Posted on: November 22, 2011 3:13 pm
Posted by Bryan Fischer
UCLA WILL WIN IF: Though there is certainly a talent deficit in Westwood, that doesn't mean the Bruins can't win and end their crosstown rival's promising season with a loss if they put together a well executed game plan. The Pistol offense has had it's moments recently and can give the Trojans plenty of problems if they move the ball consistently. UCLA will need to be flawless against a good team and the defense - especially the secondary - will have to take a step up if Rick Neuheisel is to win this for the Pac-12 South title and, probably, to save his job.
USC WILL WIN IF: The running game has started to pick up for the Trojans as both Marc Tyler and Curtis McNeal have given opposing defenses something else to worry about other than the trio of Matt Barkley, Robert Woods and Marqise Lee. With firepower like that, they really just have to keep doing what they did against Oregon last week but against a defense that is in the middle of the pack in the Pac-12.
X-FACTOR: Emotions. This is USC's final home game and therefore final game of the season as they serve out their two-year bowl ban. It could also be Barkley's final game in the cardinal and gold so you wonder if emotions will get the best of him and others on the team. Likewise, UCLA will come in looking to pull the upset so if they face some adversity early on, their reaction will be key as to whether they can turn momentum around.
Posted on: November 21, 2011 12:42 pm
Edited on: November 21, 2011 1:17 pm
Posted by Bryan Fischer
On Saturday it stops.
The bylaws, the scandals, the arrests, the arguing, the issues - the scars of college football - it's all gone and it becomes just a game. When the whistle is blown there are no rankings or underdogs, just a game between the lines, two teams with 11 on either side.
Saturday seemed like a perfect reminder of that. Looking at the schedule earlier in the week, the lack of marquee match ups - just three involving two ranked teams - made it seem more like a bye week than Week 12.
As the season made - to borrow a metaphor from another sport - its final turn and moved onto the home stretch, it was looking like we were indeed destined for a week off of drama. Wisconsin beat Illinois, Michigan State rolled Indiana, Michigan put on a clinic against Nebraska, Georgia had a close but ugly win over Kentucky, Houston beat SMU handily, Arkansas steamrolled Mississippi State and shockingly N.C. State had beaten Clemson before halftime.
Then consider what happened as night fell and some of the late games got interesting, with plays happening just about every minute. A quick sampling in case you missed the drama:
- Matt Barkley hit Randall Telfer for a touchdown to put USC up 38-14 over Oregon.
- De'Anthony Thomas returned a kickoff 96 yards, and showed why he's one of the fastest players in college football.
- Eric Gordon picked off Jordan Rodgers and returned it 90 yards for a touchdown to seal a 27-21 Tennessee win over Vanderbilt. Only there was mass confusion thanks to the officials.
- A Robert Griffin III pass is deflected right into the arms of a streaking Kendall Wright for a 87-yard touchdown to tie Oklahoma 24-24.
- Kenjon Barner caps a 75-yard drive to pull Oregon to within 38-27 with over 12 minutes left in the game.
- Michael Rocco caps off a 75-yard drive in less than a minute to give Virginia a 14-13 lead over Florida State.
- Zach Maynard tosses a perfectly thrown pass to Keenan Allen to take a 10-7 lead over Stanford.
- Baylor retakes the lead 31-24 after a 10 play, 85-yard drive after another RGIII touchdown pass.
- Texas' drive stalls and the Longhorns settle for a field goal to trail 17-13.
- Barkley is picked off by the Ducks defense then score a touchdown. Two-point conversion is good (barely) and they cut USC's lead to 38-35 with 7:05 left.
- A crazy play involving Florida State's Bert Reed happens. He was ruled to have caught a ball but inbounds, running out the clock. A five minute replay takes place.
- Landry Jones throws an interception, setting up a Terrence Ganaway touchdown as Baylor goes up 38-24 on Oklahoma.
- Case McCoy is sacked on 4th-and-10 at midfield, Kansas State takes over but has to punt.
- The replay overturns Reed's play, ruling it incomplete. FSU sets up for a 48-yard field goal but Virginia players bark out signals drawing a flag. Shorter kick misses anyway, giving the Cavilers their first ever victory at Doak Walker as Mike London screams at his team to get to the locker room.
- The Trojans are in the red zone when Barkley and Marc Tyler fumble an exchange, leading to Oregon getting the ball back.
- Oklahoma can't convert a 4th-and-14, Baylor gets the ball back.
- Kansas State barely holds on but beats Texas 17-13.
- Cal hits a short field goal to extend their lead to 13-7 in the Big Game against Stanford.
- The Ducks march right down the field but Chip Kelly fails to use his timeouts leaving a 42-yard field goal to tie the game with five seconds left. It's no good allowing USC to escape with a 38-35 upset to further shake up the BCS.
- The Belldozer formation (with backup quarterback Blake Bell) scores a TD to make it 38-31 Sooners with six minutes left.
- Oklahoma gets the ball back then Bell scores his 4th touchdown of the night and the Sooners look like they're going for two. They don't but tie the game up at 38 with 51 seconds on the clock.
- RGIII finds Terrence Williams in the back of the end zone for a perfect 34-yard touchdown pass with eight seconds left to give Baylor their first ever win against Oklahoma 45-38.
- Andrew Luck leads two scoring drives coming out of halftime to take a 28-13 lead over Cal.
- The Bears come right back down the field and score a touchdown, connecting on a two-point conversion to pull to within 28-21 in the 4th quarter.
- Stanford takes over seven minutes off the clock with a drive that ends in a field goal and 31-21 lead.
- Cal makes things interesting with a touchdown to pull to within 31-28 with 14 seconds left.
- Onside kick recovered, Stanford beats Cal 31-28 to win the Big Game.
That. Was. Fun.
We probably should have guessed something was up this week. Northern Illinois kicked a field goal with eight seconds left to beat Ball State 41-38 on Tuesday, rolling up 710 yards of offense in a little midweek MACtion. The story was much the same the next night as Ohio made a chip shot field goal as the gun went off to beat Bowling Green 29-28. Also on Wednesday, Western Michigan held on to beat Miami (Ohio) with both starting quarterbacks topping the 400 yard passing mark. Thursday produced a huge - relatively - CUSA upset as a terrible UAB team upset #22 Southern Miss to beat a ranked team for just the second time in school history.
North Carolina, with an interim head coach and not much to play for, gave Virginia Tech a fight with two touchdowns in the 4th quarter before the Hokies decided to pay attention on defense. It was an off night for David Wilson, who never could get going, but a solid one for quarterback Logan Thomas. He tossed two touchdowns and ran for a third to provide most of the Hokies scoring to setup a showdown next week with rival Virginia for a trip to the ACC championship. The late comeback from UNC should have been a warning that no one was safe, home or road, regardless of the conditions.
Oklahoma State rolled into Ames, Iowa as 27-point favorites but holding a heavy heart just a day after a plane crash killed the women's basketball coach and three others. It was an unspeakable tragedy for a school that had already suffered a similar one a decade before. Friday was supposed to be about the second-ranked Cowboys giving their fans something - anything - to cheer about.
But it's a game between the lines and though Iowa State came into the match up 2-4 in Big 12 play and winless in 58 tries against teams ranked sixth or better, head coach Paul Rhoads knows a thing or two about upsets. He had pulled off at least one shocker each year he was in charge of the Cyclones and was defensive coordinator of a lowly 4-7 Pittsburgh team four years ago that helped cause BCS chaos with an upset of then-No. 2 West Virginia. He threw a similar wrench into the Cowboys' plans in large part by shutting down the ground game and forcing five turnovers. Brandon Weeden put some big numbers - 42-of-58, a quiet 476 yards and three touchdowns - but threw three interceptions, his last in the second overtime to lose the game.
"We got a group of young men that put their hard hats on every day and just continue to go to work," Rhoads said. "I could not be prouder of the effort they put out tonight."
The field storming after the upset was well deserved, with Rhoads even getting hit by a fan who spilled his drink on the emotional head coach at midfield. The Iowa native took over the program from Gene Chizik after serving as Auburn's defensive coordinator the season before Chizik headed to the plains. Ironically, his upset sent cheers up in Tuscaloosa because no program stood to benefit more from the loss than Alabama.
It was the first of many on a topsy-turvy week that saw the #2, #4, #5, #7, #17, #22 and #23 in the BCS suffer a loss. As you can tell from the boom-boom nature of the plays listed above, the drama and action seemed to culminate in another perfect weekend in college football. Fitting, perhaps, that on the sport's supposed week off, it gave us the most drama-filled few days of the year.
As the Big Game was wrapping up late on the West Coast, I was trying to think of another time there was so much craziness, so much excitement, packed into just a few hours. It thought about the NCAA tournament but MLB's final day this year immediately popped into my mind right after. The country was glued to the television as pitch after pitch carried more meaning than the last. Four games determined two wild cards (and the eventual World Series winner) and three of them were tied. Three blown saves and two incredible walk-off wins had produced one of baseball's finest nights.
This weekend, and late Saturday in particular, was not quite what that Wednesday in late September was. That night for baseball does contrast however, and serve as a reminder of how great a regular season can be with a playoff still to come. The BCS proponents out there had no problem coming out and saying the system enhanced the upsets because they somehow mean more. As baseball showed us, even after 162 games and plenty more to play, nothing takes away from the drama. We're still going to watch Baylor try and beat Oklahoma for the first time ever with RGIII taking snaps. People will still tune in to see USC make an emphatic statement to the country that their time out of the spotlight is over.
It does however make the losses that much more painful. Boise State has lost three games in three years by five points thanks to walk-on kickers missing field goals. They never get a shot at playing for the national title. Oklahoma just hopes they can beat their rival and get to the same old exhibition (the Fiesta Bowl) they're used to playing in.
'Every week is a playoff' is the line you'll see often in BCS literature. If that's the case then, Alabama would not be sitting at No. 2 in the country and set to play LSU - again - for the national title. They lost their playoff game at Bryant-Denny in the Field Goal Festival of the Century. Talk of another rematch involving Oregon was put to bed thanks to the conquering Trojans but had they won, they should have taken note that no, they can't be playing in New Orleans after losing a game earlier in the season.
Now we are left with a BCS beauty pageant. Boise could be a top five team at the end of the year but will likely play right before Christmas. Stanford might be passed over for Michigan despite the Cardinal being in the top 10 all season. The SEC is strong at the top but weak all over - as evidenced by FCS Southern Conference teams having a combined 52-34 lead on SEC teams at one point Saturday. Alas, this is the system we have.
The modeling still isn't over with a few more weeks left in the season and that should provide clarity on the situation, especially with Arkansas traveling to Baton Rouge and Alabama playing the Iron Bowl at Auburn. There's still Bedlam and championship games. This show will go on.
But a Saturday that didn't shape up to be much ended up being quite a bit thanks to what happened on the field. It's why we all love college football and why we put up with six days of arguing and rankings. 60 minutes between the lines never looked so good in week 12.
Stat of the week
USC is the first loss Chip Kelly has suffered as head coach when the opposing team has just one week to prepare. It was also his first ever home loss and the Trojans win snapped a 19 game conference winning streak and the longest home winning streak in the country.
Stats of the week
- The SEC has 9 offenses ranked 75th or worse in the country but four of the top five defenses. The former is responsible for the latter more than the other way around.
- Wisconsin had a 12 play, 27 yard drive against Illinois that took 7:11 off the clock before Montee Ball scored a touchdown. At that point, Texas A&M had scored 44 points in 8:24 against Kansas.
- FCS Georgia Southern scored 21 points and ran for 302 yards on Alabama's defense, which led the country in just about every major defensive category. Dominique Swope had an 82-yard touchdown and finished with 18 carries for 153 yards (8.5 yd ave.). In the process, Swope became just the fifth back to rush for over 100 yards against Nick Saban in his five seasons in Tuscaloosa. Alabama's scoring defense went from 7.1 points per game to 8.36 ppg afterward and the rush defense jumped from 51.9 ypg to 74.64 just from the one game.
- This is the first time since Bo Pelini's first year that Nebraska has allowed more than 40 points in a game twice in a season.
- Oregon's 24-point deficit they faced against USC was the biggest they faced since October 4, 2008, also against the Trojans.
- Via the AP, before Miami did it yesterday, no FBS team had scored less than seven points and won a road game since Auburn topped Mississippi State 3-2 in 2008.
- Five starts for David Ash, six interceptions. Ouch.
- LSU, Alabama and Arkansas are 1, 2, 3 in the AP Poll. The only other time one conference has done that in the poll era is Nebraska, Oklahoma and Colorado of the Big 8 in 1971.
- Kansas has - by far - the worst defense in the country. It is dead last in three major categories and is giving up 45.55 points per game and 531.45 yards per game. A sampling of the worst defenses since 2001 for comparison:
2001: Idaho 45 ppg, (Worst BCS defense: Duke 44.6 ppg)
2002: Eastern Michigan 47.2 ppg, (Kansas 42.3 ppg)
2003: Mississippi State 39.3 ppg
2004: San Jose State 42.6 ppg, (Baylor 36.9 ppg)
2005: Temple 45.3 ppg, (Illinois 39.5 ppg)
2006: Louisiana Tech 41.7 ppg, (Duke 33.8 ppg)
2007: North Texas 45.1 ppg, (Nebraska 37.9 ppg)
2008: North Texas 47.58 ppg, (Washington State 43.85 ppg)
2009: Rice 43.08 ppg, (Washington State 38.5 ppg)
2010: New Mexico 44.33 ppg, (Washington State 35.83 ppg)
Tweet of the week
"Down 22-7 in Q1, Gators DE Sharrif Floyd told teammates, "Listen it's Furman. No disrespect but it's Furman."
- Via Jason Lieser, Palm Beach Post.
3. Oklahoma State
6. Boise State
10. Virginia Tech
Where we'll be this week
Dennis Dodd will be at two games this week, starting with the big showdown on CBS between Arkansas and LSU on Friday and Missouri-Kansas on Saturday, the final game in the second-longest rivalry west of the Mississippi. I will cover two games as well, with the final Texas-Texas A&M game on Thursday (Thanksgiving) and end with the crosstown showdown between USC and UCLA. Brett McMurphy will be at the Iron Bowl as Alabama looks for revenge on Auburn and to keep their name in the national title race.
Leaning this way
Penn State at Wisconsin
This is for a trip to the Big Ten title game and there's no doubt that commissioner Jim Delany hopes Wisconsin can win and hopefully cover the two touchdowns+ spread. Penn State's offense showed signs of life in the first half against Ohio State but managed to throttle back down to nothing in the second half against an ok defense. Montee Ball and Russell Wilson have this thing over early though and the Nittany Lions can't claw their way back.
Alabama at Auburn
The Tide are ranked second in the country, the Tigers are unranked. Normally that doesn't matter when these two get together but that's just one indication of how good/bad these teams are. Neither team looked impressive against FCS foes so you wonder if they were saving a few things for this game. Still, hard to see an upset when Alabama is in the top three in the conference in every major category.
Arkansas at LSU
BCS chaos can rain supreme if the Razorbacks are able to go into Baton Rouge and pull off the upset. They will certainly be the best passing offense LSU's fantastic secondary has faced but the key will come down to protecting Tyler Wilson. If LSU turns it over a few times there is certainly a chance at a loss but it all seems unlikely for 'The Hat' to lose this close to taking a trip to Atlanta.
Tags: ACC, Alabama, Andrew Luck, Arkansas, Arkansas, Auburn, Ball State, Baylor, BCS, Bert Reed, Big 8, Blake Bell, Bo Pelini, Boise State, Bowling Green, Brandon Weeden, Brett McMurphy, Bryan Fischer, Bryant-Denny Stadium, Cal, California, Case McCoy, Chip Kelly, Clemson, Colorado, Conference USA, David Ash, David Wilson, De'Anthony Thomas, Dennis Dodd, Doak Walker, Dominique Swope, Eastern Michigan, Eric Gordon, FCS, Fiesta Bowl, Florida State, Florida State, Furman, Gene Chizik, Georgia, Georgia Southern, Houston, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa State, Iron Bowl, Jim Delany, Jordan Rodgers, Kansas, Kansas State, Keenan Allen, Kendall Wright, Kenjon Barner, Kentucky, Landry Jones, Logan Thomas, Louisiana Tech, LSU, Marc Tyler, Matt Barkley Randall Telfer, Miami, Miami (Ohio), Michael Rocco, Michigan, Michigan, Michigan State, Mike London, Mississippi State, Missouri, MLB, Montee Ball, N.C. State, NCAA, Nebraska, Nick Saban, North Carolina, North Texas, Northern Illinois, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Oregon, Paul Rhoads, Penn State, Pitt, Pittsburgh, Rice, Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson, San Jose State, Sharrif Floyd, SMU, Southern Conference, Southern Miss, Stanford, Stanford, Surveying the Field, Temple, Tennessee, Terrence Ganaway, Terrence Williams, Texas, Texas A&M, Tyler Wilson, UAB, UCLA, USC, Vanderbilt, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Washington State, Week 12, West Virginia, Western Michigan, Wisconsin, World Series, Zach Maynard
Posted on: November 20, 2011 12:07 am
Edited on: November 20, 2011 12:31 am
Posted by Bryan Fischer
SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA WINS. On probation and disrespected, USC was going up to Eugene with nothing but house money to play with. Obviously they were talented - Matt Barkley, Robert Woods and the dynamic newcomer Marqise Lee especially - but they were significant underdogs against an Oregon team that had blown them out their previous two meetings. The Trojans hadn't won in the state of Oregon since 2005* and taken two brutal losses this year to the other top teams in the Pac-12.
USC jumped out to a big lead and held on late as Oregon rallied to within three but pulled off a monumental upset with far-reaching implications after Alejandro Maldonado missed a field goal of 37 yards to preserve a 38-35 win. Two streaks - 21 straight home wins and 19 straight conference victories - were snapped for the Ducks, as were their slim hopes of getting back to the national championship game.
WHY SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA WON. Marqise Lee had the best game a Trojan has had in years, finishing with eight catches for 187 yards and a touchdown and made play after play after play when the team needed it. Barkley was big as well, throwing for 323 yards and four touchdowns to get a signature win to hold his hat on in what could be his final year wearing the cardinal and gold. Monte Kiffin's defense also played its part, forcing two fumbles to prevent scores, blocking a punt and containing the Oregon speedsters all night to limit big plays.
WHEN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA WON. Coming out of the second half, Oregon went three and out, had their punt blocked and set USC up with a 1st and goal. But the Ducks' defense held the Trojans to just a field goal on the drive - and nearly picked off Barkley - then got a big return from De'Anthony Thomas on the ensuing kick return for a touchdown. It seemed like the momentum had completely flipped at that point, with the Autzen crowd coming alive and LaMichael James capped off a four play drive with a touchdown.
USC came back with an impressive answer on a five play, 76 yard drive in just over two minutes to keep the lead where it was. Monte Kiffin's defense got a stop and it was upset alert with a silent crowd up in Eugene after Barkley found Randal Telfer for a touchdown on the next series to give Oregon their biggest deficit since 2008. The Ducks came roaring back however, scoring 21 straight. It looked like things were headed for overtime with Oregon marching down the field after Barkley fumbled handing off to running back Marc Tyler. Some curious clock management by Chip Kelly left Maldonado with a 37 yard field goal and he missed it to preserve a 38-35 win.
WHAT SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA WON. With just one more game left as they serve out their final year of a bowl ban, the Trojans didn't have much more than pride to play for Saturday night. They felt disrespected - the lowest ranking in school history with a 8-2 record - and determined to get back in the national conscious in a big way with their first win in the state of Oregon since 2005. Lane Kiffin's squad jumped out to the early lead and hung on just like so many others haven't. Everybody came into this game saying it was USC's bowl game (their third this season after Notre Dame and Stanford) and they won it to show quite a few people around the country what they're made of.
WHAT OREGON LOST. Given Kelly's persona and his continuous focus on the task at hand, you wonder if he got Phil Knight to pony up some cash to fly in Jim Mora to shout, "Rematch? You're talking about a rematch? You kidding me? Rematch? I just hope we win a game," over and over. That's all everybody was thinking about after beating Stanford, not USC but LSU. Despite an Oklahoma State loss that made a game against the Tigers more likely, Oregon couldn't put the game at hand away and now have to beat rival Oregon State to secure the Pac-12 championship game that looked like a lock at the beginning of the day.
THAT WAS CRAZY: Team Nike filled the sidelines as NBA All-Stars LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul all made their way down to Eugene to check out the football game. LeBron was even throwing the ball around during pre-game warm ups until politely being told by security to move back behind the lines. What's a jobless guy have to do to get some respect? Ducks fans might just be glad he wasn't suited up to play the 4th quarter. Or maybe he was.
Tags: Alejandro Maldonado, Bryan Fischer, Carmelo Anthony, Chip Kelly, Chris Bosh, De'Anthony Thomas, Dwayne Wade, Jim Mora, LaMichael James, LeBron James, LSU, Marc Tyler, Marqise Lee, Matt Barkley, Monte Kiffin, NBA, Oklahoma State, Oregon, Oregon State, Pac-12, Phil Knight, Quick Hits, Quick Hits Week 12, Randal Telfer, Robert Woods, Stanford, USC, Week 12
Posted on: November 15, 2011 11:41 am
Posted by Bryan Fischer
SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA WILL WIN IF: The Trojans have retooled on defense with faster linebackers and are better equipped to handle the Ducks speed than they have been in previous years. Creating stops are as important as containing big plays and getting the ball back to an offense that has more weapons than anybody Oregon has seen all years. The emergence of Curtis McNeal and Marc Tyler have given a nice boost to the running game and they'll need to continue to have Robert Woods and Marqise Lee making big plays if USC wants to pull off the upset.
OREGON WILL WIN IF: The game plan is always the same for the Ducks, apply pressure by scoring quickly on offense and apply pressure - more literally - on defense by being aggressive with the front seven. Chip Kelly was very aggressive against Stanford and we'll see if he continues to keep that up against a team that has a lot more athletes that can create big plays on both sides of the ball. Oregon is in the driver's seat for the Rose Bowl and could even be playing for a rematch in the BCS title game so don't be surprised if they want some style points on national television and for Heisman Trophy candidiate LaMichael James.
X-FACTOR: Matt Barkley turnovers. USC has been in games with Oregon for a half but, like most of the Ducks opponents, have fallen apart in the second half. If Matt Barkley continues to be efficient in the passing game and spreads the ball around to his receivers, the Trojans have a chance. If he turns the ball over once or twice though, it will be hard to see an upset. The margin is just that thin for this team but no doubt they have the talent to get a win if Barkley plays well.
Posted on: October 25, 2011 11:45 am
Edited on: October 25, 2011 11:46 am
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
The Trojan career of USC sophomore running back Dillon Baxter is hanging by a thread--if it's not finished already.
Lane Kiffin finally addressed Baxter's absence from the traveling roster for the team's win over Notre Dame Tuesday morning, confirming in a statement on the Trojan website that Baxter "will not be part of our football program" for at least the remainder of the season.
"The decision has been made for Dillon Baxter to focus on his academics," Kiffin said. "[W]e will continue to support him with our academic services department. There will be no further comment regarding this from me or any member of our program."
Though the statement would seem to leave the door open for Baxter's potential return, few seem to expect it after the former blue-chip recruit struggled mightily to find playing time in the Trojans' first seven games. For the season, Baxter has only nine carries for 29 yards and is well behind Marc Tyler and Curtis McNeal on the depth chart.
Baxter has also been something of an off-field distraction during the 2011 season, with his parents requesting (and receiving) a meeting with Kiffin to discuss his lack of playing time in the season opener and his absence from the Notre Dame game reportedly due to his decision to remain with his girlfriend as she gave birth.
Whatever the issues between Kiffin and Baxter -- or Baxter and his grades -- it seems highly likely that if the San Diego product is to ever fulfill his ample recruiting hype, he'll have to do it somewhere other than USC. The consensus five-star seemed poised for stardom after Kiffin offered him rave reviews in spring camp 2010, a camp in which he did this just days after graduating high school:
But barring an impressive career rehabilitation, that play will be as close as Baxter ever gets to stardom for the Trojans.
Posted on: October 18, 2011 11:32 am
Posted by Tom Fornelli
NOTRE DAME WILL WIN IF: See if you notice a trend here. In Notre Dame's two losses to start the season, it turned the ball over 10 times. In the four victories since, the Irish have turned the ball over 5 times, including none in the last two games. You think it's a coincidence that the Irish have won those games? I don't. In USC, the Irish will be facing a defense that has forced 10 turnovers on the season and is giving up 23.5 points per game, but gave up 43 points to Arizona State and 41 to Arizona. The Irish offense may be stronger than both of those teams, and as long as Tommy Rees can continue to take care of the football, the Irish should find plenty of success on offense and knock off their hated rivals.
USC WILL WIN IF: The Trojans offense has not been fantastic this season and it's facing a Notre Dame defense that, aside from a couple meaningless fourth quarter touchdowns by Air Force last week, has been very strong over the last month. Much like Notre Dame needs to do, Matt Barkley and the USC offense will have to take care of the ball and use a balanced attack to move the ball down the field and keep Notre Dame's offense off the field. Opposing quarterbacks have completed less than 60% of the passes against the Notre Dame defense, but that unit has also allowed 10 touchdowns through the air and 225 yards per game. So the opportunities will be there for Barkley and Robert Woods, they just need to take advantage of them.
X-FACTOR: Curtis McNeal. While nothing is official yet, after suffering a shoulder injury last weekend, USC's leading rusher Marc Tyler isn't expected to play in this game. Which means McNeal will take over the starting role. He's not as big as Tyler, and while Notre Dame's run defense has been very tough this season, it did give up over 6 yards per carry against Air Force last week. If McNeal can find that kind of room this week and give USC more balance on offense, then the Trojans just might leave South Bend with a victory.
Posted on: October 14, 2011 12:42 am
Edited on: October 14, 2011 1:21 am
Posted by Bryan Fischer
USC WON: As the great Charles Barkley would say, "that was turrible." The Trojans were held to a season-low 310 yards of offense but got a win gift wrapped for them after Cal turned the ball over five times. It's not like USC had to work for the turnovers either, quarterback Zach Maynard just seemed to throw it right to cardinal and gold defenders at the most inopportune moments. While the Trojans' defense looked much improved following a bye week, the offense struggled in the second half and dealt with several injuries.
WHY USC WON: The Trojans came into the game with five turnovers on the season and doubled that number on their annual trip to the Bay Area. Linebacker Dion Bailey had two interceptions and eight tackles to pace the defense and the front seven was active all night getting pressure on Maynard. The offense wasn't sharp but was much more balanced than they have been, with running back Curtis McNeal rushing for 86 yards and a touchdown after replacing an injured Marc Tyler.
WHEN USC WON: Lane Kiffin's squad pretty much took control in the 2nd quarter and never let the Bears back in the game. They started four times in Cal territory in the first half thanks to turnovers and nearly had a pick-six from Nickell Robey to really blow it open. They still had a nice drive early in the third before Matt Barkley hit freshman Marqise Lee on a beautiful fade route with the freshman tip-toeing along the sideline and in for a touchdown. Maynard threw an interception and the defense stuffed a fake punt on the next two possessions before Brandon Carswell scored a seven yard touchdown to put USC in control 20-0.
WHAT USC WON: A game they needed to win before the long trip to South Bend. The Trojans haven't proven they're a good team but they can be an above average one if they can beat rival Notre Dame next week and move to 6-1 on the year.
WHAT CALIFORNIA LOST: The Bears dropped their third straight this season after running into a tough stretch in their schedule. It eases up a bit with Utah, a trip to UCLA, Washington State and Oregon State but they'll need to go 3-1 or better if they want to make a bowl game and keep Jeff Tedford's seat from being burning hot. There just hasn't been any execution in previous games against USC and that continued Thursday night.
THAT WAS CRAZY: USC has outscored Cal 92-3 in the first half the past four years. The Trojans were up 20-0 heading into the locker room in this game.
Posted on: September 12, 2011 9:41 am
Edited on: September 12, 2011 10:03 am
Posted by Bryan Fischer
College football's encore weekend not only lived up to expectations, but beat them.
It also caused at least few hearts to skip a beat or two around the country. It seemed like every channel you were on, there was a game coming down to the wire or ready to head to overtime. From the noon games to the night games, last Saturday was one big, drama-filled day.
Notre Dame-Michigan, USC-Utah, Cal-Colorado, Washington-Hawaii, North Carolina-Rutgers, Auburn-Mississippi State, Ohio State-Toledo, Texas-BYU, Iowa State-Iowa, Vanderbilt-UConn and several others left everyone on the edge of their seats. There weren't a ton of great defenses among the group but that didn't hamper the fun as teams either came back or fell just short. Heck, the first night game in Ann Arbor had as much drama as any of them in just 72 seconds.
One game I was really looking forward to going into Saturday was between the Hedges and that game more than lived up to expectations and put one coach in even hotter water.
The game seemed to be South Carolina personified. It's why everybody's hand trembled writing them in to win the SEC East this year. Not only was it the Gamecocks' history but they had a quarterback who frustrated fans and Old Ball Coaches alike in Stephen Garcia. When he threw his first interception of the game, it was simply Garcia being Garcia. The ESPN director, as if he understood perfectly, cut to a shot of Garcia with his hands on his hips, staring down his mistake while clinching his lips and a coach yelling at him. Later in the game he rolled out of the pocket and threw a beautiful pass that reminded everybody of his talent. Again, just Garcia being Garcia.
This is a good and very talented Gamecocks team that can beat anybody on any given Saturday if they don't wind up beating themselves first.
“Georgia outplayed us, give them credit, they outplayed us but somehow or another we won the game,” Steve Spurrier said post game. “Somehow it happens like that. Somebody was looking out for us tonight.”
Running back Marcus Lattimore broke out for 176 yards and a touchdown as the team rode him for 27 carries. USC will have to be wearing of overusing Lattimore because he's the key to their success but at least he had 10 fewer carries than he did against the Bulldogs a year ago. His ability to find just a little hole and take off is special and he certainly can run very hard between the tackles.
On the other side of the ball, how scary is the Gamecocks' defensive line? We knew it was going to be good but maybe not quite this nasty. Melvin Ingram was superb, taking a fake punt 68 yards for a touchdown and scooping up a fumble for a touchdown after fellow end Jadeveon Clowney nearly took off the head of UGA quarterback Aaron Murray. Only in the SEC do 275-pound defensive ends score twice in a game and run 68 yards while doing so.
The thing about Clowney, the nation's consensus number one recruit out of high school, is how he stands out on every snap just due to his size. Then, as soon as the ball is snapped, he stands out for his explosiveness and physicality - making you drop your job and say 'Wow' a couple of times a game. Heck, Murray might want to leave school early just to get away from him. Clowney still isn't up to speed mentally but it's coming and coming quickly. If you're an SEC quarterback with South Carolina on the schedule, prepare your ice bath in advance.
For Mark Richt, he might have to go bang his head against the wall a few times after every game. He's had injuries and suspensions and even NCAA issues thrown his way but there's still no getting around the fact that this is a good group of players who haven't lived up to expectations. Just when it seemed like Georgia was about to break through, they'd commit a big error. The good news is it looked like freshman running back Isaiah Crowell got going, rushing for 118 yards and a touchdown after breaking a few nice runs into the open field. But even as he took two steps forward, his fumble at midfield that Stephon Gilmore returned to the red zone was a step back. He's still a little behind in pass protection but the flashes he showed reminded everybody, coaches included, why he was so highly recruited out of high school.
The biggest thing that Richt can do next week is get his team to have fun against Coastal Carolina. There will be no avoiding hearing about his job status as the heat was turned up even higher after the loss - he has to get his team refocused before starting the heart of their SEC schedule. Get everybody involved, call some trick plays, something - anything - to get his team focused on having fun playing football instead of worrying about him. He can't eliminate all the distractions but he can get his team to buy back in week-by-week. The schedule is manageable enough that they could conceivably go 10-2 this year - more than enough to quiet critics for a few more months. The Bulldogs are talented but lost to two teams they should have to fall to 0-2 for the first time since 1996.
Now the trick is winning out using their own talented roster. No easy task but one that can certainly happen.
Stat of the week
If I had to take someone to Vegas with me, I just might select Gene Chizik. All he seems to do is give heart attack to the Auburn faithful and win last second games. The Tigers pulled off the upset this week against Mississippi State thanks to a goal line stand that kept quarterback Chris Relf out of the end zone by inches to preserve a 41-34 win at home.
"We'd prefer to win football games a lot different than we are, but there's something to be said when you can fight down to the end when it doesn't look good and still win the game," Chizik said after the game.
While the head coach certainly would prefer a less stressful ending to games, he might need to get used to them if his team is to keep winning. After taking nearly two hours just to play the first half against the Bulldogs, I was digging around looking for the total game time but managed to find an even more eye-popping stat.
Auburn's offense has averaged 56.5 plays during their first two games while the defense has averaged 90.5 snaps per game. Yes, the defense is almost literally on the field twice as long the offense. For a young team with issues on both sides of the ball, that's an uh-oh.
For comparison's sake, Arkansas has averaged 74.5 plays on offense and 57.5 on defense during their light non-conference schedule. Only two SEC teams have average more than 70 snaps on defense, and just six teams nationally have their defense on the field for more than 80 plays a game. No one even approaches 90 defensive plays a game. The national average for number of plays on defense is 67.3 and 68.8 on offense.
Up against that little issue, it's almost shocking Auburn's 2-0 but they are thanks to some late game heroics. Whether this is a serious flaw of just the byproduct of two crazy games remains to be seen but, bottom-line, Chizik needs to make some adjustments.
Other stats of note
- Michigan's Denard Robinson thrilled the country against Notre Dame and became the first UM quarterback to beat the Irish twice since Jim Harbaugh did so back in the late 1980's. He also has accounted for an astounding 96% of the offense the last two games between the schools.
- Texas has outscored its opponents 35-6 in the second half while USC outscored their opponent in the 4th quarter for just the fourth time in 15 games this weekend.
- Tyler Bray's 405 yards are the most for a Tennessee quarterback since the legend himself, Peyton Manning, wore orange. Bray finished 34-of-41 and tossed four touchdowns. Justin Hunter and Da'Rick Rogers both had 10 catches for over 100 yards and the pair combined for three TD receptions.
- In the last 11 years, the Georgia-South Carolina series has only been decided by nine points or less eight times. Since 2004, the winner has had fewer than 20 points every year but 2009 and 2011.
- Alabama has not allowed a touchdown in the first quarter for seven straight games.
- Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly is a tackling machine once again this year. He has a nation's-best 35 total tackles while the next closest player has 27.
- What an impressive, almost surgical attack led by Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden. The Cowboys' offense came out and pretty much blew away the Arizona secondary on Thursday en route to a 37-14 win in Stillwater. Weeden connected on his 13 passes and finished up with a ho-hum 397 yards after slowing down in the second half. He's flown under the radar a little bit (even in his own state) but in 15 starts, he has only two losses by a total of 16 points. It's sometime easy to say a lot of his success is due to receiver Justin Blackmon but Weeden is the triggerman for what the team does. This team can also run the ball pretty well - Joseph Randle is 15th in the country in rushing - and should make for a fun Big 12 regular season when they play fellow top 15 teams Oklahoma and Texas A&M.
- Senior writer Bruce Feldman touched on FIU in his Sunday column but what a win for Mario Cristobal's program. Their win over Louisville was the first win ever for the program over BCS team and showed that the Golden Panthers are more than just the dynamic all-purpose superstar T.Y. Hilton. They take on another rising in-state program in UCF this week and if they can pull off the upset, a run at going undefeated isn't out of the question. It will be tough to stop the Knights but FIU has the athletes and coaches to make it a game.
- Speaking of Louisville, their game against Kentucky might be downright unwatchable. Louisville is a mess offensively and their defense is suspect. Luckily for Charlie Strong, they'll face a Kentucky team that has serious issues with both lines. It's going to really be rough once the Wildcats get into SEC play this year if they continue to play as sloppy as they have been during their first two games. Fans from both schools are probably counting down the days until basketball season already.
- If there's one thing that might be different under Luke Fickell at Ohio State, it's the offense is involving the tight end more. Senior Jake Stoneburner came into the season with 22 catches for 252 yards and two touchdowns. Through two games this season he has eight catches for 93 yards and four TD's and seems to be one of quarterback Joe Bauserman's favorite targets. The Buckeyes haven't look completely in rhythm on offense but that's not Stoneburner's fault.
- Not sure what to make of Texas' win over BYU other than it's a baby step back to respectability. Garrett Gilbert's not who Mack Brown wanted him to be coming out of camp, looking shaky again with some bad decisions before being pulled for David Ash and Case McCoy. Using Ash in some zone read situations was a good change of pace and was a productive play with their speed at running back - a group that finally got going, including freshman Malcolm Brown. The defense still is a concern, as BYU seemed to pick apart the middle of the field. Might take awhile for everybody to get comfortable with Manny Diaz' system but there's some talent on the team. Baby steps.
- Two quarterbacks in the Northwest were rolling this weekend. In Oregon, Darron Thomas and the Ducks offense seemed to be back in their normal sixth-gear against Nevada. Thomas had just 13 attempts - after throwing for 54 against LSU - but six of them were for touchdowns on Saturday. Freshman De'Anthony Thomas had over 200 all-purpose yards and scored two touchdowns. He's a small but tough back who has speed to burn, should be fun to see what Chip Kelly does with him as he learns more of the playbook.
At Washington, Keith Price got the Huskies off to a 2-0 start by throwing for 315 yards and four touchdowns. He connected on his first eight throws and has spread the ball around to a good receiving group well. Things got a little tight against Hawaii but Price and running back Chris Polk kept the Huskies moving. This team may not be a top 15-caliber squad but they're certainly going to give others fits if they can stop playing down to their competition at times.
- I was a bit shocked to see that Clemson opened up as a favorite against Auburn this week, their own issues aside. Dabo Swinney's club struggled against Wafford and things are not going to get any easier. The offense is productive in the stat sheet but in they're still struggling to adjust to Chad Morris' system. The rush defense in particular is very concerning, ranking 107th in the country after two games against a Sun Belt and an FCS opponent.
- Several people in the Alabama program told me that the Crimson Tide defense might be the best ever under Nick Saban. After watching two games, I think they're close to being right. The score was a bit closer than expected against Penn State at 27-11 but this is a very good group. They look faster and deeper than the national championship squad a couple of years ago and are not the opposing quarterback's best friend, to say the least.
My top 10 after week 2:
4. Boise State
5. Texas A&M
8. Florida State
9. Oklahoma State
10. South Carolina
Where we'll be this week
I'll be out at the Ineligible Bowl, Ohio State at Miami on Saturday. Senior writer Brett McMurphy is in Tallahassee for the top five showdown of Oklahoma and Florida State.
Across the goal line
There were a series of firsts in the USC-Utah game I was at this weekend. Trojans kicker Andre Heidari recorded the first points in Pac-12 conference history while teammate Marc Tyler will be in the record books for scoring the first touchdown. Thanks to their 17-14 win over the Utes, USC won the final Pac-10 game and the very first Pac-12 game.
In many ways, the first ever Pac-12 conference game - which wasn't really true because Colorado and Cal played earlier that day in an overtime "non-conference" game - featured many of the same elements of its Pac-10 predecessors. There were big plays on offense, a close game, USC on national (cable) television at night and, oh yeah, an officiating controversy.
As I walked down the steps of the Coliseum toward the field right before their drive, I kept thinking this was a welcome to the conference moment for Utah. Boy was it ever.
I was about 10 yards away when, on 4th down, DeVonte Christopher caught an in-route that seemed to fall just short of the first down marker. It seemed like a bad spot but the refs said it was a turnover on downs. Then they reviewed it, remarked the spot and gave Utah a first down. Saved by Pac-10… er, -12 replay officials.
Then there was the pass interference call on the next play. That set up the Utes' field goal attempt. I couldn't quite see the holder but was looking at the middle of the line in case the kick was blocked. Next thing I know the ball is bouncing right into the hands of USC corner Torin Harris and he's off to the end zone. The crowd and sidelines were going crazy as he raced to the end zone. I turned to talk to a colleague and saw a few players run out to get a better angle on the return. Seconds later I saw the flag, then the announcement that the game was over. The touchdown didn't count, but the game was over.
What just happened I wondered. Duty, however, called as I tried to grab a few players to talk about the win (or, in the case of the Utes, loss). I kept thinking how close Utah had gotten and, in their first conference game, they had played like they belonged despite coming up short in the win column. They came into a storied venue and almost knocked off the conference's most storied program. Utah is a good team that was well coached but wasn't quite good enough on a beautiful Saturday night in Los Angeles.
Then there was a tweet that popped up as I got back to the press box to begin transcribing. Hold your horses, the score was in question. The Pac-12 was reviewing what happened at the end of the game. As Michael Lev of the O.C. Register noted down on the field, the touchdown had huge implications for bettors across the country with USC favored by 8-8.5 points.
That's when the story changed from Utah being not quite good enough to, apparently, the Pac-12 officials "miss-communicating" and they were actually nine points from being good enough.
It was an unusual ending that I'm still trying to get my head around because the score itself changed after the fact - regardless what the conference says. The Caesars, MGM and Wynn sports books apparently stayed with the 17-14 result. The Hilton, Cantor, South Point sports books switched to 23-14. Some honored both. If you threw away a winning ticket, that is a bad beat that will be with you for a long time.
A finish that was wild, unbelievable and involved money. In a roundabout way, the first ever Pac-12 game got me very prepared for the Ineligible Bowl next week.
I knew you were good Larry Scott, didn't know you were this good.
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