Winners and Losers: Texas scare shows Alabama needs its wide receivers to step up
Alabama’s remade receiving corps was on full display in the Crimson Tide’s 20-19 win over Texas on Saturday. And that display was unconvincing.
The Crimson Tide entered the 2022 season needing to replace receivers Jameson Williams, John Metchie III and Slade Bolden and got a sneak peek of what life would be like without Metchie and Williams in the national championship game in January when both were out due to knee injuries.
Alabama clearly wasn’t convinced with what it saw in that 15-point loss to Georgia as the Tide secured commitments from transfer wide receivers Jermaine Burton and Tyler Harrell. They both averaged over 19 yards a catch in 2021 and looked poised to step in as deep threats to help replace Williams’ production.
But Harrell missed Saturday’s game with a foot injury and Burton was a non-factor with two catches for 10 yards. And no one else really stepped up for Alabama either. Running back Jahmyr Gibbs was the only Tide player with more than four catches and led the team with nine catches for 74 yards.
The Tide’s receivers were plagued with drops for much of the game on Saturday and struggled to make plays when they had a chance across the first three quarters. Isaiah Bond dropped a third-down pass over the middle from Bryce Young after Young made a magical escape from the pocket in the first half and Young had a first-down run wiped away in the third quarter after Traeshon Holden committed a blind-side block.
Some promise from the receivers finally flashed in the fourth quarter when Ja’Corey Brooks picked a fine time to grab his first catches of the season. Brooks stepped up in the final three games of the season for the Tide and grabbed 12 of his 15 catches on the season in those games. Brooks’ three catches on Saturday came on Alabama’s final two drives as the Tide scored 10 points in the fourth quarter to hold on for the win.
But Brooks needs to be an impact player for the entirety of the game and the season for Alabama to reach its potential. And if he doesn’t, then someone else needs to become a go-to threat for Young on the outside. Holden was the only Alabama wide receiver who had a catch over 20 yards on Saturday.
Young was phenomenal on Saturday and his performance belied his modest stat line. He can’t save Alabama every week and Alabama can’t wait for Harrell and JoJo Earle to return from their foot injuries to find a go-to receiver either.
The Tide also need to find some immediate improvement on the offensive line. Outside of an 81-yard TD run by Jase McClellan, Young’s scrambling was the best rushing attack for the Tide all day. An Alabama line that we’ve become used to pushing people off the ball was controlled by a Texas defense that couldn’t get pressure in 2021. The line’s struggles were a big reason why Young was having to make such magical plays with his feet to keep plays alive.
But it’s also just Week 2. It’s worth noting that Alabama got an early season scare from a 6-7 Florida team in 2021 and that Texas has a recent history of playing well in big early season non-conference games. There’s plenty of time for Alabama to find its SEC champion form. And as Saturday showed, there are plenty of things that the Tide can improve upon.
Sun Belt: How about the Sun Belt? After Old Dominion upset Virginia Tech in Week 1, there were three much bigger upsets in Week 2 as Appalachian State shocked No. 6 Texas A&M 17-14, Marshall knocked off No. 8 Notre Dame 26-21 and Georgia Southern beat Nebraska 45-42.
It was a prove-it weekend for the conference after it has quietly become the second-best Group of Five conference in college football. Once an afterthought at the bottom of the FBS level, programs like App State, Coastal Carolina and Louisiana have shown they compete with bigger teams in recent years. And the additions of Marshall and FCS powerhouse James Madison in 2022 have only made the conference better and deeper. Stop sleeping on the Fun Belt and make sure you check out their midweek games in October.
Tennessee: Tennessee found a way to get it done on the road against Pitt. The Vols fell behind 10-0 early but rallied back and pulled out a hard-fought 34-27 overtime victory. The Vols led for most of the second half, but a muffed punt allowed Pitt to tie the score in the final minutes. In overtime, however, Tennessee finally put the Panthers away. Hendon Hooker hit Cedric Tillman for a 28-yard touchdown and then the defense stopped Pitt on fourth-and-goal to get the win. Now 2-0, the Vols host Akron next week before the SEC grind begins.
Wake Forest QB Sam Hartman: In his first game back after being sidelined with a blood clot, Sam Hartman showed few signs of rust. Sure, there was a bit of a slow start. But once Hartman hit A.T. Perry for a 68-yard touchdown late in the first quarter, the Demon Deacons were off and running in a 45-25 road win over Vanderbilt. Hartman threw for 300 yards and four touchdowns in the win, helping Wake Forest improve to 2-0. When Hartman is in the lineup, the Demon Deacons are tough to beat.
Duke: The Mike Elko era at Duke is off to an excellent start. After a shutout of Temple in Week 1, Elko’s Blue Devils went on the road and upset Northwestern, 31-23, in Evanston. It was the first outing for the Wildcats since their win over Nebraska in Ireland, and Duke jumped all over them. Duke took an early 21-0 lead and then had to hold on for dear life. The Blue Devils led by 8 in the final minute, but didn’t seal the victory until stripping Northwestern running back Evan Hull at the 1-yard line with just 12 seconds to play. Hull fumbled into the end zone and Duke recovered to pull out the victory. Duke won a combined five games over the past two seasons, so this is a very promising start to the 2022 season.
Kansas: The Jayhawks have Big 12 road wins in consecutive seasons for the first time since 2007 and 2008. Kansas beat West Virginia 55-42 in overtime on Saturday — yes, KU won by two scores in OT — after entering the game as a 13.5-point underdog. Kansas is suddenly competent under coach Lance Leipold and Jason Daniels threw for 215 yards and two scores while rushing for 82 yards.
A bowl game suddenly looks remotely possible for the Jayhawks as they face Houston and Duke over the next two weeks. If Kansas can end September at 3-1, the Jayhawks will just need to get three wins over the final two months of the season to get to a bowl game for the first time since the 2007 season.
Texas Tech: Texas Tech had its back against the wall twice at home against No. 25 Houston but found a way to pull out a 33-30 win. UH took a 20-17 lead with 37 seconds to play, but the Red Raiders went 46 yards in just 34 seconds to send the game to overtime via a 47-yard field goal from Trey Wolff. The Red Raiders allowed a Houston touchdown to open overtime and then quickly faced a fourth-and-20 with the game on the line. Somehow, TTU converted when Donovan Smith found Jerand Bradley for a gain of 21. Two plays later, TTU scored to force double overtime. Houston settled for a FG to open 2OT and then the Red Raiders won the game with a Smith touchdown run. TTU is now 2-0 to start the Joey McGuire era.
UTSA: UTSA had a brutal triple-overtime home loss to Houston in Week 1. With a trip to Texas on the horizon, Saturday’s cross-country trip to Army seemed like it would be a tricky matchup for the Roadrunners. It was, but UTSA did enough to emerge with a gutsy victory. Army led 28-14 midway through the third, but the Roadrunners battled all the way back to take a 35-28 lead in the fourth. Army ended up forcing overtime — UTSA’s fourth extra frame of the young season. This time, UTSA would emerge victorious. The Roadrunners held Army to a field goal and then won the game, 41-38, with a Frank Harris touchdown pass to De’Corian Clark. That’s back-to-back thrillers for UTSA to open the season. This time, UTSA came out on top.
Ohio State WR Marvin Harrison Jr: With Jaxon Smith-Njigba out injured, Ohio State needed somebody to step up in the receiver room on Saturday. It ended up being Marvin Harrison Jr. In a ho-him 45-12 win over Arkansas State, Harrison caught seven passes for 184 yards and three touchdowns. He had a 42-yard TD in the first quarter and another 42-yarder in the second. In the third, he scored from 30 yards out to help the Buckeyes cruise to victory.
Penn State RB Nick Singleton: Penn State had gone 17 consecutive games without a 100-yard rusher but freshman Nick Singleton needed just five attempts to break that streak on Saturday. In a 46-10 win over Ohio, Singleton rushed for 179 yards and two touchdowns on just 10 carries. Singleton broke off a 70-yard touchdown run late in the first quarter and then had a 44-yard score late in the third. One of the top recruits in the country, the Pennsylvania native already has a major role on the PSU offense with a trip to Auburn coming next week.
Eastern Kentucky, Incarnate Word, Holy Cross and Weber State: These four FCS programs beat FBS teams on Saturday. Holy Cross won with a Hail Mary as time expired. Weber State smacked Utah State (the defending Mountain West champions), 35-7. Incarnate Word had 616 yards of offense in a 55-41 win over Nevada. EKU took down Bowling Green 59-57... in seven overtimes!
Notre Dame: The Marcus Freeman era is off to a disastrous start. After losing the opener at Ohio State last weekend, Notre Dame returned home and were upset by Marshall, 26-21, as three-touchdown favorites. It was an ugly performance from the Notre Dame offense. The Irish turned it over three times, including a brutal pick-six in the fourth quarter, and averaged only 3.5 yards per rush. And when the defense needed a late-game stop, Marshall went on an 11-play, 94-yard touchdown drive to take the lead for good. The Irish are now 0-3 with Freeman as head coach, including last year’s Fiesta Bowl loss to Oklahoma State.
Texas A&M: Jimbo Fisher has recruited at an extremely high level, but it has not materialized on the field. The Aggies have been a good SEC program, but fans have been clamoring for the Aggies to take the next step toward the top of the conference. Saturday's 17-14 home loss to Appalachian State was evidence that that jump almost certainly won't come this year. In the loss, the No. 6 Aggies had just 186 yards of offense as App State dominated time of possession and pulled out the victory with a late-game field goal and a long run by Camerun Peoples. Fisher puffed out his chest during the offseason, only for his team to fall flat on its face in Week 2.
Wisconsin: The No. 19 Badgers got bested by a former player on Saturday in Washington State’s 17-14 win in Madison. Wisconsin transfer Nakia Watson rushed for two TDs as the Cougars pulled the upset. Washington State entered as a 17.5-point underdog after beating FCS Idaho by seven in Week 1 and benefitted from two missed Badger field goals and a wild sequence in the fourth quarter.
Wisconsin QB Graham Mertz threw an interception deep in WSU territory but defensive lineman Christian Mejia fumbled the ball after he picked it off. Wisconsin recovered the ball but a personal foul on Clay Cundiff pushed the Badgers back to the 35. Cundiff then fumbled the ball after catching a pass from Mertz and Washington State recovered to effectively end the game.
Iowa: Iowa's offensive woes continued, this time in a loss to rival Iowa State. In a 10-7 loss, the Hawkeyes had only 150 yards of offense. That performance came on the heels of a 7-3 win over South Dakota State that featured a field goal and two safeties. This week, Iowa did reach the end zone after a blocked punt but didn't do much of anything after that first-quarter score. Spencer Petras struggled again at QB, completing just 12-of-26 throw for 92 yards and an interception. Iowa's defense then allowed a 21-play, 99-yard drive by Iowa State to lose the game. Yikes.
Missouri: The Tigers were abysmal in their 40-12 loss to Kansas State on Saturday. Missouri quarterbacks Brady Cook and Jack Abraham threw interceptions on four consecutive drives at one point during the game. Abraham threw two interceptions on his three pass attempts while Cook was just 15-of-27 for 128 yards and two interceptions in the teams’ first meeting since Missouri left the Big 12 for the SEC.
UCF: UCF just could not move the ball in the second half vs. Louisville on Friday night. The Knights were quite explosive in the first half, especially on the ground, but were unable to score a single second-half point in a 20-14 loss. John Rhys Plumlee was pretty effective on the ground but was just 16-of-34 for 131 yards and an interception as a passer. That was the knock on Plumlee at Ole Miss — an explosive athlete but an inaccurate passer. It was on display in this one. Gus Malzahn’s play-calling was pretty questionable throughout the game, too. Now 1-1, UCF heads on the road to face FAU next week.
Virginia: The Cavaliers lost 24-3 at Illinois in a really weird game. Illinois fumbled three times in the first half yet had a 21-3 lead at halftime thanks to six Virginia punts, two missed field goals and a turnover on downs. Virginia was a staggering 1-of-16 on third downs as both teams combined to go 6-for-30 on third down. Oh, they also combined for seven turnovers as Virginia had three turnovers itself and Illinois turned the ball over once in the first half. The Illini had 10 penalties too. What a bad and weird game.
Boston College: BC is off to a miserable start to the season. The Eagles blew a late lead and lost 22-21 to Rutgers at home in Week 1. They played worse on Saturday at Virginia Tech. BC lost 27-10 to the Hokies, putting up just 155 yards of offense in the process. At one point late in the first half, BC had minus-6 yards. It was that ugly as both lines struggled mightily. Jeff Hafley now has a 12-13 record at BC's head coach.
Colorado: It’s going to be a very long year in Boulder. After getting blown out at home by TCU in Week 1, the Buffs traveled south to Colorado Springs to take on Air Force. It did not go well. The Buffs were 17-point underdogs, and that point spread was nowhere near large enough as the Falcons trounced CU, 41-10. Colorado coach Karl Dorrell made a QB switch from Brendon Lewis to J.T. Shrout but it didn’t matter as the Buffs could muster only 169 yards of offense in the loss. Dorrell’s time in Boulder could prove to be short-lived.