Three thrilling games on Saturday and a big question answered for one of the serious national title contenders. Let’s get to it.
Can Notre Dame recover? Notre Dame’s stunning 35-31 last-second loss at Michigan on Saturday night is the type of game that can ultimately sink a season. The Irish were in control for the first three quarters and had a 24-7 lead heading into the final quarter. But with 1:12 to go, Michigan had completed a tremendous comeback, up 28-24 after a touchdown run and two touchdown passes from Denard Robinson in the fourth quarter. Notre Dame took the lead back with 30 seconds to go after Tommy Rees hit Theo Riddick for a 29-yard score. It still wasn’t over. Michigan got the ball back and Robinson hit Jeremy Gallon for a 64-yard pass play. That set up Robinson’s fourth touchdown pass of the night, a 16-yard strike to Roy Roundtree with 2 seconds to go, finishing the rollercoaster ride in the fourth quarter. A day after the collapse against the Wolverines, Brian Kelly remained optimistic about his team (now 0-2) and the remainder of the season. Does Kelly have reason for optimism? It is very unlikely that Notre Dame can recover enough to get a BCS bowl bid, which some experts predicted the Irish would earn this season. The Irish would need to win out and finish 10-2 for that to happen. Notre Dame, however, is still in position to have a successful season. It starts on Saturday when No. 15 Michigan State visits South Bend in a crucial game that will determine which way Notre Dame’s season is heading. It will be a tough game. The expectation here is that Notre Dame comes out hungry and plays like a team needing to save its season. If Notre Dame can win Saturday, the next three weeks are very manageable with games at Pittsburgh and Purdue and a home game against Air Force. It’s not a stretch to believe that the Irish could be 4-2 heading into a highly important game against USC on Oct. 22 in South Bend. Kelly’s decision to replace Dayne Crist with Rees appears to be the correct one. Cierre Wood has been impressive running the ball and Michael Floyd already has 25 catches. The defense did a solid job of shutting down Robinson and the Wolverines for most of Saturday’s game. But that group needs to finish games. Also, Notre Dame needs to eliminate turnovers, which hurt in the loss to South Florida and again in Ann Arbor. The Irish committed five turnovers against Michigan.
Is Georgia done? Georgia dropped to 0-2 following a wild 45-42 loss to South Carolina on Saturday afternoon in Athens. This comes a week after Boise State blew past the Bulldogs 35-21 in the Georgia Dome. Yes, the heat is on Mark Richt to turn things around. But despite the loss, there are some positives for Georgia. Quarterback Aaron Murray threw for four touchdowns and completed 19 of 29 passes and true freshman running back Isaiah Crowell rushed for 118 yards and a touchdown on only 16 carries. Georgia outplayed South Carolina in this game and the statistics back that up: 23 first downs compared to South Carolina’s 15 and 436 yards of total offense compared to 395 for South Carolina. Plus, Georgia won the time of possession battle. The Bulldogs were hurt by various mistakes. Up 13-7 in the second quarter, South Carolina faked a punt and defensive tackle Melvin Ingram rumbled 68 yards for a touchdown. Georgia trailed 21-20 in the third quarter when Antonio Allen intercepted a Murray pass and returned it 25 yards for another touchdown. The teams traded the lead in the fourth quarter. South Carolina had a 38-35 lead late when Murray was sacked, fumbled the ball and Ingram returned it 5 yards for a touchdown that sealed the win. There were other key miscues. But eliminate the mistakes mentioned above and Georgia wins the game. The Bulldogs have started the season against two ranked opponents. The experience of playing in big games can only help Georgia’s younger players moving forward. The Bulldogs definitely played well enough to beat the team many experts feel will win the SEC East. The schedule also eases up quite a bit. Georgia gets Coastal Carolina on Saturday and then at Mississippi. A key game comes on Oct. 1 when No. 25 Mississippi State comes to town. Then trips to Tennessee and Vanderbilt. Georgia will get a week off before the big game against Florida on Oct. 29. Let’s see where Georgia is when the Florida game rolls around. If Georgia plays like it did against South Carolina, the Bulldogs will stay in the SEC East race.
Auburn isn’t going away quietly. Many people, including myself, predicted that Auburn would lose to then-No. 16 and SEC West foe Mississippi State on Saturday. The Tigers, who needed a late rally to beat Utah State in their first game, pulled a bit of a surprise by beating the Bulldogs. The key play was Ryan Smith tackling Mississippi State quarterback Chris Relf at the goal line as time expired to preserve a 41-34 win. With Cam Newton and Nick Fairley in the NFL, the defending national champions are not nearly as talented as last season. But the Tigers are showing a lot of fight this season. Auburn does not have the talent that Alabama and LSU possesses, but the Tigers are proving that they won’t go away quietly this season. Auburn plays at Clemson on Saturday and then hosts Florida Atlantic. The Tigers could be 4-0 heading into this brutal stretch: at No. 11 South Carolina, at No. 14 Arkansas, vs. No. 16 Florida and at No. 3 LSU. Alabama and LSU appear to be on a collision course for the SEC West title, but Auburn could be battling with Mississippi State and Arkansas for a New Year’s Day bowl appearance.
Extra point: Alabama has the pieces for a national title run: solid defense, a star running back in Trent Richardson, Marquis Maze and other receiving threats, and strong coaching from Nick Saban. The one questionable piece involved the quarterback spot. Sophomore A.J. McCarron seems to have settled the issue after playing with a lot of poise in Saturday’s 27-11 win over then-No. 23 Penn State at Beaver Stadium. McCarron completed 19 of 31 passes for 163 yards and a touchdown. Those aren’t spectacular numbers, but McCarron didn’t make any mistakes and he was the clear leader of the offense. The Crimson Tide will need that type of play from their young quarterback to make it to New Orleans.