Still, what was an incredibly experienced and talented unit a year ago scattered to the NFL draft, leaving the Tigers with merely a talented defensive front this year. In its first real test (sorry, Georgia Tech), Clemson held Texas A&M to 53 yards rushing and 289 total yards in a 24-10 triumph Saturday.
Given the state of the rest of the ACC — Syracuse humbled at Maryland, Florida State sputtering to put away Louisiana-Monroe, Virginia quite possibly the second-best team in the conference — this may well be the best team Clemson faces before the postseason.
That it pulled away from the Aggies with a strong second quarter and handed things over to its defense is a hint that even with some new names, things really haven’t changed much in Death Valley.
LSU. Start with the obvious. The Tigers went to Texas and claimed a 45-38 victory. The value of this result for playoff purposes is going to fluctuate as the year unfolds. The best-case for LSU (2-0) is that Texas regroups and runs the table and leaves the Tigers with one of the best victories on the board.
But even if that doesn’t happen, Ed Orgeron’s team walked out of Austin with something incredibly useful. The Tigers, who at times have felt like the last serious contender playing by something resembling late 20th century conventional wisdom (though there’s a case to be made for Stanford), continued to apply pressure on the Longhorns.
It showed when LSU hustled to stitch together a touchdown drive before the break. It was evident when quarterback Joe Burrow tossed a 61-yard touchdown pass to Justin Jefferson on a third-and-long with 2:27 to go to extend a six-point lead rather than play it safe and let the defense try to maintain an advantage.
Burrow was sensational (31 of 39, 471 yards, four touchdowns) and Jefferson a nearly impossible cover (nine catches, 163 yards, three touchdowns). But three Tiger receivers hauled in more than 100 receiving yards, and LSU piled up 573 yards.
If LSU really has embraced a more open, less ground-and-pound identity, it could be one of the most meaningful offseason decisions of 2019. Just ask Texas, which yielded points seven of the last eight times the Tigers tried to move the ball.
Oregon. The Ducks had no hangover from their come-from-ahead loss to Auburn last week, blasting Nevada, 77-6, to avoid becoming the Wolf Pack’s second Power Five victim in as many weeks. Justin Herbert threw for 310 yards and five touchdowns as Oregon did as it pleased and averaged 8.4 yards a snap.
Colorado. In one sense, it is unwise to make too much of the Buffaloes defeating their old Big Eight-Big 12 rival for the second year in a row. After all, Colorado snagged a five-point victory early in the 2018 season en route to 5-0 before collapsing, and Nebraska wasn’t supposed to be all that great (and wasn’t).
Still, there’s a new coach (Mel Tucker) in Boulder and Nebraska is theoretically better (more on that in a bit). But the real takeaway for Colorado in its 34-31 overtime triumph is it didn’t fade away after spotting Nebraska a 17-0 halftime lead.
The Buffaloes (2-0) own a couple rivalry victories (they hammered Colorado State in their opener) and they figured out how to rally both over a full half and in the final minutes of regulation. Steven Montez’s 26-yard touchdown pass to Tony Brown helped draw Colorado even with 46 seconds left. There’s still more to prove, but Saturday was the sort of experience that should serve the Buffaloes well.
Ohio State. It was reasonable to think Cincinnati would give the Buckeyes headaches. After all, the Bearcats were no doubt eager to take a shot at a brand-name, in-state school and were coming off a solid defeat of UCLA in their opener.
Instead, Ohio State dispensed with things in a hurry, rolling to a 42-0 victory. Quarterback Justin Fields threw for 224 yards and accounted for four touchdowns (two rushing, two passing). Tailback J.K. Dobbins ran for 141 yards and two scores. The Buckeye defense made three red-zone stands without surrendering a point.
Remember when Ohio State rolled past Oregon State and Rutgers before rallying past TCU during Ryan Day’s caretaker stint as coach last year? Now in full control of the program after Urban Meyer’s departure, the Buckeyes are off to every bit as impressive a start in 2019.
Tennessee. Getting beat up at home by Georgia State was bad enough. But the Volunteers may have one-upped their own ineptitude in permitting Brigham Young to get back into what became a 29-26 double OT victory for the Cougars.
BYU faced a third down at its 20 with less than 25 seconds left and a three-point deficit, but completed a 64-yard pass against soft coverage to set up a tying field goal. Theoretically, the loss to Georgia State was hard to fathom. Pragmatically, Saturday’s setback was maybe more befuddling.
And it’s worth noting again that the Volunteers — 0-2 for the first time since 1988 — face Chattanooga last week, followed by the first half of SEC play against Florida, Georgia, Mississippi State and Alabama. Good luck with that.
Nebraska. The Cornhuskers were supposed to blossom on Scott Frost’s second season back at his alma mater, but it’s getting harder to see it happening. They let South Alabama hang around well into the second half last week, then coughed up a 17-point halftime lead Saturday.
Could Nebraska still, say, win seven or eight games and reach a bowl? Sure. But Big Ten West contention might be a bit much to ask based on early returns.
Syracuse. The Orange was, quite simply, overmatched in its 63-20 loss at Maryland. It had few answers on offense when the game was still competitive, and even fewer on defense as the Terrapins posted 7.83 yards a play (a figure that hovered above 8.0 yards a snap before a couple merciful kneeldowns to end it).
Syracuse was one of the sport’s breakout teams last season, winning 10 games, nearly upsetting Clemson and amplifying expectations in Central New York to a degree they haven’t reached in a generation.
Clearly, there’s still work for new starting quarterback Tommy DeVito to do in the weeks to come. But the Orange was disorganized on defense, and Maryland gleefully exploited Syracuse’s aggression. The Terps’ last two scoring drives, when reserve running backs piled up a combined 150 yards in 10 attempts, was an illustration of both Maryland’s offensive depth and the complete lack of interest Syracuse had by the end of the day.
UCLA. The Bruins authored another dud against a well-established Group of Five program, this time a 23-14 loss to San Diego State. The Aztecs gave up a touchdown on UCLA’s opening possession, then only one more on the Bruins’ last 11 drives. UCLA, which opened with a loss at Cincinnati, fell to 0-2.
Just think: There’s still a full Pac-12 schedule still to come. UCLA got off to its first 0-5 start since 1943 last year. With Oklahoma, Washington State and Arizona up next (the latter two on the road), Chip Kelly’s team could match that “feat” in the coming weeks.
West Virginia. Remaining on the subject of former Big East schools that fled for greener pastures, the Mountaineers appear to have taken a predictable (but still noteworthy) step back this year.
The Neal Brown era opened with a 20-13 escape of James Madison as the Mountaineers managed just 294 yards. Things got much worse Saturday on the road against an angry Missouri bunch that opened with a loss at Wyoming. West Virginia managed just 140 yards in a 38-7 loss, and next gets N.C. State at home followed by the Big 12 schedule.
The Mountaineers were bound to have some regression, but it has the look of a particularly lean season in Morgantown.
Rutgers. Let’s go for the ex-Big East trifecta! Any optimism about the Scarlet Knights’ offensive improvement after its opening defeat of Massachusetts fizzled during a long trip to play a league foe. Iowa blanked Rutgers, 30-0, holding the Scarlet Knights to 125 total yards (and just 41 through the air). Chris Ash’s team has plenty to work on as it heads into an open date.
Five things to take away from the Week 2’s Friday appetizers:
Boise State’s defense impressed again. The Broncos scored an opening week victory at Florida State when they shut out the Seminoles in the second half of a 36-31 victory, yielding just 68 yards on 29 plays after the half.
In Friday’s 14-7 defeat of visiting Marshall, Bryan Harsin’s team surrendered 172 yards for the game, including none — that’s zero — on 14 plays in the second half.
To review, Boise State has given up no points and 68 yards on 43 plays after halftime this season. That will work for a team more than living up to expectations as the favorite in its half of the Mountain West.
I’ll strain to say something nice about Arizona State. It’s foolhardy to dismiss all FCS programs in matchups against major college foes — some of them have as much (if not more) talent in their lineups than some Power Five schools. The big difference is in depth, a result of the disparity in scholarships.
Having established this, an FCS team coming off a 2-8 season (like Sacramento State) probably shouldn’t be giving Arizona State as good a run as it did Friday. The Sun Devils managed just 78 total yards and three points in the first half and led just 9-0 after three quarters of an eventual 19-7 victory. Herm Edwards’s team didn’t make it into the end zone until the game’s final five minutes.
So here’s the nicest thing that can be said for Arizona State: Its specialists, already with the best leg lineage of anyone in the college game, had a heck of a night. Sophomore kicker Cristian Zendejas (son of former Sun Devil all-American Luis Zendejas, who had a three-year NFL career) made four field goals while Michael Turk (nephew of Matt Turk, a former all-pro punter with the Redskins) averaged 47.6 yards while pinning three of his five attempts inside the 20.
Wake Forest might have one of the ACC’s best quarterbacks. The Demon Deacons aren’t known for always enjoying an abundance of riches at quarterback, so get acquainted with Jamie Newman. The redshirt junior’s emergence allowed the team not only to move former starter Kendall Hinton to receiver, but also to keep in reserve a sophomore (Sam Hartman) who threw for 1,984 yards, 16 touchdowns and just eight interceptions in nine games last season.
Newman impressed in a four-game stint as a starter last year, and has stood out again two games into this season. He has completed 55 of 74 passes for 713 yards and six touchdowns in two opening victories, over Utah State in Week 1 and by a 41-21 margin against Rice on Friday.