Posted on: November 7, 2011 12:02 pm
Edited on: November 14, 2011 2:36 pm
Posted by Bryan Fischer
A little over halfway through Saturday's showdown in Tuscaloosa it became clear, this wasn't the game of the century it had been built up to be. While that superlatives will be saved for another big game down the road, what transpired at Bryant-Denny Stadium was something else: the slugfest of the century.
For some, the defense being played was marvelous. Morris Claiborne solidified himself as one of the top corners in the country with an interception and Eric Reid showed what it takes to win a game of this magnitude by wrestling for, and eventually coming down with, a pick near the goal line after the Tide tried a trick play to tight end Michael Williams.
The defense was so good on both sides that the MVP in a losing effort for Alabama had to be the offensive line, which was great at handling the pressure from LSU's front for four quarters - they seemed to fall apart a little in overtime.
LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis, a longtime assistant in the SEC, said after the game that this was "the most physical, hard-fought game he's ever been involved with."
With a fifth of the televisions in use on Saturday tuned to CBS for the game, I was quite surprised at how many lambasted the game afterward. Sure, there was a lack of crossing the goal line and way too many field goals for most people but that was the result of the defenses being so good. Both teams were able to move the ball, the defenses just tightened once they moved closer to the red zone.
As my colleague Tom Fornelli said to me, this game was all about deciding what fans liked college football and what fans just like touchdowns. Some compared it to a great pitchers duel in baseball but that would be unfair. The beauty of playing defense might have been lost by some but the battles in the trenches and in the secondary said Saturday was a masterpiece.
The Crimson Tide finished with 295 yards, the Tigers ended up winning with just 239. Alabama came into the game 23rd in the country in offense at 457 yards/game and had the best running back in the country in Trent Richardson. Despite not moving the ball well on offense, LSU came in 15th in scoring offense. That's just how good both teams were on the side of the ball - defense - that ultimately decided the game.
It would be interesting to see how much Miles' strategy would have changed had Alabama hit just one of their three missed field goals. Would we have seen one of his famous trick plays? I wouldn't exactly say 'The Hat' Les Miles out-coached Nick Saban since both adjusted conservatively but there's no question that Miles made decisions more inline with how the game was going, such as running Jordan Jefferson more than what the game plan likely called for.
Despite all the 'what ifs' that will be dissected over the coming days (and weeks and months and years), we're left with just one fact: LSU was better than Alabama Saturday night. If they were to play again for the BCS championship, what happened between the two teams would invalidate the very crutch - every week is a playoff - BCS supporters use to support their cartel of a system. If we just saw a playoff game, the Tide need to be thinking about a trip to a bowl game and not the title game.
In post game interviews, Miles was inviting of a rematch - perhaps knowing that knocking off Saban and the Tide another time on their way to picking of the crystal football would mean this LSU team could be considered among the greatest to play the game. The players too, were living in the moment and inviting LSU-Alabama II in New Orleans.
"That game should've been on pay-per-view," Tigers defensive end Sam Montgomery said. "I think the world wants a rematch, honestly. It would be lovely to play such a great team out there again."
My colleague Bruce Feldman, who was in Tuscaloosa, discussed the rematch issue in The Big Picture, as did BCS guru Jerry Palm.
As we sit here on week 10 trying to digest what happened on Saturday, it good to lay down what we do know in the race for the national title.
1. There is A LOT of football remaining. LSU plays a top 10 team in Arkansas to end the season as well as the SEC championship game in Atlanta. Alabama has the Iron Bowl against Auburn. Oklahoma State ends with Bedlam against Oklahoma. Stanford plays Oregon and Boise State takes on TCU this week. We don't have a great system in the BCS but it was it is so "the race" is going to chance course several times between now and mid-December.
2. If Stanford beats Oregon, they'll move past Alabama in the BCS standings. If Oklahoma State wins out, they'll play in the championship game. Boise State needs help in droves.
3. Though Houston has moved as high as 11th in the rankings but are still a long shot at playing in a BCS bowl because Boise State is the highest ranked non-AQ school. It's doubtful the Bowls would pick the Cougars as an at-large team with fan bases such as Oklahoma likely qualifying.
4. The bowl tie-ins are ACC-Orange Bowl, Big Ten/Pac-12-Rose Bowl, Big 12-Fiesta Bowl, SEC-Sugar Bowl. The Bowl that loses the #1 team will have first pick of the replacements, followed by the bowl that loses the #2 team. The order after that is Fiesta, Sugar, Orange. There's a chance we could see some juicy match ups as a result (Oklahoma-Boise State rematch anyone?).
5. Want pure chaos? Arkansas beats LSU and Georgia pulls off an upset in Atlanta, forcing Alabama or LSU to miss a BCS game. Oregon beats Stanford, only to lose to USC and Oklahoma beats Oklahoma State to leave just Boise State and Houston as the lone undefeated teams. It's all unlikely but stranger things have happened. It also might be the only chance the men from the blue turf have to play for a title in New Orleans.
6. The game of the century did not occur last Saturday in Tuscaloosa but it was still a fantastic regular season game. A rematch would devalue the game, forcing LSU to beat Alabama twice for a national title while the Tide only needs to win once (in New Orleans). If we could have best two out of three, that'd be great but we're stuck with our current predicament.
Buckle up and get ready, it's going to a fun and bumpy road to New Orleans.
Stat of the week
To say the Big 12, and the state of Kansas in particular, is not very good at defense might be an understatement. To say they like offense in the state of Oklahoma, likewise, might be an understatement. Consider this: of the 10 best games rushing this season (net yards gained), three have come against a Big 12 team. Strip out non-BCS opponents and it becomes three of the top five, including Kansas giving up the most a game this season on the ground when Georgia Tech rushed for 604 yards. Of the top 10 passing games (net yards gained), four of the top 10 have come against a Big 12 defense, including four of the top five. Kansas and Kansas State find themselves on the two lists a grand total of five times, one reason why the Jayhawks are dead last in defense.
Thanks to playing the Oklahoma schools in back-to-back weeks, Kansas State has dropped from 29th in total defense to 78th. Half of the Big 12 is in the top 10 in the country in total offense and Texas Tech is 11th. Needless to say, it's not fun being a defensive coordinator in the conference.
Stats of the week
- Stanford remains perfect in the red zone this season, getting points out of all 52 trips. They've scored a touchdown all but 11 times and there's only one team that has been inside the 20 more often (Oklahoma State). LSU is second in red zone efficiency, scoring on 41 of 42 trips. The Cardinal are also third in the country in red zone defense, allowing a score 16 times out of 24 attempts.
- Oklahoma is tied with Stanford for fewest sacks given up with just four all year. Of course, the Sooners have dropped back 128 more times.
- The top three active career leaders for rushing touchdowns are all juniors. Temple's Bernard Pierce has 45, Oregon's LaMichael James has 44 and Wisconsin's Montee Ball has 43. The NCAA FBS record is 73.
- Both Florida kicker Caleb Sturgis and Idaho kicker Trey Farquhar hit 55-yard field goals right before halftime this week, which tie for the second longest of the season.
- Ball State quarterback Keith Wenning's pass to Torieal Gibson resulted in a 94 yard touchdown against Eastern Michigan, the longest pass play of the year. There have been four runs longer than that this season.
- Matt Barkley passed for a school-record six touchdowns in his game against Colorado on Friday. He also moved into 10th on the FBS active career list for touchdowns thrown with 69.
- Alabama still has yet to trail this season in 2nd, 3rd, or 4th quarter. LSU has trailed at the end of just two quarters all year.
- Since building a 31-7 lead on Oklahoma in the 3rd quarter, Texas Tech has been outscored 124-37.
- This was the first time Texas has rushed for five touchdowns in back-to-back games since 2005.
- Weird quirk from Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times, Washington's tight ends had three catches for -5 yards and a touchdown against Oregon.
- It didn't have the hype but the most thrilling game Saturday night was in Stillwater. Brandon Weeden threw a school-record 502 yards and had an answer for every late Kansas State score to escape with a 52-45 win. The defense, who seems to take shots from just about everybody in the game and outside it, held on with a goal line stand to prevent the tying score. Kansas State has taken some lumps in back-to-back weeks by stopping three straight passes with seconds left on the clock. It will get overshadowed given the loss but you have to be impressed with the play of KSU quarterback Collin Klein this season. He's been solid in the passing game and is as tough of a runner as you'll find at the position.
- Hats off to Rick Neuheisel and UCLA for fighting and clawing their way (as some Bruins said) to an upset of Arizona State at the Rose Bowl to, gasp, control their own fate in the Pac-12 South. Thanks to a "here's what we're made of" five minute drive to score a go ahead touchdown, it almost looked like the Bruins defense were going to allow the Sun Devils to get a decent field goal shot off. Alex Garoutte's 46-yarder fell short though and an exuberant sideline of powder blues jumped for joy. A lot of people have counted Neuheisel out, especially after the debacle at Arizona, but he still put his team in a position to win and they finally seized it. The loss was the latest in a line of head scratchers for Dennis Erickson, who seems to lose this type of game every year at ASU. Without a decent South team this year, it's looking very much like a two team league.
- There was another top 10 match up in the SEC that seemed to be the third wheel Saturday night as Arkansas beat South Carolina 44-28. It was surprising to see the Razorbacks put together a solid first half, something they really hadn't done against a decent opponent this season, before pulling away late thanks in part to special teams and defense. South Carolina had just 49 yards heading into the locker room but Connor Shaw led a late comeback in the third quarter until being knocked out with a concussion. The Gamecocks have a good defense and for Bobby Petrino's squad to hang 44 on them is certainly a statement that you can't forget about the Hogs at the end of the season when they play LSU.
- After dropping a game to lowly Minnesota, hardly anybody but the most hopeful Hawkeye faithful gave Iowa a chance against Michigan. Yet the defense was vintage, bottling up Denard Robinson all day, and Marcus Coker looked like a man on a mission while rushing for 132 yards and two touchdowns. The Wolverines had a chance to force overtime from the 3-yard line but four straight passes couldn't be snagged and Iowa ran off the field in celebration. "They showed a lot of heart," head coach Kirk Ferentz said. Given who they lost to the previous week, it's difficult to tell what Iowa football is this season outside of being a big of Jekyll and Hyde. For Brady Hoke and Michigan, it appears the tougher schedule and move to a pro-style offense is finally catching up. The difference between passing in Rich Rodriguez' system and passing in Al Borges' cannot be understated. Robinson has been conditioned with certain timing for years and now is being asked to change it to match the current system. If you're looking for the reason why the junior is having problems (53% passing, 13-12 TD-INT ratio this season), look no further than a round (quarterback) being in a square hole (system).
- Bryan Harsin came into Austin with designs of transforming Texas' offense and it appears he is doing so, surprisingly, on the ground. In the past two seasons the Longhorns had just five games where they rushed for more than 200 yards; Saturday's win over Texas Tech was the fifth time they topped the mark this season. In a 52-20 win, Texas' 439 yards rushing against Texas Tech were the 4th-most against a BCS opponent this season. They've racked up 880 yards on the ground the past two games against sub-par defenses but it will be interesting to see if they can keep running the ball consistently the rest of the season. Given their youth on both sides of the ball - they've play 18 true freshmen - it's a good bet that they'll try and keep it up. Either way, there's a new coordinator and a new way of doing business on the 40 acres.
- Charlie Strong has one of the youngest teams in the Big East but they're rounding into form and it paid off with a huge upset of West Virginia that was extra personal given that the school was largely seen to be invited by the Big 12 over Louisville. Frosh QB Teddy Bridgewater threw a touchdown and special teams came up huge with a blocked field goal that was returned for a touchdown. It was a complete and satisfying victory for the Cardinals. "I was not surprised at all to come into this venue and for us to go and play well," said Strong. "We knew we had to play well. We didn't come here to lose or to play it tight. We came in here to win." After the win, Strong ended up crowd surfing among his players in the locker room and the team, taking an added jab at the loser, sang John Denver's "Country Roads."
- The upset of the week comes courtesy of an NU on NU crime. With designs of making it to Indianapolis for the title game, Nebraska was upset by Northwestern despite Dan Persa standing on the sidelines. The Wildcats have not been great this season but they just kept coming through on defense, hanging on 28-25 for their first top 10 win in some time. "A great program win for us," head coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "To come on the road and put together our most complete game of the year. ... Not perfect. Not a work of art. There are some things we can correct."
- Not sure anybody has raised his NFL stock more than USC quarterback Matt Barkley? He played well in his showdown against Andrew Luck and then followed it up with a school-record six touchdown passes against Colorado despite a few drops from his wide outs. No, the Buffs aren't that good but thanks in large part to the through and through California kid Barkley, USC is a solid top 20 team. The defense is still the link week but outside of a trip to Eugene, it's likely they'll win out - especially if they can get healthier. Colorado, meanwhile, is so bad they're a double-digit favorite at home to a 2-7 team that lost their head coach.
- Small story that went way under the radar Saturday but kudos for Paul Pasqualoni for knocking off Syracuse to give UConn their fifth straight victory in the series. It meant a little more for Pasqualoni than others, who was head coach of the Orange for 14 years before being fired after winning four Big East titles and nine bowl trips. The Huskies defense played a big part, forcing several turnovers and holding despite the offense's own issues. Despite much talent at all, Pasqualoni has kept hopes alive for another winning season in Storrs.
- Kellen Moore is now 46-2 as a starter, more wins than any other FBS quarterback and an amazing accomplishment for a guy that no one outside of Idaho would even think is a major college quarterback if he was walking down the street. The Broncos saw a few different looks they weren't expecting from UNLV and led by just seven at halftime before pulling away late in the 4th quarter. As it stands now, Moore has an impressive 128 touchdowns against just 24 interceptions.
- As good of a slate as this week was, it was definitely a week filled with MACtion. Tuesday's Toledo-Northern Illinois game was 7-on-7 in pads it seemed like, with NIU prevailing in an entertaining 63-60 win that included 1,121 total yards (and back-to-back kick returns by the Huskies' Tommylee Lewis (great name) to open the game). One of the most underrated players in the country, Toledo's Eric Page also caught five touchdowns and had to be screaming when coach Tim Beckham didn't call any of his timeouts as NIU drove for the game winning touchdown pass. Then there was Ohio's 35-31 win over Temple to take control of the MAC East after a touchdown to win with less than two minutes on the clock. Thursday's Miami of Ohio romp over Akron wasn't anything to write home about but Central Michigan missed a final play field goal from 28 yards out to allow Kent State to win on Friday. Finally, on Saturday, Steven Schott hit a 44-yard field goal to put Ball State ahead of Eastern Michigan 33-31 with seconds left on the clock. MACtion indeed.
- Remarkable stat from Bruce Feldman, Lamar Miller became Miami's first 1,000-yard back since 2002 (Willis McGahee), a stretch of five different offensive coordinators. Although the 5-4 Hurricanes has dealt with a lot on and off the field, you have to give credit to OC Jedd Fisch and Al Golden. Much maligned quarterback Jacory Harris has been playing as well as he has at any point in his career and probably better than that. The senior is remarkably sixth in the country in passing efficiency, right behind Andrew Luck, with an impressive 18-4 touchdown-interception ratio. Miami has been in every game they've played with the four losses coming by 22 points. Saturday's 49-14 thrashing of Duke put them one win away from bowl eligibility ahead of this week's rivalry game at Florida State.
- It's always fun to catch the late night WAC games involving Hawaii, after a long day of watching college football it always seems to be an interesting way to cap it off. Utah State managed to beat the Warriors 35-31 thanks to a last minute drive. Hilariously, one of the keys to the game that the third-rate announcers brought up at the end was the late Andy Rooney (to play, they said, 60 minutes). Can't make that up.
Tweet of the week
"So Fox Sports MW is electing to show California HS football instead of Kansas-Iowa State."
- Bill Connelly, writer for SB Nation and Football Outsiders.
Note: Last week was the fourth in a row that my 10th ranked team lost (sorry Nebraska fans), perhaps that will give Georgia Tech some hope on Thursday at home.
2. Oklahoma State
5. Boise State
10. Virginia Tech
Where we'll be this week
Senior writer Dennis Dodd and I will be in Palo Alto to catch the Pac-12 showdown between Oregon and Stanford. Mr. College Football Tony Barnhart will be between the hedges to catch Auburn at Georgia. Brett McMurphy will head to State College to see Nebraska at Penn State.
Leaning this way
TCU at Boise State
Before the season, people were circling this game as perhaps the Broncos toughest test. There was the added issue of the game being moved by the Mountain West from Ft. Worth to Boise as a parting gift for the Horned Frogs. At 7-2 with issues on both sides of the ball, TCU is solid this season but it's not the team we've seen the past couple of years. Boise State, meanwhile, has gotten off to some slow starts and will still need to take care of business. This could be closer than most people think but expect the home team to come out victoriously.
Auburn at Georgia
The Bulldogs put up an impressive 42 points in one quarter against the lowly New Mexico State Aggies but the competition will pick up a bit this week with Auburn rolling into town. Aaron Murray continues to come along at quarterback and Georgia should be at full strength after dealing with a few suspensions. It will be tough for Auburn to pull of the upset in this one as Georgia continues their march for Atlanta.
Oregon at Stanford
The Game of the Century, West of the Rockies Edition can be found in Palo Alto, with two top-six ranked teams squaring off. Stanford gave Oregon a scare last year before faltering in the second half and, given the injuries on both sides of the ball, it wouldn't be shocking to see the same thing happen again this year. The Ducks aren't quite as sharp as they were last season but they're capable of knocking off Andrew Luck and company.
Tags: Aaron Murray, ACC, Akron, Al Borges, Al Golden, Alabama, Alex Garoutte, Andrew Luck, Andy Rooney, Arizona, Arizona State, Arkansas, Auburn, Auburn, Ball State, Ball State, BCS, Bedlam, Bernard Pierce, Big 12, Big Ten, bill Connelly, Bob Condotta, Bobby Petrino, Boise State, Brady Hoke, Brandon Weeden, Brett McMurphy, Bruce Feldman, Bryan Fischer, Bryan Harsin, Bryant-Denny Stadium, Caleb Sturgis, Central Michigan, Charlie Strong, Clemson, Collin Klein, Colorado, Connor Shaw, Dan Persa, Denard Robinson, Dennis Dodd, Dennis Erickson, Duke, Eastern Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Eric Page, Eric Reid, Fiesta Bowl, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Hawaii, Houston, Idaho, Iowa, Iron Bowl, Jacory Harris, Jedd Fisch, Jerry Palm, John Chavis, John Denver, Kansas, Kansas State, Keith Wenning, Kellen Moore, Kent State, Kirk Ferentz, Lamar Miller, LaMichael James, Les Miles, Louisville, LSU, Marcus Coker, Matt Barkley, Miami, Miami of Ohio, Michael Williams, Michigan, Minnesota, Montee Ball, Morris Claiborne, Mountain West, Nebraska, New Mexico State, Nick Saban, Non-BCS, Northern Illinois, Northwestern, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Orange Bowl, Oregon, Pac-12, Pat Fitzgerald, Paul Pasqualoni, Rich Rodriguez, Rick Neuheisel, Rose Bowl, Sam Montgomery, SEC, South Carolina, Stanford, Steven Schott, Sugar Bowl, Surveying the Field, Syracuse, TCU, Teddy Bridgewater, Temple, Texas, Texas Tech, Tim Beckham, Toledo, Tom Fornelli, Tommylee Lewis, Tony Barnhart, Torieal Gibson, Trent Richardson, Trey Farquhar, UCLA, UConn, UNLV, USC, Utah State, Virginia Tech, WAC, Washington, West Virginia, Willis McGahee, Wisconsin
Posted on: November 5, 2011 11:45 pm
Posted by Bryan Fischer
UCLA WON. Rick Neuheisel and the Bruins had their backs against the wall, with plenty of fans and media members already talking about potential replacements for the head coach. No worries, they took a lead into halftime and came back to score a go ahead touchdown in the final minute of a thrilling victory at the Rose Bowl.
Posted on: October 8, 2011 7:06 pm
Posted by Bryan Fischer
ARIZONA STATE WON: If the Sun Devils (5-1, 3-0 Pac-12) wanted everybody to take them seriously, they had to win on the road before a big game against Oregon next week and they accomplished that and more on a chilly afternoon at Rice Eccles Stadium. As usual, the defense was a big factor in the win and made life miserable for the Utes' offense and quarterback Jon Hays, who was making his first career start. ASU's first trip to Utah (2-3, 0-3 Pac-12) in 34 years - this time as conference foes - ended just as they wanted it to: walking off the field victorious.
WHY ARIZONA STATE WON: It's normally not like a Dennis Erickson team to execute in all three phases of the game - offense, defense and special teams - but they did after halftime despite 16 penalties for 134 yards. Brock Osweiler was 26 of 41 for 325 yards, 3 touchdowns and no interceptions. The defense forced five turnovers, two fumbles and three interceptions, and held Utah to just 318 yards. Special teams also helped out, grabbing one of those fumbles on a kick return and Alex Garoutte hit two field goals.
WHEN ARIZONA STATE WON: After it looked like Utah had some momentum in the second half, ASU snatched it right back. Following a drive that ended up with a field goal, the Utes fumbled the ball on a kick return and Osweiler turned that into a touchdown pass and a two point conversion to make it 21-14 in the third. On the very next drive, Hays was intercepted by Clint Floyd and Arizona State once again turned that into a touchdown. Three straight series for Utah ended in a turnover at that point.
WHAT ARIZONA STATE WON: As the only Pac-12 South team without a conference loss, the Sun Devils have pretty much won the division already. They've already beaten USC, who's ineligible anyway, and a very weak schedule ahead of them after a trip to Eugene in what could be a Pac-12 Championship Game preview.
WHAT UTAH LOST: Kyle Whittingham talked optimistically about his team's chances in their first year in the Pac-12 but they still have yet to get over the hump and actually win a game in their new conference. It's not like they're getting blown out because they have been in every game this season, it's just that they are not closing out in the second half at all. They'll need to refocus this week before hitting the road for two games at Pitt and at Cal.
THAT WAS CRAZY: After Utah took a 14-10 lead, Arizona State scored 18 unanswered points to move to 5-1 on the year.