SportsPulse: In what’s sure to spark a debate amongst die-hard college football fans, USA TODAY Sports’ Paul Myerberg gives his opinion on the top five individual teams of all time.
Almost every week during the college football season, you see a team in a situation where the coach of an underdog has a chance to win a game and faces a huge decision about whether to be aggressive or conservative.
Louisiana-Monroe’s Matt Viator had such a decision in overtime Saturday night at Florida State. Having seen his team score easily in overtime, Viator could have sent his offense back out for a two-point conversion to either win or lose the game right there. Given how tired the Seminoles looked, his chance would have probably been pretty good. Instead, Viator decided to kick the extra point and extend the game into a second overtime — until his kicker shanked the extra point, allowing Florida State to escape with a 45-44 win.
Had Viator been more aggressive there, anyone would have liked Louisiana-Monroe’s chances to get three yards and pull the upset. Instead, Florida State and second-year coach Willie Taggart escaped disaster.
The Seminoles may have survived, but it was’t pretty. Their defense gave up 419 yards, they blew a 21-0 lead to fall behind in the fourth quarter, and their play-calling down the stretch was extremely suspect. Coming on the heels of the Week 1 meltdown against Boise State, this wasn’t a good look at all for Taggart and his staff. But it was a win.
We’ll never know what might have happened had Louisiana-Monroe gone for two, but more coaches of underdog teams should take note and try to win the game right then and there when you have the opportunity.
More: Winners and losers from college football’s Week 2 led by Clemson and Syracuse
More: Three takeaways from No. 6 LSU’s thrilling defeat of No. 9 Texas
Here are more observations from Week 2 of the college football season.
Jim Harbaugh got very lucky: Michigan still has some problems on offense right now. The offensive line isn’t used to blocking for a spread-based scheme and it shows. Quarterback Shea Patterson is ultimately a solid college quarterback but not the dynamic game-changer he was supposed to be coming out of high school. That combination makes Michigan a very laborious team to watch at this point in the season, and it almost cost the Wolverines against Army.
Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh reacts to a call in the first half against Army. (Photo: Rick Osentoski, USA TODAY Sports)
Though they escaped, 24-21 in overtime, this was almost a very bad day for Harbaugh, who twice went for it on fourth-and-2 late in regulation and got stuffed both times in key moments that could have handed Army the win. The first one, with 9:58 remaining, made no sense because the game was tied 14-14 and Michigan could have kicked a 36-yard field goal to take the lead. That’s a pretty clear “take the points” situation, especially when your offensive line hasn’t gotten a ton of push in running situations. The second one with 2:32 left was extremely risky at the Army 43. If you punt there, the game is almost certainly going to overtime. If you don’t get it, you’ve exposed your defense to a game-losing situation — which almost happened as Army had a look at a 50-yard field goal to win that missed wide right.
Michigan won, so maybe it doesn’t matter. But those are some serious coaching gaffes by Harbaugh that would not have been excusable if a bounce or two had gone the other way.
Charlie Strong in trouble: Perhaps it’s not a big surprise that South Florida lost at Georgia Tech, 14-10, giving Geoff Collins his first win with the Yellow Jackets. Still, it was the eighth straight loss for the Bulls going back to last season and they’ve only scored 10 total points in two games this season and generated just 262 yards of offense Saturday. In other words, it’s not going particularly well. Though a lot of people expected Strong would be a solid hire at USF — think more what he did at Louisville rather than Texas, where the spotlight was a little too big — the program has gone backwards from the day he got the job until now. With a relatively new athletics director there in Michael Kelly, you can’t expect a ton of patience if this slide continues into American Athletic Conference play.
Locks ‘em up: There was good reason to be skeptical of Maryland hiring Mike Locksley, but the Terrapins are 2-0 and off to a fantastic start after thrashing Syracuse 63-20. Locksley’s first stint as a head coach at New Mexico was a disaster on and off the field, but the argument for him was based largely on his proven ability to recruit the Washington, D.C., area and learning a lot about how to run a program from both his previous failure and more recent stint under Nick Saban at Alabama. The returns look pretty good so far. Maryland had some talent in the program already but some of these guys might be taking it to the next level in Locksley’s offense, which produced 354 rushing yards against Syracuse.
Holgo went at right time: Now we see why Dana Holgorsen was so eager to get out of West Virginia after last season. Part of it surely was about Houston, a place where he’s really comfortable and getting paid $4 million a year. But it’s also very clear now that the Mountaineers were losing a ton of talent, including quarterback Will Grier, and headed for a big rebuild. Apparently West Virginia’s lackluster 20-13 win over James Madison in Week 1 wasn’t a fluke, as they came back and got hammered at Missouri 38-7 on Saturday. The Tigers held West Virginia to 171 yards of offense just a week after the Mountaineers had 260 against an FCS team. In other words, new coach Neal Brown apparently is going to have a long road back to relevance.
Just getting going: No. 1 Clemson’s 24-10 win over No. 11 Texas A&M was pretty ho-hum to watch, unless you had a bet that was impacted by that Aggies touchdown with six seconds left. But the scary part is, Clemson isn’t even close to fully cranked up yet. As the Tigers have ascended to dominance, the pattern over the last five years has been to just kind of get through the first half of the season without playing their cleanest football while continually building toward the last part of the year and the College Football Playoff.
Dabo Swinney will have plenty to nitpick from games like this, and quarterback Trevor Lawrence has yet to look great, although he has made a couple spectacular plays (he was 24-for-35 for 268 yards on Saturday with one touchdown and one interception). But the recent history at Clemson should tell us not to read too much into it at this point. Clemson isn’t playing its best football yet, but it doesn’t need to right now. And in the end, the Tigers pretty comfortably put away a team that should stay in the top 25 this year, which Swinney won’t complain about.
Another Tennessee travesty: The odds of Tennessee losing a game it led by three with fewer than 20 seconds left and its opponent backed up to its own 20-yard line were astronomical. But this is Tennessee, which finds new and cruel ways to lose all the time. BYU’s 64-yard pass against a massive coverage bust by the Vols set up a game-tying field goal with one second remaining, which eventually became a BYU 29-26 double-overtime win, is an all-timer for the Vols. And it makes you wonder whether Jeremy Pruitt is now completely doomed in his second year because this might have been an even bigger gut-punch than last week’s shocking loss to Georgia State. With former coach Phillip Fulmer having maneuvered his way into being the athletics director at Tennessee, the questions about whether his grand plan was to wind up back on the sidelines are suddenly very relevant.
No Year 2 Leap: Nebraska’s expected step forward in Scott Frost’s second year is yet to materialize. The Huskers weren’t great in their opener against South Alabama and then went to Colorado in Week 2 and blew a 17-0 lead to lose 34-31 in overtime. It’s not panic time yet for Nebraska because some of the preseason talk about winning the Big Ten West was overly optimistic. But what a great win for first-year coach Mel Tucker and Colorado, which made some adjustments throughout, called a bold football game on offense and was just as tough and physical as Nebraska. Tucker, the former defensive coordinator at Georgia, was kind of an outside-the-box choice for the Buffaloes, but athletics director Rick George wanted to zig where the rest of the country zagged by hiring a defensive coach who was going to run a different style than the rest of the Pac-12. Through two weeks, it looks like a good decision.