Weekend Review: Sorting out the inexplicable from Saturday

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Wisconsin took another punch to the gut with its last-second loss to Ohio State on Saturday. (AP)  
Wisconsin took another punch to the gut with its last-second loss to Ohio State on Saturday. (AP)  

Five things we learned on the final (thank heaven) Saturday before this year's Game of the Century between No. 1 LSU and No. 2 Alabama:

1. We must accept the fact that there are some things in college football that you simply can't explain:

 Texas Tech wins the biggest game of the Tommy Tuberville era on Oct. 22, upsetting No. 3 Oklahoma and ending the Sooners' 39-game home winning streak. A week later the Red Raiders don't just lose to Iowa State (4-4) at home, they get taken to the woodshed 41-7.

 Georgia Tech had played two awful games against Virginia and Miami leading into Saturday night's game with No. 6 Clemson in Atlanta. In those two games Georgia Tech quarterback Tevin Washington looked like he couldn't outrun his mother to the corner. But come game time at Bobby Dodd Stadium, Washington looks like Jamelle Holieway running the option and the Yellow Jackets roll to a 24-3 lead at halftime. Tech wins 31-17.

 There should be a new rule: You can get beat by a Hail Mary only once in a lifetime. Two Saturdays ago Wisconsin lost on the last play of the game on a heave and tipped ball by Michigan State. Last Saturday at Ohio State it appeared the Badgers made a comeback only to have Braxton Miller escape pressure and find Devin Smith alone in the end zone from 40 yards out with 20 seconds left. That hurts.

2. Andrew Luck took a big step toward the Heisman against Southern California: Heisman moments come in all shapes and sizes. Cam Newton had a twisting run for a touchdown against LSU last season. Doug Flutie completed a Hail Mary against Miami in 1984.

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But Andrew Luck had a Heisman moment Saturday night because of something he didn't do. He didn't panic.

It looked like Luck had made one of the biggest mistakes of his career when he threw a pick-six to give USC a 34-27 lead with 3:08 left in regulation. In that moment everything -- and I man everything -- was hanging in the balance: The game, Luck's Heisman Trophy chances and Stanford's hopes of playing for the national championship. Luck just tapped himself on the chest to say "that's on me," and proceeded to lead his team to the tying score with 38 seconds left. Then Luck directed three straight scoring drives in OT to win 56-48.

It is called performing at your very best under the most intense pressure and the great ones can do it. Luck is one of the great ones.

Alabama's Trent Richardson gets his turn Saturday against LSU.

3. We're grateful for touching moments at Rutgers, Louisville: Every now and then we need to be reminded that this is just a game. We need to be reminded that it isn't just your alma mater or your favorite team playing against your hated rival out there on the field. It is somebody's son or brother or grandchild underneath that facemask.

So it was nice to see Eric LeGrand of Rutgers courageously lead his team onto a snowy field Saturday to play West Virginia. LeGrand suffered a paralyzing injury last October in a game against Army. It was also nice to see Louisville coach Charlie Strong bring Anthony Conner into the Cardinals' locker room before the start of Saturday's game against Syracuse. Conner had to be carted off the field the previous game after a serious neck injury. He had surgery to stabilize the neck and was released from the hospital earlier in the week.

4. JoePa reminds us of what we used to be: Penn State's Joe Paterno posted his 409th career win Saturday against Illinois, which vaulted the ageless wonder (84 years young) past Grambling's Eddie Robinson on the all-time list for Division I coaches.

Paterno has long said that two of the coaches he admires most are Robinson and Florida A&M's Jake Gaither because of what they did for football at historically black colleges and universities. We should thank Paterno because he reminds us in the college football community of what we used to be before billion-dollar television contracts, multimillion-dollar coach salaries and conference realignment. Oh by the way: Paterno's team is 8-1 and atop the Big Ten Leaders Division at 5-0. His only loss is to No. 2 Alabama back on Sept. 10 (27-11).

After Saturday's win over Illinois, Paterno received a plaque from Penn State president Graham Spanier. The first few words on the plaque don't say anything about football. They simply say: "Joe Paterno. Educator of Men." What a concept.

5. Mark Richt showed a lot of guts against the Gators: It's hard to imagine a coach under more pressure than Georgia's Richt on Saturday when the Bulldogs trailed Florida 17-3 in Jacksonville. Richt has the full support of the administration at Georgia but a loss to Florida, which would have been Richt's ninth to the Gators in his 11 seasons, would have been tough to overcome in the court of public opinion.

But with 90 seconds to go before halftime Richt called for quarterback Aaron Murray to throw into the end zone on fourth down instead of kicking a field goal. Michael Bennett made a nifty catch on a perfect back-shoulder throw by Murray that brought Georgia to within seven at the break. Then in the third quarter Richt again went for the end zone on fourth down and Tarvarres King caught a scoring pass to tie the score. Then Georgia pounded out another touchdown drive on the ground and won 24-20.

In recent years Georgia has not been a team that responded well to pressure. This team has now won six straight since starting 0-2. It should be noted, however, that five of those wins have come against teams that are a combined 4-22 in the SEC. But the fact remains that if Georgia (5-1 SEC) wins its final two conference games vs. Auburn and Kentucky, and South Carolina (5-1) loses to either Arkansas or Florida, the Bulldogs will go to the SEC Championship Game on Dec. 3.

Watch The Tony Barnhart Show Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET on The CBS Sports Network.


Tony Barnhart is in his fifth season as a contributor to CBSSports.com. He is a college football analyst for CBS Sports and The CBS Sports Network. Prior to joining CBS he was the national college football writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for 24 years. He has written five books on college football.
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