Legit or Nah? Verdicts for College Football's Top Week 2 Performances

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystSeptember 13, 2017

Legit or Nah? Verdicts for College Football's Top Week 2 Performances

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    Can anyone stop Rashaad Penny?
    Can anyone stop Rashaad Penny?Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

    In Week 2 of the college football season, Central Michigan quarterback Shane Morris threw for more yards in one game against Kansas (467) than he did in the entirety of his first four seasons at Michigan (434), San Diego State running back Rashaad Penny had all of the all-purpose yards (353) and Vanderbilt's defense had its best showing in many, many moons.

    Were these top performances legit, or not so much?

    Legit doesn't mean we think the player (or unit, or team) will put up season averages on par with this incredible game. Nor does a "Nah" mean we think the entity will crash and burn from this point forward. Rather, it's a question of whether we believe the player, unit or team will still be a significant national factor at the end of the year.

    Taking the opponent, the circumstances and the history into consideration, we'll let you know whether these Week 2 stars are legitimate candidates for huge years.


    Note: Lamar Jackson, Baker Mayfield and Courtland Sutton all had terrific weeks, but they won't appear on this list. You don't need us to tell you to buy the hot starts from those preseason All-Americans.

Tyler Johnson, Minnesota WR

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    Tyler Johnson is Minnesota's entire receiving game.
    Tyler Johnson is Minnesota's entire receiving game.Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

    Minnesota rowed the boat to Oregon State for a 48-14 drubbing of one of the most hapless Power Five programs in the country. After the Golden Gophers' 58 carries for 253 yards and five touchdowns, you'd think we'd target a running back or a scrambling QB as the breakout sensation. However, when they did throw the ballonly eight timesit usually went in Tyler Johnson's direction.

    Building on the 61-yard, first-quarter touchdown reception he had in Minnesota's first win over Buffalo, Johnson had a 67-yard, first-quarter touchdown reception against Oregon State. He added receptions of 19, 19 and 22 yards, finishing the day with four catches for 127 yards and a score.

    Johnson also had a 16-yard touchdown negated by a penalty and was twice the target on plays that drew defensive pass interference on the Beavers. He easily could have had 175 yards and two scores if not for those infractions.


    Verdict: Legit

    When P.J. Fleck took the job as Minnesota's head coach in January, the immediate question was: How quickly can he turn around the Golden Gophers' passing game? In Fleck's final season at Western Michigan, the Broncos threw for 33 touchdowns with four interceptions. Combining 2015 and 2016, Minnesota had 24 passing touchdowns and 23 interceptions.

    But it appears Fleck has found the guy he'll to attempt to turn into the next Corey Davis. For the season, Johnson has 10 receptionsnine of which have gone for at least 14 yardsfor 268 total yards and two touchdowns. The rest of the Golden Gophers have combined for 16 catches, 129 yards and no scores.

    At 54.5 carries per game (eighth-most in the nation), the early goal for this team is clearly establishing the run. But when Minnesota does go to the air, the 6'2" sophomore who has already nearly doubled both his receiving yards and touchdowns from last season will remain the primary beneficiary.

Shane Morris, Central Michigan QB

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    Shane Morris was almost perfect in a road win over Kansas.
    Shane Morris was almost perfect in a road win over Kansas.Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Shane Morrisyes, the same Shane Morris who did nothing for Michigan from 2013 to 2016annihilated Kansas in Week 2. In his career with the Wolverines, he threw for just 434 yards. In one game against the Jayhawks, he threw for 467.

    Morris completed 28 of 37 passes with five touchdowns and no interceptions. In the process, he joined 2017 Heisman front-runner Baker Mayfield, 2017 No. 2 overall pick Mitch Trubisky and 2017 No. 10 overall pick Patrick Mahomes as the only players since the start of last season to throw for at least 450 yards and five scores with no interceptions against a Power Five school.

    Seriously, this is the same Morris who couldn't beat Devin Gardner, Wilton Speight or John O'Korn for a starting job.

    Granted, even in Kansas' best season dating back to 2009, the Jayhawks won three fewer games than Boise State did in its worst season during that time. We're admittedly getting a bit liberal with the use of "Power Five school" here. Still, it was an incredible performance on the road in a game that Vegas said the Chippewas were supposed to lose by three (per OddsShark). Instead, Morris led them to a 45-27 victory.


    Verdict: Nah

    In addition to all of the blown opportunities with Michigan, Morris was just 25-of-49 with one touchdown and a pick in the triple-overtime opener against FCS school Rhode Island.

    Maybe after five years he's finally tapping into that 5-star potential, but it's going to take more than one week against a perennially pathetic secondary for us to buy that. Then again, next week's opponent (Syracuse) hasn't been much better than Kansas lately, so maybe he'll have one more impressive outing that we can talk about in seven days.

Vanderbilt's Defense

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    Derek Mason's defense is looking stellar so far.
    Derek Mason's defense is looking stellar so far.Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    To put it lightly, Alabama A&M isn't great. In two games last season against FBS programs, the Bulldogs were shut out by a combined score of 110-0 by Middle Tennessee and Auburn. In Week 1 of this season, they lost 38-7 to a UAB team playing its first game in nearly three years. And in Week 2, they amassed just 103 total yards in a 42-0 loss to Vanderbilt.

    Regardless of the quality of the opponent, the Commodores had one heck of a defensive showing. Alabama A&M snapped the ball 63 times with just one snap inside Vanderbilt territory. On that play from the Vandy 48, Damion May threw an interception. AAMU didn't just get held scoreless. It never even had the illusion it was going to score.


    Verdict: Too early to call, but leaning Legit

    Vanderbilt's defense was awful last season. Save for holding Florida to 236 total yardsthe Gators couldn't get out of their own way on offense last year—it allowed at least 307 yards in every game. That includes a 410-yard effort by FCS school Tennessee State and 495 yards from a Middle Tennessee team the Commodores held to 215 yards in Week 1 of this year.

    Combining the first two contests, Vanderbilt ranks third in the nation in total yards allowed per game (159.0). The Commodores are fourth in yards allowed per play (2.89) and are tied for second in points allowed per game (3.0). They're also No. 1 in third-down defense, allowing just two first downs in 26 attempts. 

    Still, these were the two easiest games on the schedule, and it's about to take a serious, prolonged turn for the worse. Vanderbilt faces No. 18 Kansas State, No. 1 Alabama, No. 24 Florida and No. 13 Georgia in the next four weeks. If this team is still top-10 in all four of those categories on Oct. 8, it'll be the biggest surprise story in the entire country.

    But the Commodores have made improvements, particularly in terms of backfield penetration. Per CFBstats, their 2016 season highs in tackles for loss and TFL yards were nine and 28, respectively. They've had 10 tackles for loss in both games this year and are averaging 44.5 yards from them. In both categories, Vanderbilt is slightly ahead of Clemson, even after the Tigers sacked Auburn 11 times.

Rashaad Penny, San Diego State RB/KR

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    Rashaad Penny is doing a great Christian McCaffrey impression.
    Rashaad Penny is doing a great Christian McCaffrey impression.Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Rashaad Penny set the tone early in San Diego State's 30-20 road win over Arizona State. The senior running back had a 95-yard touchdown run less than seven minutes into the game, and he followed it up with a 99-yard kickoff return early in the second quarter.

    Within 15 minutes and 15 seconds, he had already amassed 212 all-purpose yards. By halftime, he would tack on 72 more. And with help from a 33-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter, he finished the night with three scores and 353 total yards216 on the ground, 99 on kick returns and 38 as a receiver.

    The rest of the Aztecs combined for 130 yards.

    "You're seeing what we knew all along, that he's one of the best running backs in the country," San Diego State head coach Rocky Long told Kirk Kenney of the San Diego Union-Tribune. "He had a great year last year, too. He just didn't carry very much because the guy in front of him was setting the all-time NCAA record for rushing."


    Verdict: Legit

    Through two weeks, Penny is leading the nation in both rushing yards per game and all-purpose yards per game, and it's not even close. At 206.5 rushing yards per game, Penny is 35.0 clear of the runner-up on that list (Navy QB Zach Abey). And at 284.0 all-purpose yards per game, he's ahead of No. 2 Darius Phillips of Western Michigan by 132 total yards on that one.

    Maybe he doesn't hang on to beat Christian McCaffrey's best single-season mark of 276.0 all-purpose yards per game, but this is no fluke. Penny averaged 7.5 yards per carry and 14.9 yards per reception last year, putting up 133.3 all-purpose yards per contest while playing second fiddle to Donnel Pumphrey. He also entered the season with five career kick-return touchdowns.

    Maybe expect Penny to take a bit of a step backward this weekend against Stanford, but this guy will torch the Mountain West for the rest of the year.

Tyre Brady, Marshall WR

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    Tyre Brady caught anything he wanted against North Carolina State's secondary.
    Tyre Brady caught anything he wanted against North Carolina State's secondary.Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

    Marshall established early and often that it was going to throw the ball to Tyre Brady many times against North Carolina State. On the Thundering Herd's second drive of the game, Chase Litton targeted Brady five times in the span of seven plays, connecting four times for 75 yards.

    He was just getting warmed up. A few drives later, he got all 75 of those yards in one shot, scoring a long touchdown to put Marshall up by a 20-10 margin after the ensuing extra point.

    The Wolfpack made some adjustments after that play to come back for the win, holding Brady to "just" 60 yards over the final 35 minutes. He still finished the day with 11 catches for 248 yards and a score.


    Verdict: Legit

    Seven of the eight players who had at least 245 receiving yards in 2016 finished the year with at least 1,165 yards. Even if we take out each of their top performances, that octet averaged 1,016.5 receiving yards in its other games.

    In other words, it's not often that a player averages better than four receiving yards per minute in one game and then struggles the rest of the year.

    Though Brady didn't do much in his first season with Miami (FL), he has been most of Marshall's offense so far in 2017. With 302 receiving yards and two touchdowns, he has accounted for 42.1 percent of Marshall's total yards and 66.7 percent of its offensive touchdowns. He's the clear go-to guy for a team that struggled without one last year.

Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin RB

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    Jonathan Taylor leads all freshmen in rushing, but will it last?
    Jonathan Taylor leads all freshmen in rushing, but will it last?Associated Press

    Wisconsin rushing circles around an opponent is hardly a new development. In fact, from 2012 to 2016, the Badgers ran for at least 350 yards and three scores 12 different times. That's 2.4 per season and roughly 18 percent of all games played during that window.

    But doing so with a true freshman at the forefront of the attack? That's noteworthy.

    Jonathan Taylor sliced and diced Florida Atlantic to the tune of 223 yards and three touchdowns. Eight of his 26 carries went for at least 12 yards, including touchdown runs from 29 and 64. He did fumble once, but he was only tackled behind the line of scrimmage once, averaging 8.6 yards per carry.

    While it wasn't exactly Melvin Gordon's 408-yard game against Nebraska in 2014, it was one heck of a performance for a first-year player who wasn't even expected (in the spring) to be in the top four of Wisconsin's depth chart at running back.


    Verdict: Nah

    Taylor might have a bright future at Wisconsin for the next several years, but this was something of a perfect storm of a one-week opportunity.

    First off, Florida Atlantic's rush defense is terrible. The Owls ranked 119th in the nation in rushing yards allowed per game last year, including giving up 495 yards and nine touchdowns in a game that Middle Tennessee played without a quarterback. After giving up 416 yards to Navy in their opener, the Owls are now dead last in the nation in rushing yards allowed.

    Second, Badgers starting running back Bradrick Shaw missed the game due to a leg injury and Taiwan Deal still hasn't fully recovered from offseason ankle surgery. It's interesting that Taylor was the primary back for the first five drives instead of Chris James, but this is a situation where, when healthy, a bunch of different guys will be involved in the rushing game.

    It's almost a bullpen by committee in which Wisconsin will just ride the hot hand on any given Saturday. Maybe Taylor is that hot hand a few more times this year, but it'd still be a surprise if he finishes the season with more than 1,000 yards.

Tulsa Rushing Attack

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    D'Angelo Brewer and Tulsa ran all over Louisiana.
    D'Angelo Brewer and Tulsa ran all over Louisiana.Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    In terms of both total yardage and touchdowns, Tulsa had the most impressive rushing performance of the week. The Golden Hurricane gutted Louisiana for 424 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground.

    D'Angelo Brewer led the way with 262 yards and three scores, but everyone got in on the fun. Sophomore Corey Taylor II had 68 yards and a pair of touchdowns, freshman Shamari Brooks had 79 yards and a TD and QB Chad President punched in two scores from inside the 5-yard line.

    The Ragin' Cajuns beat up the Tulsa defense in the high-scoring 66-42 affair, but the Golden Hurricane could not be stopped. In fact, on 72 rushing attempts, Tulsa was only tackled for a loss twiceand one of those came on a broken play that resulted in a 21-yard sack and fumble.


    Verdict: Legit

    Quality of opponent was definitely taken into consideration here, and it's worth noting that Louisiana gave up 343 rushing yards and three touchdowns in a narrow win over FCS school Southeastern Louisiana in Week 1.

    However, Tulsa entered the season with expectations of having one of the better rushing attacks in the country. The Golden Hurricane averaged 261.7 rushing yards per game in 2016 with a lot of help from Brewer's 1,435 yards.

    Replacing James Flanders (1,629 yards and 18 TD) remains a minor concern, but their two-headed attack has become a four-pronged assault. Brewer, Taylor, Brooks and President are each averaging at least 4.9 yards per carry for a team averaging 334.0 yards per game. 

DJ Chark, LSU WR

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    DJ Chark gained at least 45 yards on three separate occasions in Week 2.
    DJ Chark gained at least 45 yards on three separate occasions in Week 2.Associated Press

    Over the last several years, quick-strike plays at LSU have come almost exclusively from running backs Leonard Fournette and Derrius Guice. In the entire 2016 regular season, the Tigers did not have a single player amass more than 100 receiving yards in a gamethough, Malachi Dupre did eventually have a 139-yard performance in the Citrus Bowl.

    DJ Chark is attempting to change that narrative.

    Building on a 52-yard reception in the Week 1 win over BYU, Chark had catches go for 46 and 48 yards in a 45-10 victory over Chattanooga. He also had a 65-yard punt return for a touchdown, finishing the day with 176 all-purpose yards on just five touches. His 103 receiving yards were the most for an LSU player in a regular-season game since Nov. 14, 2015.


    Verdict: Legit

    This dude can fly. He had a 79-yard rushing touchdown at the end of his sophomore year and had an 80-yard touchdown catch last season. He only made 26 catches in 2016, but eight of them went for at least 30 yards. However, with Tre'Davious White as the established punt returner and Dupre and Travin Dural as the veteran receiving options, former LSU head coach Les Miles could never seem to figure out how to get him properly involved in the game plan.

    Ed Orgeron loves calling Chark's number, though. Seven of his eight big receiving plays last year came after Orgeron was named the interim coach, and Chark has already made four big plays this season.

    Guice is still clearly the No. 1 option in this offense, but Chark is a game-changer as both a receiving option and a special teams weapon. He already has more receiving yards than the next four Tigers combined and could easily amass 1,500 all-purpose yards.

Austin Bryant, Clemson DE

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    Austin Bryant (7) had four of Clemson's 11 sacks against Auburn.
    Austin Bryant (7) had four of Clemson's 11 sacks against Auburn.Mike Comer/Getty Images

    To put it lightly, Clemson's defense did some work on Auburn's offensive line. Normally one of the best rushing attacks in the country, Auburn had 42 carries for 38 yards. Granted, a lot of that is due to the 11 sacks that count as rushing attempts, but even if we take out the 72 yards that Jarrett Stidham lost on those plays, Auburn still averaged 3.5 yards per carry with only one rush that went for more than 10 yards.

    Back to those sacks, though. Per Sports Reference, it was just the 10th time since 2005 that a team recorded at least 11 sacks in a single game, and Austin Bryant was responsible for four of them.

    Clemson's oft-forgotten defensive lineman got to Stidham five times for three solo sacks and two half-sacks. In each of the last 12 seasons, there have been at least three players with four or more sacks in a game, but Bryant is the only one to do so thus far in 2017.


    Verdict: Nah

    I'll take any stock that you want to sell in Clemson's defensive front seven as a unit, but not so much in this individual player.

    A key reserve for his first two seasons with the Tigers, Bryant entered the night against Auburn with 4.0 sacks in 23 career games. Doubling that total wasn't some huge breakout performance. Rather, it was the result of relentless pressure by an elite defensive line and some terrible decision-making by Stidham.

    On the first sack (first play of the game), Stidham stood in the pocket for several seconds before it collapsed around him, eventually running into Bryant's arms for a two-yard loss. The second sack was a play where Stidham ran out of bounds a yard shy of the line of scrimmage with Bryant the closest defender to him.

    Then it was a 3rd-and-14 on which Stidham waited way too long for something to come open downfield. And Bryant's fourth and fifth hits on Stidham came on Auburn's final two snaps of the game against a completely gassed O-line.

    On four of the five plays, Bryant was blocked well by the right tackle. He just eventually benefited from Stidham's getting flushed out by pressure from other Clemson defenders. Sure, that could happen on a somewhat regular basis with guys such as Christian Wilkins, Dexter Lawrence and Clelin Ferrell pursuing QBs, but we're not buying Bryant as some kind of Myles Garrett or DeMarcus Walker sack machine.

Shea Patterson, Ole Miss QB

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    Shea Patterson destroyed another defense in Week 2.
    Shea Patterson destroyed another defense in Week 2.Butch Dill/Getty Images

    Early on in Saturday's game against Tennessee-Martin, Shea Patterson didn't look good. In the process of falling behind 9-0 in the first quarter, he started the game 3-of-6 for 25 yards with an interception.

    The final 47 minutes told a different story.

    Patterson went 29-of-37 the rest of the way with 464 yards, five touchdowns and no picks, leading the Rebels back for a 45-23 win. He led them on eight consecutive drives of at least 43 yards, each of which would have ended in points if Gary Wunderlich hadn't missed a 37-yard field goal.

    For the second straight game, Patterson often found his favorite target, A.J. Brown. The sophomore wide receiverwhom we pegged as Legit last weekhad eight catches for 233 yards and two scores in Week 1, and he added another eight catches for 156 yards and two scores in Week 2. Until someone figures out how to slow him down, there's no containing Patterson, either.


    Verdict: Legit

    The No. 1 quarterback (No. 4 overall player) in the 2016 recruiting class is the No. 1 quarterback in passing yards per game. Shea Patterson has eviscerated opposing secondaries in each of his first two contests. And with California's lackluster defense on the docket for Week 3, there's no end in sight just yet.

    It took a couple of drives, but Patterson eventually picked up where he left off in the opener against South Alabama, when he completed 80 percent of his passes for 429 yards and four scores. Ole Miss isn't eligible for postseason play, but if he keeps this up, he might sneak into the Heisman conversation.

    Of course, after this week's game against Cal, three of his next four come against Alabama, Auburn and LSU. Even the fourth game in that four-week stretch is against Vanderbilt, which we earlier concluded might be a legit defense. But if anyone can throw for 400 yards against any of those opponents, it might be Patterson.


    Unless otherwise noted, stats courtesy of Sports Reference and CFBStats.com and recruiting data courtesy of Scout.

    Kerry Miller covers college football and college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.