It felt like we had to wait years for the college football season to begin, but once it did, it just felt right. Well for those of us that aren’t Texas, Penn State, Nebraska or Arizona State fans. Here are some thoughts on the Weekend that Was - Week one - in college football.
Malik the Freak
In a couple of years, this moniker will apply to Texas LB Malik Jefferson, but his counterpart last night Notre Dame QB Malik Zaire had a whale of a debut to get Irish eyes smiling. He was 19 of 22 for 313 yards and three touchdowns. Most importantly, he didn’t turn the ball over. The left-handed gunslinger also displayed some wiggle that helped him avoiding the rush.
In the first quarter, the Longhorn defense brought six on a blitz and the Irish OL slid the protection to the right to account for the heat. But, UT brought one more than the Irish could protect so Zaire was responsible for the UT linebacker on the blitz. He froze him then sprinted around him and completed a throw on the run for a first down. I don’t expect 19 of 22 every week, but consistency and lack of turnovers give that offense a chance to put up 30+ points each and every week. Georgia Tech looms in what could be one of the sneakiest hot games of the year.
Notre Dame ILB Jaylon Smith lined up with his hand in the ground in pass rush/sub-package situations on Saturday night. That’s scary, I’ll be honest. I just wanted to write that sentence to assure myself that it’s real. Add that to his skill set and NFL teams will be coveting him early in whenever he declares himself eligible for the NFL Draft.
When I finished my 2016 NFL Draft Prospect Preview, I gave Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg a first round grade and I’m not alone. But, he’s a polarizing player within the draft community. Let’s be clear, he’s got first round tools and it’s not even close. But, he’s getting the sam hell beat out of him. He was sacked ten times in a loss to Temple and he’s playing in an offense that doesn’t suit him in the slightest. His receivers can’t get open. His OL has legitimately one guy worth a flip in front of him (C Angelo Mangiro). Not to mention, his confidence seems to be in the toilet.
I heard rumors that he wanted to transfer somewhere else in the off-season. Now, how accurate those rumors were in reality will never be answered, but something’s broken at Penn State and Hackenberg’s draft hopes/grade are dying a slow death as well.
Is it all his fault? No. But, then again, take the pick he threw to Sharif Finch. He stared down the receiver the entire way and never took his eyes off the receiver as Finch dropped out at the snap. Now, Fince made a whale of a catch, but why on 2nd and 2 is PSU running quick hitch with a guy who can throw it a mile? Either way, there are so many things wrong with this situation, I don’t even know where to begin.
Try this play...the first play of the third quarter, it’s third and 15 and Hackenberg was in the gun. He had an H back and his five OL - that’s six in total - to protect against a TWO man rush. Yet, DE Nate D. Smith split the right guard and right tackle, then a weak attempt at protection by the H back, to sack Hackenberg. Six on two and the six couldn’t keep Smith from a sack.
At that point, though, congratulations to Temple head coach and former Penn State player Matt Rhule. He’s got a lot more talent than people know and a defense that’ll knock your lights out. They knocked out Hackenberg’s for certain.
KNOCK. IT. DOWN
Another Hail Mary and another opportunity to remind players...KNOCK IT THE F--- DOWN! Sorry, I know it’s easier said than done, apparently, but Nebraska DBs had a chance to knock one down against backup BYU QB Tanner Mangum, but didn’t. They’re now 0-1.
It’s not the only reason, but Nebraska safety Nate Gerry was the biggest culprit. He seemed to be trying to catch the ball not knock it down. I’ve watched that thing a hundred times and BYU WR Mitch Mathews boxed out a Nebraska DB and shielded Gerry. But, the Husker safety needed to go right through Mathews and swat that thing to the ground. He played deep enough and started to make his break to the goal line but just...I don’t know. Honestly, I don’t know what he was doing.
Excellent catch by Mathews and one hell of an effort for the BYU Cougars.
Ode to Taysom
He might be the toughest and the most unlucky player in all of college football. BYU QB Taysom Hill made his first start since missing much of 2014 with a broken leg. He was injured in 2013 as well. He accounted for 340 total yards in the win over Nebraska. He suffered a Lisfranc injury in the second quarter and played on into the fourth quarter when his season ended for good after taking a hit early in the final period. The Tanner Mangum era began earlier than anyone expected and anyone wanted. We all wanted to see T. Hill work some magic one final season, but his body never allowed him to do that. BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall broke down in tears talking about him in the locker room and for good reason. We’ll never see him in college football again and that’s as sad a thing as I’ve had to write recently.
The Wrecking Crew...Redux??
Each and every time that I go to a Texas A&M game or flip it on the TV, I wonder whether this will be the day that the Wrecking Crew comes back. I know I’m not alone. It’s tough in this college football world of offensive fireworks that we’ll ever see a defense dominate the way that the A&M Wrecking Crew did for so many seasons.
In my wildest dreams, I never saw THAT happening on Saturday night. Here’s the scary thing, in some sense, the two most dominant players on the field were already in the fold when Chavis got here.
It seems he just unlocked the cheat codes for Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall.
Up on the deck, doing pre-game updates in NRG Stadium on the big video board, I mentioned how Hall was a major key to the game for me. Garrett was going to get all the attention, I surmised, so Hall had to take over on his side.
At halftime, I said with absolute belief that Garrett is the best player in the nation bar none.
At the end of the night, lucky for me, I was right on both accounts.
On Sunday morning, I read a piece by Stewart Mandel lauding Garrett and he noted that he was double and triple teamed all night. That struck me as odd because I didn’t really think so and that seemed to mute what Hall did on the other side. So, I went back to the film to see how much validity there was to that statement.
Mandel was right, to a degree. Garrett was double teamed, but it wasn’t all night long. He was double teamed or got TE or RB help eight times on 37 pass rushes. He created a pressure on one of those eight. On the night, he finished with seven pass pressures and three tackles for a loss (on runs).
Hall rushed the quarterback 37 times as well and he was doubled, chipped or RB/TE help seven times, only one fewer than Garrett. He registered one of his four sacks on one of those double teams and finished the night with four sacks and two forced fumbles.
I didn’t even measure the pass rush reps for Qualen Cunningham and Jarrett Johnson, focusing only on the two starters and they both played well in secondary roles.
But it was Mandel’s comment that got under my skin a bit. And, I like Stewart, it was just wrong.
“Oh, the star player got double and triple teamed all night long.” It’s just not right because it seems to take away from the production of the guy on the other side. That guy was Hall.
Hall was magnificent all night long. Sometimes the stats belie the true story, but the four sacks speak to his dominance on Saturday night off the edge. He consistently whipped RT William McGehee, sacks or no.
When it comes to Garrett, I can’t help but think of JJ Watt’s performance against the Buffalo Bills in 2014. In that game, Watt didn’t register one sack, but he hit Bills QB E.J. Manuel nine times. NINE. I feel like the principal in Ferris Bueller. Not one sack, but he was so incredibly forceful getting after Manuel that the lack of sacks didn’t matter.
That was the case for Garrett, in my opinion. Now, again, he didn’t get doubled or tripled regularly, only eight of 37 pass rushes, but LT Evan Goodman will have nightmares about him for a while. The Arizona State game plan was for QB Mike Bercovici to get rid of the ball in a hurry, short quick throws, mix in some run-pass option throws and move the chain. So, the ball was already out of Bercovici’s hand quickly and often when Garrett had destroyed Goodman. Had it been a more traditional, Pro Style offense, Bercovici may have gotten killed.
Regardless, it’s always good to go back to the film when something doesn’t smell right. Garrett wasn’t double and/or tripled all night long, but still dominated. Hall did see some additional help and it didn’t matter because he was on fire all night.
In the end, four sacks, seven pressures, three tackles for a loss and two forced fumbles. It’s not the Wrecking Crew...yet, but it’s the closest thing we’ve seen in years because 10 and 15 wear maroon and white.
I’ll have another piece later in the week taking a more in-depth look at the different wrinkles Chavis threw at the Sun Devils, so be on the lookout a few days down the road.
I feel real good about Georgia being a playoff candidate. Unfortunately, I just know, as many others do, that the Bulldogs are prone to giving one away during the season that they shouldn’t. But, I’m going to be in Atlanta on October 3rd, perhaps...just maybe...oh, I badly want to see Bama v. UGA.
That said, Nick Chubb. Keith Marshall. Sony Michel. Malcolm Mitchell. There aren’t a ton of teams that have THAT sort of skill player stable. If Grayson Lambert just limits the mistakes, this offense is scary explosive. Oh, and I forgot one of my favorite TEs in the nation Jeb Blazevich.
Not sure how Kevin Sumlin handles the A&M QB back and forth but maybe he actually needs both of them this year - Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray.
Regardless, true freshman WR Christian Kirk is electric and if Speedy Noil doesn’t want to do things the right way, the Sumlin way, well, see ya. I hope he gets it turned around, but if he doesn’t, it’s cool - Kirk’s got this.
Washington State lost to Portland State and that’s not good news for Mike Leach, in the slightest. He’s the best coach WSU’s had since Mike Price, but the returns just have been there for the investment.
Speaking of Washington State and the Pac-12...two ranked teams lost on Saturday and both were in the Pac-12. Stanford lost at Northwestern. ASU lost to Texas A&M. Wazzu lost to Portland State. Last Thursday night, I was in Dallas getting ready for the Texans game when Fox Sports 1’s panel was discussing the Pac-12 South v. the SEC West. It was a heavily slanted group toward the Pac-12. Guess which side they took? Yeah, the Pac-12 South. The Pac-12 had the worst weekend of all Power Five conference...okay, maybe the B1G wants in on that claim too (Wisconsin and Penn State). Fortunately for our midwest brethren, it was far from as detrimental as the Pac-12’s three days.
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again and I might be out on a limb on this one, but I like Alabama RB Derrick Henry as a next level back. Call me crazy, but I’m in his corner, and it’s a lonely one amongst the draft analysts out there.
K State’s band?!? The ultimate troll. A D in the Jayhawks’ mouth? The band director apologized but the damage was done. Is damage the right word to use there? It was funny to me.
Oregon QB Vernon Adams Jr. showed he’s for real, lighting up his former squad Eastern Washington. Then, one of them lit him up. Sad, really. He did say he’ll be ready for Michigan State, which will be Adams most difficult test of his career. Can he adjust to the speed of that game? We’ll find out on Saturday.
Pitt’s James Conner and Arizona’s Scooby Wright were two of 2014’s big-time stars, but injuries suffered in each game kept them from re-entering. Wright will apparently miss up to a month, while Conner should return soon. Pitt RB Qadree Ollison made the most of his opportunity rushing for 207 yards and a TD on 16 carries. Conner did have 77 yards on eight carries and two touchdowns, but missed the rest of the day after his minor knee injury.
Football Takeover Honor Roll
Texas A&M DE No. 15 Myles Garrett
Texas A&M DE No. 10 Daeshon Hall
TCU WR No. 9 Josh Doctson
Notre Dame QB No. 8 Malik Zaire
Ole Miss DT/RB No. 5 Robert Nkemdiche
Wisconsin OLB No. 58 Joe Schobert
Texas A&M WR/Ret No. 3 Christian Kirk - true freshman
Temple LB No. 8 Tyler Matakevich
Texas A&M S No. 6 Donovan Wilson
Texas LB No. 46 Malik Jefferson - true freshman
Notre Dame RB/WR No. 20 C.J. Prosise
Thanks for reading - I’ll have some film and draft breakdown the rest of the week on the site, so hustle back throughout the week.