Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college sports (copies of non-best seller “The Cult of Punting:” sold separately in Iowa City):
MORE DASH: Break-Up Time?
INSTANT SAVIOR UPDATES
So, your favorite team brought in a new coach/coordinator/quarterback in the offseason. And you’ve been hearing for months about the new and improved outlook because of that change. And then the games started to be played, and we got some actual intel on the instant savior subset.
A look at six new situations, and how they started:
Ohio State (1) hired Jim Knowles away from Oklahoma State at a salary of $1.9 million to strengthen its defense. First impression: really good.
Ryan Day was beaming after the Buckeyes slogged past Notre Dame 21-10 Saturday night, largely because his team won in a way that is atypical for his coaching style. With its explosive passing game bottled up most of the night due to a significant injury (star receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba) and the Fighting Irish defense, Ohio State had to rely on defense and the running game to beat a quality opponent.
“We wanted to be known as something other than just talented,” Day said postgame. His team wanted to establish a level of toughness. Mission accomplished, especially by a defensive unit that gave up 87 points in its final two games of 2021 and surrendered more than 30 on five different occasions. They were tired of having the word “soft” attached to their unit.
“All last year,” said safety Lathan Ransom, “we had to sit there and eat it.”
But in its first game under Knowles’s direction, the Ohio State defense ate the Irish offense. Notre Dame’s 10 points were its lowest in a season opener since 2007, the depths of the Charlie Weis Era. The Buckeyes allowed just 72 yards and five first downs after halftime, plus forced points on the Irish’s final six possessions.
“Our players expected this,” Knowles said. “I expected this. I’m please and happy for them, but I’m not surprised.”
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Notre Dame (2) did not voluntarily change coaches, but it did eagerly embrace promoting young defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman while declining interest from many established head coaches. First impression: nice start(s), bad finish(es).
The Ohio State game actually was Freeman’s second as head coach, but it was the first in a non-fire drill setting after he took over a few weeks before the Fiesta Bowl last season. But the two games—both against excellent competition—have unfolded similarly. The Irish came out of the gate inspired and efficient, clicking off big plays and staking themselves to leads. Then they staggered through the second half.
Saturday night, Notre Dame was outscored 14-0 in the final two quarters. In the Fiesta Bowl, it was outscored 23-7. Both may have been examples of stronger opponents finding their footing as the games progressed, but the Irish nonetheless have to find a way to adjust to the opponent adjustments—especially on offense.
Coordinator Tommy Rees isn’t dealing with a flush hand on that side of the ball. Injuries left him without his best lineman (Jarrett Patterson) and most dangerous deep threat (wideout Avery Davis) Saturday night. His quarterback (Tyler Buchner) and running backs are serviceable, not great. Buchner completed his first eight passes against the Buckeyes and then just two of his last 10. Notre Dame didn’t have a single run of 15 yards or longer.
These might be issues that only recruiting can solve. If the Irish are going to extend their streak of five straight seasons with double-digit victories, the defense likely will have to carry them.
Florida (3) brought in Billy Napier, who in turn did what Gators fans wanted Dan Mullen to do last year—turn the offense over to Anthony Richardson. First impression: fantastic.
Napier’s tenure began with a big, dramatic home upset of Utah. Credit a Gators defense that came up with a pair of Red Zone stops— including a game-sealing interception in the final minute—but the show stealer was Richardson. The Cam Newton comparisons started coming into sharper focus against a very good Utes team.
Richardson ran for three touchdowns and produced 274 yards total offense (7.8 per play), leading four scoring drives of 63 yards or longer. There were several exciting plays, but the real dazzler was Richardson’s pump-fake-spin-scramble to elude a sack and fire a dart to Ja’Quavian Fraziars for a two-point conversion.
Richardson possesses all the necessary talent and should keep improving with additional experience. “If they can keep him healthy, they’re going to win a lot of games,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said.
Like Notre Dame, Oregon (4) did not seek to make a coaching change—the change happened to the Ducks. When Mario Cristoball left for Miami they hired Dan Lanning, who brought in quarterback Bo Nix as a transfer from Auburn. First impression: brutal.
Look, the only new coach who had a more difficult opening assignment than Freeman was Lanning. But at least Freeman kept hope alive for more than a half. Oregon was never in contention against the reigning national champions, getting trucked 49-3.
The primary disappointment was a veteran offensive line and defensive front seven both being utterly dominated. But there also was Nix, whose track record for inconsistency and haphazard plays was well established at Auburn. Different uniform, same guy. Nix threw two interceptions and no touchdowns, averaging just 4.7 yards per attempt. That ran his record against Georgia to 0-4 while never producing a pass efficiency rating of better than 108 in those games (which is extremely low).
Still, Lanning sounds like he’s going to keep riding with Nix for now. “We have other quarterbacks on our team that obviously can compete as well, but Bo is our quarterback,” Lanning said. “Bo did a good job today of handling some adverse situations, but he is also going to figure out how can he improve, just like we can as a staff.”
Texas (5) brought touted transfer QB Quinn Ewers home from Ohio State. First impression: Dude, where’s my car?
After leading the Longhorns past Louisiana-Monroe and throwing for 225 yards and two touchdowns, Ewers tweeted that his car was towed during the game:
That escalates what has become the hottest rivalry in the sport in 2022: UT players vs. UT parking. You may recall that receiver Agiye Hall was arrested last month for destroying a parking boot that was placed on his car. Hall was suspended and didn’t play in the opener.
Given Ewers’ importance to the Longhorns, coach Steve Sarkisian might want to employ some of his massive support staff to make sure the quarterback gets his car properly ensconced this week. Alabama is coming, and this is no time to have the QB battling campus parking.
USC (6) imported almost everything. First impression: one huge area of improvement.
We all knew the offense was going to look good under Lincoln Riley, with transfer QB Caleb Williams and a new armada of skill players. What we didn’t know about was the USC defense, a unit that functioned terribly last year. That changed abruptly Saturday.
In the past three season, the Trojans have scored a total of one defensive touchdown. Against Rice, they scored three. There were pick sixes by linebackers Shane Lee (an Alabama transfer) and Ralen Goforth, and by defensive back Calen Bullock. Two of the three were deflections off of dropped passes by Rice, and the third was mostly the result of pressure on the quarterback, but it’s got to be heartening for coordinator Alex Grinch to see his unit make big plays when the opportunity is presented.
Virginia Tech (7) fired Justin Fuente and hired Penn State defensive coordinator Brent Pry, who landed quarterback Grant Wells as a transfer from Marshall. First impression: debacle.
Playing Old Dominion on the road in the opener was questionable scheduling, but it still shouldn’t have turned out this bad. The Hokies were upset 20-17, with Wells throwing four interceptions. Virginia Tech had five turnovers, its most since the season opener in 2019.
Then it got worse after the game, when the Hokies discovered that they apparently were robbed. The school put out a statement Sunday: “The Virginia Tech athletic department confirmed there were items missing from the Virginia Tech locker room following the football game against Old Dominion in Norfolk Friday night. The university is working with law enforcement and Old Dominion University on the matter, and will have no further comment.”
That’s a bad road trip.
South Carolina (8) has a new quarterback and a new rooster. First impression: cock-a-doodle doo.
The Gamecocks largely beat Georgia State with sensational special teams. Meanwhile, Oklahoma transfer Spencer Rattler’s numbers were pretty uninspiring (227 yards passing, one touchdown, two interceptions, just three-of-14 third-down conversions) but reviews of his performance were fairly benign. “Spencer’s been in this offense for eight months,” coach Shane Beamer said. “He’s not going to have the same understanding and comfort level as he would in year two.”
Meanwhile, the latest iteration of the school’s live rooster mascot made its debut after much acrimony and adolescent joking. The new Sir Big Spur, who could have been named Cock Commander if the school had a sense of humor, reportedly met the necessary standard of a celebrity barnyard fowl.
FOUR FOR THE PLAYOFF
Every week, The Dash will decree what should be the College Football Playoff if today were Selection Sunday. This comes with the usual early-season caveat—we are starting from scratch, throwing out preseason expectations. So if your favorite team hasn’t played anybody yet, it won’t be ranked. (This means you, Alabama.)
Peach Bowl: No. 1 Georgia (9) vs. No. 4 Arkansas (10).
The Bulldogs (1-0) were magnificent in destroying Oregon, showing that they have sufficiently reloaded after losing a flotilla of talent to the NFL. They were especially sharp and creative offensively, opening up the playbook and showcasing impressive skill-position depth. Quarterback Stetson Bennett’s evolution from walk-on to backup to champion may be approaching the next step—Heisman Trophy candidate? Next up for Georgia: Samford Saturday.
The Razorbacks (1-0) scored a big home victory over Cincinnati, handing the Bearcats their first regular-season loss since 2019. Arkansas never trailed in the game, getting another productive outing from quarterback K.J. Jefferson (285 total yards and four total touchdowns) against a quality defense. Next up for Arkansas: South Carolina Saturday.
Fiesta Bowl: No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 3 Florida
The Buckeyes did what they had to do against Notre Dame, earning a victory that likely will carry playoff currency all season. Quarterback C.J. Stroud wasn’t great, but he made the necessary plays to keep drives alive in the second half. When Smith-Njigba returns (which Ryan Day said should be this week), the offense will crank back up. Next up for Ohio State: Arkansas State Saturday.
The Gators (1-0) got the Billy Napier Era off to a rousing start, stoking hope that this season might be better than the tepid predictions. The SEC East might be tougher than had been expected, but after all of one game Florida looks as good as anyone in it not named Georgia. Next up for Florida: Kentucky Saturday in an early big one.