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Week 5 college football takeaways

The cost of firing a head coach in today’s college football landscape is higher than ever. Massive buyout payments that come with the early termination of a contract means that schools pay millions of dollars just to get their coaches to leave. After his exit in 2021, former LSU coach Ed Orgeron received a buyout of $17.1 million. In a recent interview, Orgeron acknowledged the massive paycheck he received, joking that his response to losing his job was to ask, “What time do you want me to leave and what door do you want me out of, brother?”

With this huge amount of dead money being par for the course with coaching changes, schools do whatever they can to make it work with their staff. In addition, they only fire their coach if they believe new leadership to be absolutely necessary. A pair of programs that recently parted ways with their head coaches received validation that their decision was correct by earning upset victories with interim coaches at the helm.

In 2018, longtime Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson announced his retirement. For his replacement, the school tabbed former Temple head coach Geoff Collins, with the intention of replacing Johnson’s preferred triple option attack with a more conventional offensive scheme. Less than four full seasons later, the Yellow Jackets are back in the coaching market. Collins’ firing was announced last week after three consecutive three-win seasons and a 1-3 start to this year that did nothing to inspire confidence of a turnaround in the near future. In their first game without Collins, the Yellow Jackets went on the road and stunned No. 24 Pitt. The Panthers outgained Georgia Tech by almost 100 yards. But, an opportunistic defense that forced three turnovers and 157 rushing yards from running back Hassan Hall were enough to scrape out a 26-21 upset victory.

Nebraska had been trying to recapture its 90s magic for nearly two decades when it hired Scott Frost as its new head coach in 2017. Frost, a former national championship-winning Husker quarterback and a former national championship-winning UCF head coach, seemed like a perfect fit in every sense of the word. The pairing ended up being anything but perfect; Nebraska, once a powerhouse, posted losing records in each of Frost’s four seasons and did not qualify for a single bowl. After years of speculation of his seat getting hot, a home loss to Georgia Southern was the last straw and Frost was fired after a 1-2 start to the season. 

In their first game without Frost, Nebraska’s struggles continued in a blowout loss against Oklahoma, but the Huskers turned things around this week, ending their nine-game losing streak against FBS opponents with a 35-21 win over a solid Indiana team. It remains to be seen how the rest of the season will play out for Georgia Tech and Nebraska, but the trajectories for both teams’ seasons have improved significantly since their midseason coaching changes. This week, another high-profile coach was let go when Wisconsin fired Paul Chryst. The Badgers will look to continue the trend of teams improving their play without a permanent coach and they will have their first chance to do so against Northwestern this weekend.

Georgia needs late comeback to escape Missouri

Defending national champion Georgia’s season-opening 49-3 domination of Oregon (which now somehow looks even more impressive given how well the Ducks have played since) gave way to a litany of premature questions about the Bulldogs’ greatness. Is Georgia’s defense somehow even better than last year’s unit, which was one of the greatest of all time? Will quarterback Stetson Bennett, who many expected to be benched last year, win the Heisman? Can anyone beat Georgia (or even score a touchdown against them)?

After a sloppy 39-22 win over Kent State and a nail-biting 26-22 victory against Missouri, during which Georgia trailed by ten early in the fourth quarter, those questions can begin to be answered. No, Georgia’s defense is not better than last year’s, which allowed over twenty points just once (in the SEC Championship against Alabama). No, Bennett is probably not a Heisman contender after throwing for zero touchdowns in the last two games combined. We still do not know if anyone can beat Georgia, but it certainly looks much more plausible now than it did after the Oregon game.

The Bulldogs’ recent performances could simply be a case of them overlooking a pair of weaker opponents, but they revealed a blueprint for how Georgia could be beaten. Georgia out-gained Kent State and Missouri by about 200 yards each, but their turnover margin was a combined -4. This allowed less talented teams to hang around with them, and in Missouri’s case, nearly defeat them. In Georgia’s first three games, all wins by over 30 points, the Bulldogs did not have a single turnover and recorded six takeaways. Their overwhelming talent has thus far given them a large enough margin for error to remain undefeated, even when they fail to take care of the ball. But they could be in trouble later in the season if they lose the turnover battle against an elite opponent.

Texas A&M and Oklahoma stumble again

Every year, we see teams with sky-high preseason expectations fail to live up to the hype. Last season, Iowa State and North Carolina were ranked No. 7 and No. 10, respectively in the preseason AP Poll before finishing with records of 7-6 and 6-7. In 2020 preseason polls, No. 6 LSU and No. 7 Penn State both failed to post winning records.

These teams pop up every year to serve as a stark reminder that no one can really predict how a season will turn out and 2022 has been no exception. Notre Dame began the season ranked No. 5, but a shocking 0-2 start dropped them out of the rankings entirely. After Week 5, it looks like the Irish might have company, as preseason top-ten teams Texas A&M and Oklahoma each suffered their second loss of the season in blowout fashion.

Texas A&M’s playoff chances took a dent in week two when they were upset by Appalachian State. The back-to-back wins against ranked opponents Miami and Arkansas that followed, though, gave the Aggies hope that they could get back in the hunt. Those hopes have now been erased, as they were defeated decisively on the road against Mississippi State, 42-24. Texas A&M’s defense, their calling card earlier in the season, had no answer for the Bulldogs’ dynamic passing attack. Quarterback Will Rogers continued his excellent start to the season by posting 329 yards and three touchdowns. The Aggies could still theoretically win the SEC West, but it is difficult to imagine them beating Alabama this week.

Despite losing their head coach, quarterback and several other key players and recruits, Oklahoma breezed to a 3-0 record in non-conference play and looked impressive while doing so. Everything came crashing down when Big 12 play began, and the Sooners’ conference slate started with consecutive losses against Kansas State and TCU. The TCU loss on Saturday was particularly backbreaking for a team coached by Brent Venables, a renowned defensive specialist; the Horned Frogs scored 41 points in the first half alone en route to a 31-point win, 55-24.

Texas A&M and Oklahoma still have time to right the ship and avoid the ignominious finishes that the teams mentioned earlier experienced, but it is not a good sign that their preseason goals are already out of reach less than halfway through the season.

Contact Matthew Crow at mcrow@nd.edu.

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Sports

Rockwell secures first home win against Milwaukee

The Notre Dame volleyball team opened their season this weekend with two consecutive losses. Their season opener against Texas Tech on Friday saw the Irish fall 3-1 before another loss, this time 3-0 against Mississippi State, the next day. However, the Irish then battled it out on Sunday against Milwaukee, where head coach Salima Rockwell scored her first Irish win. 

Texas Tech 

Even though the Irish ended up losing to Texas Tech, the squad of fresh faces still had something to be proud of. Freshman outside hitter Avery Ross led the Irish with 13 kills. Graduate student transfer middle blocker Kaylyn Winkler also notched six kills in her first game for the Irish. However, the fresh squad did not come out hard enough out of the gates, and the Irish trailed for most of the first set against the Raiders. Eventually, the Raiders were able to go on a 6-3 run to secure their 25-16 win in the first set. 

The second set started off with a 4-1 Irish lead. The Irish were able to maintain their lead the entire set. While the Raiders fought back — at one point narrowing the score to within one point — the Irish ultimately secured their first set win of the season (25-18). 

The luck of the Irish would not follow through the rest of the match. While the third match would see an even play from both the Irish and the Raiders, at one point even being tied 11-11, the Raiders eventually took the win, 25-17. 

The fourth match saw a similar fate. Although the Irish were able to stay with Texas Tech for the first half of the match, the Raiders eventually secured a substantial lead, winning the Irish out 25-19. 

Mississippi State

Only a day later, the Irish fell 3-0 to Mississippi State. The Bulldogs came out hot on the Irish and within the first set they had a 10-point lead on the Irish. However, the Irish did not give up, and after a 13-5 run they brought the score within two. The Bulldogs eventually won, 19-25.

The Irish did not allow the Bulldogs to start up again with their previous run. Rather, the teams stayed equal for the first set of points. The Irish at first appeared to be evenly matched. But this would quickly be disproven as the Bulldogs went on to an 11-point run. They won the second match 25-16. 

Again, the Irish started up the third set with even scoring, keeping it relatively tied up until the 10-10 mark. But the Bulldogs were able to go on two final runs, confirming their victory with a 25-18 final score. 

Milwaukee

It wasn’t until the third game of the weekend that the Irish finally found their groove. The first set started out with a Milwaukee point, but the Irish never allowed the Panthers to gain too much of a lead. Eventually, the Irish took the lead, 8-7. Although the Irish were in the lead for a majority of the set, the Panthers were never more than two points behind. This was until the Panthers gained the upper hand and took a 23-22 lead. The Panthers secured the win, 25-23.

The second set started out in a similar vein to the first. The Irish started out with the first point of the set, but just like the last one, the Panthers proved to be tough competition. For every point one team scored, the other followed suit quickly after. The Panthers then pulled their lead to 6-3, before the Irish filled the gap on a kill from freshman outside hitter Lucy Trump. 

However, the closed gap would quickly disappear as the Panthers went on an 8-1 run. This time, it was freshman setter Harmony Sample with a kill to stop Milwaukee. Quickly after, the Irish were able to close the gap and take the lead. Eventually, Notre Dame brought their lead to 18-23. Junior libero Hattie Monson was able to bring the Irish to 24, but it was Trump who delivered the set-winning kill. While the Panthers out-blocked the Irish 4-1, the Irish secured 15 to nine kills and had a .174 hit percentage compared to the Panthers’ .064. 

Again, this set saw equal talent between the two teams. Especially during the first half of the match, there was never a major lead on either side of the court. With an 11-11 tied set, the Irish eventually secured the lead, but not for long, as the Panthers quickly shifted it 12-12. The lead would continue to tie back and forth until a sneaky tip from sophomore setter Phyona Schrader, which tied it once again at 20-20. Eventually, Winkler delivered the set-winning point and the Irish finished 25-23. 

Set four again saw no clear lead off the bat. This was until the Irish went on a run for a 5-9 score, before the Panthers again returned the favor and took the lead back. The Panthers were then able to take control and push their lead by three, maintaining this small gap for a majority of the set. With the Irish having match-winning power, nerves were high, and an Irish error eventually allowed the Panthers to win 24-22 and move to a fifth and final set. The energy was palpable.

“That’s what I live for,” said Rockwell. “I live for fifth sets. I just said, ‘These are the moments, this is why you play. This is why you come here and this is why you play volleyball. So let’s just run this and put our foot on the gas and get after it. Let’s be the aggressor in this and see if we can come out and jump on it right away.’” 

And that is exactly what the Irish did. Freshman libero Maisie Alexander opened up the set with an ace, before the Irish would go on a 7-0 run. While the Panthers were able to score twice, a chance for a run was destroyed by a kill by Trump. 

Eventually, the Panthers were able to tighten the score 9-7, and Notre Dame called a timeout to try and ice Milwaukee. This appeared to work, as the next point went to the Irish after the Panthers’ serve went out of bounds. The Panthers were able to get the score to 13-14, but the Irish were determined to get a home win. Finally, the Irish won the set 15-13, and the match 3-2. 

“I learned that my team knows how to battle, they can find ways to win,” said Rockwell post-match. “We learned that we got some subs and we can be real strategic with what we are doing.” 

The team certainly proved their coach right; Trump led the Irish with 23 kills, followed by Ross with 18 and then Schrader and Winkler with 11 each. Monson led the Irish digs with 26 in total.

Many of the lead point scorers were freshmen or transfers, and while at first this was intimidating to Rockwell, after seeing her team together, this worry vanished. 

“The way we approach recruiting is not just about them as athletes, but them as people,” she said. “So it’s really important that when they come on visits, it feels right that it’s comfortable for the girls and that they fit in. So the culture is incredible.” 

Rockwell cites this as one of the reasons her team was successful today.

“They love each other, they want to play for one another and they play hard,” Rockwell said. 

The Irish now face a doubleheader in California against Long Beach State and Boise State. While the team is up for the challenge, there is a week of preparation ahead of them.

“When you schedule tough in the non-conference, you learn more about yourself,” Rockwell said. “We’re gonna start really digging into the film this weekend.” 

Even Rockwell is excited about the prospect of two intense road games.

“I’m excited for the opportunity to play Boise State and Long Beach State, both really good teams,” Rockwell said. “I’m just excited to go to California too!” 

The Irish are back on the road next weekend for the 2022 Long Beach State Tournament, where they play Boise State on Sept. 2 at 10 p.m., followed by Long Beach State on Sept. 3 at 10 p.m. Live stats will be available on the Notre Dame website. 

Olivia Schatz

Contact Olivia at oschatz@nd.edu