Commentary by: Andy Callaway, P&G Sports Staff
As the 2015 college football season turned 3 weeks old this past saturday, fans got to witness several top 25 matchups, among other high profile games and quite a few blowout victories by the nation’s top ranked teams. However, on a weekend where many major programs still played sub par opponents in preparation for the upcoming conference schedule, there was no shortage of surprises, upsets, and dramatic moments. We’ll break it down conference by conference to highlight the biggest games of week 3.
In the SEC West, defending conference champions, and 2nd ranked Alabama hosted 15th ranked Ole Miss in Tuscaloosa, marking each teams’ conference opener and a major showdown of potential playoff contenders early in the season. In what was a major test test for Ole Miss’s high powered offense and Alabama’s unshakable defense, Ole Miss held on to win it 43 – 37 behind the arm of Chad Kelly, who went 18 for 33, with 341 yards, 3 Touchdowns, and no interceptions.
After falling behind early, QB Jake Coker, RB Derrick Henry, and the rest of the Alabama offense staged an impressive comeback attempt, but fell short. In a game that saw crazy things occur such as a botched snap that turned into a 67 yard touchdown completion, Ole Miss was ecstatic to escape with the win, and by winning against Alabama in back-to-back years for the first time in school history, and in Tuscaloosa for the first time since 1988, the Rebels proved they are for real this year. While the Rebel rushing game could still use some improvement, Chad Kelly has been nearly unstoppable managing this offense. While it’s still early, Ole Miss has established itself in control of the SEC West while Alabama will have to play catch up.
Also in the West division, 13th ranked LSU traveled to the other end of Alabama to play a struggling 16th ranked Auburn Tigers team. LSU commanded the game from beginning to end, winning 45 – 21. The LSU rushing game, led by Leonard Fournette, who went for 228 yards himself, racked up 411 yard and steamrolled over the Auburn defense. While matching LSU score for score in the 2nd half, Auburn finished the first half with no points, struggling to play catch up. Jeremy Johnson, the preseason Heisman contender, went 11 for 19, with 100 yards, 2 Touchdowns and an interception. While Auburn continues its slide, LSU surged, and proved its rushing attack is a true force to reckoned with.
In the SEC East, South Carolina traveled to play 7th ranked Georgia. Steve Spurrier’s squad has given the Bulldogs headaches in past years, but this year, the headache was all his. Georgia showed out in its first conference match up, winning 52 – 20. Bulldog QB Greyson Lambert had a near perfect night, completing 24 of 25 passes, for 330 yards, 3 touchdowns, and no interceptions. The Dawgs also came up big rushing the ball, as Nick Chubb led the ground attack with 159 yards. In an impressive performance, Georgia placed itself in firm control of the SEC East and as a major playoff contender on the national stage.
Elsewhere in the SEC, Texas A&M cruised to an easy 44 – 27 win over Nevada, while Missouri found itself struggling offensively against Connecticut but escaped with the “W,” 9 – 6.
14th ranked Georgia Tech traveled to South Bend Saturday to face off against 8th ranked Notre Dame in what would be an early season test for both teams. While the Fighting Irish passed with flying colors, the ACC Coastal favorite Yellow Jackets failed to rise to the occasion as Notre Dame won 30 – 22. The Irish controlled the game from start to finish, halting Tech’s rushing game while racking up 215 rushing yards. Freshman QB Deshone Kizer, replacing injured Malik Zaire, stepped up big time and went 21 for 30, with 242 yards, a touchdown, and one interception.
The Georgia Tech offense simply didn’t get into gear until the 4th quarter, but Notre Dame matched their comeback attempt score-for-score to secure the victory. Justin Thomas completed only 8 of 24 passes for 121 yards, while also throwing for two late touchdowns. The Yellow Jacket rushing attack however, was held to a season low 216 yards, with no back rushing for more than 80 yards. Even without Malik Zaire, or a conference affiliation, Notre Dame has established itself as a major playoff contender. Georgia Tech on the other hand, while not yet hurt in terms of the ACC race, will need to prove themselves to be worthy of one the coveted top four spots when the season comes to a close.
On the Atlantic side of the ACC, 11th ranked Clemson and 9th ranked Florida State remained unbeaten on the road in their conference openers. Clemson’s defense held on late to beat Louisville 20 – 17. Florida State, who forced the shutout in an impressive defensive stand, failed to get any offensive momentum for most of the game, but managed to win 14 – 0.
Out West, both Los Angeles area teams faced stiff competition, from within and outside of the conference. 6th ranked USC hosted the Stanford Cardinal in their conference opener. Stanford entered the game having lost to Northwestern in the season opener, and needing an opportunity to prove themselves. That is exactly what they did as they out threw and out ran the heavily favored Trojans to take the win, 41 – 31. Stanford QB Kevin Hogan managed the Cardinal offense spectacularly, completing 18 of 23 passes for 279 yard and two touchdowns. The rushing game, led by RB Christian McCaffrey, also added nearly 200 yards to the offense, resulting in a performance that USC just couldn’t match. Trojan QB Cody Kessler also had a good outing, going 25 for 32, with 272 yards and three touchdowns, while numerous running backs combined to put up 155 yards on the ground, but it wasn’t quite enough to catch up to the Cardinal.
While one LA team disappointed Saturday, the other came through late to pull out a victory. On the other side of Los Angeles, in Pasadena’s Rose Bowl, the 10th UCLA Bruins surged late in the game to complete the 24 – 23 comeback win against 19th ranked BYU. While freshman QB Josh Rosen struggled, completing 11 of 23 for only 106 yard, one touchdown and three interceptions, the Bruins excelled on the ground, running up nearly 300 yards. The biggest threat on the ground was RB Paul Perkins, who had a breakout night, going for 219 yards and a touchdown. BYU led until the end, controlling most of the game behind a strong performance from QB Tanner Mangum, who went 30 for 47 with 244 yards, a touchdown, and an interception, and RB Adam Hine, who rushed for 150 yards and a touchdown. A late game touchdown run from UCLA’s Nate Starks and a subsequent defensive stand allowed the Bruins to secure the win and their top ten position.
Meanwhile, 13th ranked Oregon and 16th ranked Arizona kept it rolling with convincing wins over Georgia State and Northern Arizona respectively. While the Ducks allowed some points defensively, winning 61 – 28, Arizona took control from start to finish, winning by a whopping score of 77 – 13.
1st ranked Ohio State played host to Northern Illinois Saturday, in a game many expected to be a blowout. Due to an abundance of Buckeye turnovers and a persistent Husky squad, that would not be the case. While initially falling behind, and evening the score up by halftime, Ohio State managed to overcome the mistakes in the second half to hold off Northern Illinois to win by a score of 20 – 13, with their offense struggling to gain momentum most of the game. JT Barrett had a tough day, going 11 for 19, with only 97 yards, a touchdown, and one interception. RB Ezekial Elliot had a good day with 108 yards on 23 carries, which turned out to be enough for the Buckeyes to avoid the upset.
Ohio State’s Big Ten East rival, 3rd ranked Michigan State fared a little better Saturday. While struggling early, the regained the momentum to take down Air Force 35 – 21. In the Big Ten West, Northwestern continued their early season roll as they traveled to Durham, NC, beating Duke 19 – 10 behind yet another strong defensive performance.
All the major Big 12 contenders, 4th ranked TCU, 5th ranked Baylor, and 15th ranked Oklahoma, remained unbeaten in week 3. While Baylor had an early bye week, TCU and Oklahoma steamrolled over their opponents. TCU outlasted SMU 56 – 37, while Oklahoma defeated Tulsa 52 – 38.
What to Watch for in Week 4
Week 4’s big match ups both come out west, in the PAC 12. UCLA travels to Arizona to battle it out for the PAC 12 South while Utah takes on Oregon for control of the PAC 12 North. Look for UCLA’s young offense to prove itself to be a formidable threat against a solid Arizona defense, and on the road no less. after struggling against BYU, Bruin QB Josh Rosen will have to step into the big leagues. Meanwhile, Arizona, after having won the PAC 12 South last year, looks to continue the solid defense and explosive offensive performance behind QB Anu Solomon and RB Nick Wilson. Up north in Eugene, OR, the Ducks host the Utah Utes in a showdown for the PAC 12 North. While Utah remain undefeated, they are looking to prove themselves against a very capable Oregon team that, despite one in the L column, is still a major conference title contender. Oregon QB Vernon Adams Jr. will however, will have his hands full with a stout Utah defense. UCLA vs. Arizona will kickoff on ABC at 8:00 PM ET, and Oregon vs. Utah will kickoff on FOX at 8:30 PM ET.