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Sunday Superlatives: The best, worst and everything else in a magnificent Week 4

Jesse Simonton09/25/22
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It was another magnificent Saturday, with a marathon of madness happening from noon until well past midnight. 

A couple of Top 10 teams were upset, while several ranked teams squeaked out comeback wins. Then there was Auburn-Missouri. 

So after a slammed Saturday, let’s dive into the Week 4 Sunday Superlatives looking at the best, worst and otherwise in coaching. 

SMARTEST CALL OF THE WEEK 

Down 31-17 at home to Texas, Texas Tech head coach Jerry McGuire turned into a Riverboat Gambler. 

In an ode to a coach we bid farewell to just last week, “Hello! You play to win the game!”

The Red Raiders went for it on 4th-down eight times Saturday, converting six tries — five which led to scoring drives en route to a 37-34 overtime victory over their in-state rival.

In a steamy Texas heat, TTU ran 100 plays Saturday!

McGuire went for the win in regulation, keeping quarterback Donovan Smith on the field facing 4th-and-3 at the 50. TTU converted the play, and ultimately kicked a field goal with just 21 seconds remaining.

Texas still marched down the field to send the game to OT, but McGuire’s stones on Saturday (he was undeterred by his team getting stopped on 4th-and-2 at the goal line or 4th-and-5 at their own 40) seemed to bid him good fortune in the end. 

“We believe in our guys,” he said. 

“If we don’t do that, we don’t have enough time to get back in the game and win the game.”

Honorable Mention: This offseason, some balked at Chris Klieman’s decision to tab former Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein as his new OC + pluck embattled Nebraska transfer Adrian Martinez as his new QB, but the moves sure looked savvy Saturday night. 

After a no-show against Tulane a week ago, the Wildcats stunned No. 5 Oklahoma in Norman, riding Martinez’s arm and legs to a 41-34 victory. Looking a lot like how Klein played at KState, the Cornhuskers’ transfer had five touchdowns and 382 total yards. 

THE TAKIN’ CARE OF BUSINESS CUP

I wrote about Lance Leipold and Kansas on Saturday, so this is a perfect time to give shine to Josh Heupel and his No. 11 Tennessee Volunteers

While some butts got a wee-bit tight late in Neyland Stadium yesterday, the Vols ultimately took care of business against No. 20 Florida

Heupel had his team poised and prepared, and with a powder keg crowd behind them, Tennessee slayed its nemesis for just the second time in 18 years. 

The Vols took Florida’s best shot — Gators head coach Billy Napier lived up to his ‘Scared Money Don’t Make No Money’ aggressiveness by going for it on five 4th downs and played to win the game (outside of his BIZARRE decision to go for a 2-point conversion down 11 late in the fourth quarter, and don’t bring that ‘NFL coaches do the same thing’ stuff to me) — and stood firm. 

Heupel’s go-go offense gassed the Gators, and while Tennessee struggled to run the ball between the tackles, the former Heisman Trophy runner-up put the game in the hands of his current Heisman Trophy contender. 

Hendon Hooker was capital-Awesome Saturday, registering 350 passing yards, a career-best 112 rushing yards and three touchdowns. 

“Rocky’s Top’s back!” Heupel said in his postgame interview on the field with CBS. 

Sort of? 

Tennessee has a realistic path to 9-10 wins now, but the schedule remains brutal (bye week then at LSU, home for Alabama, with Kentucky and Georgia, too) and the defense isn’t exactly fixed. 

The Vols dared Anthony Richardson to beat them with his arm — and he almost did. Their secondary allowed 453 passing yards to a guy who hadn’t thrown for a TD all season. 

Still, in a pressure spot, Heupel’s team was mentally tough, coming up with one more stop late. The Vols deserve credit for handling their business in a pressure spot. Now can they handle success? 

Honorable Mention: Ohio State has quietly mollywhopped a couple of teams in back-to-back weeks, dropping a 50-burger on Wisconsin. Ryan Day’s squad looks every bit like a national title contender.  

COACHING CALAMITY OF THE WEEK

Did you enjoy that honeymoon, Miami?

A month into the Mario Cristobal era has Hurricanes fans realizing the Prodigal Son can’t turn whatever has been in the water down there for 20 years into wine with some new money and tough talk.

The Canes entered the year ranked in the Top 10, with plenty pushing a “Miami is back” narrative this offseason.

Instead, the Canes are 2-2, with all sorts of injuries (namely receiver and cornerback), coaching question marks and a quarterback who continues to regress and was benched after perhaps the worst loss in program history. 

In front of around 15,000 people at Hard Rock Stadium, the Hurricanes — 26-point favorites — got trucked by MTSU 45-31 on Saturday.

As coach Rick Stockstill said, “It was a butt-kicking. There was no fluke to this.”

The same Blue Raiders offense that mustered fewer than 50 total yards in the first half in a blowout loss to James Madison a couple of weeks ago, registered touchdowns of 69 yards, 71 yards and 98 yards against the Hurricanes. 

Miami has the most expensive coaching staff in the ACC, yet it trailed for all 60 minutes against MTSU. It turned the ball over on its first three possessions of the afternoon. It couldn’t punch it in from the 2-yard line on four straight tries.

Tyler Van Dyke was pulled after going 16-of-32 for 138 yards and two picks, with an empty stadium chanting for backup Jake Garcia to enter the game. 

Cristobal took full responsibility for the putrid showing, saying after the historic loss, “They coached better than us, they played better than us. They were better. We didn’t do a good enough job. There’s no excuse.” 

Clearly. 

A week ago, I was critical of Cristobal’s conservative game management, where he kept kicking field goals instead of trying to score touchdowns on the road at Texas A&M. 

It was an issue at Oregon, and nothing changed through three games at Miami. 

Now there’s further concern about how Cristobal handles his quarterbacks. 

For a couple of years now, many remain baffled how Justin Herbert can look like one of the best QBs in the NFL but was only so-so in Pac-12 for four seasons under Cristobal at Oregon

Now in four games at Miami, there’s questions as to why Van Dyke — a preseason All-ACC pick — has regressed so much after a promising freshman season. His completion percentage is down from 63% to 59.3% and he is averaging less than 90 yards per game compared to last season. 

Miami has issues at receiver, but Cristobal laid Van Dyke’s issues on a “scheme change.”

He again accepted all blame, adding that “We’ve got to do a better job setting him up for success and doing things offensively that allow us to have a more successful and a more productive pass game.”

But whatever he and OC Josh Gattis are doing ain’t working, so they might want to try something else. 

“Real men look in the mirror and do something about it and don’t allow any cracks to happen from the inside. We all came here for a purpose and a reason. We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Cristobal said. 

A lot more than most expected.

THANK YOU FOR COACHING 

I had to give one game its own new category this week. 

Thank You for Smoking is one of my favorite satirical dark comedies, and boy, if you like gallows humor, was Auburn-Missouri the football version for you, too!

It was punt-a-palooza on the Plains, with the Tigers trading kicks on 12 straight possessions in the second half. 

Before the game, Bruce Feldman reported that Bryan Harsin would be fired if Auburn lost to Missouri, and for nearly 60 minutes, it seemed like he and Tigers head coach Eli Drinkwitz were in a battle for who would receive their buyout check tomorrow. 

In the end, Harsin likely avoided a Sunday pink slip because Drinkwitz angered the football gods — and lord knows you don’t do that at Jordan-Hare Stadium. 

Still, neither coach seemed interested in winning Saturday, but only one was punished for it. 

In a 14-all game, Harsin no longer trusted his field goal kicker after multiple misses and chose to go for it on 4th-and-1 from Mizzou’s 29. But Tank Bigsby was stuffed and the Tigers then marched down the field to Auburn’s 3-yard line. 

It was their best drive since early in the second quarter, and AU’s defense was on its heels, yet Drinkwitz decided to put the fate of the game in a college kicker. 

With 1st-and-goal from the 3, the Tigers kneeled twice and then watched kicker Harrison Mevis whiff a 26-yard field goal.

Auburn moved the ball all of three yards in OT but then hit its kick, only to allow a 20-yard rush on 2nd-and-15. But wait! Missouri fumbled the ball at the goal line, mercifully ending the game. 

Tigers, 17. Tigers, 14. All of America, Dead. 

YOU HAD MY CURIOSITY, BUT NOW YOU HAVE MY ATTENTION AWARD

Florida State is 4-0. So is Minnesota. And Syracuse. 

The Seminoles and Orange entered the 2022 season with coaches on shaky footing, yet Mike Norvell and Dino Babers both deserve credit for righting the ship through some treacherous waters. 

FSU has suffered all sorts of injuries this season, yet it survived against LSU and Louisville and looked dominant in a blowout win over Boston College on Saturday. The ‘Noles are 4-0 for the first time since 2015 and Norvell has a quarterback in Jordan Travis, giving them a puncher’s chance to be a contender in the ACC Atlantic.

Meanwhile, Babers’ offseason decision to overhaul his staff (five new assistants) — including bringing in Robert Anae as OC — has paid immediate dividends. 

The former Virginia coordinator has brought his creative (and somewhat funky) system to Syracuse, and it’s working, sort of. Garrett Shrader looks like a different quarterback, as a runner and passer. The ‘Cuse still stink in the red zone and won ugly on Friday night against Virginia, but Dino looks on track to take them bowling for the first time since 2018. 

Then there’s Fleck, whose Gophers are just blasting teams this season. The schedule is cake, but they just went on the road to East Lancing and waxed Michigan State 34-7 on Saturday. Minnesota looks like the class of the Big Ten West in 2022, and with no Ohio State or Michigan on the slate, it could plausibly go to the championship game with just a single loss. 

If that happens, then Fleck, who signed a contract extension just last November, is going to row his boat toward another payday — either with the Gophers or at a bigger job.  

THE MORAL VICTORY MEDAL OF THE WEEK

I’d like to think that somewhere Saturday night Washington State’s Jake Dickert, Oregon State’s Jonathan Smith and Wake Forest’s Dave Clawson recreated the Spiderman meme — each accusing the other of having the most gutting loss. 

The Cougars led No. 15 Oregon for almost 59 minutes before it allowed Bo Nix to throw a 50-yard touchdown and then see their quarterback throw a pick-six. Dickert’s defense had been the hallmark to WSU’s hot start this season, but it allowed over 600 yards to the Ducks. 

WSU surrendered 29 points in the fourth quarter to lose 44-41.

“We’ve got a lot of kids disappointed in there, Dickert said

“It was them out-executing us in the fourth quarter.”

Similarly in Corvallis, Oregon State bullied No. 7 USC’s splashy offense for four quarters until Caleb Williams engineered a touchdown drive in the final two minutes of the game. The Beavers rattled Williams all night, as the Heisman hopeful was sacked twice and pressured another 11 times en route to a 16 for 36 performance. 

Yet four interceptions by quarterback Chance Nolan spoiled Smith leading Oregon State to its best start in a decade. 

Not to be outdone, though, was Clawson’s Demon Deacons. Clemson has been Wake Forest’s ACC kryptonite — with 14 straight losses to the Tigers after Saturday’s wild 51-45 double-overtime thriller. 

Normally, Wake gets housed by Clemson. But on Saturday it took it to the Tigers’ defense, shredding their secondary for 337 yards and six touchdowns. 

Clawson looked like he was about to deliver Wake Forest its first win over a Top 10 team in 75 years!

But then they fell just short. Sam Hartman couldn’t make one more throw in overtime, and the defense couldn’t get a stop, leading to further heartbreak in Winston-Salem. 

“That locker room right now is hurting,” Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson said

“It’s a football team that has invested a lot and they care a lot and expected to win this game.” 

Brutal.

THE THANK YOU FOR YOUR HONESTY HONOR

Dana Holgorsen always looks (and sounds) like a guy who knows where the party’s at, but Houston’s head coach isn’t having a whole lot of fun in 2022. 

The Cougars were preseason AAC favorites and considered the best Group of 5 team this year — with a real chance to play in a New Year’s Six bowl game. 

Instead, Houston has struggled in every game this season. The Cougars won a three-overtime thriller in Week 1 against UTSA, only to lose in double-overtime the next week to Texas Tech. 

Then they got waxed at home by Kansas, and it was another ugly, sloppy performance Saturday, needing a comeback win (and multiple late stops) against Rice. 

“I don’t know what to say,” Holgorsen said. “We’re somehow 2-2. Somehow won that game.”

They lead the nation in penalties, have committed six turnovers and have left Holgorsen “tired.” 

“I’m tired of yelling at them,” he said. “Tired of motivating them. Tired of all that crap. … I’m not taking responsibility for it.”

Naturally, Holgorsen’s comments were not well received, especially by those in Houston. 

But he gets points for honesty here — even if he’s completely lacking self-awareness that his $4 million job is to do just that: Motivate them. Coach them. Not drive a bus over them. 

CASH THE CHECK COORDINATOR OF THE WEEK

THE BOUNCED CHECK BALLOON 

I’m switching it up this weekend to highlight just how dreadful North Carolina’s defense has been under first-year coordinator Gene Chizik

Many were highly skeptical when Mack Brown decided to pluck his former Texas DC away from TV to return to the sidelines this fall, and after four games, the decision looks like a downright disaster. 

North Carolina was bad on defense in 2021. But the Tar Heels are hot-garbage in 2022. 

After allowing a lifeless Notre Dame offense to rack up 576 yards, only Nebraska is worse among Power 5 teams in total defense in September. 

Chizik’s unit can’t cover anyone. Can’t tackle anyone. Can’t stop anyone. 

The Tar Heels have allowed 26 plays over 20 yards — against the likes of FAMU, App State, Georgia State and Notre Dame. 

The Irish entered the game with 48 points all season. It dropped 45 on the Tar Heels on Saturday — and UNC had an extra week to prepare for Notre Dame. 

What is going to happen when it faces Wake Forest or NC State?

Via a quick Google search, I couldn’t find Gene Chizik’s current contract with North Carolina. Perhaps that’s best. I wouldn’t want people knowing how much money I was stealing, either.