In a week that rained golf balls and upsets, only Georgia appears immune to 2021 chaos

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Georgia fans know better than to tempt fate. There have been far too many years when it all should have worked out, but the universe delivers a gut punch instead. See 1982. See 2002. See 2007. See 2012. See 2017. To know Georgia is to know pain. It’s inspired at least three R.E.M. albums.

But this year, this Georgia team is different. It has to be.

The Bulldogs dominated previously unbeaten Kentucky on Saturday. Backup QB Stetson Bennett started again and threw three touchdowns. The backfield committee ran for 166 yards against a Wildcats defense that was allowing just 3.4 yards-per-carry this season. The defense, led by Heisman contender Jordan Davis, held Kentucky to just 243 yards — nearly half of which came on the Wildcats’ final two drives when the game was well in hand.

In the aftermath, there’s an obvious question: Who could possibly stop Georgia now?

It certainly isn’t Florida, which fell to a shorthanded LSU 49-42 in a game that is best explained as Dan Mullen trying to spite Tigers boosters who had hoped to fire Ed Orgeron this week.

Mullen likes to play Darth Vader, but this recent stretch of Florida football has exposed him as little more than a Wile E. Coyote. Orgeron painted a tunnel on the side of a mountain, and Mullen ran right into it. He’s become the hapless villain more likely to have an anvil fall on his head than to chase down the roadrunner. (Of note, UTSA remains undefeated, too. Meep, meep.)

LSU lost its star receiver, its top two corners, and Orgeron’s crawfish delivery guy wrecked his Honda. The Tigers had no chance to win, but Florida found a way. Emory Jones and Anthony Richardson combined for four interceptions. Todd Grantham, a fan favorite in every SEC town but Gainesville, coached a defense that surrendered 321 yards on the ground. Tyrion Davis-Price ran for 287 and three touchdowns by himself, the most ever against a Florida defense, breaking a record held by Herschel Walker. It takes a special kind of awfulness to let someone break a Herschel Walker record by 50 yards. Richardson did look terrific on the bulk of his offensive drives, but even that story comes with a twist: The Gators’ backup QB said after the game he couldn’t write off the possibility he’d transfer.

On the plus side, no one threw a shoe.

In two weeks, Georgia and Florida will face off in the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party, but Florida fans might as well start drinking now. The less they remember, the better.

Florida has now lost six of its last eight games against Power 5 opponents, dating back to last year. Of course, Mullen has already explained that the final game of 2020 came before a blowout loss to Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl, and in fairness, he’s never said when the 2021 season was officially going to start. We’ll assume Samford week.

So look ahead for Georgia. After the Gators, there’s Missouri, Tennessee, Charleston Southern and Georgia Tech. Even the most cynical of Dawgs fans would struggle to envision a scenario for their season to go haywire on the road.

From there, the SEC title game. Alabama dominated Mississippi State on Saturday, and the Crimson Tide appear destined for a showdown with the Dawgs in Atlanta. It’s the game we all deserve, but if Georgia wins out, it won’t matter for the Dawgs’ playoff hopes.

And yet, there’s that word: If. Georgia fans hate that word. They’ve lived through too many seasons where “if” is preceded by “what” or followed by “only,” and this year, more than most any other, feels like the more certain we are of the outcomes, the more likely we are to be wrong.

Still, of all the cruel twists of fate, this would be the cruelest. This Georgia team isn’t just good. It is loaded with talent, dominating with its second-string QB, winning with a defense that surrenders nothing without a fight.

Yes, Darth Vader awaits. But this time, the villain looks powerless, and the hero has all the weapons, the story deserves a happy ending.

Iowa’s luck runs out

For six glorious weeks, the Iowa Hawkeyes gave hope to all those who lacked actual skill by turning 11 fullbacks and an opportunistic defense into the No. 2-ranked team in the nation. But alas, like Icarus — or, perhaps, the balloon boy — our Hawkeyes flew too close to the sun.

On Saturday, Iowa ran into the buzz saw that is Purdue and suddenly that ball-hawking defense had no answers for the Boilermakers’ passing game. Aidan O’Connell threw for 375 yards while David Bell caught 11 balls for 240 yards in the 24-7 win. Iowa’s offense was a disaster, with Spencer Petras throwing four picks in a performance so bad Kirk Ferentz complained that none of his O-linemen faked injuries to slow the offense’s awfulness.

To add salt to the wound, Purdue celebrated by making poop jokes and chugging beer, which is akin to Iowa cultural appropriation.

Of course, Purdue knows how to celebrating beating a top-two team. Saturday’s win is the program’s ninth against a team ranked No. 1 or No. 2 in the AP Poll era, and it’s the Boilermakers second straight double-digit win over a top-two team, after thumping No. 2 Ohio State by 29 points in 2018. No other school has more than four wins over top-two teams.

After seven weeks, Iowa is the sixth top-five team to lose this season, joining Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson, Oregon and Penn State.

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Spencer Petras throws four interceptions as the second-ranked Hawkeyes lose to Purdue 24-7.

Kiffin returns to Knoxville

Ole Miss survived both a Tennessee comeback attempt and a few golf balls, escaping Knoxville 31-26.

The Rebels were up five with less than a minute to play when Tennessee completed a 23-yard pass on fourth-and-24, handing the ball over to Ole Miss. A replay appeared to show Vols receiver Jacob Warren was as little as an inch or two from the first-down marker. Fans were displeased.

From there, things got ugly. Trash rained from the sky, in what we’ll assume was a tribute to Butch Jones’ turnover garbage can. At one point, Lane Kiffin was hit with a golf ball. Action was delayed for close to 20 minutes, which felt particularly unnecessary since it had already been a week and a half since the game kicked off.

In the end, Ole Miss ran 101 plays and still nearly gave up a winning score in the final seconds, but brought down Joe Milton at the 8-yard line to secure the win.

Ole Miss is now 5-1, and Kiffin is ready to play 18 on Sunday.

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After Tennessee turns the ball over on downs, UT fans throw objects onto the field, hitting Lane Kiffin and delaying the game.

We want Caleb!

Late in Oklahoma‘s 16-13 win over West Virginia last month, the Sooners student section began to chant, “We want Caleb.”

The message was clear: Lincoln Riley needed to bench Spencer Rattler, a preseason All-American and once projected as the best player in the 2022 NFL draft, in favor of true freshman Caleb Williams.

For a while, Riley tried to ignore the screaming masses, but after the Sooners fell behind Texas by 21 points last week, he made the move. Williams came in, led a miraculous comeback, and on Saturday, he got the first start of his career.

Riley should have listened to the student section much earlier.

Williams was terrific in Oklahoma’s 52-31 win, throwing four touchdowns and running for one more, carving up the TCU defense again and again to the tune of 295 passing yards and 66 more rushing.

Of course, if Oklahoma is going to make a real run for the College Football Playoff, there are still other questions that need to be answered. What happens with Rattler? How can the defense get fixed? Will Riley be able to binge all of “Squid Games” during next week’s game against Kansas?

There’s a simple answer to all of that: Just let the student section handle it. It knows what it’s doing.

Florida men

Nothing that happens in the state of Florida should come as a surprise. After all, this is a place where people get drunk with alligators and try to rob fast-food restaurants with alligators and catch alligators in trash cans. But here’s a truly wild Florida headline: Over each of their past 10 games, none of the seven FBS teams based in the state have a winning record.

Saturday’s games included Dan Mullen’s facepalm against LSU and a late Miami comeback scuttled by an interception in the final minute against UNC. Cincinnati blew out UCF, too. Then there’s USF, which had an 11-point lead in the fourth quarter and appeared poised to win an FBS game for the first time under Jeff Scott. Instead, Tulsa scored the game’s final 12 points and won 32-31. (Scott, the former Clemson offensive coordinator, is now 0-13 against FBS teams at USF, while his predecessor at Clemson, Chad Morris, finished his head coaching stints at SMU and Arkansas by losing 22 of his last 25).

So if you’re keeping score at home (likely while setting off fireworks with an alligator), here are the records in the last 10 games for each Florida school:

Winning ugly

Iowa and Kentucky‘s lackluster offenses finally caught up with them Saturday, but the unbeaten ranks still include a few less-than-explosive teams.

San Diego State got the, um, whatever the opposite of fireworks is (Bon Iver albums?), with a 19-13 double overtime win over San Jose State on Friday night, providing some late-night entertainment for insomniacs who lost their remote controls.

Michigan State moved to 7-0 with a 20-15 win over Indiana, and the Spartans only needed to have their punter-turned-tight end throw a nifty pass to their quarterback, who corralled the ball with a toe-tap on the sideline in order to pull out the win. Indiana has already played four ranked foes and lost to each of them. Next up: Ohio State.

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Michigan State QB Payton Thorne makes a great catch on the sideline on a reverse pass vs. Indiana.

But it was Oklahoma State that really set the standard for unlikely undefeated teams. The Texas “all gas, no brakes” game plan drove off the side of a cliff in the second half of Saturday’s game, and the Cowboys outgained the Longhorns 170-1 in the fourth quarter to win 32-24. Oklahoma State moves to 6-0, with every win coming by 11 points or fewer. The Cowboys’ average margin of victory is just seven points, according to ESPN Sports & Information. That’s the third-lowest margin for a 6-0 team in the AP Poll era (since 1936) behind only 1985 Penn State and 1939 Notre Dame. So, to sum it up: If Mike Gundy is talking about a blowout, he’s probably at the hairdresser.

Huskers’ slide continues

Nebraska‘s woes continued in Week 7 with yet another agonizing defeat, 30-23 to Minnesota. It marks the fifth loss of the season for the Cornhuskers, and all five of them have come by a touchdown or less.

In the playoff era, no other team has lost five one-possession games without a win in its first eight contests of the year, and that’s really just the icing on the cake for Nebraska. Since Scott Frost took the job in 2018, the Cornhuskers have lost 17 games by a TD or less — three more than any other team during that span. Nebraska’s record in one-possession games under Frost is 5-17.

The obvious explanation is that Frost is involved in some sort of monkey’s paw curse, or possibly ran over a witch with his car. Regardless, it’s clear the Huskers must make some sort of sacrifice to the football gods and either shove Frost into a volcano or at least admit Eric Crouch had no business winning the 2001 Heisman over Rex Grossman.

One of these things is not like the others

Clemson‘s offense has been miserable so far this season, and the Tigers narrowly escaped Syracuse on Friday, 17-14, thanks to yet another terrific defensive performance.

How bad are things for the Tigers’ offense? In five games against FBS opponents so far, they’ve managed just 67 points total in regulation. That puts Clemson in some pretty unpleasant company.

In the playoff era, Clemson’s 67 points in regulation marks the sixth-worst output by a Power 5 team through five FBS games. The others:

  • 2015 Boston College, 41 points

  • 2016 Rutgers, 57 points

  • 2014 Kansas, 61 points

  • 2020 Vanderbilt, 64 points

  • 2021 Arizona, 65 points

The good news for Clemson is that it’s already the class of that ignominious club. While Arizona‘s season is still in progress (if you can consider what the Wildcats are doing “progress”), the combined records of those five teams against FBS opponents was 4-42. Clemson, meanwhile, is 3-2 and still has a real shot at winning the ACC.

Extra points

– It’s Week 7, and believe it or not, the Pac-12 is still playing football. Oregon continues to be the league’s front-runner, though the Ducks did little to inspire much confidence in a listless 24-17 win over Cal. Washington State knocked off Stanford in what might’ve been Nick Rolovich’s last game. Meanwhile, Utah dominated the second half against Arizona State to move to 3-0 in the Pac-12, the last remaining undefeated team in league play.

– He’s not exactly a household name yet, but Western Kentucky QB Bailey Zappe is doing things no one outside of Mike Leach’s rolodex has done before. Zappe led the Hilltoppers to a 43-20 win over Old Dominion on Saturday, throwing for 397 yards and five TDs. For the season, he’s thrown for 2,632 yards and 26 TDs with just four interceptions through six games. The last QB to post those numbers through six games was Leach protégé Graham Harrell at Texas Tech in 2007.

– Each week, Brian Harsin goes into a top-secret chamber deep beneath the field at Jordan-Hare Stadium and faces off against the devil in a fiddle contest to decide whether Auburn will get good Bo Nix or bad Bo Nix that week. This week, Harsin was a winner. Nix completed 21-of-26 passes for 292 yards and two touchdowns, adding a third score on the ground as the Tigers sent Arkansas to a third straight loss, 38-23.

Ohio hasn’t had much to celebrate this season, but QB Armani Rogers set an NCAA record for the longest QB run with this 99-yard TD. Sure, the Bobcats still gave up 17 points in the fourth quarter to blow a big lead and lose to Buffalo 27-26, but there’s no value in being a pessimist.

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Armani Rogers shows his speed as he rushes for a 99-yard touchdown for extend the Bobcats’ lead.

– It’s trophy time in the Big Ten. Minnesota beat Nebraska to claim the historic Broken Chair (a Lay-Z-Boy that former Gophers coach Tracy Claeys had posted on Craigslist under “free” after he was fired in 2016), and Michigan State took home the Golden Spittoon by beating Indiana. And in a heated showdown between two of the least explosive offenses in college football, Northwestern knocked off Rutgers 21-7 to claim the fabled Stained Bedpan. The Scarlet Knights will have a shot at redemption in their next game, however, when they’ll face off against Illinois for the coveted half-drank can of Four Loko.

Louisiana-Monroe had lost 12 straight after the season opener against Kentucky, but Terry Bowden now has his (*Googles the nickname of ULM) Warhawks rolling. ULM upended Liberty 31-28 on Saturday, giving Bowden wins over Hugh Freeze and Deion Sanders this season (to go with another win over Troy). It’s also worth remembering that Bowden spent the past two years working as a grad assistant at Clemson, and now his offense is averaging more points per game than Dabo Swinney’s. What a time to be alive.

– There’s a new leader in the clubhouse for the best sideline swag in college football. UNLV‘s celebratory slot machine is just a wonder to behold. The only thing missing is a busload of chain-smoking elderly tourists. Alas, the celebration for the Rebels was short-lived. UNLV was oh-so-close to snapping an 11-game losing streak, leading Utah State until the final minute of play before ultimately falling 28-24. It’s a story as old as time: Get to Vegas, win a few hands early, celebrate a bit too much, wake up in the parking lot of an In-N-Out Burger at 6 a.m. and hitchhike to the airport.

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UNLV unveils a sideline slot machine to help celebrate TDs and INTs.

Heisman Five

Kenneth Walker III’s big season hit a roadblock against Indiana on Saturday, though he’s still in the Heisman hunt. C.J. Stroud belongs in the conversation, too, but Ohio State had an open date, so we’re dropping him from the list. And while Desmond Ridder has Cincinnati cruising, he’s missing out on some critical style points in these blowouts. Instead, here’s our top five after seven weeks.

1. Alabama QB Bryce Young

Alabama doesn’t lose back-to-back games, and Young engineered a brilliant return to form for the Tide, who annihilated Mississippi State a week after falling to Texas A&M. Young was terrific, throwing for more than 300 yards and four touchdowns for the third time this season. Like any 1990s rom-com starring Jennifer Love Hewitt, we keep looking for someone better for the Heisman, but the answer has been right here in front of us the whole time.

2. Georgia NT Jordan Davis

Entering Saturday, opponents were averaging 2.8 yards per run and 2.3 yards per dropback with Davis on the field for Georgia. So, how’d it work out for Kentucky? The Wildcats averaged 1.9 on the ground and didn’t have a run longer than 9 yards, while Will Levis managed just 192 yards on 42 pass attempts. For the season, Georgia has allowed just two passes of 20 yards or more and two runs of 10 yards or more with Davis on the field.

3. Ole Miss QB Matt Corral

Corral threw his first interception of the season Saturday — though that was hardly the worst thing thrown at Neyland Stadium. Corrall still tossed two TD passes and ran for 195 yards in the win. Corral was without several key members of his offense, but his legs — 30 rushes! — carried Ole Miss to a win.

4. Texas RB Bijan Robinson

How Texas has managed to blow 14-plus-point leads in back-to-back games is hard to understand given the Longhorns have arguably the best running back in the country. Robinson was exceptional, rushing for 135 yards and two touchdowns, and adding another 38 receiving yards and a TD to boot. The 173 yards from scrimmage were 76 more than any other player has managed against Oklahoma State this season.

5. Syracuse RB Sean Tucker

We use this space each week to highlight a player who deserves more attention, and Tucker certainly qualifies. Against Clemson’s dominant defense Friday, Tucker ran for 157 yards and added another 20 through the air, bringing his season total scrimmage yards to an FBS best 1,172. Add in his 11 touchdowns and it puts in him some elite company. In the playoff era, only eight other backs have hit those totals through seven games. Two (Melvin Gordon in 2014 and Bryce Love in 2017) finished second in the Heisman voting. Four more (2014 Tevin Coleman, 2015 Dalvin Cook, 2015 Leonard Fournette and 2017 Saquon Barkley) finished in the top seven in Heisman voting. Another (2019 Chuba Hubbard) led the nation in rushing.

Under-the-radar game of the week

It had been 721 days since UConn last won a football game. The journey has been a wild one: A year off for COVID-19, a blown lead against Vanderbilt, a pillow fight for the ages vs. UMass. But Saturday, our long national nightmare finally came to an end as the Huskies topped Yale 21-15.

Of course, this was still UConn, so it wasn’t exactly a pretty win. The Huskies led 21-0 in the second half and still did their absolute best (or worst?) to blow it, with Yale scoring the final 15 points of the game, getting a shot at the end to win it, failing, then getting a do-over because UConn had too many men on the field. But the Hail Mary throw was picked off, and at long last, the Huskies had a win to celebrate.

For Yale, it’s certainly an embarrassing moment, but as noted alumnus C. Montgomery Burns once astutely noted, Yale will always be first in gentlemanly club life.

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UConn holds off in-state rival Yale 21-15 to win its first game since Oct. 26, 2019.

Under-the-radar play of the week

BYU lost its second straight game, and its defense had no answers for Baylor‘s ground game. But none of that kept coach Kalani Sitake from celebrating when he got the chance.

Cougars QB Jaren Hall ran a perfect keeper on fourth-and-1, and Sitake went full-on WWE hype video.

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Jaren Hall takes it 56 yards to the end zone by himself vs. Baylor.

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