On Saturday, Clemson turned the ball over four times, trailed by as much as 14, benched its starting QB and won. That, Dabo Swinney said, is the headline.
No, don’t ask about that QB controversy. It doesn’t exist. Figment of your imagination. Swinney is essentially Kevin Bacon at the end of “Animal House,” standing in the midst of a stampede and yelling, “All is well!”
Swinney spent the entire offseason hyping DJ Uiagalelei, despite his struggles in 2021. The coach has spent the first seven weeks of this campaign dishing out one “I told you so” after another, including as recently as last week, when he called doubts of Uiagalelei “embarrassing” and a product of “the world we live in now.”
And when Clemson was trailing by 10 and Uiagalelei coughed up his third turnover of the game midway through the third quarter, Swinney came with the hook.
Why? Swinney believed freshman Cade Klubnik could give the offense a spark, and the move worked. Clemson scored on three of its next four drives. Sure, Klubnik completed just two passes in the game, so his inspiration was more Rob Schneider in “The Waterboy” than Jeff Daniels in “Independence Day.” But hey, a win is a win.
In the aftermath, Swinney emphatically assured Clemson fans that Uiagalelei was still the starter as the Tigers, now 8-0, head into an off week with the ACC Atlantic all but assured. They will not play another ranked opponent this year.
Clemson switches quarterbacks in the second half and overcomes four turnovers to beat Syracuse 24-21.
But Swinney is right. The world is a cold, callous place, and so we must also ask the bigger question: Is this an 8-0 team capable of winning a national championship?
If this was 2020, the answer might be an emphatic, “Yes!” After all, we’d seen Clemson shrug off mediocrity before and still keep winning. Look back at Swinney’s first title in 2016. That year, the Tigers struggled against Troy, only beat NC State because of a missed chip shot as time expired, and lost to Pitt. But Deshaun Watson still found Hunter Renfrow in the back corner of the end zone at Raymond James Stadium in the title game against Alabama, and no one need remember those regular-season struggles after that.
But then 2021 happened, and despite its 10-3 finish, Clemson was clearly vulnerable. The wins were less destiny than they were rugged determination. That’s commendable, but perhaps not sustainable.
Clemson needed double-OT to get past Wake Forest and nearly coughed up a big lead a week ago against Florida State and, if not for Syracuse‘s utterly mind-boggling decision to put Sean Tucker into witness protection Saturday — “I felt like he was the one guy who could flat-out beat us,” Swinney said afterward — there’s every reason to think this might be more 2021 than 2016.
And yet, is this question any different than the ones posed at Oregon or Alabama or Michigan and on down the line?
The Ducks demolished UCLA on Saturday and look like a clear top-four team, but does that matter when they’ve already been curb stomped by Georgia in the opener?
Ole Miss offered the SEC an alternative to the Crimson Tide, but LSU sent the Rebels scurrying on out of Louisiana like a crawdad in a steam pot, as Brian Kelly would say.
Are we sold on Tennessee? Are we sure Alabama is elite? Even Georgia has looked human the past few weeks.
If we’re nitpicking, we’ll find nearly all teams left wanting.
But Swinney isn’t nitpicking. Well, sure, he picked a few nits with his starting QB on Saturday, but bygones are bygones now.
In the end, Clemson is 8-0, one of just six teams (Georgia, Tennessee, Ohio State, Michigan and TCU if it wins) left with a zero in the loss column.
Eight in enough
Over the summer, Mario Cristobal wanted to assure the public that Miami was serious about winning, and didn’t need any gimmicks to get the job done. So, Cristobal said, no more turnover chain.
The turnover chain was not a gimmick. It was a sacred relic, and its destruction has signaled the end times in Coral Gables.
Duke annihilated Miami 45-21 on Saturday, as the Hurricanes coughed up the football eight times.
Now, it’d be easy enough to chalk up all the turnovers to the simple fact that Miami is a very bad football team. But that would be like suggesting there are so many “Fast and Furious” movies, because Vin Diesel is America’s greatest living thespian. Both things are true, but those facts alone cannot explain such prolific output.
No, for Miami there can be but one obvious culprit: Cristobal angered the football gods, and he must now go on a mythic quest, through corridors haunted by the ghosts of Al Golden and Randy Shannon, scale the unconquerable mountains of the ACC Coastal Division, and survive an epic freestyle battle with Uncle Luke, to retrieve the turnover chain and return it to its rightful place on Miami’s sideline.
The whole thing is already in development at HBO.
Sanders leads Cowboys past Texas
Quinn Ewers has had some rough moments this season. His car was towed. He hurt his shoulder. He had to watch Oklahoma play for an entire game. But Saturday was his rock bottom.
Ewers completed just 19-of-49 throws and tossed three interceptions in a 41-34 loss at Oklahoma State.
The Pokes were playing with a battered offensive line, but Spencer Sanders still delivered some critical throws, tossing two touchdowns, while Jaden Nixon showed he could’ve run over the Texas defense wearing bedroom slippers.
Jaden Nixon is literally too fast for his own shoes. pic.twitter.com/mtGP9UoQR1
— Pistols Firing (@pistolsguys) October 22, 2022
It was a huge bounce-back win for Oklahoma State after blowing a late lead against TCU Horned Frogs last week. The Cowboys are 6-1, and Sanders has firmly established himself as either the best bad QB or worst good QB in the country.
After losing twice without Ewers earlier this season, Saturday’s defeat can at least remove any linger “What if” debates and allow Texas to completely turn its attention to keeping trick-or-treaters safe from monkey attacks this week.
Under-the-radar play of the week
If you missed the ending to Stanford and Arizona State, we understand. Watching that game was punishment for shoplifting in several states. And, perhaps fittingly, the final moments were every bit as unfortunate as a matchup between two bad teams would suggest.
Trailing 15-14, Arizona State chucked a Hail Mary throw down the sideline on fourth-and-19, which appeared to be hauled in by Elijah Badger to set up a game-winning field goal with just seconds remaining.
Arizona State falls to Stanford in the final seconds as Emory Jones has one foot out on the 4th-and-19 catch that would have set up a game-winning field goal.
Upon replay review, however, the call was overturned, with officials saying Badger had a toe out of bounds on the catch, allowing Stanford to snap a 10-game conference losing streak.
We hate to be the ones to bring this up, but it needs to be said: Liberty is 7-1.
We know, we know. When Malik Willis left, we all hoped we could safely stop paying attention to the Flames, but somehow they’ve kept winning, including a 41-14 stomping of BYU on Saturday behind 213 rushing yards from Dae Dae Hunter.
Liberty’s lone loss came on a missed two-point try against 6-1 Wake Forest.
Liberty has won with three different starting QBs.
Liberty is — deep breaths — good.
Is it possible Hugh Freeze is fueled by the country’s anger at him, like the emperor in “Star Wars?” (We also assume that, if Twitter existed in a galaxy far, far away, Palpatine would slide into Obi-Wan’s DMs to complain about rebel criticisms, too.) There’s simply no keeping the guy down (even when he’s literally kept down).
The most college football thing to happen Saturday
We talk often about the plague of #CollegeKickers, with flubbed chip shots invariably costing teams a needed win on an almost weekly basis. Long snappers, on the other hand, tend to fly below the radar.
Unfortunately for Weber State‘s Grant Sands, his Saturday will be remembered for a long time.
Sands snapped the football over the punter’s head and out of the back of the end zone for a safety four times against Montana State on Saturday, handing the Bobcats eight points in a game that Montana State ultimately won 43-38.
Weber State is on the wrong end of the record books as it surrenders four safeties on errant special teams snaps.
Big bets and bad beats
Miami has been favored to win four times this season. The Hurricanes are now 1-3 in those games after a miserable eight-turnover loss to Duke on Saturday. Miami has now lost as a 25.5-point favorite to Middle Tennessee, a 10-point favorite to Duke and a four-point favorite to North Carolina. Their lone win as a favorite came against Virginia Tech, when they failed to cover a nine-point spread in a 20-14 victory.
Clemson trailed Syracuse 21-10 at the half on Saturday, which was just about the perfect spot for the Tigers — or, at least sharp bettors. The Tigers were -9.5 in the second half, and they covered that number easily, outscoring the Orange 17-0 in the final two frames. That makes head coach Dabo Swinney 11-2 against the second-half spread in his career when trailing at halftime.