NO. 14 UTAH RIDES BACKUP QBS PAST FLORIDA, 24-11
Fill-in quarterbacks Bryson Barnes and Nate Johnson capitalized on gift-wrapped field position and No. 14 Utah’s suffocating defense did the rest as the Utes took down Florida 24-11 on Thursday night in Salt Lake City.
Utah played without 25-game starter Cam Rising, who is still recovering from a torn ACL sustained in the Rose Bowl, but could get the All-Pac-12 passer back for a Sept. 9 date at Baylor.
With Rising resting, the Utes flexed early and often, holding Florida to 13 rushing yards on 21 attempts.
Leading 17-3 at halftime, Utah picked off Florida quarterback Graham Mertz — his pass attempt was deflected by wide receiver Ricky Pearsall — early in the third quarter to gain possession 11 yards from another score. Barnes ran in from 5 yards out on third down to stretch the score to 24-3.
Mertz, a three-year starter at Wisconsin who transferred to start for the Gators, didn’t convert a third down to first down until the 11-minute mark in the fourth quarter. However, he went on a tear in the final 10 minutes, including a run of nine consecutive completions. The Gators’ comeback bid ended with jarring sack, Utah’s fifth of the game, and a fourth-down incompletion with 1:39 to go.
Mertz finished 31 of 44 for 333 yards with one touchdown pass and one interception.
Mertz’s scoring pass came in the fourth quarter to cap the Gators’ 98-yard drive. He found Caleb Douglas for a hard-earned, 19-yard grab over cornerback Zemaiah Vaughn with 9:22 to go. The Gators converted the two-point try, Mertz completing a toss to Eugene Wilson, and narrowed the deficit to 24-11. Florida regained possession just inside of six-minute mark after Cole Becker missed a 55-yard field goal try.
Barnes whipped a 70-yard TD pass on Utah’s first offensive play of the game.
A quick play-action fake pulled the secondary forward. Barnes hit the fifth step in his dropback and immediately unfurled a slingshot throw that hit wide receiver Money Parks, tracking diagonally from right of the formation to the left-side numbers, in stride between Gators defensive backs Jason Marshall Jr. and Miguel Mitchell.
Following a Florida field goal and then a 31-yard missed try by the Gators, it was Johnson’s turn at the controls for the Utes.
Utah retained possession following a penalty on Florida for having two players wearing uniform No. 3 on the field on fouth-and-3.
Four plays later, Johnson grabbed a shotgun snap on second down at the 8-minute mark in the second quarter, faked an inside handoff and darted left. The redshirt freshman ripped through Florida’s front seven with multiple escorts and crossed the goal line with four white shirts closing in pursuit for a 27-yard TD run that bumped Utah’s advantage to 14-3.
Florida hosts McNeese on Sept. 9 as part of a three-game stretch at home.
Utah won its 15th consecutive home game and has won 26 of its last 27 at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
NO. 5 LSU AND NO. 8 FLORIDA STATE OPEN IN ORLANDO WITH RETURNING STARS AND CHAMPIONSHIP GOALS
No. 8 Florida State vs No. 5 LSU in Orlando, Florida, Sunday, 7:30 p.m. ET (ABC)
Line: LSU by 2 1/2, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.
Series record: Florida State leads 8-2, including five consecutive wins.
WHAT’S AT STAKE?
The first top-10 matchup in series history should provide early season insight into which of these teams is a legit national championship contender. The Seminoles return the bulk of their roster from last season’s 10-3 campaign, including star quarterback Jordan Travis and stud defensive end Jared Verse. They’re seeking to extend a six-game winning streak. LSU has nearly as many starters back from its 10-4 debut under coach Brian Kelly, including dynamic quarterback Jayden Daniels, speedy receiver Malik Nabers and standout linebacker Harold Perkins.
LSU’s offensive line versus FSU’s defensive front. The Tigers return five starters, including bookend tackles Will Campbell and Emery Jones, but could have their hands full against Verse, Fabien Lovett and Patrick Payton. Verse had nine sacks in 2022, Payton was named the ACC’s rookie of the year, and the Seminoles ranked 10th nationally in tackles for loss.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Florida State: Johnny Wilson and Michigan State transfer Keon Coleman expect to be one of the best receiving duos in the country. The 6-foot-7 Wilson, a fourth-year junior who has the NFL’s attention, caught 43 passes for 897 yards and five touchdowns in 2022. Coleman had 58 receptions for 798 yards and seven scores last year.
LSU: Nabers led the Southeastern Conference with 72 catches for 1,017 yards and three touchdowns in 2022, becoming the 10th 1,000-yard receiver in school history. The sophomore was at his best down the stretch, finishing with five receptions for 128 yards and a touchdown against eventual national champion Georgia in the SEC title game and then catching nine passes for 163 yards and a score against Purdue in the Citrus Bowl.
FACTS & FIGURES
The teams opened last season against each other in the Superdome in New Orleans, a 24-23 victory for the Seminoles in which Shyheim Brown blocked an extra point on the final play. FSU’s Verse also blocked a field goal in the second quarter. … Both teams ended last year with wins at Camping World Stadium: FSU beat Oklahoma in the Cheez-It Bowl four days before LSU topped Purdue in the Citrus Bowl. … The Seminoles are 10-0-2 all-time in Orlando, including nine consecutive wins. … LSU has won 12 straight games when rushing for 200 yards. … FSU’s O-line has the most combined games played (307) and starts (214) in the country. … The Tigers will be without DT Maason Smith (NCAA suspension) and RB John Emery (undisclosed).
NO. 7 PENN STATE READY TO GO AGAINST WEST VIRGINIA WITH QB DREW ALLAR, DECORATED SUPPORTING CAST
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — James Franklin has a pretty good idea of what he will see from quarterback Drew Allar on Saturday night.
Penn State’s coach saw glimpses last season and he’s seen it all summer. The strong-armed sophomore is ready to take over what could be one of the more explosive offenses in the country when No. 7 Penn State hosts West Virginia in the season opener for both teams.
“I want him to continue to play like last year,” Franklin said. “With poise and a really good understanding of how to manage the game. I also want him to let the plays come to him, because with our running game, and with the weapons that we have at tight end and wide receiver, he doesn’t need to force anything.”
Not that he would.
Although Allar put up solid numbers in relief of five-year starter Sean Clifford during Penn State’s 11-2 season last year, the 6-foot-5, 242-pounder has turned heads this summer with his ability to make big throws and protect the football.
Franklin guessed it was “practice 13 or 14” before Allar threw an interception in camp.
Additionally, Allar has decorated skill position players around him. Behind an experienced offensive line, the Nittany Lions are one of 17 FBS teams with three 800-yard rushers and one of just 11 with two 1,000-yard receivers. That doesn’t include tight ends who combined for eight touchdowns last year.
“He doesn’t need to feel like he’s got too much on his shoulders,” Franklin said.
West Virginia will have to shoulder the din of 100,000-plus voices in a raucous Beaver Stadium. Cracking Penn State’s star-studded defense will be another challenge, West Virginia coach Neal Brown said.
“I may be conservative in this, but they’ve got nine (NFL) draft picks probably on their two-deep on defense,” Brown said. “That’s not just me up here talking, that’s legit.”
The Mountaineers will rely on a quarterback who’s played most of his career to this point off the bench.
Dual-threat Garrett Greene will likely lead West Virginia’s offense as the Mountaineers try to ascend in a crowded Big 12. They finished ninth in the league’s 10-team alignment last season.
While Greene is West Virginia’s top returning passer, his running ability makes him dangerous. He threw for 493 yards and five touchdowns and also added 276 rushing yards and five touchdowns on 45 carries, many of them designed runs.
After combining for 25 total touchdowns as freshmen last year, Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen are sure they can do more.
Penn State’s running backs spent the summer pushing one another in the weight room and studying film. Allen noticeably is up to 222 pounds from the 201 he played at last year while Singleton spent more time catching passes than he has before, determined to add that to his duties that also include kickoff returns.
They also got a new teammate. Former Minnesota back Trey Potts transferred in the spring after rushing for 1,195 career yards with the Golden Gophers.
“We can definitely be dominant,” Singleton said.
Penn State’s front seven includes returning defensive ends Chop Robinson and Adisa Isaac who combined with rangy linebacker Abdul Carter for 47 1/2 stops behind the line of scrimmage last season. West Virginia is aware.
“We’ve got to win some 1-on-1 battles up front vs. probably the most talented group we’ll play up front as a whole,” Brown said. “It’s a group that can really run and get to it, so we’ve got to be able to break some tackles.”
West Virginia didn’t hold back when it came to hitting this summer. Brown expects a physical affair in Beaver Stadium and believes the Mountaineers have already set a good tone by banging pads as much as the rules allow.
“That’s kind of the price you pay,” Brown said. “I knew that this game was going to extremely physical. When you look at both their line of scrimmages and the talent that they have, we had to give our guys a chance and the only way we give ’em a chance is to be super physical.”
Penn State’s offensive line took a hit earlier this week when left guard Landon Tengwall announced on social media Wednesday that he can no longer play due to an unspecified injury. Tengwall, a sophomore, started five games last year. He was expected to slot in next to star left tackle Olu Fashanu this season.
Penn State has a handful of guards who’ve played, notably JB Nelson who appeared in four games last year after starting 10 at Lackawanna Community College as a freshman.
MCCORD READY TO GET STARTED WITH NO. 3 BUCKEYES AS HOOSIERS REMAIN SILENT ON QB CHOICE FOR OPENER
No. 3 Ohio State at Indiana, Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET (CBS)
Line: Ohio State by 29 1/2, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.
Series record: Ohio State leads 79-12-5.
WHAT’S AT STAKE?
The Buckeyes enter each season with three goals — beating Michigan, winning a Big Ten title and claiming a national championship. This year is no different, so getting a victory at Indiana is an absolute must. The Hoosiers think they can change directions after going 6-18 over the past two seasons. An upset would certainly do the trick, but making this game competitive might, too.
Buckeyes WR Marvin Harrison Jr. vs. the Hoosiers secondary. Harrison returns to the state where his father became one of the NFL’s most feared receivers. The Buckeyes think Harrison and new QB Kyle McCord can re-establish their prep connection. Indiana coach Tom Allen understands the challenge and is about to find out if a revamped defensive line can help a secondary that allowed a Big Ten-worst 274.2 yards passing per game last season. If not, Harrison could produce numbers that will add fuel to the Heisman Trophy hype.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Ohio State: McCord and Devin Brown. Though Harrison is the Buckeyes’ top playmaker, coach Ryan Day has pegged McCord as the starter while promising Brown would see action. That means the quarterback competition to replace C.J. Stroud will continue for at least one more week.
Indiana: QB Tayven Jackson or QB Brendan Sorsby. Allen has chosen a starting quarterback but, as usual, won’t announce it publicly. Jackson, the brother of former Indiana basketball All-American Trayce Jackson-Davis, spent last season at Tennessee and may have more upside. Sorsby was with the Hoosiers last season and has more experience in the system.
FACTS & FIGURES
Ohio State has won 27 consecutive games against Indiana, the longest active winning streak of any FBS series. … The Hoosiers’ last two wins in the series came in 1987 and ’88, with then Ohio State coach Earle Bruce calling the loss in Columbus the darkest day he’d seen at Ohio State during his lifetime. The teams also played to a tie in 1990. … The Buckeyes have not lost a season opener this century, having won 22 straight since a loss to Miami in 1999. … The Buckeyes have 16 all-conference honorees on its 2023 roster. … Indiana has 48 newcomers on its roster this season. … Saturday marks the second time in seven years the schools have squared off in a season opener. The last time was Allen’s first regular-season game as Indiana’s coach.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL GAME OF THE WEEK: LSU VS. FLORIDA STATE
LSU Faces Florida State In Nation’s Only Top 10 Matchup In Week 1 LSU opens its second season under head coach Brian Kelly on Sunday, Sept. 3 when the fifth-ranked Tigers face eighth-ranked Florida State at the Camping World Kickoff in Orlando. Kickoff is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. CT and will be televised on ABC with Chris Fowler (pxp), Kirk Herbstreit (analyst) and Holly Rowe (sideline) on the call. The Tigers are coming off a 10-4 record and the SEC Western Division title last year. LSU closed out the 2022 season with a 63-7 win over Purdue in the Citrus Bowl. Florida State won its final six games to finish 10-3 overall. Sunday’s contest marks the 11th meeting between LSU and Florida State with the Seminoles leading the series, 8-2. Last year, Florida State used a blocked PAT with no time remaining on the clock to hold on for a 24-23 win over LSU in Caesars Superdome in New Orleans. LSU’s wins over Florida State came in 1968 (31-27 in the Peach Bowl) and 1982 (55-21 in Tiger Stadium). LSU enters the season ranked No. 5 in both the AP and Coaches polls, its highest preseason ranking since 2020 when the Tigers were ranked No. 5 to open the year. LSU’s highest preseason ranking came in 2007 when they were ranked No. 2. The LSU-Florida State contest will mark the first time since 2011 the Tigers will open the year in a game featuring two Top 10 teams. In 2011, No. 4 LSU beat No. 3 Oregon, 40-27, at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. LSU returns its top passer (Jayden Daniels: 2,913 yards, 17 TDs), top rusher (Daniels: 885 yards, 11 TDs), top receiver (Malik Nabers: 72 rec., 1,017 yards, 3 TDs) and 5 starters on the offensive line (LT Will Campbell, OG Garrett Dellenger, C Charles Turner, RG Miles, Frazier, RT Emery Jones Jr.) in addition to TE Mason Taylor. Defensively, LSU returns its leader in tackles for loss (Harold Perkins: 13), sacks (Perkins: 7.5) and interceptions (Greg Brooks: 2) from a year ago. LSU also returns 3 of its top 4 tacklers on defense LB Greg Penn: 78, Perkins: 72, and Brooks: 66). LSU Coach Brian Kelly Brian Kelly enters his second year with the Tigers in 2023, inheriting a roster with only 39 scholarship players, and quickly turning LSU into a 10-win team in his first year in 2022. Kelly is the most accomplished hire in LSU football history, taking over the program after 12 years and 113 wins at Notre Dame. He enters 2023 with a 294-101-2 overall mark (32 years) after posting a 10-4 record in 2022. Kelly’s coaching resume includes 11 10-win seasons at the FBS level (7 at Notre Dame, 3 at Cincinnati, 1 at LSU), along with 14 bowl/CFP playoff appearances and 3 National Coach of the Year honors (2009 at Cincinnati, 2012 and 2018 at Notre Dame). Kelly’s record includes a 113-40 mark at Notre Dame, where he’s the winningest coach in school history; 34-6 at Cincinnati (4 years), 19-16 at Central Michigan (3 years) and 118-35-2 at Grand Valley State (13 years). He won two Division II National Championships at Grand Valley State and enters 2023 as the winningest active coach in college football.
• With 43 career starts, QB Jayden Daniels ranks No. 3 among active FBS quarterbacks in games started. He trails only Bo Nix (Oregon) with 47 and Sam Hartman (Notre Dame) with 46. • Daniels has rushed and passed for a TD 15 times during his career (6 at LSU, 9 at Arizona State). LSU is 6-0 in games in which he accounts for a rushing and passing TD. • LSU’s returning starters on the offensive line have combined to start 62 games with OG Miles Frazier leading the way with 14. Frazier was the only player on the offensive line to start every game in 2022 (10 LG, 3 RG, 1 RT). • DT Mekhi Wingo, a third-team AP All-America in 2022, will wear No. 18 in 2023. He was presented the jersey following practice on Saturday in Tiger Stadium. Number 18 is given to the player who best represents the program with his daily work habits, traits, and spirit. • LT Will Campbell was awarded jersey No. 7 and will be reflected with a patch worn on his No. 66 jersey. The No. 7 has been worn by some all-time LSU greats and is given to a player who impacts the game as a playmaker (in this case protecting the QB) and is from the state of Louisiana. • LSU has won 12 straight games when rushing for 200 yards. The Tigers were 6-0 in 2022 when reaching the mark. The last time LSU rushed for 200 yards on lost came at Texas A&M in the 7OT game in 2018 (215 yards). • WR Malik Nabers became the 10th 1,000-yard receiver in LSU history in 2022 after leading the league with 72 receptions for 1,017 yards and 3 TDs. Nabers enters 2023 with 100 career receptions for 1,437 yards and 7 TDs. • LSU OT bookends in Will Campbell and Emery Jones started 11 games together on the offensive line last year as true freshmen. LSU was 9-2 in those games. • LSU returns all of its rushing yards (1,583) and TDs (27) from its running backs from a year ago with Josh Williams (532 yards, 6 TDs) and Noah Cain (409, 10) leading the way. LSU set a school-record with 39 rushing TDs in 2022. • LB Harold Perkins – one of the nation’s top playmakers on defense in 2022 – is back after leading the Tigers in tackles for loss (13), sacks (7.5) and QH hurries (14). Perkins had at least 1 tackle for loss in LSU’s final 7 games. • LSU’s defense will feature transfers in LB Omar Speights (Oregon State), DB Andre Sam (McNeese/ Marshall), CB Zy Alexander (Southeastern Louisiana), JACK Bradyn Swinson (Oregon), and DL Jordan Jefferson (West Virginia). • LSU returns starters at punter (Jay Bramblett), placekicker (Damian Ramos), kickoff specialist (Nathan Dibert), and long snapper (Slade Roy). The Tigers added transfer Aaron Anderson, who is a dynamic player in the return game.
(FLORIDA STATE NOTES)
Florida State enters year four under Mike Norvell ranked No. 8 in the preseason polls, the program’s highest preseason rank since 2017, after doubling its win total from the previous year and finishing 10-3 in 2022. » FSU is playing in a top-10 season opener for the fourth time in program history and first time since 2017 when No. 3 Florida State faced No. 1 Alabama in the first collegiate game inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. This season’s game is the fifth top-10 season opener nationally in the last 10 seasons, and Florida State is the only program to be involved in two of those contests. » Florida State is 10-0-2 all-time in Orlando and has won nine straight contests in Orlando since a 17-17 tie with Georgia in the 1984 Citrus Bowl. The Seminoles are 2-0 in season openers played in Orlando, defeating No. 11 Ole Miss 45-34 in 2016 and beating Duke 70-26 in 1995. » FSU scored at least 35 points in its final six games of 2022, the longest active streak in the nation entering 2023 and the program’s longest 35-point stretch points since the 2013 national championship season. » The Seminoles return 77 players from the 2022 squad, including 11 all-conference selections and the ACC’s Defensive Rookie of the Year. Those players combined to account for 89.2 percent of FSU’s total offense, including 99.5 percent of passing yards and 76.4 percent of rushing yards, and 68.7 percent of its defensive production, including 80.0 percent of tackles for loss, last season. » FSU also added a top-20 high school recruiting class, with seven true freshmen included on the opening week’s depth chart, and a top-5 group of transfers, including the nation’s highest-rated tight end, offensive tackle, cornerback and defensive lineman in the portal as well as top-five additions at defensive end and wide receiver. » Florida State’s roster features 78 different players who have combined for 1,584 collegiate appearances and 39 players who have started at least one game combining for 626 collegiate starts. » The Seminoles’ offensive line is by far the most experienced group in the country as they enter the season with a nation’s-best 307 games played and 214 combined starts, ranking 41 games played and 35 starts ahead of the next-closest team nationally. Nine different offensive lineman have started at least one collegiate game, and seven different offensive lineman on the 2023 squad have made at least 20 college starts. » Heisman Trophy candidate Jordan Travis was the only player in the country to lead his conference in yards per play, yards per pass attempt, yards per completion, pass efficiency rating and fewest interceptions thrown (min. 200 pass attempts) last season. » Preseason first-team All-American Jared Verse returns as the consensus ACC Defensive Player of the Year favorite. Verse earned the most votes among defensive players on the preseason All-ACC team after leading the conference in sacks and ranking 10th nationally in tackles for loss last season.
THE BEST COLLEGE GAMES THIS WEEKEND
LSU – Florida State (Sunday Night, 7:30 PM ET, ABC)
This is pretty clearly the best game of the weekend, as evidenced by the fact ABC will send the Chris Fowler-Kirk Herbstreit broadcast team to Orlando. Whether it lives up to the billing ultimately comes down to whether Florida State leaves up to their billing. The Seminoles are expected to have a big year and leap into national contention. I share those expectations, but there’s always risk when dealing with a talented, but inconsistent program like this one has been since 2014.
There’s also the question about how well non-SEC teams will step up in class when facing the elite teams of the nation’s best conference. There’s no question LSU is an elite team—they won the West last year. They have a dynamic passing game, with Jayden Daniels at quarterback. Florida State can answer that with Jordan Travis.
Therefore, this game looks likely to be decided in the trenches. The FSU defensive line is expected to be outstanding, and they’ll be tested by an LSU offensive front that looks pretty good in its own right. As for the Tigers, their key question mark is whether a defense that’s been rebuilt via the transfer portal has all the new faces playing with cohesion this early.
Can either team afford to lose and still make the College Football Playoff? LSU certainly has a loss to give, but whether they can afford to give it away this quickly, with a brutal SEC West schedule still ahead is another question entirely. As for Florida State, their decision to play a non-conference opponent of this caliber gives them a better shot than ACC rival Clemson of getting a CFP ticket at 12-1. But anyone outside the SEC is at least inviting doubt the minute they lose their first game.
Boise State – Washington (Saturday, 3:30 PM ET, ABC)
The oddsmakers don’t see this game as particularly competitive. Washington is slotted as a solid (-16) favorite. I get why. The Huskies have legitimately high expectations, with Michael Penix back at quarterback and a veteran defense in place. But that defense is going to be tested. Boise State has an offense that’s set to explode, which is why I’m surprised that the Over/Under for this game is as low as it is, at 58.5. The combination of point spread and O/U, would point to a Washington victory of about 37-21. I can buy the margin, but I at least expect the Broncos to score points. And if they can go into Seattle and spring the upset, Boise will be off and running to get their first major bowl bid since 2014.
One more point of note—Robert Griffin III will be the ABC analyst for this game, paired up with Bob Wischusen, a solid play-by-play guy. As someone who rooted for the Redskins and loved RG3 back in the day, I wish someone would have told me during his dynamic rookie year of 2012 that he would be in the broadcast booth a decade later. I would have saved myself the heartache of the next two years. But in all seriousness, it’s good to see him thriving in his new career, and he’s got a plum assignment for Saturday.
West Virginia – Penn State (Saturday, 7:30 PM ET, NBC): It’s difficult to imagine Penn State losing this game, but how decisively the Nittany Lions can make a statement will provide at least an early clue as to whether they’ll challenge Michigan and Ohio State in the Big Ten East. It’s fitting that as the Lions play a rival from their days as an Eastern independent, it will be Todd Blackledge—quarterback of this program’s 1982 national champions—who will handle game analysis.
UNC – South Carolina (Saturday, 7:30 PM ET, ABC): Charlotte is the neutral-site host of this game and will also host the Week 1 edition of ESPN’s Gameday. The ball should be in the air a lot and the points are expected to flow freely. The Over/Under on this game opened at 70.5 before being bet down during the week to 64.5. With UNC a (-1 ½) favorite, that still adds up to a game along the lines of 33-31. I’m most curious as to whether Mack Brown’s Tar Heel defense can be better than expected. If so, they become the odd-on favorite to win the ACC Coastal and eventually get a shot at Clemson or Florida State in this same locale come December.
Clemson – Duke (Monday, 8 PM ET, ESPN): Duke is another team with a shot to win the Coastal Division if they can play defense. There’s no question that Clemson can play some defense and it would be a shock if they lost this game—even on the road, and even against a pretty good team. The bigger picture storyline is whether the Tigers can end some of the quarterback funk they’ve been in since Trevor Lawrence left for Jacksonville. If hotshot prospect Cade Klubnik is ready, Clemson will blow this open quickly. If not, they’ll have to grind out a win. And that will point to potential stumbling blocks later on against Florida State and Notre Dame.