Georgia picked up where it left off at the end of the 2021 college football season on Saturday.
Yeah, the Bulldogs had 15 players taken in the NFL draft and five in the first round after beating Alabama for the national title in January. But it was clear in Georgia’s 49-3 win over Oregon that there are plenty of capable replacements on the roster and that the offense could be even better in 2022.
Jalen Carter commanded double teams on the defensive line and looks poised to make headlines like Jordan Davis did in 2021. Christopher Smith and Malaki Starks picked off new Oregon QB Bo Nix and freshman defensive back Devon Jackson was one of the team leaders in tackles.
On offense, QB Stetson Bennett had just one more incompletion (3) than he did touchdowns (2) in the first half and was so good that backup Carson Beck replaced him before the third quarter was over. Running backs Kendall Milton and Kenny McIntosh stepped in seamlessly for James Cook and Zamir White and Brock Bowers and Darnell Washington showed why they are one of the scariest tight end duos in the country. Oh, the offense also converted each of its first nine third downs.
If Bennett continues to play as well as he did in last year’s College Football Playoff and on Saturday, another undefeated regular season goes from possibility to probability in 2022. Bennett finished the game 25-of-31 for 368 yards and three total touchdowns after he threw for over 500 yards and five touchdowns in Georgia’s CFP wins over Michigan and Alabama eight months ago.
The senior returned for another season at Georgia after going from maligned starter to integral piece on a national title team and showed how he’s an upper-echelon QB in the SEC. Just look at how he avoided a sack and found Ladd McConkey to give Georgia a 28-3 lead before halftime.
Stetson Bennett makin' PLAYS 🙌
Georgia is up big at the half.
— Yahoo Sports (@YahooSports) September 3, 2022
With a schedule that doesn’t include any of the SEC West’s heavyweights, Georgia is likely to be favored by double digits in all of its regular season games this season. And it’s hard to see how the Bulldogs won’t be playing for the SEC title again in December with a College Football Playoff berth at stake after what they did to the Ducks.
Oregon, meanwhile, has some work to do to be a playoff contender in its first season under former Georgia defensive coordinator Dan Lanning. With the perceived strength of Utah and perhaps USC in the Pac-12, the conference’s playoff hopes don’t seem to solely hinge on the Ducks in 2022. But if Oregon is one of the best teams in the Pac-12, then the chasm between the top teams out west and in the SEC is more like a gulf.
Nix showed many of the same inconsistencies he displayed at Auburn and stared down his receiver ahead of Smith’s interception. The Ducks were also overwhelmed on both the offensive and defensive lines and Georgia’s receivers kept finding wide-open spots in Oregon’s secondary.
With a pregame spread of 17 points, few people expected Oregon to win outright. But it wasn’t inconceivable to envision the Ducks keeping the game close for at least a quarter or maybe even a half. Instead, Georgia asserted its dominance by scoring 21 points to open the game. And it’s hard not to see how Georgia won’t continue to start a lot of games with a three-touchdown lead this season.
Alabama: No, we’re not ignoring the No. 1 team in the country. Alabama easily beat Utah State and covered the spread in a 55-0 win over the Aggies. Reigning Heisman winner Bryce Young got off to a phenomenal start with 195 yards passing and five TDs through the air and the first 100-yard rushing game of his career. Young rushed for exactly 100 yards and also had a TD on the ground.
Young spread the ball around in the passing game too. Three Alabama receivers had five catches and seven players had at least two catches. The Alabama defense allowed just 136 yards of total offense and gave up just one play longer than 10 yards all night. The Tide cruised through a scoreless fourth quarter and allowed its starters to get a break ahead of a big Week 2 matchup at Texas.
Pittsburgh: The Backyard Brawl was back for the first time in 11 years and it was glorious. In a Thursday night showdown, Pitt edged West Virginia 38-31 in an action-packed ballgame. WVU had a 31-24 lead late in the fourth but could not hold on. Pitt marched down the field and tied the game after WVU coach Neal Brown opted to punt on fourth-and-1 near midfield.
On the next drive, a pass from JT Daniels deflected off the hands of Bryce Ford-Wheaton to Pitt DB M.J. Devonshire. Devonshire returned the INT 56 yards for the game-winning touchdown. Kedon Slovis threw for 308 yards in his Pitt debut, but the running game struggled some as the Panthers transition from the pass-happy offense they employed during last year’s run to the ACC title.
Penn State: PSU senior quarterback Sean Clifford nearly gave Thursday night’s game against Purdue away. He threw an ugly pick-six that put Purdue ahead 31-28 with 8:29 to go, but he made plays when it mattered most.
Clifford led the Nittany Lions on an eight-play, 80-yard scoring drive in the game’s final minutes and threw the game-winning touchdown pass to Keyvone Lee with 57 seconds to play. PSU pulled out an impressive — and needed — road win after closing out the 2021 season by losing six of eight. Whether PSU has enough talent to compete for a Big Ten title remains to be seen, however.
Oklahoma State QB Spencer Sanders: Oklahoma State’s 58-44 win over Central Michigan wasn’t very pretty. The Cowboys, after having one of the best defenses in the country last year, allowed CMU to rack up 546 yards of offense, though much of that took place when the game was in hand.
And the main reason the game was in hand was senior QB Spencer Sanders. Sanders threw for a career-high 406 yards and four touchdowns. He also rushed for 57 yards and two scores. In the first half alone, Sanders threw for 313 yards and three touchdowns and had both of his rushing TDs.
North Carolina QB Drake Maye: It looks like UNC will be just fine on offense without Sam Howell at quarterback. Drake Maye, a redshirt freshman, had a big day in the Tar Heels’ wild 63-61 victory over Appalachian State.
Maye threw for 352 yards and four touchdowns and added 76 yards and a score rushing. The Tar Heels look like they’re going to put up a lot of points this year, but they’re going to give up a bunch too. If Maye plays like this on a weekly basis, UNC’s defensive shortcomings could get masked. Mack Brown certainly is hoping so.
— Carolina Football (@UNCFootball) September 3, 2022
Houston: The Cougars survived a three-overtime battle with UTSA to beat the Roadrunners 37-35. Clayton Tune leaped into the end zone to start the third overtime — remember, the two-point shootout starts in the third extra period — and UTSA QB Frank Harris' pass fell incomplete on UTSA's chance. Tune threw three touchdowns and ran for another while Tank Dell caught two of those TD throws. The Cougars play future Big 12 rival Texas Tech in Week 2 and avoid both Cincinnati and UCF in AAC play in 2022.
Arkansas: Arkansas halted Cincinnati's 22-game regular season winning streak on Saturday with a 31-24 win in Fayetteville. K.J. Jefferson threw for 223 yards, rushed for 62 yards and scored four total touchdowns in the win. Jefferson made several clutch plays down the stretch to seal the win for the Razorbacks.
Old Dominion: For the second time in four meetings, Old Dominion pulled off the upset over Virginia Tech. The Monarchs won 20-17 on Friday night in a game where they put up only 245 yards of offense. However, ODU forced five Virginia Tech turnovers, including returning an errant snap on a field goal try for a touchdown. ODU trailed for most of the second half, but Blake Watson scored from a yard out with 33 seconds to play to give the Monarchs the win.
And as good as the win was, the real star of the game was Hudson, ODU’s “official ambassador.” He’s got crocs on!
Indiana: IU went 2-10 without a single Big Ten victory in 2021, so Friday night’s 23-20 win over Illinois had to have been cathartic. The Hoosiers struggled throughout the game on offense, but won the game in the final minutes with a 12-play, 75-yard drive led by transfer quarterback Connor Bazelak. Bazelak threw for 330 in the win, but it was Shaun Shivers who scored the game-winning TD from a yard out with 23 seconds to go. Illinois was doomed by four turnovers and a turnover on downs at the 1-yard line in the loss.
Arizona: Arizona won just one game combined over the past two seasons but opened the 2022 campaign with a road upset. To begin Year 2 under Jedd Fisch, the Wildcats knocked off San Diego State, 38-20. In the win, Jayden de Laura, the transfer QB from Washington State, threw for 299 yards and four touchdowns. Jacob Cowing, a transfer from UTEP, was impressive as he caught eight passes for 152 yards and three TDs. The Wildcats will be much improved.
Iowa: Iowa’s offense was outscored by its defense in a 7-3 win over South Dakota State. The Hawkeyes could only muster a field goal on offense while the defense posted two safeties. This is against an FCS opponent. Iowa had just 168 yards of offense, averaged 2.8 yards per play, had 10 first downs and went 4-of-17 on third down. The Hawkeyes rushed for 59 yards on 35 tries while QB Spencer Petras was 11-of-25 yards for 109 yards and an interception. It was an ugly, ugly day.
Utah: Utah had a chance to make a statement for the Pac-12 but lost a heartbreaker on the road against Florida. After falling behind 29-26 with 1:25 to go, the Utes drove inside the UF 10-yard line with less than 30 seconds to go. Already comfortably in field goal range, Utah was going for the win. It backfired big time as Cam Rising was picked off in the end zone. Not only is it a tough loss for Utah, it does not help the perception of the Pac-12. Florida was projected to finish in the middle of the pack in the SEC but was able to beat the Pac-12's defending champion.
Boston College: BC lost its season opener, 22-21, to Rutgers at home on Saturday. The Eagles had three turnovers, including a Phil Jurkovec fumble inside their own 10 that led directly to a Rutgers touchdown. Jurkovec also threw a costly interception in Rutgers territory when BC had a 21-15 lead early in the fourth. To lose the game, BC allowed Rutgers to march 96 yards in 12 plays to go ahead 22-21 with 2:43 to play. That one drive accounted for nearly 30% of Rutgers’ offensive output on the day. That’s a tough way for Jeff Hafley to start his third season at BC.
Virginia Tech: VT probably should have fired Justin Fuente a year earlier. It was clear on Friday night that there wasn't a whole lot of talent left behind in Blacksburg for new coach Brent Pry. The Hokies were particularly uninspiring at receiver in their 20-17 loss to Old Dominion. The debut of quarterback Grant Wells, a transfer from Marshall, did not go well either. Wells threw 22 interceptions in two seasons with the Thundering Herd. He's already got four INTs in one game in a Hokies uniform.
Louisville: The Cardinals’ season got off to a dreadful start in a 31-7 loss to Syracuse. QB Malik Cunningham threw two interceptions and the Louisville defense allowed over five yards a carry as Syracuse put the game away in the fourth quarter. Garrett Shrader threw a TD early in the fourth after a Cunningham interception gave Syracuse the ball at the 13. Louisville then fumbled on its next drive in its own territory and Syracuse scored seven plays later for a 24-point lead it wouldn’t relinquish. The Cardinals are now staring down the possibility of an 0-2 start with a trip to UCF looming on Friday. It's a pivotal year for Scott Satterfield and this was not an ideal way to start it.
Charlotte: Charlotte lost five of its final six games in 2022 and is now 0-2 in 2022. The 49ers opened the season with a 43-13 loss to Florida Atlantic and things somehow got worse on Friday in a 41-24 loss to FCS opponent William & Mary. The 49ers trailed 17-3 in the second quarter before taking a 24-20 lead in the third quarter. But the Tribe scored 21 straight points in the fourth quarter as Charlotte’s offense went flat. It was the first win over an FBS team for William & Mary since 2009 and is an alarming loss for a Charlotte program headed to the AAC in 2023.
Navy: Navy’s bad 2021 season may not have been an aberration. The Midshipmen lost 14-7 to FCS opponent Delaware on Saturday as its offense continued the struggles it showed a season ago. Navy’s triple-option attack averaged fewer than three yards a carry against the Blue Hens and the Midshipmen were just 5-of-16 on third downs and 0-of-3 on fourth downs. Navy capped a 4-8 season a year ago with a 17-13 win over a bowl-bound Army. But any potential carryover from that win disappeared at home on Saturday. It’s hard not to wonder what Ken Niumatalolo’s future is at Navy if the Midshipmen’s 2022 looks a lot like 2021.
Temple: Stan Drayton’s rebuilding job at Temple looks to be sizable. The Owls lost 30-0 at Duke on Friday night in a putrid offensive performance. Temple had just 179 yards of total offense and averaged just 2.2 yards a carry as it was shut out by the Blue Devils in former Texas A&M defensive coordinator Mike Elko’s first game as Duke’s head coach. The shutout was Duke's first against an FBS opponent in 33 seasons.
Georgia transfer D’Wan Mathis was just 11-of-21 passing for 83 yards and Edward Saydee was Temple’s leading rusher with just 16 yards. The Owls also fumbled twice in the second half, but the Blue Devils were leading by 27 by the time those turnovers happened.
Texas State: Jake Spavital may want to start polishing up his resume. Texas State lost 38-14 to Nevada in its season opener to drop Spavital's record to 9-28 as the Bobcats' head coach. Nevada only had 274 yards of offense, but Texas State had four turnovers in the loss. The Wolf Pack had a pick-six, a field goal drive of three yards and four TD drives that went an average of 38.8 yards.