And yet … the Red River Whatchamacallit emerged as the season’s most bonkers game to date, perhaps its most maddening and surely one of its most entertaining.
Oklahoma’s 53-45 victory in four overtimes — the season’s longest so far — didn’t need to be a period away from flirting with a five-hour game. (At 4 hours, 43 minutes, it put baseball playoff games to shame). But even with Oklahoma less relevant nationally than usual and Texas perpetually less relevant than it wants to be, it was fun.
The Sooners (2-2, 1-2 Big 12) staved off their first 0-3 start in the Big 12 since 1998 despite holding a 31-17 lead when the Longhorns (2-2, 1-2) took over possession with 4:38 to go. Texas tied it with 14 seconds to go, abetted by a befuddling choice by Oklahoma to throw on third down on the possession sandwiched between two Longhorn touchdowns. The Sooners could have used 40 seconds off the clock rather than an incompletion.
The teams traded touchdowns in the first two overtimes, then (in apt college football fashion) missed field goals in the third. What’s the best way to “top” Oklahoma blocking Cameron Dicker’s 33-yard attempt? Gabe Brkic’s 31-yard try, which veered closer to Fort Worth than the goal posts, was the reply.
The Sooners finally won it when Spencer Rattler (who was benched in the first half) found Drake Stoops for a 25-yard score to open the fourth OT period and Tre Brown picked off Sam Ehlinger in the end zone to end it. No, Oklahoma isn’t climbing back into the national title picture, and no, Texas isn’t either.
Still, a vaunted rivalry produced a silly marathon of a game. In 2020, that counts for more than usual.
Texas A&M. It’s hyperbolic to suggest the Aggies are “back.” Their 41-38 defeat of No. 4 Florida was a toss-up until the final couple of minutes, so it wasn’t a dominant showing. And it’s going to take more than one victory to proclaim the Aggies, who have spent one week in the top five of the Associated Press poll this century and own one top-10 finish in the last 25 years, as a credible national contender.
But setting aside that skepticism, their ability to finish off the Gators was an important milestone for the Jimbo Fisher era. In his first two seasons, the former Florida State coach had a nifty seven-overtime victory over LSU and not much else to hang his hat on since receiving a 10-year, $75 million deal.
Saturday was a step in the right direction. A week after getting drilled at Alabama, the Aggies (2-1, 2-1 SEC) had a few opportunities to fade away and seemed on the verge of imploding with silly penalties early in the second half.
What prevented it? Great work from veteran quarterback Kellen Mond (25 of 35, 338 yards, three touchdowns) and deft offensive line play paving the way for Isaiah Spiller (174 yards, two TDs rushing). Texas A&M’s offense didn’t stop Florida (2-1, 2-1) much, but Buddy Johnson forced a fumble with 3:40 to go in a tie game. It was enough, and Seth Small’s 26-yard field goal as time expired locked up the Aggies’ first home defeat of a top-five team since 2002.
Texas A&M is in a fascinating spot. It has no qualms shoveling money into its program, despite relatively modest returns (one 10-win season in the last 21 years). But don’t let that obscure the fact the Aggies were 51-27 in the six seasons before Fisher’s arrival. Kevin Sumlin never built on Johnny Manziel’s Heisman season, but he didn’t leave a dumpster fire for Fisher, either.
It’s fair to argue Fisher shouldn’t face a quick-trigger evaluation while trying to maneuver the Aggies in a division with Alabama, Auburn and LSU. But he took over a decent situation, and it was always going to be wise for him to show some progress in Year Three. Saturday, Texas A&M did just that.
Georgia. Three weeks into their schedule, the No. 3 Bulldogs (3-0) sit alone atop the SEC East after a 44-21 defeat of Tennessee. Georgia scored the final 27 points after trailing 21-17 at halftime, giving up just 71 total yards in the final 30 minutes and minus-1 yard on the ground for the entire game.
The Bulldogs now have a head-to-head defeat of the Volunteers (2-1) and are also a game up on Florida after the Gators’ 41-38 stumble at Texas A&M.
Kansas State. The Wildcats didn’t have injured quarterback Skylar Thompson and still snagged a 21-14 victory at TCU. Freshman Will Howard started in Thompson’s stead and managed a team-high 86 rushing yards for Kansas State (3-1, 3-0 Big 12), which gets an open date and a home game against Kansas over the next two weeks. Put another way: The Wildcats look like they’ll be a Big 12 contender into November.
North Carolina. So, that’s what the Tar Heels’ offense can accomplish under the right circumstances.
“Dominant” doesn’t do justice to describe No. 8 North Carolina’s attack in a 56-45 defeat of No. 19 Virginia Tech. The Tar Heels rolled up 656 yards, including 399 on the ground (at a nifty 9.3 yards a rush) and scored touchdowns on eight of their first 11 possessions.
North Carolina (3-0, 3-0 ACC) wasn’t particularly sharp in its opener against Syracuse (though the Orange had something to do with that before wearing down), and it then went three weeks before surviving a trip to Boston College. But playing back-to-back weeks for the first time this season, the Tar Heels rolled.
Michael Carter rushed for 214 yards and two scores, while Sam Howell threw for 257 yards and three touchdowns. With an enviable amount of firepower, North Carolina illustrated why it belongs in the ACC title conversation.
N.C. State. Credit where it’s due. The Wolfpack was a haphazard bunch last year and, after winning a defense-optional opener against Wake Forest, was pounded at Virginia Tech in what seemed like a predictable regression.
But the last two weeks, N.C. State (3-1, 3-1 ACC) has eked out a last-minute victory at Pittsburgh and pounced early in a 38-21 triumph at Virginia. Dave Doeren’s team is off to a commendable start, and a victory over Duke next week would put the Wolfpack at 4-1 heading into a rivalry game at North Carolina on Oct. 24.
Army fans with postgame plans (or some interest in the Oklahoma/Texas game). The Black Knights’ 14-9 defeat of The Citadel kicked off at 1:34 p.m., nearly a full 90 minutes after Oklahoma and Texas got underway. It also concluded 20 minutes before the Red River Whatchamacallit wrapped up, clocking in at a tidy 2 hours, 54 minutes.
Ken Niumatalolo. The Navy coach collected career victory No. 100 as the Midshipmen fended off Temple, 31-29. The academy’s career victories leader, Niumatalolo saw his team improve to 2-2 overall and 2-0 in the American.
Najee Harris. The Alabama running back tore apart Mississippi for 206 yards and five touchdowns in a 63-48 victory over the Rebels. Go ahead and count Crimson Tide quarterback Mac Jones as a winner, too; he carved up the hapless Ole Miss defense for 417 yards and two touchdowns on 28 of 32 passing.
Alabama scored touchdowns on its final eight possessions, and faced a mere seven third downs the entire night (converting six of them). Of course, the Crimson Tide averaged 10.2 yards a play, so maybe the real surprise was stumbling into third-and-anything more than a handful of times.
LSU. The Tigers are not very good right now, and that’s especially true of their defense. Two weeks after Mississippi State picked apart the defending national champs, Missouri piled up 586 yards in a 45-41 triumph in a game moved from Baton Rouge to Columbia because of concerns over Hurricane Delta.
Much like Mississippi State, Missouri basically did as it pleased in the passing game. Connor Bazelak came into the day with 430 yards and an interception in five career appearances. The redshirt freshman torched LSU’s secondary for 406 yards and four touchdowns (and on 29 of 34 passing).
It bears repeating: With an exodus of talent due to graduation, early draft entries and opt-outs, LSU simply wasn’t going to match last year’s dominance. But at 1-2 (and with losses to a pair of relatively unheralded teams), that reality is now especially clear.
Tennessee. The Volunteers (2-1, 2-1 SEC) at least played well for the first half at Georgia before falling 44-21. But little went right in the second half. They had three turnovers and three punts in their first six possessions. Georgia managed 13 points off the giveaways (two field goals and a fumble return for a score) and tacked on a pair of long touchdown drives.
Tennessee was 3-27 over the last 10 years against Alabama, Florida and Georgia, and Saturday suggests there’s still a yawning gap between the Vols and the top of the league, though it’s arguably narrowed a little since last year.
Louisiana-Monroe’s punt team. Under normal conditions, it would be unfair to pile on the Warhawks’ woes. After all, they’re 0-5 after a 40-7 loss at Liberty and they’ve yet to enjoy their first lead of the season.
But UL Monroe was unusually bad in the punting game. Liberty scored a touchdown on a fumbled snap by the punter in the second quarter, recovered a blocked punt in the end zone in the third quarter and tacked on Demario Douglas’ 73-yard punt return for a score in the fourth quarter.
ACC parity. Those hoping Clemson would prove a teensy bit vulnerable with Miami coming to town walked away disappointed. The Tigers cruised to a 42-17 victory over the Hurricanes, who had a glimmer of hope entering the second half largely because of a blocked field goal returned for a touchdown on the final play before the break to pull within 11.
Travis Etienne managed to extinguish those hopes, using a 72-yard scoring scamper in the third quarter to reestablish a three-possession cushion. The senior wound up with 149 yards and two touchdowns on the ground, plus eight catches for 73 yards. Clemson (4-0, 3-0 ACC) gave up just 210 total yards to the Hurricanes (3-1, 2-1) in its latest demonstration of superiority over the rest of the league.
Mississippi State. Either the SEC has adjusted in a hurry to the Pirate King, or Louisiana State’s defense is really, really bad. Or, most likely, both. The Bulldogs threw six interceptions (one which was returned for a touchdown) in a 24-2 loss at Kentucky.
Mike Leach’s first season as an SEC head coach is already a whiplash-inducing adventure. From dealing LSU its first loss since Thanksgiving weekend in 2018 to being on the wrong end of Arkansas snapping a 20-game conference losing streak to having his offense shut out by Kentucky, Leach is presiding over an unusual sequence of events.
Five with the most at stake
1. Tennessee. Time to really learn something about the No. 14 Volunteers (2-0, 2-0 SEC), who have dispatched South Carolina and Missouri in their first two games and now venture to No. 3 Georgia in what should be one of the SEC East’s pivotal games this season. Tennessee has been outscored 122-26 in its last three games against the Bulldogs; simply being competitive would constitute progress, and winning between the hedges would unleash a torrent of “Is Tennessee Back?” commentary.
2. Miami. The No. 7 Hurricanes (3-0, 2-0 ACC) have already done some fine work this season, though heading to No. 1 Clemson is an entirely different animal than facing the likes of Louisville and Florida State. Miami’s efficient way of going about its business to date has earned it some faith. Keeping things interesting in Death Valley would give it a little more. Stunning Clemson would give it a lot more.
3. Georgia. The Bulldogs (2-0, 2-0 SEC) proved as much as anyone last weekend, smothering Auburn 27-6 in exactly the way a typical Kirby Smart team would be expected to play. Now, with a showdown with No. 2 Alabama on the horizon, this week’s encounter with Tennessee is merely about survival and not wasting a mulligan for the playoff quite so soon.
4 and 4a. Oklahoma and Texas. Woof. The Sooners (1-2, 0-2 Big Ten) and the No. 22 Longhorns (2-1, 1-1) are both coming off losses as they collide in Dallas. Oklahoma is already irrelevant for playoff purposes, and Texas might as well be after escaping Texas Tech in overtime and then losing to Texas Christian. Things are about to get worse for one of the Big 12’s banner programs.
5. Virginia Tech. The No. 19 Hokies (2-0, 2-0 ACC) have been shorthanded in their first two games, but still managed to steamroll N.C. State and outlast Duke. Now they head to No. 8 North Carolina (2-0, 2-0) with a potent rushing game led by Kansas transfer Khalil Herbert; win in Chapel Hill, and a 7-0 start looks more possible before Justin Fuente’s team confronts a severely backloaded schedule (Miami, at Pittsburgh, Clemson, Virginia) to close out the regular season.
Just a few more weeks from Ohio State’s Justin Fields joining the list …
1. QB Trevor Lawrence, Clemson; 848 yards, 7 TDs, 0 INT passing. The junior hasn’t thrown a pick in his last 314 attempts, though Miami’s Turnover Chain defense stands in his way this week. His efficient work against Virginia (329 yards, three TDs) did nothing to diminish his status as the favorite to claim the Heisman. (Last week: 1)
2. QB Kyle Trask, Florida; 684 yards, 10 TDs, 1 INT passing. The Gator senior wasn’t quite as ridiculous against South Carolina as he was in Florida’s opener, but he was still a crisp 21 of 29 for 268 yards, four touchdowns and an interception. He’ll try to keep rolling against No. 21 Texas A&M. (LW: 4)
3. QB D’Eriq King, Miami; 736 yards, six TDs passing; 157 yards, 1 TD rushing. King has done everything the Hurricanes could have hoped for in his one season in Coral Gables, at least so far. The graduate transfer from Houston will get an upper-level test Saturday when Miami visits Clemson. (LW: 3)
4. WR Jaylen Waddle, Alabama; 13 receptions for 276 yards and three TDs. Already a quality deep threat coming into the season, Waddle is averaging 21.2 yards per catch and has a pair of 100-yard receiving games as quarterback Mac Jones’s top target in Tuscaloosa. (LW: Not ranked).
5. TE Kyle Pitts, Florida; 12 receptions for 227 yards and six TDs. The Gator’s touchdown average dipped from four to three last week, but anyone who gets into the end zone every other time he touches the ball is difficult to ignore. (LW: 6)
6. RB Khalil Herbert, Virginia Tech; 311 yards, three TDs rushing; 2 receptions for 46 yards. Line it up however you like, but 12.4 yards a carry is 12.4 yards a carry. But his 207-yard outburst at Duke wasn’t completely out of nowhere; the Kansas transfer rushed for 291 yards against West Virginia in 2017. (LW: Not ranked)