When Texas A&M football joined the SEC in 2012, it was essentially a reboot for the program. It was similar to when a new actor plays James Bond or The Doctor. Their history, while solid, wasn’t particularly storied, so it was an opportunity to redefine the program.
It also lined up with Jonathan Paul Manziel’s debut at quarterback. Thus, Johnny Football became the Aggies, and the Aggies became Johnny Football. But college stars are fleeting, like breath on a mirror, and Johnny Football had to leave. The media and fans wondered who the Aggies were now, with their star and so much other talent leaving on the offensive end.
So many people missed the forest for the trees. Manziel might have flown the ship, but he was never its captain. This is Kevin Sumlin’s program, and it took a giant re-affirming step forward with the 52-28 schlacking it put up on the road against South Carolina last Thursday.
Since becoming a head coach at Houston in 2008, Kevin Sumlin’s offenses have ranked as follows in yards per play: 2, 5, 18, 2, 2, 4. Case Keenum and Manziel couldn’t be more different. Sumlin made it work. So much was made of the improvisational abilities of Manziel. Sumlin made it possible. Sumlin’s also built on that success, loading up on offensive weapons to the point that the Aggie offense didn’t need to rebuild – just reload.
New QB Kenny Hill broke Johnny Manziel’s school record for passing yards in a game, putting up 511 yards while going 44/60. Twelve different Aggies had at least one reception, and seven had two or more. Senior Malcolme Kennedy led the way with 14 receptions, while Josh Reynolds, Speedy Noil, Edward Pope, and Ricky Seals-Jones will be consistent targets all year. The three-horse running back stable of Trey Williams, Brandon Williams, and Tra Carson split the workload in the backfield, totalling 32 carries for 164 yards (5.1 yards/carry).
“What we did tonight showed we weren’t a one-trick pony,” said Sumlin after the game. “We’re not anywhere near where we want to be, but we’re not going anywhere anytime soon.”
The result also shakes up a lot of the SEC. For South Carolina, it’s a stunning loss, a huge bump in the road before the season even starts. They are already behind the eight-ball in the SEC East, and Georgia, who looked very strong on Saturday, comes to Columbia in two weeks. A loss there essentially eliminates South Carolina from the conference title before mid-September. And a looming showdown with East Carolina this weekend has been circled as a trap game by many people since the season started.
On the other side of the SEC, Texas A&M team that was expected to spend the year organizing themselves suddenly looks to have the firepower to take out anyone in the West. Their defense still gave up a couple big plays, but South Carolina punted four times in their first seven possessions. The Aggie offense doesn’t need shutouts. It just needs to be on the field. The defense was good enough to give them chances a plenty on Thursday night. Maybe it’s good enough to send them to the playoff as well.
Georgia 45, Clemson 21 – Even now, in the age of passing (or maybe even because of it), there really is nothing more majestic than a dominant performance from a running back. Todd Gurley put on a show Saturday night, carrying the ball 15 times for 198 yards and scoring four times, including a 100-yard kickoff return. It was the night of Gurley, and rightfully so, given highlight runs like this:
Lost in the well-deserved Gurley hype, however, was the dominant performance the Georgia defense put on in the second half. After getting ripped up for 303 yards in the first half, the Bulldog defense absolutely locked down Clemson in the second half, allowing just one first down and forcing them to punt on every possession. This kind of quick work gave Gurley, Nick Marshall, and Co. to wear down Clemson’s front seven, leading to Georgia’s final three meaningful drives ending in touchdowns. Clemson’s offense blew up in the second half, and they have two weeks to figure it out before heading to Tallahassee.
For Georgia, well, this story has been written before. They won a thrilling shootout against LSU last year, a game that “redeemed” Mark Richt. There’s only one mountain left for Richt to climb in his career at Georgia. This was a necessary step to get there this year.
LSU 28, Wisconsin 24 – From Superior to Kenosha, Prairie Du Chien to Green Bay, the collective state of Wisconsin was screaming to give Melvin Gordon the ball Saturday night. For good reason, too. Gordon ran the ball 13 times for 139 yards and a score in the first half. The mere threat of Gordon bursting up the middled opened up the jet sweep touchdown Reggie Love scored on Wisconsin’s first series. Gordon was on his way to potentially duplicating Gurley’s fantastic night.
Of course, Gordon apparently had a hip flexor issue that even his coach didn’t know about after the game. This may be further proof of Les Miles’ powers of sorcery. This was a very Les Miles-era LSU win. You could feel it coming as soon as they got within 14, and when they got within 11, it was easy to see how the Tigers would pull it out. It reminded me of that rabbit-out-of-a-hat Ole Miss game from 2012 in that regard. Les Miles is now 22-21 in games when he trails in the fourth quarter. That is some insane stuff.
Going forward, both teams have a lot to work on. Wisconsin’s defense defense credit enough, as they held LSU to 6.06 yards/play in meaningful second half drives, despite being worn down. It’s not great, but not awful, and they gave the offense every chance. The offense was obviously anemic, and if they have to rely on Gordon all season to do everything, they will be in trouble. It’s not over for them though, despite everyone saying it was a must-win for their playoff hopes. Michigan State would have made the playoffs last year with a 12-1 record and a similar schedule to what Wisconsin has this year.
For the Tigers, there was a lot of inexperience evident, but a lot of raw talent as well. Lots and lots of big plays spurred LSU late. QB Anthony Jennings completed just two passes of 20+ yards in the first three quarters. He matched that in the fourth, and LSU put together their only three 10+ yard rushes of the game as well then. There’s plenty of time for them to put it together before their next real test against Auburn on October 3rd.
Florida State 37, Oklahoma State 31; Alabama 33, West Virginia 23 – Two Big 12 teams that were three touchdown underdogs did a heckuva a job keeping things close against two teams that are playoff favorites. This probably speaks to the depth of the Big 12 a bit. Oklahoma is a clear favorite still. Kansas State is a fun darkhorse. It might not be a two-horse race though, as both the Pokes and the Mountaineers came in with clear game plans and executed well. They’ll be tough outs in the Big 12’s full round robin meat-grinder.
As for the favorites – there’s much to unpack from Florida State’s end, unless you’re a little concerned about the receiver situation. Jameis Winston struggled, no doubt. Clearly, it makes last year’s run of destruction all the more remarkable. The hiccup games didn’t come last year like this, and they survived a poor game early on.
For Alabama, there is definitely cause for concern in the defensive backfield. The same weaknesses exposed by Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl were there again, as West Virginia and Clint Trickett completed five passes for 20+ yards and several more in the 10-19 yard range. The defense held on, though they were helped by several West Virginia drops, and only allowed one touchdown. And boy, can the Alabama offense run the ball or what. T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry combined for 239 yards on 40 carries. They’ll be a handfull all year.
(h/t SB Nation)
EVERETT GOLSON IS YOUR HEISMAN FAVORITE. BOW DOWN TO HIM. LOOK AT HIM THROW. LOOK AT HIM RUN. IGNORE SOME OF THE MISHAPS IN COVERAGE ON DEFENSE. THIS TEAM IS FEARLESS AND LED BY THE PRODIGAL SON WHO HAS RETURNED TO LIFT NOTRE DAME FOOTBALL TO THE HEAVENS. HAVING A GOOD QUARTERBACK IS FUN GUYS IT’S SO MUCH FUN. BRING BACK THOSE #5 JERSEYS OUT OF THE CLOSET, THEY’RE SAFE TO WEAR NOW. GOLSON IS AN ALL-AMERICAN AND WE NOW KNOW MANTI TE’O WASN’T A LIAR, HE WAS JUST A SHELTERED MORON WHO DIDN’T KNOW HOW TO INTERNET VERY WELL. LET’S GO IRISH.
Around the country:
ACC: Louisville whipped up on Miami 31-13 in their ACC opener. l__l not back. Pretty hard to be back when you go 1/13 on third down. Cards look stout. Elsewhere, lotta struggle bussing. Syracuse and NC State needed miracles to get past some crummy low-level teams at home. North Carolina and Georgia Tech had games that were too close for too long before finally stepping on the pedals. Wake Forest lost to UL-Monroe because Wake Forest has the worst offensive line in the Power 5. Elsewise though, good blowouts from Pitt, BC, V-Tech, and Duke. And Virginia looked competent and competitive! Even if UCLA played awful, this is a step up for Virginia!
Big 12: It was never going to be an awful week, mainly because Kansas didn’t play. Iowa State took its lumps from North Dakota State, which is a thing that happens when you’re playing a top 40 team and you’re not one. Overall, a good showing though, with expected blowouts from Texas, Kansas State, TCU, Oklahoma, and Baylor, plus the aforementioned Oklahoma State and West Virginia games. Texas Tech had weird struggles with something called Central Arkansas, but I assume Kliff forgot to gameplan because he was too busy prepping for Beyonce being single.
Big Ten: Positives – Rutgers and Penn State beat teams at about their talent levels! Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska, and Maryland all blew people out as well. Negatives: Minnesota played the weird, closer than the final score game, though looked solid defensively. Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio State, and Purdue all struggled, but they pulled out victories, which is more than probably three of them would have done last year. (Also Ohio State was playing Navy on the road, and that triple option crap is terrifying and tough to defend and gameplan for. A win is a win) Northwestern embarrassed themselves against a miserable Cal team and looked like they hadn’t played football in eight months. Their head coach then blamed the loss on their bloggers being too good at their jobs – or maybe the Cal bloggers are bad. Whatever it was, it was weird.
Pac-12: Holy cow, USC looked good while clobbering a decent Fresno State team. Oregon, Stanford, Arizona, Arizona State, and even Utah got in on the beatdowns! Cal beat an FBS team for the first time in about 22 months, on the road no less. On the other side of the coin, Colorado lost to a Colorado State team that is better than them. No shame in that, it wasn’t embarrassing. Wazzu lost a heart-breaker, but man Connor Halliday will at least throw the ball for a lot of yards and touchdowns this year. Oregon State struggled with Portland State but pulled away. That’s a program teetering on the edge, ready to fall it seems. And then we have to talk about UCLA and Washington. A win is a win, especially on opening weekend. But Hawai’i outgained Washington 424-336. UCLA didn’t get an offensive touchdown until late in the third. High expectations can crush you before you get started, as anyone will tell you about any situation. Keep your eyes on the panic meters and be ready to freak out.
SEC: A really good week for the SEC, mainly because Florida didn’t play! Elsewhere Auburn struggled out of the gate with a surprisingly efficient Arkansas running attack before putting down the Hogs. Bert might be up to something there. Mizzou had some problems with South Dakota State but figured it out. Ole Miss’s defense looked devastating, and Dr. Bo and the offense finally showed up in the 4th crush Boise State. Kentucky, Mississippi State, and Tennessee all crushed their opponents. All was we- oh wait Vanderbilt. Poor old Vanderbilt. The post-James Franklin era started with a 37-7 loss to Temple. At home. Temple went 2-10 last year. Hopes and dreams are over in Nashville; time to get back to the crushing reality that made the town famous. Lose your truck, lose your dog, lose a football game.