As any season-opener should, Saturday night's FCS Kickoff served as a perfect microcosm of what we should expect to see in this historically weird 2020 college football season. Central Arkansas's come-from-behind 24-17 win over Austin Peay was equal parts thrilling and sloppy, exhilarating and maddening.
It was also a game that turned due to unexplained absences, many of them concentrated in one position group.
As kickoff approached, rumors surfaced that Peay would be without many key contributors, most notably wide receiver DeAngelo Wilson, the Ohio Valley Conference's Offensive Player of the Year in 2019.
But while missing Wilson undoubtedly hurt, what truly killed Austin Peay was missing not one, not two, but three long snappers.
Austin Peay carries three long snappers on its roster -- No. 43 Lucas Betten, No. 46 Ethan Myers, and No. 47 Nic Screnock.
In a preview for Peay's website that happened to post last Monday, special teams coordinator Jordan Frazier gushed about all three of them.
"Screnock is super, super dependable," Frazier said. "He is good in coverage and has seen a lot of football. I am really excited with what he has done, especially with his body; he is running really well and looks great. He has been snapping the ball really well, and I am super excited to have him back as the guy to rely on to lead the specialist group."
"Lucas Betten is snapping the ball really well right now," Frazier continued. "I am super excited with the progress that he has made and I want him to continue to be right there to push Screnock. The young buck, Ethan Myers, is a lefty who arrived in really good shape. His body looks really good and he has got a super-bright future in front of him. He has got a lot of velocity on the football and his snaps have got good rotation. He is pretty advanced for a true freshman snapper, and I really like what he is going to be able to do for the Govs in the future."
But as Saturday night rolled around and Austin Peay's punt team trotted on the field for the first time, Nos. 43, 46 and 47 were nowhere to be found. In their place was No. 33, linebacker Cameron Miller.
The result was exactly what you'd expect from a fourth-string long snapper.
Miller's first snap went over punter Cole Deeds's head; he recovered the ball and salvaged a minus-12 yard punt. Austin Peay's third punt attempt was even more of an adventure.
Central Arkansas turned those two snaps into six points, which proved crucial in their 7-point win.
We don't know why the three Peay long snappers -- the law firm of Betten, Myers and Screnock -- did not make the trip to Montgomery. But we don't have to think hard to come up with a guess.
The point here is not to criticize Miller. Few teams have even three reliable long snappers; hardly anyone (no one?) has four.
The misadventures of Austin Peay's punting unit served as an opening night reminder that every team is fighting two opponents each season. There's the one you line up across from, the one you spend all week studying on film and preparing for on the practice field. That opponent is difficult enough.
But the 2020 season brings a second opponent -- one you can't see on film, one who weakens you from within. The virus has a way of stress-testing every team and, as we saw on Saturday night, blow a hole through a depth chart in ways no coaching staff can prepare for.