How Oklahoma’s slender win is a loss
Five games with teams in the USA TODAY Sports AFCA Coaches Poll. A preseason college football playoff contender put on the ropes by a team of five. A prime-time matchup between two of the best teams in the country.
The 2021 college football season is already well underway after a week of 1 slate of impact on the college football playoffs and national championship.
For one, the brutal defeat of No. 1 Alabama against No. 16 Miami (Fla.) A team in midseason form. But for the Hurricanes, the loss shows the gap between battling for New Year’s six and stepping into true playoff competition.
No. 3 Oklahoma went into halftime against Tulane, but held on to a narrow win. In the Big Ten, a return game between No. 20 Penn State and No. 15 Wisconsin was only settled in the final minutes.
These and other games lead the winners and losers from the first full Saturday of the 2021 season:
The Bulldogs defense dominated Clemson, leading Georgia to a 3-3 win with a significant impact on the road. There are questions about the health of the Georgia Offensive, particularly given quarterback JT Daniels’ inability to get the ball into the field against the Tigers secondary school. But those fights could be evidence of Clemson who has real problems on the offensive but that defense could lead to yet another ACC title. When it comes to Georgia’s defense, this is an elite-talented unit good enough to carry the Bulldogs past Alabama and into the national championship.
The hitting of LSU 38-27 is the moment UCLA has been waiting for since Chip Kelly’s return to the Pac-12. Throughout the off-season, the chatter about the Bruins was that this was by far the deepest and most solid roster of Kelly’s tenure. There was still the question of what improvement that would bring – whether seven wins or a real shot at the conference title – and how it would fare against LSU. By gaining 476 yards overall offensive and keeping the Tigers at 48 yards on 25 tries, the Bruins proved they turned a corner in Kelly’s fourth year.
The 16:10 win over Wisconsin, while not a masterpiece, reflects Penn State’s internal optimism that last year’s 4-5 result was far more the product of the pandemic than any downturn in James Franklin’s program. There are still issues to be resolved, starting with the health of a crime still working the details under new coordinator Mike Yurcich. While quarterback Sean Clifford rallied to throw 247 yards and a score, the Nittany Lions ran just 50 yards at 1.8 yards per carry, much of that total coming from a 34 yard gain from running back Noah Cain was achieved. Clifford avoided sales, however, and that was the difference to a close win.
The Steve Sarkisian era started with a 38:18 win over number 23 Louisiana-Lafayette, preseason favorites in the sunbelt and one of the best teams in the group of five, on the right foot. The Longhorns received a good performance from Hudson Card, the first year quarterback who finished with 224 yards and two scores. Sarkisian created a game plan for Bijan Robinson’s running back that met expectations with 103 yards on the ground, 73 yards and two touchdowns. Few teams had a more impressive win in Week 1.
After a disappointing 2020 season marked by injuries in several key positions, Kansas State started September with an impressive 24-7 win over Stanford in Arlington, Texas. With senior quarterback Skyler Thompson back in the middle after missing most of last year, the Wildcats ran 200 yards at 6.5 yards per carry, averaging 10.3 yards per pass attempt.
The 2020 team superstars are gone. Alabama still didn’t miss a beat. To the beat of quarterback Bryce Young, who completed 71% of his throws for 344 yards and four touchdowns, the Crimson Tide hit Miami 44-13 to kick off the program’s latest championship boost. If Saturday is any sign of it, the tides are ready to make another run to perfection.
The Warhawks lost again, this time 45-10 to Kentucky to extend the program’s losing streak to 12 games. But on the way to another defeat, a funny thing happened: ULM actually led the Wildcats 7-0 in the first quarter. Why is that useful? Because this was the first advance of the Warhawks against an opponent since the end of the fourth quarter of a 31:30 loss to rivals Louisiana-Lafayette on November 30, 2019. This makes the debut of new coach Terry Bowden a success.
The good news: Clemson will no longer face a team of Georgia’s caliber in the regular season. The bad news: To win the national title, Clemson will have to beat a team that is as good or better than Georgia in January. Does that seem possible based on what we saw Saturday night? Not if the offensive line doesn’t improve. But there’s still plenty of post-season time and enough track record from Dabo Swinney and his staff to expect a noticeable improvement in the ACC game. What the loss does, however, is that the Tigers are deprived of margin for error when it comes to finishing in the top four.
Clemson was the final stretch of a terrible week 1 for the ACC. Let’s briefly tell: Clemson lost to Georgia. Miami lost a lot to Alabama. Georgia Tech was upset that MAC was also running Northern Illinois. On Friday, Virginia Tech upset North Carolina. Overall, the three best ACC teams and the league’s top playoff hopes – Clemson, Miami and UNC – lose a defeat after just one week. This is not good.
Welcome back to Vanderbilt, Clark Lea’s first year coach. As a full-back for the Commodores in the early 2000s, Lea’s return to Nashville was a complete dud: Vanderbilt lost 23-3 to East Tennessee State, a member of the Football Championship subdivision. At the very least, there will be other chances for Lea to win in his debut year, including a trip to the state of Colorado next week and a date with Connecticut in early October. But it is safe to say that the Commodores will be significant outsiders in SEC actions.
The No. 21 Huskies lost 13-7 against Montana, becoming the first team to lose to an FCS opponent since 2016. That sums up their night pretty well.
The missed chance against PSU will force the Badgers to play from behind in the race for the Western League. The loss is by no means fatal: Wisconsin has many chances of getting back into the Big Ten and playoffs with future games against Notre Dame, Michigan and Iowa. Whether this team can make a run depends on quarterback Graham Mertz and the game in progress. On the one hand, there is a big gap between the hype surrounding Mertz and the reality of his performance; he threw two picks on Saturday, which gave him seven against four touchdowns in his last seven starts.
Too close. Much too close. The No. 3 Sooners sneaked past Tulane 40-35 and raised some eyebrows along the way, especially given expectations of the OU defense back in the preseason. On the other side of the ball, Heisman Trophy early favorite Spencer Rattler threw 309 yards but two interceptions, while the Sooners only scored 3.3 yards per carry. At 37:14 at halftime, OU failed to bring energy out of the locker room and barely survived – Tulane even had a chance to win before turning him around with just over a minute left on downs.
What does this mean for OU? In the long run, no one will remember that narrow win in November and December when the playoff selection committee goes through the process of selecting the nation’s top four teams. But when it comes to takeaway, the lesson for OU is to keep your foot on the gas.
It’s not embarrassing to lose to Alabama. It’s not even really embarrassing to be blown out by the Crimson Tide; more teams happen than not. But given the growth of the Hurricanes in 2020 under coach Manny Diaz and the team’s place among the top three teams in the ACC, being cleanly picked by the Crimson Tide is a painful reminder of how far Miami is from a real contender for the national championship. It’s not embarrassing, but a sobering reality for the Hurricanes.
Last year’s Cinderella story in the Big Ten, number 17 Indiana’s 34-6 loss to number 18 Iowa, splashes a bucket of cold water on the Hoosiers’ hopes to scare Ohio State again in the Big Ten East. The win also says something about Iowa – that the Hawkeyes, who won six straight last year, are a legitimate contender for the New Year’s Six. But the Hoosiers lost the ball three times, gained only 233 yards, and were outdone by another Big Ten team in the top 25 by a wide margin.
The Huskies are an easy pick for FBS’s worst team after losing 38:28 to Holy Cross in the young season and falling back to 2-0. Like the 45-0 loss to Fresno state to get things going, UConn’s offensive was disastrous: 262 yards total, 2.3 yards per carry, and four turnovers. With the defeat, coach Randy Edsall drops to 6-34 in his second term with the program.
Follow college reporter Paul Myerberg on Twitter @PaulMyerberg