1 thing I learned about each ranked team Saturday
Hey, I’m not complaining.
Would my Saturday have been better had we had an entire slate of SEC football to watch? Absolutely, but let’s not get picky here. It was a loaded slate of Power 5 football. Just kidding. It was, um, a slate of Power 5 football.
But don’t get it twisted. It was still somehow filled with drama. Arkansas State took down Kansas State, and the popular preseason sleeper team, Iowa State, forgot what special teams were in a stunning loss to Louisiana.
Oh, and just one quick thing.
My goodness, what a day for the brand. Should we give the Big 12’s Playoff bid to the Sun Belt? Looks like the SEC picked an ideal year not to have to face the Sun Belt. Another smart move by Greg Sankey.
While the SEC wasn’t in action Saturday, 6 ranked teams were.
Here’s what I learned from watching each of them:
No. 23 Iowa State: Um, maybe, I got ahead of myself with the sneaky Playoff buzz?
OK, I definitely did. To be fair, I wasn’t alone. A popular preseason sleeper, the Cyclones were. I bought into the belief that with so much production back, including Brock Purdy, Iowa State was a team that would stop losing in so many close, fluky ways.
Well, I was wrong.
And to be clear, Louisiana, AKA ULL, flat out beat Iowa State. That’s a darn good football team. Sure, it benefited from a pair of special teams touchdowns, which could have partially been the product of ISU not getting enough practice reps there. But don’t take anything away from the Ragin’ Cajuns. That team covered those ISU receivers like its lives depended on it. There was zero separation for the ISU pass-catchers. It got to the point where Purdy just started throwing balls up for grabs into double coverage out of pure frustration.
Brock Purdy – should he have thrown his slot open with touch here? pic.twitter.com/H3Y84xHpMw
— QB Film Room (@QBFilmRoom) September 12, 2020
Matt Campbell’s team wasn’t prepared nearly as well as his squad should have been. Billy Napier, the former Alabama assistant, had his team ready to go. That’s an 11-win squad that was the only Group of 5 team to finish in the top 20 nationally in scoring offense and scoring defense (only 6 Power 5 teams accomplished that). The Ragin’ Cajuns are for real, and they’ll absolutely be in the hunt for a New Year’s 6 bid (and don’t sleep on Napier getting an SEC head coaching job in the not-so-distant future).
But man, ISU. What a letdown that was for Campbell’s squad, especially on offense. One has to think it’ll get tougher in Big 12 play, but after what we saw from ISU and Kansas State on Saturday, perhaps the relief is that no more Sun Belt foes await.
No. 18 UNC: Sam Howell is super talented, but he isn’t a finished product just yet
That’s coming from someone who was very much on board with Howell as a dark horse Heisman Trophy candidate. To be clear, I still like that idea. But for those who were hoping that Howell would light up a Syracuse defense that had all sorts of issues last year and this offseason, well, I’d say that wasn’t exactly the performance they were hoping for.
Howell is tremendous throwing the deep ball. We saw that during his true freshman season. Defenses know that. But he still needs to improve from an efficiency standpoint, and plays like this is just not reading the over-the-top safety:
Sam Howell throws his 2nd INT of the day pic.twitter.com/X3w2nWV3zI
— KÏŁŁÄ ČÄM (@FTBeard1) September 12, 2020
And that was after Howell had a slant tipped for an interception. Are we nit-picking a bit? Sure. The guy still nearly threw for 300 yards on 25-of-34 passing. He’s a darn good player who has a bunch of highlight-reel plays to make.
But he struggled for a good chunk of that game after getting off to such a great start. He’s not the type of guy who will pick a defense apart. He loves the big play. Fortunately for UNC, Javonte Williams had 3 4th-quarter rushing scores and a close game turned into a comfortable win late.
If UNC is going to legitimately compete for that No. 2 spot in the ACC, Howell needs to polish things up. He’s got time to do that.
No. 10 Notre Dame: About those losses at receiver …
It looked pretty important Saturday. Both Chase Claypool and tight end Cole Kmet (he was basically a receiver) were top-50 picks, and slot receiver Chris Finke was an undrafted free agent. You knew there was a lot of turnover on the outside for Ian Book, almost reminiscent of what Jake Fromm went through at Georgia from 2018 to 2019.
It didn’t help that Northwestern grad transfer Bennett Skowronek, who has 5 times as many FBS receiving yards as anyone on Notre Dame’s roster (no other returning wideout had more than 15 career FBS catches), went down with a hamstring injury in the first half. The Irish came into this year counting on him to return to form after a broken leg ended his 2019 season at Northwestern.
Only 3 of Notre Dame’s first 19 pass attempts were caught by receivers. Granted, Joe Wilkins actually looked the part and make some NFL catches. A 75-yard screen play from tailback Kyren Williams inflated some of Book’s numbers. Still, he looked like he just wasn’t on the same page as his wideouts. Book was running quarterback draws on 3rd-and-9. A red-zone interception was a touch overthrown, and Book should have had an interception on an overthrow the following drive, but it was called back for a neutral-zone infraction.
There was a reason we talked about this weird offseason impacting continuity so much. This wasn’t a good offseason to have a lot of turnover in general, and for a team like Notre Dame, it looks like the attrition at receiver could be an Achilles’ heel for the foreseeable future.
No. 14 Texas: Joshua Moore is about to become a thing for Texas
I remember spending a little bit of time with Moore at IMG Academy (Fla.) 3 years ago, and hearing about how fast he was with that wiry frame. That was back when he was getting ready to commit to Nebraska and he was a big-time 2018 recruit out of Texas. He ended up staying in-state and flipping to Texas, but up until Saturday, he had 7 catches for 53 yards in his college career.
Three years later at Texas after a season-ending injury in 2018 and a year-long suspension for a weapons charge in 2019, Moore appears ready for the big time. On the very first play of the game, he took off with a 78-yard score:
FIRST PLAY OF THE GAME. TOUCHDOWN 🚨
Sam Ehlinger ➡️ Joshua Moore pic.twitter.com/knJM8wltvw
— ESPN College Football (@ESPNCFB) September 13, 2020
In the first half alone, Moore had 5 catches for 130 yards. That lightning speed was on full display. He looked every bit like a candidate to become Sam Ehlinger’s new go-to target after losing Devin Duvernay and Collin Johnson to the NFL Draft.
It probably helps that Texas has a new offensive coordinator in Mike Yurcich. All he did last year was work alongside Ryan Day to get those speedy Ohio State receivers opportunities in space.
Yeah, it was UTEP. Still. Don’t be surprised if guys like Moore help Texas have a top-10 offense this year.
No. 5 Oklahoma: Oh, so that’s why Lincoln Riley didn’t want to release a COVID list anymore
Because man, the Sooners had a ton of players not available:
There are a TON of #Sooners missing in warmups. TJ Pledger, Gabe Brkic, Obi Obialo, Brayden Willis, Anton Harrison, Stacey Wilkins, Kori Roberson, Marcus Stripling, Kendall Dennis, Justin Broiles, Bryson Washington among those missing.
— Jason Kersey (@jasonkersey) September 12, 2020
Of course, it didn’t matter because Missouri State had about as good of a chance as stopping Oklahoma as I did at becoming an astronaut. There weren’t any absences felt for the Sooners. That wasn’t really in question.
For what it’s worth, we all knew that Spencer Rattler was going to throw for a ton of yards, and playing against Missouri State might be seen as playing against air, but wow. Some of the throws the redshirt freshman made were just incredible. He finished 14-for-17 for 290 yards and 4 TDs. Count me officially in for wanting to see what he can do against an elite defense.
No. 1 Clemson: The only thing that can stop the Tigers is … a goalpost?
This just in: Travis Etienne and Trevor Lawrence are still really good at football. Stunning, I know. Lawrence mastered the art of the RPO, by the way. He doesn’t get enough credit for that. He had not 1, but 2 walk-in touchdowns on RPOs in which he called his own number. Etienne and Lawrence are still a cheat code.
Oh, wait. How do you stop Clemson’s offense? You hope your goalpost does the work:
Great pass defense by
uhh Clemson WR Amari Rodgers pic.twitter.com/7CL86xEkRT
— CFB Gif’er (@CFBgifer) September 13, 2020
In case you were wondering, yes, Clemson still scored on that drive. The Tigers, who didn’t have any players opt out, look every bit like they’re on their revenge tour.
Any hope SEC fans had of watching Clemson stumble in the opener faded in a hurry.