The first Saturday of the college football season is always incredibly important to every team across the land. But this opening Saturday was especially important to 2 programs in particular…Notre Dame and Michigan. These are arguably the 2 most prestigious and historic football institutions of all time. But both have been going through some rough times lately.
On one hand you have Notre Dame which is fresh off the disastrous Charlie Weis era. First year coach Brian Kelly inherits a fan base that is restless and a team that is largely inexperienced. He circled the opening game against Purdue as a day the Irish would set the foundation to get the program back where it belongs.
On the other hand you have Michigan where the Rich Rodriguez experiment is on its last leg. Since coming over from West Virginia Rodriguez has yet to prove that he can get the job done on the big stage. It is clear that this is a make or break year for Rich-Rod. With Connecticut coming into the renovated Big House to open the season, Rodriguez and the Wolverines knew it was a must win.
Saturday was judgment day in South Bend and Ann Arbor, and both home teams past the test. The Irish looked sharp on offense with new quarterback Dayne Crist at the helm. They didn’t light up the Boilermakers defense, but they were crisp and mistake-free. Armando Allen Jr. was solid on the ground and Michael Floyd and Kyle Rudolph made plays in the receiving game. I was most impressed with the defense. What was a weakness last year looks to be strength this year. It’s not like they completely shut down Purdue’s offense, but they did play tough, especially on 3rd downs. They got a little scare as the Boilermakers made a late run, but all in all Notre Dame did a good job getting stops. The bottom line is coach Kelly had his team ready to play. This isn’t to say rough times aren’t ahead for the Irish, but with Kelly on board you get the feeling the program is heading back in the right direction. The 23-12 win over Purdue ain’t a bad start.
Over at the Big House, Michigan took care of a good UConn team. Many thought the Huskies would give them all they could handle, but that was not the case. The Wolverine offense was a one man show led by Denard Robinson. UConn was abused early and often by Robinson who rushed for 197 yards and a touchdown. He wasn’t too bad through the air either, connecting on 19/22 for 186 yards and a score. What killed the Husky defense was the fact that they simply could not get off the field on 3rd down. Michigan converted 14-19 tries, including a 3rd and 15 in the 3rd quarter which was the backbreaker.
Against the Wolverine defense UConn put up more of a fight. Running back Jordan Todman was able to gash Michigan’s defense for 105 yards and a touchdown. The problem was Michigan jumped on the Huskies so quick that Randy Edsall had to rely on quarterback Zach Frazier a little more than he planned to. Frazier was playing with a bad hand and it showed. Although, there were a few times where receivers ran free in the secondary, but UConn refused to capitalize and dropped pass after pass. The bottom line is the Huskies were out-matched and out-classed. Rich Rodriguez had his team ready to play. Even with their dominating 30-10 win, it is clear that Michigan has a few weak spots on the team. First and foremost is their shaky secondary. I am also not sold on Robinson’s passing ability or the running game in general. The road will get tougher for the Wolverines but you live week to week in college football, and for at least a few more days Rich-Rod can leave the paper bag at home.
At the end of the day, not only did Michigan and Notre Dame get much needed wins, they both came out with the sense of urgency you would hope and expect. You saw rejuvenated stadiums filled with cheers rather than boo’s. It was an enormous change from the past few years. The road will get tougher for both, but we saw the building blocks being placed in South Bend and Ann Arbor this past weekend.
Now guess what lies ahead for these 2 programs next week… They each have a showdown…against each other. Should be fun.
- Boise State 33 Virginia Tech 30: This was far and away the best game of the week. It wouldn’t be a stretch to call this one of the best regular season games over the past decade. That’s how good this was. Very rarely do games of this magnitude live up to the hype, but this one sure did. The first quarter belonged to Boise State. Despite playing in front of 80,000 raucous Hokie fans at FedEx Field the Broncos showed nothing but poise and focus. Boise State capitalized on some uncharacteristically bonehead mistakes by Frank Beamer’s squad to race out to a 17-0 first quarter lead. For the whole first half it was clear who the better team was. Boise State dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball and took advantage of the very shaky and inexperienced Tech defense. Things however changed in the second half. Down by 6, Hokie quarterback Tyrod Taylor settled down and engineered an impressive 3rd quarter drive which resulted in a Ryan Williams touchdown run which put Tech ahead 21-20. Boise State now needing an answer got one on a 3rd and 1 play as D.J. Harper busted through the entire Hokie defense and took it to the house for a 71 yard touchdown. The PAT however was blocked. This is something that could have haunted the Broncos big time.
Facing yet another deficit, the Hokies offense responded as Taylor hooked up with receiver Jarrett Boykin for a 28 yard score. Attempting to make it a 3 point game, Tech’s bid for the 2 point conversion failed and the score stayed at 27-26 Hokies. We entered the 4th quarter and the Tech fans were once again making noise because they saw their young defense really settle in. The swagger was back. Kellen Moore and the Broncos couldn’t get any rhythm going after their fast first half start. Kicker Kyle Brotzman missed a chip shot 30 yard field goal as his left-hash horrors reappeared. Things continued to sputter for the Broncos. Taylor lead another drive for the Hokies with resulted in a Chris Hazley 34 yard field goal with 7:38 left. The score was 30-26 Tech. Boise State couldn’t do anything on the ensuing possession and was forced to punt the ball back to Tech.
It was on this drive that the Broncos finally got the stop they needed. With just 2 minutes left Frank Beamer needed one more first down to really soak up the clock and end any shot and a Bronco threat. But that final first down never came. Boise got the stop and got the ball right back. After a nice punt return it was Kellen Moore time. Moore had been relatively quiet to this point. But as everybody knows, if there’s one quarterback you do not want to be facing with the game on the line, it’s Kellen Moore. The Hokies found that to be true as Moore lead a cold-blooded 5 play, 56 yard drive which resulted in a 13 yard touchdown pass to Austin Pettis. Needless to say, this stunned Virginia Tech. All of a sudden they look up on the board and they’re down 33-30 with 1:09 left to play. Any last ditch efforts to tie/win the game were shot down as the Hokies went 4 and out on their final possession. Moore took a knee and it was over. A back and forth, early season classic was in the books and Boise State survived.
- LSU 30 North Carolina 24: The storyline heading into this clash was how UNC would be without 13 key players including defensive tackle Marvin Austin due to an NCAA investigation of the player’s improper dealings with agents. With the Tar Heels enormously hampered, many thought LSU would dominate, which they certainly did in the first half. They scored 23 unanswered points to take a 30-10 lead into halftime. At this point everyone expected UNC to roll over. But to their credit, that’s the last thing Butch Davis’ team had in mind. Quarterback T.J. Yates led a ferocious comeback. He threw for the majority of his 412 yards in the second half. Wide receiver Jheranie Boyd caught a huge 97 yard touchdown the 4th quarter, part of his 221 yard game. UNC pulled within 6 points when Yates connected with Erik Hightower on a 14 yard touchdown.
Then in the final 2:30, UNC had multiple chances to win the game when they recovered an onside kick only to cough the ball up before getting it back again. Yates drove the Tar Heels to the 6 yard line with 10 seconds to go. They had 2 shots at the endzone but both times Yates’ pass slipped through the hands of Zack Pianalto. LSU was extremely fortunate to walk away with the win. The one positive Les Miles can take away besides the win is the performance of his KR/PR Patrick Peterson who had a combined 257 return yards plus a touchdown. All in all, LSU can’t feel good about this game. A win is a win and they certainly won’t give it back. But there aren’t too many positives to take from a game like this. UNC on the other hand was massively overmatched and undermanned but still fought to the end and overcame many obstacles along the way. Butch Davis has to be proud of his group.
- TCU 30 Oregon State 21: This was the second best game on paper heading into the weekend. TCU had the home field advantage playing in Cowboys Stadium. They also had the overall better team. But Oregon State had the playmakers to keep them in this game. The Beavers best player is running back Jacquizz Rodgers. Oregon State needed for Quizz to get going early and often for them to have a legitimate chance to knock off the Horned Frogs. Quizz never found his rhythm due to his overmatched offensive line. TCU won the battle up front and did a great job of limiting Quizz’s damage. He was held to a very quiet 75 yards. The Horned Frogs made things tough for quarterback Ryan Katz who threw 2 beautiful touchdowns but was largely inefficient and erratic.
The second half is where TCU really grabbed control of this game. Holding a 21-14 lead, the Horned Frogs in the second half dominated time of possession (23min-7min), total plays (44-21) and total yards (244-87). They dictated the control and pace thanks to running back Ed Wesley who rushed for 134 yards and a touchdown. Also, quarterback Andy Dalton was able to overcome his 2 costly interceptions by leading solid drives and punching in 2 scores on the ground and 1 through the air. The crucial blow to Oregon State came with 4 minutes left in the ball game. They were down just 7 and backed up deep in their own territory. When Katz tried calling an audible his center mistakenly snapped the ball which flew right over Katz’s head into the endzone where it was kicked out of bounds for a safety. In the end this was a game TCU had to win if they had any hopes of getting back to the BCS… 1 down, 11 to go.
- Utah 27 Pittsburgh 24 (OT): This was an outstanding game. A little sloppy with 23 penalties and 5 turnovers but the drama this one had couldn’t be matched. Pitt had to battle the entire game. They fell behind by 2 scores and had to scratch and claw back in it. They did so thanks to sophomore quarterback Tino Sunseri who was able to shake his early rust and settle down in the second half. What was surprising to me was the poor performance by Dion Lewis. The offensive line which was supposed to be one of the strengths of the team was dominated by the Utes front 7. Lewis had very few running lanes and was held to 75 yards on 25 carries. He did punch in a touchdown, but all in all he lacked the explosiveness I’ve come to expect out of him. The key sequence for Pittsburgh came on a drive in the 4th quarter when star receiver Jon Baldwin made 3 huge catches. He hauled in a 44 yard touchdown and caught a 2 point conversion pass which brought the Panthers within 3 points at 24-21.
From there Pitt’s defense stepped up, made a stop and got the ball back. Sunseri and company drove down to the 13 yard line. There were 3 seconds on the clock and out comes Dan Hutchins to attempt a game-tying 30 yard field goal. Snap, spot, kick…GOOD!…except Utah coach Kyle Whittingham called a timeout just prior to the snap in an attempt to ice Hutchins. So we set up again… Snap, spot, kick…NO GOOD!…UTAH WINS!… But wait!…Whittingham had called another timeout just before the snap. Pittsburgh caught a huge break thanks to Whittingham trying to over-think himself… For the 3rd time Hutchins sets up. This time he nails it, and it counts.
To overtime we go… Pitt had the ball first and Sunseri immediately throws a pick. Crucial mistake. Utah takes over, drives right down the field and Joe Phillips kicks a game winning 21 yard field goal… It was a great finish to a great game. The bottom line is Pitt’s defense couldn’t stop Jordan Wynn. He passed for 283 yards and 3 touchdowns. He gashed the Panthers secondary up and down the field. Without facing much pressure up front Wynn was able to connect with receiver DeVonte Christopher for 155 yards and a TD. Combined the defensive letdown with Dion Lewis’ quiet game and you end up with a disappointing Panther loss. In the end, Utah was able to extend their home winning streak to 18 games. Meanwhile, Dave Wannstedt and company trek back east licking their wounds.
- Team That Impressed: Oregon Ducks… As is usually the case with judging early season performances you have to consider the opponent, in this case New Mexico. But anytime someone wins a game by the score of 72-0 it opens your eyes no matter who they’re playing. The Ducks have gone through their share of adversity in the off-season having to kick starting quarterback Jeremiah Masoli off the team. But what made this performance so impressive in my eyes was the fact that they were without star running back LaMichael James who was serving a 1 game suspension. You know what they say in Eugene…No James?…No problem. That was the motto for Chip Kelly’s group this past Saturday. They showed no mercy on New Mexico as they outgained them 720-107. No that is not a typo…Oregon put up 720 yards of offense on the Lobos. In place of James was backup running back Kenjon Barner. How did he do?…well he only rushed for 147 yards and 4 touchdowns. Plus he added a 60 yard touchdown reception. Listen, I know it’s only New Mexico but what I saw on Saturday was a team that was a mission. They will be even better when James returns from his suspension this week. Lookout Pac 10! The Ducks are alive and well.
- Team That Disappointed: How can it not be Mississippi?… As you all know by now, Ole Miss managed to lose at home to Jacksonville State of the FCS. They blew a 21 point halftime lead. They allowed the nobody’s from Jacksonville State to score on all 6 of their final possessions, including 5 touchdowns. After all that went wrong in the second half, Ole Miss could have stopped the madness by getting just one stop with 20 seconds left in the game. But nope, they can’t even do that. Instead Marques Ivory connects with Alan Bonner on a 19 yard touchdown pass. No worries though because Jacksonville State was still down by 2. No way Ole Miss would give up a 2 point conversion, right? I mean enough’s enough. Wrong. Ivory finds Laray Williams in the back of the endzone to tie the game up at 34-34. To overtime we go. After trading touchdowns in the first OT, Mississippi takes the ball right down the field and punches it another score to take back the lead.
Finally they put together a few stops on defense and up comes a 4th and 15 for Jacksonville State. Surprise, surprise clinging on to dear life, quarterback Coty Blanchard was able to find Kevyn Cooper in the back of the endzone for a 30 yard touchdown pass. Now just when you thought you’ve seen it all, instead of kicking the extra point to tie the game, Jacksonville State head coach Jack Crowe decides to go for 2 and the win. At this point we shouldn’t be surprised by anything. Sure enough as if it was a Hollywood script, Blanchard fought off multiple defenders wrapped all around him to shuttle pass the ball to Calvin Middleton who battled cross the goal line. The historic collapse was complete. A prideful SEC team had blown a seemingly insurmountable lead to an FCS cupcake. Unbelievable. To be fair, this game said as much about Jacksonville State as it did Ole Miss. Coach Crowe did a phenomenal job of pulling all the right strings and guiding his team past all the obstacles. They needed a dozen things to go their way in this game, and they all did. In the end, there’s no other way to put it…this is a disastrous loss for Mississippi. Houston Nutt was in tears after the game. The ironic thing is Crowe was fired from Arkansas back in 1992 because he lost a game like this to The Citadel. But as he said after this one…“if you stay in this long enough, it goes both ways”.
- Game Balls…
• Jacksonville State head coach Jack Crowe: Read above…
• Kendall Hunter, RB, Oklahoma State: 21 carries – 257 yards – 4 touchdowns – 65-17 win over Washington State.
• Matt Barkley, QB, USC: 18/23 – 257 yards – 5 touchdowns – 49-36 win at Hawaii.
• Kenjon Barner, RB, Oregon: 17 carries – 147 yards – 5 touchdowns – 72-0 win over New Mexico.
• DeVonte Christopher, WR, Utah: 8 receptions – 155 yards – 1 touchdown – 27-24 win over Pitt in OT.
• Denard Robinson, QB, Michigan: 19/22 – 186 yards – 1 touchdown + 27 carries – 197 yards – 1 touchdown – 30-10 win over Connecticut.
• Nick Foles, QB, Arizona: 32/37 – 360 yards – 2 touchdowns – 41-2 win at Toledo.
- What We Learned…
1. Tim Tebow and Colt McCoy aren’t walking through those doors. The Tebow/McCoy eras are officially over at Florida and Texas. Their successors didn’t get off to the best of starts. John Brantley was very shaky for the Gators. His first start against Miami(OH) was filled with miscommunication, fumbles and penalties. It was similar over in Austin as Garrett Gilbert took over the Longhorn reigns from McCoy. Gilbert showed toughness filling in for the injured McCoy in last year’s BCS title game despite his 4 interceptions. That poise however was nowhere to be seen on Saturday. His passing was erratic and he was unimpressive in every sense of the word.
2. The Tide keeps on rollin’. Even though they were playing San Jose State, Alabama still looked mighty good as they dominated in every facet of the game. With Mark Ingram recovering from knee surgery, Trent Richardson and company did their thing on the ground. While Greg McElroy showed the sharpness and maturity you would expect. The bottom line is there was no letdown from ‘Bama as they outgained San Jose State 591-175 and pounded them on the scoreboard 48-3… Penn State awaits.
3. Like I’ve been saying all along, the Boise State Broncos are for real. Their biggest test was Virginia Tech and they passed it with flying colors. They showed tremendous resiliency and toughness. Kellen Moore and Austin Pettis showed why their 2 of the most clutch players in the country. The running game is much improved with 3 legitimate backs. Most of all, the defense proved they can match up against anybody. They don’t get pushed off the line up front and wherever the ball goes, they go. Very few teams swarm to the ball the way Boise State does. This team will run the table and play Alabama in the BCS Title game. Bank on it.
There’s your recap for Week 1… Check out Casey’s Call later in the week for my preview of Week 2. I’ll break down all the top matchups and unveil my top 10 as well as my early Heisman rankings.