Ole Miss on rise after wild win over Vanderbilt; more Thursday Snap Judgments
A roundup of college football’s first night of action in a Thursday night edition of Snap Judgments:
• Ole Miss 39, Vanderbilt 35: It seemed to be a fitting end to the SEC’s roller-coaster ride of an opener on Thursday night, when Vanderbilt wide receiver Steven Scheu took an Austyn Carta-Samuels pass 34 yards to the end zone and gave the Commodores a late 35-32 lead over league rival Ole Miss. On the previous play, Vandy wide receiver Jordan Matthews — the league’s leading pass-catcher from a year ago — hauled in a 42-yard grab to convert an improbable fourth-and-18 situation and keep the ‘Dores’ drive alive. Matthews had taken a hard hit only four plays prior, after which he briefly vomited on the field, and the senior returned to action in time to keep Vandy’s hopes intact. Then on the play just after Matthews’ conversion, Scheu punched in Vandy’s go-ahead score, providing a seemingly safe lead with 1:30 remaining.
But, somehow, there was one more surprise to come in Nashville. A mere 23 seconds after the Commodores’ score, Rebels tailback Jeff Scott slid past multiple Vanderbilt defenders and scampered 75 yards for a touchdown, giving his team a 39-35 lead it would not relinquish. An ensuing Cody Prewitt interception of Carta-Samuels cemented the Rebels’ victory in a game worthy of college football’s opening night.
Ole Miss roared back from a 21-10 halftime deficit with a second-half surge, a run spearheaded largely by quarterback Bo Wallace, who helped the Rebels regain the lead with two straight second-half touchdown runs. Wallace, who also completed 31-of-47 passes for 283 yards, and Ole Miss outscored the Commodores 29-14 after intermission, snapping a streak of nine straight losses in SEC openers for the Rebels.
For Ole Miss, the victory came in a matchup of two programs seemingly on the rise: Vanderbilt, coming off its first nine-win season since 1915, and the Rebels, enjoying the momentum of an offseason defined by a highly touted recruiting class and a new era. But the ‘Dores had won five of the last six meetings between the teams, so history wasn’t in Ole Miss’ favor as it traveled to Music City.
Now, a hard-fought win in Nashville could serve as a launching pad for coach Huge Freeze’s second season in Oxford, where fans’ are already forming lofty expectations of the new regime. This victory marked Freeze’s fourth SEC victory since arriving at Ole Miss prior to last season; just two seasons ago, in 2011, the program went winless in the conference. A road win over Vanderbilt is not a career-defining achievement, but for the status of Freeze’s program, it’s a major step in the right direction, especially as a way to kick off the season. [RECAP | BOX]
• No. 6 South Carolina 27, North Carolina 10: Jadeveon Clowney wasn’t exactly Clowney-esque, but he still played a major role in the Gamecocks’ defense holding North Carolina to its lowest point total of the Larry Fedora era. SI.com’s Andy Staples was in Columbia for the border rivalry. [RECAP | BOX]
• Fresno State 52, Rutgers 51: These two defensive coordinators might not want to show their faces anytime soon. Fresno State and Rutgers combined for eight lead changes, 13 touchdowns and 1,085 yards of offense in a back-and-forth contest that seemed destined for overtime even before it reached the extra period. Fans were treated to free football after a Rutgers’ field goal sailed wide right as time expired in regulation. Then, on the first play of overtime, Fresno State’s Derek Carr (52-of-73, 453 yards, five TDs) hit Greg Watson for a 25-yard score to give the Bulldogs the lead. The Scarlet Knights followed suit with a touchdown toss from Gary Nova to Brandon Coleman, but coach Kyle Flood’s gambled two-point conversion was batted away by the Fresno secondary. The Bulldogs survived their test against an AAC opponent in one of Thursday’s more dramatic performances. [RECAP | BOX]
• Towson 32, UConn 18: Lowly Towson of the FCS Colonial Athletic Association had lost seven straight games against FBS opponents heading into its Thursday-night meeting with UConn, yet the Tigers entered the matchup with a chip on their shoulder for another reason. Towson had been passed over by the NCAA selection committee for the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs a year ago, and coach Rob Ambrose — a former UConn assistant — made a huge statement for the program with a convincing win over the Huskies in Storrs. Tigers’ running back Terrance West registered 156 yards and two touchdowns on the ground as his team tallied 396 yards of total offense.
UConn, meanwhile, converted only four third downs and netted a mere 286 yards of offense. Following a 5-7 season, Huskies’ coach Paul Pasqualoni was already on the hot seat in Connecticut, and a loss to an FCS opponent certainly didn’t help his case. Just ask the student section (see below). [RECAP | BOX]
• No. 24 USC 30, Hawaii 13: It wasn’t a thing of beauty, but Lane Kiffin’s crew still managed to get by the Warriors. The Trojans put up just 364 offensive yards — a drop off from last season’s average of 432.9 — while quarterbacks Cody Kessler and Max Wittek underwhelmed in shared duty. Kiffin might have some work to do before the schedule gets more difficult. [RECAP | BOX]
• Utah 30, Utah State 26: An electric night from Aggies’ quarterback Chuckie Keeton wasn’t enough to keep rival Utah from claiming a victory between in-state foes. Keeton completed 31-of-40 passes for 315 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for 85 yards and another score, but even with Utah State holding a 23-14 lead early in the second half, Utah staged a 16-3 run to close the game, capped by two Andy Phillips’ field goals in the fourth quarter. Sophomore quarterback Travis Wilson helped cement the Utes’ victory by rushing for a key first down in the final quarter. But Keeton looked like the darkhorse Heisman contender many expect him to be this season, accounting for 399 of Utah State’s 487 total yards. [RECAP | BOX]
• UCF 38, Akron 7: It was the Blake Bortles show in Orlando as the UCF quarterback rang up a career-high 314 passing yards alongside three first-half touchdowns in a dominating win by the Knights. It was Bortles’ first 300-yard game of his career and helped UCF notch its eighth consecutive season-opening win. [RECAP | BOX]
• Wake Forest 31, Presbyterian 7: Demon Deacons coach Jim Grobe was likely scratching his head when Presbyterian took an early 7-0 lead on Tamyn Garrick’s one-yard touchdown pass to Kris Hurley in the first quarter. But Wake Forest shook off the slow start to score the game’s final 31 points and smother the Blue Hose in Winston-Salem. Deacons’ quarterback Tanner Price finished 14-of-25 for 219 yards and one score, while receiver Jonathan Williams hauled in five passes for 143 yards. Wake held Presbyterian to 151 total yards and 2-of-11 on third downs. [RECAP | BOX]
• Bowling Green 34, Tulsa 7: The Golden Hurricane didn’t look much like the 10-win, Conference USA-champion program of 2012 against Bowling Green. Tulsa’s usually potent ground game, which finished ninth in the country last season (245.7 yards per game), stumbled to a mere 51 yards rushing against the Falcons, whose defense looked every bit like the unit that led the MAC in every major category in 2012. Tailbacks Trey Watts and Ja’Terian Douglas, who combined for 2.044 yards for the Golden Hurricane last fall, managed only 30 yards on 16 carries. [RECAP | BOX]
• Tulane 34, Jackson State 7: Nick Montana, son of NFL legend Joe Montana, threw for 144 yards and two touchdowns, and running back Orleans Darkwa rushed for two more as the Green Wave buried Jackson State in New Orleans. The Tigers’ two quarterback, LaMontiez Ivy and Evan Ingram, combined for four interceptions and no touchdowns. But Tulane’s dominating win also marked the first victim of the NCAA’s revamped targeting rule: Tulane cornerback Lorenzo Doss, who was tossed from the game for a quarterback hit. [BOX]
• Indiana 73. Indiana State 35: The Hoosiers let loose on offense against the Fightin’ Larry Birds of Indiana State, breaking the scoring record for Memorial Stadium with their 73-point outburst on Thursday. Indiana’s 45 first-half points were the most since the school began keeping track in 1949. Quarterback Nate Sudfield accounted for four touchdown passes on 12-of-17 passes for 200 yards, and Shane Wynn grabbed two touchdown catches and a 58-yard punt return for a score. In between the Hoosiers’ offense, the game also featured the second targeting ejection of college football’s first night, when Indiana State defensive back Carlos Aviles was sent packing after hitting Wynn with a helmet-to-helmet tackle. [RECAP | BOX]
• Minnesota 51, UNLV 23: It took three overtimes for Minnesota to escape UNLV in last season’s opening matchup. This year’s installment didn’t include quite that much drama, but the Golden Gophers still pulled away in interesting fashion. Holding a 16-13 halftime lead, Minnesota’s Marcus Jones ran the third-quarter kickoff back for a touchdown before the Gophers knocked in a field goal and a fourth-quarter pick-six to take a 44-16 lead. Coach Jerry Kill’s crew never looked back from there, handing the Runnin’ Rebels their 23rd straight road loss. [RECAP | BOX]
• Kent State 17, Liberty 10: The Golden Flashes snuck past Liberty by a touchdown only after Chris Humphrey found Colin Reardon for a 42-yard score with 4:28 left in the game, but the slim margin wasn’t the headline of the night. Kent State’s All-America, all-purpose runner Dri Archer limped off the field in the first half with an apparent ankle injury. According to Allen Moff of the Record-Courier in Kent, Ohio, Archer spent much of the second half in a walking boot without pads. The running back finished the night with 10 yards on only three rushes, and the Golden Flashes had no update on Archer’s injury postgame. [RECAP | BOX]