Alabama is too much, again. Alabama is a measuring stick game for every team that plays them. Most teams come up 12, 18, 24 inches short on the proverbial yard stick, but not Georgia. Kirby Smart’s Bulldog was every bit Alabama’s equal in the two games they played in the 2018 calendar year, but came up just short at winning time.
Not so on Saturday.
Georgia has plenty of good and great players at 21 positions, but they’re a full head shorter that Alabama at the one position that matters.
As Mac Jones, Jaylen Waddle, DeVonta Smith and company sliced and diced Georgia’s best-in-class defense for 417 yards and four touchdowns — and let us not forget Najee Harris’s 152 yards and a touchdown — Stetson Bennett went 18-of-40 for 269 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions.
The problem isn’t necessarily Bennett himself. The former walk-on squeezes every bit of ounce of ability out of his 5-foot-11, 190-pound frame. The problem is that, in a game decided by future Pro Bowlers, Georgia plays a 5-foot-11, 190-pound quarterback.
Yes, more highly touted quarterbacks are on the roster and could theoretically replace Bennett. Clearly, Georgia’s coaches disagree; they believe Bennett is their best option.
And that’s the difference between these two programs right now. The difference between a Georgia climbing Mount Saban and losing 41-24.
This Alabama defense can be had. We all saw Ole Miss drop 48 on them and make it look easy last week. Bennett’s best throw of the night was an 82-yard bomb to running back James Cook, who burned a hopelessly overmatched inside linebacker. Georgia’s running backs ran the ball well while the outcome was still in the balance.
But Bennett repeatedly had passes batted down, overshot open receivers for fear of having his passes batted down, and succumbed to the pressure of being pursued by defenders much stronger and faster than he — as any mortal would.
The gap between Alabama and Georgia is one player right now. That player is Justin Fields.
Before we move on, a quick look at stats that explain Saban’s greatness:
Georgia with a halftime lead under Kirby Smart vs. everyone not named Alabama: 38-1.
Georgia with a halftime lead under Kirby Smart vs. Alabama: 0-3.
— 💫🅰️♈️🆔 (@ADavidHaleJoint) October 18, 2020
9 coaches have been in at least 30 games in which both teams were ranked in the top 10 pic.twitter.com/KIR0zjEHOA
— Matt Brown (@MattBrownCFB) October 18, 2020
That 90s feeling returns to Tallahassee, at least for one night. The last time North Carolina played as an AP Top 5 team was Nov. 8, 1997, when the fifth-ranked Heels fell 20-3 to No. 3 Florida State.
Mike Norvell’s Seminoles are not the same team — not even close, at least not yet — to the Bobby Bowden vintage, and yet the result was the same. Florida State 31, No. 5 North Carolina 28.
The ‘Noles raced to a 31-7 halftime lead and then did about all they could to give the game away over the course of the second half, but in the process they found a quarterback in Jordan Travis. The sophomore threw for 191 yards and rushed for 107 more, accounting for three touchdowns, and gutted it out with a bum shoulder.
Travis’s most impressive play of the game came early in the fourth quarter. Facing a 3rd-and-4, having just been tackled for a loss and clearly favoring his non-throwing shoulder, Travis promptly kept up the middle for a 19-yard gain. The Seminoles didn’t score on the drive, but that play allowed them to keep the ball another four minutes — and North Carolina probably rallies to win had that game extended another two minutes, let alone four.
That was a proof-of-concept win for Norvell’s staff, who needed it after the off-season they had. In addition to finding a QB in Travis, Florida State blocked a punt to set up one touchdown, then returned a Sam Howell pick for another.
This loss stings for North Carolina, who rose to the Top 5 under the flukiest of circumstances but rose there nonetheless. It was to sting especially for Howell, a former Florida State commit, and for Mack Brown, a Florida State graduate who’s now 0-10 against his alma mater.
We didn't forget. pic.twitter.com/Fh8P9dCqfN
— FSU Football (@FSUFootball) October 18, 2020
Memphis finally sees dawn (Get it? Because the Knight is over.) UCF’s reign at the top of the American came directly at Memphis’s expense. The Knights won a 62-55 thriller over the Tigers in the 2017 AAC championship (you likely remember this game as the one where news broke that Scott Frost was leaving for Nebraska while his team was on the field.)
In 2018, UCF beat Memphis twice — a come-from-behind 31-30 win at the Liberty Bowl in October, and a 56-41 shootout for a second straight AAC crown that December. UCF had won 25 in a row at that point, three of them at Memphis’s expense.
UCF has since come down to Earth, while Memphis has kept improving. The proof arrived Saturday, when Ryan Silverfield’s team took a 50-49 thriller that serves as an official Changing of the Guard in the American. Memphis faced deficits of 35-14, 43-29 and 49-37, but its offense just kept coming.
A game that saw: 75 first downs; an AAC record 1,501 yards of total offense; a 600-yard passer; a 486-yard passer; four 150-yard receivers; a 100-yard rusher; and, somehow, six punts ended on a missed field goal.
The win ended a 13-game series losing streak for Memphis, dating back to when UCF was an FCS independent.
— Memphis Football (@MemphisFB) October 18, 2020
It’s too early to say this win will vault Memphis into the American championship game, the win merely prevents them from being removed from discussion. In a division-less season, five teams sport unbeaten conference records and two more carry just one loss.
Not among them: UCF. The Knights now sit at 1-2 in conference play, just another team in a conference they used to dominate.
The Super 16. Here’s this week’s ballot for the FWAA-NFF Super 16 poll. And since that poll does not exist this year, this essentially is the Super 16 poll. We’ll add in the Big Ten this week.
3. Ohio State
5. Notre Dame
6. Texas A&M
7. Oklahoma State
8. Penn State
14. North Carolina
15. Iowa State
16. Coastal Carolina
Seen and Heard
What a day. pic.twitter.com/ISDA7VF9PQ
— Adam Kramer (@KegsnEggs) October 18, 2020
Shi Smith with the catch of the day. pic.twitter.com/6B1ZVCunwN
— Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer) October 17, 2020
“The energy definitely went up and our confidence level went through the roof.”
— Alabama linebacker Dylan Moses on Nick Saban’s return to the building
“I was home taking orders, rather than giving orders.”
— Nick Saban on his brief quarantine.
“I don’t make the calls on offense.”
— Pat Narduzzi on Pitt running back Todd Sibley, Jr., carrying four times in the Panthers’ 31-19 loss to Miami.
Odds and Ends
a. Is anyone in college football having as much fun as Arkansas right now? The Hogs scared the daylights out of Georgia for a half, stuffed Mississippi State in Week 2, should have beaten Auburn in Week 3, and then humbled a sizzling Ole Miss offense on Saturday. The Hogs picked Matt Corral six times, returning two of them for picks — which proved the difference in a 33-21 win. After forcing 16 turnovers over the course of the entire 2019 season, Barry Odom’s unit has already registered 13 takeaways in a month of football.
Whoever we got is whoever we need. pic.twitter.com/2SgpG3X3K7
— Arkansas Razorback Football (@RazorbackFB) October 17, 2020
b. Lane Kiffin came away from the Alabama game talking about rat poison. He felt his team and his fan base treating a 63-48 loss like a win. “Fans are doing a standing ovation when we were walking off and I was very confused about that,” he said after that game. “We lost. Not that I don’t appreciate the fans or any of that. But the players need to know we didn’t come here to play close or cover spreads or any of that.” It seems he saw this result coming before the rest of Rebel Nation.
b. Speaking of pick sixes, Kentucky snagged two of ’em on consecutive drives in its game at Tennessee. Those plays built the Wildcats a 14-0 lead, more than enough in a 34-7 thumping.
— After gaining 559 yards in a loss to Ole Miss, Kentucky posted 451 yards, combined, against Mississippi State and Tennessee and won both games by a cumulative score of 58-9. Go figure. That’s what a 10-2 turnover ratio will do for you.
— The win was… Kentucky’s first in Neyland Stadium since 1984…. its first over a ranked Tennessee team since 1959… and tied its largest road win over a ranked opponent.
Saturday Symphony 🎶🎵
— Kentucky Football (@UKFootball) October 18, 2020
c. Texas A&M dominated the line of scrimmage about as thoroughly as it can be dominated in a 28-14 win at Mississippi State. The Aggies limited State to minus-2 yards on the ground, and didn’t post a single negative play until the final snap of the game.
— Josh Henson (@Coach_Henson) October 17, 2020
d. This is as discombobulated a Mike Leach offense has ever looked. (For the record, 3.9 would rank dead last nationally.)
Mississippi State put up 8.3 yards per play against LSU.
Mississippi State is putting up 3.9 yards per play against everyone else.
— Max Olson (@max_olson) October 17, 2020
e. West Virginia defeated Kansas 38-17 in Morgantown. This concludes the entirety of Big 12 action for Week 6.
f. No one played a crazier game this week than North Texas. Let us count the ways:
— The Mean Green committed nine penalties and three turnovers… in the first quarter.
— Backup quarterback Jason Bean came off the bench, taking over with UNT at its own 1-yard line and immediately led a 5-play, 99-yard touchdown drive.
— Bean rushed 10 times for 169 yards and three touchdowns, running back DeAndre Torrey carried 13 times for 143 and two scores, and Tre Siggers added 101 yards on 14 attempts. Meanwhile, Jaelon Darden also caught 10 passes for 204 yards and a score.
— Has any team ever had three 100-yard runners and a 200-yard receiver. Has any team had three 100-yard runners, a 200-yard receiver and committed nine penalties and three turnovers in one quarter…. and won? (North Texas roared back from a 21-7 first quarter deficit to beat Middle Tennessee 52-35.)
— The win snapped a 6-game road losing streak for UNT, dating back to 2018.
g. Clemson scored 73 points and none of us batted an eye. Trevor Lawrence, taking firm control of the Heisman race, threw for 391 yards and five touchdowns… in one half.
h. We’ve all seen baseball games so out of hand that a position player found himself on the pitcher’s mound, right? We found the football equivalent in Atlanta when Dabo punt in punter Will Spiers at quarterback for a series with the Tigers up [opens iPhone calculator] 66 points. He went 2-of-3 for 13 yards.
i. Liberty went to the Carrier Dome as a favorite on Saturday, and it turns out Vegas didn’t have enough faith in the Flames. Pounding out 338 yards and four touchdowns on an even yards a carry, Liberty punished Syracuse, 38-21.
j. Coming up next Saturday: Syracuse at Clemson.
k. A week ago, Louisville gave up 46 points to a Georgia Tech team that scored seven on Clemson, while Notre Dame scored 42 on a Florida State defense that limited North Carolina to ___. So of course Notre Dame scratched out a 12-7 win over Louisville.
l. It’s hard to imagine a more impressive start to the season for Coastal Carolina. The Chanticleers won emphatically at Kansas, blew out Arkansas State and then took down a ranked Louisiana-Lafayette, 30-27 on Wednesday.
m. Completing a bad week for Louisiana teams playing big conference showdowns, Louisiana Tech lost to Marshall in a game of C-USA unbeatens. In a 35-17 final, the game turned with six seconds left in the first half. With no timeouts in his back pocket, Skip Holtz opted to keep his offense on the field for a third-and-goal from the Marshall 1, trailing 14-3. An incomplete pass would have likely left enough time for a field goal try, but Holtz wanted a statement running play. Marshall wound up making the statement, stuffing Bulldogs running back Justin Henderson for no gain.
— Marshall Football (@HerdFB) October 18, 2020
n. South Carolina beat Auburn for the first time since 1933, picking Bo Nix three times to rally from a 16-7 deficit for a 30-22 win.
o. After starting its season in the choppiest of waters — losing 55-3 to BYU, rallying from 24-0 down to beat Tulane 27-24, losing to Air Force 40-7 — Navy has found smooth sailing. The Midshipmen are 3-0 in conference play after beating East Carolina 27-23.
p. NC State beat Duke 31-20, which isn’t that remarkable. What is remarkable: both teams returned blocked punts for touchdowns. It’s the first time since 2012 both teams have housed blocked punts.
q. UMass played its first game of the season on Saturday… and the Minutemen probably could have waited another week. They fell 41-0 to Georgia Southern, gaining 10 first downs and 191 yards of total offense while surrendering 436.
The Big Ten is back next week. Regardless of how we all felt, or still feel, about the conference’s leadership… college football is a better product with the Big Ten playing. Case in point: Saturday’s TV schedule, which saw ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, Fox and FS1 all air something other than college football in prime time on an October Saturday.
Any college football is good, but more is always better. And more is on the way. Amen to that.