The headliner in week 3 was Alabama at A&M. The rematch. The revenge. The return of Johnny Manziel to the national stage. In the end, that matchup delivered in terms of being a rock ’em-sock ’em exciting shootout, although the final score made it seem closer than it actually was. As expected, Manziel put up some crazy numbers. He had to, because also as expected, his defense couldn’t stop Alabama. At all. The Tide did more or less whatever they wanted offensively, and the only reasons the Aggies were able to stay in the game were a healthy dose of luck coupled with Alabama’s confusing inability to cover wideout Michael Evans.
Evans had the game of his life, grabbing seven catches for a whopping 279 yards and a TD. Manziel, courtesy of a dazzling variety of outstanding scrambles, pinpoint throws, and ill-considered circus plays, finished with 562 total yards. But it was his mistakes that were the real story. An awful interception in the endzone on a pass that never should have been thrown. Another pick caused by a tipped ball in traffic that led directly to a ‘Bama touchdown. And in truth, he probably deserved to have two or three more turnovers. Manziel will get credit for playing the Tide tough, but the reality is that he played fast and loose while his counterpart, A.J. McCarron, played effective and smart. That, ultimately, was the difference in the game.
However, despite it serving as the intro for this week’s post, this game didn’t yield the best win of the week. In fact, Alabama has a lot of work to defensively if it wants to survive the SEC unscathed.
Here is the best and worst of what college football week 3 offered.
Best Win of The Week, Week 1: UCLA 41, Nebraska 21 in Lincoln
If all you saw was the final score, you missed the essence of this one. Nebraska came into the game with vengeance on its mind after losing to UCLA last year, and the “Huskers seemed bound and determined to exact that revenge in an impressive way. After one quarter of play the hosts were up 14-3. As halftime approached that lead swelled to 21-3, and it looked for all the world like a blowout was on the way.
In fact, a blowout was on the way, but not the one we were expecting. UCLA entered week 3 carrying a lot of emotional baggage following the shocking death of Nick Pasquale. Pasquale, a walk-on from San Clemente, CA, was struck by a car and killed earlier in the week. As with most tragedies, his death became a rallying point for the team; UCLA would be fighting to “win one for Nick” in week 3. For nearly the whole first half, it looked like their heads were simply not in the game. That would be perfectly understandable, but perhaps not acceptable to Jim Mora, Jr. or his players. And to their credit, they made sure that the rest of the contest had a far different script.
Late in the second quarter, QB Brett Hundley finally got his act together, using his feet and his arm to engineer a 59-yard touchdown drive. It trimmed Nebraska’s lead to 21-10 and represented the first of 38 unanswered points by the visiting Bruins. A game that had initially been dominated by Nebraska got out of hand quickly thanks to four third quarter drives that each resulted in seven. It was as though the ‘Huskers simply forgot how to defend; suddenly UCLA looked like a world-beater and Nebraska just looked lost.
Following the resounding defeat Nebraska coach Bo Pelini got plenty of off-the-field heat for a profanity-laced tirade hammering fans and the media. The words are from 2011 and a completely different game, but their release, and Pelini’s subsequent apology, highlight the fact that things are far from healthy in this program. Here’s what Pelini doesn’t understand about his “fair-weather” fan base. It’s not the losses. It’s how you lose. Pelini was supposed to return Nebraska to prominence. To bring back the Blackshirt defense. That was his core competency. But his tenure in Lincoln has resulted in too many of these ugly, one-sided affairs. And that’s going to cost him.
On the flip side, UCLA flew home with a significant and extremely impressive victory. It served notice that the Pac 12 is more than just Oregon and Stanford.
Honorable Mention: UCF 34, Penn State 31 in State College
This marked UCF’s first victory over a Big Ten opponent, and it was earned on the road in a hostile environment. George O’Leary is quietly putting together an impressive program in Orlando. Remember that the Knights are part of the newly-minted American Athletic Conference along with former Big Easters Louisville and Cincy; if UCF can put together a strong performance against South Carolina at home next week, things could get interesting.
Worst Win of the Week: Michigan 28, Akron 24 in Ann Arbor
This is perhaps a mischaracterization, since Michigan didn’t really win this game at all. Instead, Akron lost it. The Zips are way down the FBS food chain, but that didn’t stop them from playing toe-to-toe with a program fresh off a monster win over Notre Dame. Call it a hangover effect or a lack of attention, but the Wolverines did everything they could to hand the MAC a huge (and unexpected) victory. The yardage? 425-418, barely favoring Michigan. The turnover battle? The Zips finished +1 after nabbing three takeaways. Wolverines QB Devin Gardner followed up his stellar night against the Irish with a forgettable day in week 3, completing barely half of his throws and tossing a pair of interceptions.
Akron matched Michigan score for score, and in the game’s final minutes, marched down the field with a chance to win. A touchdown would ice the game. But as they closed in on the goalline, the Zips ruined their own chances. First came a costly delay of game penalty from the ten; that set them up with a fist and long. It took the Zips two plays to get just inside of the Michigan two yardline, but there they were with third down ahead of them and about five feet to go. Akron chose a running play, which made some sense given how the game had gone. But instead of lining up under center, quarterback Kyle Pohl set up in the shotgun and pitched to tailback Jawon Chisholm.
All of you young coaches out there, pay attention. When you need two yard against a top-tier team, you do not handicap yourself by starting four yard deep in the backfield. It was easily the worst play call I’ve witnessed this year, and probably cost Akron the win. On fourth down, the Zips were overwhelmed by Michigan’s all-or-nothing blitz package as Pohl floated a useless throw well over the head of Zach D’Orazio.
Again. When you need two yards, don’t voluntarily make it six. That’s bad offense, bad math, and had a very bad result for Akron. Michigan, on the other hand, survived one of its poorer efforts in recent memory to stay unbeaten.
(Dis)Honorable Mention: Notre Dame 31, Purdue 24 in West Lafayette
Notre Dame’s “win”, which required a 21-point fourth-quarter surge, was just as pathetic as Michigan’s. Maybe both teams were hung over from their week 2 tilt. At least the Irish have the excuse of being the road team, but really…I think we can stop talking about Notre Dame as a contender.
Upset of the Week: Texas Tech 20, TCU 10 in Lubbock
The Big 12 is shaping up to be an interesting league. Oklahoma has looked like a contender for the most part, but struggling to a win over West Virgina leaves room for doubt. Texas is reeling after a loss to Ole Miss, and Oklahoma State hasn’t looked quite a sharp as expected. This sets the stage for teams like Baylor and Texas Tech to remain part of the title race deep into the season. In a conference filled with parity, any one of numerous programs could emerge with a ticket to the BCS.
TCU, however, is in trouble. Thursday’s loss was uncharacteristic in many ways, but primarily because the Horned Frogs’ defense looked befuddle and outmatched. We haven’t seen that from a Gary Patterson team in a long time. TCU managed to intercept Tech QB Baker Mayfield three times, but poor tackling and a variety of mistakes overshadowed the takeaways.
Worst, the TCU offense couldn’t capitalize on the opportunities that its defense was able to provide. With Casey Pachall on the sidelines after breaking his arm last week, back quarterback Trevone Boykin couldn’t find his rhythm against a Red Raiders’ stop unit that looked pretty solid. Boykin, who isn’t a typical backup nor much of a downgrade for the Frogs, was effective rushing the ball but threw a couple of drive-killing picks of his own.
Texas Tech got some unexpected help from its backup QB David Webb, who entered the game when Mayfield injured his lower leg in the second half. Bearing mind that Mayfield is only starting because of Michael Brewer’s back injury; in effect, Webb is their third-string guy. Despite that apparent disadvantage, the Red Raiders won fairly comfortably and firmly inserted themselves in the Big 12 discussion. A brutal final five games will make or break Tech’s season, but for the time being, Kliff Kingsbury’s squad looks strong.