The Top Whatever: Her kick was good

On a weekend in which a Vanderbilt kicker and a Broncos quarterback stepped up.

1. Sarah Fuller, by Alex

The goalkeeper for Vanderbilt’s soccer team joined the football team when it needed a kicker. She became the first woman to appear in a Power 5 game.

That alone is a momentous achievement, but let’s also be clear about something: Her kickoff was good. 

You can watch it here. To start the second half, Fuller sent a squib kick bouncing up the right side of Missouri’s field. The Tigers fell on it at their own 35.

It was a designed squib from the start, with Vandy’s coverage men funneling toward the spot where the ball died on the right sideline.  

Vandy even had two guys offside running toward where the ball was to be kicked, perhaps trying to get an early jump on a recovery, and Derek Mason (who was fired the day after the game because Vanderbilt is bad) confirmed the squib was the plan.

Mizzou fell on it, but the ball was a low bouncer that easily could’ve become a fumble, which might have resulted in Vandy’s biggest play of the whole day. It was an exemplary effort for someone who’d started playing football two hours earlier.

Of course, Mizzou wound up with fine field position, and the kick wasn’t a howitzer through the end zone, so some of the worst people in the world pretended they’d never seen a squib kick before and acted like Fuller had committed a disaster. If you want to see what an actual disaster on a short kickoff looks like, just watch Texas Tech’s men try one the same day

And Fuller, who said she’d been more nervous while leading Vandy’s run through the SEC soccer tournament, might’ve also already taken on some of Mason’s former head coaching duties:

2. The Denver Broncos, honorary college football team, by Richard 

It has become a meme on the little ol’ college football podcast I co-host that such-and-such down-on-their-luck team should just pack it in and run the triple option. Well, a professional football team didn’t quite do that, but they got pretty damn close on Sunday. 

The Broncos’ entire QB room became potentially exposed to Covid-19 because they didn’t wear masks around a player (Jeff Driskel) who tested positive. For that reason, all four QBs on the active roster had to go into quarantine. 

That left the Broncos with few options. The obvious one (sign someone off the street quickly) was a non-starter, because that QB wouldn’t have cleared protocol in time. The next option (have a quality control coach play because he knows the offense) got 86’d by the league because they didn’t want to set a precedent that teams can stash extra players. And that left them with Kendall Hinton … a practice squad wide receiver who’d been a backup quarterback at Wake Forest before switching positions his senior year. 

All of that happened on Saturday, which put everyone on the Broncos in a daunting situation against the Saints, who have a glorified gadget tight end at quarterback themselves, but have a really good defense and plenty of weapons around said tight end/QB. Broncos players were tweeting their displeasure about the whole farce, and there were many in the building who apparently hadn’t even met Hinton before he suited up as QB1. 

This also set up for an absolutely bananas morning of pregame betting, if you’re into that sort of thing, as notable writers who co-author this newsletter fired on some of the most outrageous NFL numbers we have ever come across, including: 

  • Broncos moneyline +790 ($10 bet wins $79 … it woulda been good value, sue us)

  • Total score under 35.5 for both teams (BOTH. TEAMS.)

  • Broncos to lose by 17 or fewer points

  • Total points in the first half scored by both teams: seven (to be honest, I hit that on accident, but late in the second quarter, it was still a chance to push)

  • And those are the few we kicked around in Discord. There were more. 

The Broncos did just about the best they could to craft a game plan. They ran the ball a lot with a pseudo-wildcat, but they could barely get positive yardage. Hinton was one-of-nine passing, for 13 yards and two INTs (the non-INT incompletions were either almost INTs or uncatchable). The Broncos became the first NFL team since 1998 to finish a game with more interceptions than completions. 

“I would not say this is how I planned it out in my dreams, but it usually doesn't work out how you want it,” Hinton said after his honorable attempt at an impossible task. “So, just getting this opportunity and this experience has been amazing.”

Thanks to about the worst circumstances imaginable, this was the Sickos NFL game of the Century. I do not wish ill health on any man, but if there were a non-injury/non-pandemic way for every NFL team to play a wide receiver they elevated from the practice squad hours before the game at some point each season, I would deeply enjoy that.

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3. The most beautiful thing in the world, by Spencer 

The Egg Bowl has its own innate corruption. Someone always needs the win. That someone has to take it from a destitute squad with nothing to lose, everything to gain by ruining the needy team. For anyone involved, it’s trauma waiting to happen. For the amoral neutral, it is the definition of tremendous content. 

The whole thing being “good football” is completely irrelevant, but it does happen. To bring everyone up to speed on Ole Miss: They have no defense, a rowdy former five-star QB in Matt Corral who can throw a football through a door, and a cast of wily talents led by general football menace Elijah Moore.

Corral got into a fight in last year’s edition of the Egg Bowl; Moore, after scoring what would be the game-tying TD, got down on all fours and mimed peeing like a dog. The resulting penalty moved the extra point back, the kicker missed it, and Ole Miss lost. (This caused a few things to happen.)

Now they’re all coached by Lane Kiffin. Which is why Ole Miss, on third and 18 in a one-score rivalry game and backed up in their own end, launched the ball a full 60 yards downfield. 

Please take note: Corral is standing on the Ole Miss 15-yard line. 

And now, please note Elijah Moore hauling in the cannonade at what was the 25-yard line, then loping into the endzone.

Football can be such a constipated game, a struggle of punts, miscues, and interrupted plans. (Anyone who watched Texas A&M and LSU flail against each other in a downpour knows what we’re talking about.) It’s so beautiful to instead see something totally fearless. 

There’s some legit strategy here, yes. A deep interception might be better than a punt, but that was never the thinking. The thinking was that the best tactic Ole Miss has ever had is naked aggression, a ball thrown as hard and as far as possible to a receiver running as hard as they could.

That kind of optimism passes for madness in football specifically, and for life, generally. But some teams exist at the junction of crazy and logical, and they’re the ones that are the most fun to watch. Ole Miss in 2020 is right there, and I hope they never move off that sainted spot in the matrix. 

4. Najee Harris’ left knee, by Richard 

During the third quarter of the blowout over Auburn, he took this hit:

I know it doesn’t look that bad, and he walked off, albeit after getting up slowly, but I’ve seen seasons ended with much less force. Needless to say, I was quite concerned. 

But I would like to thank Mr. Harris for quickly assuaging my worries, roughly 10 real minutes later: 

It’s just a reminder that (soon-to-be) professional athletes are not like you and me.

5. Timing the newsdump, by Richard 

The Detroit Lions had basically 48 hours to fire Matt Patricia after the Texans game. They coulda done it 10 minutes after the embarrassing loss to Deshaun Watson and his friends, but perhaps that would have been rather crass on a holiday. They coulda done it at literally any time on Black Friday, but who knows, maybe they had some shopping to do. 

What they did was quite legendary, dropping the bomb on Saturday afternoon while their neighbor Michigan Wolverines were getting beaten by previously winless Penn State.

I don’t think they were trying to bury the news, so much as they were trying to give a large subset of their fanbase a thing to feel happy about, if only momentarily.

6. Notre Dame’s defense, by Alex

Success rate is one of football’s best efficiency stats. It answers the question, “How often did your plays work?” It defines success as getting 50% of the yardage to the line to gain on first down, 70% on second, or 100% on third or fourth. Is an offense staying on schedule? Success rate is a simple way to measure it. About 40% is average. 

Look at what happened to UNC’s success rate after the first quarter against Notre Dame:

For the first 15 minutes, the Tar Heels were what they’ve been all year: a top-10 offense. The Irish looked like they’d be stuck in a shootout with a team you’d rather not face in a shootout. UNC can win a 45-42 game.

For the next 45, they morphed into the worst offense in the country. Or even worse! The least successful offense entering the weekend was UMass at 24.1%, and UNC couldn’t do that. 

If DC Clark Lea changed something after the first quarter, it worked brilliantly. The Heels turned from elite into a pumpkin, and Notre Dame kept the clamps on despite losing star safety Kyle Hamilton to a targeting ejection in the second quarter. 

Lea should be a contender for the Broyles Award, given to the nation’s top assistant. Whether he gets that trophy or not, he’ll likely get a chance to coach in the Playoff.

7. Kansas, the good news is that none of this will matter, by Spencer

The worst part is writing down exactly what happens. 

This applies to a lot of things in life, but especially to Kansas football, an enterprise in its 11th year of futility and rounding another spin through the doom-cycle. The Jayhawks have won 10 games in the last five years. They’ve burned through four head coaches in the past 10 years. Despite playing football for 130 years, they have just 12 bowl appearances and have not won a conference title outright since 1930. 

Last year, they lost 61-6 to Baylor. This season, they are 0-8. 

As usual, not one thing is done particularly well. Their quarterbacks are on pace to take more frequent sacks than anyone in recent college football history, having hit the deck 42 times in just eight games. They are a bottom-10 team in most categories, dead last in scoring defense. Their best category might be in opponent penalty yardage, presumably because teams playing them make mistakes to stay awake.

I don’t want to make Kansas football feel any worse than simply being Kansas football has already made them feel. They will fire Les Miles in a year or two, and hire someone who will win seven games in four years before being fired for someone else who will win five games in four years before getting fired. This whole thing sucks, and there is nothing to be done about it. 

The upside I want to emphasize is this: If you fall on your ass in a grandiosely theatrical manner, and you happen to be playing center for the Jayhawks, then the thing that always sucks about Kansas football becomes the thing that is good about Kansas football. It won’t matter, and no one will remember it, and for once that’s working in your favor. 

  • No matter what happens, we’re having fun seven days a week in our Discord.

  • The very stupid Shutdown Fullcast and very smart Split Zone Duo continue as well.

  • Also, our good and handsome Weird Western college football history ebook The Sinful Seven is available for the low price of Whatever You Want, with 20% of our holiday-season haul going to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Tell a friend and/or share a PDF as a Christmas gift!

8. Logging off, by Jason

There’s little great reason for anybody to be doing this in 2020, and there’s little great reason for UMass to ever be doing this in FBS, so when the two combine?

Behold, one of the most pointless seasons in college football history, almost literally. The Minutemen finish (at least, we think they’re finished) with an average scoring margin of -37.2, the worst against FBS opponents since at least 2003, narrowly beating Washington State’s 2008.

But they aren’t alone. Ten or so other FBS teams could finish 2020 winless, including alleged powers like Arizona, Cal, and those Jayhawks. ULM ranks last in the computers and could hit 0-12, unless someone does something. The two teams above the Warhawks, 0-4 Akron and 0-4 Bowling Green, will meet this weekend — again, unless someone does something — and an Akron loss would give the Zips a stout case for being the worst team in FBS twice in a row. 0-8 Vanderbilt intends to suit its Mason-less players up in Athens against a top-10 team, for some reason (gleaming piles of money).

Someone should’ve done something by now. Maybe a few things that have happened in college football this season were necessary — Fuller’s squib kick, Cincinnati getting a pretty #7 by its name, and an election-exhausted nation being alarmed to discover the power held by a man named “Dabo” are just about the extent of that list — but we really should’ve installed a mercy rule for everything else. Each team that lost its second game of the year should’ve just been forced to log off*.

In addition to the endless common-sense benefits, this would also mean undefeated BYU no longer ranking behind two-loss non-essentials such as Oklahoma! Everyone clock out and go home, please.

* The only exceptions are Penn State and Michigan. As long as you two somehow remain healthy, you should play each other every week. For national morale. Texas and Nebraska, you can get in on that as well.

9. Suddenly spicy Iowans, by Jason

Two weeks ago:

The Hawkeyes led Minnesota 35-0 with 19 seconds left. P.J. Fleck called a timeout with Minnesota deep in Iowa territory, trying to figure out Iowa’s defense and avoid a shutout. Kirk Ferentz retaliated by calling three timeouts in a row before the Gophers could snap, extending the game several minutes in November Minneapolis weather. It doesn’t even matter that Minnesota eventually scored. Ferentz ‘figured we'd take [pig trophy] Floyd with us and leave the timeouts here,’ he explained afterward. 

And now:

10. Everyone hates working with Todd Grantham and talks about how great it is, by Spencer 

College football coaching is already a real bastion of open sociopathy. But to be something special even in the ranks of a gang of sleep-deprived, aggro control freaks takes both real dedication and an authentic ability to irritate others at all times. 

Enter Grantham, Florida’s defensive coordinator, caught on Saturday jawing back and forth with his boss, the notoriously uncuddly Dan Mullen. Grantham is paid over a million dollars a year to create a specific kind of defense, one alternating the surrender of long third-down conversions with impressive sacks and forced turnovers. His defenses end up in the top 25 but rarely in the top five. Their trademark is blitzing when things get difficult, and then when things get worse, blitzing some more. When everything else fails, there is more blitzing. 

In the course of that, Grantham has: 

  • Made a choking gesture at a rival kicker, who then promptly booted a game-winning field goal.

  • Tried to fight James Franklin after a game and got the very Christian Mark Richt to use the word “horseshit” to describe Grantham’s behavior.

  • Failed to get along with Bobby Petrino okay that one’s understandable.

Grantham has now gotten into an open tiff with his current boss in a year when his defenses have consistently been out of position and sometimes looked like they had no idea what they were doing. Fortunately, he’ll always have his winning personality to fall back on should the numbers get too ugly, and his gigantic salary too galling in the face of his job performance. 

P.S. I really think he keeps jobs by threatening to bite his co-workers. This is not a joke. Grantham is like a Komodo dragon. He can’t take down a man by himself, instead relying on the foul bacteria introduced by his bites to do the work of weakening them.

11. Texas conference titles, by Jason

  • Oklahoma has won five straight Big 12 titles. Double that streak, and you’ve arrived at the outskirts of Texas’ last Big 12 title.

  • TCU has won and/or co-won four different conferences in the time Texas has won the Big 12 twice.

  • From 1997 onward, Nebraska has won as many Big 12 titles as Texas has. (Nebraska left the Big 12 a decade ago.)

  • Not only are current recruits too young to remember watching Vince Young’s championships, they were eight years old during Colt McCoy’s.

  • From 2006 onward, the richest program in college sports has the same number of power-conference titles as middling performers like Arizona State, Cal, Georgia Tech, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Wake Forest, and Georgia.

  • We might soon be able to add Iowa State to that list.

  • If enough things go wrong in the Big Ten, we could even add Maryland or Illinois.

And finally:

  • There’s a chance Notre Dame, independent for the past 113 years and presumably for the 113 years after this one, will win a post-2009 conference title before Texas does.

This calls for fireworks

Last: Lance Leipold

Buffalo running back Jarrett Patterson had a historically great game against Kent State. When UB’s offense took the field with a 63-43 lead and five minutes to play, Patterson was sitting on eight rushing touchdowns (tied for Howard Griffith’s FBS record, set in 1990 at Illinois) and 384 rushing yards (43 shy of Samaje Perine’s record 427, set in 2014 at Oklahoma). 

The Bulls took the ball on Kent State’s 43, meaning just handing the ball to Patterson every play until he scored a touchdown would have gotten him a tie with Perine yards and the solo TD record. Kent State’s defense was nonexistent, so it really was just a matter of Lance Leipold giving Patterson the ball. 

What did Leipold do? This godless heathen decided to give another running back some carries. He pulled Patterson after 25 rushing yards on the drive’s first four plays and allowed his backup, Kevin Marks, to get the drive’s final 19 yards and the touchdown. Patterson finished with a mere 409 yards and eight scores, not the 427 and nine he so richly deserved. Leipold said after the game that he had no idea about the record, which is a factor I am too upset to acknowledge.

Leipold is one of the best coaches in the country and also persona non grata to me from this point forward.