Run and Shoot: October 2008 Archives

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October 27, 2008

11 Lessons Learned from Week 9

It was kind of an ugly weekend. Not hideous, but let's say ugly like the Wendy's hamburger girl ugly. Scoreboards took a lot shots and needed a lot of replacement bulbs.

(The Big Uglies have a lot to cheer about here as win No. 381 for JoePa U. was one of his biggest. Penn State took a huge step toward the national title game with its 13-6 win at Ohio State.)

Competitively, take away the slight scare of Texas by Oklahoma State and a little bit of intrigue in the Ohio State-Penn State game and this was a bore of a weekend. Oh sure, there were a few upsets near the bottom of the Top 25, but the Top 10 had all the mystery of a Harlem Globetrotter game.

Let's get to the lessons we learned from Week nine.

Lesson 1-
The college football world needs to prepare itself for another Big 10 team in the national championship game.

Penn State's last perceived big hurdle to an unbeaten season appeared to be Saturday night's game in the Horseshoe. Well after the 13-6 bloodletting-type win, the Fighting Nittanies improve to 9-0 and have only a roadie at Iowa and home games with Indiana and Michigan State remaining on their yellow brick road to Miami.

But with Big 12 and SEC teams looking all sexy and scoring nearly triple digit point totals, seeing a Big 10 team plodding into the BCS title game by kicking field goals and recovering fumbles to score game-winning touchdowns and sending their coach to the press box for the entire game, my guess is that most of the college football world will be hoping for the upset somewhere.

Lesson 2-
We're officially forming a search committee, rounding up the blood hounds and looking for that thing we used to call defense in our beloved sport.

Did you see those numbers? 58-35, 52-38, 63-21, 63-5, 54-7, 58-0, 54-34 and 42-35. And that's just the Top 25 scores. Two of those track meets took place in the supposed defense-first SEC. And Holy Pellini! For the first time in conference history, LSU gave up 50-plus points for the second consecutive game.

As I said last week, the spread offense is ruining college football. When scores start looking like Arena football scores, it's time for some new rules.

(There should also be a rule that LSU doesn't have to give in to CBS and change their home games to daytime starts. As you saw in the Georgia loss on Saturday, it's never the same energy and atmosphere. Also, got any idea why Tiger Stadium administrators felt the need to have the energy-burning lights on during a cloudless afternoon?)

Lesson 3-
Well, we found out that Texas IS human after all.

But the Longhorns recovered well enough in their new state of mortality to stay unbeaten with the 28-24 win over pesky, and better than we thought, Oklahoma State. But there sure were a whole lot of white-knuckle moments. Even Colt McCoy wasn't immune, committing two turnovers and ditching a pass into the sod on a fourth-down play at the Pokes goal line. All three of those transgressions took place in the final quarter of the game too.

Still, the Steers survived and have one more game remaining on their murderer's row schedule, at Texas Tech this coming Saturday. In fact...

Lesson 4-
We found out two more things, UT's road to the national title just got a little bit tougher and karma doesn't really exist.

Did you see what UT's next opponent did to Kansas? Didja? Aye caramba! Texas Tech was all over the No. 23 Jayhawks like a cheap suit, to the tune of 63-21. That's like a mid-80s type of KU loss. Kudos to the Raider defense too, holding the Jayhawks to just 315 total yards and had Darcel McBath intercept Todd Reesing on three of his first four second half passes.

(Well, if you're going to sit through a 63-21 rout, you might as well sit through it in style. These reclining leather end zone lounge chair seats go for $2500 a year at Kansas. These field-level seats also come with 42-inch plasma TVs in front of them.)

I'm more than willing to eat crow when it calls for it. So far, my curse of karma coming back to bite Texas Tech in the proverbial butt for that last-second touchdown at Texas A&M just didn’t happen on Saturday. The Raiders went into Lawrence and completely defeathered the Jayhawks.

Lesson 5-
You can be a pretty awful team and still be the leader in your conference.

Look who is now at the top of their conference standings after Saturday's games:
- Virginia (3-1 and on top of the ACC Coastal)
This is the same team that lost to USC, UConn and Duke by a combined 128-20.
- Nebraska (2-2 and tied for the lead in the Big 12 North)
The Huskers lost 52-17 at home to Missouri. Wait... maybe I should put Kansas in here. They're tied with NU as well despite that vomit-fest vs. Texas Tech.
- West Virginia (2-0, alone atop the Big East)
Remember when East Carolina was a good team? They beat the 'Neers by three touchdowns.
- Marshall (2-1, tied for first in the C-USA East)
This team is tied with that formerly-good ECU team and has lost three straight including last week's 23-21 clunker at UAB.
- Oregon (4-1, tied for first in the Pac 10)
Ducks had to go to OT to beat a languid Purdue team and also was a sieve in the Boise State loss. Oh and flush those unis while you're at it..

Lesson 6-
It's easy to find the best feel good story of the year: the Minnesota Gophers.

This is a team that went 1-11 last year and had the worst defense in the entire country. On Saturday, the Gophers improved to 7-1 with a 17-6 clampdown at Purdue. The biggest key to the season has been the Golden boys' knack for pulling out a host of turnovers. The U came into Saturday's win leading the nation in turnover margins and got four more in the win in West Lafayette.

(Boil THIS Purdue! Defensive players like Kyle Theret, Traye Simmons and Kevin Mannion are part of the reason Minnesota is one of the best defensive teams in the country this year. A far cry from last year's horrid unit.)

In pulling their first win at Purdue since 1990, the Gophers also held their third opponent in their last four wins to single digit scoring. And isn't it hard to imagine a Pudue squad being held to just 109 yards through the air? That’s the lowest single game total in the Joe Tiller era.

Lesson 6A-
The second best feel good story had to be Rutgers' Mike Teel.

The oft-berated QB of oft-losing Rutgers put it all together in the Knights' 54-34 win at No. 17 Pitt, throwing for a school-record six touchdowns and 361 yards on the day. Nice goin' home-boy. But where has this been all season?

Lesson 7-
Clearly, all that "SEC has too much speed" talk doesn’t apply to West Virginia.

The 'Neers are now winners of five straight vs. the SEC and they've done it in dominating fashion. This was the second time in a high-profile national TV game that a Mountaineer running back ran roughshod through an SEC D. At the 2006 Sugar Bowl, Steve Slaton rushed for 204 yards against Georgia. Then, on Thursday, Noel Devine plastered Auburn for 207 yards on 17 carries.

After a slow start that saw the Plainsmen race out to a 17-3 lead, WVU put the clamps on, holding Auburn scoreless from the 10:20 point of the second quarter on. In all, the Tigers offense struggled again, gaining just 260 total yards, only 33 of which came in the second half.

Lesson 8-
This past weekend assured us that we're starting to see more and more examples of the following things this season in college football:
1- Seems like there is an inordinate amount of helmets flying off of players getting tackled. (I picture a lawsuit eventually)

(Tulsa's A.J. Whitmore keeps on running even though his helmet got ripped off his head on this end-around against Central Florida. Question for some of you lawyer-types out there: if he had gotten injured on the play, would he have grounds for a case against Riddell here?)

2- Pass interference is called way too much. (Don't get me started on this.)
3- The un-catchable pass call on those P.I.'s isn't called often enough.
4- Nimrods still man the replay booth. (Bad gaffes at Michigan State-Michigan, Baylor-Nebraska and USC-Arizona in particular.)
5- Offensive facemasking must not be a rule any more.

(Shouldn't Alabama's Mark Ingram be flagged for this? Readyyyyyy, discuss.)

Lesson 9-
Never, never doubt Dennis Dodd.

Two weeks ago he made the ridiculous statement that 5-1 Vanderbilt wouldn't go to a bowl. Well people, guess what? After Saturday's 10-7 loss vs. Duke, the 'Dores drop to 5-3 and have Florida up next. Hmmm, looking ahead to games with Kentucky, Tennessee and Wake Forest after that, this could really be a 5-7 season for VU. Damn Dennis, if this happens, I promise to kneel at the visage that is the Temple of Dodd.

Saturday's horrid Homecoming loss was due mostly to the three turnovers, the four sacks and a fumbled punt at their own 15 that led to the Devil's difference-making field goal midway through the third quarter.

And we all need to take a step back and appreciate the job that David Cutcliffe is doing at Duke, as the Devils are now 4-3 and threatening to make their first bowl appearance since 1994. Remember when Ole Miss ran this guy off for all those 9-win seasons? Fools.

Lesson 10-
Instead of the "Coach to cure MD" armbands that you saw every coach in college football wear on Saturday, we as college football fans, believe that it would do the sport a favor if they wore "Coach to cure the BCS" armbands instead.

(Those white arm-bands you saw coaches wearing this past weekend was part of a national campaign to bring attention to the fight against Muscular Dystrophy. Nice cause and all, but they should be wearing arm-bands that say "Screw the BCS")

Don't get me wrong, I want to cure MD more than anyone else. But with Texas, Alabama, Penn State and Texas Tech all still unbeaten, one-loss teams like Florida, Georgia and USC playing as good as anyone out there and four mid-majors still unscathed, we're certainly heading for another needless disaster in the post-season and deserve armband unity across the board too.

Lesson 11-
East coasters go to bed way too early.

At 3:24am East coast time on Sunday morning, Hawaii's Greg Alexander hit Malcolm Lane with a clutch 24-yard touchdown pass with 20 seconds left to allow the Warriors to pull out a riveting 38-31 win over Nevada. It was especially stunning considering the Wolf Pack had a third-and-one and could've just set up for the field goal. Instead, Coach Greg McMackin and crew went for the glory, tossing a fade pattern into the end zone that just snuck inside the pylon.

After that, I had reached my college pigskin satiation point and it was time for me to hit the hay... with a smile on my face.

(Ahhhh, the disgruntled fan reaction shots. Hey Mr. TV Executive Producer, you asked for a shot of what the fans emotions were, so there you have it. Now you see why I believe live football games should be rated TV-MA, just like those soft-porn movies at 2am on Cinemax.)

October 20, 2008

11 Lessons Learned from Week 8

I would make an opening comment about college football before we get to the lessons we learned from this weekend, but I'm being blinded by this giant burnt orange steer that seems to be crowding all the limelight.

(Party At Ground Zero! Good to see the members of the band Fishbone enjoy going to Clemson games.)

Lesson 1-
I don't mean to be repetitive here, but we discovered once again that it's still Texas' world and we're merely living in it.

... and this time it's because of the defense.

("Is that a PLEDGE PIN?! On your UNIFORM?!" Texas D-coordinator Will Muschamp doesn't care if his team is winning by 30, he's still reading the riot act to 4th team scrubs that allow touchdowns.)

Yeah, I know, they gave up 31 points and 348 yards and saw Chase Daniel connect on 31-of-41 passes. But while Colt & Co. seemed to be running downhill in racing out to a 35-0 lead in about the time it takes to eat a bomb pop, the defense was holding the Tigers to three three-and-outs to start the game (after suffering only two through six games). In fact, the Horn D held UofM to 14 yards in its first 15 plays and made Chase Daniel look harried, scurried and buried most of the first half.

Hate to say this, but the Horns made Mizzou look more like Wazzu. Is there a word for "beyond impressive” to describe the No. 1 team here? How about if we just say the Longhorns currently look resplediculatedational!

Lesson 2-
I don't think college football has seen the type of QB-receiver chemistry between Colt McCoy and Jordan Shipley since, well... Gus Dorais and Knute Rockne.

You heard Herbstreit and Musburger, McCoy has taken the front-runner position in the Heisman chase now. And a huge part of that has been the fact that Shipley, his high school chum, is injury-free and always there to catch a quick flip at the first sign of a blitz. With his cutting guile and surprising speed, McCoy has simply been nails in the air and on the ground. How about this stat, McCoy is 57-of-67 for 614 yards in the games with Oklahoma and Missouri. Oh and not a single turnover.

(Part man. Part machine. All Longhorn. Colt McCoy is the main reason Texas is the toast of college football for the second straight week.)

Lesson 3-
We found out Saturday that other than Texas, you could argue that Virginia has been the hottest team in October.

Credit to Al Groh. He could've lost his team after getting head-banged by USC (52-7), UConn (45-10) and Duke (31-3). But since those ugly losses, the Wahoos have gone 3-0 with wins over Maryland (31-0), East Carolina (35-20) and Saturday at home to No. 18 North Carolina (16-13 in OT).

(UVa coach Al Groh seems remarkably calm for a man whose team looked lost in the woods on the way to Grandma's house just a few weeks ago.)

To beat UNC for the 14th straight time at home, QB Marc Verica had to lead UVa on an 82-yard scoring drive in the last two minutes of regulation to send the game into overtime. Cedric Peerman scored the game-tying touchdown and the game-winning touchdown on a pair of two-yard plunges to secure the win.

Lesson 4-
We know that the state of Michigan looked more like the state of Washington with its horrible weekend.

Michigan and Michigan State had high hopes coming into games with Penn State and Ohio State, but got pile-driven 46-17 and 45-7 respectively. The Wolverines came out on fire with 185 yards in the first quarter, but got just 106 the rest of the way in getting outscored 36-7 in quarters two, three and four.

(Penn State D-end Aaron Maybin - #59 - has been flying around like whirling dervish so far this season, tied for second nationally in sacks. Because of efforts like this the Nittany Lion D has brass cajones so far this season.)

MSU, fresh off a big rout of previously unbeaten Northwestern and with a cock-of-the-walk stride, got debunked by a suddenly ultra-confident Buckeye team. Javon Ringer, a main source for all their hubris coming in, ran for just 67 yards on the day. Meanwhile OSU’s Beanie Wells went for 140 and Terrelle Pryor was 7-for-11 with 116 yards through the air and 72 on the ground to pace the Bucks.

These wins set up what amounts to a national championship elimination game in Columbus as the Lions will go into the Horseshoe this coming Saturday.

Lesson 5-
We saw another great example of why having polls decide bowls and national championships is an awful idea.

I know you're not supposed to compare teams by scores, but sometimes the situation screams for it. Oklahoma and BYU entered the weekend separated by one team in the Top 10. At No. 6 and No. 8 respectively, it's reasonable to say that both were within eye-shot of the national championship game. But here's what's NOT reasonable: OU beat TCU 35-10 back in September, meanwhile on Thursday TCU punked BYU 32-7.

Do the math. BYU didn't belong in the top 10. Just imagine if the Cougars fluked out a win in Ft. Worth and HAD gone unbeaten. It's the ghastly spirit of 1984 all over again.

(Sorry Max Hall, screaming for divine intervention from Joseph Smith himself isn't going to help your team at this point. The Coogs went down in flames at TCU.)

Lesson 6-
Ft. Worth is becoming the graveyard for BCS dreams and win streaks.

With the Horned Frogs ending BYU's hopes for a BCS season, it marks the third time in last four years that a mid-majors' BCS hopes bit the dust in Amon Carter Stadium on a Thursday night.

TCU beat Utah 23-20 in OT.
The year after Urban Meyer led them to the Fiesta Bowl, the Utes came into the Frog den with an 18-game winning streak, dating all the way back to the 2003 season. But Tye Gunn shot them down with a TD pass in overtime.

BYU beat TCU 31-17.
The tables were turned on Gary Patterson's charges here as the Coogs ended TCU's 13-game win streak. That left the Frogs one win short of the school mark of 14 wins, which was set by Davey O'Brien and the 1938 national championship team.

Lesson 7-
We may have discovered the biggest FREAK OUT team since the 1976 Missouri Tigers.

It's this year's Maryland Terrapins.

When you buy tickets to join this bandwagon, get ready for multiple loop-to-loops and 60-foot plunges on that ride of adrenaline and anger. After the 26-0 squashing of No. 21 Wake Forest on Saturday, UMd is now 3-0 against ranked teams this season. But at the same time, remember that they also lost to a team named Middle Tennessee and at home to then 1-3 Virginia (who beat them 31-0). In the win over Wake, QB Chris Turner was 28-of-41 for 321 yards against what was previously the top rated pass defense in the country.

For those of you wondering, Al Onofrio’s '76 Missouri outfit beat four Top 10 teams during the course of the season, including USC, Ohio State, Colorado and Nebraska, but finished bowl-less at 6-5 with many inexplicable losses.

Lesson 8-
Making a head coaching change in the middle of the season is always a bad idea.

Tommy Bowden didn't do a great job at Clemson, having never gone to a BCS bowl, won 10 games in a season or even winning a conference title during his tenure. Still, it's never a good sign from the administration, to the fans or to the next incoming coach when the head honcho is forced out or fired after six or seven games. It's kind of like a new girl friend bragging that she left her ex after freaking out on him, causing a huge scene at a crowded four-star restaurant. It'll happen to you too.

(Dabo Swinney wasn't successful in his first game as Clemson's head honcho. But I loved this scene here. After his punter jogged slowly off the field after shanking a punt, he instructed his player to go back to midfield and RUN off.)

Lesson 8A-
We also found out that Father Bobby needs to go ahead and leave his post after the end of this season, regardless of the results.

In case you haven't noticed, Bobby Bo has become merely a figurehead for the Seminole program. Most of the time during games (and especially during the Thursday night win at N.C. State) he stands way downfield from the action, not bothering to wear a headset and not consulting with his coordinators. Sure, he's an icon and can go out on his own terms, but if you're that detached from your team's play-to-play operation, go ahead and turn things over to Jimbo Fisher now.

Lesson 9-
Football in the West is still football in the worst.

Without going into all the fuzzy geography here, just know that Washington State lost to USC 69-0, San Diego State lost to New Mexico 70-7, Idaho lost to Louisiana Tech 46-14, Washington lost to Oregon State 34-14 and Utah State lost to Nevada 44-17.

Those five occidental accidents are now a combined 4-32. The four wins? One being against lower division Portland State, another being against lower division Idaho State and then the last two wins feeding off of the Vandals.

Lesson 10-
We learned that the karma police is going to get Texas Tech.

Up 36-25 with :23 left in the game at Texas A&M, Raiders coach Mike Leach not only decided against taking a knee with the ball at the five yard line, he called for a running play to Shannon Woods, who came up just short of the goal line. Not satisfied enough with that, Leach then called for a coach's challenge on replay. Then, after it is ruled no touchdown, he once again eschewed the knee and had Graham Harrell run the ball in with :19 seconds left.

(Note the score and the time remaining in the game as Graham Harrell scores this touchdown. Not cool.)

Hmmmm, oooookay (I say while standing with arms crossed and one eye-brow raised).

Don't worry, Leach and the Raiders will get theirs. They may be 7-0 now. But Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma loom on the horizon. Karma, do your work.

Lesson 11-
We finally saw some good football from Syracuse.

No, not anywhere in that gawd-awful 45-13 loss to South Florida. I'm referring to the movie The Express, the story of Heisman Trophy winner Ernie Davis, which I saw this week upon its release.

Great movie. Well-acted, good story and not a lot of hokey Hollywooding or awful "Oh c'mon" roll-the-eyes moments like a lot of sports movies incorporate.

Favorite part? After Syracuse beat Texas in the 1960 Cotton Bowl, coach Schwartzwalder (Dennis Quaid) told the team that the trophy presentation would take place at the Oak Hill Country Club, but the club didn’t allow blacks inside. So the team opted to go to a local-yokel Dallas barbeque joint. Quick cut to show the team hooting and hollering with the trophy while the Lonnie Brooks Blues Band was jammin' on "Big Dog Movin' In." Beauty song.

Oh and the special effects artists did a wicked-good job of recreating old Archbold Stadium (the predecessor to the Carrier Dome), with its Romanesque facade, and the Cotton Bowl, in its pre-upper deck layout. Apparently Ryan Stadium at Northwestern was used as a basis for a lot of the old stadium footage.

There were only a couple of oddities (re: creative licenses) to the flick:
1- Coach Schwartzwalder tells the team that they must beat No. 2 Texas in the Cotton Bowl to win the national title. But in those days, the champion was crowned at the end of the regular season.
2- The movie showed the final score of that Cotton Bowl game to be 22-14 with Davis knocking down the final Hail Mary pass attempt of the game near his own end zone. The final score was actually 23-14.
3- Davis was shown sitting out the third quarter of the Cotton Bowl with a hamstring injury in the locker room (cue the sad, slow music). But in reality, Davis never sat out, even grabbing an interception on the second Texas drive of the second half.
4- Jim Brown, a mentor to Davis, is shown in the stands at Davis' first Syracuse game. I'm guessing the Browns would've had a game that weekend and he'd be in Cleveland that day.
5- Though there was a handful of incidents and racial epithets thrown around when Davis is at Syracuse in the movie, by all accounts, African Americans were treated remarkably well at the upstate New York campus in the late 50s and early 60s.

But I do have one last question:

Who got portrayed worse in The Express…
A- West Virginia fans.
B- Texas football players.
C- The state of Arkansas in general..

(Never mind the horrible comb-over, how the hell can John Parker Wilson play an entire 3-hour football game and still have perfectly coifed hair without any sign of sweating?)

October 12, 2008

11 Lessons Learned from Week 7

While the emotions of college football are getting more and more Springer-like, let's get our pens and paper out for the 11 lessons we received from the roller coaster world of college football this weekend.

(It's obviously Colt McCoy's world and we are merely taking up all the end zone seats and yelling "Woo!" at him.)

Lesson 1-

Like the Men's Warehouse guy says in his TV commercials, I guarantee it. On Saturday we saw that the national title and Heisman races take a couple of downturns and uprisings.

National title chase:
Add in:
Penn State.

Take out:
Notre Dame
LSU (?... depending on how voters view a 30-point loss)

Heisman Trophy watch list:
Add in:
Colt McCoy
Javon Ringer
Tim Tebow.
Daryll Clark

Take out:
Jimmy Clausen
Chase Daniel (?... unless a career game at Texas follows)

Lesson 2-

Texas revives the ghosts of 2005 and Colt McCoy jumps into the Heisman race. Here are 10 other observations about Saturday's Red River Shootout.

1- Mack Brown finally proved he could win a big game without needing somebody named Vince Young. (Yeah, I know they've won three of the last four vs. OU, but it just feels like this is his first "big" win since the big fella left.)
2- Texas showed more guts than two-lane road kill. Great comebacks in tough situations all day long. Dare I say, Colt was VY-esque.
3- Despite just a one-point lead at halftime, you got the feeling that Oklahoma had the better team and it was just waiting to explode.
4- Despite the one-point deficit at halftime, the Longhorn's second half performance proved they were the better team and were just waiting to explode.
5- The injury to LB Ryan Reynolds left the Sooners way too vulnerable in the middle. That was the biggest difference in the two halves between these teams.
6- McCoy and Bradford are amazing quarterbacks. I don't know if I've ever seen such pinpoint accuracy. McCoy hit 80% and Bradford hit 72%
7- McCoy is either very smart, a good actor or a wimp. I liked Herbstreit's "Is this a soccer game?" remarks whenever the Horn QB would go down like a feather to pick up a late hit call. Then again, OU punter Mike Knall upped the ante with is antics.
8- The officiating in general was pretty horrible. Lots of ghost calls on interference and roughing and that call on Lamont Robinson's end zone interception should've been reviewed.
9- Oklahoma special teams not so special. Jordan Shipley burned the Big Red on the kickoff return and the fake punt when up 28-27 in the third quarter may have been the biggest play of the game. From that point on the pendulum swung the burnt orange way.
10- If I see any more live shots of that gross Texas State Fair fried food, I’m gonna hurl. (Then again, if I do regurgitate into a deep fryer, they may turn it into another food to sell.)

(So can somebody tell me exactly why the city of Dallas spent millions of dollars on refurbishing and adding seats the the cruddy old Cotton Bowl when SMU doesn't play there anymore and the Cowboys are building some 120,000 seat monstrosity in the 'burbs? Word is that's where the Cotton Bowl game and possibly the OU-UT game will eventually end up anyway.)

Lesson 3-

Maybe it's the vanilla unis. Maybe it's because their coach is in the press box. Or maybe it's the we-surrender white towels their fans wave. Either way, the Nittany Lions should have more people talking. PSU now takes over the Texas role as the prime under-the-radar team after spending their Saturday handing Wisconsin its worst loss since 1989 in the Big Red’s backyard.

Okay, I hate seeing Joe Paterno sitting up there in the coach's box, but his boys are looking good, particularly quarterback Daryll Clark, who threw for 244 yards on 16-for-25 passing. And that defense? Great jiggers of Gin! They have every offense they meet throwing in the white towel of surrender.

Lesson 4-

You saw the clip, right? Tim Tebow, after the Ole Miss loss saying nobody was going to work harder to play better than he and his Gators. Let’s see... 51-21 over the defending national champions? You’ve got us screaming "uncle!" here Mr. Tebow.

You have to like how the Gators came out with their hair on fire too. LSU had given up just three points in the first quarter all season, but three plays into this bad boy and the chomp was on, thanks to the tip-drill good fortune of Tebow and Percy Harvin going for 70 yards. Other than a few hairy moments in the third quarter, this was a no-brainer.

Here are the three biggest things to take away from this game:
1- Tebow may be back, but did you notice Jeffery Demps ran for 129 yards and Chris Rainey ran for 66? Yes, a running game other than Tebow and Harvin!
2- LSU ran for a total of 80 yards, including just 35 from bruising Charles Scott.
3- Don't snicker out loud because I know it sounds pretty crazy right now, but this game could be a preview to the SEC title game. There I said it.

(Brandon Spikes really wasn't doing anything unsportsmanlike after returning that interception for a Gator touchdown, he just kicked his leg up like a Radio City Rockette and the ball happened to get in the way of his foot. That's all. Just like PacMan Jones, he's innocent.)

Lesson 5-

Oklahoma State provided possibly the most stunning score of the night, beating Missouri in Columbia 28-23. And no, Chase Daniel didn’t get abducted by aliens, he played in the game (though at times we wonder if that was really our Heisman front-runner out there.)

OSU is now 6-0 for the first time since WWII and pull off a win over a Top 10 team for just the second time in 36 tries. Daniel still finished the night going 39-of-52 for 390 yards, but the Pokes picked him off three times in the second half and busted that ballyhooed streak of Mizzou not going three and out in their previous 52 drives.

(Maybe it was the No. 25 jersey he wore or the glassy-eyed look on his countenance here, but Chase Daniel just didn't seem to be his old self vs. OSU. Of course it could've been those 2nd half interceptions too.)

Lesson 6-

• No. 13 Vanderbilt lost at Mississippi State 17-14.
Okay Commodores, you had your moment - a win over sick-kitten Auburn - hope you enjoyed it while it lasted. Now unlike Dennis Dodd, I'm not going to suggest they won’t go to a bowl game. All they need is one more win, ya' know?

• Unbeaten Northwestern lost at home to Michigan State 37-20.
Say goodbye to the Wildcats' Big 10 title hopes, say hello to the Spartans'. Ringer is the bell-cow again going for 124 yards and two scores.

(One of the most cogent moments of the entire weekend was when Northwestern went on an 18-play drive in the 4th quarter, but bogged down inside the MSU five. When the Cats decided to settle for a field goal instead of going for it on 4th and a yard, running back Tyrell Sutton was obviously angry at head coach Pat Fitzgerald. Coach Fitz wasn't pleased with this insubordination.)

• Unranked 4-1 Notre Dame lost at North Carolina 29-24.
The ending was almost like the '72 USA-USSR basketball game, but a fumble inside the UNC 10 yard line cemented things. In all, five turnovers killed the Irish.

Lesson 7-

Last year it was second-stringer Tavita Pritchard upsetting unbeaten USC in the Coliseum. Saturday, Pritchard got dinged up, backup Jason Forcier lost three turnovers and that opened the door for third-stringer Alex Loukas to lead the Cardinal to a 24-23 win at Arizona. The athletic Loukas had thrown just seven passes going into Saturday's game but took the final 12 snaps for the Cardinal, including a last minute game-winning drive where he ran for 32 of the 65 yards.

With 25 seconds left running back Toby Gerhart plunged in for the final yard to account for the winning TD. The biggest problem for Arizona was stalling out inside the SU five on two separate occasions in the fourth quarter, settling for field goals instead of touchdowns. SU is now 3-1 in Pac 10 play. The UofA fall to 2-1 and 4-2 overall.

Lesson 8-

It was West Virginia fans when they heard that Michigan had lost to a MAC school (Toledo) for the first time ever, 13-10, in the Big House. I'm not one to judge after six games, even if they ARE transitioning under a new coaching staff and a new offensive scheme, but this is Michigan here people. Just think how the two recruiting classes compare over the last four years. They should have enough talent to beat a 1-4 Rockets team even if they had Mo, Larry and Curly coaching them using the Single Wing formation the whole game.

(Doing his best Abe Gibron imitation, Toledo coach Tom Amstutz sees his sideline explode after Michgan's missed field goal with four seconds left.)

Lesson 9-

Tied with upset-minded Nebraska at 24 and just over four minutes left in the game, Texas Tech coach Mike Leach decided to go for it on a 4th-and-4 at his own 36. Somehow, All American Michael Crabtree got behind the secondary and caught a 43-yard pass with led to a go-ahead touchdown.

After pulling out a 37-31 win in overtime, QB Graham Harrell admitted it wasn’t planned that way.

"We just wanted to try to get the defense offside." Harrell chuckled. "He (Coach Leach) didn't tell him to snap it. But on 4th-and-4 you know I'm going to Crab and he made a play for me."

(Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree are all smiles after beating Nebraska in overtime. It was here that Harrell admitted that the key 4th down play that lead to Tech taking a late lead was supposed to be merely an attempt to pull the Huskers offsides, not the 43-yard bomb that resulted.)

Lesson 10-

Auburn's games have become nearly un-watchable. Until they get more than 190 yards of offense and their fans eventually stop booing, they should be taken off the air.

Meanwhile Washington State, fresh off a 66-13 loss to Oregon State on Fox Sports, is rewarded for this outstanding effort by getting next week's home game with USC also featured on Fox.

And how about this one: next week's evening game on DIRECTV's GamePlan is 1-6 Idaho at 2-4 Louisiana Tech. Where do I go to get my money back?

Lesson 11-

Ours is a sport run by fads. The spread offense is all the rage now, but have you seen what some teams are doing with it? Watching teams like Auburn, Michigan, LSU and Clemson try to run it with fish-out-of-water quarterbacks is like watching a baby giraffe try to take its first steps while the lions are circling.

Auburn has been the poster child program. Offensive guru Tony Franklin just reassured that the sales of his 3,000 dollar spread offense DVD will flat line after getting run off after six games as O-coordinator this week. This from a program that could run on the Russian Army in past years.

West Virginia has been like a fork with no prongs since Pat White has been on the injured list, including scoring just 17 points against Syracuse. Plus, you remember the Pitt game last December, right? Aye-yaye-yaye.

The spread is tailored for programs like Hawaii, Baylor and Northwestern that don't have the resources year-in, year-out. But teams like Auburn, Michigan and Clemson with much better athletes shouldn’t rely on such gimmicks and should be able to bruise their way with great ground games and effective passing attacks.

Look people, not everybody can have a Vince Young running the new wrinkle offense of the day. Just like every other offense that has come down Mt. Hashmark, defenses are going to get better and better against it. Soon, who knows, we may be looking at the spread as the 2000s version of the wishbone.

Emory Bellard, are you feeling this?

October 06, 2008

11 Lessons Learned from Week 6

We're already into the second month of college football for 2008. My, that first third of the season went quickly. Here's what we learned from this weekend's action.

(You think the media wants to know how Mark Sanchez's knee is doing? Here he is under a crush of media after the Oregon game. USC's easy win was part of the reason this weekend was a rather boring one for college football.)

Lesson 1-

This was a pretty pedestrian Saturday in college football. Other than Vanderbilt's win over Auburn, it was mostly quiet scoreboard watching.

But don't worry, on the horizon lies the Red River Shootout. No. 1 OU. No. 5 Texas. Sam Bradford. Colt McCoy. Texas State Fair. Big Tex. THIS is how we like to see the OU-Texas, back on the main stage. If that's not enough, consider the LSU-Florida matchup in the Swamp. Last year's game was one of the hardest-hitting, most exciting games of the year. This one should be no different.

Don't forget about unbeatens Missouri and Oklahoma State and unbeaten Northwestern going to play Michigan State. Yummy.

Lesson 2-

Yes, I realize that above statement may actually require a question mark at the end, but after Vanderbilt's 14-13 win over Auburn, the Commodores are sitting atop the SEC East. Go ahead, take a look, I'm not lying. And it's pretty cool.

(That's right SEC, the team atop your standings doesn't even have end zone seats in its stadium. Are you going to stand for that? Vanderbilt's Justin Wheeler hauls in the first TD of the game for the 'Dores.)

The one point difference in the game? That came from a missed extra point by Auburn's Wes Byrum in the first quarter. Remember he was the guy that mocked the Gator chomp last year. Karma dude.

Big props to backup QB Mackenzi Adams, the former starter came off the bench and threw both touchdowns in overcoming a 13-0 deficit. VU is now 5-0 for the first time since 1943. Sword 'em!

Lesson 3-

No SEC honks, I didn't say the Big 12 was the best conference - though if you think about it, maybe it is. We already knew that Oklahoma, Texas and Missouri were legit (although I'm still curious about your defense Tigers). But Texas Tech's dismantling of Kansas State (58-28) and Oklahoma State's deconstruction of Texas A&M (56-28) give us hints that these two are ready to join those higher-ups in the rakings.

Here's how the Big 12 has put its stamp on the newest Coach's Top 25:
1- Oklahoma (5-0)
2- Missouri (5-0)
5- Texas (5-0)
7- Texas Tech (5-0)
15- Kansas (4-1)
17- Oklahoma State (5-0)

Lesson 4-

Tech held Josh Freeman to 13-for-28 passing and the Cats to just 296 yards in all. On top of that, Tech's D also held KSU to 2-for-12 third down conversions.

(Alice Cooper rip-off artist. Texas Tech's defense is starting to look a little scary after Saturday's win at Kansas State. But how will it hold up against Texas and Oklahoma? Now THAT could be ugly.)

Okie State, having scored 50+ points in its last four games in a row, got five turnovers and held Texas A&M to three three-and-outs in the first half alone from its defense.

Just a side note here when OSU plays Missouri next week, keep an eye on wideout Dez Bryant, who caught three touchdown passes from Zac Robinson and also returned a punt 78 yards for another score. He's the Jeremy Maclin of the Pokes offense.

Lesson 5-

This kid is going to be something else. Winning in volatile Camp Randall Stadium, albeit without the UW band because of hazing allegations (silly band geeks), is a huge first step in his emergence. Cucumber-like, Pryor was 13-of-19 for 144 yards and also ran for the winning touchdown with just over a minute left.

It also helped having Beanie Wells back in form, rushing for 168 yards. I know most of the college football world isn't going to want to hear this, but the Buckeyes are a whole new team now and could be back in contention for the BCS title game with a few breaks here and there. Go ahead, let that statement sift into your brain there.

Lesson 6-

Is this the same UVa team we've been seeing lately getting outscored 128-20 by BCS teams? And Maryland, winners over Cal and Clemson recently, had been mentioned as legit contender to Wake Forest for the ACC title, until this.

A new force has emerged behind center as Marc Verica came on to go 25-of-34 for 226 yards, two TDs and no interceptions. And the Terps not even getting a point on the board? Awful.

Lesson 7-

I can't figure this team out. Do they exist solely to cause heartbreak to fellow Big East teams? Last year it was their upset of West Virginia that knocked the Mountaineers out of the national title game. On Thursday night, it was a 26-21 upset of South Floirda that knocked the Bulls out of the Top 10. Either way, Dave Wannstedt needed a victory like this as the Panthers quietly improve to 4-1 on the season.

Remember that the Panthers are same team that lost their season-opening game to Bowling Green? LeSean McCoy has finally shaken off the cobwebs, going to 142 yards in 28 carries to help salt the game away. It was McCoy's second straight 140+ effort in a row.

Lesson 8-

Only difference from last week's stunning Oregon State upset of No. 1 ranked USC is that this week's Thursday night highjacking came with the ranked team (South Florida) losing at home.

And speaking of the Beavers and Thursday night games, did you notice how close unbeaten Utah came to losing its Thursday night game too? The pesky Beavs nearly pulled off another stunner, ultimately allowing the Utes to score 11 points in the final minute and a half to win 31-28.

Lesson 9-

Utah's Louie Sakoda.

("King Louie" gets a post game interview after his game-winning kick over Oregon State. This guy's been Mr. Steady for the Utes as they improve to 6-0.)

His 37-yard field goal as time expired kept Utah's BCS dreams alive. Sakoda finished the game going 3-for-3 on the night and is now 13-for-15 on the season. Don't forget, he also went 4-for-4 in the season opening win at Michigan, including one from 53 yards that ended up accounting for the final margin. Sakoda is also averaging 44.9 yards per punt on the season. That's pretty fly for a 5'9" guy.

Lesson 10-

East Carolina made a big deal out of beating No. 8 West Virginia. UCLA claimed it was "back" on the strength of a win over No. 17 Tennessee. Alabama claims a pair of wins over Top 10 teams, including one over No. 9 Clemson.

Look, wins over those teams and a nickel will get you a cup of jack squat now. WVU is decent at 3-2, but the uncertainty of injured Pat White may ruin its season. UT is celebrating a 13-9 win over Northern Illinois, yes celebrating, and Clemson has been long forgotten in mediocre-land now.

Lesson 11-

Vanderbilt, with its high academic standards and SAT scores held up some of the best signs behind the GameDay crew that we've ever seen, albeit many at the expense of the not-as-academic-based Auburn school they were facing. Here's a top five:

1. My butler went to Auburn.
2. Only at Vanderbilt, QB = valedictorian
3. 4-0 isn't just our GPA anymore
4. I got my G.E.D. at Auburn.
5. Your pickup truck blocked my way to the library.

(OMG! How could I not mention Tulsa once in my entire article? The Golden Hurricane sit at 5-0 and are the newest off-road threat to the BCS party. I promise to talk more about them as the victories keep piling up - no pressure fellas. But I will say that TU definitely leads the country in nastiest looking uniforms, as witnessed here.)

I covered the Trojans' 44-10 win over Oregon on Saturday at the L.A. Coliseum. Here's a select montage of pictures from before, during and after the game.

(When you get to the Coliseum, you are welcomed by a pair of naked, headless, bird-dropping pelted statues standing stately in front of the Peristyle facade of the stadium.)

(This kid had the coolest game face in the entire stadium. Not bad for a Duck, huh? I dig it.)

(The ESPN cameraman catches Pete Carroll and Mike Bellotti chatting it up in the pre-game. I can hear the conversation now... "Mike, tell you what I'm gonna do. I'm gonna get my team up by four touchdowns in the last two minutes of the game and then throw a 59-yard TD bomb on you guys. How's that sound?")

(Wanna know why Bob Davie has a frown on his face? He's probably thinking about how he used to lead his own football team onto the field here at the Coliseum. Now he's merely a color commentator on TV.)

(Mark Jones is in the house. Here the play-by-play honk is on his cell phone as the Trojans take the field behind him.)

(I've always thought the Oregon cheerleaders were highly underrated. Here they are getting down during the game.)

(Of course, I can't stand when I go to take a picture of them and I get busted by two of the cheerleaders in the process.)

(USC's Traveler. The stately horse used to have a whole running track around the field to gallop on after touchdowns. Now, with the track being dug up and more seats put in, the horse has to run on the field. Beware of horse fritters.)

(The peristyle and plaza in the East end zone is one of the more unique backdrops in college football. Too bad the stadium is getting so old and rusty, because it's still a great venue for a game. But the years are catching up with the old dog. Major renovations are still in need.)

("God, just get me outta here." Oregon coach Mike Bellotti doesn't look like he's in the mood for being interviewed after the game.)

(The Matthews family gathers after the game is over. Clay is a Trojan Defensive End and younger brother Casey is a Linebacker for the Ducks. Note the mom wearing the colors of both schools.)

(Well, if you can't play, you might as well take pics with the babes. Rey Maualuga gets a photo op with a young co-ed. Shouldn't he look happier than this?)

(Kevin Ellison and Mark Sanchez in the post-game interview room. Both are pretty well spoken. I was impressed that there weren't the usual college football player crutch of "and... uhs" and "you knows" in their speaking with the media.


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