Four Downs Week 1: New Season Brings New Hope

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Week 1 of the college football season isn’t yet in the books – we’ve still got Purdue-Marshall Sunday and the highly anticipated Ohio State-Virginia Tech rematch Monday to round out five consecutive days of action.

However, Week 1 Saturday is a wrap, so you may proceed with the customary overreactions. Has any conference been eliminated from the College Football Playoff? That’s a solid assertion to make on Sept. 6.


Consider embedding the above tweet my rock heaved right through the glass walls of the Internet. Come Thanksgiving, my own Four Downs observations from Week 1 might feel as dated as finding a Bananarama cassette locked away in a Class of ’85 time capsule.

Besides, you can’t embark on Internetting worried about looking like a doofus later. So let the overreacting begin!

1. Christian Kirk Sticks A Fork in Arizona State’s Heart

Texas A&M freshman wide receiver and returner Christian Kirk disappointed plenty of folks in his home state of Arizona when he chose the Aggies last recruiting cycle. Kirk’s performance Saturday in A&M’s 38-17 defeat of Arizona State was more than just simple disappointment, though: He stabbed Sparky right in the heart with his own pitchfork.

The impact of Arizona State’s miss on the Scottsdale Saguaro prospect became abundantly clear when Kirk ran back a punt 79 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter. Every play thereafter – and there were a lot of them – was a twist of the fork.

There’s no “going to be” when evaluating the freshman Kirk. He’s already a special playmaker, and the frightening part is he’ll only get better. Add him to a wide receiving corps with Ricky Seals-Jones and Josh Reynolds, and SEC defensive coordinators have much to think about in their preparations for the Ags.

That said, A&M’s offense hardly dominated Arizona State. That seems outlandish looking at a box score that reads 38-17, but the Sun Devil defense played an outstanding three quarters-and-change. Of the Aggies’ first 17 points spanning the first 45 minutes, 10 were the result of Kirk’s special teams score and field goal set up by a most inopportune Mike Bercovici fumble.

Attrition left the Sun Devil defense vulnerable in the fourth quarter. With the offense staying on the field for drives of just four plays, 2:24 and five plays, 1:13 just before two Aggie touchdowns, attrition got the best of Arizona State.

However, the most damning moment came at the conclusion of 13-play, 70-yard possession with Arizona State down 24-14. Todd Graham’s uncharacteristically conservative decision to kick a field goal from the Texas A&M 5-yard line was a white flag.

Arizona State had so few opportunities to get in the end zone – the Sun Devils didn’t even cross midfield until the second quarter – getting to the goal line and scoring just three points signaled game over.

Graham taking points where he could get them says everything we need to know about Kevin Sumlin’s hire of defensive coordinator John Chavis. The way the Aggies swarmed to the ball and collapsed on Sun Devil playmakers in space was a complete 180 from the A&M defense of 2014.

Texas A&M should have taught us to hold out superlatives until at least October – Kenny Trill, anyone? And indeed, the quarterback question that began after Kenny Hill’s meteoric rise and equally abrupt descent last year remains.

Both Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray played. Murray’s explosiveness out of the pocket was evident, and he threw in a few textbook slides, just in case you forgot he passed on Major League Baseball to ball at Texas A&M.

However, his passing touch needs work. Is the upside more than with Allen? Maybe not – the flood gates opened Saturday with Allen behind center.

It’s certainly premature to start making sweeping declarations about A&M’s SEC bona fides, but Christian Kirk and John Chavis should both give the people in College Station cause for optimism.

And College Station’s joy is Tempe’s sorrow.

2. West Virginia’s Defense Is Better Than Advertised

At Big 12 media days in July, West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen said the 2015 Mountaineer defense “should be the best I’ve had since I started coaching 20 years ago.”

Dietitians have long warned energy drinks are hard on the kidneys, but Holgorsen’s huge praise for the West Virginia defense suggested they also impacted the brain.

Consider Holgo vindicated. West Virginia had, arguably, the best defensive performance of any team in the nation thus far into Week 1. That includes the aforementioned showing A&M made against high-octane Arizona State.

West Virginia held a Georgia Southern offense that, at 39.1 points per game in 2014, was the nation’s 10th-most prolific. The Eagles didn’t just roll up big totals on creampuffs, either. They scored 38 against Orange Bowl champion Georgia Tech.

Georgia Southern was without quarterback Kevin Ellison, serving a two-game suspension for academic reasons. His presence might have gotten the Eagles on the board, but beyond that?

Perhaps Karl Joseph wouldn’t have made three interceptions.

West Virginia was a team that intrigued me heading into the season, in part because of quarterback Skyler Howard, and in part due to Holgo’s assessment of the defense. I’ve quickly gone from intrigued to buying a ticket on the bandwagon.

The Mountaineers could be the surprise that disrupts the Big 12 title picture.

3. UCLA’s Chosen One

In a galaxy far, far away, The Chosen One was meant to bring order to The Force. In Southern California, the Chosen One is meant to bring an elusive Pac-12 championship.

Josh Rosen is off to a better start with UCLA football than Anakin Skywalker with the Jedi Council. UCLA’s Chosen One came out Week 1 swinging his lightsaber like a seasoned veteran: 28-of-35 for 351 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.

Rosen would have easily exceeded 400 yards, too, had a long attempt early not been dropped.

Any qualms about a true freshman quarterbacking an otherwise veteran UCLA team to success were put to rest. Now the challenge for Jim Mora is keeping Rosen from being pulled into the Dark Side of buying into his own hype.

“People are going to start patting him on the back and telling him how great he is,” Mora said in his postgam press conference, via UCLABruins.com. “We have to do the best we can to make sure he doesn’t listen to the noise.”

Interestingly enough, Rosen wasn’t the only Padawan with an outstanding debut in the Rose Bowl.

Running back Soso Jamabo led the Bruins with 79 yards rushing on just nine carries. I spoke to a reporter on the scene in Pasadena, and his assessment: “[Jamabo] is the real deal. He looked better than [2014 Pac-12 leading rusher Paul Perkins].”

4. A Special Start to What Could Be A Special Year

I tabbed Penn State’s trip to Temple as the Trap of Week 1 in the Saturday Six-Pack, though I vastly undersold just how much the Owls would be for the Nittany Lions to handle.

Temple’s outstanding front seven completely dominated Penn State. Straight-up manhandled. The City of Brotherly Love hasn’t seen such physicality as Temple inflicting 10 sacks on Christian Hackenberg since the Broad Street Bullies, and I’m only slightly exaggerating.

The historic significance actually goes back much furthering than those Flyers teams of the 1970s – this was Temple’s first defeat of Penn State since 1941.

“I am very proud of Temple, our fans, our students, our president. Everybody that stuck with us,” head coach Matt Rhule said, via OwlSports.com. “Hopefully this won’t be the only highlight of the season.”

That seems unlikely. Temple’s defense is imposing enough to contend for the American Athletic Conference championship – and we’ll get a sense of where the Owls stand in that picture early. They travel to fellow East division contender Cincinnati next week.

Unless you’re a fan of a rival, or a Penn State supporter healing some very fresh wounds, Temple’s historic win has to resonate with you on some level. We’re talking about a program with decades upon decades of lean years. Only
since 2009 under Al Golden had the Owls started to see success in recent years.

For a program like Temple to see a breakthrough after years of futility is why 128 FBS teams open every Week 1 with similar pursuits, regardless their history.

A team like Eastern Michigan, long the dregs of Div. I and newcomer Old Dominion can meet in a hidden gem of a game with both harboring the same aspirations.

Perhaps more than just scratching the itch for football, my love of Week 1 is the possibility that the coming fall can be special for any program. And even if Week 1 isn’t, the rest of the season certainly can be.