We go through a week like this in the early stages of every season. There wasn’t one matchup between ranked teams on Saturday, providing yours truly with the opportunity to forego some boring early games in favor of completing some overdue errands that should have been addressed in the offseason.
If you braved the entire college football slate Saturday from the very beginning, you are either a far more rabid and devoted fan than I— or you’re young enough that overdue errands don’t exist in your world. If it’s the latter, I dually applaud you.
What We Learned
Stanford May Be an Afterthought in the Pac-12
A year after the two schools agreed upon their home-and-home series in 2014, Central Florida visited Stanford on September 12, 2015. The Cardinal dominated that game, winning 31-7 in typical Stanford fashion under head coach David Shaw.
Consider the statistical evisceration that day: Stanford outgained UCF 491 to 181, threw for nearly 400 yards, ran for 130 more, did not commit a turnover, and forced the Golden Knights into two. All despite nearly 140 yards in penalties— atypical of Shaw teams.
The win came a week after then-No. 21 Stanford fell unexpectedly to unranked Northwestern on the road to open the season, but the Cardinal would not lose again until mid-November and eventually ended the season ranked in the Top 5 with a Rose Bowl blowout of Iowa.
Meanwhile, UCF would finish the 2015 season winless in George O’Leary’s final year, opening the door for a resurgence ignited by Scott Frost, and now sustained by Josh Heupel, thusly bringing us to the present day.
In a reversal of roles nearly four years to the day, UCF dominated Stanford in Orlando on Saturday, winning 45-27 in a game that wasn’t nearly as close as the 18-point differential may indicate.
But this game, to me, was less about UCF — which scored at least 30 points for the 29th consecutive game in securing its most impressive regular season win over a Power 5 opponent — and more about Shaw and Stanford, which is now 1-2 to start a season for the second time in the past three years.
When Stanford is right, it wins in a fashion that very few teams – perhaps outside of Alabama – are capable of replicating: a dominating ground game, discipline on both sides of the ball, mistake-free game management at quarterback, and defense that eliminates opportunities for big plays.
None of the above applied to Stanford’s effort on Saturday, nor did it the week prior in a blowout loss to unranked USC. Now Shaw and Stanford stand at a crossroads, staring a matchup with No. 15 Oregon next weekend right in the face.
With a win against the Ducks, Stanford may very well right the ship, despite the fact that at least three more ranked opponents lay ahead. Lose next week, and the Cardinal may find it hard to reach eight wins in a season for the first time since 2008.
What We’d Still Like to Know
How Michigan State & Iowa State Plan to Recover
Yeesh, this game can be cruel, and it will ninja your soul in so many ways.
Witness Exhibit A: East Lansing, Michigan, where Michigan State, despite outgaining Arizona State nearly 2 to 1 on Saturday, still trailed 10-7 with under a minute left. Things began to look good for Sparty, though, when the offense drove the ball to the ASU 25 in the waning seconds, setting up what would end up being the first of two attempts for the game-winning field goal.
As cruelty would have it, turns out the Spartans deserved a third.
Junior kicker Matt Caughlin drilled the initial try from 42 yards out, presumably sending the game into overtime, but Michigan was flagged for inexplicably having too many men on the field. Pushed back five yards, Caughlin – who was 4-for-5 on attempts between 40 and 49 yards a season ago - hooked the second attempt way left - his third miss of the game.
On the other side, the Sun Devils bench erupted as they recorded their second victory over a ranked Michigan State team in as many seasons under head coach Herm Edwards.
Crazy finish to ASU-Mich St. Replay creates illegal sub foul for 12 men on Mich St. It’s a live ball foul in replay, so no clock reset or 10-sec runoff. Looked like ASU #15 should have been called for leaping on missed last attempt. Can’t move toward LOS & jump over players.— Dean Blandino (@DeanBlandino) September 14, 2019
In the aftermath, some were convinced the game had concluded unjustifiably, most notably Dean Blandino, former NFL Vice President of Officiating, who insisted during FOX’s postgame coverage that Arizona State safety Cam Philips should have been flagged for leaping during Michigan State’s failed second field goal attempt.
On the replay of the missed 47-yarder, video clearly shows Phillips hurdling the line of scrimmage in an effort to block the kick. Had the penalty been called, Michigan State would have been rewarded a third field goal try — this time from the Arizona State 15 for a much more manageable 30-yarder — a distance from which Caughlin has only missed three times in 30 career attempts.
More than 500 miles to the west, Exhibit B was building towards a no less gut-wrenching conclusion, though at a much more deliberate rate dictated by Mother Nature.
Initially scheduled for an 11 AM CT kick, this season’s take on the annual Cy-Hawk Series between No. 19 Iowa and Iowa State received the royal treatment as ESPN’s College Gameday visited Ames, Iowa for the first time ever.
Optimism exuded from both sides. Iowa, led by the stone-faced Kirk Ferentz, has been deemed the big brother in the series, winning 45 of the 67 meetings between the two schools. Conversely, you have Iowa State, the proverbial outcast who has had a history of playing second fiddle, now determined to make its name under startup head coach Matt Campbell.
Who lost in more demoralizing fashion in Week 3?
This poll is closed
Boston College (vs. Kansas)
More than six hours and two weather delays later – totaling more than three hours due to lightning – the game played out much in the fashion one might think a bitter rivalry game would: solid defense, opportunistic offense, a trick play here and there, minimal penalties, etc.
And the game was there for Iowa State’s taking. Down only one with 90 seconds to play, Iowa State need only to gain roughly 45 or so yards to set up a game-winning field goal, but while settling under the punt of Iowa’s Michel Sleep-Dalton, Cyclone return man Deshaunte Jones was run into by his own teammate, who had the ball ricochet off his back and on to the turf, where it was recovered by the Hawkeyes.
Victory formation followed. The Hawkeyes extended their Cy-Hawk winning streak to five. And ESPN, who had been such gracious guests to Ames earlier in the day, sort of piled on:
Iowa just finds ways to beat Iowa State. pic.twitter.com/w5c17leMAF— ESPN (@espn) September 15, 2019
What We’d Like to Forget
Mississippi State QB Garrett Shrader’s Hangtime
Admittedly, I used to love hits like this. I’d yell for quarterbacks – at least those on opposing teams – not to slide while scrambling, just so I could see somebody get their bell rung.
The physicality of football still gives me goosebumps now and again, and there’s just something about a running back and linebacker meeting in the hole, or a safety lighting up a wide receiver over the middle.
It’s when someone goes airborne, though, extremities flailing about in every possible direction, that make me hold my breath. Maybe it’s because I’m older now; perhaps it’s because I am at the age at which any activity – from rec league softball to working out – could theoretically end in a visit to the doctor for a pulled hammy.
This is all I could think of when I saw it. It had to be done. #talladeganights #CollegeFootball pic.twitter.com/KmsWvl2BCZ— Sam Watson (@SamWatson28) September 15, 2019
But Mississippi State QB Garrett Shrader is not old. Which may start to explain why he was able to immediately hop to his feet after being spun horizontally a good six or so feet into the air by a pair of Kansas State defenders while trying to scramble for a first down during the final minutes of the Bulldogs’ 31-24 loss Saturday.
Acrobatics like this will surely earn Shrader, a true freshman, props in the locker room. Whereas they would have earned me a new spine. And maybe a new pair of shorts.
According to my unofficial measurements, Shrader’s flight lasted nearly a full three seconds and covered four yards. Had it lasted five, we may be talking about a Mississippi State win.