The mid-season of the 2021 season is not yet in sight, but it is evident that the road to the college football playoffs will not be as predictable as everyone thought. Behind the behemoths of Alabama and Georgia are a dozen teams who believe their end-of-season championship goals remain close at hand, including a couple whose five-week invincibility will be set. the test on Saturday.
I’ll be watching two shows in Week 6 closely, including one that’s completely off the national radar, while the rest of you worry about Oklahoma-Texas in Dallas, several crucial SEC clashes. and the prime-time Michigan affair in Nebraska.
Let’s take a look at what we learned from week 5 and what to expect this weekend.
A game changer
When you think of Penn State at their best offensively historically, the broad-shouldered running backs dominate the picture with occasional big play in the passing game keeping the defense honest. But the undefeated Nittany Lions are doing things a little differently this season, enjoying a veteran leader playing the best football of his career and potentially the top wide receiver in the 2022 NFL Draft on the road.
If you’re unfamiliar with Jahan Dotson, he’ll be a nationally recognizable face after Saturday’s battle in Iowa.
Earlier this season in Wisconsin, it could be said that coach James Franklin was on the verge of losing his helmet following several failed attempts to send the ball to Dotson into space in the third quarter. It comes after the playmaker already burned the Badgers for 49 yards earlier in the game.
Franklin put his hand to his chin with pursed lips after a failed deep shot, begging QB Sean Clifford to take his time when Dotson is wide open after high school. With 9:51 to go, the Clifford connection to Dotson finally worked almost perfectly on a 42-yard finish that set up Penn State’s winning touchdown.
Penn State beat Wisconsin in front of a hostile crowd, and Dotson finished with five catches for 102 yards, minus the handful of near misses that would have opened up a defensive slugfest down the road.
Since that point, Clifford and Dotson have been nearly unstoppable in tandem during Penn State’s impressive start. Dotson is the only Big Ten wide receiver with at least one touchdown reception in every game this season, and he will be the center of the Hawkeyes’ defensive game plan this weekend as Iowa tries to eliminate his impact. .
Good luck with that. When teams pulled out second-tier shots at Dotson this fall, Penn State offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich found other ways to get the ball into his hands. It’s impossible to defend a quick screen shot in his direction, and that’s part of the reason Dotson ranks sixth in total catches (35) among Power Five spreaders.
Iowa has recorded 12 nation-leading interceptions this season, including six in last week’s steamroller in previously undefeated Maryland. Keep an eye out for this chess match between the coaching teams and how many gashes the Nittany Lions can generate from being the best player on the pitch.
A glimmer of hope
Mike Norvell put his hands on his knees and leaned down at the waist for a brief moment during Florida State’s recent victory over Syracuse. The moment came at the end of the fourth quarter, when his team had a seven-point lead as they needed a third conversion to move forward with their first win. But execution failures surfaced again, this time in the form of a wandering bubble screen from quarterback Jordan Travis who was selected and led to an even score for the Orange.
The crowd let out an audible sigh of frustration before Florida State responded with a winning practice, backed by a 25-yard run for third from Travis, whom Houdini acted on under pressure to put the Seminoles within range. to win with a field goal.
For a team without a win, that was a positive sign and perhaps a confidence factor to move forward.
Bit by bit, Norvell is starting to make progress with this team, and you might point out the second half of their Week 4 loss to Louisville as a potential inflection point. The ‘Noles trailed 31-13 at the break and entered what must have looked more like a morgue than a locker room at Doak Campbell Stadium, pulling themselves together before putting in a much better effort in the final two. quarter games.
In fact, Florida State had possession with a chance to tie the game before a reverse thrust shot from McKenzie Milton caught near the 5-yard line with 48 seconds left. That was it for the former UCF star’s crack at the starting post after finishing with a QBR of 14.8 and failing to deliver in the critical time.
You could tell after the game that Norvell knew an opportunity had slipped into Florida State’s hands. And it was the first time this season that he showed increased ferocity on the podium.
“I’m pissed off that we’re at 0-4,” Norvell said last week, ahead of Saturday’s win. âWe can talk about how many years it’s been; I don’t really understand – I can’t control that. I can control this team, right now, and now with the opportunity. butt to get better. And we’re going to do it the right way. And we’re going to have a standard on how we operate. It will be the same standard that we’re going to ask them to do in the classroom, the same level as everything else. that we do.I’m going to stick to it because I have to be the example.
“And you know what? Does that mean I’m not going to make any mistakes? I’m probably going to make a mistake. Maybe make one today, maybe make one tomorrow. I’ll answer. And so, this is the team I want, because I saw it work.
Norvell can’t afford to make public promises given the weather at his Tallahassee, Fla. Headquarters, but he can look in the mirror this week and know his coaching staff and players haven’t. still dropped the season, which is part of the battle when you are coming out of the cellar. The negativity grows like cancer, but inside the program, Norvell is doing what he can to eradicate such a diagnosis.
It will be interesting to see what level of combat the FSU brings to the field on Saturday against North Carolina, a team that has fought their own battles with Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde this season.