A pair of Cobb County true freshmen were introduced to big-time college football on Saturday, and dealt with very different experiences.
Although in the end, Jude Kelley and Myles Murphy both got to celebrate wins with their teammates.
Kelley, the former Allatoona High School standout placekicker, who made the game-winner in overtime against Richmond Hill in the state semifinals last December, was rudely welcomed to the ACC by a heavy field goal rush from Florida State on Saturday.
The Seminoles blocked three of his kicks — two field goals and an extra point — in his Georgia Tech debut.
Kelley, a preferred walk-on, found out a week ago he was being named the starting kicker, and for many Jackets’ fans on Twitter, they were hoping that decision would be changed as soon as his second field goal was batted back down in his face.
“That was the biggest mental battle,” Kelley said during the post-game press conference. “You begin questioning yourself.”
Despite that, he said he never lost his confidence, and his teammates never doubted his ability, but that didn’t make it any easier.
“I was a little ticked off,” he said. “After a couple of blocks, that will do it to you.”
Georgia Tech coach Geoff Collins took the blame for the poor play of his field goal unit. He said because of the current coronavirus pandemic, he did not work the unit as long or as hard as he normally would because the members of the line were within 6-feet of each other much longer than the lines in the other practice periods.
It showed in the protections. Two Florida State defenders caved in the left side of Tech’s line and got a clear run for the first blocked field goal. Two players came untouched around the left side and almost took the ball off Kelley’s foot to block the extra point. The second blocked field goal was on Kelley. He kicked it too low.
Kelley got one last chance with 8:56 to play in the fourth quarter. He said the limited number of Florida State fans behind the Tech bench were heckling and trying to get in his head, but when the game was on the line, the 36-yard attempt sailed high and true for the eventual 16-13 game winner.
For Murphy, he didn’t have to run through the emotional wringer Kelley did. In fact, the former Hillgrove High School star defensive lineman looked like he didn’t have a care in the world. He looked more like a fifth-year senior rather than someone making his freshman debut.
Murphy didn’t start the game, but because a couple of the other Clemson defensive linemen were not playing, the 6-foot-5, 275-pound five-star recruit took their snaps and looked like a man among boys against Wake Forest in the Tigers’ 37-13 victory.
He led the team with seven tackles, recorded the first two sacks of his career and finished with three tackles for loss. He became the first Clemson true freshman to have multiple sacks in a game since Dexter Lawrence in the 2016 ACC title game.
“Myles Murphy showed up pretty quick and I expected that,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney told The State.
One other Cobb County freshman showed up big on Saturday, although he was a redshirt freshman. Georgia Southern kicker Alex Raynor, a former all-state kicker at Harrison, coolly and calmly helped the Eagles avoid being upset by Football Championship Subdivision program Campbell.
Raynor made field goals of 41 and 39 yards, and all three of his extra points, to help Georgia Southern pull out a 27-26 victory in his Eagles’ debut.
The performances by Kelley, Murphy and Raynor make me hope football season lasts long enough to see what impact former Marietta players Arik Gilbert and B.J. Ojulari make in their debuts for LSU, along with former McEachern standout defensive lineman Jamil Burroughs and wide receiver Javon Baker at Alabama, among others.
Our players will continue making contributions to top 25 programs for a long time, which brings me to my ballot.
This week was weird. The team I originally ranked No. 1, the Ohio State Buckeyes, completely dropped out of the poll this week because the Big Ten currently is not playing this fall. Between the teams from the Big Ten, Pac-12 and the Mountain West, nearly half of my preseason top 25 is gone, which makes for a really different looking poll.
As always, I offer a disclaimer. This is my third season as an AP top 25 voter. I do not care if Georgia or Georgia Tech win. The same can be said for Clemson, Alabama, Auburn or any other team for that matter. I grew up in Ohio, but I am not an Ohio State fan. My money went to UAB, who for three quarters looked like they may beat Miami from the ACC on Thursday. Unfortunately, the Blazers eventually fell 31-14, but they will bounce back.
My top 25
1. Clemson — The Tigers built a 37-3 lead before Wake earned the backdoor cover. Looking at their schedule, it doesn’t look like they will be tested until Nov. 7 when they head to South Bend to take on Notre Dame.
3. Georgia — Two weeks to kickoff. Do we know who the quarterback is yet?
4. Oklahoma — The Sooners beat Missouri State. Any time Bobby Petrino can be beat 48-0, its a good day.
6. Notre Dame — Well, the Irish did beat Duke.
9. Texas A&M
11. North Carolina — The Tar Heels struggled for three quarters, then blew out Syracuse and showed why they could be a worthy opponent for Clemson in a potential ACC championship matchup.
12. Oklahoma State
14. Virginia Tech
16. Louisiana — This was my favorite win of Saturday. The Ragin’ Cajuns went to then No. 23 Iowa State and dominated the Cyclones.
21. Appalachian State — There is a good chance the Mountaineers will eventually work their way into a New Year’s Six bowl this season.