D’Eriq King threw for 325 yards and three touchdowns, Cam’Ron Harris rushed for 134 yards and a score and the Hurricane defense forced three turnovers in a 47-34 victory. Manny Diaz’s team also scored on nine of its 12 possessions that didn’t end with a kneel down.
It’s all impressive, but the data obscures Miami’s sheer willfulness on offense for much of the night. It tossed up touchdowns in response to field goals early, and then popped a pair of 75-yard scoring plays on its first two snaps of the second half. Both were in response to long Louisville scoring drives.
(To be sure, Louisville’s defensive shortcomings played a role, too. A program does not emerge from the Bobby Petrino Experience without the lasting effects of his usual routine — namely, paying much more attention to procuring offensive talent than defensive. The Cardinals simply have to outscore opponents again this year, and they’ll do so more often than not.)
King, the graduate transfer from Houston, was an electrifying figure with the Cougars, and he has provided stability for the Hurricanes even if they didn’t need him to do as much as he can in the rushing game Saturday. So far, he’s delivered exactly what was expected of him, and maybe more.
Now, back to that skepticism. Can the Hurricanes keep it up? They should at home next week against Florida State, a rival they’ve won three in a row against and a team that was offensively limited in its opening loss to Georgia Tech. Win that, and an Oct. 10 trip to Clemson becomes mighty intriguing.
But one thing at a time. There’s a long path between erratic and elite, and the Hurricanes have only intermittently flirted with the latter since entering the ACC. Churning out consistent, methodical performances is a big step in between. Miami’s work at Louisville suggests it might be ready to take it this year.
Navy. It was fair to wonder at halftime of Saturday’s trip to Tulane if this might turn out to be an especially bleak season for the Midshipmen. Their first game and a half didn’t offer much reason for optimism.
So naturally, it set the stage for the biggest comeback in school history. Navy edged Tulane 27-24 on Bijan Nichols’s 33-yard field goal as time expired, erasing a 24-0 halftime deficit — which came after an ugly 55-3 Labor Day loss to Brigham Young.
Navy started plebe Xavier Arline at quarterback, but turned back to opening-week starter Dalen Morris. He responded with 139 yards and a touchdown through the air, a welcome sign for a player who was overwhelmed in his first career start.
And the defense that was bulldozed in its first six quarters? It forced four punts and two turnovers on downs and collected a safety in the second half against the Green Wave.
Last year, Nichols secured bowl eligibility for Navy with a 48-yard field goal from the left hash as time expired to seal a 41-38 defeat of Tulane. He may have done something more meaningful — also from the left hash — to help save the Mids’ 2020 season in its early stages in this year’s encounter with the Green Wave.
Boston College. Coach Jeff Hafley’s debut worked out quite well. The Eagles got a 300-yard passing day from Notre Dame transfer Phil Jurkovec, Zay Flowers caught five passes for 162 yards and a touchdown (when he couldn’t have been much more open) and the defense secured five takeaways in a 26-6 victory at Duke.
Not every Saturday will go so well for Boston College, which was the definition of mediocre (and, far too often, uninteresting) under Hafley’s predecessor, Steve Addazio. The Eagles weren’t perfect, but they were energetic and anything but dull in their 2020 opener. It’s a good start.
Louisiana-Lafayette. Heavy is the head that wears the crown. Or the national ranking, as is the case for the Ragin’ Cajuns, who responded to their first appearance in the Associated Press poll since 1943 by spotting Georgia State 14 points and trailing by two touchdowns early in the second half.
It’s tough to get as excited about bullying a Big 12 school (Iowa State) like last week as it is to, say, look forward to playing in a converted baseball stadium. But the Cajuns got by, eventually pulling out a 34-31 triumph behind Elijah Mitchell’s 164 yards and two touchdowns on the ground, including the game-winner in overtime. They finally get their home opener next week against Georgia Southern.
Pittsburgh. The Panthers are 2-0 for the first time in four years, so let’s not quibble about the slog-like elements of their 21-10 defeat of Syracuse. Besides, it’s Pitt. It feels like Pat Narduzzi’s team has one or two of these sorts of games every season.
Let’s instead dwell on the Panthers’ defense, which has yielded 10 points and 308 total yards in two games (and the Orange’s field goal on Saturday was gift wrapped thanks to a fumble inside the Pitt 20). Defensive end Rashad Weaver, who hadn’t played since 2018 because of injury, rolled up seven tackles (three for loss) and two sacks in his season debut against Syracuse. He’s one of the great individual winners of the week.
Marshall. The Thundering Herd’s 17-7 smothering of Appalachian State was their first victory over a ranked team since stunning Kansas State in 2003. That in itself is an accomplishment for a program that’s won at least eight games in six of the last seven seasons.
But perhaps the play of the game was a classic case of overcoming an opponent’s sublime call with a bit of defensive brilliance.
It’s tough to draw up a more effective play. Appalachian State quarterback Zac Thomas found a wide-open Mike Evans for what looked to be a 46-yard touchdown that would have made it a one-possession game. Instead, senior safety Brandon Drayton punched the ball out at the 5, and teammate Nazeeh Johnson fell on the fumble in the end zone.
Appalachian State would never score again (it missed a 26-yard field goal with 2:54 left that effectively ended things), and Marshall (2-0) has a chance to crack the national rankings for the first time since 2014.
Central Florida. It’s no longer remotely surprising when the Knights manhandle a Power Five foe, especially one in the midst of a rebuild like Georgia Tech. With a 49-21 bludgeoning, Central Florida added the Yellow Jackets (1-1) to a list of prominent victims that includes Maryland, Auburn, Pittsburgh and Stanford since the start of the 2017 season.
How the Knights went about doing it matters, too. They rolled up 660 yards behind quarterback Dillon Gabriel (417 yards, four touchdowns), forced five turnovers and wore out Georgia Tech with their talent and their tempo.
In short, they took advantage of their one nonconference opportunity, demonstrating they’re far better than a team destined for the bottom third of the ACC. Central Florida probably doesn’t have much of a shot at a playoff berth if it runs the table, but it could get another crack at a Power Five school if it can secure the Group of Five’s New Year’s Six slot. If it plays like that most weeks, they’ll definitely contend for it.
Clemson. Got Trevor Lawrence a quarter of work. Beat The Citadel 49-0. Won’t play again for two weeks. This assessment is subject to reevaluation in case a major contributor got hurt since avoiding injuries was always going to be the most significant measure of success this week for the Tigers (2-0).
Ulysses Bentley IV. A good way to get some attention is to accrue 227 yards and three touchdowns on 19 carries like the Southern Methodist redshirt freshman did in a 65-35 victory at North Texas.
It was the fourth most rushing yards in Mustang history, more than Craig James ever had in a game and just 14 yards shy of the best outing Eric Dickerson had in the Pony Express era (the school record is Mike Richardson’s 244 yards against Texas A&M in 1968). SMU quarterback Shane Buechele (344 yards, four TDs) had himself quite the day, too, as SMU improved to 2-0.
Griffin Hebert. The Louisiana Tech wide receiver gets credit for one of the day’s best catches, ever-so-barely getting a foot down in the back of the end zone with 14 seconds left to cap the Bulldogs’ 31-30 comeback victory at Southern Mississippi. The Golden Eagles (0-2) led 27-10 before Louisiana Tech (1-0) rallied to win the Conference USA opener for both teams.
Duke. As mentioned entering the weekend, if the Blue Devils are going to make a run at a winning season, they need to win a game like Saturday’s: At home, against a Boston College team that had yet to play under its first-year coach.
So a loss is less than ideal. A loss while committing five turnovers (two in the red zone, four in Boston College territory) is egregious. Quarterback Chase Brice, a Clemson transfer, had two interceptions and a lost fumble, on a generally sloppy day for Duke (0-2), which gets yet another team making its season debut (Virginia) next week.
Tulsa’s penalties. If you had never seen the Golden Hurricane play all of last season and watched its opener at Oklahoma State, two things would have stood out. The Tulsa defense looked delightfully spunky in its 16-7 loss, and it couldn’t have done more to get in its own way with penalties.
Both observations ring true over what Tulsa was while going 4-8 in 2019. It kept half of its 12 opponents to less than 400 total yards, no mean feat while playing in the explosive American Athletic Conference. And it was dead last nationally in penalty yards per game (79.08) and next-to-last in penalties per game (9.08, ahead of Florida State’s 9.15).
The Golden Hurricane limited Oklahoma State to 287 total yards, bottling up tailback Chuba Hubbard (27 carries, 93 yards) and benefiting from Tylan Wallace’s relative lack of work (four catches, 94 yards).
But 15 penalties for 120 yards? It doesn’t matter how weird a year it is and how hard it is to practice. That’s no way to try to earn the program’s first victory over a Power Five team since handling Iowa State in the 2012 Liberty Bowl.
Appalachian State. There’s no shame in losing at Marshall in a pairing of old Division I-AA powerhouses (back when it was still called Division I-AA). But when you’ve gone 11-2 and 13-1 over the last two seasons and got a pair of coaches promotions to Power Five jobs, expectations are that good times will continue indefinitely.
The Mountaineers (1-1) will probably be fine once they dive into Sun Belt play, but the 17-7 setback to the Thundering Herd effectively eliminates Appalachian State from New Year’s Six contention.
Middle Tennessee. Not to pick on this Conference USA school, but even while accounting for the many reasons a team would have issues early this season, things have been grim for the Blue Raiders. They dropped their opener at Army 42-0 two weeks ago. Saturday might have been worse; they fell 47-14 at home to Troy, and that included a garbage-time touchdown in the final two minutes.
Offense is an issue, but even getting it on the field is a massive problem for Middle Tennessee (0-2). Opponents have converted 26 of 34 of their third-down attempts (and both of their fourth-down tries) in the early going this season.
The SEC still isn’t underway, so this list remains very much a work in progress, but it does reflect some of the better performances seen over the season’s first two weeks.
1. QB Trevor Lawrence, Clemson. The junior threw for 351 yards and a touchdown while rushing for two more in a rout of Wake Forest. The Tigers’ star top impediment to claiming the No. 1 spot at year’s end might be the likelihood his outings end before the fourth quarter as Clemson rolls up comfortable victories.
2. QB Sam Ehlinger, Texas. Yes, it was against Texas-El Paso, but Ehlinger roasted the Miners for 426 yards and five touchdowns in the Longhorns’ lone nonconference game.
3. QB Brady White, Memphis. The lone holdover from last week, White’s 280 yards and four touchdowns against Arkansas State look a little better after the Red Wolves upended Kansas State in their second outing.
4. QB Spencer Rattler, Oklahoma. Already assured of a place on the all-name team, Rattler sliced up Bobby Petrino-coached Missouri State for 290 yards and four touchdowns in his first career start for the Sooners.
5. TB Travis Etienne, Clemson. Remember, Etienne (and not Lawrence) is the reigning two-time ACC player of the year. He opened his senior year in workmanlike fashion, rumbling 102 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries.
6. QB D’Eriq King, Miami. King wasn’t at his absolute best in the Hurricanes’ opener against UAB, but he was a clear improvement over The U’s production at the position the last couple years. If Miami keeps winning, we’ll hear plenty about the Houston graduate transfer.
7. TB Sincere McCormick, Texas-San Antonio. A shout-out to the Roadrunners’ bell cow back, who followed up his Conference USA rookie of the year campaign with a 29-carry, 197-yard showing in a double-overtime defeat of Texas State. McCormick broke his own single-game school rushing record in the process.