Everything you need to know in college football following Week 3
“From noon to midnight and beyond” is the weekly theme in the college football world, and Week 3 lived up to that billing. From Louisville’s dismantling of Florida State at noon to Cal’s Pac-12ish win over Texas into the wee hours of the morning, there were few dull moments in a week of movers and shakers around the college football landscape.
Here is what stood out most:
- Lamar Jackson can do it against good defenses
Louisville QB Lamar Jackson proved that his monster statistical games against Charlotte and Syracuse were no fluke as he put up the same gaudy numbers against Florida State, as the Cardinals made a national statement that they’re for real. Jackson’s 91.8 rushing grade paved the way for Louisville as he ran for 154 yards on 16 carries and four touchdowns. While he missed a number of open throws in the passing game, he made his fair share as well, and perhaps more importantly, the run threat Jackson creates is a big part of what creates those open throws.
Opposing defenses have to find a way to make Jackson beat them with his arm, and even then, he continues to add polish as a passer to make him even more dangerous. For Louisville, they now have the nation’s attention and a Week 5 matchup at Clemson looms large.
- Ohio State grew up quickly
“Talented, but young” was the oft-heard statement about the Buckeyes coming into the season, out of my own mouth at times. They’ve grown up quickly.
While we knew that Ohio State had massive turnover on both sides of the ball and a plethora of highly-recruited talent ready to replace them, we expected a few growing pains along the way. Instead, we have a new crop of stars making a name for themselves in Columbus. RB/WR Curtis Samuel has Swiss Army Knifed his way through defenses with a near-even split of snaps between running back and wide receiver, and a near-perfect split of 260 yards on the ground and 259 receiving yards. WR Noah Brown had his expected national breakout with four touchdowns against Oklahoma including the catch of the year.
Defensively, safety Malik Hooker and CB Marshon Lattimore have stepped up as playmakers for the opportunistic Ohio State defense. There are still big challenges along the way, namely Wisconsin, Michigan State and Michigan, but Ohio State passed this early-season test in emphatic fashion against the Sooners.
- Alabama gave themselves even more leeway on the way to the College Football Playoff
No team can lose a game and rally like Nick Saban and Alabama, something they’ve had to do the last two years after losses to Ole Miss. After an early scare and 24-3 deficit, Alabama bounced back to outscore Ole Miss 45-19 the rest of the way. With their nemesis out of the way, Alabama has bought themselves some breathing room as they will still be able to handle a loss along the way without forcing the votes to keep them out of the playoff picture.
More than just pulling out the win, Saturday’s game showed that Alabama can win in a shootout, relying on the offense and special teams to create big plays. The running game broke out, as offensive line analyst Taylor Wright predicted, in part due to true freshman QB Jalen Hurts’ 122 yards on only 12 designed runs. Free safety Eddie Jackson returned a punt for a touchdown while the defense notched two touchdowns of their own with a Da’Ron Payne fumble recovery and a Jonathan Allen interception return. Alabama showed off their roster depth in the win, and they created a little more breathing room on their way to the College Football Playoff.
- The Big Ten made a statement… other than that one game
We are always looking for definitive statements from conferences, and while many of them are forced, this week was a huge one for the Big Ten. Aside from Iowa losing to North Dakota State, Ohio State and Michigan State won two huge road games while Michigan held off a suddenly-tough Colorado team at home. The other statement game came from Nebraska who is starting to emerge after our Big Ten analyst Josh Liskiewitz threw some preseason hype their way. They notched a huge win over Oregon, keeping up with the Ducks offense and cracking down defensively down the stretch. Just as the ACC is setting up a number of top matchups, the Big Ten is primed for an exciting season at the top of the conference.
- Michigan State takes their usual spot under the radar
After losing top-20 players at quarterback, left tackle, center, edge rusher, and wide receiver, I expected Michigan State to take a step back, but they made a strong statement in pounding Notre Dame on the road. The linebacking corps is one of the best in the nation, led by Jon Reschke who had a timely interception, and defensive tackle Malik McDowell is living up to his first-round hype. Offensively, the offensive line controlled the line of scrimmage and allowed RBs L.J. Scott and Gerald Holmes to rush for 198 yards on 35 carries. That’s the kind of game head coach Mark Dantonio enjoys and that’s the kind of pressure Michigan State will put on opponents all season.
- Oklahoma and Notre Dame eliminated from playoff contention
We’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out ways for Oklahoma and Notre Dame to bounce back from early losses, but playoff hopes are down the drain at this point. Oklahoma cannot find proper offensive balance while QB Baker Mayfield continues his struggles against top defenses. The pass rush and secondary remain a problem and that was on full display in the Ohio State loss.
Notre Dame has dealt with a plethora of injuries in the secondary and they’ve simply overmatched on the back end. Tackling and coverage has been an issue and there are no signs of it getting better. Look for QB DeShone Kizer to have to throw the ball quite a bit as the season unfolds and Notre Dame finds itself in even more shootouts.
- Don’t sleep on Christian McCaffrey
Here I am reminding you not to sleep on Christian McCaffrey and he’s only at No. 7 on the list. He posted another strong effort against USC, rushing for 165 yards on 30 carries including 100 yards after contact and forcing five missed tackles. He added 66 yards and a touchdown on three catches while doing his usual fine work in the return game. We expect McCaffrey to continue to put up big numbers in all phases of the game, but Heisman voters may need an extra shot of coffee in order to stay up and take it all in on a weekly basis.
- The SEC East is wide open
It looked like Tennessee was the favorite in the SEC East coming into the season but they’ve showed major weaknesses along the offensive line and in the passing game. Florida looked strong in the early weeks, with QB Luke Del Rio’s bringing much-needed efficiency to the passing game, but a knee injury now has his season in doubt. Georgia’s big question mark was at quarterback, but true freshman Jacob Eason’s game-winning touchdown against Missouri may have proved he’s ready for primetime. The three top teams have reasons for optimism and reasons for doubt, and we’ll start to sort it out next week when Florida plays Tennessee. Either way, the SEC East should be a tight battle all season.
- Texas A&M’s defense deserves national attention
We all love the late-night shootouts that seem to take over the TV every weekend, but top defensive performances often go overlooked. Enter Texas A&M who has allowed only 41 points through three games. No, points allowed is not the best measure of a defense and yes, one of those games came against Prairie View A&M. But we already highlighted their Week 1 effort against UCLA and they locked down Auburn’s offense in last night’s win. DE Myles Garrett continued his dominance with two sacks and three QB hits on 36 rushes while new playmakers seem to emerge each week. Yesterday it was LB Claude George who made plays in both the run and pass game on his way to one of the game’s top grades. Texas A&M’s defense will keep them in most games and keep them just under the radar enough to scare some teams in SEC play.
- Sometimes coaching and young talent trumps lost talent
Consider this a personal lesson, and it ties into some of the previous points. Three teams in particular came into the season with significant losses of talent but they’ve stayed undefeated through three weeks: Ohio State, Michigan State, and Stanford. I had my doubts about all three teams, but the one constant is a top-notch coach in being in place at each school (Urban Meyer, Mark Dantonio, and David Shaw).
There’s still a chance that the three teams will suffer from the loss of talent, but they’ve all made up for it to this point, proving just how crucial proper coaching is at the college level.