Oklahoma flexes, Bryan Harsin’s Auburn flounders, Kansas can’t lose: Saturday Takeaways

Here are four takeaways and much more from Week 3 in college football. We spent our day in Lincoln, Neb., at a game that seemed like a pretty big deal until, well, early in the second quarter. This wasn’t one of those Saturdays that delivered a slew of season-altering ballgames or jaw-dropping upsets. But it’s still college football. The slices of pizza I ate after the game were lukewarm, too. It was still good pizza.

Oklahoma looks real

How can we expect Oklahoma teams to play under Brent Venables? Everyone got a real good look at the first-year coach’s take on Sooner football on Saturday afternoon in a 49-14 rout of Nebraska. Three games into his tenure, his squad certainly looks top-10 good with room to get even better.

Oklahoma’s offense bullied the struggling Huskers, putting up 461 yards on 60 plays (7.7 per play) and seven touchdowns on quarterback Dillon Gabriel’s 10 drives. He was able to call it a day midway through the third quarter, at a point when the Sooners were getting 7.3 yards per carry. Gabriel even got to show off his underrated wheels early, turning a QB draw on third-and-7 into a career-long 61-yard touchdown. Offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby called one heck of a game as the Sooners built a 28-point halftime lead and showed off more than they had against UTEP and Kent State.

“We’ve kept it very vanilla,” tight end Brayden Willis said. “Getting to get out there and really see the full force of Lebby’s offense is nice. It’s gonna continue to keep on going. I’m excited for it.”

It would’ve made sense if this Nebraska team rallied this week and put up more of a fight under interim coach Mickey Joseph after the firing of Scott Frost. The No. 6 ranked Sooners never really gave it a chance. Their defense was relentless and got a dozen stops on the day. After allowing a 77-yard touchdown drive to start the day, they gave up just 71 yards the rest of the first half. Do these feats say more about Nebraska or Oklahoma? That’s the tricky thing. These 1-3 Huskers are seriously flawed, no question, but they were still scoring 36 points per game going into the day. It was still a good road test of Venables’ progress. And Oklahoma passed that test with ease.

“We’ve not done anything other than win our first road game and get to 3-0,” Venables said, “and we’ve got a really incredible challenge next week in Norman with Kansas State coming.”

At the time he said that, he didn’t know Kansas State would end up losing 17-10 at home to Tulane. That’s not to say this next one won’t be a more legitimate challenge, but at this point it would be a surprise if the Sooners aren’t undefeated going into Red River. They’re winning over even their most passionate skeptics and look ready to contend for Big 12 titles right away under this new regime.

Bryan Harsin is in the danger zone

There’s not much Bryan Harsin can point to about Auburn’s 41-12 home loss to No. 22 Penn State as proof that his program is heading in the right direction. Much like with Frost, when you’re playing a season under maximum hot seat scrutiny, how you lose can go a long way toward a quick hook. And the how of this one for Auburn was embarrassing.

The defense gave up 245 rushing yards and 7.7 yards per play. The offense was tough to watch, struggled to finish drives and turned it over four times. Tank Bigsby finished with just 11 touches. Sean Clifford and Penn State deserve a ton of credit for pulling off this statement victory over an SEC foe and moving to 3-0, and it’s possible this game will end up saying more about the Nittany Lions than Harsin’s squad.

But for now, it signals this Tiger team is in trouble. As Matt Hinton pointed out, it’s wild to think back and recall Auburn was 6-2 and ranked No. 13 going into November last season. Since then? Five consecutive losses against Power 5 foes plus the bowl game loss against Houston. It won’t be hard to pull the plug, no matter the price (close to $16 million) or absence of a full-time AD, if they follow this up with a home loss to Missouri next week. Fair or not, when your job is on the line every week, games like these cross that line from if Auburn makes a change to when.

All hail Kansas football

You know what real Year 2 progress looks like? It’s Lance Leipold and Kansas moving to 3-0 with a stunning 48-30 win on the road at Houston. Can you believe it?

The future Big 12 member could not figure out a way to slow down these Jayhawks. Jalon Daniels took another huge step in his development by putting up 158 passing yards, 123 rushing yards and five total touchdowns to lead the way. He fell behind 14-0 early and responded by leading a run of six touchdowns on seven drives to pull away.

From 2010 through 2017, Kansas did not win a single road game. Not one. This is the first time the Jayhawks have won two in a season since their 2007 Orange Bowl squad. And before that? The Jayhawks hadn’t notched multiple road wins in a season since 1996. This extremely well-coached group has really played well in six consecutive games, starting with its infamous win at Texas, and is now off to a pretty special start.

Of course, the Nebraska vacancy and Leipold’s ties to the program and state are already threatening to overshadow this breakthrough, which is a shame for Jayhawks fans who’ve waited more than a decade for a team that’s this competitive. Athletic director Travis Goff will do whatever he can to hold onto Leipold and keep this rebuild rolling, but let’s not go there for now. Let’s just appreciate that it’s Sept. 18 and the Kansas Jayhawks are undefeated and keep our fingers crossed that 3-0 Kansas vs. 3-0 Duke is deemed worthy of a visit from College GameDay.

Pac-12 has reasons for optimism

Oregon and Washington notched big-time wins on Saturday that should inspire hope about the quality of the Pac-12 race going forward. Both were home favorites, so it’s not so much that these victories were unexpected. But when you beat up a pair of top-15 teams like they did, you’re going to get people’s attention.

Washington moved to 3-0 under first-year coach Kalen DeBoer and will undoubtedly move up in the polls after jumping out to a 22-point lead and finishing the job for a 39-28 win over No. 11 Michigan State. It’s a treat to get to see quarterback Michael Penix Jr. healthy and thriving again. The Indiana transfer was terrific against the Spartans with 397 passing yards and four touchdowns, while his defense held the Spartans’ run game to just 64 yards.

Bo Nix is probably owed an apology this week. It’s possible that one season-opening game against No. 1 Georgia is not the best measurement of whether a quarterback might have a good year. Nix brought his best on Saturday, producing 257 total yards and five touchdowns with no turnovers to help the Ducks roll to a 41-20 win over No. 12 BYU. Although the Cougars were missing some key pieces, you still expected a closer battle than we got. This one was over in the third quarter. That’s a big one for coach Dan Lanning that helps put a tough start in the rearview mirror.

Those wins combined with No. 7 USC and No. 14 Utah taking care of business against Fresno State and San Diego State, respectively, could mean the Pac-12 has four teams in the AP Top 25 this week. Does the conference also have the worst Power 5 team in the country in Colorado? They sure do. Did UCLA mess around and almost lose to South Alabama? Yes, that’s true. Did Arizona State lose at home to Eastern Michigan? Yep, that happened as well. At the top of the standings, though, the top four looked strong on Saturday.

Best finish: Appalachian State. Is anyone in college football living better than the folks in Boone, N.C., these days? They stunned Texas A&M. They got College GameDay to come to town. And they improved to 3-for-3 on delivering absolutely wild, memorable finishes this season. App State trailed 28-24 against Troy in the final minute after coming up short on a fourth-and-goal at the 2-yard line. Troy felt it was safer to take an intentional safety than get a punt blocked and gave the ball back to the Mountaineers with a two-point lead. That gave quarterback Chase Brice a chance to be the hero yet again.

Credit to my colleague Matt Brown for putting this in perspective. And it’s only Week 3. Surely this team is good for a few more of these moments, right?

By the way, would you like to see a few more Hail Mary attempts? I bet you would. Cal came so close to converting this one at the end of its 24-17 loss to Notre Dame.

Indiana was not as close on this attempt at the end of the first half against Western Kentucky. You have to watch out for those goal posts, fellas.

The Hoosiers did end up winning a 33-30 thriller after rallying and scoring a touchdown and two-point conversion in the final minute, surviving a missed kick, blocking another kick in overtime and hitting a 51-yard field goal for the win.

Best call: Tulane chose a gutsy way to pull a road upset on Saturday. Willie Fritz went for it on fourth-and-inches at his own 24-yard line, trusting Michael Pratt to convert a QB sneak and clinch a 17-10 victory at Kansas State. From a probability standpoint, it was definitely the right call, but you don’t always see coaches go for it in that spot when their defense is playing well. This was Fritz’s first win over a Power 5 opponent since taking over Tulane.

Best homecoming: Bobby Petrino returned to Fayetteville, a place he did not leave on the best of terms, with his Missouri State team on Saturday and jumped out to a 17-0 lead. The Bears did not trail until nine minutes left in the fourth quarter, when Arkansas’ Bryce Stephens scored on an 82-yard punt return touchdown, and ultimately lost 38-27. But they sure put a good scare into the Razorbacks before things slid off the road.

Best missed field goal: Weird category, I know, but hear me out. USF drove for a game-tying field goal against Florida and asked Spencer Shrader to hit a 49-yard kick to send their upset bid against No. 18 Florida into overtime. The snap was good. The hold was real bad. The kick? Almost good! This really is one of the more impressive misses you’ll see all year.

Best freak: Georgia tight end Brock Bowers had a heck of a day against South Carolina with five catches for 121 yards and two scores plus a five-yard touchdown run on a reverse in the Bulldogs’ 48-7 win. This touchdown grab from the preseason All-American was especially sick.

Two more nominees for catch of the day: Jackson State’s Shane Hooks and Cincinnati’s Nick Mardner.

Best leap: UCF quarterback John Rhys Plumlee really went for it on this touchdown run in a 40-14 win over FAU. Plumlee finished with a whopping 460 total yards on the night.

North Dakota receiver Bo Belquist deserves to be mentioned here, too, for keeping this play alive and hopping for this score in a 27-24 win over Northern Arizona.

Best fakeout: This should’ve been an easy blocked punt for Tennessee during its 63-6 win over Akron, but punter Noah Gettman made a brave decision in the moment. His punt only went 21 yards, but it could’ve been a lot worse.

Another bold punting decision on Saturday that was a bit more confounding: that time when Abilene Christian went for a fair catch at the 1-yard line over a touchback. Oops.

Best cut: Shoutout to the person in NBC’s production truck who gave us this moment from Notre Dame’s win over Cal. It’s a rare (and hilarious) chance to witness both ends of the phone call between QB and coach after a drive.

But wait, there’s more. Tommy Rees does seem to get his point across to Drew Pyne.

Sideline beefs: Houston receivers Joseph Manjack IV and Sam Brown had a sideline altercation during the Cougars’ loss to Kansas. You don’t see that too often. Coach Dana Holgorsen said afterward that Manjack was in the wrong for this and that they’ve since hugged it out.

Here is another sideline incident, also in Texas, that cannot be resolved by hugging it out. I wish I had video evidence to share of this very unwise choice.

About the Author: Mofazzal Hossen

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