkness now lingers over Austin, where the Longhorns fell to 2-2 after losing four hours overtime to rivals Oklahoma (53:45). The Longhorns erased a two touchdown lead in the waning minutes of regulation and fell in the fourth overtime after an interception by Sam Ehlinger in the end zone.
However, no error should be shifted to Ehlinger. He finished with four roaring touchdowns, two passing touchdowns, and 287 passing yards. He led two late rides to tie the game and provided the resilience and toughness that will mark his career.
The mistake goes back to Tom Herman and the Texas coaching team as that team is exactly what we thought it was. The Longhorns are delinquent, special teams are inadequate and still attack as if the opponent had been dipped in petroleum jelly. They're incredibly fun as all three of the Big 12 games were among the most exciting of this young season.
But Texas doesn't pay Herman to be entertaining, and now the Longhorns are connected to Oklahoma at 1-2 in the Big 12, looking for hope for the rest of their season. "Many of them are self-inflicted wounds," said Herman after the game. "I'm disappointed. Again, it's my job to make sure they don't happen."
Texas ended up with 11 penalties for 101 yards, the worst of which could have been an unnecessary roughness penalty from center Derek Kerstetter that cost Texas a chance to score a touchdown in the first half. Punter Ryan Bujcevski's personal foul after a duel against OU's Marvin Mims that triggered a third quarter touchdown in Oklahoma wasn't even the stupidest mistake he'd made all day. That was his inexplicable molasses execution of a punt in the first half, which OU blocked and scored five games later. The Texas specialty teams remain tortured, and the Longhorns' discipline injured them for long stretches until the fourth quarter.
"Very proud of the fight and resilience, but we know we have a long way to go and we have a lot to clean up," said Herman. "We also have a large part of our season ahead of us."
After three Big 12 games with known flaws and flaws, the surprise would be if Texas manages to look significantly different.
Texas head coach Tom Herman gives instructions to Malcolm Epps, 19, of Texas during overtime for an NCAA college football game in Dallas on Saturday, October 10, 2020. Oklahoma defeated Texas in extra time 53:45 (AP Photo / Michael Ainsworth))
Clemson still owns the ACC ... sure
The idea that Clemson had a worthy ACC slide was fun for a week.
When Miami # 7 stormed into Death Valley, the idea of testing Clemson # 1 in league play - something that has been rare since it rocked five ACC championships in a row - got a lot of thought this week.
Then Miami arrived in Clemson on Saturday night and the Hurricanes quickly realized they hadn't arrived yet. Miami's new tempo offense took off as it gained just 210 yards total, scored a single offensive touchdown, and was beaten wire-to-wire by Clemson (42-17).
Credit Clemson's line of defense for winning the point of attack and negating Miami's ability to set the pace when the Hurricanes ended with just nine first downs total.
And Clemson offensive coordinator Tony Elliott owes Travis Etienne creative ways to get to the ball. He finished the race with 149 rushing yards and 79 receiving yards. Odell Beckham took notice and called him "really different" and a "downright criminal" on Twitter.
Trevor Lawrence proved his unwavering self by shrugging off a tough hit that forced him to miss a game, throwing 292 yards and three touchdowns. He has now played 12 games in a row without intercepting.
What did we learn from Dabo Swinney's program on Saturday? Well, their special teams need a jolt after three field gates have been blocked. And Clemson has done enough stretch plays and misdirections to show that it will not be possible to pillage a high-end line of defense with their offensive line.
Fortunately, there is enough time for improvement. Clemson hits the soft part of the ACC schedule over the next three weeks - at Georgia Tech, Syracuse, and Boston College - ahead of a showdown with Notre Dame on November 7th in South Bend. The Irish are 3-0 after they deposed the state of Florida on Saturday (42:26). This was probably the least anticipated game in the history of the series.
With Notre Dame # 5, an honorary member of the ACC this season, the Tigers may finally find a worthy conference slide in Notre Dame. It wasn't Miami that has come a long way but showed that there is still a lot to be done.
Jimbo Fisher Eventually Takes A Big Win At Texas A&M
It had been so long since Jimbo Fisher won a big game that it was terrifying to hear that once-familiar uptempo verbal delivery in his post-game interview after he upset Florida # 4 on Saturday, 41-38 would have. After two largely irrelevant seasons at College Station, Fisher has finally managed to achieve a signature win. It was Texas A & M's first win against a top five opponent in Fischer's tenure.
The portrait of Fisher partying on the sidelines, pumping his fist across the field and racing through his syllables - nobody speaks faster than Jimbo - showed the catharsis that victory brought.
In the third year of his fully guaranteed $ 75 million, 10-year contract, Fisher hadn't delivered much pop for the US dollar from Texas A&M. But this win offers both an adrenaline rush to the program and a career boost for senior quarterback Kellen Mond, whose development appeared to have stalled after a few moments of early promises.
But Moon went 25 on 35 for 338 yards and three touchdowns. He led A&M on a 40-yard drive in the final 3:40 of the game after a fumble by Florida’s Malik Davis missed UF's chance, the Aggies to win and set up. Seth Small drilled a 26 yard field goal when time ran out to score the win. (Isaiah Spiller rushed for 174 yards and two touchdowns and was the biggest star of the day.)
Fisher was clearly excited after the game. "You weren't looking at the scoreboard," he said. “You played the next piece.
"Football is a game of will and you can't let them break it."
A & M (2: 1) was 28:17 behind in the middle of the third quarter and fought back. They should be preferred in their next three games - Mississippi, Arkansas, and South Carolina. "It shows you what you are capable of," said Fisher. "Now what you do tells you what you can."
Tennessee stumbles to the finish line
No. 3 Georgia knocked out Tennessee 44-21, but the tenor of much of the game did not match the bottom line.
The tortured Vols fans yearning for relevance and competitiveness in the SEC East will look back on this game's third quarter of which it went wrong. Tennessee led 21:17 at halftime and fell apart in a third quarter with questionable rules of the game and sales. The spiral caused the vols to close in the second half.
The rides that saw Tennessee get the ball in the third quarter developed this way - fumble, intercept, prick, prick, and stab. Along the way, Tennessee lost its identity when the offensive line that was supposed to be the linchpin of the program collapsed against Georgia's elite defenses.
In a hail of false starts that fell behind the chains and were swallowed up by the onslaught of Georgia Pass, the Vols offense vanished on the night of Athens. Tennessee offensive coordinator Jim Chaney is in part no longer the Georgia OC if he abandons the running game, loses his identity, and loses control of the games.
Credit Georgia with the pressure, scheme and talent to stifle Tennessee. But after Tennessee held its ground in the first half and appeared to pass, he couldn't repeat what it got there.
Tennessee finished day 4-of-17 in third place with 10 penalties and -1 rushing yard on 27 tries. Part of that is due to the five sacks of Georgia for 46 yards. Tennessee also scored 13 points from sales.
Tennessee competed for half an hour, but it also showed that it is still a long way from the SEC's elite.
Tennessee quarterback Jarrett Guarantano, 2, is overthrown by Georgian defenseman Julian Rochester, 92, after a short run in the first half of an NCAA college football game on Saturday October 10, 2020 in Athens, Georgia. (AP Photo / John Bazemore)
Pitt's kick in the stomach
The clearest dichotomy of emotions of the day went to Pitt kicker Alex Kessman.
He produced the high point of the day, bombing a 58-yard field goal 40 seconds ahead of Pitt's game at Boston College at 24.
At the end of the first overtime, Pitt's Taysir Mack scored a three yard pass that would have made the game a tie. However, Kessman followed up his exploits by hitting the extra point and missing it far to the right. "It's disappointing but that happens," said Narduzzi. "He took us there."
The mistake sent the Boston College sideline storming onto the field as the 31:30 win put the Eagles 3-1 in Jeff Hafley's first season. Boston College had a chance to send their game against North Carolina into overtime last week, but failed to convert their two-point conversion at the last minute.
BC has found an identity with Notre Dame transfer quarterback Phil Jurkovec throwing for 358 yards and three touchdowns. Receiver Zay Flowers continued his breakout year, scooping six passes for 162 yards and all three touchdown passes. It's the third game in a row for BC that lasted until the last minute.
"Our mentality is that it's about the process, it's about us," said Hafley. "We're going to attack and play as hard as possible and stick together. It proves everything about this team at the moment and I appreciate it."
Pigs boil after a controversial phone call
The recruitment of Sam Pittman in Arkansas was outright ridiculed in SEC circles. He had been a career assistant coach who had aroused little interest in jobs and only got to Fayetteville after a tedious and arduous search.
However, a sample of three games shows that Pittman put an adrenaline rush on a program that had flattened out. Arkansas lost 30:28 in Auburn on Saturday and it was a bad official call to get over the shocking surprise. "The days of going somewhere and embarrassing our fans are over," said Pittman. "I'm proud of her. I told them that. "
Arkansas has had many embarrassing moments over the past few years as the end of Bret Bielema's regime and the entire tenure of Chad Morris has been an absolute mess. Arkansas suffered a 20-game SEC loss to the state of Mississippi last week and all but upset Auburn # 13 on Saturday.
The officials gave Auburn the win when quarterback Bo Nix scored a third goal 31 seconds from time, turned and tipped the ball backwards to stop the clock. That should have been a fumble, and Arkansas seemed to regain it after it was blown to death. Pittman went wild on the sideline and was upset after the game.
"The ball went back six meters," he said. "I saw a fumble and a thorn going back six meters."
There are no moral wins in the SEC, but considering that Arkansas has lost an average of 39.2 points per game to Auburn over the past four years, Fayetteville has made progress.
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