Throughout the first college football Saturday of the year, we provided reactions to each wave of games, covering the most important moments and what we learned. Check back late Sunday for the 2014 debut of The Professor column for comprehensive coverage of what Week 1 meant, and next Saturday for Rolling Reaction to Week 2.
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Breakfast in Ireland
Five Thoughts on Penn State's 26-24 win over UCF
1. Sam Ficken gets the feel-good win of the day. The senior kicker has been through it all at Penn State, most notably achieving the wrong kind of fame in September 2012, when he missed four of five kicks in a 17-16 loss at Virginia, sending Bill O'Brien to a 0-2 start to his Penn State coaching tenure. Ficken rebounded and has been up and down over the last couple years, making 29 of 44 kicks over two seasons. On Saturday in Ireland, with a Penn State offense that struggled to finish drives, he made his first three kicks, then drilled the game winner from 36 yards to give the Nittany Lions an opening win in what is essentially their bowl game in Ireland against a team that won the Fiesta Bowl and won at Penn State in 2013.
2. Christian Hackenberg won't struggle without Allen Robinson. Obviously, losing a 97-catch receiver is never a good thing, but Penn State's young receiving corps impressed against an athletic UCF defense. Redshirt freshman DaeSean Hamilton caught 11 passes for 165 yards in his debut -- looking a lot like Robinson as Hackenberg's preferred target -- while the one veteran of the group, Geno Lewis, had 8 catches for 173 yards and a touchdown, including a 79-yard score in the third quarter and a circus catch downfield:
GIF: Geno Lewis catch http://t.co/zaepQ8vHo7— Ben Jones (@Ben_Jones88) August 30, 2014
Throw in tight ends Jesse James and Kyle Carter, and Penn State has weapons for Hackenberg, even if depth is a concern. Hackenberg made a few poor decisions under pressure with nobody open, resulting in two interceptions, but otherwise all he did was set the Penn State single-game record for passing yards, completing 32 of 47 passes for 454 yards with a touchdown. Hackenberg is extremely confident in his arm, which gets him into trouble sometimes but also allows him to make some jaw-dropping throws. With Braxton Miller out, Hackenberg is the Big Ten's best quarterback.
3. UCF will be fine, because it found a quarterback too. The biggest question after the game is how George O'Leary decided on Pete DiNovo as his starting quarterback. DiNovo was lost in the first half, completing just 3 of 8 passes for 18 yards as the Knights struggled to move the ball, even with a couple of golden field-position opportunities. In the second half, O'Leary turned to Justin Holman, and the offense opened up behind Holman's strong arm and athleticism. He completed 9 of 14 passes for 204 yards and a touchdown and also ran for two scores, putting UCF in position to win before Penn State countered with that final drive. It's a tough loss to take for UCF, especially if we wonder what would have happened had Holman started the game, but it bodes well for the future, as he's surrounded by a talented receiving corps.
4. The problem might be UCF's running game. This is still a team with hopes of coming out of the American Athletic with hopes of grabbing the Group of Five's major bowl bid, despite the loss. The defense was inconsistent against Penn State, but it can be one of the best among the Group of Five teams over the course of the season, and Holman gives the Knights plenty of hope at QB. However, in addition to losing QB Blake Bortles, the Knights said goodbye to talented running back Storm Johnson. On Saturday, expected starter William Stanback was surprisingly out of the lineup, and behind a shaky offensive line Dontravious Wilson managed only 34 yards on 21 carries.
5. Penn State will benefit from trying to shorten games. The Lions like to push the tempo on occasion, and it makes sense with a quarterback like Hackenberg. But depth issues will undoubtedly show over the course of the season. Overall, the Penn State defense is rather underrated, with players like CB Jordan Lucas, DB Adrian Amos and LB Mike Hull all impact playmakers behind a good defensive line, but the problem is coordinator Bob Shoop probably won't be able to do as much rotating as a coach would like. Penn State likely just doesn't have the numbers behind the starting 11 at this point. Still, everyone knew depth would be a concern just about everywhere. Getting a dramatic win over a solid opponent in a pseudo bowl game is a pretty outstanding way to open the James Franklin era and give Penn State some confidence going forward against a mostly beatable schedule.
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UCLA 28, Virginia 20 | Ohio State 34, Navy 17 | Michigan 52, Appalachian State 14
We naturally spend a lot of time talking about missing quarterbacks, but, as always, we should be paying just as much attention to the offensive lines.
On Thursday, Texas A&M ran up 52 points on South Carolina on the road, and a lot of the credit deservedly went to QB Kenny Hill for the brilliant game he played as the replacement for Johnny Manziel. But 511 passing yards would not have been possible without the continued stellar play from the Aggies' offensive line, which blew South Carolina off the ball all night (despite losing Jake Matthews, the Aggies still return several studs, led by Cedric Ogbuehi). Hill had a ton of time to throw, his receivers got open and his coaches put him in a position to succeed. To his credit, he took full advantage.
Early Saturday afternoon, two high-profile teams had the opposite problem: The offensive lines kept getting their teams into trouble. In UCLA's 28-20 win at Virginia, star quarterback Brett Hundley was sacked five times, and the running game had nothing going until a few nice Paul Perkins runs in the second half (starting RB Jordon James ran five times for three yards). Hundley has been sacked more than anyone the past two years, with the Bruins ranking 112th in offensive sack percentage last season, and he shares blame as a quarterback who holds the ball too long. That's not to mention the problems his receivers, without Shaq Evans, have getting open. But the line has been a constant issue, one that really could hold back the Bruins as they try to get over the hump and win the Pac-12.
Fortunately, UCLA's defense lived up to the hype behind Myles Jack and Eric Kendricks, scoring three touchdowns in an early-2013-Michigan-State-type performance in which the defense was a better offense than the actual offense. The important caveat in any Week 1 game is that, yes, this was Week 1, and this was UCLA flying across the country to play an early kickoff in Charlottesville at 9 a.m. PT. There's time to figure things out, although a trip to Arlington to meet Texas comes in two weeks.
For Ohio State, in a 34-17 win, redshirt freshman QB J.T. Barrett made his Buckeyes debut in place of the injured Braxton Miller, and they struggled to put Navy away in Baltimore until late in the fourth quarter. Ohio State threw Barrett into the fire behind an offensive line that lost four starters, and while a game against Navy's undersized defensive front would seem to present a good opportunity for the unit to gel, the Buckeyes struggled on the ground -- top RB Ezekiel Elliott had 12 carries for 44 yards -- and the leading rusher was Barrett (50 yards).
Like UCLA, the Buckeyes used a big defensive play to get things going -- they trailed at halftime, then returned a fumble for a touchdown -- but the touted defensive line also struggled at times with Navy's option, allowing 370 rushing yards. Ultimately, that defensive front will be fine, and it's done facing the triple option. It's the offensive line that's under pressure, trying to protecting a raw young quarterback in a league that does have solid defensive line play. They'll also face a stiff test next week when Virginia Tech's talented defense comes to Columbus.
- While Michigan got revenge on Appalachian State and blew away the Mountaineers 52-14, other Midwest schools struggled with FCS foes: Iowa edged Northern Iowa 31-23 and Illinois survived against Youngstown State 28-17, while FCS power North Dakota State continued its rampage against the Big 12 by beating Iowa State 34-14. The Bison have opened the last two seasons beating Kansas State and Iowa State now.
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Let's check in on the Lane Kiffin-Nick Saban partnership:
I assume we'll see this often pic.twitter.com/5iLG28OOtr— Matt Brown (@MattBrownCFB) August 30, 2014
Twitter, your thoughts?
For the record, the offensive performance hasn't been bad for Alabama, who has played Blake Sims the entire first half as the Crimson Tide entered the locker room ahead 20-17, thanks in part to a kick return for a touchdown by West Virginia.
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Alabama 33, West Virginia 23 | Notre Dame 48, Rice 17 | California 31, Northwestern 24
If there's any team we shouldn't overreact to in Week 1, it's probably Alabama.
Sure, the Crimson Tide were sloppy, and they let an enigmatic West Virginia hang around the whole way, and they showed many of the same issues that have been creeping up lately, but this is still the team that can throw a bunch of blue-chip recruits at all its problems. It's still the one coached by Nick Saban (albeit with a new friend). Last season, everyone panicked after the Bama offensive line looked so sloppy in the opener against Virginia Tech; while the season did eventually peter out at the end, Bama came within field-goal misses of playing for the national championship, and it wasn't because of the O-line.
There were some things to like in Alabama's 33-23 win over the Mountaineers. After an offseason of talking about Florida State transfer Jacob Coker, senior Blake Sims got the start and played the whole way until the final, meaningless possession. Had the game gone as many thought -- an Alabama blowout -- we surely would have seen both, but in the tight game, with the defense experiencing some issues, there was no reason to go away from Sims, given the situation. He completed 24 of 33 passes for 250 yards and an interception, and he ran for 42 yards. By no means was he brilliant, and by no means is the quarterback race anywhere close to over (Coker will surely get plenty of snaps the next two weeks against also-rans Florida Atlantic and Southern Miss), but Sims largely did a decent job in his first game, with a new offensive coordinator.
The good news, as we knew already, is that he has arguably the nation's best wideout to throw to in Amari Cooper (12 catches, 130 yards), and he has the nation's best running back duo in T.J. Yeldon (23 carries, 126 yards, 2 TDs) and Derrick Henry (17 carries, 113 yards, 1 TD) to hand the ball to. The only player who was missing was TE O.J. Howard, but we know Alabama was and is still loaded with weapons for the new QB to work with.
The defensive backfield, however, has the same concerns we saw at times last year as coordinator Kirby Smart continues to look for cornerbacks. In total, West Virginia ended up with 393 total yards, so it's not like the Mountaineers torched Alabama, but they also had several dropped passes and Alabama showed more signs of weakness against a spread, allowing Clint Trickett to finish with 365 yards on 29 of 45 passing with a touchdown. To make the defensive backfield problem worse, Alabama's pass rush still stands as an inconsistent question mark.
It was not pretty, and it's hard to tell what this means for both teams -- although West Virginia has to be encouraged, even though it often beat itself in this one -- but it may take a while for us to fully understand what 2014 Alabama is going to be.
- Welcome back, Everett Golson. Despite concerns with key players held out because of the academic investigation, Notre Dame had little problem blowing away Rice on the new artificial turf in South Bend. In his first game since the national championship disaster against Alabama, Golson completed 14 of 22 passes for 295 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 41 yards and three touchdowns. In total, Notre Dame's ground game averaged 6.7 yards per rush in a 48-17 win.
- Congratulations to Cal, which returned to the win column against an FBS team for the first time since midway through 2012. The Bears went to Evanston and rushed out to a commanding 31-7 lead against a disheveled Northwestern that apparently still hasn't recovered from the Ohio State loss last year. The Wildcats came back and put up a fight to make the final score 31-24, but it wasn't surprising for a Cal team that was terrible defensively last year and hasn't had to actually close out many wins.
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Georgia 45, Clemson 21 | Auburn 45, Arkansas 21
So maybe that's what a full-strength Georgia looks like.
Tackling Georgia running backs may be the most painful task in college football this season, and it's not just because of Todd Gurley: The Bulldogs have Keith Marshall (who may have been banged up during the game), and they have freshmen Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. This is a scary, scary running game, and it demolished an extremely talented but worn-down Clemson defensive front in the second half on Saturday night in Athens.
Based on how it ended, it's hard to believe the game was so close after three quarters. The two teams traded punches through the first half, and the Bulldogs carried a slim 24-21 lead into the fourth quarter. But Georgia's defense was dominant throughout the second half, taking advantage of the youth on Clemson's offensive line, as the Tigers managed a paltry 15 total yards in the final 30 minutes. By the start of the fourth quarter, Georgia was ready to take advantage of the inability of the Clemson offense to stay off the field. The O-line created holes, and Georgia's powerful running backs found them. Gurley finished with 15 carries for 198 yards and three touchdowns, as Georgia rotated him out to save him, and he also ran a kick back 100 yards for a touchdown after Clemson took its last lead. Chubb chipped in another 70 yards and a touchdown on just four carries.
As encouraging as it was to see the Georgia running game rolling -- new QB Hutson Mason didn't have to do much -- it was just as good to see the defense adjust and take over the game in the second half under new coordinator Jeremy Pruitt. Clemson QBs Cole Stoudt and Deshaun Watson were sacked four times, and the Tigers finished with 102 yards on 44 rushes. (Watson, the promising freshman, was given only a few series, but he did throw a dart for a 30-yard touchdown.) They managed one first down in the entire second half, putting the defense in the impossible position of staying on the field and desperately trying to tackle Gurley.
So add Clemson to the list of teams with significant offensive line concerns (Florida State looms on the schedule in three weeks), while Georgia -- which still has problems in its secondary -- looks ready to emerge as SEC frontrunners. Again, just Week 1, etc., etc. But it's hard not to like the Bulldogs going into their division showdown at South Carolina on Sept. 13.
- It took a long time to get the game in after a rain delay disrupted the second half, but by then Auburn had shaken off its first-half issues and pulled away from Arkansas. Jeremy Johnson started at QB for the partially suspended Nick Marshall, and he completed 12 of 16 passes for 243 yards and two touchdowns -- only for the Tigers to enter halftime tied with the Razorbacks at 21. Nick Marshall entered in the second half and quickly scored a touchdown, but he didn't have to do much. The Auburn defense shut down Arkansas in the second half, while Cameron Artis-Payne finished with 178 yards as Auburn eventually won 45-21 with 595 total yards.
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Florida State 37, Oklahoma State 31 | LSU 28, Wisconsin 24 | UCF 52, Fresno State 13
For most of the night, two expected weaknesses appeared to be strengths: Oklahoma State's rebuilt defense attacked Florida State all night and made Jameis Winston as uncomfortable as he's ever been as Florida State's quarterback; Wisconsin's entirely new front seven stifled the LSU offense and made the Badgers look like a team capable of running the table against a weak Big Ten schedule. It wasn't enough for either to actually win.
Oklahoma State can still come out of Arlington, Texas, feeling good. The Cowboys lost much of their two-deep, including eight of their top nine tacklers, but they hung with the No. 1 Seminoles all night, despite uneven QB play from J.W. Walsh and the lack of any consistent play on offense. Mike Gundy has not gotten the credit he deserves for Oklahoma State's success over the last decade, and apparently defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer is deserving of a lot of credit now too. Led by Emmanuel Ogbah, the Cowboys defensive front pressured Winston and held Florida State running back Karlos Williams to just 66 yards on 23 carries. It was a remarkable effort, one that helped make Florida State's offense look shockingly one-dimensional, with Winston to Rashad Greene (11 catches for 203 yards and a touchdown) being the only answer.
The game was concerning in some respects for Florida State, but like Alabama it hardly means the end is near -- or anything close to that. The Seminoles were challenged by a better-than-expected Oklahoma State team -- a program that has been very good in recent history -- and they came out with 37 points and a win; not even a great team can continue walking over everyone by four touchdowns every week. In the long run, it may have been a good wake-up call in which Florida State got challenged and now can move forward having a clear picture of where it needs to adjust.
Down the road in Houston, Wisconsin looked dominant for over a half, running the ball down LSU's throat with Melvin Gordon (16 carries for 140 yards and a touchdown), while the Tigers offense was totally helpless with poor quarterback play from Anthony Jennings against the Badgers' rebuilt defensive front. Then everyone just started doing the opposite, for the most part. LSU's running game suddenly found life behind Kenny Hilliard, who rushed 18 times for 110 yards and a touchdown (freshman Leonard Fournette was a nonfactor with eight carries for 18 yards) against a hurting Wisconsin defensive line that saw its depth get exposed. And as LSU took control and gained a 28-24 lead with 9:41 to go, the Badgers didn't stand a chance because 1) Gordon was strangely absent from the lineup, with no real explanation from coach Gary Andersen after the game, and 2) new QB Tanner McEvoy -- who played safety last season -- had little hope of actually completing passes. He finished 8 of 24 for 50 yards and two picks, and while it looked like it wouldn't matter for a half or so, the Badgers were beyond lost when LSU turned the tables on them.
It was a strange night in football, with the two favorites ultimately winning but raising questions about themselves in the process. That is how it goes in Week 1, though, and the end results aren't disastrous for anyone involved. Florida State and LSU got wins over major-conference opponents. Wisconsin's ending was a nightmare, but it still moves on to face a weak schedule that gives it a clear path to a division title. Oklahoma State shows that it might not be facing much of a rebuilding season after all. There's a long season still left.
- After brutal week of news off the field, USC rebounded and did exactly what new coach Steve Sarkisian said it would do: pick up the pace. In a rematch of a Las Vegas Bowl blowout, USC ran away from Fresno State with ease, 52-13, running a Pac-12 record 104 plays for 701 yards. QB Cody Kessler completed 25 of 37 for 394 yards with four touchdowns, while Javorius Allen ran for 133 yards. On the other side, Fresno State struggled to replace Derek Carr, gaining just 317 total yards against a stout USC defense.