After college football provided fans with a taste of what’s to come this season last Saturday, the 2019 season provided even more fun on Thursday night with a big slate of exciting action across the country.
The slate opened with the UCLA Bruins seeking to get Chip Kelly’s second season started on a bright note against the Cincinnati Bearcats. It only got better from there with the Clemson Tigers, Texas A&M Aggies and several other premier programs taking the field for their season openers.
Here are the top takeaways from Thursday’s Week 1 college football action.
Dorian Thompson-Robinson shows little improvement in season opener
UCLA desperately needed Thompson-Robinson to make huge strides this offseason and show the improvements in his first start as a sophomore. We saw a young quarterback on Thursday who isn’t ready for the big moments and might not even be up to par for conference opponents.
The sophomore committed a humiliating fumble in the red zone for his first turnover of the year. He missed several throws all over the field, threw two interceptions and showed poor composure under pressure. Many thought Thompson-Robinson would be the centerpiece in Kelly’s system and he isn’t remotely good enough to even be considered for that.
Isaiah Simmons is Clemson’s next star on defense
Clemson entered the summer hoping some of its young players would step up on defense and prove they can fill the void left by players who went to the NFL. Simmons quickly showed he can follow in their footsteps this season.
The junior is a weapon in Brent Venables’ scheme and Thursday’s game showed why. He can be moved all over the field because of his outstanding speed and NFL-caliber instincts. He routinely found himself by the football against Georgia Tech and his value as a chess piece paired with his athleticism will attract plenty of NFL eyes.
Charlotte’s Benny LeMay is a small-school star to watch
Every year a small-school prospect emerges and captures everyone’s attention across the country. This year LeMay holds a great chance to do just that and he got started on a high note in Week 1.
The 5-foot-9 senior ran free against Gardner-Webb’s defense and routinely made big plays look routine. He broke a huge touchdown run to put the game away early and quickly went to work on posting another 1,000-yard season. If football fans ever see Charlotte on their television this season, tune in for a while and watch LeMay.
Georgia Tech’s new offense remains a work in progress
While Paul Johnson’s final years with the Yellow Jackets might not have been great, fans could count on the triple-option offense to bring some excitement every week. Fans might not even get that this year with Geoff Collins’ new system.
It would be an understatement to call Georgia Tech’s offense a disaster. A team devoted to passing the ball more consistently and effectively in 2019 averaged just 1.1 yards per pass in the first half. No one expected the Yellow Jackets to compete with Clemson, but this was an embarrassing performance by the new offense.
Kellen Mond is ready to be Texas A&M’s next great quarterback
While it’s always important to consider the quality of opponent faced, Mond showed the little things that should have Texas A&M’s fan base excited. This team has its foundation with Jimbo Fisher and now a quarterback who could help them contend in the SEC.
Mond’s ability to throw on the run stood out as an area where further improvement could take him so much further. He showed that on Thursday with incredible throws displaying great touch deep down the field all while on the move. Texas A&M’s upside is through the roof if Mond consistently shows this accuracy and ability to progress through his reads.
Central Arkansas’ sophomore WR Lujuan Winningham jumps on the radar
Sometimes all it takes is one game for a young player to make a strong impression and see it become the start of a memorable career. We might have just seen that initial spark from Winningham against Western Kentucky.
The sophomore wide receiver erupted in his first shot at significant playing time since arriving on campus. After posting 158 receiving yards as a freshman, he quickly blew past that mark on Thursday. A jaw-dropping line with 222 receiving yards and three touchdowns will put Winningham on the national radar moving forward.
Travis Etienne is quickly putting together his Heisman Trophy campaign
On a night when Clemson took its foot off the gas and didn’t execute to perfection, Etienne still showed why he is undervalued as a Heisman Trophy candidate. It started with his explosive 90-yard touchdown run and he didn’t stop after that.
The junior racked up an eye-popping 205 rushing yards on only 12 carries and made three trips into the end zone. He certainly climbed a few spots in the Heisman Trophy rankings this week and it won’t be the last time he does that. Another big performance in a top-12 matchup versus the Aggies could do even more to help the talented back climb into the conversation.