HomeWorld NewsThe SEC powers don’t look all too powerful in a surprisingly chaotic Week 3
The SEC powers don’t look all too powerful in a surprisingly chaotic Week 3
September 17, 2023
David Hale, ESPN Staff WriterSep 16, 2023, 11:20 PM ET
There are just three weeks of college football in the books, so it’s entirely too early to pen a eulogy for the SEC, but Saturday offered some motivation for commissioner Greg Sankey to at least pull his dark suit out of the closet and make sure it still fits.
In Athens, the two-time defending champion Georgia Bulldogs went to the half trailing unranked South Carolina 14-3. Georgia rebounded, but through three games, this hardly seems like the same dominant force we’ve come to expect.
In soggy Tampa, Florida, mighty Alabama, fresh off a shocking loss to Texas, went to the half tied at 3 with lowly USF. The Tide prevailed, but the QB room is in chaos, and coach Nick Saban doesn’t seem to have an answer.
In a rollicking Gainesville, upstart Tennessee saw its long-shot playoff status evaporate at the mercy of a suddenly magical Graham Mertz. Tennessee and Florida both now have a loss, as do LSU and Texas A&M.
None of this was supposed to happen. Saturday was set to be a snooze fest, a week without a single ranked-vs.-ranked matchup and a host of lopsided point spreads. Instead, the SEC’s power players nearly sleepwalked into oblivion.
Georgia came to life in the second half against the Gamecocks, with walk-on Cash Jones putting the game on ice with a 13-yard touchdown run midway through the fourth quarter. Perhaps in the absence of Stetson Bennett, the Bulldogs just needed another underdog story to jump-start their season. Still, three weeks into the season, Carson Beck has just three touchdown throws — none of them to Brock Bowers. It’s entirely possible this is just a new offense working through some trial-and-error adjustments, and it certainly wouldn’t be out of character for the Bulldogs to bide their time and step on the gas only when absolutely needed. The schedule doesn’t indicate those moments will come frequently, and yet, it’d be more reassuring if Georgia would deliver at least one true act of aggression, dominating an opponent and stealing its lunch money.
For Alabama, the whispers about the end of a dynasty have grown to an audible murmur. Last week’s loss to Texas was a cause for concern, of course, but barely cracking 100 passing yards against USF is something far more unsettling. They say a team that has two quarterbacks actually has none, which makes Alabama’s situation at least 50% worse than that. Saban benched Jalen Milroe with a clear eye toward determining whether Alabama had an effective Plan B or C on the shelf. Instead, he opened the cupboard to find some expired tuna and a half-empty box of Triscuits.
For Tennessee, Joe Milton‘s arm was supposed to be the magic elixir that allowed the Vols’ offense to keep piling up points in 2023, but behind a line that couldn’t block and with a receiving corps that couldn’t get open downfield, it was like casting Taylor Swift in a mime act. (Actually, we’d watch that.)
When the dust settles, Georgia will still be atop the AP poll, and Alabama, LSU and others still have genuine playoff hopes, even if the road ahead is winding. Perhaps this is all prologue to the real drama that awaits. But the vibes of Week 3 were all off, like Dreamland dousing their ribs in vinegar sauce. It’s just not how things are done here.
And if this is indeed a new era of college football, when the power is all out west and the SEC is simply holding on for dear life — well, it’s probably time to start building that bunker and stocking up on canned goods. We don’t want to know what awaits in that future.
FSU escapes BC
It was a noon kickoff, which in late September in Boston is the perfect setting for a James Taylor ballad and a BC upset.
It was the Eagles’ annual Red Bandana game, a chance to honor Boston College graduate Welles Crowther, who saved more than a dozen lives by sacrificing his own on 9/11.
It was supposed to be a tune-up for No. 3 Florida State, a game against battered BC to pad the stats before a potentially season-defining trip to Clemson in Week 4.
It was a trap so diabolical, it could’ve been the plot of a “Saw” sequel. And for all the obvious dangers, Florida State managed to trip over its own shoelaces and fall face-first into quicksand.
DJ Lundy follows up INT with a rushing TD for FSU
DJ Lundy can do it all as he hauls in an impressive interception, then bulldozes into the end zone on the ensuing drive to give the Seminoles a 31-10 lead.
Yes, FSU ultimately prevailed 31-29 to keep its national title hopes alive, but along the way, the two teams traded jabs — or, more often, bullets to their own feet, and the Seminoles secured the win only after Boston College delivered one final self-own.
But let’s not skip too far ahead.
The game began in sleepy Chestnut Hill with BC jumping out to a 10-3 lead, stunning a groggy FSU. It felt entirely similar to the biggest test FSU’s last national title team faced back in 2013, when a trip to BC began with a quick 17-3 deficit. In that game, Jameis Winston rallied the Seminoles, who dominated the second half en route to a 48-34 win.
On Saturday, Jordan Travis attempted to do the same, and by the time Eagles fans found their seats after halftime, the Noles were up 31-10.
Crisis averted. Bring on the Tigers. Except, BC had other ideas.
An Eagles touchdown was followed by a fumble return for a score and a dynamic 95-yard TD drive, and suddenly BC was within two with 4:37 to play.
If Florida State seemed intent on giving the game away, however, BC was all too happy to take the gift, rewrap it, and hand it right back.
Boston College finished the game with 18 penalties. The Eagles were flagged for offsides, false starts, personal fouls, cutting those “do not remove” tags off their mattresses and just about every other infraction an official could dream up. But it was the 18th penalty that proved the final dagger.
Lawrance Toafili was pushed out of bounds for a 4-yard gain on third-and-7 with just under a minute to play. BC had a chance to get the ball back and win the game. But a face mask flag gave FSU 15 yards and a first down, sealing the game — a mistake so costly and yet so predictable that BC coach Jeff Hafley proceeded to walk into Boston Harbor, never to be seen again. (Probably.)
For Florida State, it was a classic trap-game performance, one replete with miscues, mental mistakes and a terror-inducing injury to Travis, who appeared to hurt his left arm before the half — though he later returned and finished 212 passing yards and two touchdowns.
For Boston College, it was a golden opportunity that slipped through its fingers like a buttered lobster tail.
In other words, it was misery for both sides.
This, of course, is the beauty of those sleepy Saturday mornings in late September. On paper, they’re all sweet dreams and flying machines, but by mid-afternoon, contenders and afterthoughts alike can be left in pieces.
Real or not?
In a week with no ranked-vs.-ranked matchups, it’s worth checking in with a few teams sitting pretty at 3-0 that haven’t truly been tested yet. Are they playoff contenders or paper tigers? Let’s find out.
The Nittany Lions got off to a slow start against Illinois but were never in any real trouble and ultimately won 30-13. Penn State has been favored by at least 14 in every game and covered each spread. Drew Allar has been good if not representing a seismic shift from the Sean Clifford era. The defense has allowed just 35 points so far this season.
Playoff contender? Probably. Penn State has a ton of talent, but we’ll know a lot more after next week’s showdown with Iowa in which the first team to two might win.
The Buckeyes’ offense was lackluster in each of its first two games — both easy though unremarkable wins — and it looked to be trending in the same direction early against Western Kentucky on Saturday. But after WKU pulled to within four midway through the second quarter, Ohio State seemed to get things figured out. Kyle McCord threw for 318 yards and three touchdowns, Marvin Harrison Jr. had a breakout performance with 126 yards and a score, and the Buckeyes won 63-10.
Playoff contender? Absolutely. Ohio State simply didn’t want to put anything on tape that suspended Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh could dissect during his down time. Of course, Harbaugh wasn’t watching Ohio State film anyway. He was busy finishing his fan fiction sequel to “Fred Claus.”
The Sooners lost four of their last five in 2022, but those memories have been wiped amid a hot start to 2023. Oklahoma thrashed Tulsa 66-17 on Saturday behind five touchdown passes from Dillon Gabriel. Through three games, Oklahoma has outscored its opposition 167-28.
Playoff contender? Not yet. Go back to the start of 2022, and things didn’t look much different than they do now. Oklahoma opened last season 3-0 with blowout wins vs. UTEP, Kent State and Nebraska, too. The good news for the Sooners this time around is they won’t go into Week 4 with the Nebraska curse attached to them.
After a slow start, the Irish cruised to a 41-17 win over Central Michigan on Saturday. Sam Hartman threw for 330 yards and three touchdowns, and in his four-game Irish career, he’s now accounted for 15 touchdowns and no picks.
Playoff contender? Check back next month. Notre Dame is 4-0 with each win coming by at least 21 points, but the real test comes next week with a home date against Ohio State. That’s followed by games against 3-0 Duke, 3-0 Louisville and 3-0 USC. If the Irish can come out of that gauntlet looking strong, they’ll certainly have a resume worth considering.
The Huskies are 3-0 after demolishing Michigan State on Saturday, and their average margin of victory is about 603. (We rounded up.) Michael Penix Jr. has thrown for 400 yards in all three games this season. Supposedly Washington also has running backs, but no one’s bothered to look for them, so who knows?
Playoff contender? An outside shot. Oh, Washington has a star QB, puts up a ton of points, beats bad teams in blowouts and is highly ranked? Welcome to the Pac-12 (for the next five months anyway). The depth of the league makes the likelihood that any one team survives the season largely unscathed unlikely.
Life without Harbaugh has gone more or less as expected. The Wolverines beat Bowling Green Falcons 31-6 on Saturday, and they have outscored their opposition 96-16 so far. Like a nice pair of khakis, it’s been entirely effective and without a semblance of excitement.
Playoff contender? Sure, but they’ve got Rutgers on deck, and that’s where the real work begins.
The Scarlet Knights are 3-0 and have allowed just 30 points so far. Rutgers beat the Virginia Tech Hokies 35-16 on Saturday despite passing for just 46 yards.
Playoff contender? Heck, yeah. Let’s get weird.
Down goes K-State
If FSU managed to elude disaster, Kansas State wasn’t so lucky.
Brady Cook threw for 356 yards and accounted for three touchdowns, and Harrison Mevis booted a 61-yard field goal as time expired to give Missouri a 30-27 win over the 15th-ranked Wildcats.
Missouri’s win came in spite of a woeful 3-of-13 performance on third down, a missed 53-yard kick by Mevis in the first half, and a delay of game flag before the final kick when Eli Drinkwitz was too slow getting his field goal unit onto the field.
Still, after the kick skirted just over the crossbar, Missouri fans rushed the field — marking the best rushing performance the Tigers have had since 2019.
Missouri fans storm field after kicker drills 61-yard game winner
Missouri kicker Harrison Mevis connects from 61 yards out to win it vs. No. 15 Kansas State.
Thanks to its defense, Iowa had touchdown drives of 25, 53, 17 and 33 yards.
Aided by a final TD with 30 seconds to play, the Hawkeyes scored enough to raise their season average to a whopping 28.3 points per game, putting Ferentz safely into the “Do not fire” tier of assistant coaches.
And that, friends, is Iowa B-I-N-G-O.
Oh, and there’s only one proper way to celebrate hitting Iowa B-I-N-G-O.
Cyclones get robbed
For teams from the state of Iowa, points are like a lunar eclipse. They happen a few times a year, but they’re still rare enough to bring the whole family out into the backyard to gawk.
So it seemed entirely unfair that, when Iowa State had appeared to put three points on the board midway through the fourth quarter, some visually-challenged officials flubbed the call.
What looked like a clearly successful field goal was ruled a miss, and Iowa State ended up losing to Ohio 10-7.
It was the Cyclones’ 10th loss in their past 11 games vs. FBS opponents, and they’ve averaged 11.2 points per game in those 10 losses.
Under-the-radar play of the week
We celebrate all touchdowns by men over 300 pounds here, and Oregon State delivered a beauty on Saturday.
Beavers QB DJ Uiagalelei took the snap, rolled to his right, then tossed back across the field to 305-pound offensive lineman Joshua Gray, who then rumbled 10 yards into the end zone.
Big man TD! Oregon State offensive lineman chugs into end zone
Oregon State runs some misdirection as DJ Uiagalelei rolls to the right and finds Joshua Gray wide open on the left side for a touchdown.
Under-the-radar game of the week
The Backyard Brawl is among the great rivalries in college football, but with West Virginia and Pitt both carrying a loss, there was limited enthusiasm for this year’s installment.
But overlooking a rivalry game between one fan base that thinks French fries are a salad and another that thinks grain alcohol is a condiment would be a mistake.
What the Panthers and Mountaineers played Saturday was less a football game than a staring contest. The two teams combined to complete just six passes in the first half. Neither offense had anything resembling an effective game plan. The Benny’s Pizza Challenge has a better completion percentage than Pitt QB Phil Jurkovec at this point.
In other words, it was a thing of beauty.
Neither team threw for 100 yards. Neither team tallied 250 total yards. Both teams looked as if they’d been transported onto the field from 1936 in some sort of strange “Quantum Leap” scenario.
The final score — West Virginia 17, Pitt 6 — felt entirely too normal for a game that was so perfectly unpleasant, but that’s what makes the Backyard Brawl so great. To simply look at the box score is to only partially understand how brutal it is. Like the answering machine scene in “Swingers,” you really have to watch it to fully appreciate just how bad it can get.