Rolled Tide, Chip Ahoy!, and the Miserable Vols: The Week in College Football
Auburn has provided the blueprint for beating Alabama and it could leave Nick Saban on the outside looking in for the Playoff picture.
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
Welcome back to The Weekend in College Football, VICE Sports' new column. Each week, we'll take you through everything you missed on Saturday (or, God forbid, Friday night), the things worth learning, and look ahead to what happens next. Enjoy.
1st and 10
Auburn hadn’t won an Iron Bowl by 12 or more points since 1969. Alabama hadn’t lost a game by double digits since the end of the 2013 season. These are streaks too improbable to go on forever and, on Saturday afternoon, both got snapped in the same game.
The main storyline here is the glimmer of possibility that, finally, Alabama might be left out of the College Football Playoff. The very idea of it is borderline unthinkable, because Nick Saban has made his bones off unrelenting consistency. And yet, against their arch-rival in the biggest game of the season, the Tide were scattershot. That was especially true on offense, where the running backs took too few touches, the passing game was halting, and the center somehow botched back-to-back snaps in a crucial fourth-quarter possession.
None of those things, on their own, lost Alabama the football game. In fact, they were concomitant to Auburn controlling the ball for more than 36 minutes of gameplay. Alabama’s offense had neither the time nor the opportunity to ease into a genuine rhythm.
The Tigers weren’t the first team to conjure up such a strategy; Texas A&M and Mississippi State, heretofore the teams that came closest to defeating the Tide, also beat Alabama in time of possession. But neither of those schools boasted a running back as dynamic as Kerryon Johnson, nor a quarterback who completed 75 percent of his passes the way Jarrett Stidham did on Saturday. Nor, for that matter, did they force Alabama into depending so heavily on Jalen Hurts to deliver a win, the sort of mandate that none of Saban’s best teams ever placed on the quarterback.
Auburn did more than just defeat Alabama on Saturday afternoon. They revealed a blueprint for how everyone else plausibly could, too. And if Wisconsin and Oklahoma win their respective conference title games this weekend, Alabama will effectively be ruled out of playoff contention, giving Saban a longer off-season than anyone imagined to figure out a way to thwart the one game plan that has his number.
2nd and 8
At least the Tide got beat by a great team. Second-ranked Miami, meanwhile, didn’t even lose to a good one.
This was pretty straightforward. The Hurricanes’ best performances this season usually coincided with a strong game by its lead running back, be it Mark Walton before his season-ending injury or his understudy, Travis Homer. The Panthers took that away entirely, holding Homer and third-stringer DeeJay Dallas to 16 yards on ten combined carries.
That made it incumbent on Malik Rosier to win the game with his arm, which is about the last place Miami wants to be. Rosier is college football’s J.R. Smith, blessed with everything necessary to produce the spectacular but not the capacity to reliably call upon it. When he’s on, Rosier fires footballs through pinholes and outruns defenders. This is the Rosier who incinerated Syracuse and gamely helped the Hurricanes weather a late-game storm—weather puns!—against Georgia Tech and stole a victory over Florida State.
But Rosier is also a first-year starter who is only completing 55 percent of his passes on the year and who hasn’t eclipsed 210 yards passing in a game since October. That is the Rosier who showed up in Pittsburgh on Friday.
The junior looked so rudderless that Mark Richt even briefly benched him in favor of backup Evan Shirreffs, only to soon return Rosier to the field after Shirreffs was even more helpless. Rosier’s final line—15 of 34 for 187 yards and a 29.7 QBR—was well short of what Miami needed to keep this game respectable. It could also be a dangerous harbinger for next week’s ACC title game against Clemson, which features arguably the most disruptive defensive line in the country.
Clip of the Week
Bronze: Behold, a very fast white boy. This is SMU wide receiver Trey Quinn, who since transferring from LSU has become the most prolific receiver in the country’s seventh-ranked offense. Plays like this are why: one juke, one cut, and 77 yards down the sideline in the Mustangs’ win over Tulane.
Silver: Game-winning kick return? Game-winning kick return. USF’s Quinton Flowers (more on him later) was indisputably the star of Friday’s barn-burning USF-UCF game, but the best play belongs to UCF’s Mike Hughes. With 1:29 remaining in the game, the junior defensive back weaved throughout the middle of the field and ran 95 yards to give the Knights a thrilling victory in the war for I-4.
Gold: In most years, a Florida-Florida State matchup would safely reign as the game of the week in the Sunshine State. In 2017, it was the underwhelming encore to UCF-USF.
But credit Florida cornerback Duke Dawson for a truly sublime bit of entertainment. It began innocently enough, with Florida State quarterback James Blackmon’s pass slipping out of receiver Auden Tate’s hands. Tate is pulled to the ground by Florida cornerback Marco Wilson, and that’s when this gets weird. First, the ball bounces off Wilson’s back. Then, it ricochets off Tate’s leg. Dawson is the beneficiary, as the ball pops right into his waiting arms to complete one of the weirdest interceptions of the season.
3rd and 1
Welcome back, Chip Kelly, who became the latest and by far the most high-profile coach to attempt to resuscitate UCLA football.
This is an undeniable coup for the Bruins, who abruptly fired Jim Mora Jr. and enlisted the aid of mega-booster Casey Wasserman to recruit the hottest and most proven name on the market. And, for the first time in a very long time, crosstown rival USC has reason to be wary.
Make no mistake, the Trojans have a significant head start on talent and nothing short of a monumental collapse will change that. USC is simply too entrenched historically and, with a Pac-12 title in sight, once again too successful for anyone to consistently beat them head-to-head for key recruits in Southern California. But there’s also plenty of other talent to go around and Kelly proved at Oregon that he doesn’t need the absolute best players to succeed. He’ll get his difference-makers, and if Kelly is the same coach he was five years ago, he’ll enjoy a massive schematic advantage over Clay Helton.
If he’s not, and the rest of the game has caught up to the schemes he made famous? Then it’s more of the same, which only reaffirms that UCLA made the right choice to shoot for the moon and hire him. For the first time since at least the 1990s, UCLA employs a more highly-regarded football coach than USC. There’s only upside in whatever comes next.
On the Tennessee job. No matter the merits of Tennessee deciding to abandon its courtship of Greg Schiano to fill their vacant head coaching position, both the way it was handled and the plethora of other vacancies should make every buzzworthy candidate cast a wary eye at taking the job in Knoxville.
The program has a losing record over the past decade. The new athletic director’s job may already be at risk. The fanbase is at a collective breaking point, and the University fears it enough to capitulate after only a few hours of very loud tweets and phone calls. (And, no, I’m not gullible enough to believe that Schiano’s possible involvement in the Jerry Sandusky scandal would matter one bit to the good people of Knoxville if he were a more accomplished head coach.)
The upside just isn’t there, not with the looming possibility of Florida State opening up should Jimbo Fisher inherit the Texas A&M post from Kevin Sumlin. Tennessee has the tradition, talent base, and resources to be a very good job—in a vacuum. In reality, the environment is too toxic for a strong candidate to risk his career on fumigating.
Player Who Deserves to Be Paid This Week
Here’s where we talk about Flowers, the USF quarterback who delivered what might be the best quarterbacked game of the season. The senior from Miami threw for a school-record 503 yards as part of a school-record 605 total yards, and accounted for five total touchdowns. No matter the eventual outcome, that ought to merit a fat check in his bank account.
Coach Who Does Not
In a weekend rife with coaching turnover, let’s give what might be a final farewell for Mike Riley, whose employment status now matches this dubious award. Nebraska mercifully ended Riley’s three-year tenure as head coach one day after Iowa napalmed the once-vaunted Blackshirts defense in a 56-14 blowout. The loss dropped the Cornhuskers to 4-8, which represents the program’s worst season since 1961. Riley finishes his tenure with a 19-19 record, which is about right for a man whose primary selling point was being a standup guy. Riley told the media that while he’s open to further coaching opportunities, he’s “looking forward to being a granddaddy” after decades in the game. If this is the end, here’s to a well-earned retirement.
Obscure College Football Team Of Note
For nine gruesome weeks, the Georgia Southern Eagles could not win a game. They lost blowouts (52-17 to Indiana) and squeakers (21-17 to Georgia State) alike. New Hampshire shut them out in the first half of Week 2 (Final score: 22-12, Wildcats). UMass poured on 48 points in the first half of Week 7 (Final score: 55-20, Minutemen). They scored three measly points in the final three quarters of their Week 9 loss to Appalachian State (Final score: 27-6, Mountaineers), at which point anyone left on the bandwagon would have been well within their rights to hop all the way off. Things were bleak.
And then, with no warning whatsoever, the Eagles struck back. In Week 10, they annihilated South Alabama 52-0, in which they scored more points than their previous three games combined. This past weekend, they edged Louisiana-Lafayette 34-24 to put them on a two-game winning streak. If they defeat Coastal Carolina in this weekend’s season finale, then the entire season will be comprised of two streaks. It won’t be the best season, it will be remarkable nevertheless.
Something to Look Forward To
Conference title games! You’ll be hard-pressed to find a bad matchup among the Power Five conferences, each of which offer compelling plotlines.
Can Auburn knock down Georgia again, or will the Bulldogs avenge their only loss of the season? Which ACC power, defending national champion Clemson or resurgent Miami, will eliminate the other from playoff contention? Will Wisconsin defeat Ohio State to complete a perfect regular season? Does USC play to its potential and win the Pac-12 for the first time since 2008, or will its luck run out after too many close calls this season? How much, if any, defense will be played between Oklahoma and TCU?
That’s without getting the best of the rest, which includes an intriguing Conference USA title game between the exciting North Texas Mean Green and Lane Kiffin’s Florida Atlantic Owls, who are undefeated in conference play.
Top to bottom, it’s the deepest week of the season, so get ready for a worthy finale to the regular season.