College Essentials - Week 3
September 14, 2018
By Tony Mejia
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Week 2 had a few fun football games that came down to the wire but lacked anything that dramatically altered the national picture. Georgia trounced South Carolina to prove it belongs with the national elite despite losing four of the first 35 picks in this past NFL draft, while USC snuffed out young Stanford.
In the most interesting result, Texas A&M pushed Clemson to the brink of an upset, coming up a two-point conversion short of forcing a title contender into OT
College football is very much about survival on the road, but the Tigers were a 12.5-point favorite and are supposed to be sounder on defense than they looked. Surprises are coming. There hasn't been a blockbuster yet. Will we get one this week?
There are a number of worthy candidates on the list below that could be knocked off, shaking up the college football world. You may not believe there will be any outright upsets, but read the following and see if you at least think it's worth it to take the points in a few of these:
Ohio State vs. TCU, 8 p.m. ET, ABC: Horned Frogs QB Shawn Robinson missed a ton of throws against SMU but did manage to create plays with his speed and elusiveness. KeVontae Turpin scored on a punt return and a touchdown catch against but needs to touch the ball more since he’s one of the Big 12’s most impressive athletes. With Robinson playing through expected growing pains, Gary Patterson will need Turpin to make life easier for his quarterback in Arlington this weekend since TCU doesn’t have the volume of playmakers that the Buckeyes bring to the table.
Urban Meyer remains suspended, serving the final game of a penalty the Buckeyes put in place after a lengthy review of a situation that could've ended far worse for him. Interim head coach Ryan Day faces his biggest challenge before handing the team back over. Having outscored his first two overmatched foes by a count of 129-34, it would be interesting to see what happens if some game pressure enters the equation for the first time since the first two games without Meyer were over by halftime. Dwayne Haskins will also be facing the fiercest defense he’s seen since taking over for J.T. Barrett, so we’ll see how he handles increased pressure. His ability to pass the ball accurately down the field has played a huge role in how explosive the Buckeyes have been and should be the x-factor here since TCU is likely to key on stopping the run.
LSU at Auburn, 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS: After an impressive debut against Miami, LSU’s Tigers coasted past FCS middleweight Southeastern Louisiana, posting an easy shutout. Auburn destroyed lightweight Alabama State 63-9, so both traditional SEC West powers enter this one confidently. After having plenty of support at AT&T Stadium against the Hurricanes and playing in Baton Rouge last week, QB Joe Burrow will face his first road atmosphere and will likely have to be more than a game manager to produce an upset since they may be a double-digit underdog by kickoff. Auburn QB Jarrett Stidham could really enhance his growing reputation as a potential Top-10 pick against a defense fueled by first-round locks in LB Devin White and corner Greedy Williams.
Boise State at Oklahoma State, 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN: The Broncos are averaging 59 points per game through their first two wins and were up 41-0 at the break last week against UConn, allowing them to apply the brakes and cruise home. They outgained the Huskies 514-78 in the first half en route to a record-setting 818 yards of offense. Receiver John Hightower, a highly-regarded JUCO transfer who doubled as a track standout, scored on a 67-yard pass and on a 55-yard run, taking an end-around to the house. Top returning WR A.J. Richardson opened the second half by taking a screen pass 74 yards. UConn is a disaster and Troy looked overwhelmed so we’ll get a better indication of what to make of the Boise offense in Stillwater since the Oklahoma State defense looks formidable.
The Cowboys are transitioning from losing Mason Rudolph and top receiver James Washington to the Steelers and saw top receivers Tylan Wallace and Tryon Johnson help new QB Taylor Cornelius throw for 428 yards against South Alabama last week. Johnson, an LSU transfer, averaged 27.4 yards per catch, while Wallace hauled in 100 balls. Top RB Justice Hill scored twice despite getting only nine carries as Mike Gundy spread out the touches for his running backs but should be the x-factor here since the increased level of competition likely guarantees a heavier workload. Boise comes in healthy after its two blowouts with corner Avery Williams expected to play through an elbow injury.
USC at Texas, 8 p.m. ET, FOX: The Trojans showed some fight in that they never collectively hung their heads but their first road trip of the season produced the program’s first touchdown-less game since a 52-6 loss to Alabama in ’16. Stanford cruised 17-3 as freshman QB J.T. Daniels struggled and didn’t hook up with top target Amon-Ra St. Brown until the fourth. Tyler Vaughns caught seven balls from Daniels, who was picked off twice and completed 47 percent of his passes. The Cardinal whipped their Pac-12 rivals up front, surrendering 3.1 yards per carry while harassing Daniels all night. Meanwhile, Tom Herman is still talking up his group and reassuring a nervous fan base that couldn’t have been thrilled with a one-score game in the home opener against a Group of Five opponent. Although the Longhorns led 21-0 at the break, Tulsa moved the ball well and sabotaged itself with drops and missed field goals. QB Sam Ehlinger was efficient despite a costly fumble and accounted for three of the four touchdowns while true freshman Keaontay Ingram found the end zone and is showing why he was regarded the top prep running back in the Lone Star State last year. Ingram did suffer a knee injury that has been diagnosed as a bone bruise, likely making him unavailable for Saturday’s showdown with USC. Ehlinger doing his best work in the fourth quarter and Cal transfer Tre Watson helping close things out were positives for a Texas team that still appears to be overrated and fragile.
Oklahoma at Iowa State, 12 p.m. ET, ABC: In last week’s rout of UCLA, the Sooners got 306 passing yards from QB Kyler Murray, who also gained 69 on the ground and accounted for five touchdowns. Unfortunately, standout RB Rodney Anderson left with a knee injury that will end his season, so TJ Pledger got some work in alongside Trey Sermon to identify the primary back going forward. The Sooners should still be formidable and remain the Big 12 favorite, but the conference opener against Iowa State got more complicated since the Cyclones bring the best defense OU has seen to date to the table for its first road test. After getting shut down by Iowa, ISU has to be concerned that it doesn’t have enough offense to hang with a high-octane Oklahoma attack, so it will need top RB David Montgomery to fare much better this week to help control possession.
Vanderbilt at Notre Dame, 2:30 p.m. ET, NBC: The Commodores went up and down the field against Nevada on Saturday but ended up scoreless in the first quarter due to a fumble and put another ball on the ground late in the half. They didn’t take control until the second half but QB Kyle Shurmur and leading returning receiver Kalija Lipscomb continued to show off great chemistry as the receiver set career-bests for catches (10) and TDs (2). Illinois transfer RB Ke’Shawn Vaughn racked up 93 yards and two scores on just 11 carries, strengthening his hold on the primary role ahead of returnees Khari Blasingame and Jamauri Wakefield but the ‘Dores are going to need them all to produce to pull off a road upset in South Bend. The Fighting Irish are 27-16 vs. SEC foes and have won both career matchups against Vandy.
Although Vanderbilt has had losing records in every one of Derek Mason's first four seasons, he's looking to start 3-0 for the second straight year and has a team that has played against plenty of quality teams in a number of difficult venues. Notre Dame Stadium shouldn't be too daunting. The 'Dores have struggled away from Nashville though, coming in 5-16 on the road under James Franklin's successor. Safety Zaire Jones will return from suspension to try and aid the Vandy cause, whlle the Irish must toil withouts suspended RB Dexter Williams, who won't return until October. In order to produce an upset, Vandy needs to continue its run of forcing timely turnovers.
Washington at Utah, 10 p.m. ET, ESPN: Wind gusts are expected to play a significant role here, which could bode well for the host Utes since they utilize a spread option run by Tyler Huntley that’s more reliant on the run than the Huskies are. That means Jake Browning-led Washington would be more impacted if the weather does limit how effective the passing game can be on Saturday. The Utes will have top running back Zack Moss in the mix despite an ankle tweak suffered in the fourth quarter of a 17-6 win over Northern Illinois. He got just 16 carries and will certainly get more so long as his wheel holds up since head coach Kyle Whittingham made it a point to say “he’s a weapon that we need to utilize a little bit more. That is on us coaches.”
The Huskies have their own brilliant back in Myles Gaskin, who has rushed for over 1,300 yards in each of his first three seasons and is now well over 4,000 career rushing yards. They’ve won 10 of 11 meetings against Utah, losing only in 2015 in Seattle, although the last two games have both been one-possession affairs. The Utes blew last year’s game with bad decisions down the stretch, surrendering 10 points in the final two-plus minutes in losing 33-30 on a last-second field goal. They’re the healthier team here since Washington lost left tackle Trey Adams to a back injury just before the season started and haven’t officially divulged whether center Nick Harris will return from an injury-related absence. Linebacker DJ Beavers (foot) is also banged up. Utah leads the country in total defense (143.5 ypg), pass defense (62.0 ypg) and yards per played allowed (2.22) while ranking second in pass efficiency defense (57.12)
Alabama at Ole Miss, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN: The Rebels have a better receiving corps that the Louisville team Alabama saw in Orlando and have 61.5 points per game, though the defense has contributed to a few of those scores. Most of the damage has been done by QB Jordan Ta’amu taking advantage of overwhelmed defensive backs via AJ Brown, DK Metcalf and DaMarkus Lodge, one of the top receiving trios in the country. Scouts are drooling at the prospect of watching them duel with the likes of Savion Smith, Trevon Diggs and special-looking freshman Patrick Surtain, Jr. and should get plenty of opportunities since the Rebs aren’t likely to be able to run the ball effectively and will likely be behind.
Although we may see Jalen Hurts, there’s no longer a QB controversy in Tusclaoosa. Tua Tagovailoa has been tremendous thus far, throwing six touchdowns and averaging 22.2 yards per completion and will presumably get most if not all or the stops with Nick Saban calling this matchup the biggest challenge the Tide has faced thus far. Last year’s game featured current Michigan QB Shea Patterson working with a very young offense that couldn’t execute in a 66-3 loss that produced the most points scored in the Saban era and the largest margin of victory for the Tide since 1979. Ole Miss had won two of three meetings prior to last season, so it was no surprise that ‘Bama took no prisoners in Tuscaloosa. It out-gained Ole Miss 613-253. The Crimson Tide come in relatively healthy, while Ole Miss will get guys like LB Kevontae' Ruggs and WR Lodge back. Unfortunately, safely Jaylon Jones is out and will definitely be missed. There's been talk of rain in the forecast, but the latest look calls for storms to stay away and stifling heat ot prevail.
Arizona State at San Diego State, 10:30 p.m. ET, CBSC: The Aztecs fell in the season opener against Stanford and then actually trailed Sacramento State last weekend before turning things around in the fourth. They had scored just 24 points through the first seven quarters and now lose senior QB Christian Chapman for 3-to-6 weeks after he sprained an MCL in the second quarter on Saturday. His run of 31 consecutive starts will end as junior backup Ryan Agnew takes over despite throwing a pair of interceptions in Chapman’s place last week. Agnew has yet to throw his first touchdown pass but is a known commodity to Arizona State defensive coordinator Danny Gonzales since he served in the same capacity at SDSU last season and was the safeties coach under Rocky Long since he took over in 2011.
Gonzales’ expertise with the Aztecs’ complicated 3-3-5 should help Arizona State’s offensive preparation but it will be interesting to see how Rocky Long’s team deals with their own defense considering they know what can be exploited most consistently. This will be a chess match that would certainly favor San Diego State at home if it wasn’t for it starting a backup quarterback. RB Juwan Washington was forced to carry 36 times just to survive the upset bid last week and will again be the primary weapon in his third game as a starter following in the footsteps of SDSU legends Donnell Pumphrey and Rashaad Penny. He’ll be facing a stingy ASU defense that will have everyone in the mix but safety Dasmond Tautalatasi, whose interception in the end zone before injuring his elbow provided a huge lift in the upset of Michigan State. Evan Fields (hamstring) returns this week and will team with redshirt senior Jalen Harvey at the Tillman safety spot named after late Sun Devils star Pat. Star receiver N’Keal Harry will be a huge problem for San Diego State’s secondary and could cause problems the way Stanford’s JJ Arcega-Whiteside managed to in the season opener. Arizona State has won just two of 10 road openers and will need senior starter Manny Wilkins to hook up with Harry to consistently move the ball.
Houston at Texas Tech, 4:15 p.m. ET, FOX: The Cougars don’t play AAC favorite UCF unless they square off in the conference championship, so this looks to be the biggest game they can count on playing since last week’s win over Arizona no longer looks as impressive as they probably thought it would before the season began. Defeating the Red Raiders may also lack shine since they’ve already dropped a game to Ole Miss and don’t figure to compete for a Big 12 title, but this will be the final Power 5 Houston can prey upon until a bowl game. Texas Tech may be down to its backup quarterback, true freshman Alan Bowman, if junior McLane Carter, the team’s most experienced option, can’t shake a high ankle sprain. Next week’s conference opener at Oklahoma State is certainly more important and West Virginia comes into Lubbock to end September, so Kliff Kingsbury could err on the side of cushion and ride with Bowman, who has thrown for 555 yards and two scores without being intercepted but has done the bulk of that work against Lamar.
Whoever starts for the Red Raiders will be dealing with All-American DT Ed Oliver and a defense that has clamped down enough to give up three or fewer points in half of their quarters this season. Texas Tech has won seven of eight in the series but will have to slow down a Houston offense that has scored 45 points in each of their wins with QB D’Eriq King accounting for 10 touchdowns. Tech may also be down its top two options at running back since senior Tre King and sophomore Da’Leon Ward have been limited and will be game-time decisions. The Red Raiders posted their first shutout in a dozen years in a 77-0 rout of Lamar, forcing four turnovers. The offense had three touchdowns called back due to penalties and the team was flagged 14 times despite being overwhelmingly dominant, so they’ve exhibited traits of a young football team learning on the job. Lightning fast freshmen Tazhawn Henry and KeSean Johnson have Houston ties and may factor in heavily against their hometown school. This should be a fun one.
Others to watch: Florida State at Syracuse, Duke at Baylor, BYU at Wisconsin, Missouri at Purdue, Miami, FL at Toledo, Fresno State at UCLA, Middle Tennessee at Georgia, Georgia Tech at Pitt
Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA or e-mail him at email@example.com
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