College Football Too Twisted Takeaways

The scene on Saturday night in College Station was the sport we signed up for.

Bash Brothers gives you Jon’s “#CFB Too Twisted Takeaways.” When you’re too twisted to tweet them on Saturday night, you write them on Sunday morning. From Week Two: 

Mississippi State is full of big dudes with bad intentions. Where to start on the defense? All-SEC 1st team lineman Jeff Simmons & Montez Sweat have been as-advertised, both in the top four nationally in tackles for loss. But on Saturday’s controversial sack-fumble wasn’t, (see below), it was Gerri Green, Leo Lewis and Mark McLaurin overloading on a blitz — no fun for a quarterback to stare down either. Jonathan Abram is a human missile on the back end. No one seemed the slightest bit surprised or even disappointed at his targeting ejection late in the game: the whole defense exudes a “take your head off’ attitude. Throw in DC Bob Shoop’s mantra of “solving problems with aggression” and you get a group that’s as violent and fearsome as fun to watch. (To be clear: in the SEC, State is not unique in this respect. Bama, Georgia, Auburn and LSU present the same intimidation. But the Bulldogs defense won’t take a back seat to any of them.)

WTF was up with Kansas State’s ‘WTF’ stick? No one expects Bill Snyder and Kansas State to start parading around blinged-out turnover chains. A simple block of wood seems a little more fitting. Indeed, ESPN cameras found Kansas State’s sideline token to be exactly that on Saturday. Except the ordinary piece of lumber was emblazoned with the letters “WTF” (for “Win the Fight,” of course). Surely the Wildcat players, if not their 78 year old coach, understand the irony in putting the letters “WTF” on your sideline token. Because “What the F*$%” is surely more what Snyder and Co. were thinking as they had no answers for the size, speed and strength of Mississippi State.

Replay reviews gone (way) wrong: back to the sack-fumble that wasn’t by Mississippi State. This was one of the worst replay reversals in recent memory, and a clear case of replay-reviews-gone-wrong. Lewis blindsided Wildcats’ QB Skylar Thompson on a blitz, popping the football loose to the effect of a Pop-A-Shot. It was an obvious fumble in real-time, and obvious in every replay angle, except one. The reverse angle, slowed to micro and without any depth of field, made it seem possible the ball was still in Thompson’s hand, as both were rocketing forward from the violence of Lewis’s blow. Based on this angle, the replay crew reversed the call, concluding that Thompson’s “arm was going forward.” Yep, that’s what happens when an enormous, flying linebacker annihilates the quarterback from behind. The befuddled ESPN announcers quipped, “Sometimes in replay, we don’t even know what we’re looking at anymore.” A more apt conclusion.

Jordan Ta’amu doesn’t get enough credit.  Ole Miss hung 76 points on Southern Illinois, with another dominant, dazzling display from the wide receiver group known as “NWO.” There’s no dispute they are one of the nation’s premier groups, if not the best. But what’s become equally clear through two nasty outings by the Ole Miss offense, No.2 in passing nationally at 407 yards per game, is that quarterback Jordan Ta’amu (397 ypg, 7 TD 0 INT) deserves a little more of the credit. For every jump ball D.K. Metcalf snatches and go-route A.J. Brown streaks free on, Ta’amu drops two more deep balls in a bucket you and I could hold and catch. For most offenses, deep balls are “shot plays.” When you combine Ta’amu’s touch and accuracy on those bombs with the radius of their intended targets, they’re the deadliest weapon in the SEC.

What adjustment did Wesley McGriff make? At halftime of the silly 76-41 shootout with Southern Illinois, I had two thoughts about the Rebels outlook on defense, or lack of it: 1) Salukis coach Nick Hill was many steps ahead of defensive coordinator Wesley McGriff, and, at this point, 2) when would head coach Matt Luke consider canning or demoting McGriff? Then something even sillier happened: the paper-mache Sharks only gave up three points in the second half, and scored fourteen themselves to put the game away. It was as surprising and refreshing for Ole Miss fans as it was needed. My third question: What happened? Did the Rebels simply, finally, overwhelm the Salukis with SEC depth? Or did McGriff and his staff make a pointed adjustment to tilt the field? It was probably a little of both, but I’m curious as to the football strategy behind it.

South Carolina has a long way to go to be Georgia.  Many thought resurgent South Carolina had a fighting chance to upset defending SEC champion No.3 Georgia at home. You know: Williams-Bryce rocking, Deebo Samuel back, a pack of Bulldogs gone to the NFL, etc. But none of it mattered. Nothing was different on Saturday. The Bulldogs dominated Cocky in the trenches again (271-54 in rushing yards) and steamrolled them on the scoreboard, 41-17. The Bulldogs backups were in and the Columbia campus bars were filling up by late in the 3rd quarter. The beat-down shouldn’t dispel the idea that Will Muschamp has South Carolina playing better football. But it loudly reaffirmed Kirby Smart’s emerging monster in Athens, and the remaining gap between Georgia and the rest of the division.

Texas A&M – Clemson was the #CFB game we love: After an off-season of Urban Meyer shame and an opening weekend of blowouts, this was the college football show we sit down for. No.2 Clemson’s 28-26 win over the Aggies absolutely had it all: huge talent, big plays, crushing hits, and to-the-wire drama, all in front of a scintillating, syncopated, screaming crowd of 105,000 people that nearly willed the Aggies to the upset. After six straight hours of sporting events between Mississippi State’s early 11 AM kickoff and the Ole Miss basketball game at 3 PM, I admit I had sunk into the couch a bit. But the scene in College Station quickly got me on the edge of it again. The Tigers got the win most predicted, and the Aggies got the toughness and fight they filled Jimbo’s accounts for. We all got the best of the best sport in America.

Ironic: Dan Mullen made a living beating Kentucky at State & then lost to them at Florida. “Thunder Dan” didn’t have many big Top 25 wins in nine years at Mississippi State, but he made an impact — and a fortune — beating the Kentucky’s of the world nearly every time. This was no small feat in Starkville. But it was a little ironic, and an awful look for Mullen, to oversee Florida’s first loss to Kentucky in 31 games in his first SEC game as Gators head coach. Certainly the Wildcats are better than previous years; this may be Mark Stoops’ best team in Lexington. But let’s be honest, that’s not saying a ton, and it doesn’t mean a damn thing to Gator fans. Mullen went to Florida because it is supposed to be an elite job with talent to compete for national championships, in a way Mississippi State could never be. But here’s the thing: beating Kentucky at State will get you paid. Losing to them at Florida will get you fired.

LSU is probably the same old LSU.  Checked in on Da Tigahs for a couple of quarters against Southeast Louisiana and saw a very similar looking LSU team to, well, all the other LSU teams of my lifetime. They swarmed and suffocated on defense en route to a 31-0 shutout. But they sputtered and stalled for much of the game offensively, with plodding play-calling and sub-par quarterback play. The Tigers finished with just 351 total yards of offense, and transfer starter Joe Burrow was a paltry 10-21 for 151 yards. LSU won because they simply have athletes and playmakers for days, many more than the Lions. They won the turnover battle (3-0) and mostly  controlled the line of scrimmage. Sound familiar? It should. In the Deep South, those things are as tried and true as fried shrimp and sweet tea. But, so too is the Tigers’ inability to throw the football; they mostly win despite it, and lose to Alabama because of it. Nothing seems much different through two games this season.

Debut head coaches fail, flop & surprise:  Some interesting starts for three of the most talked-about coaching hires this off-season. Unstoried Willie Taggart seemed a lackluster hire for storied Florida State; through two games, it seems much worse. The Seminoles got run off the field by No.20 Virginia Tech in Week One, and needed a fourth-quarter comeback to beat FCS-foe Samford 36-26 at home on Saturday. Nebraska’s hire of prodigal son Scott Frost was the offseason’s most popular move. But the Cornhuskers dropped Frost’s home debut, 33-28, in a heartbreaker to Colorado State; proving the game doesn’t care about your storybook, and Frost has a long road to replicating his success in Lincoln. But, without question, Herm Edwards taking over Arizona State was the most ridiculed off-season move. Cue: “Herm Edwards? Really? The guy has never coached in college, and he stunk in the NFL. He’s been on TV for ten years. What’s he going to win with, soundbites?” Well don’t look now — and you probably didn’t because like me you were passed out before #Pac12AfterDark — but ole Herm ‘played to win the game’ against Mark Dantonio’s 15th ranked Michigan State…and did. The Sun Devils upset the Spartans to give Edwards a 2-0 start and the first laugh, if not the last one.

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