While you, a Canadian, were watching Bianca Andreescu kick ass and win the U.S. Open — and then reveled in the celebration and afterglow Saturday night — college football presented two huge games in Week 2 of its 2019 season.
In terms of other news stories in college football, a lot of the themes and plot points established in Week 1 did not change. Tennessee suffered another embarrassing loss, as did UCLA. Nebraska and Florida State, two other proud programs, remain in shambles. Michigan is not getting any better under Jim Harbaugh, despite a narrow win over Army. It felt like a loss except on the scoreboard.
The Pac-12’s misery was deepened by Washington losing at home to California-Berkeley. Only Utah can save the Pac-12 now.
Big-name programs are struggling. The Pac-12 is in deep muck. Those realities are clear.
Now, let’s get back to the main events from Week 2: LSU-Texas and Texas A&M-Clemson.
Four teams all ranked in the top 12, all crazy about football. These four schools pour huge amounts of money into college football. They all expect to be the best. Whether they can actually achieve elite status is the real test.
For Clemson, this is not a test at the moment.
The Tigers of the Atlantic Coast Conference — separate from the LSU Tigers of the Southeastern Conference — appear to have no peer in college football except for one team: Alabama.
Clemson or Alabama has won each of the last four college football national titles, in alternating years: Alabama in 2015, Clemson in 2016, Bama in 2017, Clemson in 2018. The one school most experts think can get in the way of a Bama-Clemson national championship fight next January in New Orleans is Georgia.
Very simply, Georgia was not on the field against Clemson on Saturday afternoon.
Texas A&M, an SEC program which brought national championship-winning coach Jimbo Fisher aboard to lead the Aggies to glory, is trying to get where Georgia currently resides under coach Kirby Smart.
The Aggies realized how far away they are from Georgia’s standard on Saturday.
One is moved to recall, in this moment of frustration for college football fans in the state of Texas, the words of former Texas Senator Lloyd Bentsen to Dan Quayle in the 1988 United States Vice-Presidential Debate:
“I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator (Quayle), you’re no Jack Kennedy.”
— SportsDayDFW (@SportsDayDFW) September 8, 2019
A&M simply isn’t Georgia, and it simply wasn’t in Clemson’s league on Saturday.
To be fair, a lot of the Aggies WERE in Clemson’s league, but quarterback is the most important position in football, and it was clear very early in this game that A&M quarterback Kellen Mond was not ready for this game. Accordingly, A&M had no chance under these circumstances.
Mond couldn’t make tough throws, but he couldn’t even hit easy throws as well. Clemson’s defensive front seven lost multiple studs to the NFL this offseason (Christian Willkins and Dexter Lawrence in particular), so its pass rush was not as fierce as it was in 2018.
A&M had a chance if its quarterback could sling the ball accurately.
He couldn’t. Game over. Any other comments on Clemson’s 24-10 win are window dressing.
(Note: If you think 24-10 is a respectable score, do realize that A&M’s only touchdown was scored in the final seconds, a true “garbage touchdown” with no competitive value or significance.)
The more interesting game of Week 2 — just as important on the national landscape, but with a lot more intrigue — was LSU at Texas in Austin. No Alabama and no Clemson meant that the winner was uncertain. Clemson and Alabama will be favored in every game they play. LSU and Texas were more mysterious teams entering this tilt.
LSU is a lot less mysterious now.
The Cajun Tigers (to separate them from the Clemson Tigers or the neighboring Auburn Tigers in the SEC; you can also call them the Bayou Bengals) are just plain great.
Not good; great.
What did LSU specifically achieve on Saturday: It achieved — if not status on par with Georgia — a large new degree of respect which puts the Tigers in the same discussion as Georgia, as a team which can legitimately fight Alabama and Clemson for the national title.
If you have not followed LSU football closely over the past 15 years, let’s put it this way: LSU always has elite athletes, but not the best offensive coaching. LSU won the 2007 national title in spite of its offense, not because of it. The 2011 Tigers reached the national title game mostly due to their defense. Their offense had its moments but was carried by the defensive unit.
The LSU program has produced lots of talented receivers, among them Odell Beckham — you might have heard of him. The quarterbacks have often failed to be as good as the receivers, which points to coaching and player development.
Ed Orgeron was viewed as a bad hire by many in the college football industry, this columnist included. I did not think Orgeron would be willing or able to adjust to the modern needs of college football offenses.
Well… I was wrong.
Orgeron has an old-school offensive coordinator, Steve Ensminger, but he brought in passing game guru Joe Brady, formerly of the NFL’s New Orleans Saints, to teach modern passing concepts to LSU quarterback Joe Burrow.
Saturday night against Texas, Burrow became — in full — the quarterback LSU fans have wanted for several years, since Zach Mettenberger pitched the pigskin in Baton Rouge.
I was there three years ago at Lambeau Field for #LSU's infamous season-opening toss dive.
Tonight, I saw a team score at TD in 26 seconds, pass late while nursing a lead & never go under center.
— Ross Dellenger (@RossDellenger) September 8, 2019
It was only Week 2 of the season, but Burrow and his receivers were in midseason form. Their rapport was so easy, their communication and rhythm as high as one could have hoped for. LSU normally tries to pound out first downs on the ground. That was the old way under Miles and then the first years of the Orgeron era. Yet, “Coach O” — as he is nicknamed — was willing and able to make the precise adjustments I didn’t think he was ready to make.
The result was a 45-point explosion and a road win over a top-10 Texas team which sends a large message to Georgia, Alabama, and the rest of the SEC: LSU is for real.
So is Ed Orgeron.