DALLAS — Each autumn Saturday has its own personality. Some lie around doing a whole lot of not much. Some get frolicsome only here and there or even here or there. Some go haywire enough to crowd the brain. Saturday, Oct. 9, went haywire enough to crowd the brain.
Barely had the brain dealt with the marvel of Oklahoma vs. Texas, plus No. 3 Iowa’s nifty play that caught No. 4 Penn State late, plus a forgotten Boise State going to BYU and bumming out the loud locals, plus the two crazy 32-29 games in Blacksburg (Notre Dame over Virginia Tech) and Lincoln (Michigan over Nebraska), plus Wake Forest reaching 6-0 for the first time since that 1944 season under coach Douglas Clyde “Peahead” Walker, plus Kentucky reaching 6-0 for the first time since that 1950 season under Paul “Bear” Bryant, or Michigan and Michigan State reaching 6-0 together while very much separate, when a third-quarter score came barreling out of the wilds of College Station, Tex.
It went: Texas A&M 31, No. 1 Alabama 17.
It looked like a score as a smirk. It made no sense. Its charm, of course, was that it made no sense. How the addled followers of a warped sport love it when it makes no sense. Texas A&M, that preseason No. 6, had reached opening kickoff amid another season of a record failing to match a self-image, with two losses logged and all the big talk quelled. Alabama seemed more Alabama than ever. Do you mean a nascent October already could feature Mississippi State going into Texas A&M’s vaunted home and winning on Oct. 2, then Alabama going in and not on Oct. 9? Were we, the people, really about to stare at a top three of Georgia, Iowa and Cincinnati?
Of course not, and so the Crimson Tide and their fine young quarterback Bryce Young hunted and pecked their way to a 38-31 lead, sealing that matter with five minutes left.
Oh, except for now, we’re really about to stare at a top three of Georgia, Iowa and Cincinnati, and how’s that for freshness in a sport that had teetered toward stale? Now they’re cleaning up the field they stormed at Texas A&M, much like the field they stormed at Iowa, or the field half of them stormed in Dallas when Oklahoma stormed from 28-7 down to a 55-48 win in a festival of brilliant madness. Now Texas A&M can relish its mind-altering 41-38 win. It can celebrate preseason backup quarterback Zach Calzada, last seen glumly suffering a glum safety to cap the glum doom against Mississippi State, but now guiding his team 65 yards in six plays to tie Alabama, and 54 yards in eight plays to beat Alabama.
Now Alabama has a 13th loss sprinkled across the last 11 seasons, and Texas A&M can savor the words of receiver Ainias Smith, who caught the tying touchdown from 25 yards on a play when Calzada got dinged.
“It felt like the whole world was on our side,” Smith said.
The Saturday at hand had developed a severe case of bonkers.
Now the cops had to lead Alabama Coach Nick Saban off through the revelers, a laborious trip, and Saban was saying things he doesn’t often have to say. Here’s one: “That was a huge momentum swing in the game, the kickoff return (by Devon Achane, 96 yards in the third quarter), we didn’t cover it right, correctly, so I’m responsible for all of it.”
Here’s another: “Think about two things. Think about how you feel when you lose. Think about what did you do to contribute to losing. And I know there’s things that I need to do better. Every coach should have things that they need to do better. And every player, we did a lot of things out there to contribute to the other team, whether they were penalties, missed plays, dropped balls ...”
On the list of people who saw all that coming, there’s no one, thus there’s no list.
Of all the former Saban assistants to flail on opposing sidelines against him, the one who finally got that batch of dudes to 1-24 would be Jimbo Fisher, that old LSU assistant under Saban and Florida State head coach and national champion until that giant frigate started sailing sideways. Fisher’s note of late had come from his gargantuan contract and its mathematical disproportion to his meaningful wins.
”Eliminate all the clutter,” Fisher said in a game but futile attempt to explain the evening. “Eliminate the clutter, and win your space. Guys, there isn’t no secret to this. There ain’t no magical formula. They’ve got to believe in what you tell them.”
For such simplistic advice, they do pay such large sums.
In a baffling sport in a baffling world, Texas and Oklahoma staged a 75-yard bubble-screen touchdown, a stirring sack, a blocked punt, a sweet 29-yard catch on the sideline on third down, a sort-of-muffed punt, an 85-yard punt and four touchdowns — all before noon Central time. Spectacles aplenty remained.
Texas roared ahead and looked like freshly blue-blood, then Oklahoma roared back.
Kentucky, meanwhile, is now one of only two unbeaten teams in the SEC, as it goes now to play the other, Georgia.
Penn State led Iowa 20-10 in the third quarter before Iowa scraped back as Iowa would scrape back — gradually for a 23-20 win.
Utah had a 35-10 lead at baffling Southern California before a final of 42-26, the Utes’ first win in Los Angeles in a mere 105 years.
Nebraska led Michigan 29-26 late, and Virginia Tech led Notre Dame 29-22 late, before both got overturned to 32-29 and Nebraska had another narrow and crushing loss hinging on a fumble, this one weird: “I thought the play was over,” quarterback Adrian Martinez said. “I was standing as I’m standing right now. And I thought it was done. But regardless of that fact, I feel a lot of responsibility and can’t make plays like that that hurt our team.”
And way up there in Syracuse, the drama-queen Saturday had those Demon Deacons of Wake Forest, that team of charm and mystery trailing 37-34 in overtime, a first blemish possible. Then Sam Hartman lofted one behind receiver A.T. Perry on the left side of the end zone, and Perry contorted himself back go get it somehow, and Perry told reporters, “After I caught it, I closed my eyes. I’ve looked forward my whole life to making a catch to win a game. I’m shaking. I won’t be able to sleep tonight.”
Some Saturdays do leave a brain in turbulence.