This was the best defense Alabama would see all season, and the Crimson Tide still tallied more than 500 yards of offense, as they’ve done in every game so far.
LSU’s offense was never going to be mistaken for high octane, but the Tigers do play power football and have run the ball well all season. But Bama’s defense looked like a vintage product, holding LSU to a woeful 12 yards on the ground.
This was the test, maybe the only test before the SEC championship game, and Alabama passed with flying colors, dominating in every facet and silencing all those folks who ridiculed its schedule in hopes of finding any reason to think the juggernaut could be stopped.
“We wanted to make a little bit of a statement too, with people complaining about our schedule,” Nick Saban said afterward.
The statement Alabama made on Statement Saturday: We’ll wash down our rat poison with a little Abita and crawfish étouffée.
All the praise heaped upon Alabama proved undeniably true Saturday, with Tua Tagovailoa bettering Greedy Williams, Damien Harris pummeling the LSU front, and the defense allowing a season-low 196 yards to go with five sacks. Heck, LSU actually played pretty well, all things considered. But a pretty good performance means you can keep it within 30.
Sure, we can point to Tagovailoa’s gimpy knee that is likely to keep a few Alabama fans up at night. Or we could note that the Tide could turn those 576 yards into just 29 points. Or, because it’s fun to do every year, we could contend that Bama still doesn’t have a reliable kicking game. And all of that would be true (and appreciated by Saban), but none of it comes close to overshadowing what’s patently obvious: This team is as good as it gets.
As for statements made outside of Baton Rouge…
Clemson: Alabama isn’t alone.
The love for the Crimson Tide is deserved, but as we look for any potential path for someone else to win a national championship, the clear answer here is Clemson. The Tigers moved to 9-0 and have won their last four games by a combined score of 240-36. They hung 77 on Louisville on Saturday with Trevor Lawrence throwing for just 49 yards. At this rate, Dabo Swinney’s wife and dog are going to get some red-zone carries in garbage time.
Notre Dame: Shrug emoji.
The Irish won again, a 10-point road victory against a solid Northwestern team. That’s good. But like the Pitt game a few weeks back, it took a while for Ian Book to get going (though he finished with a stellar line of 399 yards and three TDs), and the ground game amounted to next to nothing (26 carries for 76 yards from the backs). Clearly the committee was less than impressed with Notre Dame’s body of work before the game, and this was another performance that felt mediocre but ended in a win. It shouldn’t be so hard to get excited about this team.
Georgia: Jim Chaney learned from the LSU game.
After Georgia fell in Baton Rouge last month, the big question was what happened to the ground game. Chaney, the team’s play caller, essentially abandoned the ground attack and left Jake Fromm to twist in the wind. Lesson learned. After finding the right balance a week ago against Florida, the Bulldogs utterly dominated Kentucky on the ground Saturday. The Wildcats’ defense entered play 15th nationally in yards-per-rush and had allowed just six TDs on the ground. Georgia answered with 331 yards rushing, including career highs by D’Andre Swift (156) and Elijah Holyfield (115) and scored three times on the ground. That’s a recipe for challenging Bama for the SEC crown.
Michigan: Don Brown deserves a Budweiser.
In 2015, Boston College finished third-worst in FBS in total offense, but led the nation in total defense. As one ACC coach said after the season, “I didn’t know that was possible.” That’s the magic of Don Brown, who’s now directing the Michigan defense with the same dominant results. Since halftime of the opener against Notre Dame, Michigan’s D has been on the field for 102 drives, and just 16 have ended in points, the lowest score rate in the nation. After Saturday’s game, Jim Harbaugh invoked a famous Budweiser slogan: “When you say Don Brown, you’ve said it all,” Harbaugh sang. “He’s the king.” As a side note, that makes Rugters’ Jay Niemann the Bud Lite Lime of defensive coordinators.
West Virginia: Dana Holgorsen is a madman, and it’s awesome.
The most fun football game of the season was won by West Virginia thanks to a monster gamble by Holgorsen and QB Will Grier. “We had the decision made before we took the field,” Holgorsen said of his choice to go for two and the win rather than kicking a PAT and heading to overtime. It was either a stroke of genius, the act of a complete madman, or Holgorsen had just finished 12 Red Bulls during the quarter and needed the game to end to hit the little boy’s room.
Oklahoma: If we wanted to play defense, we wouldn’t be in the Big 12.
There’s no doubt the Sooners have a championship-caliber offense. Kyler Murray and Trey Sermon certainly showcased that again Saturday. The defense though? Among the teams with one or no losses, only Ohio State has allowed more yardage this year, and no one has given up more points.
Auburn: Put away your checkbooks.
With six minutes to play, Auburn boosters were liquidating some assets and checking the cushions in their couches to drum up that hefty buy-out for Gus Malzahn. Then 14 points and a game-winning TD later, all’s forgiven. No, this Tigers offense isn’t great, but 6-3 looks a whole lot better than 5-4, and it’s enough to dial back the heat under Malzahn’s seat to a low boil.
Louisville: Bobby Petrino is updating his LinkedIn account.
If Malzahn stifled some job security conversations, Petrino is simply ignoring his problems. He refused to comment on his job status after getting hammered by Clemson, but the writing is on the wall. Petrino is on his third defensive coordinator in as many years, and yet his Cardinals have surrendered 237 points in their last four games and have lost six straight. The good news, however, is the defense is playing so poorly we’ve run out of space to discuss the offense.
Ohio State: The Buckeyes really miss Nick Bosa.
As good as Dwayne Haskins has been, and even with a more explosive ground game Saturday, the giant red flag for this Ohio State team continues to be a lackluster defense. Without Bosa, who’s sitting out the season after an early injury, Ohio State entered play allowing 3.23 yards per rush after contact, 61st among Power 5 defenses — a result of far too many missed tackles up front. The defense continued to struggle, with Adrian Martinez having a field day, and Nebraska putting up 450 yards of offense. They’ve now allowed 450 yards or more four times this season — as many times as they’d done it in the previous three years combined.
Oregon: Chip Kelly is so 2012.
The Ducks didn’t exactly roll out the welcome mat for their former coach, who returned to Eugene for the first time since leaving for the NFL following the 2012 season. Other things that were popular in 2012: “Gangham Style,” Jeremy Lin’s Knicks career, Gotye. So Kelly’s career has aged at least marginally better than those things.
1. Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama: 344 yards, three touchdowns, a career-long run. And this was his bad game. He even had to play in the fourth quarter. What a bum.
2. Kyler Murray, Oklahoma: Two picks kept Texas Tech in the game, but Murray still finished with 460 yards and four scores.
3. Will Grier, West Virginia: The decision to go for two — which Grier converted twice, with the first negated by a timeout — overshadowed the throw that came before it. Grier dropped one of the prettiest passes you’ll see all year into the hands of Gary Jennings for the score — one of three touchdowns on the day. Grier now has at least three TD passes in seven of his eight games this season.
4. Travis Etienne, Clemson: The blowout win kept Etienne from padding his stats, as he got his last touch with 10:47 left in the third quarter. Etienne also is getting his TDs scored by defensive linemen every week. But hey, the guy still ran for 153 yards on eight carries and scored. Not too shabby for a half-day’s work.
5. Dwayne Haskins, Ohio State: The numbers mean he belongs in the conversation. If he looks good against Michigan in the regular-season finale, then he’ll be a legitimate alternative to Tagovailoa.
Duke’s upset of Miami in a rain-soaked Hard Rock Stadium means the Blue Devils are going bowling for the sixth time in the last seven years. How insane is that? They had six bowl appearances in their previous 70 seasons before that. David Cutcliffe is a genius. In addition to Duke, we also saw Mississippi State, Oregon, Auburn, NC State, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Appalachian State, Northern Illinois, M and Ohio earn bowl eligibility this week.
Everyone’s a Winner
We entered Saturday with three remaining winless Division I teams, and we ended the day with none. Talk about a Statement Saturday!
VMI opened the fun with a 20-11 win over Division II Tusculum, snapping a 25-game losing streak, which would be noteworthy by itself on most Saturdays.
But this is Statement Saturday, when the country’s best pillow fighters brought their A-games — or, at least their C-minus games.
So a few hours later, Tennessee Tech officially became the last FCS team to win a game, knocking off Murray State 27-24. How shocking a win was that? The Racers were 4-1 in conference entering play and had a real shot at winning the Ohio Valley. That’s the kind of loss that gets a coach left at the bus station.
But, of course, the biggest win of the day came in Houston, where UTEP earned its first win at long last. Sure, the Miners only beat an awful Rice team, but it still snapped a 20-game losing streak and avoided matching Miami (Ohio) for the second-longest FBS losing streak of the past decade. They’ll be celebrating from El Paso to Juarez for the rest of the week.
And in case you’re wondering – and we’re sure you are — the current leader for college football’s overall worst team goes to the wonderful folks at Finlandia University. The D-3 Lions are 0-8 and have been outscored by an average of 46 points a game. That’s rough, but, hey, they make great vodka.
More Bad Football
Since the start of 2016, Illinois was 0-15 against Power 5 opponents who entered play with a .500 record or better. That’s pretty bad. In fact, no other Power 5 team was winless against .500 or better opponents in that span. But the Illini finally ended that streak Saturday — even if it was against a 4-4 Minnesota team. Lovie Smith & Co. dominated the Gophers 55-31, which not only meant it was Illinois’ most impressive win in years in terms of opponent quality, but also in pure points. The Illini hadn’t topped 40 against an FBS foe since 2015, let alone 50. In fact, this was their highest scoring output against an FBS team since a 67-65 loss to Michigan in 2010.
Bye-Bye Bowl Bids?
Who owns the longest active bowl streak is a point of controversy in the ACC, with Florida State’s 41 consecutive winning seasons and 36 straight bowl bids seeming like the clear answer, but with Virginia Tech’s 25 straight bowls getting the Hokies the official nod thanks to NCAA sanctions against the Seminoles.
By the end of this season, however, the ultimate answer might be: Neither.
Both FSU and Virginia Tech lost Saturday, putting both team’s postseason hopes on life support.
The Seminoles are now 4-5, and their three remaining games are all against ranked foes: Notre Dame, Boston College and Florida.
The Hokies have a little better shot, but at 4-4 with Pitt, Miami and Virginia left, there’s no guarantee of win No. 6. It’s possible Virginia Tech could schedule a 12th game, too, to make up for the cancellation against ECU from September, but there’s nothing official on that yet.
So, if both programs missed a bowl, who’d be up next? That’d be Georgia, which will be going to its 22nd straight bowl game this year.
Thinking Big on Offense
In a span of about five minutes Saturday, the ACC’s biggest stars — literally, if not figuratively — put on a scoring show.
In Clemson, 350-pound Dexter Lawrence took a handoff in the Tigers’ famed “Fridge” package and rumbled 2 yards for a touchdown.
A few moments later, up the road in Winston-Salem, N.C., Syracuse fullback Chris Elmore — all 280 pounds of him — trucked 5 yards into the end zone for a score.
Grand total of those five minutes of action: 630 pounds, 12 points.
Nebraska kicker Caleb Lightbourn tried a surprise on-side kick after the Huskers scored on the opening drive against Ohio State, and while it certainly took everyone by surprise, it ended up looking like Charles Barley at the driving range. Lightbourn just skimmed the ball, which dribbled a few feet before being recovered. The D held Ohio State on a fourth-down try, so no harm done, meaning it wasn’t even the worst special teams moment of the day for Nebraska, which had a punt blocked for a safety.
Don’t Mess With the… Punter?
It was an ugly Saturday for Florida, which was hammered by Missouri, but at least their punter had an interesting game. Sure, Tommy Townsend was on the field a lot due to the Gators’ offensive woes, but what’s worth mentioning isn’t his foot but the two penalties he got in the third quarter. He was flagged for targeting first, though review overturned it to simple unnecessary roughness. The second came when he shoved a Missouri player in the back because — well, let’s assume he was just patting the guy on the back for a job well done. In any case, here’s to Townsend, who earned the rare double 15-yard punter penalties.
Dabo Swinney was a walk-on receiver at Alabama, and he’s gone on to a good bit of on-field success in his career. What he never did, however, was score a touchdown. So, that’s one thing Will Swinney has over his dad.
Saturday’s 77-point explosion meant plenty of touchdowns to go around for Clemson, but none more meaningful to the guy coaching the Tigers than Will Swinney’s 8-yard TD catch in the fourth quarter.
Unlike his dad, the younger Swinney — also a walk-on receiver — has seen ample playing time as the Tigers’ holder on field goals, but his offensive prowess had been limited thus far. But when he finally found the end zone, no one was smiling more than dad, who celebrated on the sideline and exchanged fist bumps with his assistant coaches.
Under-Appreciated Play of the Day
We don’t typically spend much time hyping punters, and certainly not ones who play Division III football. But we have a firm rule here: You set a college football record with a 95-yard punt, we take notice. That’s exactly what Austin Baker of D3’s Heidelberg University did Saturday. John Carroll had stopped the Heidelberg offense, setting up a punt from the 5. Baker took the snap at the back of his own end zone and unleashed a bomb. The kick hit at the JCU 35 — 60 yards in the air — then got a huge roll, all the way to the end zone. The punt broke the previous record of 91.
Under-Appreciated Game of the Day
Sure, Texas-West Virginia was fun, and yeah, Alabama-LSU got plenty of headlines. But for sheer bad-team highlights, nothing beats UMass vs. Liberty, a three-OT circus that ended with a 62-59 Minutemen victory. UMass trailed by 14 midway through the fourth quarter, but tied it on a 9-yard TD run with 25 seconds left, matched Liberty touchdowns in the first two OTs, then kicked a 22-yard field goal in the third bonus frame to win it. QB Ross Comis finished the game with 540 yards passing and six total touchdowns, while receiver Andy Isabella hauled in nine catches for 303 yards, the most by an FBS player since 2016 when Louisiana Tech’s Carlos Henderson had 326 – against UMass.
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