Week 1 LA CFB Recap: Opening Day Nailbiters
Well, it was a crazy Labor Day weekend for college football. There were plenty of exciting games, like Maryland running over the Longhorns in Austin and the double-overtime war between Tennessee and Georgia Tech on Monday night. If this week set the precedent for the rest of the fall, then we’re in for one hell of a season.
LA sports fans know that best after Sunday night, because the best game of the weekend took place in Pasadena. UCLA was in the middle of a brutal season-opening fistfucking at the hands of Texas A&M, until Josh Rosen stepped up and catapulted his way to the front of the Heisman Trophy race, leading a 34-point comeback that ended in storybook fashion.
Not even a month ago, I slammed Rosen for paling in comparison to USC quarterback Sam Darnold, and obviously I’ll eat shit for it now. UCLA benefitted from some good fortune on Saturday (the Aggies lost their starting quarterback in the middle of the second quarter, and Rosen got away with a handful of spotty throws), but you don’t luck into 491 passing yards and four touchdowns with no picks. Largely thanks to Rosen, three Bruin receivers enjoyed 100-plus-yard nights, including a 15-catch, 208-yard performance from sophomore tight end Caleb Wilson—Saturday alone nearly doubled his career totals in both categories.
Considering how poorly UCLA have played in recent seasons, an opening-day blowout loss to A&M in the Rose Bowl could have sunk yet another campaign just one week in. Chosen Rosen was able to steer his team clear of disaster this week—let’s see if he can keep it up. As things stand, the amazing comeback is merely the first step in the Bruins’ long-shot chase for relevance in 2017.
On the other side of town, preseason Heisman favorite Darnold got off to a rough start. The Trojans squeaked by Western Michigan 49-31 (the score flatters USC), and Darnold didn’t pass for a single touchdown. He rushed for a score but was also intercepted twice—albeit on tipped throws. Third-year running back Ronald Jones II rushed for 159 yards and three touchdowns, and freshman Stephen Carr scored twice while averaging 9.9 yards per carry, making the ground game a silver lining for USC in an altogether underwhelming week.
It was never going to be easy for either team to look impressive on Saturday—it was USC’s hottest opening day since 1998, and temperatures were nearing triple digits through most of the game. But it should still concern Trojan fans that a cold-weather team from the MAC came into the Coliseum and physically overpowered the supposed No. 4 team in the nation for most of the game. Stanford comes to town next, and you know the Cardinal will push USC harder than the Broncos did.
The Trojan air attack needs to show up in Week 2, and Darnold desperately needs to find a large target to replace JuJu Smith-Schuster. The biggest starting receiver against Western Michigan was 6-foot-2, 200-pound Jalen Greene, but he’s a converted quarterback. Clay Helton may be banking on 6-foot-4, 215-pound sophomore Michael Pittman Jr., who is currently nursing his way back from an ankle sprain, to emerge as a primary target down the line.
So shockingly, after one week of action, UCLA is winning the battle for college football supremacy in Los Angeles. It’s going to be a long season. If the football gods do us a favor, we’ll get a back-and-forth battle throughout the fall, and the Trojans and Bruins will put it all on the line when they do battle in the Coliseum in November.
I’ll leave you with the biggest highlight of the weekend: Blind USC long snapper Jake Olson made his collegiate debut on an extra point. It was awesome, and you can read his story here.
“If you can’t see how God works things out, then I think you’re the blind one.” — Jake Olson