by Dave Miller
September 01, 02014
Week 1 of the 2014 college football season is not quite in the books yet, as Miami (FL) and Louisville will close out the opening week on Monday night. But there was a lot of drama over the first few days of the new campaign, so let’s take a look back at some of the highlights from the first weekend of the season.
Texas A&M may have taken center stage last Thursday night, but plenty of other storylines played out across the country by the end of Sunday evening. Here are my biggest takeways from the weekend's action.
• He good. He real good. A healthy Todd Gurley is one bad man. The Georgia tailback averaged 13.2 yards per carry on his 15 rushes en route to 198 yards and three touchdowns, and he also recorded a 100-yard kickoff return for another score in the Bulldogs' explosive victory over Clemson at Sanford Stadium in Athens. The 'Dawgs scored the game's final 31 points, as they notched a huge nonconference win ahead of their SEC slate. This is a Gurley we have essentially not seen before because he's constantly battled nagging injuries. But he appears to be in the best shape of his life, and he was in absolute beast-mode on Saturday, as he seemed to get stronger as the game went on. The scary part about Georgia's backfield is each rusher Mark Richt and Co. used could start on most every team in the country (the team finished with 328 yards on the ground). Meanwhile, new starting quarterback Hutson Mason was efficient and mistake-free. We saw a shaky Georgia secondary in the first half, but new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt received a fantastic second-half effort from his crew, as the Tigers were shut out in the final two quarters. Now, the team gets a week off before the South Carolina road test.
ICONLes Miles always has a trick or two up his sleeve.
• Les is always more. LSU head coach Les Miles did it again. The Mad Hatter needed to spark his Tigers, so he went the trick play route, calling for a fake punt on fourth-and-four early in the third quarter with his team down 24-7 to Wisconsin in Houston. Up-back Kendell Beckwith took the snap, gained five yards for the first down and the Tigers managed a 30-yard field goal to get within two scores. That was the fire the Bayou Bengals needed to start their comeback and eventually finish off a 28-24 victory after a dominant second half. If you're Wisconsin, you have to wonder why star tailback Melvin Gordon essentially disappeared in the second half during the Tigers' run. The last time he made an impact was in the third quarter during a 63-yard scamper, as he finished with just 16 carries. Corey Clement is an exceptional player, but Gordon had 140 yards on limited touches and was a preseason Heisman Trophy candidate. Was he banged-up?
• UCLA's offensive line is still a major issue. The Bruins held on for a 28-20 win at Virginia, but star quarterback Brett Hundley was sacked five times, while the ground attack was weak (starting running back Jordon James had five carries for three yards). Hundley has been battered the past few seasons, and that continued on Saturday in Charlottesville. And it's one of the major reasons why I don't think the Bruins will make it to the College Football Playoff. The Bruins' receivers also had issues getting open against a Cavaliers outfit that looked incredibly different than last year's squad. Mike London did a great job of having the Hoos ready to play. The good news for Jim L. Mora is that his defense scored three touchdowns. That game in Arlington against Texas in two weeks will be very interesting.
• As I wrote on Saturday afternoon, defending three-time FCS champion North Dakota State is as good as ever despite losing Craig Bohl to the head-coaching job at Wyoming. The Bison have an 8-3 record against the FBS in their program's history (and have won five in a row against FBS competition) and are currently on a 25-game winning streak.
• Oklahoma State lost a lot of skill from its 2013 defense, but the unit was very aggressive and made Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston look nothing like a Heisman Trophy winner in its loss to the Seminoles. Despite losing eight of their top nine tacklers from last year, head coach Mike Gundy’s squad was well-prepared to face the defending national champions. Pokes defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer is underrated for his work in getting the most out of his players.
• One of the best stories from Saturday came in the day's first contest, a Penn State 26-24 win over Central Florida. Remember the kicker who missed four of his five kicks in the Nittany Lions' loss to Virginia in 2012, dropping PSU to 0-2? It was Sam Ficken, who has missed 15 kicks over the last two seasons but made all four of his attempts in Ireland, including the game-winning 36-yarder to avenge PSU's loss to UCF last year. Ficken has had an up-and-down career in State College, so it was great to see him enjoy such a high moment. One more note on the Lions: Redshirt freshman DaeSean Hamilton (11 catches for 165 yards) and Geno Lewis (8 catches for 173 yards and a touchdown) emerged as new targets for quarterback Christian Hackenberg, who set the Penn State single-game record for passing yards at 454. He did, however, toss two interceptions.
• J.T. Barrett will be fine at Ohio State. The Buckeyes' redshirt freshman made some mistakes and didn't always make the right read in the team's 34-17 win over Navy, but he didn't have a ton of help from his offensive line either. The O-Line lost four starters from last year's squad, and the Buckeyes struggled on the ground against the Midshipmen. The performance of the O-Line is a concern with Virginia Tech arriving in Columbus next week. Barrett is a talented QB, but he needs help from his teammates up front.
• Alabama's offensive line didn't end up as an issue after a rough Week 1 last year, but will its secondary straighten out before it costs the Crimson Tide a game this season? The defensive backfield experienced similar issues as last season in its win over West Virginia, as Mountaineers quarterback Clint Trickett finished with 365 yards and had several drops from his receivers. A non-dominant pass rush didn't help the Tide either.
• Auburn may have the nation's best backup quarterback, as Jeremy Johnson completed 12 of 16 passes for 243 yards and two touchdowns in the start ahead of Nick Marshall, who entered in the second half of a 45-21 win over Arkansas. The Tigers coaching staff loves Johnson, so the Gus Bus will continue to roll when Marshall leaves The Plains.
• Everyone I spoke to who saw Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson this offseason raved about the strides he's made as a signal-caller, and his full toolbox was on display in the win over Rice on Saturday. Golson completed 14 of 22 passes for 295 yards and two touchdowns, and he rushed for 41 yards and three more scores. The Fighting Irish offense will be the best Brian Kelly's had in South Bend, but the absence of KeiVarae Russell will be tough to overcome.
• Perhaps the most stunning stat of the weekend? High-powered Houston had eight three-and-out possessions in the first half of its stunning 27-7 home loss to Texas-San Antonio on Friday. UTSA had six takeaways and nearly had a shutout, handing Tony Levine's squad a crushing defeat.
• How about that new up-tempo offense at USC? New head coach Steve Sarkisian's crew ran 105 (!) plays in its 52-13 win over Fresno State. Cody Kessler completed 25 of 37 passes for 394 yards and four touchdowns, and the Trojans hardly seemed distracted from their off-the-field issues. USC averaged 71.1 plays per contest last season.
• Congrats to UAB and new head coach Bill Clark, who opened his Blazers tenure with a 48-10 win at home against Troy, which was the biggest margin of victory for the program against an FBS team since beating Baylor 56-24 in 2004.
• Florida International lost to FCS squad Bethune-Cookman, going 1-for-16 on third-down conversions. And it remains a disgrace that athletic director Pete Garcia ever let Mario Cristobal go.
• Texas A&M began the post-Johnny Manziel era last Thursday by scoring 52 points at South Carolina. The Aggies will continue to be a factor in the SEC West despite having defensive deficiencies. One area that shockingly looked good, though, was the Aggies' defensive line, which looked very active despite its youth. Meanwhile, trouble could be looming for the Gamecocks.
Dave Miller, the college football editor for the National Football Post, is on Twitter @Miller_Dave.