AP Top 25 Takeaways: ‘Bama’s Young worthy successor at QB U

Sep 4, 2021, 6:12 AM | Updated: 10:37 pm

Georgia is trying to bring defense back.

In the centerpiece game of the opening weekend of college football, the fifth-ranked Bulldogs put on a relentless, ferocious, smothering display of defense against No 3 Clemson on Saturday night in Charlotte.

In the age of offense, when Nick Saban’s Alabama dynasty has turned into QB U., Kirby Smart has built a devastating defensive machine built of blue-chippers.

Nakobe Dean, five-star. Adam Anderson, five-star. Nolan Smith, five-star. Travon Walker, five-star.

You say defense is dead? Georgia says not if you have a roster full of future early round NFL draft picks.

“We frustrated them and confused them,” Smart told reporters. “We didn’t do very good offensively either, but we did have some moments we could run the ball. They weren’t able to do that.”

The Bulldogs sacked Clemson quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei seven times, forced the Tigers to totally abandon the run (nine running back carries for 24 yards) and held Clemson to its lowest point total under coach Dabo Swinney.

It was the lowest scoring game between top-five teams since Oklahoma beat Texas 12-0 in 2004.

Two and half weeks before from the official start of fall and it is already tempting to start counting down the days to the Southeastern Conference championship game and a possible Georgia-Alabama matchup.

Ninety-one, by the way.

‘BAMA’S NEW STAR.

Welcome to the Bryce Young era of Alabama football. It looks as if it will be a lot of fun — unless you’re playing the Crimson Tide.

Young set a school record for touchdown passes by a quarterback making his first start with four as the Tide took care of No. 14 Miami with no trouble.

Young has a chance to be even more dynamic than the guys who have come before him at Alabama. Those guys, Tua Tagovailoa, Jalen Hurts and Mac Jones, are all scheduled to start for NFL teams next week.

Young is undersized, listed at 6-feet and 194 pounds but that might be a stretch. Doesn’t matter. Those Kyler Murray comps looked pretty good in Atlanta. Young was 27 for 38 for 344 yards.

“He plays like a veteran out there,” coach Nick Saban said.

No one should be terribly surprised that Young is really good and Alabama again appears to be a fully functional Death Star even after saying goodbye to six first-round draft picks off last year’s unbeaten team.

Young, the former five-star recruit from California, came into his first career start as one of the odds on favorites to win the Heisman Trophy.

Still, fans with Alabama fatigue after watching Saban’s dynasty win half the national titles in the last dozen year might have had some fleeting hope that breaking in a new QB could make the Tide a touch more vulnerable in 2021.

Maybe that will prove to be true at some point, but don’t bet on it.

WHAT’S REAL?

A theme coming into the season was trying to determine what from last year was relevant.

The pandemic distorted a lot of seasons for a lot of reasons.

Especially in conferences such as the Big Ten where teams played abbreviated schedules that didn’t start until weeks into the fall.

That was just part of what made No. 19 Penn State at No. 12 Wisconsin such an interesting opener. Neither team was particularly good last season. Were the down years an ominous sign for two solid programs or an anomaly?

The Nittany Lions came away with the road victory, grabbing two late interceptions in their own territory. Penn State faced 95 plays and allowed 10 points.

“Our defense played extremely well, gutsy,” Penn State coach Franklin said.

Graham Mertz and the Badgers offense looked a lot like the spotty crew it was in 2020, imploding in the red zone frequently.

And Penn State’s new-look offense left a lot of be desired, too, though the return of running back Noah Cain from injury appears to be a difference-maker.

The Nittany Lions and Badgers played the first scoreless first half in a Big Ten game since Michigan and Northwestern in 2014. Better known as the M00N game.

The Badgers and Nittany Lions are two of several Big Ten teams that face challenging first five weeks of the season, making the opener feel even bigger.

By mid-October a serious challenger to No. 4 Ohio State — if such a thing exists — should emerge.

Neither Penn State nor Wisconsin look up to the task of keeping up with the Buckeyes’ dizzying array of skill players, but there is time to build.

For those who thought No. 17 Indiana’s feel-good story could carryover into 2021, well, it’s probably already time to adjust expectations. No. 18 Iowa put an old-school beating on the Hoosiers, who didn’t even get all the jerseys correct.

AROUND THE COUNTRY: Fans are back. It’s really cool. … UCLA saved the weekend for the Pac-12, running No. 17 LSU out of the Rose Bowl. After No. 11 Oregon messed around with Fresno State — playing mostly without All-American Kayvon Thibodeaux — Stanford looked awful against Kansas State, and No. 20 Washington lost to FCS Montana, the Pac-12 needed a credible performance and Chip Kelly’s team delivered. Apparently, the progress UCLA flashed last season under Kelly was real. … The ACC had all three of its ranked teams — No. 3 Clemson, No. 10 North Carolina and No. 14 Miami — lose this weekend. … Tulane earns team of the week in the losing effort. The Green Wave has been displaced by Hurricane Ida, had to play would was scheduled as a home game against No. 2 Oklahoma in Norman and yet still pushed the Sooners for four quarters. … No. 7 Iowa State just can’t seem to have an easy opener, but the win against Northern Iowa was likely enough to set up the first Cy-Hawk game with Iowa matching ranked teams. The rivalry goes back 64 games and more than 120 years. … Good sign for the opening of the Steve Sarkisian-era at No. 21 Texas: The Longhorns turned a game many thought would be real test into a fourth-quarter laugher against No. 23 Louisiana-Lafayette. … Fordham linebacker Ryan Greehagen made 30 tackles against Nebraska. Thirty! Its the fourth time an FCS player reached 30 tackles in a game since the NCAA started tracking the stat in 2000, and first time against an FBS opponent. Nebraska easily beat Vince Lombardi’s alma mater.

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Follow Ralph D. Russo at https://twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP and listen at http://www.APpodcasts.com/

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More AP college football: https://apnews.com/Collegefootball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

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