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Week 4 College Football Awards: Coaching Failures Everywhere!

Plus: Penn State squeaks past Iowa and the Louisville Squirrel scores a touchdown

Trace McSorley and a squirrel Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Game of the Week

Don’t trust Iowa, looking all sweet and homey. With the old water tower and the new children’s hospital rising up over the top of the stadium — and the fans waving at the kids in the hospital and the kids waving back — it’s easy to get lulled into a false sense of football security, that Kinnick Stadium is a quaint place filled with friendly Midwesterners. Do not trust the Hawkeyes.

No, when the lights go down, Kinnick is just about the hardest place to play in the country. I’d call it Death Valley, but I’m not sure there are any topographical features in the entire state of Iowa, so we’ll have to figure out something else.

Entering Saturday, the last three top-five teams to play at Kinnick had lost — including second-ranked Michigan last year, who might have made the College Football Playoff if not for a game-winning Iowa field goal. While no. 4 Penn State made it out unscathed with a 21–19 win Saturday night, the Nittany Lions were a few inches away from becoming the first top-five team to lose to an unranked opponent this year.

The two-point score differential suggests a close game; the statistics do not. Penn State ran 99 plays for 579 yards, Iowa ran 45 plays for 273. Iowa made only one trip into the red zone; the Hawkeyes scored three touchdowns, from 21, 35, and 70 yards away. Penn State running back Saquon Barkley — who probably became the front-runner for the Heisman Trophy with an electric performance — had 305 yards from scrimmage, outgaining the entire Iowa squad. Let’s watch him hop a Hawkeye.

But the game remained close, and when I think back on it, I’m not really sure how this game was close. It’s not like Penn State kept getting stopped at the 1-yard line, or committed a bunch of turnovers. There was no explanation for how the game managed to be competitive besides the devilry of Kinnick.

The Hawkeyes took a 19–15 lead with 1:42 remaining on a 35-yard run by Akrum Wadley, who is excellent, but sadly is only the second-best running back in the Big Ten whose name ends in “-ley.” This is a different Wadley touchdown from the fourth quarter of Saturday night’s game, but I still think you’ll enjoy it:

But Penn State drove the length of the field and won on a beautiful pass from Trace McSorley to Juwan Johnson on fourth down with the clock at triple zeroes:

If the throw had been slightly lower, it would have gotten tipped by Iowa’s Amani Hooker; if it’d been higher, the two defenders converging on Johnson probably would have had time to get to the ball. McSorley had a window of a few centimeters and half seconds, and he squeezed it in the perfect time and space.

Coaching Failure of the Week

Kentucky hasn’t beaten Florida since 1986, the year Top Gun and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off came out. They’ve played every year in that stretch, with 31 Florida wins and 31 Kentucky losses. It’s the longest active streak of its kind in college football, and the fourth longest in the history of the sport. Saturday, Kentucky almost ended its dry spell, nearly concluding a frustrating chapter in team history and saving Wildcats fans from having to hear about the streak over and over again. But the team’s own poor luck and stupidity — to be perfectly honest, mainly stupidity — sent Big Blue Nation to a 31st consecutive L.

With 3:24 remaining in the first half, Florida faced a fourth-and-3 from the 45-yard line, and Gators coach Jim McElwain took a timeout to talk over the upcoming play call. You know, I’m never a huge fan of this. Taking a timeout gives a team time to talk, ensuring that everybody is on the right page about an upcoming play, but it also gives the defense the same amount of time to achieve maximum preparation. The timeout would help the Gators get set up, but would also give the Wildcats enough time to sort out any potential issues and be in the best possible position to defend.

Here’s how the teams lined up out of the timeout:

Perhaps you’ve noticed the Florida wide receiver at the bottom of the screen, completely unguarded. He should be pretty easy to find, but I added the circle anyway, in case any Kentucky defenders are reading this. That’s Tyrie Cleveland, the same receiver who caught a game-winning Hail Mary pass last week against Tennessee. You’ll also notice three separate Kentucky defenders with their arms raised in complete confusion. They noticed something was up, but they never noticed Cleveland, even though Cleveland was doing his best Wacky Waving Inflatable Arm Flailing Tube Man impression. Quarterback Feleipe Franks noticed, and threw the ball to Cleveland, who ran 45 yards for a touchdown.

With 49 seconds left in the game, Florida trailed 27–21 and faced a third-and-1 from the Kentucky 5-yard line. Again, McElwain took a timeout, again giving Kentucky time to discuss the play. Again, this happened:

Kentucky initially came on the field with 12 men, and one sprinted off to reach the proper number of defenders. But then the team’s 11th player, cornerback Jordan Griffin, also ran off the field, leaving the team with only 10 players — none of whom were covering receiver Freddie Swain, even though Swain was doing a Tae Bo routine to call attention to how unguarded he was. I’m not even sure that the confusion over the number of players on the field is what left Swain open — even when Kentucky had 12 players on the field, none was guarding Swain. Quarterback Luke Del Rio — who had entered the game because Franks wasn’t great at completing passes when his receivers weren’t completely unguarded — threw the ball to Swain, who caught a game-winning touchdown.

The one-point loss falls on coach Mark Stoops, who somehow twice failed to warn his team out of a timeout that the opponent might choose to have wide receivers. Miscommunications at any time are signifiers of a poorly coached team; coming out of a timeout they are damn near malpractice. Stoops explained that the confusion on the game-winning touchdown came from his decision to swap in a bigger personnel group after seeing Florida line up with eight players on the offensive line — over the course of the Florida timeout, did he never consider that a team facing third-and-1 might attempt to pick up the first down?

Stoops has done OK with a Kentucky program with a scant history of success in a conference filled with stronger teams. But he’s also earned a reputation as a poor in-game coach. Giving up 14 points to unguarded receivers and losing by one might be his worst effort — and possibly the worst effort from any coach you’ll see this year.

Whuppin’ of the Week

Vanderbilt has been doing nicely — you know, for Vandy. Last season the Commodores made a bowl game; this season they started off 3–0 and nabbed a win over a ranked Kansas State team. There were even a few fans chanting “We Want Bama” after the team beat K-State. And at least one Vandy player had the temerity to hint that he thought his team might give Alabama a fight. This, it seems, was a mistake.

This will sound ridiculous, but I don’t think the 59–0 scoreline adequately summarizes how thoroughly Alabama beat Vanderbilt. The Tide gained 677 yards from scrimmage while the Dores gained 78. Alabama ran for 496 yards and six touchdowns, with Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough each gaining more yards than Vandy’s entire team. Alabama’s backup quarterback did this:

Vanderbilt’s fans did this:

Alabama does not beat the FCS teams it plays with this level of viciousness. But those FCS teams don’t claim to want Bama for any reason besides the paycheck. This rolling was a matter of vengeance.

I know that chanting “We Want Bama” is a meme. (I also know that you did not actually expose your genitals to celebrate a dead gorilla when you chanted “Dicks out for Harambe.”) But please, please, please, I beg you, do not chant “We Want Bama.” They might hear you.

Weekly Heisman Winner, Non–Saquon Barkley Edition

We’ve seen sports animals before. There are soccer dogs, baseball cats, Lubbock football foxes, and golf animals that like to give putters advice. But I’ve never seen an animal that so innately understands the rules of the sport it’s interrupting like the Louisville Football Squirrel:

That squirrel didn’t mess around with horizontal movement. It made a bee line for the end zone, allowing nothing to distract from its goal. And then, upon reaching the end zone, it plopped down, either celebrating or relaxing after its score. (Also, spectacular work by the announcing crew.)

Coaching Failure of the Week, No. 2

Since Iowa lost by two points, I think it’s fair to focus on a play that gave Penn State two free points. With the ball on their own 3-yard line, the Hawkeyes ran a toss play that gave Akrum Wadley the ball 8 yards behind the line of scrimmage, 5 yards deep into his own end zone. Also, this play apparently left a defensive end completely unblocked by design:

This would be a bad play from any part of the field — seriously, why is that defensive end unblocked? Did Iowa think he would be fooled by the fake handoff to the fullback on the left side and avoid the very obvious toss to the right side? — but it’s an especially bad play from the 3-yard line. Because safeties are so rare, I don’t think we value how terrible they are. They’re turnovers that automatically give the other team points! Running a play that intentionally gives one of your players the ball 5 yards deep in your own end zone is like running a play that intentionally passes the ball through an opponent’s hands.

Play of the Week, Non–Saquon Barkley Edition

Sure, this play was a pick-six for Duke, and it sealed a 4–0 start for the Blue Devils. But I need to praise North Carolina quarterback Chazz Surratt, an innovator in the football realm:

Under pressure, Surratt decided to lift a football over his head with both hands and toss it, like a soccer player throwing the ball inbounds. Time was of the essence, and there was a defender crashing in from his natural left-hand side. So he knew he couldn’t throw lefty, and instead went with the double-handed hurl.

Sure, this pass was less accurate and weaker than any pass he could have thrown with his dominant hand. But I applaud innovation. I hope Surratt isn’t disheartened by the failure of this play, and goes back to the drawing board with new resolve to open up a new world of football throwing styles. I see a beautiful future where Surratt befuddles pass rushers with an array of chest passes, behind-the-back throws, softball style pitches, and hook shots performed with his nondominant hand. Each pass will have its own unique benefits. He’ll get intercepted dozens of times a game, but it’s worth it for the sake of exploration.

Disappointment of the Week

After last week’s destruction of Pitt, I thought Oklahoma State’s offense was good enough to put them in the national title hunt. The sixth-ranked Cowboys outgained TCU Saturday, but lost by 13 points because they couldn’t stop shooting their little cowboy pistols directly into their feet.

I already highlighted two coaching failures, so I had to come up with a different title for this segment. But yeah, a wide receiver pass on a critical fourth-quarter possession when you have a Heisman contender at quarterback counts as a coaching failure.

Moment of the Week

I could have considered Mississippi State’s 31–3 loss to Georgia a disappointment. Like the Cowboys, I’d spent most of the last week hyping Mississippi State after they walloped LSU.

But it would be hard to call this game a disappointment. It was a bulldog party.

You’d expect there to be some tension between Bully and Uga because (a) bulldogs can be a bit stubborn and (b) they tied for first place in this ranking of dog mascots. But no: just two good dogs being good dogs.

The SEC honestly needs to do away with its 14-team setup, because I can’t bear the fact that cross-divisional puppy matchups like Uga-Bully and Smokey-Reveille happen only once every few years. THE DOGS NEED TO MEET MORE REGULARLY.