Hello again, friends, and welcome back to our conventional look at the weeks that were and will be. We’re hitting the home stretch of this season — and, therefore, feature — but there’s still plenty of great content to be had. We’re pretty take-heavy this week — to the point where it has crept into our actual game selections. Because of that, let’s cut the further ado and get to it. Before we do, though, your trivia question!
TRIVIA (answer at the end of the column): Former Samford and current Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Devlin Hodges won the 2018 Payton Award, the honor granted to the top FCS offensive player in any given season. How many times has the Southern Conference had back-to-back winners of the award who were not repeat winners? (For bonus points, who were the recipients?)
YOU HATE TO SEE IT: Everyone reading this remembers 2016. Texas lost to Kansas for just the second time in the history of the two schools playing each other, The 24-21 result was the first Jayhawk win over the Longhorns in nearly 60 years. The internet — predictably — roasted Texas for days to come, and the loss was one of several factors that earned Charlie Strong a one-way ticket to Tampa.
For about 1:08 of game action Saturday, many thought Kansas was going to pull the feat again, including this Kansas player (h/t Chris Kern):
Unfortunately for the Jayhawks, Texas had enough time to go 65 yards in 10 plays, with Cameron Dicker drilling the game-winning 33-yarder dead central at the horn.
Now, sure, Texas was a 21-point favorite. No, Kansas had no business still being in position to win that game. Yes, giving up 569 yards in a game — to Kansas, especially — should be enough to light a fire under Todd Orlando and his entire staff.
With all that on the page, two things. First, we’ve established in this space numerous times the lameness of the “horns down” salute. West Virginia did it. They lost. Kansas did it, and…yeah, you saw what happened. Oklahoma eschewed the gesture this year, and proceeded to thump its Red River rival.
Situational awareness, folks. When every number left on the game clock is a zero, make your gestures, irrespective of how tired they may be.
It’s a good thing the game was on the Longhorn Network and 15 people saw it.
TAKE OF THE WEEK: Illinois football pulled an almost indescribable win over Wisconsin Saturday, then took to the internet to let everyone know about it. That’s not the issue here; the hyperbolic proclamation that accompanied it, however:
THE BIGGEST UPSET OF THE COLLEGE FOOTBALL SEASON pic.twitter.com/Y3pzBKTaBQ
— Illinois Football (@IlliniFootball) October 19, 2019
Let’s just cut to the chase: Talk like this is reductive. How does one even define the biggest upset of the year? Is it by point spread (this one’s close)? Rank in the polls at the time (South Carolina at Georgia)? Number of available resources (The Citadel over Georgia Tech)?
Take absolutely nothing away from Illinois’ win. It was significant. It was arguably one of the most seismic results of the year. However, thanks to the current climate of sports talk, where we can’t just enjoy anything for what it is anymore, and immediately have to compare it to some other result or make it the biggest/best/most incredible ever, we end up landing here.
Enjoy your win, Illinois. If you can break your string of eight seasons without a winning record, that might be even more worth firing off a tweet.
THREE I’M WATCHING
Brian’s note: Since last week was a bye week, we’ll just skip the “Three I Watched” portion of this piece.
Liberty (5-2) at Rutgers (1-6, 0-5 Big Ten)
Noon | BTN | Liberty -7
Well, well, well, how the turntables have turned.
If you’d said to — well, pretty much anybody — when this game was signed that one team would be 5-2 and giving seven, while the other would be 1-6 and would have already fired its coach and shed its starting quarterback, they’d have forecast it exactly this way, no? Now, sure, there are mitigating factors here; Liberty hasn’t exactly played the most taxing of schedules (though trips to BYU and Virginia loom), and Rutgers is part of a suddenly quite interesting Big Ten.
Still, the numbers are what they are, and an admittedly overzealous USA Today projection put Liberty in the Belk Bowl, for crying out loud. That seems unthinkable for a program still in its infancy. The Flames’ signal-caller has been a key to his club’s five-game winning streak (competition notwithstanding), as Stephen “Buckshot” Calvert has connected on 100-of-148 throws for 1474 yards and 14 touchdowns over the period without surrendering an interception. To the surprise of few who know the team, dynamic wideout Antonio Gandy-Golden has been the primary target of many of those throws. “AGG” has snagged 31 passes for 688 yards and all five of his scores in those five games. The Liberty rushing attack has also picked up the pace of late, as good friend of this feature (and its writer) Damien Sordelett chronicled earlier in the week.
The thing that should concern Liberty as it heads to Piscataway is its defense — or lack thereof — at times. The Flames were shredded for 27 points in the second half, and allowed a ridiculous 251 yards in the fourth quarter last week in a 59-44 victory over FCS Maine. That simply can’t happen against anyone — even Rutgers — if Liberty expects to live up to its favored status.
And then, well…there’s Rutgers.
The Scarlet Knights rank in the top 100 in a precious two offensive categories — sacks allowed per game (71st) and time of possession (91st). Mercy. Rutgers finds itself in the top 100 in passes intercepted (89th), passing yards allowed (84th), and passing efficiency against (87th) on defense. Rutgers is next-to-last in total offense (just over 255 yards per game) and 108th in total defense (just over 449 yards per game). Just one opponent (UMass in a season-opening Scarlet Knights victory) has gained fewer than 436 yards of total offense against Rutgers.
Liberty would not become bowl-eligible with a win here — thank the two FCS schools on the schedule for that — but a win over a Big Ten team is still a win over a Big Ten team. Maybe we can add some extra juice to this one by making it a “loser leaves town”-type of game, where Liberty gets Rutgers’ spot in the Big Ten if it wins. Okay, maybe that might be asking a bit much.
Chattanooga (4-3, 3-0 SoCon) at Wofford (4-2, 2-1 SoCon)
1:30pm | ESPN+ | Wofford -11
There are a lot of really odd things about this game. The fact that Wofford is a two-plus score favorite on the gridiron at Gibbs Stadium looks a bit out of place, considering the fact that the Mocs lead the SoCon. Our good friend John Hooper had a great story for HERO Sports this week about Chattanooga and its head coach Rusty Wright, who replaced Tom Arth following his departure for Akron. Wright, as John points out, played for Chattanooga and was part of the Mocs’ three straight SoCon title teams from 2013-15.
Wofford, meanwhile, has spent the last two years in the heights to which the Mocs are attempting to ascend. The Terriers are two-time defending SoCon champs, and we could talk about them for the rest of this column. I’d much rather, however, lead you to the podcast of my good friend Todd Shanesy and Thom Henson, as they break down this game. Todd’s the best. Support his work.
If you have about 15 minutes, here's the Terrier Tracker podcast for this week with Thom Henson. We talk about Wofford's winning streak, the Southern Conference race and a big game ahead against Chattanooga.https://t.co/IvZemoCRu8
— Todd Shanesy (@TerrierTracker) October 22, 2019
Chattanooga’s Ailym Ford is going to be the name to watch in this game, and he presents quite the problem for the Terriers. The freshman is having a homecoming of sorts, having hailed from West Florence, South Carolina, and he brings with him a stat line in which he has rushed for 757 yards and seven scores. 511 of those yards and three touchdowns have been accumulated over the last three weeks. Ford has carried the ball 30, 32, and 31 respective times in those three games, and he tallied 200 yards in a victory over East Tennessee State two weeks ago. Wofford leads the league in rushing defense against SoCon opponents, surrendering just over 120 yards per game. That success will be tested early and often Saturday.
UConn (1-6, 0-4 AAC) at UMass (1-6)
3:30pm | FloSports/NESN | UConn -10
Okay, let’s be real here. I was all set to pick Tulane-Navy as my third game — that’s going to be one of the best games of the day, by far — but I’m drawn back here for a few reasons.
First, UConn’s giving a dime here? That might never happen again — against an FBS opponent, anyway.
Second, Randy Edsall had to pipe up — again — and say something asinine. This time, he busted this out:
Passionate press conference from Randy Edsall today. The gist has been that today's generation of players isn't as "mentally tough" as previous generations. He mentioned phones, headphones, Fortnite, social media, more.
— Alex Putterman (@AlexPutterman) October 22, 2019
At the risk of repeating my real-time response to that tweet, how about flying off to interview for another job instead of flying back with your team after a bowl game, Randy? What kind of mental toughness does that require?
Maybe my perspective’s different because I regularly cover high school sports. I’ll take that chance. That said, I see a number of kids on a regular basis that are incredibly tough. They balance the rigors of schoolwork, sports, social lives, and family responsibilities, and flawlessly do so.
Perhaps if you’re saying kids are too soft, you’re recruiting the wrong kids. Every kid wants to be motivated. It’s up to you to figure out how to reach guys once you get them into your program.
Anyway — on to the third point…
This game is just…well, take it away, UMass sports information department:
144 (20.6)…………….. Scoring (Per Game) ………………….117 (16.7)
934 (133.4)……….. Rushing Yards (Per Game)……………792 (113.1)
1177 (168.1)………….Passing Yards (Per Game)…………..1421 (203.0)
2111 (301.6)…………..Total Offense (Per Game) ……….2213 (316.1)
51-500 (71.4)……….Penalties – Yards (Per Game)…….41-331 (47.3)
43-1673 (38.9)………..Punts – Yards (Per Punt)……..38-1580 (41.6)
9-106 (11.8)…..Punt Returns – Yards (Per Return) …………6-57 (9.5)
40-883 (22.1)… Kick Returns – Yards (Per Returns)……21-393 (18.7)
30-1694 (56.5)………Kickoffs – Yards (Per Game)……26-1481 (57.0)
26:15………………….Time of Possession Per Game………………32:44
41-112 (.336)……Third Down Conversion (Pct.)…………27-94 (.287)
8-18 (.444) ……..Fourth Down Conversion (Pct.)………….6-14 (.429)
4-5 (.800) ……………….Field Goals (Pct.) …………………..6-10 (.600)
15-19 (.789)…………….Red Zone Scoring (Pct.)………… 16-18 (.889)
12-19 (.632)…………Red Zone Touchdowns (Pct.) …….. 12-18 (.667)
18-19 (.947)……………PAT Kick Attempts (Pct.)……….13-13 (1.000)
0-1 (.000)……………………….On-Side Kicks……………………….0-1 (.000)
You almost have to watch this game — assuming you can, of course, since it’s on FloSports and NESN.
TRIVIA ANSWER: I asked earlier: Former Samford and current Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Devlin Hodges won the 2018 Payton Award, the honor granted to the top FCS offensive player in any given season. How many times has the Southern Conference had back-to-back winners of the award who were not repeat winners? (For bonus points, who were the recipients?)
Two. Adrian Peterson of Georgia Southern and Louis Ivory of Furman claimed the honor in 1999 and 2000, while Georgia Southern’s Jayson Foster took the award in 2007. Foster’s award necessitated the specific phrasing of the question, as Appalachian State’s Armanti Edwards won the honor in 2008 and 2009.