Ohio State was without three explosive weapons for this game in Jalin Marshall, Dontre Wilson, and Corey Smith. The Buckeyes nearly gave up on running Ezekiel Elliott against Virginia Tech's anti-run front before they even started; last year's Playoff hero finished with just 11 carries, two fewer than quarterback Cardale Jones.
They also committed a couple of potentially devastating holding penalties in the first half, turning a third-and-2 into third-and-12 and a second-and-8 into second-and-18. Both drives finished with no points. And efficiency was an ongoing issue: of the nine third downs Ohio State faced, six were passing downs requiring five or more yards.
So they were upset? Did they sneak out of Blacksburg by the skin of their teeth? Nah. They gained 572 yards and won, 42-24.
Against what might be the best defense they face until the postseason, they averaged a patently absurd 10.2 yards per play. They ripped off 10 gains of 20-plus yards, only one fewer than Baylor managed against SMU. (Virginia Tech's defense: slightly better than SMU's.) Cardale Jones averaged 20.7 yards per completion, Elliott averaged 11.1 yards per carry, and in the eight times that Braxton Miller ended up with the ball in his hands (six carries, two catches), he averaged 17.5 yards per touch and scored twice.
Mercy. Just imagine what might happen when Ohio State gets these efficiency issues worked out.
The Buckeyes' full-game output was ridiculous, but it does bear mentioning that this game was very much in doubt in the third quarter. Virginia Tech quarterback Michael Brewer completed 11 of 16 passes for 156 yards and two scores, and offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler's play-calling was inspired as the Hokies overcame a dreadful start to take a 17-14 halftime lead.
It was 21-17 Ohio State when Brewer broke his collar bone. The Hokies' next five possessions, manned by backup Brendan Motley, resulted in three punts, two turnovers, and 36 yards (1.9 per play); meanwhile, the Buckeyes' lead ballooned to 42-17.
When ESPN gets it right, ESPN gets it really, really right. With no lead-in game, the Worldwide Leader's wall-to-wall coverage included Virginia Tech's famous walk into the stadium.
How could you not get pumped up with this intro?? Virginia Tech "Enter Sandman" pregame intro pic.twitter.com/kj5FYkQWCs— James Kiernan (@JamesKiernan) September 8, 2015
For 95 seconds, neither Chris Fowler nor Kirk Herbstreit said a word. We saw the bouncing crowd, the Tech players running out of the tunnel, Ohio State players entering as the Buckeye band took over for Metallica. The crowd and the bands did all the talking. It set the groove, just as last year's prolonged "Sandstorm" intro did before the season-opening Texas A&M-South Carolina game.
This should not be unique. It should not be a once-per-year experience. I wish this happened for every game. If ESPN is showing Akron-Kent State, I want to experience that, too. Granted, it is regularly impossible because of networks' continued insistence on cramming games into unrealistic windows that require you to set the DVR for an extra hour if you want to watch the fourth quarter. That means we regularly join games in progress and we get no tone.
That's a shame. Few fan experiences match "Enter Sandman," but whatever the vibe is for a game, we should get to feel it.
Pitt's James Conner rushed for 2,564 yards in his first two years on campus. He was magnificent in 2014, racking up 1,765 yards and 26 touchdowns. He was the primary reason why I thought new head coach Pat Narduzzi could find quick success in the Steel City.
His 2015 season total will end at 77 yards. He injured his knee eight carries into the season, and now he's done.
From an injuries perspective, this was perhaps the most frustrating Week 1 in memory.
- BYU's Taysom Hill, thought to be a Heisman dark horse if he could stay healthy, fractured his foot and is done for the season and, in theory, his career.
- UCLA's Eddie Vanderdoes, anchor of the Bruins' defensive line, tore knee ligaments near the end of a productive day against Virginia.
- Clemson's Mike Williams, primed for a big season as Deshaun Watson's top receiver, will miss most or all of the season after suffering a neck fracture on a diving touchdown catch.
- Kansas State's Jesse Ertz won the starting quarterback job and was almost immediately lost for the season with a knee injury.
- Notre Dame's Tarean Folston, the only Irish running back with any major experience, tore his ACL in the first quarter against Texas. Converted receiver C.J. Prosise and freshman Josh Adams did well, but depth is now pretty scary.
- Thankfully, perhaps the biggest name on the list won't miss too much time. Arizona's one-man pass rush Scooby Wright III is out for only a few weeks with a knee injury.
Can we just start the season over?
It's been easy to feel bad for Everett Golson over the last 12 months. The former Notre Dame quarterback spent most of the first half of the season dragging a half-alive Irish offense to a 6-0 start; at the season's midway point, he was on pace for 3,600 passing yards, nearly 500 rushing yards, and more than 40 combined touchdowns. But the lack of a consistent run game, combined with fumbleitis, derailed him. He finished the season with 14 interceptions and 12 fumbles (eight lost) and was benched in favor of Malik Zaire.
While hyping Zaire, it's become pretty common to talk about his superiority to Golson and his ability to avoid mistakes. And to be sure, Zaire looked the part against Texas.
Golson transferred to Florida State, looking to rebuild his reputation. Saturday was a good start. It was against Texas State, but Golson completed 19 of 25 passes (76 percent) for 302 yards and four touchdowns. With Dalvin Cook and Mario Pender (combined: 33 carries, 248 yards) giving him massive run support and a young receiving corps holding onto passes, Golson thrived. He did take two sacks but never fumbled and threw just one pass that was defensed.
Temple sacked Penn State's Christian Hackenberg 10 times in 35 pass attempts during the Owls' 27-10 win. At one point, the Owls appeared to rush just two defenders while dropping nine into coverage, and Hackenberg still barely had time to survey the field.
The Owls' defense is beyond legitimate. They ranked 16th in the country in Def. S&P+ last year and returned all 11 starters. The projected score was PSU 13, Temple 10, so the Nittany Lions' output was not a surprise. But the way it came about was jarring.
The Nittany Lions gained 123 yards in their first 14 plays, jumping to a 10-0 lead. But they would gain just 57 yards in their final 38 plays, insisting on throwing even though the ground game was working. After six carries for 90 yards in those first two possessions, they attempted 11 rushes in the final 51 minutes.
Hackenberg is a sports car, one offensive coordinator John Donovan feels he has to drive, even if the Akeel Lynch Camry (10 carries, 78 yards) works. Hackenberg had no time to find an open receiver and really had no open receivers (leading returning receiver DaeSean Hamilton: 4 targets, 1 catch, 6 yards). Once the Nittany Lions became one-dimensional, they were owl food.
There were a lot of blowouts. That's what happens when seemingly two-thirds of the country schedules SWAC teams. But you can find worthwhile information.
Perhaps the most useful blowout came in Oxford, where Ole Miss pantsed UT-Martin by a 76-3 margin. UTM isn't the cakiest of cupcakes. The Skyhawks went 6-6 last year, and their No. 161 Sagarin ranking placed them ahead of Tulsa, Kent State, and eight other FBS programs. It was a foregone conclusion that the Rebels would win, but the way they did it was still exciting.
Ole Miss running backs averaged 10.2 yards per carry. The run was a constant problem for the Rebels last year, putting quarterback Bo Wallace in constant second-and-long situations. But the sixsome of Eugene Brazley (six carries, 88 yards), D.K. Buford (four for 68), Jaylen Walton (three for 65), Akeem Judd (11 for 50), Jordan Wilkins (six for 41), and Martin Johnson (one for 3) gained 315 yards. New quarterback Chad Kelly (9-for-15, 211 yards) didn't face many awkward down-and-distance combinations.
This might mean nothing. We'll find out when Ole Miss travels to Alabama (Week 3) and Florida (Week 5) to face real defenses. But if the Rebels can run, watch out.
In his last three games as Texas' starting quarterback, Tyrone Swoopes has averaged 2.8 yards per attempt (including sacks). He is 40-for-81 for 350 yards, one touchdown, five interceptions, and nine sacks. Against Notre Dame in a 38-3 loss, he completed a lovely 48-yard bomb to freshman John Burt and otherwise went 6-for-21 for 45 yards.
One game rarely provides a reason to overreact, but when it's a direct continuation of last season, it feels like more than one game.
Texas has problems
Texas has problems
This is where I would normally try to recommend a specific change. And I've got nothing. Texas made an effort to get Swoopes more run opportunities, and not including sacks, he gained 36 yards in eight carries. Run the backs more? Texas running backs gained just 55 yards in 17 carries. Play Jerrod Heard? The former blue-chipper was sacked twice in three attempts.
Texas' line was manhandled by a Notre Dame front that was missing one of last year's biggest names, DT Jarron Jones. The Longhorns tried to establish the ground game, rushing 14 times in 20 first-down plays, and in the first half they averaged 5.9 yards per carry on first down. And they still trailed 17-0 at halftime. At some point you have to be able to pass, and even when Swoopes had time, he couldn't.
Fourteen games into the Charlie Strong era, Texas has no idea what it can to do to move the football.
Stanford had one problem in 2014. Sure, the Cardinal offense struggled when quarterback Kevin Hogan was banged up, but if they could have finished drives like a normal team, they would have had a chance at continuing a four-year streak of double-digit wins. Instead, they averaged a wretched 3.9 points per scoring opportunity (109th in the country) and finished 8-5.
I talked myself into Stanford in 2015 because I figured the defense would be good despite losing a lot of starters and that the Cardinal were unsustainably bad at finishing drives. Even if they struggled at it, they would still probably end up better. Right?
Against Northwestern, Stanford averaged two points per scoring opportunity. And that doesn't include two punts inside Northwestern territory. There was a bigger issue in this game -- the Cardinal only had three opportunities -- but if they turn those into touchdowns, they win. Instead, they fell, 16-6.
The defense held. Northwestern averaged just 4.2 yards per play, though the Wildcats were able to put the game away with a pair of fourth-quarter field goal drives.
Things started out well for the Cardinal. On their opening drive, Hogan completed four of five passes, running back Christian McCaffrey gained 33 yards in five touches, and the Cardinal kicked a field goal. From that point, they averaged 3.5 yards per play.