Running through the highs and lows from Saturday afternoon’s action:
WINNER: Tennessee. Nobody’s living as dangerously as Tennessee, though there are those who might suggest nearly a decade’s worth of bad luck (some of it self-inflicted) was bound to turn around at some point. Still, this happened after the Volunteers gave up a go-ahead score just one play from scrimmage earlier:
Four quick takeaways from the Volunteers’ 34-31 triumph capped by Jauan Jennings’s 43-yard touchdown catch:
- 1. This might be the highlight of the Uncle Verne retirement tour, but if it isn’t, there’s a great finish or two in the SEC looming over the next couple months.
- 2. Special thanks to Tennessee Coach Butch Jones for basically acknowledging what a ridiculous ending he’d just witnessed. It beats the robo-coach response every time.
- 3. The Volunteers now have a head-to-head tiebreaker over both Florida and Georgia. If they can simply get a split against Texas A&M and Alabama the next two weeks, they basically clinch the SEC East. Not mathematically, but they shouldn’t have trouble with South Carolina, Kentucky, Missouri or Vanderbilt.
- 4. Tennessee still hasn’t pieced together a complete game. It spotted Virginia Tech a 14-point lead and cruised. It handed Florida a 21-point lead and won by virtue of a dominant half. It allowed Georgia to go up 17-0, then used every last second available to knock off the Bulldogs.
The slow starts remain the Volunteers’ biggest vulnerability. But they keep finding ways to stitch together dominant stretches, and with an obvious dose of luck, they’re 5-0 and unquestionably one of the nation’s most fascinating teams.
LOSER: Unsportsmanlike conduct penalties after scoring go-ahead TDs. It’s all fun and games until an excessive celebration flag costs you a game.
Georgia went up 31-28 on Riley Ridley’s 47-yard touchdown catch from Jacob Eason with 10 seconds left against Tennessee. Understandably, the Bulldogs were excited. Along the way, somebody was too excited, which meant Georgia kicked off from the 20 and handed the Vols 15 yards for free. Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs chucked it into the end zone from about midfield for the winning score. It’s doubtful he could have done that from the Tennessee 35.
There’s a compelling argument that enough fun is extracted from the sport already, and that the unsportsmanlike conduct rule could be loosened up. But whether it’s restrictive or reasonable, it still exists and can still prove incredibly costly in the wrong spot. Just ask Georgia.
WINNER: Michigan. Finally, there’s a good gauge on the Wolverines, who marauded their way through September with fairly little resistance (outside of one half from Colorado).
The Wolverines (5-0, 2-0 Big Ten) defeated Wisconsin, 14-7, in a battle of defense-minded unbeatens, and the result was just. Michigan managed to look mortal on offense, mustering 349 yards against a stout Badgers defense that was without senior linebacker Vince Biegel (broken foot). It also missed three field goals, all from 43 yards and closer.
Meanwhile, the Wolverines’ defense controlled the day, allowing 159 total yards. Wisconsin’s only scoring drive began on the Michigan 31 after an interception. The Badgers ran only 17 plays in Michigan territory and just five inside the Wolverines’ 35.
This is what Michigan is: An exceptional defensive team, just like last year. Its offense won’t get many tests as good as Wisconsin, but it was good enough to prevail Saturday. If that formula worked against the Badgers, it should work against pretty much everyone the Wolverines see prior to Thanksgiving weekend.
WINNER: Nick Weiler. To fully appreciate the North Carolina kicker’s 54-yard field goal to sink Florida State 37-35, it’s best to know how his career has unfolded in Chapel Hill.
In 2014, the Tar Heels possessed a rudimentary field goal unit. Weiler, a former walk-on, was 5 for 8 on the season. He also didn’t make an attempt beyond 23 yards.
He was substantially better last season, making 20 of 23. And he’d drilled a wind-aided 49-yarder last month at Illinois. But nothing quite like the bomb that sent him chopping his way toward the end zone today.
LOSER: Florida State. That’s two conference losses for the Seminoles (3-2, 0-2 ACC), and Clemson hasn’t even come to town yet. Even with Dalvin Cook once again playing well, Florida State looks as mortal has it has at nearly any point in the Jimbo Fisher era.
Florida State has some offensive vulnerabilities, but it is also far from the program’s defensive standards. An 0-3 start in the league suddenly seems possible with a trip to Miami next week, though Fisher’s mastery of the Seminoles’ Sunshine State rivalry is a point of pride for Florida State to cling to.
WINNER: Baylor (barely). The Bears (5-0, 2-0 Big 12) remained undefeated when Chris Callahan’s 19-yard field goal as time expired gave them their first lead of the day in a 45-42 defeat of Iowa State. It wasn’t a sterling performance, particularly by the Baylor defense for the first three quarters, but Jim Grobe’s team escaped unscathed.
Given Baylor’s path to becoming college football’s persona non grata during the offseason, there’s undoubtedly some people less than thrilled with the Bears’ stubborn relevance. But like it or not, expect it to remain for at least the rest of the month. Baylor gets two bye weeks and a date with Kansas before meeting Texas on Oct. 29, meaning it’s quite possible the Bears are 7-0 when they face Texas Christian on Nov. 5.
WINNER: Air Force. The Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy could be headed back to Colorado Springs after a one-year stay in Annapolis. The Falcons (4-0) handled Navy 28-14, their most lopsided victory in the series since 2002.
LOSER: Texas. It’s only been four weeks since the Longhorns beat Notre Dame, but it sure feels like more. The Longhorns (2-2) are legitimately better on offense, but their defensive regression is going to prevent them from taking the massive step so many Texas fans wanted in Charlie Strong’s third season. The Longhorns have yielded 99 points in their last two games, including Saturday’s 49-31 loss at Oklahoma State.
LOSER: Iowa. The Hawkeyes got their share of breaks last season. It’s not happening this fall. Iowa has now dropped a pair of one-possession games in the last three weeks, first against North Dakota State and now a 38-31 loss at home to Northwestern.
The Wildcats bottled up Iowa’s running game, and it’s fair to wonder if Michigan and Wisconsin (both of which visit Iowa City late this season) will also be able to turn the Hawkeyes (3-2, 1-1 Big Ten) into a one-dimensional team.
No. 3 Louisville at No. 5 Clemson (8, ABC): The Lamar Jackson-Deshaun Watson duel in what could very well decide the ACC’s Atlantic Division finally arrives after a week of endless hype.
Arizona State at Southern California (8:30, Fox): Is Arizona State (4-0, 1-0 Pac-12) for real? Can Southern California (1-3, 0-2) get to work on salvaging its season? This one’s certainly worth a look, especially if the scoring gets out of control as it so often does when the Sun Devils are involved.