Georgia, Ohio State Stand Tall in Week 1

Georgia Bulldogs QB Stetson Bennett
Georgia Bulldogs QB Stetson Bennett
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

NCAA Week 1 - The Georgia Bulldogs and Ohio State Buckeyes took advantage of marquee opportunities on this opening full weekend of college football to cement themselves as giants to be reckoned with over the course of the 2022 campaign. Georgia refused to even entertain questions about its status at the top of the sport against Oregon, while Ohio State needed about half of the game against Notre Dame to round into form before sitting on the Fighting Irish late.

To recap a remarkable slate of opening games, we will dive into the numbers from those two contests and hit several other fascinating games along the way.

Notes:

  • All Rankings referenced are from Brian Fremeau's FEI numbers heading into the weekend.
  • EPA/play includes special teams and penalties, so combining EPA/rush and EPA/pass numbers won't give the same total as what the top line number shows.

Marquee Games

No. 1 Georgia Bulldogs 49, No. 25 Oregon Ducks 3

Advanced Box Score: Georgia vs. Oregon

Last year's Georgia team boasted a generationally stingy defense that led the Bulldogs to their first championship in 42 years. Stetson Bennett decided to open the 2022 campaign by leading an offensive performance that was just as impressive as what Georgia showed on the other side for most of 2021. This was an upper-90th percentile performance almost across the board for the Bennett-led offense. The scariest thing may be that the highly thought of tight end corps did very little to propel this performance. Kenny McIntosh actually led the receiving attack out of the backfield, catching all nine of his targets for 117 yards. Ladd McConkey picked up from his impressive freshman campaign, adding five catches and two important carries for Georgia. Beyond that, Bennett found open receivers and trusted that his guys were better than anything the Ducks could throw out in coverage. He was right, to the tune of 12.0 yards per pass attempt and nearly a full EPA per pass.

On the other side of the ball, Bo Nix started for a new team but lost his fourth straight to Georgia. His two early interceptions helped dig an insurmountable deficit. Oregon was more effective on the ground, but it didn't matter. There was no world in which the Nix-led offense could keep up with Georgia on Saturday afternoon. Jalen Carter dominated the interior of the line as expected, and true freshman Malaki Starks was disruptive from the back of the Georgia defense.

Georgia showed more evidence that it has ascended to the Alabama Death Star stratosphere of the sport, where rebuilding isn't a thing. The SEC slate for Georgia is relatively mild this year, and there does not seem to be much standing in the way of a berth in Atlanta to open December. It says a lot about what Kirby Smart has built that Week 1 can tell us that much so conclusively.

No. 3 Ohio State Buckeyes 21, No. 5 Notre Dame Fighting Irish 10

Advanced Box Score: Ohio State vs. Notre Dame

In the final heavweight game of the night, Ohio State received a much tougher test from what looked to be a much more formidable opponent. The Buckeyes didn't erase Notre Dame like Georgia did to Oregon, but they did demonstrate their own resolve to remain a force throughout this fall. Instead of the uncontainable play-making that was expected, Ohio State showed an efficient brand of offense to go with what was mostly a suffocating defense.

After Jaxon Smith-Njigba left the game, C.J. Stroud appeared content to slowly build efficient drives and avoid any kind of mistake that would give the Fighting Irish a short field. Notre Dame enjoyed an advantage of 2 yards per pass attempt in this game; a number that not many would have predicted before Saturday. However, Ohio State used its consistency on the ground and its depth of talent on the outside to continue pummeling away at an impressive Notre Dame defense. TreVeyon Henderson ended the game with more total EPA on the ground than C.J. Stroud had in the air. With an offense able to do such damage either way, it's difficult for a defense to keep them sufficiently contained.

On the other side of the ball, Ohio State allowed a chunk play to Lorenzo Styles to open the game and then decided that was about all that the Irish would do Saturday night. That single play was worth almost five EPA, but Notre Dame finished the night with about negative-three total EPA from its offense. The running game, including the elusive Tyler Buchner, could do nothing, and Tommy Reis clearly did not trust Buchner enough to turn things fully over to the passing attack. At the end of the game, Notre Dame had attempted only 18 passes, even though its average pass was far more effective than its average run. Ohio State will still need an answer when a solid opponent is willing and able to throw the ball 35 or 40 times, but that might not happen until January. For now, Ohio State awaits news on Smith-Njigba while knowing that it can win games in different ways when pressed.

No. 22 Florida Gators 29, No. Utah Utes 26

Advanced Box Score: Florida vs. Utah

Billy Napier gave the Florida faithful something to roar about on Saturday night in the Swamp. This was a thrilling contest between two teams who looked the part of New Year's Six contenders. Both offenses put up above average numbers almost across the board, but Utah's red zone failures cost the Utes dearly. For Florida fans, Anthony Richardson was everything they hoped. He orchestrated two fourth-quarter touchdown drives to perfection. Overall, Richardson put up nine EPA through the air and 11 on the ground. The Cam Newton comparisons won't stop if Richardson is able to string together performances like that, especially against defenses of this caliber.

Cam Rising enjoyed his own success leading the Utah offense, but his interception on the last meaningful snap of the game was a dagger for the Utes fans who showed out impressively in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Rising posted solid EPA numbers himself, adding an almost equal seven EPA on the ground and through the air. Superstar tight end Brant Kuithe accounted for about that same total himself, catching nine balls on 13 targets.

Florida fans feel much better about Saturday night's results, but this is a game that can provide encouragement for both teams. USC and UCLA will both test this Utes defense in ways similar to Florida; Utah showed it should compete bravely against both of those schools and will likely be significant favorites in all nine of its other games. For Florida, the excitement that was pointing to the future might be closer to reality now. The Gators went toe-to-toe with a great Utah team, Anthony Richardson proved his mettle when it mattered most, and Florida could (could!) be undefeated entering the LSU-Georgia-Texas A&M stretch that starts in mid-October.

No. 40 Arkansas Razorbacks 31, No. 16 Cincinnati Bearcats 16

Advanced Box Score: Arkansas vs. Cincinnati

Arkansas kicked off a season of high hopes while Cincinnati began its quest to prove that this is a program capable of sustaining success after last year's massive accomplishments and subsequent departures to the NFL. Ben Bryant, the Cincinnati-to-Eastern-Michigan-and-back-to-Cincinnati transfer, started the season as Luke Fickell's quarterback choice and held up acceptably. Bryant was solid, putting up positive EPA through the air and on the ground, but he couldn't keep pace with K.J. Jefferson and the playmakers on the Arkansas offense.

Both teams ended up with slightly negative EPA on the ground, while Jefferson's six EPA passing surpassed Bryant's two and largely proved to be the difference in the game. This was a battle between two very evenly matched teams. I expect by the end of the season, the numbers will see both of these teams in the 15-to-20 range of the national rankings. Cincinnati isn't as good as last year, but it will be a force in its final AAC season. Arkansas isn't in the top tier of the SEC, but it will prove capable of competitive battle against a very difficult schedule.

Toe Drags

No. 34 Pittsburgh Panthers 38, No. 52 West Virginia Mountaineers 31

Advanced Box Score: Pittsburgh vs. West Virginia

The resumption of the Backyard Brawl series thrilled viewers and kicked off a supremely entertaining weekend of college football. Pittsburgh was in full boom-or-bust mode on offense, putting up a monster 35% explosive play rate but also allowing a 29% havoc rate and a 21% run stuff rate. Kedon Slovis looks to be a worthy successor to Kenny Pickett, but Pittsburgh is going to have to tighten up its glitchy run defense for the Panthers to remain in ACC Coastal contention as the year progresses. West Virginia had been dominant on the ground and allowed almost none of its runs to get stuffed; still, Neal Brown made a fateful decision to punt on fourth-and-short in the fourth quarter and gave up control of the game in the process. That was a brutal decision for the Mountaineers.

No. 12 Penn State Nittany Lions 35, No. 27 Purdue Boilermakers 31

Advanced Box Score: Penn State vs. Purdue

Penn State won a close call in a tough road environment to cap off Thursday night's action. The Nittany Lions passing game still has question marks, and the magical arm of Drew Allar lurks in the wings. This was a win Penn State had to have, but the ceiling for this season could change drastically depending on the answer that James Franklin and his staff land on at the quarterback position.

No. 53 North Carolina Tar Heels 63, No. 33 Appalachian State Mountaineers 61

Advanced Box Score: North Carolina vs. Appalachian State

In the Week 1 nominee for game of the year, Appalachian State scored with 31 seconds left, went for two to try and gain the lead but failed, and seemingly had lost the game. On the ensuing onside kick, North Carolina unwisely decided to return the kick for a touchdown and gave the ball back to the Mountaineers. A 20 second scoring drive gave Chase Brice one more chance to tie the game on a two-point scramble, but he came up just a yard short. Both offenses were supremely efficient throughout this game. North Carolina has a winning quarterback in Drake Maye, but it remains to be seen whether the Tar Heels defense can put up much resistance to complement the offense.

No. 35 North Carolina State Wolfpack 21, No. 89 East Carolina Pirates 20

Advanced Box Score: North Carolina State vs. East Carolina

In another game that featured an ACC school travelling to face an in-state opponent from the Group of Five, the Wolfpack started their much-hyped campaign with a lackluster performance. A pair of missed kicks from East Carolina in the fourth quarter allowed NC State to escape with a win, but this did not look like a team who will battle with Clemson for ACC Atlantic supremacy. Devin Leary was mediocre, and the Wolfpack defense did not prevent East Carolina from hitting a large number of explosives. It's Week 1, but this game raised lots of question marks for this NC State team.

No. 45 Houston Cougars 37, No. 85 UTSA Roadrunners 35

Advanced Box Score: Houston vs. UT San Antonio

Another Group of 5 barnburner saw Houston hold off UTSA in four overtimes. Neither offense was highly efficient, but there were dynamic plays throughout the game from both Clayton Tune of Houston and Frank Harris of UTSA. The Cougars will have to be better on offense to stay with Cincinnati and UCF in the AAC race, while UTSA looks primed to contend for the C-USA crown once again.

Looking Ahead: Top 35 Battles in Week 2

  • No. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide at No. 23 Texas Longhorns
  • No. 13 Iowa State Cyclones at No. 18 Iowa Hawkeyes
  • No. 21 Kentucky Wildcats at No. 22 Florida Gators
  • No. 32 Tennessee Volunteers at No. 34 Pittsburgh Panthers
  • No. 33 Appalachian State Mountaineers at No. 14 Texas A&M Aggies

Comments

1 comment, Last at 05 Sep 2022, 9:55am

#1 by Pat // Sep 05, 2022 - 9:55am

It wasn't exactly that OSU was "content": Notre Dame was playing two high safeties for a good portion of the game, so the short/mid field was more open. Dunno why it took Day that long to just take the easy rushing yards.

Hope Stroud settles a bit more, he was just rolling out all the time.

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