College Football 2014: week 1

My teams went 2-1, with the Ags winning the first big game of the season on the live football debut of the SEC Network, Stanford pitched a shutout and ran up the score on a cupcake, and the Badgers dropping an extremely frustrating game against LSU.  I don’t have anything to say about Stanford, since I didn’t see any of that game, so I’ll just cover the other two games.

#21 A&M d. #9 S. Carolina

Most of the teams in the SEC lost key players to the NFL or to other causes (e.g. kicked off for being criminals). The conventional wisdom on A&M seemed to be that losing Johnny Manziel, Mike Evans, and Jake Matthews would cause the offense to collapse, while the terrible D of 2013 would not be improved with the losses of Darian Claiborne and Isiah Golden, who were kicked off the team for criminal stupidity. Dropping expectations based on these losses was not unreasonable, but I got the feeling that the expectations were even lower than they should be based on prognosticators who expected A&M to take a beating in the SEC were putting too much weight on what Manziel meant to the success of the team.

At the same time, the reputation of Steve Spurrier is the only thing I could think of that caused pundits to anoint S. Carolina as not only a favorite in the SEC east (understandable given the lack of viable alternatives), but also the #9 team in the country. Like the Ags, they lost a starting QB, top receiver, and key defenders. It seemed to me that the rational evaluation would be that both teams would be so dependent on unknowns that the outcome of the game on Aug 28 would be a pick ’em.  Instead, the Gamecocks were 10.5 point favorites at home. Predictions varied from the Carolinians winning big by running the ball down our throats to winning a close one where neither D stops the other O.  I was telling friends that I thought A&M could win because our offense was a bad matchup for S. Carolina’s young defensive backs. But I was far from sure.

On Thursday night the Ags showed that they were not the most overrated team in the nation after all, winning big on S. Carolina’s home field. QB Kenny Hill broke Manziel’s single game record for passing, going 44/60 for 511 yards. 12 different Aggies caught those passes. A&M  converted on 12/17 third downs. They went 2/2 on fourth down, with the other three possessions being two punts and a FG. The D had some breakdowns that led to SC scores, but overall they did well: Carolina was only 2/9 on 3rd down and had 67 yards rushing. The Ags so thoroughly dominated that Gamecock fans were thrown into dark despair.

#13 LSU d #14 Wisconsin

My thoughts on the Badgers are NSFW. I may be able to write something … oh, screw it.


The Badgers started strong, using the ground game to take a 17-7 lead into the half. The Badgers stretched the lead on their first possession of the second half to make it 24-7 with 12:24 to go in the third. From that point on, Heisman hopeful Melvin Gordon, who was averaging 8.8 yards per touch, got 3 more carries.

tweets via Bucky’s Fifth Quarter.

Worse, Gordon’s missing carries were not just given to backup RB Corey Clement. OC Andy Ludwig had Badger QB Tanner McEvoy slinging the ball downfield, despite an abundance of evidence that:

  • Wisconsin has no real threats at WR
  • McEvoy and the WRs were not making the same reads on what routes to run
  • LSU’s DBs were covering well all night
  • McEvoy is not a good passing QB.

McEvoy is a transfer from S. Carolina by way of an Arizona JC. At S. Carolina he couldn’t beat out Connor Shaw or Dylan Thompson (the losing QB in the A&M-USC game above, who is thought of as inconsistent). McEvoy played safety at Wisconsin last year, but beat out incumbent Joel Stave, who may be limited by the lingering effects of an injury from last season. McEvoy ended up going 8/24 for 50 yards and 2 INTs. Both picks came in the fourth quarter, helping LSU slingshot past the Badgers.

One of the completions down the right sideline in the first half may have convinced the Wisconsin coaches that they had a passing game. But I remember thinking to myself: “LSU picks that off more often than not”. McEvoy’s INT numbers were not worse mainly because so many of his incompletions were deep balls that were nowhere close to a receiver or defender.

The conventional wisdom used by Ludwig and Andersen was probably something along the lines of needing to pass to keep LSU from stacking the box. But that only works if there is a credible threat in the passing game, and from what I saw, there isn’t one at Wisconsin. The Badgers are likely to delude themselves into thinking they can improve their passing attack when they move on to the weaker opponents on their schedule, but IMO they would be better off embracing their 1-dimensional nature. Whenever I saw the Badgers line up with no fullback or worse, I wanted to scream at the TV.