Fall of the champs: LSU's disaster continues

It would be an understatement to say this season hasn’t gone according to plan for LSU. 

The defending national champion lost a ton of production from its historic 15-0 title team. Some sort of drop off was expected. But nobody expected this big of a drop off. 

The Tigers fell to 2-3 with a 48-11 loss to Auburn on Saturday and are on pace for the worst season of the Ed Orgeron era in Baton Rouge — even in a pandemic-shortened season. LSU went 9-4 in Orgeron’s first season as the full-time head coach before winning 25 of its next 28 games. 

It was a tight game early, but a pair of turnovers by true freshman quarterback TJ Finley directly led to 14 Auburn points. First, Finley air-mailed a pass that was intercepted by Nehemiah Pritchett and returned to the 5-yard line to set up an Auburn score. Later in the second quarter, Finley fumbled on a sack and the loose ball was scooped up by Christian Tutt and returned for a touchdown. 

And to make things even more demoralizing for LSU, its defense allowed Auburn to march 99 yards in eight plays to go ahead 21-0 before halftime. Auburn opened the second half with another touchdown and grew its lead as large as 48-3 at one point in the second half. 

It was the latest ugly performance from Orgeron’s Tigers. LSU finished the afternoon with 347 yards on offense — more than a third which came in the final 10 minutes — while allowing Auburn, a team that had been averaging 385 yards, to go for a season-high 506 yards. It marked the third time this season that LSU’s defense has allowed 40-plus points under first-year defensive coordinator Bo Pelini.

LSU and Ed Orgeron are 2-3 in 2020. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

Finley’s debut start last week in place of injured starter Myles Brennan against South Carolina was positive. And he looks to have a promising future alongside other talented freshmen like cornerback Eli Ricks, defensive end BJ Ojulari, tight end Arik Gilbert and receiver Kayshon Boutte. But the 52-24 final score was a bit misleading. 

Fourteen of LSU’s points came via a pick-six and a kick return TD and Pelini’s defense did not make any major strides. South Carolina’s running backs gained more than nine yards per carry, its quarterback averaged more than 10 yards per pass and South Carolina’s kicker missed three field goals. Those deficiencies showed up against Auburn, and the result was a blowout.

Things won’t get much easier as the season progresses, either. LSU has a bye next week, but a visit from mighty Alabama, the current No. 2 team in the country, looms on Nov. 14. From there, LSU will travel to Arkansas and No. 8 Texas A&M, before closing the season vs. Ole Miss and at No. 10 Florida. 

With the way LSU is playing right now, it’s hard to find many wins among that group. As we wrote earlier this month, LSU is trending toward cementing its status as the worst defending champion in the modern era. 

— Sam Cooper

Winners

Clemson RB Travis Etienne: The senior is now the leading rusher in ACC history. Etienne broke NC State RB Ted Brown’s longtime record for career rushing yards with an 84-yard performance in the No. 1 Tigers’ 34-28 win over Boston College. Etienne now has 4,632 yards in his Clemson career and seems a good bet to eclipse 5,000 yards before his season is over. Brown, who played at NC State from 1975-1978, had 4,602 rushing yards in his career. 

No. 7 Cincinnati: There is no doubt that the Bearcats are the class of the AAC. After beating previously undefeated SMU last week, Cincinnati dismantled Memphis 49-10 on Saturday. QB Desmond Ridder was 21-of-26 passing for 271 yards and five total touchdowns while Jerome Ford rushed for 116 yards and two TDs on just nine carries. The Bearcat defense held Memphis to just three total yards rushing as no Memphis player had more than 16 yards on the ground. 

Purdue WR David Bell: Purdue is 2-0 thanks to Bell’s contributions once again. A week after he had 13 catches for 121 yards and three TDs in Purdue’s win over Iowa, the sophomore had nine catches for 122 yards and a score in the Boilermakers’ 31-24 victory over Illinois. Bell’s excellence has helped cover for the absence of Rondale Moore. The junior hasn’t been able to play so far this season and once he’s able to return Purdue could have the best receiving tandem in the country. 

Maryland: The Terrapins bounced back from a humiliating loss at Northwestern with a 45-44 overtime win over Minnesota. Taulia Tagovailoa, after a rough debut last week, was 26-of-35 passing for 394 yards and had five total touchdowns. Jake Funk, a fifth-year senior running back who has returned from two torn ACLs, had 21 carries for 216 yards and the game-tying score in regulation that sent the game to overtime. Maryland had 575 yards of total offense against the Gophers and had an offensive performance Friday night that showed it was capable of putting a scare into the other teams in the Big Ten East. 

Notre Dame: Notre Dame’s marquee, top-five matchup with Clemson is now set in stone. Once Clemson eked past Boston College earlier Saturday, all that stood between the Irish and the Tigers meeting next week in South Bend as top-five undefeated teams was Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets briefly made things interesting when they tied the score with a 93-yard fumble return touchdown that tied the score early in the second quarter. From there, though, Notre Dame controlled play. In the end, the Irish emerged with a 31-13 win that featured a balanced rushing attack that finished the afternoon with 227 yards and three TDs on 44 carries. 

No. 20 Coastal Carolina: The Chanticleer machine keeps on rolling. Coastal Carolina, favored by only 2.5 points, steamrolled Georgia State 51-0 to move to 6-0 on the season and 4-0 in the Sun Belt. QB Grayson McCall returned from an injury to throw for four touchdowns and rush for another as Coastal threw for 280 yards and rushed for 250 yards. And the defense was even better than the offense was. Coastal Carolina held Georgia State to just 30 yards passing and 76 yards rushing as the Panthers ran just 40 plays and were 1-of-10 on third down. CCU is the favorite in the Sun Belt and right in the mix for a New Year’s Six bowl.

Coastal Carolina quarterback Grayson McCall had five TDs on Saturday. (AP Photo/John Amis)

UCF: Another game, another insane yardage total for UCF. The Knights had 681 yards of offense in a 44-21 win over Houston on Saturday. QB Dillon Gabriel threw for 328 yards and two touchdowns and UCF rushed for 353 yards on just 51 attempts against a Houston defense that hasn’t given up fewer than 21 points this season. And even better for UCF, the Knights were penalized just eight times. UCF has been extremely penalty-prone in 2020 and it’s a big reason why the Knights are just 4-2 and not 5-1 or better. Nonetheless, UCF’s home game against Cincinnati on Nov. 21 could loom large. 

Boise State QB Jack Sears: The USC transfer made his first start for the Broncos with Hank Bachmeier out. He promptly threw a 75-yard TD pass on the first offensive play of the game. Sears finished Boise State’s 49-30 win over Air Force 17-of-20 passing for 280 yards and three touchdowns. Yes, that’s as many TDs as incompletions. He also rushed for a touchdown, too. Not a bad way to start your career at a new school. 

Louisiana Tech: A pick-six touchdown with a lateral? Sign us up. Bee Jay Williamson made an interception in the second quarter of the Bulldogs’ game against UAB and was about to get tackled. So he lateraled the ball to Khalil Ladler who returned it for a touchdown. It proved to be a big play in a 37-34 2OT victory for Louisiana Tech.

Losers

AAC officials: East Carolina got screwed on Friday night. The Pirates, 17-point underdogs at Tulsa, led 30-27 late in the fourth quarter but allowed Tulsa to embark on a 75-yard scoring drive to score the winning touchdown with 29 seconds left. But it never should have gotten to that point. At the 1:52 mark, Tulsa’s T.K Wilkerson was stripped on an 11-yard run and the ball was recovered by ECU. After a review, though, the fumble was controversially overturned even though it was pretty clear that Wilkerson had lost control of the ball before his knee hit the turf. 

The overturn gave the ball back to Tulsa, opening the door for the winning touchdown. 

On Saturday, the American Athletic Conference acknowledged that “an officiating error occurred.”

“After reviewing the video of the play, the Conference has determined that the judgment of the replay official was incorrect. The ball carrier did not regain possession of the ball, and the ruling on the field awarding the ball to East Carolina should not have been reversed,” the conference said. 

But that wasn’t the end of the controversy. Tulsa eventually faced fourth-and-5 from the ECU 32 and converted on a 13-yard pass from Zach Smith to Josh Johnson. Replay appeared to show the ball hitting the turf. Despite what seemed like a pretty good view, the catch was not overturned. Two plays later, Tulsa scored the winning TD. Brutal.

Minnesota: After Minnesota’s 11-win triumph in 2019, it is off to an unexpected 0-2 start in 2020. A loss to Michigan to open the year wasn’t a shock, but allowing 675 yards of offense in a loss to lowly Maryland? That’s a tough look. Maryland had 207 yards of offense and scored three points in its loss to Northwestern. The Terps surpassed those totals easily in just the first quarter against the Gophers. 

And the defense, which allowed more than 10 yards per play, wasn’t the only issue. The play-calling on offense was perplexing, especially when it ran the ball into the line three straight times with the game tied late in regulation. Minnesota ran the ball 50 times and threw it only 15 times. This is a team that has Rashod Bateman, one of the best receivers in the country and it ran the ball nearly 77 percent of the time. That’s insane. 

A missed PAT dropped Minnesota to 0-2. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Georgia’s passing offense: Georgia QB Stetson Bennett was 9-of-13 passing for 131 yards and two interceptions in the Bulldogs’ 14-3 win over Kentucky. The 11-point win might as well have been 25 given how Kentucky really wasn’t in the game at all in the second half. But Georgia should have been able to get something going in the passing game. If USC transfer J.T. Daniels is healthy, don’t be surprised to see him sooner rather than later. Barely adequate QB play is fine against the teams at the bottom of the SEC. But we saw how it didn’t fly against Alabama. And it’s hard to see how it will fly against Florida next week too. 

Iowa: Kirk Ferentz’s program was rocked by widespread systemic racism allegations by former players this summer. Now the Hawkeyes are 0-2 for the first time in 20 years. Iowa went up 17-0 in the first quarter against Northwestern but ended up losing 21-20 to the Wildcats. There was only one score in the third quarter and that was a one-yard run by Northwestern’s Jesse Brown. Iowa had the ball five times after Brown’s score and those drives ended with two punts, two interceptions and a turnover on downs. Iowa rushed for just 77 yards on 23 carries as Northwestern somehow nabbed a comeback victory with 273 total yards. 

Iowa is 0-2 for the first time in 20 years. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Baylor: When will the Bears win another game? Baylor started the season with an easy 33-point win over Kansas. Now Baylor has lost three consecutive games after a 33-23 loss at home to TCU. Baylor was just 3-of-16 on third downs and had just 278 total yards against the Horned Frogs as TCU jumped out to a 30-7 halftime lead. At one point in the first half Baylor had just 18 yards of offense and trailed 30-0. The Big 12 is wide open, so Baylor is likely to nab a win or two the rest of the way. It’s just hard to find an obvious game where that win will happen.

Vanderbilt: Week 1 was a mirage for Vanderbilt. The Commodores hung tough with Texas A&M in a 17-12 loss to open the season. Since then, Vanderbilt has lost three games by a combined score of 136-35. Saturday’s loss to Ole Miss was a 54-21 drubbing as Lane Kiffin’s team racked up 645 yards of offense. Matt Corral threw six picks against Arkansas two weeks ago. On Saturday he threw six touchdowns against Vanderbilt. With Arkansas much-improved from 2019, Vanderbilt is clearly the worst team in the SEC. 

Southern Miss: How many Southern Miss fans just want to hit fast-forward on the season? Coach Jay Hopson parted ways with the school after Week 1. Scotty Walden was promoted to the interim coach. After two losses, Walden won his first game as a coach when the Golden Eagles beat North Texas. Then the next two games got postponed as members of the football team — including Walden — contracted COVID-19. Then Walden announced this week that he was taking the head coaching job at Austin Peay. And on Saturday Southern Miss lost 30-6 to Rice. The Owls hadn’t won a game by 20 or more points since Nov. 19, 2016.

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