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A Big XII Weekend to Forget

The big takeaway from the week was certainly the Rising Sun Belt and the not-so-Big XII.

Photo CC: (Courtesy: Arkansas State Athletics)

Kansas St/Arkansas St – The start of this game was fairly sloppy and unremarkable.  Arkansas St had a punt blocked on their first possession, which led to a KSU score that Ark St was able to answer, but then the game became a bit of a punt-fest.  Another Arkansas St miscue on an INT followed to set up another score for KSU.  The Red Wolves would punt again on the next possession, and KSU drove down for another score to go up 21-7 and it felt like the game was about to turn into a blowout.  This was the point where coach Blake Anderson began pulling out all the stops.  Arkansas St scored on a double pass to close the gap to 21-14, and in an effort to capitalize on their newfound momentum, attempted a bold onside that the Red Wolves failed to recover. It wouldn’t end up costing them, though, as the defense managed to hold KSU to an FG attempt they would miss.

Suddenly, Arkansas St had a chance to drive down and tie the game. They did drive it all the way down to the KSU 11, where they promptly fumbled.  It was 21-14 at halftime, and Arky St had to be feeling good about still being in the game while regretting the miscues that could have them tied or even ahead.  The Arky St miscues continued with a missed FG on their opening drive, but KSU’s offense began to stagnate, with punts on their first two drives of the second half.  Then the game became Jonathan Adams, Jr. show.  No one made more money on Saturday than Adams Jr., who played himself into the NFL draft by shining brightly on the biggest stage he’ll likely have in his career.  He was exceptional, and I’m sure more than a handful of NFL scouts saw his game-changing potential and circled his name.  He was unstoppable the rest of the day, and the game-winning score that put Arky St up 35-31 would ultimately be his, as it should have been.

Iowa St/Louisiana-Lafayette – The KSU/Arkansas St upset happened the way most upsets happen, with a bunch of trick plays, a plucky squad that wouldn’t go away, and a breakout player playing out of his mind to win a close game.  Iowa St/ULL was not one of those games.  ULL was just flat-out better.  They looked at least as talented (if not more so) and simply wanted it more.  Honestly, a poor kicking game is the only thing that kept ULL from making the game a bigger blowout.  It was the ISU special teams that really lost the day, though.  The Ragin’ Cajuns raged to two separate return touchdowns on the day.  These scores were obviously huge, but perhaps the most noteworthy part was the rest of the game in which ISU just seemed to be outmatched.  Iowa State tends to get better throughout the season, but starting this slow has to be a concern.

There was a play in the 3rd quarter that really summed up this game.  Iowa St QB Brock Purdy threw an out pattern towards one of his receivers, and the pass was a little behind to where it was the definition of a 50/50 ball with the DB and WR having an equal chance at pulling it in.  Both got their hands on it, but ULL DB Asjlin Washington just muscled it away and the ISU WR looked at his hands as if to wonder where the ball went. The ball went to the effort.  It didn’t seem like a coincidence that ISU didn’t score a point in the rest of the game after this moment.  One team was emboldened and the other demoralized by the realization that ULL was here to win this game.  And win they did, in a 31-14 game that didn’t even feel that close.

Texas Tech/Houston Baptist – Speaking of flat, uninspired efforts, this certainly was one.  It actually didn’t start that way, with a picture-perfect first-drive TD by TTU that looked as easy as it theoretically should have.  On the second drive, however, Alan Bowman threw a bad INT that was well-behind a WR who wasn’t even looking for the ball.  The defense was able to rise up and take a stand, and the Tech offense went to the ground game successfully to go up 14-3 and put the game back on the path most expected.  Except for the ease with which HBU was moving the ball began to become evident, as they drove all the way down to the goal line and attempted an ill-advised trick play that backfired for an INT.  Tech and HBU would each trade TDs and have a drive stall to close out a 21-10 half that felt closer than that.

HBU QB Bailey Zappe and the Sterns brothers then began imposing their will on a Texas Tech secondary that looked increasingly hapless.  Part of the issue looked schematic, as the defense spent most of the day in what was basically a prevent.  The TTU D was both failing to get pressure with a 3-man front and failing to cover the HBU WRs with 8 men in coverage.  There’s no excuse for how often Houston Baptist was able to get behind the defense, either.  Tech would barely squeak away with the 35-33 win in the end, but the utter ineptitude of the secondary and the fact that Bowman wasn’t the better of the two QBs is an undeniable concern.  It wasn’t all bad, with SaRodorick Thompson, KeSean Carter, and Erik Ezukanma all looking like excellent skill position players on offense, and the defensive front seven was overall fairly solid against the run, but it’s hard to put much of a positive spin on an FCS team very nearly knocking off an FBS team at home.

OU/Missouri St and UT/UTEP – These games were routs that were never really in question, which leaves little of note to discuss other than that both teams looked strong and prepared in ways much of the rest of the league absolutely did not.  Spencer Rattler’s much-hyped first game as a starter made him look the part.  Freshman running back Seth McGowan also had a nice debut for the Sooners, producing scores in both the running and passing game.  Charleston Rambo continues to build off of his emergence late last year.  This game was 41-0 at halftime and OU had 608 yards of total offense to Missouri State’s 135.  There’s not much more to say.

UT’s game against UTEP was much the same.  UTEP looked extremely overmatched on defense, struggling massively to tackle UT’s players.  Ehlinger had maybe his best game in a UT uniform, as he played pitch-and-catch to his WRs.  New addition Brenden Schooler got into the end zone, as did walk-on Kai Money.  Joshua Moore was the non-Ehlinger story of the day, as he had his what was far and away his best day as a Longhorn and perhaps indicates his future promise.  We didn’t learn much about UT’s run game, as the attempts were few and mostly came late in the game when it was well in hand, but overall, Texas couldn’t have asked for much better from their opener in a game that was basically over once both teams took the field.

West Virginia/Eastern Kentucky – The Mountaineers ran all over EKU, figuratively and literally. Leddie Brown and Alex Sinkfield have both had relatively quiet college careers thus far, yet both posted 123 yards and 2 TDs each on Saturday. While this could simply be a product of the lesser competition, that’s some eye-popping production from the WVU run game any way you slice it. Not to take anything away from Jarret Doege, either, who had a nice 19/25, 228-yard, 3 TD performance of his own in the passing game. Texas Tech fans might recognize that last name, and some might be wishing he were wearing the red and black if he continues to play like this. On a day when the Big XII seemed to sharply separate itself into tiers, WVU finds itself on the high end with a performance that was as dominant as that of OU and Texas on Saturday. As of now, these look to be the three teams vying for the conference title, and we’ll find out where Oklahoma St and Baylor stand this coming weekend.

Kansas/Coastal Carolina – The Pooka Williams, Jr. show took a hit, literally, and never recovered.  Williams appeared to be in visible pain most of the game but attempted to play through it.  With him, not his usual self, Kansas was exposed by Coastal Carolina for not having much else beyond him.  All credit to Coastal.  As one of probably few who stayed up late and watched this entire game, the Chanticleers were genuinely impressive.  They were hyper-efficient offensively and were flying to the ball on defense.  CCU looked well-coached and polished.  Les Miles teams are rarely either of those things, but KU still looked especially out of sorts.  To their credit, the Jayhawks attempted to mount a comeback after falling behind 28-3 at halftime, but the deficit was simply too much to overcome.

Around the Country – There were a few matchups of potential interest from the weekend like Clemson/Wake Forest, Notre Dame/Duke, and UNC/Syracuse, but all of them played out as expected, and none were particularly close.  Trevor Lawrence is still playing like a #1 pick in the upcoming NFL Draft for a Clemson team that will contend for the national title, Notre Dame’s first conference game was a snoozer that they ended up winning in the end, and Mack Brown’s Tarheel second tour eventually wore down Syracuse’s defense for a trio of rushing TDs in the 4th quarter to make the final score look not as close as the game actually was.

Game of the Weekend – Texas St/UTSA was a matchup that on paper was questionable as a national broadcast, but it arguably ended up being the most entertaining.  UTSA surprisingly built an early lead on the strength of their run game, and at halftime found themselves up 24-7.  The game appeared to be over or close to it, but Texas State slowly clawed their way back into it, closing the gap to 3 in the early 4th quarter as UTSA had only scored once in the second half to cling to a 31-28 lead.  UTSA would push the lead to 6 on an FG, and on Texas State’s drive to try and take their first lead of the game, an errant throw resulted in a pick-six that put UTSA up 41-28 with only 3:24 left in the game.  Again, though, Texas State was not ready to let this game be over.

A quick score, a stop, and a touchdown on the resulting punt return had Texas State attempting a PAT with just over a minute remaining to take a 42-41 lead.  This PAT would be missed to force overtime.  Tough to watch, but as a viewer wanting more of what was turning into a wild game, it was welcome.  Also, college overtime is always fun.  The teams would trade scores in the first overtime (and make the extra points), with UTSA’s Joshua Cephus making a particularly incredible catch on their score.  Unfortunately, the kicking situation reared its ugly head once again on Texas State’s first possession in the second overtime, as they missed a chip-shot FG to effectively hand UTSA the win.  You had to feel for the TSU kicker, but it was a great game.

Final Thoughts – The big takeaway from the week was certainly the Rising Sun Belt and the not-so-Big XII.  While Oklahoma, UT, and WVU handled their business, the rest of the conference did not do them any perception favors.  Even if one of the aforementioned three runs the table, other conferences will be able to point to what looks right now to be a very weak conference at the bottom come playoff consideration time.  It is worth noting that COVID-related changes were likely a factor in some of Saturday’s struggles, but then again, the Sun Belt didn’t seem to have much trouble adjusting.

Baylor and Houston have quickly thrown together an intriguing matchup next week since both found themselves without an opponent this past weekend.  Once SWC foes, Baylor was the program selected for the Big XII largely due to political reasons, and I doubt UH has forgotten that.  Also upcoming is Oklahoma St/Tulsa, which will close out the Big XII’s non-conference slate after TCU/SMU game was canceled.  Wins for both Oklahoma State and Baylor would help the league regain a modicum of respect, but some serious reputation damage was done to the conference this week, and frankly, the league deserves to be mocked a bit right now.  Still, it’s nice to see any and all football right now, even when it’s bad football.

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