What we learned in Week 5: Tennessee grasps ahold of its destiny with comeback
The Volunteers were on the brink on Saturday, but still managed to take back their fate
Call it the Rocky Top Miracle, if you must. If you can't see a little Auburn 2013 in Tennessee 2016, you're not looking close enough after Georgia and the Vols each remarkably threw touchdown passes of 40+ yards in the game's final 10 seconds.
There's another way to view what happened Saturday in Athens: Tennessee went up and grabbed its potential new destiny.
In college football, no one hands teams the key to unlock the path for glory. So while Georgia defenders stayed planted as a football heaved by Josh Dobbs stayed in the air for 3.17 seconds, Vols wide receiver Jauan Jennings leaped and snatched the ball out of the sky.
Those maddening, imperfect and flawed Vols who used to blow leads are displaying the single most important trait necessary to reach the next level: resiliency. Tennessee joins other rejuvenated college football programs that once dominated Saturdays who can now see the light to regain some old glory. They're not there yet, but they see it.
Facing a stiff test in an instant classic, Clemson and Deshaun Watson clung to its newly-gained elite status and prevented Louisville and Lamar Jackson from unseating last year's national runner-up. Just because the young up-and-comer wants the prize doesn't mean the champion will relinquish it.
But what's old is new again. "I love the '90s" is playing out all over college football.
Tennessee, Washington, Miami, Nebraska and Michigan are undefeated. Colorado sits atop the Pac-12 South and Saturday enjoyed its most lopsided conference victory since 1992. Those six teams won seven national championships from 1990-98.
Tennessee took control of the SEC East with rallies of 21 and 17 points, respectively, to beat Florida and Georgia in consecutive weeks. The Vols are 5-0 for the first time since 1998, when they won their last national championship. Tennessee could still give this division lead back the next two weeks against Texas A&M and Alabama, but it's now the Vols' division to lose.
On Friday night, Washington honored players from its 1991 national championship team and then lived up to the preseason hype that this program is back. The Huskies destroyed Stanford 44-6, abusing what used to be college football's best offensive line with eight sacks on no blitzes. Stanford, the Pac-12's most consistent program, suffered its worst loss since Jim Harbaugh's first year in 2007.
Imagine being Pat Haden today. Haden was the USC athletic director in 2013 who hired then-Washington coach Steve Sarkisian over Chris Petersen. At the time, media accounts said Petersen interviewed poorly and his vision didn't mesh with how Haden wanted the program run. Oops.
Matching Petersen's coaching mind with higher-level talent than he had at Boise State is a joy to watch. Husky Stadium resembled the glory years of the 1990s under Don James. "I mean, it's been loud," Washington safety Budda Baker told ESPN.com, "but that was some other type of loud. That was Seahawks-type loud."
College football is nothing if not cyclical. Watch the game long enough and the glory years with eventually be relived, only this time with new unforgettable moments for the next generation.
What We Learned This Week
1. Clemson basically won the ACC Atlantic. Yeah, it's only Week 5. But barring Clemson imploding, the Tigers essentially won the division Saturday thanks to Florida State's wild 37-35 loss to North Carolina. Not long after the Tar Heels had an extra point blocked, they kicked a 54-yard field goal as time expired. Go figure.
In the game of the year so far, Louisville rallied from a 28-10 halftime deficit to take a late lead. A 77-yard kickoff return by Artavis Scott set up the Tigers' winning touchdown. Their winded defense somehow held on at the end. Louisville came up 1 yard short of a first down near the end zone to continue the drive. Don't overlook one huge series in this game. With 31 seconds left before halftime, Clemson led by two scores and got the ball back at its own 27. Dabo Swinney coached aggressively and the Tigers got a touchdown they needed later. That's how you win a shootout like this.
There's no shame in Louisville losing. If the Cardinals win out (including a Nov. 17 game at Houston) and depending on how the rest of the country looks, it's not far-fetched to think the ACC could get Clemson and Louisville in the playoff. We're a long way from here to there. But Louisville looked the part of a top-four team on Saturday night in what we'll probably remember as the de-facto ACC Championship Game.
2. Texas isn't anywhere close to being back. Remember the popular narrative in Week 1 that Texas was on its way back? Even Texas Gov. Greg Abbott remarked that a double-overtime win over Notre Dame "feels like a championship." Yeah, not so much. This is the danger of overreacting in the first month. Charlie Strong is back under intense scrutiny after a 49-31 loss to Oklahoma State in which his defense continued to be a mess.
Texas absolutely needed to get a QB and has one, but that didn't solve the Longhorns' defense, which has allowed 38 or more points in nine of the past 19 games since the end of 2014. This year, Texas has allowed 47 points to Notre Dame in double overtime, 50 to California and 49 to Oklahoma State. The Cowboys gained nearly 400 yards of offense in the first half Saturday and averaged 14 yards per pass for the game. Incredibly, Texas continues to not do the little things right and had three extra points blocked in the first half. One block was returned for two points, something Notre Dame also did against Texas before the Irish lost three games.
Strong now has a 13-16 record.
"We need to evaluate what happened here," Texas athletic director Mike Perrin told ESPN. "I'm not evaluating Charlie per se. I'm evaluating everything."
ESPN reported Strong won't be fired during the season, but Perrin's remarks aren't exactly a vote of confidence entering the Red River Rivalry next week. LSU made a move last week dumping Les Miles to potentially hire Tom Herman. Texas has shown it wants to make this work with Strong, but he's entering a dangerous stretch if Texas elects to enter the Herman sweepstakes.
3. Oklahoma shows heart, but Big 12 is hurting. Give a lot of credit to the Sooners. Saddled with a 1-2 record and down 21-7, Oklahoma rallied to take a 49-24 lead and held on for a 52-46 win at TCU. Key stat: Oklahoma outrushed TCU 260-65. When Oklahoma commits to running Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon, good things happen.
We may remember this game as the one that propels Oklahoma to another Big 12 championship. But the result wasn't a good development for the Big 12, which remains on shaky ground for playoff hopes.
Oklahoma and TCU, considered the league's two best teams entering the year, each already have two losses.
Baylor and West Virginia both survived close games to remain undefeated. They very well may be the Big 12's last hope to make the playoff. And they'd probably have to go undefeated. Good luck seeing that happen. Neither team is likely good enough to win every game.
4. Miami is confident, Florida State is reeling. The Hurricanes enter their annual game against Florida State next week with a better record than the Seminoles for the first time since 2002. That's an incredibly long stretch for The U. To be clear: We don't know yet exactly how good Miami is given its relatively easy opening schedule. But new coach Mark Richt and defensive coordinator Manny Diaz have Miami playing smarter and better.
The Hurricanes built an early 28-7 lead over Georgia Tech on two fumble returns for touchdowns. Miami's hirings of Richt and Diaz were two of the best by any school in the offseason. The Hurricanes should be a confident team entering the heart of their schedule: Florida State, North Carolina, Virginia Tech, Notre Dame and Pittsburgh.
The Seminoles have some serious soul searching to do. The same problems continue to plague them: slow starts and sloppy mistakes on defense. Florida State is 0-2 in the ACC for the first time since 2011 and had its national-best 22-game home winning streak snapped. Another streak is in jeopardy next week: The Seminoles' six straight wins over Miami.
5. Jourdan Lewis, meet Charles Woodson. Michigan cornerback Jourdan Lewis made one of the greatest catches you'll ever see. With 2:15 remaining in the Wolverines' 14-7 win over Wisconsin, Lewis reached up and grabbed a desperation pass with his right hand as he fell down, pressing the ball to his body and only using his left hand to brace the fall.
"The ball was in the air and I knew I had to make a play on it, either knock it down or do what I did, it was just instincts really," Lewis said, according to The Detroit Free-Press. "I jumped too early so I couldn't go get it with two so I just put my hand up there and see what happens."
Lewis' play conjured up memories of Charles Woodson's remarkable one-handed interception for Michigan against Michigan State in 1997. See, stick around long and enough and what's old is new again.
Scores of the Day
Indiana 24, Michigan State 21 and Northwestern 38, Iowa 31. It's time to face facts: The two Big Ten Championship Game participants in 2015 simply aren't that good in 2016. For the first time since 2006, Indiana beat Michigan State (2-2), which doesn't belong in the top 25. The writing was on the wall when the Spartans struggled in Week 1 against Furman. Iowa fell at home to a team that has losses to Western Michigan and Illinois State. No one excels at the long contract extension at just the right time quite like Kirk Ferentz, who got a 10-year extension in early September.
Stat of the Day
Ohio State is the only FBS team that hasn't allowed a rushing touchdown this season. Opponents have run the ball 139 times on the Buckeyes without getting into the end zone. Don't brush this off as, "Look at who they're playing." Ohio State didn't play with this type of energy in 2015 with a more veteran team. The Buckeyes are rolling.
What Was He Thinking?
Kirby Smart will play the "what if" game about the end to Tennessee-Georgia. For starters, Georgia's Rico McGraw received an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for running onto the field to celebrate without wearing a helmet. That forced Georgia to kick off at its 20-yard line instead of the 35. The Bulldogs called for a sky kick to avoid talented kick returner Evan Berry, but the kick only traveled 48 yards. Berry still caught the ball at the Tennessee 32 and had a 20-yard return. The Vols got an extra five yards because Georgia was offsides on the kickoff, setting up the dramatic finish.
Quote of the Week
"You know, I'm going to miss doing the SEC." -- CBS announcer Verne Lundquist in his understated Verne tone after the wild Tennessee-Georgia finish.
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