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First full week of college football: Embrace the chaos

All hail the Sun Belt. Seriously. And the Big Ten, feeling left out of fall, may rejoin the mix as soon as October.
Louisiana Lafayette running back Chris Smith, center, returns a kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown during the first half of a game against Iowa State on Saturday.
Louisiana Lafayette running back Chris Smith, center, returns a kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown during the first half of a game against Iowa State on Saturday. [ CHARLIE NEIBERGALL | AP ]
Published Sep. 13, 2020
Updated Sep. 13, 2020

Suggested motto for this extremely odd college football season: Embrace the Chaos. The masters of chaos Saturday? The Group of Five’s Louisiana Lafayette and Arkansas State. Poor Big 12.

Ragin' Cajuns: Louisiana Lafayette (1-0) had gone 0-26 against ranked teams on the road. Until arriving in Ames, Iowa. Sure, the run game was nothing to write home about (2.7 yards per carry through the first three quarters) and the kicking game would be at home in Raymond James Stadium (two missed field goals), but special teams were dynamic vs. No. 23 Iowa State (0-1). First came Chris Smith’s 95-yard kickoff return in the second quarter, then Eric Garror’s 83-yard punt return in the fourth of the 31-14 victory. The Ragin' Cajuns limited Brock Purdy to 16-of-35 passing for 145 yards, with no touchdowns and an interception. It was Iowa State’s fewest passing yards in two years. The Cyclones, a double-digit favorite coming in, had never lost to a Sun Belt team.

Arkansas State wide receiver Jonathan Adams Jr. celebrates after scoring the winning touchdown against Kansas State.
Arkansas State wide receiver Jonathan Adams Jr. celebrates after scoring the winning touchdown against Kansas State. [ CHARLIE RIEDEL | AP ]

Red Wolves: Arkansas State (1-1) didn’t knock off a ranked team, but nevertheless turned in a thrilling 35-31 win at Kansas State (0-1). The Red Wolves used three trick plays that all yielded points. On a double-pass play, wide receiver Jeff Foreman threw a 48-yard score to Roshauud Paul midway through the second quarter. Early in the fourth, the Red Wolves faked a punt that led to a pass interference call. On that drive, a pass off a double reverse set up a 5-yard score to Jonathan Adams Jr. from Logan Bonner for a 28-21 lead. Adams caught three touchdowns, including the winner with 38 seconds remaining.

Fall guys?

The Big Ten may salvage a fall season after all. University presidents will meet Sunday to hear a presentation about possibly playing as soon as late October, amid pressure from parents, players, coaches and even the president to kick off, according to the Associated Press and Yahoo! Sports. The presentation will include medical, television and scheduling for football, but a vote to start a season is not guaranteed to happen Sunday. The conference postponed its season Aug. 1 because of concerns about playing through the COVID-19 pandemic, with presidents voting 11-3 in favor. It wouldn’t be the only conference getting a late start: the SEC doesn’t kick off until Sept. 26.

Equality displays

On college football’s first big weekend, most teams also focused on racial equality.

• Duke players wore the Black Lives Matter logo on the back of their helmets, but the "D" logos on the sides of those helmets, traditionally white, were black. NBC reported the color change was made in support of the BLM movement and that Duke intends to wear that design throughout the season.

• In Chapel Hill, N.C., six Syracuse players had “Equality” and one had “Black Lives Matter” displayed on the backs of their jerseys instead of their names. North Carolina players wore a patch designed by linebacker Tomon Fox. The patch featured the raised clenched fist of the Black Lives Matter movement encircled by the words “Peace,” “Justice,” “Freedom,” “Equality” and “Say Their Names.”

“We’re more than just athletes,” Fox said. “We’re trying to help out with what’s going on in the real world. There are a lot of things bigger than football right now. We’re using our platform in order to help with those things.”

• Louisville players ran on the field carrying American and Black Lives Matter flags. The Cardinals' helmets also featured decals for BLM and DR 2 to honor recruit Dexter Rentz Jr., who was shot and killed by gunfire in Orlando on April 26.

Scouting report

USF travels to South Bend next weekend. What can the Bulls expect after No. 10 Notre Dame’s 27-13 win over Duke?

Double trouble: Kyren Williams, who played sparingly as a freshman last year, ran for 112 yards and two touchdowns in his first start and was Notre Dame’s leading receiver with two receptions for 93 yards, one a 75-yarder in the first half. Quarterback Ian Book has been known to burn teams both ways as well, though he was stymied running against the Blue Devils. He threw for 263 yards, but rushed for just 12 on nine carries.

‘Crowd’ noise: USF played its season opener with no fans at Raymond James Stadium, while the Fighting Irish announced attendance at 10,097 (about 12 percent of capacity). Most of the fans were students. Seats were assigned, and mask mandates appeared to be mostly followed. In the second half, a reminder was issued via the “Physical Distance Camera.”

Hey, you seem familiar

Offensive coordinator Phil Longo, right, and head coach Mack Brown congratulate quarterback Sam Howell after the Tar Heels scored to take a commanding 24-6 lead in the fourth quarter against Syracuse.
Offensive coordinator Phil Longo, right, and head coach Mack Brown congratulate quarterback Sam Howell after the Tar Heels scored to take a commanding 24-6 lead in the fourth quarter against Syracuse. [ ROBERT WILLETT | rwillett@newsobserver.com ]

Sterlin Gilbert, USF’s offensive coordinator from 2017-18, is now at Syracuse. So how did his debut go vs. No. 18 North Carolina (1-0)? The Orange generated little from its running game unless it came on quarterback Tommy DeVito scrambling to keep plays alive. And DeVito completed just 13 of 31 passes for 112 yards while taking seven (!) sacks. Syracuse (0-1) finished with 202 yards in the 31-6 loss. Tar Heels quarterback Sam Howell, once a longtime Florida State commit, completed 25 of 34 passes for 295 yards and a touchdown, but also was picked off twice.

They said it

“You can’t underestimate a Sun Belt Conference team anymore. It’s become a normal thing. You put a Sun Belt team on your schedule, you better watch out.”

Ragin' Cajuns coach Billy Napier

“Obviously excited about the win. Excited, but not surprised.”

Red Wolves coach Blake Anderson

At least the Big 12 has OU

Oklahoma quarterback Spencer Rattler (7) smiles on the sidelines during the second half of a game against Missouri State.
Oklahoma quarterback Spencer Rattler (7) smiles on the sidelines during the second half of a game against Missouri State. [ SUE OGROCKI | AP ]

It wasn’t all doom and gloom for the Big 12 Saturday. Spencer Rattler threw for 290 yards and four touchdowns in his first start for No. 5 Oklahoma, which thumped Missouri State 48-0. Rattler, the touted redshirt freshman from Phoenix, only played the first two quarters and helped the Sooners (1-0) take a 41-0 lead. Oklahoma gained 608 total yards, including 484 passing.

By the numbers

2 Postponed games already for Virginia Tech due to COVID-19 issues. The Hokies pushed back their season opener against N.C. State two weeks ago and now have moved a Sept. 19 game at Virginia (no makeup date yet).

633 Total infections at Virginia Tech since testing began Aug. 3.

33 Georgia Southern and Campbell players listed as inactive for Saturday’s game. Among the reasons from a spokesperson: injuries, suspensions and coaches' discretion, in addition to COVID-19.

11 West Virginia players suspended Saturday, unrelated to the coronavirus. Ten were on offense, including starters at wide receiver and on the offensive line.

6 Offensive players who scored for the Mountaineers in a 56-10 win over Eastern Kentucky.

2 West Virginia running backs with 100-plus yards each (Leddie Brown, Alec Sinkfield), a first for the team since 2017.

Compiled using information from Times news services.