Georgia wins a Third-and-Grantham game. Fair or unfair, Third-and-Grantham became A Thing during Todd Grantham's four seasons as Georgia's defensive coordinator. (Georgia finished 80th and 64th on third down during Grantham's first and last year running the Bulldogs' defense, but third in his second season.) It became such A Thing that Florida referenced it in their game notes ahead of the 2018 Cocktail Party.
Well, Georgia got its "revenge" on Saturday by completely dominating third down against its former defensive coordinator. There were 29 consequential third or fourth downs on Saturday in Jacksonville, and Georgia won 20 of them. The Bulldogs were 12-of-17 on offense (excluding the final try, when the Dogs were running the clock out) and 8-of-12 on defense, which proved to be the difference in Georgia' 24-17 win in Jacksonville.
None of those 12 third down conversions were bigger than the 12th and final one, after Florida had strung together a 17-play, 7-minute drive to pull within a score. With 2:45 to go and the ball at his own 35-yard line, Jake Fromm made the type of throw that convinced Georgia's coaches to let Jacob Eason and Justin Fields walk: with three Gators surrounding him, Fromm fired a deep out from the left hash to the right sideline, good for 22 clinching yards on 3rd-and-7, allowing Georgia to run the clock out on its biggest win of the season.
Though Kirby Smart and company have bigger trophies in mind, the win puts Georgia on the doorstep of its third straight SEC East title. The Bulldogs will need to win two of three against Missouri, Auburn and Texas A&M to book another trip to Atlanta.
Two high-profile Class of 2018 hires may have crossed the point of no return. No one wants to fire a head coach after two seasons, for a million different reasons. It's expensive and costly, both in terms of dollars and building a cohesive program with a Frankenstein roster built by three different coaching staffs, each with their own philosophies. And yet there becomes a point where the results on the field can give a school no other choice, where it becomes more expensive to stay the course than to bite down and make a change, and I fear we crossed that point in two places on Saturday.
Florida State has made no secret that Willie Taggart needs to make a bowl game to earn a third season, and that effort is now in serious jeopardy. Facing a 4-4 Miami program that's in no mood to throw a parade over the way Manny Diaz's debut has gone, Florida State lost, at home, 27-10. Miami's redshirt freshman quarterback Jarren Williams, making his first start since September, threw for 313 yards and two scores, while FSU's entire offense put up 203 yards -- the fewest in a home game since 2006.
Florida State is now 4-5 on the year. Assuming a win over Alabama State and a loss to Florida, the entire Taggart era may ride on next week's game -- a trip to Boston College, in the cold of November, against a white hot Eagles squad. (More on them later.)
In Fayetteville, Arkansas figured to have its best shot at an elusive SEC victory in hosting Mississippi State, a team that came in 1-4 in SEC play.
Final score: Mississippi State 54, Arkansas 24.
The Bulldogs rushed for 460 yards -- running back Kylin Hill had nearly 200 at halftime -- and for the game gained 640 total yards on 8.42 a play. The offense, which began the season with two graduate transfers in Nick Starkel (Texas A&M) and Ben Hicks (SMU) turned to a pair of freshmen in desperate need of a spark. John Stephen Jones threw for a score and KJ Jefferson ran for one, but at that point the game was well in hand for State.
Arkansas needs to beat Western Kentucky to avoid a second consecutive 2-10 season, and closes the year with LSU and Missouri, still in search of its first SEC win of the Morris era.
It was a great day for the Pac-12. (Well, not everybody.) The dream of an 11-1 Oregon meeting an 11-1 Utah appeared in peril at various points on Saturday, but it survived another week.
Utah went to Washington and found itself trailing 14-3 in the second quarter and 21-13 in the third when Utes receiver Derrick Vickers fumbled the ball over to the Huskies. Facing the prospect of a 15-point deficit in a hostile environment, Utah got off the mat and dominated. These were the next five possessions of the game:
-- Utah pick-six
-- Washington three-and-out
-- Utah 9-play, 82-yard touchdown drive
-- Washington three-and-out
-- Utah 11-play, 84-yard touchdown drive
And just like that, a 21-13 deficit was a 33-21 lead. Utah won the game 33-28.
Later in the day, Oregon went to USC and fell in a 10-0 hole through one quarter. No matter, the Ducks simply ripped off a 56-7 run to win going away, 56-24. The final 2:36 of the second quarter was the turning point in the game: Oregon got a 2-yard rushing score to take a 14-10 lead, then returned a Kedon Slovis pick 20 seconds later to go up 21-10. Slovis erased that pick by piloting a 74-yard touchdown drive, pulling the Trojans within 21-17 with 20 seconds left in the first half, but Oregon returned the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown, meaning the Ducks scored in all three phases in a span of 148 seconds.
We just witnessed the best day in Memphis football history. The full power of ESPN's promotional machine shined upon the Tigers, and Mike Norvell's team made the most of it. Norvell's offense stepped on the field 13 times and punted twice, though they did not score in all of the 11 remaining possessions. In fact, the game started somewhat disastrously for the home team.
Memphis initially took a 7-0 lead on a Brady White touchdown pass, but replay ruled the play down at the 1. That replay proved consequential when SMU's defense forced a goal line stand, and the Mustangs' offense then marched 97 yards to take a 7-0 lead.
The Tigers immediately answered with a touchdown, and it was off to the races.
The teams combined for 1,067 yards of total offense and 53 first downs, but it was a special teams play that proved crucial. Leading 23-17 at the half, Antonio Gibson broke the game open for Memphis with a 97-yard kickoff return touchdown.
Gibson later broke it open again with this pinball-like 78-yard touchdown run, putting the Tigers up 54-32 en route to a 54-48 win. With 159 kick return yards, 97 rushing yards and 130 receiving, Gibson set a program record with 386 all-purpose yards.
With the win, Memphis moved into first place in the American West and seemingly in control of its own destiny to take the Group of 5's Cotton Bowl berth, but the Tigers are not out of the woods yet. Memphis (8-1, 4-1 AAC) hosts East Division leader Cincinnati (7-1, 4-0 ACC) on Black Friday, which could lead to an immediate rematch in the American Championship a week later, or could lift SMU (8-1, 4-1 AAC) or Navy (7-1, 5-1 AAC) into the title game. (Memphis already holds a win over Navy; SMU and Navy play Nov. 23.)
As Saturday night's festival of points showed -- SMU's Shane Buechele threw for 456 yards and three scores in a losing effort -- this conference is as entertaining as any in college football.
SMU did not go away, and it led to an interesting discussion of coaching strategy. Trailing 54-40, SMU scored to pull within 54-46 with 2:06 to play. The conventional play would be to kick an extra point and play for overtime, but Sonny Dykes did not do that. He made the right call, and here's why:
The numbers say 2-point conversions are roughly 50/50 propositions, meaning, if you go for two twice, you're likely to get one. If that one you get happens to be the first try, you don't need to go for two a second time, because then you'll be kicking a PAT for the win. If you don't get it on the first try, you can still go for two after your second touchdown to force overtime.
Remember, as Herm Edwards once taught us, you play to win the game, not force overtime.
Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit were unaware of this thinking until an unnamed coach texted Herbstreit to inform him of this strategy. (Unnamed coach, please raise your hand.)
It's a particularly smart strategy when you've got this 2-point play hidden in your hip pocket.
Dykes played the strategy to perfection, but the football gods did not reward him as Memphis recovered the ensuing onside kick.
The Super 16. The Nuggets is once again honored to vote in this year's FWAA-NFF Super 16 poll. Here's this week's ballot.
- Ohio State
- Penn State
- Kansas State
Odds and Ends
a. Nebraska has now dropped three straight and four out of five after losing to a 2-6 Purdue team playing its third- and fourth-team quarterbacks, lowering the Huskers to 1-8 away from Lincoln under Scott Frost. The Boilers went 78 yards over 13 plays to pull ahead 24-20 in the fourth quarter, and then 82 yards over 12 snaps to win the game, 31-27. Purdue was 4-of-4 on third down over those two drives, including this beauty for the win.
Nebraska must now beat two of Wisconsin, Maryland and Iowa to avoid back-to-back-to-back losing seasons for the first time since 1959-61.
b. Drew Brees' pep talk to the Boilers must not be missed.
c. Boston College ran for more yards than any team in FBS this season, chugging for 496 yards and five touchdowns on 65 carries in a 58-27 demolition of Syracuse. Aided by an unstoppable running game, BC quarterback Dennis Grosel was 8-of-10 for 195 yards and three scores.
d. This year in the Big Ten: Minnesota is undefeated, the Indiana schools sweep Nebraska, Indiana is 7-2 after thumping defending Big Ten West champion Northwestern, and Illinois has three cracks at bowl eligibility after winning its third straight conference game, 38-10 over Rutgers.
e. The great Ralph Russo of the Associated Press said the Big 12 has a "random results generator," and I've not seen a better phrase to describe that conference. In one of just two conference games of the day, Oklahoma State, who beat Kansas State and lost to Texas, hosted TCU, who lost to K-State and beat Texas. Naturally, Oklahoma State beat TCU, 34-27, thanks to Chuba Hubbard's 223 yards on just 20 carries. Hubbard broke the game open in the Cowboys' favor with touchdown runs of 92 and 62 yards.
f. Fresh off slowing down Oklahoma (for three quarters), Kansas State continued rolling by making Kansas look mortal for the first time in Brent Dearmon's 3-game tenure. The Wildcats ran for 342 yards while limiting KU to 175 non-garbage time yards in a 38-10 win. Chris Klieman's team looks like a threat to reach the Big 12 Championship yet, thanks to the Big 12 Random Results Generator, the Wildcats will need help to get there.
i. North Texas beat UTEP 52-26, and quarterback Mason Fine celebrated by showing up to the post-game press conference dressed in a T-rex costume. The comedy here isn't that he wore a T-rex costume to a press conference, it's that everyone went about their business as if he wasn't wearing a T-rex costume.
j. If Virginia manages to win the ACC Coastal, the division will have seven different champions over the past seven seasons -- and that dream took a step toward reality when the Cavs went to Chapel Hill and beat North Carolina, 38-31. Bronco Mendenhall's club is now 4-2 and owns the tiebreaker over 3-2 Pitt. This means that if UVa beats Georgia Tech (1-4 ACC) on Saturday, they'll host Virginia Tech on Nov. 30 looking to: A) snap a FIFTEEN GAME losing streak to their archrival, and B) clinch their first Coastal Division title. No pressure.
k. North Carolina is now 4-5 with losses by six, three, one (to Clemson), two and seven points.
l. Oregon State is 4-4 and rapidly improving after beating Arizona 56-38 in Tucson. The Beavers have already won more games than they did in all of 2017 and '18, and they're closing in on the program's first bowl trip since 2013.
m. Another rapidly improving Pac-12 team: UCLA. Chip's club started 1-5 but has now won three straight. After scoring 14 points exactly in their first three games, the Bruins have averaged 37 in their last six.
n. Wake Forest owns wins over North Carolina and NC State in the same season for the first time since 2007 after thumping the Wolfpack, 44-10.
o. Meanwhile, after losing to Wake by 34, NC State now prepares to host Clemson in front of the entire nation on ABC's Saturday Night Football.
p. A game ball to Coastal Carolina head coach Jamey Chadwell, who went for two and the win with 30 seconds to play to beat Troy, 36-35.
q. Georgia Southern now controls its own destiny to win the Sun Belt East after going into the Appalachian mountains and bringing back a win, beating undefeated App State 24-21 on Thursday night.
r. A year after going 1-11, Jim McElwain has Central Michigan in a bowl game with a 48-10 win over Northern Illinois.
s. Liberty is 6-3 but not yet bowl eligible in Year 1 under Hugh Freeze, thanks to two FCS wins. Still, the Flames have three more cracks at it after blowing out UMass, 63-21. Liberty gained 730 yards on 77 plays.
t. There is nothing more patriotic than throwing shade at your rival on Twitter. It's what Washington and Jefferson would have wanted.
Dartmouth remained undefeated on a crazy play with a capital C. Turn your volume up, because this is a TV and radio call all in one.