1. It's a put up or shut up season for Tennessee, and at halftime in Knoxville the only sound heard at Neyland Stadium was a chorus of boos. The Vols trailed Florida 21-3 and looked, frankly, like they wanted no part of competing with the Gators. No sequence exemplified that quite like when Tennessee took over at the Florida 2-yard line after a muffed punt and could not push the ball across the goal line, then immediately allowed the Gators to bully for 25 yards forward for a more comfortable punt.
Between that sequence, an end zone interception and a crucial drop, Tennessee punted away 18 points in a half they trailed by 18. Eleven ghosts of Tennessee-Florida games past followed them into the locker room. This had all the makings of a runaway, just not in Tennessee's favor.
The Vols dug in for the second half, particularly on defense. I'm not sure exactly what was said at halftime, but I'm convinced Coach Bill Yoast had to be involved. Joshua Dobbs tossed his second interception in Florida territory to open the second half, but Bob Shoop's defense immediately forced a three-and-out. Then another. And another. In fact, this was Florida's second half drive chart while the game was still in doubt:
- Three-and-out (negative yardage)
- Three-and-out (negative yardage)
- Three-and-out (negative yardage)
- First-play interception
- Three-and-out (negative yardage)
Over the course of those six touches -- totaling 19 plays for minus-9 yards, plus a turnover -- Tennessee's offense turned a 21-3 hole into a 38-21 lead before a cosmetic touchdown produced a 38-28 final. (And Tennessee could've pushed it to 45-28 but Butch chose otherwise.)
What does this really mean, beating a No. 19 team in September? Tennessee has bigger goals under Butch Jones than simply beating Florida. This is true. But none of those bigger goals were ever going to happen until that blue-and-orange scaled beast was slain. And now it is.
2. Beyond the psychological aspect, here's why beating Florida was so big for Tennessee. The Vols turn around and head to Georgia next week. As we saw Saturday, Georgia may not be ready to compete against the upper echelon of the SEC yet under Kirby Smart, though the field has a way of flipping when you go on the road and your opponent returns home.
Win that one, though, and Tennessee starts 2-0 in the SEC with head-to-head wins over Florida and Georgia. Home free, right? Not exactly. The Vols then head to Kyle Field before turning around and hosting Alabama.
Safe to say Tennessee needed this one.
3. Buck(y) yes. Be honest, you didn't have Wisconsin beating LSU, and you didn't have the Badgers going into Michigan State and winning. Not only did Wisconsin win -- they pushed Michigan State around their own house.
New defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox turned Michigan State over four times, held Sparty out of the end zone and shut them out in the second half in a 30-6 triumph. Beyond that, Wisconsin's defense actually out-scored Michigan State's offense.
Paul Chyrst and company might as well not go home as the schedule makers send Bucky to Ann Arbor next week for what will be a teeth-clenched top-10 showdown that would make Barry Alvarez and Bo Schembechler proud.
4. Auburn-LSU ended the only way it could've ended. Auburn didn't score a touchdown. LSU scored one. A game that both teams had to have... no one seemed to want to win. Auburn produced a half-dozen drives of 50 yards or more and registered six field goals and one goal line stuffing. Gus Malzahn's crew just needed one stop to secure a much-needed win, and allowed LSU to score as time expired.
Or did they?
LSU's first fourth quarter touchdown of the season actually came one second -- there's something about Jordan-Hare Stadium and one, solitary second -- after the fourth quarter ended.
Look, the product was entertaining but I'm not sure we learned anything about either set of Tigers on Saturday. They're both 2-2 overall and 1-1 in the SEC. Both teams still have Alabama, Arkansas and Ole Miss ahead. Auburn also has Georgia, while LSU still gets Florida and Texas A&M. Wins are going to come through defense and elbow grease, but the important thing is they come at all.
4a. Uh, inadvertently? We sure about that?
5. Who needs basketball? During a 30-minute window in the middle window on Saturday afternoon, North Carolina was a football state. First, North Carolina rallied from 36-23 down with just over five minutes remaining to beat Pittsburgh 37-36 on a Mitch Trubisky touchdown pass to Bug Howard with two seconds remaining.
Next, Duke roared back from holes of 14-0 and 35-28 to stun Notre Dame in South Bend, 38-35. The Devils banged in a go-ahead field goal with 1:24 to play, then pushed the Irish off the field on a turnover on downs near midfield, securing Duke's second win over Notre Dame -- ever -- and first in South Bend.
Finally, Wake Forest completed the trifecta by beating Indiana 33-28 in Bloomington. The admittedly lower degree of difficulty win pushed the Deacons to 4-0 for the first time since the magical ACC championship season of 2006.
We now live in a world where Wake Forest has as many wins as Texas, USC and Notre Dame -- combined.
6. We don't appreciate Kyle Whittingham enough. Last week we praised North Dakota State for making the winning plays when winning time arrived, and Whittingham's Utes teams have consistently done that in his near-decade at the helm, with no better example than Friday night against USC.
With 5:30 remaining and trailing 31-27, Utah accepted the ball at its own 7. The Utes immediately faced a 3rd-and-10. They gained 15 yards. Two minutes later they saw a 3rd-and-15 at the USC 49. They gained 14 yards on that play, then pushed ahead for three on 4th-and-1. That led to a 4th-and-1 with 45 ticks left at the USC 18. Utah ran for five yards, then hit a game-winning 18-yard touchdown pass with 16 seconds remaining. Fifteen plays, 91 yards, seven points.
In total, Utah fell behind 24-10 after USC's first possession of the second half before mounting three consecutive touchdowns drives that covered 253 yards over 36 plays and consumed 15 minutes and 22 seconds. Thats, well, North Dakota State-like.
Utah is 4-0 this season, 14-3 over the last two and 23-7 over the last three with an 11-4 mark in one-score games.
7. Some games need every single play to tell their story. Texas A&M-Arkansas needed only three. After forcing a fumble inside their own 5, Arkansas used 10 minutes of clock to set up a 4th-and-goal at the A&M 1. The score was tied 17-17, and the Hogs had twice been stuffed at the goal line earlier in the night. Rather than concede and accept a 20-17 lead, Bret Bielema elected to go for it. A jet sweep lost four yards, and two plays later Trevor Knight hit a 92-yard touchdown pass to give A&M its first lead. The Aggies would not give it back.
In fact, the Aggies ripped off two more scores, turning a tie game through two quarters into a 45-24 runaway, once again completing their Charlie Brown and Lucy dynamic with their Southwest Classic rivals, a game in which A&M out-rushed Arkansas 366-120. (After not playing from 1992-2008, the Ags and Hogs rekindled their series upon AT&T Stadium's opening in 2009. Arkansas won all three meetings while Texas A&M was in the Big 12; A&M is now 5-0 since joining the SEC.)
But, as we know, September has never been the problem for Kevin Sumlin's Aggies. A tricky trip to South Carolina waits next before consecutive games (sandwiched around a bye) against Tennessee and Alabama.
8. As one streak dies in the East, another lives on in the West. Too many times in Stanford's eight-game win streak over UCLA, the Bruins declined to meet the physical challenge of the men across from them. In fact, only two of the eight were within one score.
UCLA met Stanford's physical challenge on Saturday. The Bruins recorded their first sack of a Stanford quarterback in five meetings. They held Christian McCaffrey to his quietest night in a full season, and held Stanford out of the end zone for 59 minutes.
But, trailing 13-9 with 4:40 remaining and two timeouts in his pocket, David Shaw punted on a 4th-and-1 at his own 39 because he knew he'd get the ball back and he knew Stanford would score. The Cardinal forced a punt two and a half minutes later and took the ball at their own 15, which was immediately bumped to the 30 after UCLA crowded McCaffrey's fair catch. What followed was a Stanford drive wholly unlike their first nine touches. Stanford was crisp, efficient and urgent moving 70 yards in 10 plays, leading to a game-winning eight-yard touchdown pass to a receiver who, before that play, had never caught a touchdown pass.
That score gave Stanford the win, and a sack, strip and fumble return with triple zeroes gave the Cardinal its seventh multi-score win over UCLA in nine tries.
9. The Super 16. The Nuggets is honored to serve as a voter in this year's FWAA-NFF Super 16 poll. Here is this week's ballot.
- Ohio State
- Texas A&M
- Florida State
- Ole Miss
10. Odds and Ends
a. Iowa 14, Rutgers 7. That's all we need to say about this.
b. It was beyond comical the voters pushed Ole Miss all the way down to 23rd last week. There are 120 other teams that would've lost to Florida State and Alabama, and very few of those could've built leads of 28-6 and 24-3. The Rebels have something there, and Georgia saw all of it when Hugh Freeze and company built a 45-0 lead in less than 40 minutes before coasting to a 45-14 win.
c. Seth Littrell and North Texas offered a strong statement in rallying from down 17-0 at Rice to win 42-35 in double overtime, snapping a 14-game road losing streak in the process. Those are the wins on which programs are built.
d. It's about time Michigan leveled up in competition. The Wolverines ran through September by an average score of 52-14 and on Saturday out-gained Penn State 515-191 in a 49-10 rout.
e. Memphis 77, Bowling Green 3. Did Mike Norvell lose a girlfriend to a guy in Northwest Ohio at some point in his life?
f. The Nuggets remains neutral, but I had to admit I was happy to see Louisville beat Marshall, if only because next Saturday in Death Valley East would've been a bigger letdown than the Christmas you asked for an iPod and got a Zune had the Herd pulled off the upset.
g. Outside a bad half in Bristol, the Justin Fuente Era of Virginia Tech football is off to a roaring start. The Hokies faced perennial ACC thorn East Carolina and ripped off a 38-0 first half before a 54-17 win.
h. Safe to say Brent Venables has Georgia Tech's offense figured out by this point.
i. Colorado backed up a 2-0 start and a vibrant showing at Michigan by earning its fourth, and, by 15 miles, most significant Pac-12 road win by holding off Oregon 41-38 in Eugene. More important than the result was how it happened: the Buffs saw a 26-17 halftime lead turn into a 38-33 fourth quarter deficit before taking the lead back, then securing an end zone interception to seal Mike MacIntyre's signature victory to date. Colorado is now 3-1 for the first time since 2008.
j. Speaking of strong starts, Eastern Michigan is 3-1 for the first time since 1995. Heck, entered this season without winning three games total in six of their last seven campaigns. Very strong stuff by Chris Creighton and staff.
k. While we're on the subject, Directional Michigan is 10-2 combined. The state as a whole is 16-3.
l. The slide continues at Northern Illinois after dropping a 28-23 decision to Western Illinois. The Huskies have lost seven in a row, a tough stretch at any program, but even more so at a place that was on a 65-16 run before the slide.
m. Baylor joined the 2016 season by earning a 35-24 win over undefeated/one-loss Oklahoma State in Waco. The Bears will now go back into hibernation -- at Iowa State, vs. Kansas, two byes -- before rejoining the season at Texas on Oct. 29.
n. Baylor oddly went for a 4th-and-1 at its own 24 leading 28-24 late in the third quarter, only to come up short. This was Jim Grobe's explanation. Can't say I've seen this before.
Baylor's defense picked the offense up by forcing a turnover on downs of its own 3.
o. The Big 12's other undefeated remained that way, but they didn't make it easy on themselves. West Virginia built a 35-19 lead over BYU with 11:47 remaining after a 99-yard touchdown drive, but BYU crept back in with a chance to take the lead after consecutive touchdown drives aided by two three-and-outs and a fumble at the BYU 4 with just over four minutes remaining. The Cougars moved all the way to the West Virginia 28 with more than a minute to play, needing only a field goal to tie and a touchdown to win, before Maurice Fleming intercepted Taysom Hill in the end zone.
p. Whoever invented the phrase "embarrassment of riches" had this in mind when the phrase was coined.
q. In a week that saw eight overtime games, Tulane's 41-39 quadruple overtime outlasting of Louisiana-Lafayette takes home the title belt. A game that was 16-16 after regulation ended when Tulane forced a Cajuns two-point pass incomplete.
r. Arizona State was picked next-to-last in the Pac-12 South, but Todd Graham's Devils are off to a 4-0 start after holding off California during #Pac12AfterDark, winning 51-41 after trailing 27-20 entering the fourth quarter. #Pac12AfterDark, indeed.
11. Tweets of the week.
Part I: No one took a bigger shot this weekend than this poor student photographer.
Part II: We knew Mark Dantonio's coaching was magic, but did you know he was literally magic?
Part III: Superstar coaches, they're just like us!
12. And, finally...
Washington at Stanford on Friday night, Wisconsin at Michigan on Saturday afternoon, and Louisville at Clemson on Saturday night.
Get your sleep in now.