Like Texas against Notre Dame, “The U” until week nine of every season, Texas A&M until October, Terrell Owens joining the Cowboys, or Texas Tech drudging an FCS opponent, “What We Learned” is back, and this time, its convinced that Kansas is going to win five games this season, while Baylor may not win any. For those uninitiated, “What We Learned” is a weekly reflection on the action in the Big 12 of the previous weekend, and the number one source for knee-jerk reactions, Texas slander, Kansas fandom, and hotter takes than a Les Miles tweetstorm. Without further adieu, let’s get right into Jesse Ertz Heisman hype, Baylor’s inevitable relegation, the trillest quarterback in the conference and much, much more.
OKLAHOMA STATE (1-0)
Gundy rocking his hater blockers with the sun fully down. 😎 pic.twitter.com/Zv3XNm8eeo
— Pistols Firing (@pistolsguys) September 1, 2017
The first game of the week in the Big 12 came from Stillwater, as Oklahoma State, led by senior quarterback Mason Rudolph and future male model Mike Gundy played host to a Tulsa team that won ten games last year out of the American conference, and dropped Oklahoma State’s greatest enemy, Central Michigan, in the Miami Beach bowl to the tune of a 55-10 drubbing. Coming into this matchup, there was actually quite a bit of anticipation, and the prevailing thought seemed to be that Tulsa might provide a solid challenge for a possible playoff contender in Oklahoma State. The line was set at -19.5 in favor of OSU, but with an explosive offense like Phillip Montgomery’s, anything can happen.
Despite the hype, Oklahoma State lived up to their sky-high expectations against a team that may have caught a less prepared Oklahoma State team off guard. Oklahoma State jumped all over Tulsa early, with a 44 yard Rudolph to Tyron Johnson touchdown pass to open the scoring. OSU led by 21 after one quarter, and despite a mistake filled, very stupid second quarter, the Pokes were in no real danger at halftime, as they led 38-17.
A dominant second half performance put this one away quickly, as Oklahoma State impressed on both sides of the ball. Some silly mistakes inflated Tulsa’s final tally, but overall, the Cowboys offense looked like the well-oiled machine we expected it to be. Oklahoma State’s first true test will come in two weeks, when the Cowboys head to Pittsburgh to take on a Pitt team that nearly lost to Bo Pelini and Youngstown State.
TEXAS IS BACK! Despite everything in the last nine months indicating that Texas would be very bad this season, seemingly everyone around college football seemed to think that Texas would return to form under first year head coach Tom Herman, and that the Longhorns’ death march would begin against DJ Durkin’s Terrapins. Shockingly, the team that went 5-7 the last three seasons, and struggled with developing or playing with discipline struggled with discipline, came out flat trying to run a whole new system, and lost to a Maryland team that played a sloppy, overall underwhelming game. Despite all this, Texas still had only the third most embarrassing loss of all the P5 teams in the state.
The (somehow) ranked Longhorns looked flat, tired, and got dominated on both sides of the ball in the trenches by a Maryland team that just looked like they wanted it more. An early pick-six by junior defensive back Holton Hill was encouraging for a defense that needs to improve from last season to succeed in an offense heavy conference, and despite a solid performance from Malik Jefferson, Hill and junior lineman Charles Omenihu, the Longhorns’ defense still allowed 51 points and a number of massive gains to a Maryland team that still has a way to go before they’re anything but a below average P5 school. Maryland halfback Ty Johnson gashed the Texas defense, and Maryland didn’t air the ball out a ton, Texas was hapless against pretty much anything the Terrapins did.
This was a mistake filled, sloppy football game, and at the end, Texas still looked like a team that might win five games, and needs to make some serious changes. Shane Buechele got crushed for four straight quarters, and looked like a sure thing to be sidelined with an injury sooner rather than later. Texas needs to establish a running game if they want any chance to win games this year, and by the time they head to Pasadena in week three, Texas will need to have an answer for explosive offensive plays, something the Trojans excel in. I doubt they’ll find that answer this year.
The first game of the Lincoln Riley era went about as well as the Sooners could have hoped for. Oklahoma, led by senior quarterback and Heisman candidate Baker Mayfield completely overwhelmed the UTEP Miners, led by Sean Kugler. Mayfield had the second most efficient day of any quarterback in the country, behind only Kansas State quarterback Jesse Ertz, as he completed 19 of his 20 attempts for 329 yards and three touchdowns in what was essentially one half.
Oklahoma scored 35 points in one half, thanks in large part to Mayfield, tight end Mark Andrews, the stable of halfbacks Oklahoma boasts and a number of fresh faces at receiver. The defense had no issue after the first drive of the game for UTEP, as the Miners were kept off the board for the last 53 minutes of the game, after scoring on their first possession.
There’s not much to say about this game, Oklahoma did what they were supposed to do, and looked like the top ten team that they are. The true test for the Sooners comes this Saturday, as they head to Columbus to take on the second ranked Ohio State Buckeyes in prime-time. LandGrant Gauntlet will have live coverage from that game.
TEXAS TECH (1-0)
I’m not afraid to admit it, and feel free to call me out as much as you want: I thought Texas Tech was going to lose to Eastern Washington on Saturday. After watching Eastern Washington tear through Washington State and nearly win an FCS title last season, and with the previous knowledge of Texas Tech’s struggles of the last few years, this seemed like a reasonable upset to be weary of. However, Texas Tech came out firing against the Eagles, and lit up one of the best FCS teams thanks to a great performance from Nic Shimonek, defensive back Jah’Shawn Johnson and “Last Chance U” star Dakota Allen.
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The Red Raiders got pretty much whatever they wanted on offense, and for the first time in years, looked truly competent on defense. Obviously, the sample size in extremely small, but the Red Raiders showed exactly what I wanted to see from them. We won’t get to see if Texas Tech is for real for another week, as they have a bye this Saturday for some reason, but the Arizona State game in two weeks will serve as a great measuring stick for how good Texas Tech truly is.
There’s a video near a dear to my heart, that I’d like to use to illustrate how I felt watching Baylor slowly lose to an online school on Saturday, as I flipped between the disaster that was the game, and the significantly better Purdue vs Louisville and Alabama vs Florida State games. In this video, a man watches, in horror, as a Bear, chasing a fish, falls from a fallen tree into a rapidly flowing creek. As I watched Baylor furiously try to avoid being upset by a Turner Gill coached football team, I couldn’t help but feel exactly how the man in the video felt: helpless, concerned, and morbidly entertained.
This game was the manifestation of that video, and of the cameraman yelling in horror as the bear falls into the water. Baylor was legitimately dominated in the trenches by a team with roughly 60 scholarship players. Liberty looked faster, and better than Baylor all game long, and despite a furious late game comeback attempt, when it came down to it, Liberty just plain outplayed Baylor in Matt Rhule’s first game in Waco. The Baylor offense, led by Anu Solomon and running back John Lovett was solid, but the defense was absolutely horrendous. The defense had no answer for Liberty’s passing attack, and looked a step slower all day.
Matt Rhule’s Temple teams were known for stifling defense, so if he’s afforded the time to truly rebuild the program, I think Rhule will be able to turn Baylor around defensively, but for right now, at least this season, I don’t think the Bears are getting back on the log, like in the video I adore so much.
Last season, I embarked on a three-month campaign in support of David Beaty and his Kansas Jayhawks. I complimented the Jayhawks whenever I could, led the Steven Sims Jr for Heisman campaign, and watched in awe as large son football team grew to a large adult football team, when they shocked Texas in the penultimate game of the season. While the Jayhawks still haven’t brought me on to the staff as an official hype man yet, I will continue my thankless campaign to promote the one true college football team, Kansas, and to forewarn the college football world of the inevitable Jayhawkalypse.
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On to the game at hand, Kansas opened the 2017 season hosting Southeast Missouri State, a below average FCS program led by head coach Tom Matukewicz that went 3-8 in 2016. Kansas came into the game expecting to win, and while the Jayhawks didn’t dominate, they did exactly what they needed to: they beat a team they were supposed to beat. Junior quarterback Peyton Bender got the start at quarterback, and put up some pretty solid numbers. He completed 23 of 37 passes for 364 yards and four touchdowns, two of which went to star junior receiver Steven Sims Jr.
The running game, trying to replace Octavius Matthews, struggled for most of the game. Freshman Dom Williams shouldered most of the load at halfback, and looked decent on only ten carries, picking up 41 yards and a touchdown, but for Kansas to succeed against better teams, he’ll need to be more involved. The defense, led by an excellent 15 tackle performance from junior linebacker Joe Dineen Jr was decent, but allowed a couple easy scores, including a 22 yard score early in the fourth quarter, in which receiver Kristian Wilkerson was hardly covered, and found his way to the endzone off a solid throw.
There are real, actual reasons to be excited about Kansas football right now. They’ve already nearly matched their win total from last year, and honestly, I see four, or even five wins on their schedule. David Beaty is doing a great job recruiting, and right now, Kansas fans have a lot to be excited about, for the first time in roughly a decade.
KANSAS STATE (1-0)
Roughly an hour down the road from Kansas, Kansas State was also hosting a directional Midwest FCS school, as Steve Campbell and the Central Arkansas Bears came to town. The Bears went 10-3 last year, falling to Eastern Washington in the second round of the playoffs. Quarterback Hayden Hildebrand was great last year, and small programs like this one always become more freighting when they have experience at quarterback. In the first 15 minutes of this game, Kansas State looked, well, bad.
The first quarter ended tied at 10, but thanks to a second quarter explosion that included Jesse Ertz touchdown passes of eight, 55 and 70 yards, and a DJ Reed punt return, the Wildcats took a 38-16 lead into the half. By the time it was all said and done, Ertz had put together the most efficient day of any quarterback in college football, completing 10 of 16 passes for a whopping 333 yards and four scores. The rushing attack was a bit underwhelming, but after a slow start, Kansas State looked phenomenal for the better part of three quarters. The offense was explosive, and the defense clamped down in the second half.
Kansas State won’t play a ranked team until (probably) TCU in mid-October, so Bill Snyder and his staff should have the running attack and defense operating at full capacity by that point. That’s very good news for Kansas State.
IOWA STATE (1-0)
Iowa State probably showed the least of any team in the conference in terms of offensive creativity or big play potential. The Cyclones ran a very conservative gameplan, for a myriad of reasons, though I’d imagine that avoiding the upset and keeping Iowa from having much to plan for were the two biggest inspirations of this conservative approach. Sophomore running backs Mike Warren and David Montgomery both looked good (though Warren may be getting Wally Pipp’d) as they combined for 115 yards and two scores on 26 carries, though Montgomery was the star, picking both scores and 82 yards on 14 carries.
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Jacob Park impressed me, in what I saw of this game (thanks Cyclone TV). He didn’t air the ball out a ton, but when he did, he looked good, throwing for 271 yards on 27 completions, and adding two touchdowns to just one interception. The defense was opportunistic, forcing three turnovers, one of which was returned for a touchdown, but I was a bit concerned about how Iowa State will fare in the Big 12 if they allowed an FCS school to put up 24 points.
However, for the most part, Iowa State looked good, and that’s all Cyclone fans can really ask for. Sophomore Hakeem Butler looked even better than I thought he would, and Matt Campbell will surely open the playbook up this week. it’s a good time to be a Cyclone.
TCU had the quietest dominant performance of perhaps any team this weekend. After a disappointing 2016 campaign, the Horned Frogs welcomed Jackson State, an FCS school that went 3-8 last season in the SWAC, with wins over Arkansas Pine-Bluff, Mississippi Valley State and Texas Southern, three teams that combined for six wins last year. After a bad 2016 season, TCU quarterback Kenny Hill has a lot to prove this year, and if he doesn’t consistently lead this team, he may find himself on the bench in favor of freshman Shawn Robinson sooner rather than later.
However, at least this week, Hill looked like the quarterback TCU wants him to be. He completed 18 passes for 206 yards and four touchdowns, and perhaps most importantly, only one interception. He looked comfortable as a game manager rather than a game changer, and did a phenomenal job of getting a lot of receivers involved, as a whopping 14 players had receptions for TCU. Running back Darius Anderson was solid, and KaVontae Turpin showed his incredible burst with a 39 yard touchdown run late in the first quarter that extended TCU’s lead to 21. Shockingly, that was his only touch of the day.
Defensively, this looked like the TCU of 2014 and before. They completely smothered an overpowered Jackson State offense, holding the Tigers to just 65 total yards, as they shut them out. TCU has a much stiffer test this week against Arkansas, but if the defensive is solid, and Hill can stay out of his own way, that game is extremely winnable.
WEST VIRGINIA (0-1)
The last game of the week in the Big 12 was hands down the best game, even if West Virginia didn’t get the win over rival Virginia Tech (by the way, they need to play this game every year). In the first game of the Will Grier era (the GriERA?), West Virginia found themselves in a defensive battle, at least for the first 30 minutes, on the always messy Fed Ex Field. Both teams came out of the half firing, as the Hokies and Mountaineers combined for 24 points in the third quarter, thanks to excellent performances from Grier and Tech quarterback Josh Jackson.
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After a VT touchdown halfway through the final quarter, West Virginia was unable to match the Hokies 31 points, as they fell to the 21st ranked team in the nation, though not for a lack of effort. The Mountaineers got as close as the Virginia Tech 15 yardline on the last drive of the game, but an incomplete pass on the final play of the game (and three holding penalties on one play) ultimately sealed WVU’s fate.
However, despite the loss, there was a lot to be encouraged by in this game for West Virginia. Despite massive losses on both sides of the ball, West Virginia looked every bit as good as Virginia Tech for most of the game. Grier got better as the game went on, and if he can refine his deep ball mechanics, he could be very good by the time West Virginia has to take on teams like OU, OSU and KSU.
Ultimately, this loss can probably be chalked up to poor play calling. Justin Crawford was absolutely dominant, and the Mountaineers need to give him the ball more. It will be interesting to see is Holgorsen and offensive coordinator Jake Spavital make an adjustment.