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If you're gonna overreact to Week 1, do so in praise of Notre Dame and Texas A&M

College football's opening weekend gave us good and bad surprises when it comes to a bunch of Playoff contenders.

Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

We can't help ourselves. We know better after a sample size of one, but we jump from bandwagon to bandwagon in the opening weekend. Team A is clearly not a conference contender. Player B obviously doesn't have it. Coach C is definitely on the hot seat now.

Such is life when we've been waiting eight months to see real football. While our conclusions may not be all that smart right now, we can still register surprise. Here are some units and players who surprised us (well, me) in Week 1 of 2015.

Happy surprises!

Texas A&M defense

Perhaps the most encouraging part of Texas A&M's 38-17 win over Arizona State is that the ASU offense had its sharp moments. This wasn't a "dominant defense shuts down incompetent offense" story.

ASU backs Demario Richard and D.J. Foster combined for 86 rushing yards and 75 receiving yards, and on ASU's two sustained scoring drives, Sun Devil quarterback Mike Bercovici completed seven of 11 passes for 105 yards and rushed four times for 35 yards. The problem was, when ASU was playing at anything other than a high level, A&M was devastating.

Arizona State's three scoring drives encompassed 149 yards (6.8 per play); in the Sun Devils' other 14 possessions, they gained 142 yards (2.4 per play). Bercovici was sacked nine times in 50 pass attempts and, per the official box score, was hurried five more times. Ends Myles Garrett (two sacks, three hurries) and Daeshon Hall (four sacks) were absolutely ridiculous.

New Aggie defensive coordinator John Chavis headed into this season as one of the most-watched assistants in college football. If he could turn A&M's defense into one that resembled previous iterations of his LSU unit, the Aggies could become SEC contenders. But the Aggies were so miserable last year, particularly against the run, that the bar was still low.

The first test of a given semester doesn't always tell the entire tale, but Chavis aced it. This looked like a Chavis defense, with fast ends creating havoc, linebackers cleaning up messes, and a nasty nickel back (Donovan Wilson, who had two sacks, two forced fumbles, and a pass break-up) creating a rip tide.

Now comes the hype. A&M should have more than enough athleticism to plow through Ball State and Nevada, but the real test will come at Jerry World on September 26. A&M's glaring weakness was run defense in 2014, and while the Aggies were able to contain a mediocre ASU run game (70th in Rushing S&P+ in 2014), we'll see what they can do against Arkansas' snowplow.

Notre Dame offense

As Spencer Hall put it Sunday, "Texas was supposed to have a defense, though, and the Irish took 38 points and 527 yards off them without apparent effort."

That Notre Dame's defense was able to destroy Texas' offense was encouraging but wasn't a complete surprise; that the Irish were able to move through the Longhorns' defense like a knife through a medium rare steak, though? That was awfully impressive. They created scoring opportunities on seven of their first 10 possessions, gained at least 20 yards in every FAILED possession (which led to a healthy field position advantage until the game was out of reach), and generally lived up to every ounce of hype I feared was out of their reach.

We were jumping to a lot of conclusions about quarterback Malik Zaire after one decent performance against LSU. But it wasn't hard to see why head coach Brian Kelly chose him over veteran Everett Golson. Zaire wasn't asked to show many passing chops last year, but he completed 19 of 22 passes for 313 yards against the demoralized Horns. Will Fuller (seven catches, 142 yards, two scores) went crazy, but four others each caught a pass of at least 17 yards.

The combination of Zaire's run threat and an improving running situation (the foursome of C.J. Prosise, Josh Adams, Dexter Williams, and the since-lost-to-injury Tarean Folston combined for 35 carries and 190 yards) opened up passing opportunities downfield, and Zaire took complete advantage.

Texas lost at least a couple of key players at every level of the defense, from tackle Malcom Johnson up front to corner Quandre Diggs on the edge. Four of six linebackers were gone, too. But even though blue-chip freshman LB Malik Jefferson (7.0 tackles, 2.5 for loss) looked the part, Texas' defense was confused and outmatched. And Zaire was more than capable of exploiting every leak.


Josh Rosen

We are so predictable in the way we heap unfair hype on young quarterbacks. Even when hinting at massive potential, they are going to make mistakes and hold their team back.

As a change of pace for starter Kyle Allen, Texas A&M's blue-chip freshman Kyler Murray showed off incredible agility in rushing six times for 69 yards, but he also completed four of nine passes and threw a pretty poor pick into double coverage. Missouri's Drew Lock completed six of 10 passes for 138 yards and a touchdown while spelling Maty Mauk but also took a sack and threw at least once into double coverage.

UCLA's Josh Rosen will make mistakes. But in his first college start, against a not-awful Virginia defense, he was nearly perfect. He completed 80 percent of his passes at 12.5 yards per completion, with three touchdowns and no picks. Virginia didn't even break up a pass. He spread the ball around; 11 different players caught a pass, and only two caught more than three. After throwing an incompletion on his first play, he completed 16 of his next 17 passes.

If we're picking nits, he did take ... a sack. But even then, he only lost one yard, and on the next play, he hit Eldridge Massington for 17 yards on third-and-14. And his final snap of the game resulted in a 19-yard loss, but that was the center's fault -- a wild snap turned third-and-2 into fourth-and-21 and a missed 50-yard field goal.

Rosen will be tested soon. After a tuneup against UNLV, UCLA will host BYU on September 19; the Cougars sacked Nebraska's Tommy Armstrong Jr. three times and picked him off once. And by mid-October, Rosen will have also faced Arizona, Arizona State, and Stanford.

Still, this was a ridiculous debut, and it perhaps confirmed UCLA's spot atop the Pac-12 South totem pole.


  • Arkansas' downfield passing. Arkansas' offense stalled out at times in 2014, in part because of a lack of big plays. But against a salty UTEP, Brandon Allen completed 14 of 18 passes for a whopping 308 yards and four touchdowns.
  • West Virginia's defense. We knew the pass defense was solid. But while Georgia Southern was missing quarterback Kevin Ellison, backup Favian Upshaw had shown enough to suggest the Eagles would move the ball. Not so much. Upshaw went 2-for-13 with four interceptions, and GS averaged only 3.4 yards per carry.

Worrisome surprises

Auburn's offense

Maybe we'll look back on this and realize that this was a sign that Louisville's defense is for real. But for now, I'm going to call Auburn's offensive output against the Cardinals -- 5.3 yards per play, three turnovers -- a concern.

Granted, injuries limited Auburn's top two running backs, Roc Thomas and Jovon Robinson, to eight carries.

And granted, the Tigers didn't have to do a lot. Thanks to Will Muschamp's opportunistic defense, Auburn built a 17-0 lead without taking all of the plastic wrap off of the offense. The first drive started at Louisville's 26 thanks to an interception, and the defense returned a fumble for a touchdown in the second quarter.

But Jeremy Johnson's debut at quarterback wasn't encouraging: 11-for-21 for 137 yards, a touchdown, and three picks (and he was lucky it wasn't closer to four or five picks), plus five carries for only 11 yards. And including Thomas' and Robinson's output, Auburn running backs still averaged 4.9 yards per carry -- decent, but not Auburn-strong. With Louisville's offense gaining steam late, Auburn's O was only able to help the defense so much. A six-minute, fourth-quarter touchdown drive was sandwiched by an interception and a three-and-out.

If expectations weren't so high, this wouldn't be much of a concern. Louisville's defense might be good, and the Cardinals might end up contending in the ACC if they can figure out a stable quarterback situation. But for a supposed title contender, there were red flags.

Tennessee's pass defense

I was far more concerned about Tennessee's offense than its defense. And against a Bowling Green defense that was admittedly awful last year (106th in Def. S&P+), the Vols dominated. Josh Dobbs averaged 8.7 yards per pass attempt, and the combination of Alvin Kamara and Jalen Hurd (38 carries, 267 yards) lived up to the five-star recruiting rankings.

The defense, however, struggled more than I anticipated. You're going to give up yards to Bowling Green because of the tempo, but on a per-play basis, BGSU's output was surprising. Quarterback Matt Johnson averaged 15.7 yards per completion and completed nine passes of 20-plus yards.

Between the sudden suspension of defensive backs coach Willie Martinez and injuries to safeties LaDarrell McNeil (lost in fall camp) and Todd Kelly Jr. (played but was limited), communication in the back of the defense was not nearly what it had been. And maybe with Martinez back and Kelly healthier, all will be well. But the Vols have a lot to fix between now and when Oklahoma's suddenly prolific pass offense hits Knoxville this Saturday.

USC's offensive line

It's hard to worry too much about the Trojan attack following a 55-6 win over a decent Arkansas State. USC averaged 8 yards per play, a trio of running backs (Tre Madden, Ronald Jones II, and Aca'Cedric Ware) rushed for 220 yards in 24 carries, quarterback Cody Kessler completed 73 percent of his passes, and JuJu Smith-Schuster passed his first test as go-to receiver (four targets, four catches, 89 yards). After scoring just once on their first four possessions, the Trojans scored on seven of their final 11.

Still ... Kessler was sacked five times, two and a half times by freshman linebacker Tajhea Chambers. That's nothing if not a red flag. USC's line ranked in the 50s in both Adj. Line Yards (54th) and Adj. Sack Rate (56th) last year, but the Trojans returned six players with a combined 99 career starts up front, so improvement was expected.

Maybe this was a glitch, but it's something to keep an eye on, especially as Stanford, Arizona State, Notre Dame, and Utah come up.

Of course, I think I may have found the problem:

In fairness, I would make an atrocious line coach.


  • Oregon's defense. Eastern Washington's offense is pretty awesome every year, with or without quarterback Vernon Adams (who transferred from EWU to Oregon). But allowing 549 yards (6.4 per play) and 42 points, even in an easy win, is alarming.
  • Boise State's offense. Washington's defense was replacing almost all of a good front seven, so this seemed like an opportunity for Boise State to establish a nice rhythm. But after scoring touchdowns on two long drives early, the Bronco attack dried up. In their final 10 possessions, they averaged only 3.3 yards per play, and a 13-0 lead turned into a narrow 16-13 win.