When they sit around 10, 20, even 30 years from now, and they talk about college football in their enclaves because it always beats talking about family gossip, might they remember this innocuous little weekend in late September 2017? So many of them might.
Such a doozy was yet another autumn Saturday in America that they might wince forever in Kentucky, wince briefly in Tallahassee, nod at an ancient truth at Oklahoma State, mark time at Georgia and Baylor, recite impossible numbers in Alabama, and then at Penn State, well . . .
Those people might just gab all the night long.
If No. 4 Penn State keeps sustaining itself this year, there will be a long, long collective memory of the hard evening in Iowa City, when the Nittany Lions (4-0) saved themselves as champions sometimes must, with 80 yards and 12 plays and 109 seconds and a final-play, seven-yard touchdown pass that flew toward traffic, arched itself expertly just a hair over a defender’s hand, rested in wide receiver Juwan Johnson’s gut and spread sudden, incalculable misery across almost all the faces in the stadium.
A 19-15 lead became a 21-19 brain-addler.
Those who didn’t mind it learned again that quarterback Trace McSorley is one of those cowboys who goes pulseless in a crisis, that running back Saquon Barkley, with his yardage at 211 in rushing and 358 in all-purpose, could be the best football player in the country. They might even scale all the way back through the drive and find, in memory, the fourth and two spent still 60 yards away, McSorley’s six-yard pass to Saeed Blacknall.
While they do that, Alabamians sifting through the nuggets from this goldmine of an era actually might point out the 59-0 win just visited upon Vanderbilt. This will merit remembering because Vanderbilt reached the home game at 3-0 and hopeful and maybe even chesty, in the form of the one player who greeted a win over ranked Kansas State and said, “Alabama, you’re next.” Soon, even as Vanderbilt represented a good opponent, not just some old pointless mismatch, here were the numbers Alabama inflicted:
First downs: 38-3.
Rushing yards: 496-40.
Total yards: 677-78.
Alabama Coach Nick Saban closed the game by ordering three knee-takings from inside the 10-yard line, and you just know some Crimson Tide fan somewhere out there chafed at that. “I guess we felt like we didn’t have the respect we wanted,” sophomore quarterback Jalen Hurts told the reporters who surrounded him. Does it really go like that? Can a silly, offhand remark of insufficient respect really wreak such concentration from a colossal visitor? Really?
First downs: 38-3.
Fans of No. 7 Washington, their resurgence set with a 2016 playoff berth, might note they knew things really had gotten serious with an all-grown-up, systematic, 37-10 win at Colorado, with its 202 rushing yards from Myles Gaskin. If Baylor does resume prowess under first-year Coach Matt Rhule, who worked stunning matters at Temple, it would seem that after losses to Liberty, Texas-San Antonio and Duke, the first hints of rebound came when the Bears led No. 3 Oklahoma 31-28 in the third quarter, and the whole sport seemed to have gone off whatever moorings it has. (Oklahoma did win, 49-41.) Fans of Georgia, so long wondering when they might stop being good and start being great, saw the first possibility of that in the two-season Kirby Smart era in the 31-3 win over No. 17 Mississippi State.
After all, those second Bulldogs had just mauled LSU, 37-7, seven days prior.
The winning Bulldogs treated those Bulldogs to an opening flea-flicker, freshman quarterback Jake Fromm to Nick Chubb, back to Fromm, and 59 yards to Terry Godwin.
And Godwin told reporters, “Everyone’s always talking Georgia this, Georgia that,” when actually, no, everyone is not doing that at all, but might start just a little bit now.
Those in Oklahoma State might not remember how TCU came to town and defused the dazzling home offense in a 44-31 win that marked TCU a big contender, but they ought to remember the words of Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer. Having watched TCU hog the ball for 39 minutes and rush for 238 yards, Spencer gazed down at a stat sheet through his professorial, wire-rimmed glasses and said, “The highs aren’t high enough in what we do, and the lows are way too low.”
Speaking of, Florida State lost, 27-21, at home to North Carolina State to reach 0-2 for the first time since 1989, when its opening losses came via a last-minute touchdown pass by Brett Favre of Southern Mississippi, and then three touchdowns from Clemson’s Terry Allen, later of the Washington Redskins (1995-98). Florida State went 10-2 that year, but this version doesn’t look quite like that, as it rummages around for a flashlight after losing quarterback Deondre Francois in the opener against Alabama.
Still, in the recollections of future years, no woe can match that of the long-hoping patrons who rocked a stadium Saturday night in Lexington, Ky. Their Kentucky football team, of course, had not beaten Florida in 30 years, even given both the convenience and inconvenience of playing Florida every one of those years, for the longest such streak in the nation.
As Kentucky built a 27-14 lead after three quarters, those fans made a sound plenty audible through a radio on an Oklahoma highway. If you knew them, or had ever been around them, you might even feel a twinge of what they anticipated and why their stomachs roiled. Many of them had witnessed at least three losses to Florida (1993, 2003, 2014) of outright agony, of hope raised rationally then obliterated utterly. They could be the ones to witness a landmark win that just had to come someday, didn’t it?
So when No. 20 Florida and its challenged offense scored two closing touchdowns . . . and when it converted two fourth downs toward the latter . . . and when Kentucky left a receiver completely uncovered at the line of scrimmage on the winning touchdown with 43 seconds left, for the second time in the game . . . and when Kentucky moved into field goal range and got a holding call . . . and when the excellent kicker, Austin MacGinnis, had to try a storybook 57-yard field goal that trickled down just a shout shy of the crossbar . . .
The thud in the gut did seem primed to go on forever.
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