Saturday’s SEC football roundup: South Alabama stuns Mississippi State; No. 1 Alabama rolls
STARKVILLE — South Alabama quarterback Dallas Davis thought he’d be nervous before his first career start — against a Southeastern Conference opponent, no less — until he walked onto the field at Mississippi State.
He heard the deafening cowbells. He saw the big crowd. He knew his side was a huge underdog.
And somehow, he relaxed.
The Jaguars pulled the first major upset of the college football season, holding off Mississippi State 21-20 Saturday when Westin Graves’ 28-yard field goal try smacked off the upright and fell away in the final seconds.
Facing a team favored by four touchdowns, Davis capped a late comeback by throwing a 4-yard touchdown pass to Gerald Everett with 57 seconds left.
Davis, a 6-foot-2, 215-pound sophomore, completed 24 of 34 passes for 285 yards and two scores. He also had a highlight-reel run in the second half, hurdling Brandon Bryant on the way to another big gain.
The Jaguars took down an SEC team for the first time in school history. The players on this little-known Sun Belt Conference school down in Mobile will have quite a story to tell for the rest of their lives.
“I’m part of the South Alabama Jaguars,” beaming linebacker Roman Buchanan said, “that beat Mississippi State.”
Down 17-0 at halftime and still trailing 20-7 in the fourth quarter, South Alabama rallied with 99-yard and 71-yard touchdown drives.
“It was just coming out and playing better,” Davis said. “Ever since the beginning of camp, coach has preached playing fast and finishing strong. We didn’t start as fast as we wanted, but we dang sure finished strong.”
The Jaguars were in jeopardy of letting their lead get away until the very end.
Mississippi State drove down the field in the last minute and got in position for a field goal. But Graves’ kick hit the left post and dropped harmlessly to the turf at a stunned Davis Wade Stadium.
Most of the Mississippi State fans had long gone home on a hot afternoon and all that was left was a screaming contingent of a few hundred South Alabama fans. And, of course, dozens of jubilant South Alabama players.
It certainly was one of the worst losses in the eight-year tenure of Bulldogs coach Dan Mullen.
“We just didn’t execute real well at times,” he said. “And we had some absolutely critical errors. You can’t make critical errors and expect to win the game.”
No. 1 Alabama 52, No. 20 Southern Cal 6
ARLINGTON, Texas — True freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts threw two touchdown passes to ArDarius Stewart and ran for two more scores as top-ranked Alabama began its national championship defense with a victory over No. 20 Southern California.
Stewart was wide open in the end zone behind the secondary when Hurts hit him for a 39-yard score midway through the second quarter that made it 7-3 and put Alabama ahead to stay.
Right after halftime, Hurts found Stewart alone near the Alabama 40 and the receiver sprinted up the right sideline untouched for a 71-yard touchdown and a 24-3 lead. USC punter Chris Tilbey bobbled the snap on the ensuing drive to set up Alabama at the Trojans 15 and lead to a 7-yard run by Hurts, who later added a 6-yard score.
The season-opening win came at AT&T Stadium — the home of the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys — was also where the Crimson Tide started their 2012 and 2015 national championship seasons with victories.
The Crimson Tide are 10-0 in season openers under coach Nick Saban, including seven non-conference games at neutral sites against Power Five teams that they have won by an average margin of 23 points.
No. 2 Clemson 19, Auburn 13
AUBURN, Ala. — Deshaun Watson passed for 248 yards, including 174 to Mike Williams in his return from an injury, and No. 2 Clemson escaped with a victory over Auburn.
Clemson struggled to put the away the opener even though Auburn produced little offense for much of the game while swapping three quarterbacks in and out. Finally, Watson hit former walk-on receiver Hunter Renfrow in the back of the end zone on third and goal from the 16 with 9:59 left in the fourth quarter.
Ben Boulware’s subsequent goal line interception only provided a temporary reprieve for a team that made the national championship game last season and is among the favorites to win it this time. Auburn finally got a touchdown with 3:22 left on a 9-yard direct snap run by Kerryon Johnson and Clemson’s failed fourth-down try deep in Auburn territory set up another shot with 40 seconds and 85 yards to go.
Sean White drove the offense to the Clemson 40, but two desperation heaves into the end zone fell incomplete, with the second getting batted around.
Watson, the 2015 Heisman Trophy finalist, had looked the part for much of a final drive. Coach Dabo Swinney went for it on fourth and 4 instead of attempting a 34-yard field goal. Tray Matthews stopped Wayne Gallman short, and Auburn’s hopes still lived.
Gallman gained 123 yards on 30 carries, and Williams had nine catches after missing most of last season with a neck injury.
Wisconsin 16, No. 5 LSU 14
GREEN BAY, Wis. — Rafael Gaglianone kicked a 47-yard field goal with 3:47 left, and Wisconsin staved off No. 5 LSU’s desperate last-ditch drive for a victory in a game that dealt an early blow to the Tigers’ national title hopes.
LSU’s frustration was on full display at the end of the game, when offensive lineman Josh Boutte was ejected for a flagrant foul after a vicious blind-side hit on Wisconsin’s D’Cota Dixon after the safety sealed the win with an interception with 57 seconds left.
Wisconsin’s defense delivered in the clutch to back up the strong-legged Gaglianone.
“It was honestly unbelievable when I turned around and saw that D’Cota had the ball in his hands,” Wisconsin linebacker T.J. Watt said. “A little scuffle broke out from the LSU team. In the end that’s the way they play football and we have our ways to play football.”
Heisman Trophy hopeful Leonard Fournette ran for 138 yards on 23 carries but limped off on his final carry, a 15-yard run with less than 2 minutes left. Coach Les Miles said Fournette would have returned if LSU was able to get the ball back.
No. 18 Georgia 33, North Carolina 24
ATLANTA — Nick Chubb left no doubt.
He’s fully recovered from that grotesque knee injury.
Less than 10 months after going down on a play that’s still tough to watch, Chubb ran for 222 yards and a pair of touchdowns to lead No. Georgia to a victory over No. 22 North Carolina in Kirby Smart’s coaching debut.
Looking just as dominant as he did before his injury, Chubb carried a staggering 32 times and clinched the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game victory for Georgia (1-0) on a 55-yard run with 3 1-2 minutes left in the game.
“That dude doesn’t stop,” moaned North Carolina defensive lineman Nazair Jones.
Chubb said he never doubted his ability to recapture the form that made him a Heisman contender before a tackle at Tennessee midway through last season caused his left knee to buckle in the wrong direction, an injury that looked so bad some wondered if it might be career ending.
Southern Miss 44, Kentucky 35
LEXINGTON, Ky. — Nick Mullens ran for two 1-yard touchdowns — including the go-ahead score late in the third quarter — and passed for two TDs as Southern Mississippi scored 34 unanswered points to upset Kentucky in its season opener.
Kentucky appeared in control with a 35-10 second quarter lead as Drew Barker threw TD passes of 72, 43, 9 and 53 yards on drives totaling 13 plays. Jojo Kemp’s 7-yard TD run seemed to provide a cushion that the Wildcats’ defense complemented with three interceptions of Mullens.
Neither Mullens nor the Golden Eagles quarterback panicked as he answered Kentucky’s final score with a 71-yard TD pass to Isaiah Jones with 26 seconds left before halftime. Mullens then sandwiched 1-yard TD runs around an 18-yard scoring pass to Julian Allen, followed by two Parker Schaunfield field goals.
Mullens finished 18 of 28 passing for 258 yards to help Jay Hopson win his debut as Golden Eagles coach.
No. 25 Florida 24, UMass 7
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — On a night when retired coach Steve Spurrier was honored along with his 1996 national championship team, No. 25 Florida looked nothing like a potential Southeastern Conference title contender.
Luke Del Rio threw two touchdown passes in his first career start, and the Gators did just enough to beat UMass and extend the nation’s longest winning streak in season openers to 27.
It was far from the offensive resurgence the Gators were hoping for after ending last season with three consecutive losses.
“We have expectations every game,” Del Rio said. “We obviously want to score more points, but we got the win. That’s the most important thing.”
Things were so ugly for much of the night that Spurrier provided most of Florida’s early highlights.
After having Florida Field named after him and then leading 90,000 rain-soaked fans in a pre-game cheer, Spurrier posed like Olympic sprinter Usain Bolt. The 71-year-old Spurrier flashed Bolt’s “To The World” pose to all four sides of the newly renamed Steve Spurrier-Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
West Virginia 26, Missouri 11
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Skyler Howard played through a rib injury and Rushel Shell missed most of the second half with leg cramps, yet West Virginia overcame setbacks to their top two offensive threats to break a five-game losing streak to Southeastern Conference teams.
Backup running back Justin Crawford rushed for 101 yards and a touchdown filling in for Shell, and Howard stayed in the game to lead the Mountaineers to a win over Missouri.
“We’ll take it,” said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen. “We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
So does Missouri, which lost in the debut for coach Barry Odom and fell in an opener for the first time since 2001, which was the first season under previous coach Gary Pinkel.
Howard was hurt when he was tackled by Missouri’s Donavin Newsom while sliding during a run near halftime. Trainers worked on his ribs before the second-half kickoff and he returned to the game.
Arkansas 21, Louisiana Tech 20
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Trailing midway through the fourth quarter, Arkansas coach Bret Bielema wasn’t all that concerned about style points or margin of victory.
Not with another shocking loss like less than a year ago to Toledo still fresh on his mind.
Behind a pair of fourth-down conversions in the fourth quarter, the Razorbacks (1-0) managed to avoid another early season disappointment to a non-Power 5 conference team — rallying for a victory over Louisiana Tech (0-1).
“I know everybody would have, including myself at the end of the day, would have liked to come out of here with a larger margin of victory,” Bielema said. “But … I knew (the Bulldogs) were going to be a good football team, very well coached.”
The Razorbacks rallied thanks to a pair of nerve-wracking calls by Bielema, particularly with first-time starter Austin Allen under center for Arkansas.
Bielema’s faith in his junior starter was rewarded, especially after Allen connected with tight end Jeremy Sprinkle from four yards out on fourth down to give Arkansas the 21-20 with 6:37 remaining in the game.
Texas A&M 31, No. 16 UCLA 24, OT
COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Trevor Knight threw for 239 yards and a touchdown and ran for two more scores, including one in overtime to lead Texas A&M to a 31-24 victory over No. 16 UCLA on Saturday in his debut with the Aggies.
The Aggies had a fourth-and-1 from the 1 in overtime when Knight waltzed into the end zone untouched for the score in the opener for both teams.
Texas A&M sealed the victory when Justin Evans knocked down Josh Rosen’s pass at the goal line on fourth down.
Knight, a graduate transfer from Oklahoma, outplayed Rosen.
Rosen threw three interceptions while working under heavy pressure from a defense led by Myles Garrett.