Publish date:

Forde-Yard Dash: Is Two Games Into the Season Too Early to Panic?

The Dash analyzes six teams that flopped Saturday. Plus selecting and seeding the College Football Playoff if today were Selection Sunday.
Author:

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (patriotic and heroic cat catchers sold separately in Miami):

MORE DASH: 2–0 Starts | Breakout Players USC Wish List

FIRST QUARTER: HOW BAD IS IT?

Is two games into the season too early to panic? Not for these six teams that flopped in one form or fashion Saturday.

Texas (1). What happened: Favored by a touchdown, the Longhorns resumed hostilities with their old Southwest Conference/future Southeastern Conference rival Arkansas and were thrashed, 40–21. One would hope the Horns were humbled, but that seems to be impossible no matter how much they lose. After taking the lead role in blowing up the college football map by jilting the Big 12, Texas just underscored that the only elite element of its program at present is in spending and making money.

If The Dash were doing an SEC power rating right now, the highest Arkansas could be is seventh. Maybe eighth or ninth. And yet the Razorbacks just punished the Longhorns like a Conference USA also-ran. Texas was outgained by more than 200 yards, and the 333 rushing yards it allowed was its most in five years. The Horns simply aren’t tough enough in the trenches right now to compete in the ultimate line of scrimmage league, and no amount of Steve Sarkisian eye candy in terms of scheme is going to change that quickly. In sum, Texas looks well behind the SEC middle class, years behind the upper echelon and not even playing the same sport as Alabama or Georgia.

Should Texas fans panic? If hearing about your school cashing big revenue checks excites the fans more than winning, no. If they want actual on-field success, by all means start panicking.

Florida State (2). What happened: Archaeologists digging through the ruins of the Seminoles program may well identify Jacksonville State 20, FSU 17, as rock-bottom. It’s the first loss in program history to an FCS opponent, and it came in a manner that infuriated many of its football alums. (Former quarterback E.J. Manuel may still be fuming on the ACC Network studio set.)

The fact that the game was close was bad enough. Jacksonville State is a quality FCS program, but Florida State used to be a quality FBS program—the kind that wins guarantee games by 35 or more points. For the Seminoles to find themselves locked into a last-possession battle in their second year under Mike Norvell was a sobering sign. UAB just beat Jax State 31–0 the week previously.

Then there were the specifics of the disaster: Jax State was flailing through an inept final drive, taking over the ball with 1:32 remaining and advancing a mere 24 yards in nine futile plays before facing a Hail Mary situation on its own 41 with six seconds left. Florida State responded with a coverage that seemed more concerned with defending a 15-yard throw than a 50-yarder. When its defensive backs who were in the area of the pass failed to make a play on the ball or make the tackle, the Gamecocks had a stunning, jog-in touchdown.

“It was a two-deep, man under,” Norvell said of the coverage, according to Tallahassee.com. “Make sure, we tried to get pressure on the quarterback, but having coverage over the top. They still had one timeout, just to not give up something quickly underneath or intermediate passing game with the timeout. I did not go to immediate prevent, the receiver got behind us.”

Coordinator Adam Fuller is fortunate to still be employed after that debacle. His first FSU defense surrendered 36 points per game last year, most in school history. This year’s defense gave up 41 points to Notre Dame and an unimaginable game-winning bomb to an FCS opponent.

“I’m surprised they didn’t get the safety over the top,” Jax State’s 25-year-old quarterbacks coach Tyler Allen says. “They kept playing the same coverage, so we kept calling that play.”

Should Florida State fans panic? Absolutely. But they’ll have to be roused from their beaten-down apathy to raise their game to panic-level.

Jacksonville State receiver Damond Philyaw-Johnson hugs a teammate after his game-winning catch.

USC (3). What happened: The Trojans were absolutely smoked by Stanford, a 17-point underdog that was coming off an embarrassing opening loss to Kansas State. In year seven of Clay Helton, performances like this should finally catch up with him.

Armed with a potential first-round talent at quarterback in Kedon Slovis, USC’s passing game under Air Raid guru Graham Harrell produced a measly 5.3 yards per attempt, one touchdown and one interception. Meanwhile, Stanford’s previously pedestrian passing game got unlimbered to the tune of 10.2 yards per attempt, the program’s best since 2018. And then there were the penalties, a staple of the Helton Era: nine for 111 yards against the Cardinal. 

The Helton question for USC is moving closer to being when, not if. Should athletic director Mike Bohn think about making an in-season move before Helton finagles a November rally that muddles the picture? Should Bohn try to get ahead of the hiring cycle? Or is better to let the season play out while working on options behind the scenes and keeping too many cooks from entering the kitchen?

Should USC fans panic? Instead of panicking, just make sure Bohn has the message that enough is enough.

Washington (4). What happened: The Huskies dropped to 0–2 while scoring a single touchdown for the second straight game. After scoring on their opening drive of the season Sept. 4 against Montana, Washington then went 21 straight possessions without finding the end zone again. It wasn’t until the fourth quarter of game two, a decisive loss to Michigan, that the Huskies recorded their second TD of 2021. Thus, offensive coordinator John Donovan finds himself the object of much scorn and derision in Seattle.

Donovan was hardly viewed as a visionary hire when new head coach Jimmy Lake brought him in last year as his OC. He was fired from the same position at Penn State after two seasons, then worked as an offensive assistant with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Amid high expectations for this season, Washington is 128th out of 130 FBS teams in yards per rush (1.95) and 129th in scoring (8.5 points per game). The last time the Huskies scored fewer than 17 points in their first two games of a season was 1963.

Should Washington fans panic? Yeah. While the Pac-12 schedule remains 0–0, these two losses were far worse than anyone could have envisioned.

SI Recommends

Ohio State (5). What happened: The Buckeyes were gouged defensively by Oregon for 35 points and 505 yards in an upset loss in the Horseshoe. That deepened the doubts about defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs and his unit, which now has given up 118 points in its last three games, going back to the College Football Playoff national championship last season. Last time Ohio State gave up that many points in a three-game stretch? Try 1891.

And let’s be clear, this was not a cheap or flukey 35 for the Ducks. Every scoring drive went at least 65 yards, and only one was built on a single huge play (a 77-yard run by C.J. Verdell). Mostly, this was offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead exploiting holes and mismatches over and over and over, with Ohio State failing to make disruptive plays or create takeaways to stop the Ducks.

Watch NCAA football games online all season long with fuboTV: Start with a 7-day free trial!

Coombs and his unit have a couple of relatively easy weeks in which to tighten things up, with Tulsa and then Akron coming to Columbus. There is no lack of talent on Ohio State’s defense, though there is some inexperience. The Buckeyes may well be fine in the long run, but for a program that expects to contend for a College Football Playoff berth every year, they’ve now lost their margin for error.

Should Ohio State fans panic? They don’t need to be told to overreact. It comes with breathing in Columbus.

Texas A&M (6). What happened: Quarterback Haynes King got hurt against Colorado, and everything ground to a halt. The first-year starting quarterback was a mixed back in his starting debut Sept. 4 against Kent State (292 passing yards and two touchdowns but also three interceptions), but he looked extremely valuable in absentia after going down Saturday with a leg injury. How long King will be out remains unclear as of Sunday.

Backup Zach Calzada went from something approaching a blind panic early in his replacement stint against the Buffaloes to a guy capable of making enough plays to pull out a 10–7 victory. He might be fine in the long run. Texas A&M has an abundance of skill players, but their playmaking hinges in no small part on a young line and a young quarterback. The Aggies could spend several SEC Saturdays playing conservatively and counting on defense. (That’s a pretty stout defense to count on.)

Should A&M fans overreact? No. It seems that $94 million doesn’t buy what it used to, but Jimbo Fisher will probably be able to find a way to score more than 10 points in a game the rest of the way.

FOUR FOR THE PLAYOFF

How The Dash would select and seed the College Football Playoff if today were Selection Sunday:

Orange Bowl: Top seed Georgia (7) vs. fourth seed Oregon (8).

The Bulldogs (2–0) still haven’t allowed an offensive touchdown on the season after beating UAB 56–7 (the Blazers’ lone TD was a late interception return). Georgia leads the nation in fewest yards allowed per game (177) and is tied for the lead in points allowed per game (five—and that’s after playing Clemson in Week 1. And Georgia discovered some playmakers in the passing game, with three completions of longer than 60 yards against UAB. Even if starting quarterback JT Daniels isn’t back this week, backup Stetson Bennett IV can handle the assignment.

Next for Georgia: home against South Carolina Saturday.

The Ducks (2–0) are coming off their biggest victory in seven years, which also serves as the Pac-12’s biggest victory in seven years. They can even afford an Ohio State hangover with an FCS opponent coming to Eugene this week.

Next for Oregon: home against Stony Brook Saturday.

Cotton Bowl: Second seed Iowa (9) vs. third seed Alabama (10).

Dating back to last year, the Hawkeyes (2–0) are arguably the hottest team not named Alabama. They’ve won eight in a row, seven of them by double digits, and three in a row against ranked opponents. They are appropriately unspectacular in the passing game, tough an opportunistic defensively, and perfectly pleased to win via the suppressed thrill of punting and field position.

Next for Iowa: home against Kent State.

After a useless pseudo-scrimmage against FCS Mercer, the Crimson Tide (2–0) has now scored more than 40 points in 11 straight regular-season games. There will be a lot of hoopla about the next opponent this week; The Dash will believe this is a real threat to Alabama’s supremacy when it actually happens.

Next for Alabama: at Florida Saturday.

Others under consideration: Penn State, UCLA, Clemson, Ohio State, Central Florida, BYU.

MORE DASH: 2–0 Starts

Sports Illustrated may receive compensation for some links to products and services on this website.