What a crazy week 2! We had numerous comebacks, a pair of overtime games, and a rare home loss by a certain #3-ranked SEC squad. Some teams we expected to look great simply don’t through a pair of games. Others with promise but no proof have taken off. We’re starting to figure out who we should keep our eyes on and who needs to change something to remain competitive. How has your favorite team done in this still young season? Let’s find out what we learned in my week 2 takeaways!
(11) Texas Finishes the Job This Time Against (3) Alabama
In a classic case of “what could have been”, Texas had Alabama on the ropes at home last season, but QB Quinn Ewers got hurt and the team wasn’t the same after that. Seeking revenge, the Longhorns challenged Bama this time in Tuscaloosa, and they made sure that lightning didn’t strike twice. For two quarters, it almost did. Texas controlled the game, especially at the line of scrimmage, but failed to convert that momentum into TDs. They settled for 3 FG attempts, making two, and the team went into halftime with a 13-6 lead that somehow felt disappointing.
That all felt like it might bite Texas in the 3rd quarter. Alabama found life in Texas’ mistakes, scoring 10 unanswered points to take a 16-10 lead. To his credit, Steve Sarkisian kept his team focused and went on a 21-8 blitz in the 4th quarter to earn a 34-24 win. Ewers (24/38, 349 yards, 3 TDs) was sensational again, this time for a full game. TE Ja’Tavion Sanders (5/114) and WRs Xavier Worthy (5/75/1) and Adonai Mitchell (3/78/2) were the primary playmakers. I can’t say enough about the defense, which lifted the Texas offense countless times while they found their footing. The Longhorns manhandled Alabama’s offensive line.
We do have to address the Crimson Tide. This was a pathetic showing that coach Nick Saban will seethe about. Alabama’s 21-game home winning streak is toast, and the team committed 10 accepted penalties. This is not the discipline you’re used to from a Saban-coached team. The offensive line was dismal. C Seth McLaughlin in particular tossed numerous bad snaps, never finding his groove. The weapons on this team aren’t as good as in years past, but QB Jalen Milroe is the bigger disaster. His stats (14/27, 255 yards, 2 TDs, 2 INTs, 44 rushing yards) don’t look terrible, but the film says otherwise.
Milroe’s passing numbers were heavily inflated by a couple lucky deep shots. Other than those, he was off target all night, sometimes missing wide-open receivers. His pocket presence was poor, and he took 5 sacks. Part of that can be blamed on the line, but Milroe also held the ball too long. The fact that he’s the starting QB tells me that Ty Simpson and Tyler Buchner performed too poorly to be considered. Saban is used to high-level QB play, with Jalen Hurts, Tua Tagovailoa, Mac Jones, and Bryce Young playing for the Tide in succession.
Alabama must now do some soul searching. They are no longer in the same realm as Georgia, and this dynasty feels over. Their playoff hopes are in trouble unless they win out. That feels unlikely at this point. Texas, meanwhile, might finally be back. Sarkisian has the team he wants, with big and strong linemen (offensive and defensive), an explosive passing attack, and a smothering defense. Their #11 ranking is sure to improve later today, and they are probably the favorites to win the Big XII. A league title would likely come with a playoff spot, something the Longhorns have craved for a long time.
It Has Been a Rough Couple of Weeks for the SEC
While we’re already talking about Alabama, let’s take stock of their conference as a whole. Overall, through an exclusively nonconference portion of the schedule, the SEC has been pretty disappointing. Last week, Florida lost badly to a Utah team without its star QB. LSU got demolished by FSU, and South Carolina looked like their offensive line was substituted with a Division II unit against UNC. This week, in addition to the Alabama game, Miami completely dismantled (23) Texas A&M’s defense for 48 points, preventing even an improved Bobby Petrino offense from keeping up.
Given that this has been the dominant conference of the CFP era, the SEC’s struggles are particularly noteworthy. Even the blue-blood teams (other than Georgia) are not immune to this trend. Counter this with the relative success the Pac-12 is having despite likely dissolving within a year, and you’ve got an intriguing narrative. Though the storyline might fade once teams start playing their fellow conference members, it gives other schools hope that the SEC is not infallible. Those teams can be beaten by outsiders. Remember this when the playoffs and bowl games come around. Teams you aren’t used to seeing victorious might just come away with wins.
Two MACtion Teams Fall to FCS Opponents at Home
I know; we don’t truly have MACtion until the conference’s midweek games start in November. That doesn’t mean I have to completely avoid talking about the MAC until then. I bet they wish I would keep quiet about them though. They’re going to hate what I have to say. First, let me start out by saying what we already knew: the MAC is one of the weaker Group of 5 conferences. The title of “weakest” comes down to them and C-USA. Based on the past 2 weeks, even the reconstructed C-USA looks better. No MAC team is unbeaten, and we’re only two weeks in!
Worse still, somehow, two MAC members lost at home to FCS teams (who they likely paid to play them). Another, Akron, barely survived against Morgan State. First, Northern Illinois fell to Southern Illinois Salukis (great name by the way). NIU looked to be the best of the MAC teams after beating Boston College last week (we now know that BC can barely beat Holy Cross). This week, the offense was inept. QB Rocky Lombardi threw 3 INTs, and the running game averaged a paltry 1.9 yards per carry. SIU needed just 14 points (they also struggled to score) to steal a 14-11 road victory against an FBS foe for the second straight year.
Buffalo’s loss was at least wonderfully entertaining. Hosting the Fordham Rams, the Bulls found themselves in an unexpected shootout, with the lead changing multiple times throughout the game. Neither team played defense, and both offenses were extremely efficient. QB Cole Snyder completed 24 of his 30 pass attempts for 265 yards and 3 TDs, hitting WR Marlyn Johnson for 2 of those scores (and 94 yards). Fordham’s CJ Montes was even better, going 23/36 for 309 yards and 5 TDs in the 40-37 win. WR MJ Wright (7/159/2) was the biggest beneficiary. These games reflect poorly on the MAC, but at least they continue to prove that the conference’s matches are a lot of fun.
Utah Continues to Survive without QB Cameron Rising
In last year’s Rose Bowl, Utah QB Cam Rising tore his ACL, and we wondered if he would be back in time for the start of this season. He wasn’t ready for week 1, but the Utes easily handled Florida. Baylor presented a much tougher challenge. Despite being without injured QB Blake Shapen themselves and losing last week, the Bears put up a fight, particularly on defense. Neither team could score a point in the first quarter, but Baylor found some rhythm in the second frame, taking a 10-3 lead. Through 3 quarters, with the Bears leading 13-6, it looked like Utah was finished.
The fourth quarter had a different story to tell. The Utes completely clamped down on defense in the second half, picking off QB Sawyer Robertson twice and pitching a shutout. Utah switched from ineffective QB Bryson Barnes (6/19, 71 yards, INT) to Nate Johnson (6/7, 82 yards, rush TD) and ran their offense through RB Ja’Quinden Jackson (19/129). The result included a TD on an 8-minute drive, an INT by the defense, and another TD in sequence to seal the 20-13 victory. Rising should be back soon, so the 2-time defending Pac-12 champions will truly begin to “rise” in the near future.
Notre Dame QB Sam Hartman is This Year’s Most Impactful Transfer
For the past few seasons, Notre Dame has been a good team and sometimes a great team. However, they haven’t reached the elite level in a while. The culprit for that is not departed coach Brian Kelly. Notre Dame’s issue has been QB play ranging from average to poor. That changed this offseason when 2nd-year coach Marcus Freeman brought Sam Hartman over from Wake Forest. You might recall that when I listed my way-too-early QBs to watch for the 2024 draft, I included Hartman at the end because he was likely to succeed at ND. At least through two weeks, that comment appears to have been an understatement.
Hartman has completely changed the complexion of Notre Dame’s offense. Whereas in the past the Irish were stuck with vanilla schemes that their QBs could handle, Hartman can sling the ball all over the field, opening things up. He’s completing an absurd 82.5% of his passes and has thrown 6 TDs despite being pulled early from each game due to their blowout statuses. The Irish already had a strong defense and good weapons. They needed a point guard to make it all work and elevate their program. Hartman looks up to the task, making Notre Dame a legitimate playoff contender.