It was exactly the sort of showing expected from a potential national title contender, and one the No. 4 Bulldogs (2-0, 2-0 SEC) might need to replicate in the coming weeks. Georgia’s next four opponents include No. 21 Tennessee, No. 2 Alabama, Kentucky and No. 3 Florida, and its combination of a dominant defense and an offense that does what is required will give it a chance of emerging that stretch without more than one loss.
That was on display in an old-fashioned SEC game, perfect for the first October edition of the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry since 1936. It was a display of complete control up front; Georgia rolled up 202 yards on the ground and allowed the Tigers to muster 39 yards on 22 carries. Auburn managed 216 total yards and made it into the red zone once, settling for a field goal that made it 24-3 just before the break.
One of Saturday’s lessons for future Georgia opponents: Kicking field goals inside the 5 while trailing by twenty-some points isn’t a great idea.
Then there was quarterback Stetson Bennett IV, who completed 17 of 28 for 240 yards and a touchdown in his first career start. It did not become the J.T. Daniels show, and there was never reason to look beyond Bennett, who followed up a strong relief outing against Arkansas by leading the Bulldogs on scoring drives in five of their first seven possessions.
(A word on that opening victory over Arkansas: The long-suffering Razorbacks backed up their respectable first half against Georgia with a victory at Mississippi State. In retrospect, perhaps less skepticism over the Bulldogs’ sluggish start in their opener was warranted).
In any case, the first game of the 2020 season that felt like a heavyweight battle ended decisively, with an emphatic Georgia knockout.
Arkansas. The Razorbacks’ 20-game SEC losing streak is finally over thanks to a 21-14 victory at No. 16 Mississippi State. You could quibble with the two lost fumbles and basically nonexistent running game, but why bother? There isn’t a team in the country that has reason to feel better about itself coming out of the weekend than the Razorbacks (1-1, 1-1 SEC).
Arkansas brought an interception back for a score in the first quarter. It was one of four turnovers collected against a Mississippi State bunch riding high from its triumph at LSU a week earlier; the last of the four was a muffed fumble in the closing minutes. Plus, quarterback Feleipe Franks did more than enough, going 20 of 28 for 212 yards and two scores.
It took new coach Sam Pittman two games to get what Chad Morris (who himself was having a rough night as Auburn’s new offensive coordinator) never managed in two seasons in Fayetteville: A victory over a conference foe. That counts for plenty.
Andrew Booth. Clemson handled Virginia 41-23, but the biggest highlight was an otherworldly catch by the Tiger defensive back.
Air Force. Claimed the first leg of the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy, rolling up 369 rushing yards in a 40-7 rout of Navy. It was the first game of the season for the Falcons, who initially planned to only play two times this fall before the Mountain West announced it would contest a conference schedule.
TCU. It was nine years ago this coming Tuesday that the Horned Frogs received an invitation to join the Big 12 in time for the 2012-13 school year. After more than a decade and a half of hopscotching from the Western Athletic Conference to Conference USA to the Mountain West, TCU was finally going to be reunited with half of its old Southwest Conference rivals.
Sure, Gary Patterson’s program was a Mountain West power. But, the hypothetical thinking of the time went, how were the Horned Frogs going to deal with programs like Texas?
It seems silly in retrospect because of afternoons like Saturday, when visiting TCU dealt No. 9 Texas a 33-31 defeat as quarterback Max Duggan threw for 231 yards and rushed for a team-high 79 yards and two scores. The Horned Frogs (1-1, 1-1 Big 12) are now 7-2 against the Longhorns since entering the Big 12, including 4-1 in Austin.
(As a comparison, TCU was 1 for its last 28 against Texas in the Southwest Conference era, and also dropped a nonconference game in 2007).
The Horned Frogs won Saturday in a most methodical way. They ran 20 more plays than Texas (80-60) and held the ball for nearly 10 more minutes than the Longhorns. And they offered their latest near-annual reminder they’re every bit as capable (if not more) than the burnt orange behemoth a few hours to the south along Interstate 35.
Mac Jones. The Alabama quarterback scorched Texas A&M, completing 20 of 27 for 435 yards, four touchdowns and an interception as the Crimson Tide cruised 52-24 to improve to 2-0.
Jones was on point from the start, finding John Metchie III for a 78-yard score on his first pass attempt of the day. He completed his first seven attempts and 16 of his first 20 while helping No. 2 Alabama roll up 544 total yards.
Southern Methodist. The Mustangs improved to 4-0, edging No. 25 Memphis 30-27 on Chris Naggar’s 43-yard field goal with 9 seconds remaining.
There were two good parts of this for SMU, which claims its most impressive victory yet in 2020 after defeating Texas State, North Texas and Stephen F. Austin last month. The Mustangs fully took advantage of a rusty Memphis bunch that hadn’t played since Labor Day weekend, building a 24-3 lead as Reggie Roberson Jr. caught a pair of touchdown passes (he would finish with five catches for 243 yards).
Memphis recovered enough to pull within 24-20 at halftime, but SMU’s defense impressed after the break. While the Tigers did have a long touchdowns drive, they also punted three times and fumbled on their last possession. That gave SMU the ball at its 41 and opened the door for it to move into field goal range and claim its American Athletic Conference opener.
North Carolina. Here’s a case of a team that hadn’t played in a while — in the Tar Heels’ case, three weeks --- finding a path to victory even when it wasn’t at its best. The result was a 26-22 victory at Boston College.
It wasn’t easy. The Tar Heels (2-0, 2-0 ACC) were a play away from overtime when the Eagles (2-1, 1-1) scored a touchdown with 45 seconds left to make it 24-22. But cornerback Trey Morrison picked off Phil Jurkovec’s two-point try and returned it 98 yards to allow Carolina to survive.
BYU. The No. 22 Cougars’ schedule isn’t going provide the usual Power Five barometer this season, though tacking on games against Mountain West teams Boise State and San Diego State will probably help a little.
Nonetheless, even good teams have a hard time accomplishing what BYU (3-0) has to open the season.
The Cougars have outscored Navy, Troy and Louisiana Tech by a combined 148-24. They’re averaging 585.7 yards per game while allowing 214.3 yards a contest. They’ve punted a total of four times, haven’t missed a placement kick and have had nine different players score touchdowns. They have yet to trail.
Friday’s 45-14 demolition of Louisiana Tech — hardly a pushover coming off a 10-3 season — was only the latest hint BYU has a chance to navigate its 10-game schedule without a loss. It would be fascinating to see its postseason fate if it manages to do so.
Oklahoma. If it feels like the Sooners almost never lose to Kansas State and Iowa State in the same season, that’s because it almost never happens.
It did in 1931, and now it has in 2020. No. 18 Oklahoma’s 37-30 loss at Iowa State followed last week’s collapse against Kansas State, and it leaves the Sooners 0-2 in the Big 12.
SMU student section. The Mustangs’ great finish against Memphis? Many SMU students didn’t stick around to see it after being cleared out of their seating area because they couldn’t follow some simple mask and social distancing regulations.
Texas. The Longhorns probably should have lost last week to Texas Tech. They did lose this week to Texas Christian, and rightfully so after the Horned Frogs often did as they pleased on offense.
Texas (2-1, 1-1 Big 12) hasn’t started 3-0 since 2012. It hasn’t gone into the Red River Whatchamacallit without a loss since 2011. And the Longhorns’ first two league games don’t give much reason to think this won’t be another unsatisfying season in Austin.
Big 12. With Texas losing and Baylor stumbling in double overtime at West Virginia moments after the Longhorns’ defeat concluded, the Big 12 found itself with only one remaining undefeated team (No. 17 Oklahoma State) when no one in the conference had played more than three games.
All the caveats mentioned last week when Oklahoma tripped up still apply; a one-loss Big 12 champ could end up in the playoff anyway. But the looming return of the Big Ten and even the Pac-12 provide some assurance the league won’t be selected for the final four. Based on the evidence to date, that’s a good thing.
Pittsburgh. The Panthers got away with the so-so offense/awesome defense routine for a couple weeks, in part because no one had much of a shot running on Pat Narduzzi’s team. N.C. State didn’t bother to try too much, running on 40 percent of its snaps to predictably modest success (62 yards on 30 carries).
But the Wolfpack (2-1, 2-1 ACC) did manage to get the better of the Panthers’ secondary on multiple occasions, and by the time Emeka Emezie caught a 13-yard touchdown pass from Devin Leary with 23 seconds left, N.C. State had piled up 336 passing yards and a 30-29 lead that would stand as a winning margin.
It doesn’t finish off No. 24 Pitt (3-1, 2-1) in the chase to be the ACC’s best non-Clemson team, but picking off N.C. State at home is the sort of game the Panthers should win. Then again, it’s Pitt, which will probably make up for this by beating one (or more) of Clemson, Notre Dame and Miami later in the season.
The SEC has joined the season … and it produced a few memorable performances in its first week back on the field. They’re noted in this week’s Heisman Watch.
1. QB Trevor Lawrence, Clemson; 519 yards, four TDs passing. A bye week only helped Lawrence inch ever closer to the one-year anniversary of his last interception (last Oct. 19 against Louisville). This week’s assignment for Lawrence and the No. 1 Tigers: Playing host to Virginia, which picked off five passes from Duke last week. (Last week: 1)
2. QB K.J. Costello, Mississippi State; 623 yards, five TDs, 2 INT passing. The heyday of Heisman voters being utterly dazzled by silly numbers created by pass-happy systems came and went 30 years ago, though silly numbers created by pass-happy systems don’t really hurt, either. Enter Costello, the graduate transfer from Stanford who shredded LSU in his first game playing for Mike Leach. (LW: Not ranked)
3. QB D’Eriq King, Miami; 736 yards, six TDs passing; 157 yards, 1 TD rushing. The graduate transfer had little trouble dissecting Florida State and helping the No. 8 Hurricanes improve to 3-0. He has yet to throw an interception and has completed 67 percent of his passes. (LW: 3)
4. QB Kyle Trask, Florida; 416 yards, six TDs passing. Trask was probably a bit underappreciated last season, when he threw for 2,941 yards, 25 TDs and seven interceptions. He efficiently tore up Mississippi in the Gators’ season opener, and could be in the conversation so long as No. 3 Florida remains in the playoff hunt. (LW: Not ranked)
5. QB Sam Ehlinger, Texas; 688 yards, 10 TDs, 1 INT passing; 81 yards, 1 TD rushing. The Longhorn senior has tossed five touchdown passes in back-to-back games to open the season. Texas needed all of them to muster a wild comeback and defeat Texas Tech 63-56 in overtime in its Big 12 opener. (LW: 2)
6. TE Kyle Pitts, Florida. A tight end isn’t going to win the Heisman — one hasn’t even cracked the top 10 since Notre Dame’s Ken MacAfee finished third in 1977 — but it’s still worth saluting Pitts’ monster opening week. He caught eight passes for 170 yards and four touchdowns as the Gators handled Mississippi 51-35. (LW: Not ranked)