College football winners and losers: Alabama, Georgia stand alone atop SEC ahead of massive matchup
And then there were two.
Alabama and Georgia stand alone on the SEC as the conference's only two undefeated teams after Saturday. And guess what? They'll meet in a week.
The Crimson Tide and Bulldogs took care of business on Saturday when Florida lost to Texas A&M. And boy, did Alabama and Georgia win differently?
Let's start with the tide. Alabama gave up Lane Kiffins Ole Miss Rebels in a 63-48 victory an incredible 646 yards attack. Kiffin, whose team has scored 35 points or more in the first three games of the season, gave the Alabama's defense all they could and a few more. But the Crimson Tide was able to convert two Ole Miss rides into field goals in the fourth quarter, and there was nothing the Ole Miss defense could do to slow Alabama's powerful offense.
How powerful was Alabama's offense? The Crimson Tide totaled 723 yards as Mac Jones threw 417 yards and Najee Harris completed five touchdowns and 206 yards with just 23 carry. Oh, and both DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle had received 100 yards. The battle between former USC offensive coordinators and head coaches in Kiffin and Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian resulted in the most yards of any SEC game in conference history (1,367).
Alabama Runs Back Najee Harris scored five TDs against Ole Miss. (AP Photo / Rogelio V. Solis)
Georgia, meanwhile, used a suffocating defense to curb Tennessee in the second half. The Vols had some breaks in the first half and led into half time at 21:17. But Georgia scored 27 points in the second half as their defense held the Vols offensive like a vise.
The Saturday night game between Miami and Clemson was our first top 10 team matchup of this insane college football season. But the Hurricanes were 14-point underdogs that came into play and could only hang around against Clemson because they blocked three field goal attempts.
We have a feeling that next week is going to be a far better marquee college football game.
Alabama and Georgia are two of the top three teams currently playing in college football. And at this point they are clearly the two best teams in the SEC. We thought Florida was up there with them, but the Gators lost at three on Saturday to a Texas A&M team that was blown out in Tuscaloosa a week ago.
The Crimson Tide will be picked as a favorite in this game. And probably rightly. Alabama will have home advantage and Saturday night's win over Kiffin was Nick Saban's 21st win over a former assistant. He never lost to a coach who worked for him. And as you know, Georgia coach Kirby Smart is a former Alabama defensive coordinator.
But Georgia seems more than ready to hang out with Alabama. The Bulldogs kept opposing quarterbacks to only 6.5 yards per pass, while allowing only 322 yards in three games. Yes, that rushing stat is puffed up from Tennessee's -1 rushing yard on Saturday, but it's hard to argue with a defense that only allows 30 points in three games.
"Of course we have to play a lot better in defense because they have a really good defensive team," Saban told ESPN on Saturday night.
The Bulldogs don't fight on the offensive either. And Saban knows that. Georgia has been very efficient since Stetson Bennett IV became the team's quarterback in the middle of the opener against Arkansas. Bennett averages over eight yards per pass attempt and has five touchdown passes without a break.
While the Big Ten and Pac-12 haven't started their season just yet, it's not hyperbolic to say that next week's game between Alabama and Georgia is the regular season game of the year. And if both teams keep winning after next week, we'll likely see it again in the SEC title game in Atlanta in December.
- Nick Bromberg
Here are the rest of this week's winners and losers.
North Carolina: The North Carolina temporary attack is getting a lot of attention for good reason. But Tar Heels No. 8 ground play was incredible in a 56:45 win over Virginia Tech No. 19. UNC rushed with only 43 runs for 399 yards, while Michael Carter had 17 runs for 214 yards and two points and Javonte Williams Had 20 runs for 169 yards and two TDs. Virginia Tech closed at two different points in possession after UNC took a 21-0 lead, but the tar heels pushed the Hokies aside each time.
Missouri QB Connor Bazelak: Bazelak had his first career start against LSU on Saturday under less than ideal circumstances as Missouri missed three of its five largest recipients due to positive coronavirus tests and contact tracing. Imagine if Bazelak had a slew of offensive options.
The Redshirt freshman was 29 of 34 and overtook 406 yards in Mizzou's 45:41 win over LSU # 17.Bazelak was steadfast in his pocket and did a great job finding open receivers in LSU's arbitrary defense. After seeing part-time replacing Shawn Robinson for the first two weeks, it's hard to see that Bazelak isn't the starter for Mizzou for the rest of the season.
Missouri quarterback Connor Bazelak threw four TDs into the Tigers' excitement over LSU. (AP Photo / L.G. Patterson)
Kansas State and Iowa State: On a day when Texas and Oklahoma played a classic four hours overtime and Oklahoma State # 10 had a reunion, Kansas State and Iowa State quietly delivered victories that took them 3-0 to the top the Big 12 brought conference recordings.
Despite missing starting quarterback Skylar Thompson, Kansas State went to Fort Worth and upset the TCU 21-14. K-State opened the season with a loss to Arkansas State, but has since recorded three consecutive Big 12 wins against Oklahoma, Texas Tech and the Horned Frogs. No. 24 Iowa State, meanwhile, easy to use Texas Tech, 31-15. Brock Purdy threw for 302 yards and two TDs, while Breece Hall rushed for 135 yards and two points of his own. Both teams say goodbye next week.
Arkansas: Arkansas may have lost to Auburn on Saturday (in a controversial way) but it still deserves some love for how much better it looks so far in 2020. The Razorbacks entered with a 19-game SEC loss in 2020, a streak that it was extended to 20 in a week 1 loss to Georgia. But Arkansas has shown so far that its competitiveness in this loss to UGA was no accident. The Razorbacks followed with a 21:14 win against Mississippi State # 16 before the almost disgruntled win against Auburn # 13 on Saturday - a team that has ex-Arkansas head coach Chad Morris as offensive coordinator. It was only three games, but it's safe to say that Sam Pittman is an upgrade over Morris. A large.
NC State: After a 4-8 season in 2019, NC State made a surprisingly strong start to 2020. The wolf pack improved to 3-1 on Saturday with a 38:21 perturbation against Virginia. While quarterback Devin Leary was the story of the angry win over Pitt last weekend, this time it was the game and defense. While the offensive lasted 179 yards, the defense forced four turnovers in Virginia. This pick-six from defender Alim McNeill put the Wolfpack 31-14 in the fourth quarter and was one of the highlights of the weekend.
Boston College: Speaking of unexpected 3-1 ACC teams, how about Boston College? The Eagles improved to 3-1 by pissing off Pittsburgh in extra time at 31:30 on Saturday. Pitt's defense has been strong so far in 2020, but Pittsburgh-born quarterback Phil Jurkovec of BC was able to crush the Panthers secondary school for 358 yards and three touchdowns. Zay Flowers identified all three of these points. He had a 44-yarder in the second quarter, a 77-yarder in the fourth quarter, and a 25-yarder in overtime.
Houston: The Cougars had five sales of Tulanes and were still beating Green Wave 49-31. It was proof of how good Houston was in his first game of the season on Thursday night. The Cougars had 476 yards to Tulane's 211 and held the Green Wave at 1.6 yards per carry and only 11 completions in 25 attempts. Starwide receiver Marquez Stevenson had five catches for 118 yards and Mulbah Car rushed two points as Houston tries to extend the 2019 fueling year. BYU No. 15 is next on the program on Friday evening.
Tom Herman is 1-4 against Oklahoma. (Photo by John E. Moore III / Getty Images)
Texas coach Tom Herman: Herman's record against Oklahoma is now 4-1 in four seasons, after his team lost 53:45 to the Sooners. The only win for Herman against OU came in 2018, but the Longhorns then lost in the Big 12 title game against the Sooners.
It's been tough for Herman in Texas since Texas was reportedly back after beating Georgia in the Sugar Bowl after that 2018 season. The Longhorns were 8: 5 in 2019 and 2: 2 in 2020 after the TCU lost in the game against Oklahoma. Texas is making a crazy comeback over Texas Tech after it was 1-3 this season and the Texas fan base is even more unhappy with Herman than it is already.
Florida's Defense: The hype surrounding Florida's offense - namely the connection between QB Kyle Trask and TE Kyle Pitts - is justified. But there were also defensive concerns in Florida, compounded by a 41:38 loss to Texas A&M on Saturday. The Aggies beat the Gators to victory for 543 yards - 338 through the air from Kellen Moon and 205 on the ground. In three games, the Florida Defense allowed a total of 100 points. The Florida defense in 2019 gave up their 100th point only in game eight. Yikes
Defense of the LSU: We all knew that the LSU offensive would take a step back in 2020. But no one could imagine how much worse the defense would be in 2020 under new coordinator Bo Pelini. The former Nebraska manager replaced Dave Aranda after Aranda moved to Baylor and his plan has been set on fire so far this season. Mississippi State and K.J. Costello tore apart the LSU defenses to start the season, and the Tigers tossed a total of 580 yards to a Missouri team that started 2-0 on Saturday. The LSU is clearly not a title contender - or even an SEC West contender - and Pelini's defense is the main reason for that.
Mississippi State: Maybe we were all a little upset about the first week's win over LSU in Mississippi State. The Bulldogs fell to 1-2 after losing 24-22 to Kentucky on Saturday. And boy, the stats were brutal. Mississippi State QBs threw 70 passes and six interceptions. Yes, MSU had three times as many interceptions as points. After that surprise win in Week 1, it's another ugly foray for Mike Leach's offensive system and the Bulldogs bring a Texas A&M team a big win against Florida next week. Is 1-3 in the cards?
Tennessee QB Jarrett Guarantano: Saturday's game against Georgia was a big chance for Jarrett Guarantano. The talented senior quarterback has been plagued by disagreements throughout his career and looked handsome early on. He threw two impressive touchdown passes. In the second half, however, the wheels came loose. Guaranteeano fumbled three times in the second half and lost two of them. One of them was returned for a touchdown. He also threw a costly interception as Tennessee's 21:17 lead crumbled into a 44:21 loss at halftime.
Pitt K Alex Kessman: The Pitt Kicker has had a wild season so far. He missed his first three attempts of the year before scoring six straight goals against Boston College on Saturday. Against the Eagles, Kessman missed from 55 and 49 yards before drilling a 58-yarder that had 40 seconds left to force overtime. In extra time, Kessman would have postponed the game to a second extra time with an extra point. Instead, he missed out and is now 119 out of 124 for extra points in his college career. Brutally.
Louisville: Louisville was a team that some had identified as a possible 2020 ACC Dark Horse. And after winning their opener against Western Kentucky, the Cardinals were ranked 18th when they faced Miami in prime time. Since then, the Cardinals have lost three games in a row, falling to 1-3. UL lost to Miami 47-34, Pitt 23-20, and then Georgia Tech 46-27 on Friday night. While the UL offensive made three turnovers, the defense allowed Georgia Tech three touchdowns in the fourth quarter, with a 27-26 lead from Louisville resulting in a 19-point loss. Not good.
Western Kentucky: WKU won nine games in 2019 and looked like a legitimate Conference USA contender for 2020. So far, this has not been the case. Not at all. The Hilltoppers were offensively miserable and that continued with a loss of 38-14 to Marshall. In the first 10 possessions, the WKU collected 106 meters of attack and zero points. At that point, Marshall had built a 35-0. The Hilltoppers put together two scoring drives in the fourth quarter to make it look a little more respectable, but it was smoke and mirrors from a team that lost to Liberty and barely beat Middle Tennessee.
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