COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio State coach Ryan Day felt the heat for the first time.
This was the first time Day experienced a regular-season loss as the Buckeyes’ head coach. No. 12 Oregon upset No. 3 Ohio State 35-28 on Saturday. It’s worth knowing the Buckeyes won their last national championship after a non-conference home loss against Virginia Tech in 2014, so this is by no means the end for Ohio State’s Big Ten, College Football Playoff or national championship hopes.
Those are premature over-reactions best left unsaid in September.
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Yet it’s obvious what the early-season weak spot is for the Buckeyes. For the second straight week, the defense was exposed. Day was asked about an in-game confrontation with defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs during the game.
There was no denying that happened.
“When you’re in the heat of the battle, we have to get things addressed and fixed,” Day said in his postgame press conference. “That’s just how things go.”
Oregon running back C.J. Verdell said the Ducks felt confident they would have success after watching Minnesota rush for 203 yards in a 45-31 loss to the Buckeyes in the season opener. Verdell rushed for 161 yards, including a 77-yard TD in the third quarter. Anthony Brown added 236 yards passing as part of a masterful game plan by offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead, and that balanced attack was enough to offset Ohio State’s 612 yards of total offense.
Seriously, when is the last time a Buckeyes team with that many yards lost? That question will be hot-button talk on the local radio stations for the next month.
“In terms of eliminating explosive plays,” Day said. “That’s what we want to do with this defense. We don’t have an identity if that’s not happening.”
Ohio State’s identity typically revolves around the defensive line, and through two games the unit has managed just two sacks. The Buckeyes had just one tackle for a loss against the Ducks, and that heat now transfers to Coombs.
That could be of the hot-seat variety if it doesn’t get fixed.
Coombs was a beloved defensive backs coach under former coach Urban Meyer, and he returned to Ohio State after a two-year stint with the Tennessee Titans. Last year’s 52-24 loss to Alabama in the College Football Playoff championship game started the criticisms, which have been reinforced the last two weeks.
Yet Day was quick to point out that maligned defense managed two stops in the fourth quarter which the offense couldn’t take advantage of. Day was grilled about Coombs, and he never mentioned the defensive coordinator by name.
“Everybody on our staff works really, really hard and we all make decisions as a group,” Day said. “Ultimately it comes back on me. I’m the head coach.”
A three-week stretch against Tulsa, Akron and Rutgers, led by former Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano, will be a telling get-well period for the Buckeyes before Big Ten East play ramps up against the contenders.
Ohio State hasn’t lost a Big Ten conference game under Day either. If that happens, and the defense is at fault, then that heat will turn up in Columbus.
That is a feeling Day will want to hold off as long as possible.
Welcome to the SEC
Texas played its first SEC opponent since accepting membership to the conference, and it did not go according to plan.
The Longhorns trailed 16-0 at halftime at Arkansas; a disaster half in which Texas had just 78 total yards. It did not get better from there as the Razorbacks laid a 40-21 beatdown on the visitors. It was worse than any loss of the Tom Herman era.
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The Hogs hammered their former Southwest Conference rivals in the second half. Arkansas piled up 333 rushing yards on 7.1 yards per carry, and four different Razorbacks scored on the ground. Quarterback K.J. Jefferson enjoyed a breakout performance, and Texas sophomore sensation Bijan Robinson was limited to 69 yards on 19 carries.
It offered a sobering snapshot of how far the Horns will need to come before venturing into the SEC. Arkansas is 11-35 in conference play the last four seasons, and that’s life in the SEC West, which has six undefeated teams. Through two weeks, no division in the Power 5 has more.
How will Texas adjust to that life in the future? That can be answered down the line, but this blowout loss just cued up the first round of “Texas is back” punchline material for the naysayers.
For the record, the Longhorns have not started 3-0 since 2012. Arkansas can do that with a victory against Georgia Southern on Sept. 25.
Only one team boasts a pair of victories against ranked teams through the first two weeks.
The Hawkeyes extended their win streak against rival Iowa State to six games in the top-10 showdown, and Iowa did not commit a turnover in the 27-17 victory. In fact, the Hawkeyes have committed just one turnover in those last six meetings.
Iowa has three defensive TDs and a +7 turnover ratio this season. That includes six interceptions against Indiana’s Michael Penix Jr and Iowa State’s Brock Purdy.
The Hawkeyes beat the Cyclones despite just 173 total yards of offense.
Kirk Ferentz has four seasons with 10 wins or more. Here was the turnover ratio on those teams: 2002 (+15), 2004 (+13), 2015 (+11), 2019 (+9). This old-school Big Ten formula isn’t pretty, but it’s still good enough to get Iowa back to Indianapolis for a crack at the Big Ten title.
Iowa State missed yet another opportunity and now faces the challenge of running the table in the Big 12 to get true CFP attention. The Cyclones were all-in this season, and several star players made the decision to return to school. Can Matt Campbell keep this team focused the rest of the season?
A tale of two QBs at Notre Dame
Jack Coan proved to be the hero for No. 8 Notre Dame, leading a game-winning drive in the final minute and throwing a touchdown one play after dislocating the finger on his throwing hand. But freshman understudy, a dual-threat QB, Tyler Buchner made his presence felt in a big way in Notre Dame’s wild 32-29 win over Toledo.
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With the Irish offense stagnant for three straight drives in the first quarter, coach Brian Kelly turned to Buchner with the Irish leading just 7-6 and the ball on their own 4-yard-line.
“We were trying to find ourselves in the running game,” Kelly said postgame. “We were backed up and I thought going to Tyler, he would give us the versatility we needed.”
Buchner immediately drove the team 96 yards in five plays, running twice for 37 yards and hitting Braden Lenzy with a 15-yard pass. Coan, who is much more of a pocket passer, took the next four possessions, which resulted in a failed fourth-and-one, a pick-six, a punt and a long missed field goal.
Late in the third quarter, with ND trailing 16-14, Kelly again turned to Buchner to spark the running game. On a 13-play drive that resulted in a field goal, the QBs shared time, with Coan coming in for passing situations. The following drive, Buchner was in for the first play, and hit running back Chris Tyree over a blitzing cornerback, which resulted in a 55-yard touchdown.
Coan and Buchner again shared the next drive, which looked like it was going to ice the game until Kyren Williams fumbled. That set up Coan’s heroics, a 3-play, 75-yard drive that gave Notre Dame the come-from-behind victory.
“We like Jack’s experience. Jack stayed ready,” Kelly said. “He was prepared and ready to go back in there.”
Coan finished 21-for-33 for 239 yards with two TDs and one INT, while Buchner was 3-for-3 for 78 yards and a touchdown and had 7 carries for 68 yards. As far as Kelly promoting one QB over another, he wasn’t going there. It appears both will see action moving forward.
“Having both ready keeps defenses off of what we are trying to do,” Kelly said. “Each week is a different week.”
Sneak Peek at Week 3
— Auburn has outscored its first two opponents 122-10, but the competition levels way up with a “Whiteout” against Penn State in Week 3. Bo Nix has five TDs and no interceptions in two games, and Tank Bigsby averages 10.5 yards per carry. That was against Akron and Alabama State. Bryan Harsin can make a real statement with a victory at Penn State, which has allowed just 11.5 points per game.
— Florida plays Alabama in a rematch of last year’s SEC championship game, and the big question is whether Dan Mullen will play two quarterbacks. Emory Jones threw two interceptions in plus territory in a 42-20 win against South Florida, and freshman Anthony Richardson produced an absurd line in backup action. He hit 3 of 3 passes for 152 yards and two TDs and added four carries for 115 yards and a TD. That’s 38.1 yards per play. Richardson’s hamstring ‘tightened up on him,’ according to Dan Mullen, after his 80-yard touchdown run. Worth monitoring this week.
— Nebraska-Oklahoma is back! The schools have not played since 2010, and Nebraska has not won in Norman since a 73-21 victory in 1996 when Scott Frost was quarterback. Fun fact: Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente was the Sooners’ quarterback in the loss.
— Michigan will be ranked after beating Washington 31-10 . Of all the offseason hires Jim Harbaugh made, snagging Mike Hart from Indiana’s staff has made the most difference so far. The Wolverines have re-established a punishing rushing attack with Hart, who doubles as the school’s all-time leading rusher. Blake Corum, a sophomore with almost identical dimensions to Hart, rushed for 171 yards and three TDs against the Huskies. Hassan Haskins added 155 yards and a TD. Michigan had 11 straight running plays at one point in the third quarter. Cade McNamara threw just 15 passes with 44 yards. That passing game will need to be refined without No. 1 wide receiver Ronnie Bell, who was lost for the season with a torn ACL. Michigan, however, has been a pleasant early-season surprise.
— BYU, UCF, Cincinnati and Houston celebrated Big 12 membership with a perfect 4-0 weekend, and BYU had the biggest win of the bunch. The Cougars broke a nine-game losing streak to rival Utah with a 26-17 victory in the Holy War. The Utes cut the lead to 23-17 in the fourth quarter, but Jaren Hall guided a game-clinching field-goal drive that put the game away. Arizona State is the next ranked Pac-12 team on the Cougars’ schedule, and it builds up to what could be another special season in Provo leading up to the finale against USC.
—Speaking of USC, the Trojans stumbled against Stanford in a somewhat-shocking 42-28 loss. USC appeared to be turning the corner, but that might not be the case. Since Clay Helton took over as head coach, USC is 12-9 in September. This loss likely knocks the Trojans out of the AP Top 25, and UCLA and Arizona State look like the Pac-12 South favorites after two weeks. The Sun Devils rushed for 290 yards in a 37-10 victory against UNLV.
— Early candidate for play of the year: Jacksonville State’s walk-off win against Florida State. It is the Seminoles’ second straight loss on the game’s final play at home.
— Pitt erupted for 27 second-quarter points and held on for a 41-34 victory against Tennessee in the Johnny Majors Classic on Saturday. Quarterback Kenny Pickett averages 278.5 passing yards with four TDs and no interceptions through two games, and the Panthers play Western Michigan, New Hampshire and Georgia Tech before what could be a huge ACC Coastal showdown against Virginia Tech on Oct. 16 in Blacksburg, Va.
— Alabama coach Nick Saban had his annual pre-packaged rant before playing a FCS opponent this week, and the Crimson Tide beat Mercer 48-14 in response. Bryce Young hit 19 of 27 passes for 227 yards and three TDs, and Alabama is now 13-0 against FCS opponents under Saban. They’ve won those games by a combined score of 658-91.
—To that end, six ranked teams played FCS schools in Week 2. The combined score of those games was 331-41. Oklahoma beat Western Carolina 76-0. The Sooners outgained the Catamounts 624-178. When the College Football Playoff expands, will Power 5 schools stop playing FCS schools?
— Nice touch by Army, Navy and Air Force to have every player run onto the field carrying the American flag in rememberance of 9-11 on Saturday.
Army held on to beat Western Kentucky 38-35 and Air Force dropped Navy to 0-2 with a 23-3 win at Annapolis.
— Zeb Noland’s two-game stint as emergency starter for South Carolina appears to be over as Luke Doty is scheduled to return next week against Georgia. Noland finished 2-0 after the Gamecocks rallied past East Carolina 20-17, winning on a 36-yard walk-off field goal by Parker White. Noland, who was slated to be a graduate assistant this year before injuries and transfers forced him to grab his pads, was 13-for-24 for 214 yards against the Pirates with a touchdown and an interception.
— Speaking of backup SEC quarterbacks, Stetson Bennett put on a show for Georgia subbing in for J.T. Daniels against UAB. Bennett’s first five pass attempts of the game went for 73 yards (TD), 10 yards, 12 yards (TD), 89 yards (TD) and 61 yards (TD). The Bulldogs cruised to a 56-7 win over the defending Conference-USA champs. Daniels is battling an oblique injury and is expected back next week.
— Notre Dame wasn’t the only top 10 team to survive a scare. No. 5 Texas A&M trailed Colorado until deep into the fourth quarter before backup quarterback Zach Calzada hit Isaiah Spiller for an 18-yard touchdown with 2:41 to play and the Aggies prevailed 10-7. Freshman Haynes King hurt his lower leg on second possession and spent the second half in a walking boot on the sideline.