Tag:Cyrus Gray
Posted on: September 26, 2011 10:07 am
Edited on: September 26, 2011 2:20 pm

Surveying the Field: Reviewing Week 4

Posted by Bryan Fischer

As much as it frustrates the rest of the country, there's a reason why the SEC is continually touted as the nation's best conference. There's a reason why they've won five straight BCS championships.There's a reason why the league is so competitive. And it's not hard to figure out either.

Defense, and lots of it. S-E-C Speed, S-E-C D.

With nearly half the league ranked 75th or worse in total offense through four games, five ranked teams and a 25-4 non-conference record don't happen by accident. Six teams are in the top 30 in scoring defense, including Alabama and Florida in the top five.

For LSU, the fearsome part of their defense is the backend. Defensive back Tyrann Mathieu repeated as Walter Camp Defensive Player of the Week thanks to six tackles and two turnovers against West Virginia. A week earlier, his teammate Morris Claiborne was tabbed for the award after two interceptions against Mississippi State. If there's a better pair of corners in the country on one team, they're in the NFL. Mathieu's interception that he took down to the one right before halftime helped stretch the Tigers' lead to 20 and Claiborne's 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown ended all hopes of a Mountaineers rally and kept momentum planted firmly on the LSU sideline.

"West Virginia did a very good job, but our defense showed up to play and we got off to a nice start," Les Miles said after the game. " Morris Claiborne’s return was right on time, and we were able to finish it off. We made some mistakes, but we overcame that adversity."

What was surprising Saturday was just how little pressure LSU's front seven were able to get on opposing quarterback Geno Smith. He finished with a school-record 468 yards of total offense as the Tigers game up more yards in a game than they had since 2005. Giving up chunks of yards to a Dana Holgorsen-led offense is nothing new, but what kept the game in LSU's favor was the big play ability of coordinator John Chavis' defense.

Ultimately, the Tigers don't win by scoring, they win by scoring on defense.

Mathieu, who wears Patrick Peterson's old number seven, is as ball-hawking as you can get. Peterson was a one-man island last season, often taking away half of the field by himself in zone coverage if he wasn't locking up his man one-on-one. While Mathieu isn't as good in coverage as the man he took over for, he has a great feel for the game and reads plays as well as anybody on the back half. When he roams or blitzes, things just happen - as they did in Morgantown on Saturday. Despite losing Peterson, this secondary is better and deeper than it was a year ago as Claiborne and others have elevated their game. As one NFL scout told CBSSports.com writer Gregg Doyel, there are actually more than four NFL players among this group.

Read more about Tyrann Mathieu in Bruce Feldman's Big Picture

"The offensive game plan was not a problem," Holgorsen said. "Turning the ball over four times is a problem, and they have something to do with that too. They have a pretty good defense."

LSU has scored first and led at halftime in each of the Tigers' games this year. It's all part of the plan: Score first, play defense, be opporunistic and win the fourth quarter.

Alabama uses a similar strategy. Before the season, one person inside the program said what many had been saying: this defense was better than 2009's championship squad and might be one of the most talented ever under Nick Saban. They might have an even faster secondary than LSU and use the speed to play everything in front of them, swarming to ball seconds after the snap.

Against Arkansas, they also delivered shot, after shot, after shot on quarterback Tyler Wilson. The 3-4 the team runs allows Saban and coordinator Kirby Smart to mix in plenty of zone blitzes to create pressure on quarterbacks who rarely can tell where it's coming from before the snap. The Tide recruit athletes who can move well in they scheme more than anything and that's translated into a fearsome unit that is living up to their reputation as the best in the country. They play smart and play well.

"Well we set out to establish that we were going against the best offense in the SEC and a lot of people were labeling us as the best defense in the SEC, so we wanted to go out and show people what we were capable of with all cylinders turning," linebacker Dont'a Hightower said.

Though the highlight of the game with Arkansas was Marquis Maze's punt return for a touchdown, that was nearly the straw that broke the razorback's back. As Saban and others admitted it was a defensive play, DeQuan Menzie's interception, that shifted the momentum after the offense couldn't convert on the goal line.

"That was a big turning point in the game from a momentum stand point, and you know, we need to make more plays like that, get more turnovers," Saban said. "People are going to see what we do and figure out ways to deal with it. Our challenge is to get better every day."

That's a scary thought - for Alabama or for any SEC defense. Can't wait to see them match up with LSU on November 5 as much as the offensive coordinators do not.

Stat of the week

After wrapping up a 56-31 win over Rice, just about everybody was talking about Heisman candidate and Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III. Look up the box score and it's easy to see why: he went a ho-hum 29-33 for 338 yards and five touchdowns as the Bears racked up 673 yards of offense. Even more eye-popping was the fact that he threw more touchdowns than incompletions for the second consecutive game. Griffin has also thrown more touchdowns (13) than incompletions (12) this season. He is completing 85% of his passes, hasn't thrown an interception and is throwing for nearly 12 yards per attempt. As one would expect, he tops the NCAA efficiency rankings, just ahead of Wisconsin's Russell Wilson.

Other stats of note

- Florida beat Kentucky for the 25th time in a row and by at least 34 points for the fourth straight year.  The Wildcats are on the losing end of the two longest active losing streaks to one team, the other being the 26 game streak to Tennessee.

- Hawaii quarterback Bryant Moniz set a school record and tied the NCAA record by throwing seven touchdown passes against UC Davis over the weekend. He sat out the second half after the Warriors led 49-0 at half but not before he also passed for a school record 424 yards in a half.

- Notre Dame is dead last in the country in turnover margin at -2.50 a game. The Irish have given the ball away 15 times in four games, more than they did in all of 2009 and 2006. The defense has forced just five this year.

- Quarterback Denard Robinson is the nation's leading rusher at 168.7 yards per game, over 15 yards a game more than runner up LaMichael James. While that's pretty impressive, he wouldn't be in the top spot were it not for the NCAA not counting his stats from the game against Western Michigan - which was stopped early. Of course, who knows, he might have been able to pad his stats during that game and still be in the lead a few weeks later like he is now.

- Texas A&M running back Cyrus Gray had his nine-game streak of at least 100 yards rushing broken. The Aggies really went away from the ground game in the second half and never did establish Gray against Oklahoma State. Meanwhile, Cowboys quarterback Brandon Weeden set school records for completions (47) and passing yardage (438).

- James was back to putting up video game numbers for Oregon against Arizona this weekend. He rushed for a school record 288 yards and also set the all-purpose mark. His first quarter touchdown run also gave him the Ducks record for career touchdowns as well. His 288 yards were more than the Wildcats have rushed for all year (249).

- Florida Atlantic had just one first down against Michigan State but racked up 20 against Auburn's defense in a 30-14 loss. The Owls are dead last in the country in offense and have scored only 17 points all year. 62% of FAU's offensive yardage this year came against Auburn.

- South Carolina's defense allowed just 77 yards to Vanderbilt and only five first downs all game. Defensive stud Melvin Ingram scored yet another touchdown, his third in as many weeks. By reaching the end zone, Ingram is tied for third on the team for points scored with quarterback Stephen Garcia.

- A few miles away from Columbia, Clemson receiver and freshman sensation Sammy Watkins is leading the Tigers in scoring after 141 yards receiving and two touchdowns in a victory over Florida State. Through four games this year he has 433 yards receiving and six touchdowns, marks that would have placed him second and third on the team respectively in each category last year.

- Four teams topped the 400 yard rushing mark last Saturday, led by Air Force rolling up 595 yards against hapless Tennessee State. Oregon had 415 yards against Arizona, Florida rushed for 405 against Kentucky and Army pounded Ball State for 402 yards. A team has rushed for over 400 yards 10 times this year while a team has passed for over 400 yards 22 times through week four.

- According to SI.com's Stewart Mandel, Illinois is 4-0 for the first time since 1951. I'm with him, how is that possible?

- Georgia Tech has six plays of 70+ yards this year and seven one-play scoring drives.


-  Hats off to Mike Gundy's halftime adjustments. After being held about 1,000 points below their average in the first half to trail by 17, the Cowboys offense exploded as Brandon Weeden started picking apart Texas A&M's secondary with intermediate passes on their way to a comeback win. The Aggies turned the ball over three times and anytime you give Weeden the ball on a short field, watch out. The most telling sign was the lack of panic on the OSU sidelines as they fell behind. Though they hadn't been in the position before, it was as if they knew what to do and went out and executed. The defense isn't quite as good as Oklahoma's but they'll be able to ride the offense quite far in Big 12 play.

- I'm not quite ready to say the Michigan defense is good but it's certainly much improved and solid enough in a weaker Big Ten for new coordinator Greg Mattison. After the much maligned unit struggled all of last year, they seemed to turn a corner against a very good offense in San Diego State. The Wolverines shutout talented running back Ronnie Hillman and the Aztecs in the first half, the first time they've pulled off the feat in the first half in over two years. Hillman hadn't fumbled since the first carry of his freshmen season last year and yet coughed it up twice. We've been in this position with the Wolverines before last year - a fast start, Denard Robinson being Denard Robinson - before fading badly at the end in Rich Rodriguez' last year as head coach. This year, though, might be different. The schedule is manageable and with the defense being more opportunistic than they have been in the past, Michigan could have a much different ending.

- Michigan's archival Ohio State doesn't have the kind of stability that the Wolverines have but they had to be encouraged with the solid first start for quarterback Braxton Miller. He didn't cause anybody to label him the "next" anything after going 5-13 for 83 yards and rushing for 83 yards but it looks like he's the future after a disastrous passing game for the Buckeyes I saw firsthand against Miami. What's funny is the last time I saw Ohio State play on the road was a couple of years ago at USC. The offense struggled and the next game a talented true freshman by the name of Terrelle Pryor started for the first time. Pryor tossed four touchdowns in that game and led the Buckeyes to an 8-1 record as a starter. While Miller didn't come anywhere close to looking like his predecessor, he looked comfortable running the offense and playing with what the defense was giving him. No one's saying he'll be able to replicate what Pryor did on the field but it looks like yet again the Buckeyes have another true freshman ready to lead them into Big Ten play this year.

"I slept pretty good," he said of his first start. "I really didn't have any jitters at all."

With improved play from Miller and the rest of the offense, head coach Luke Fickell might sleep better too.

- There's no offense quite like Georgia Tech's. It's an option attack but one that has a dangerous passing game that is part of the reason the Yellow Jackets are leading the nation in yards per game. They piled up 496 yards on Saturday in a nice win over North Carolina. Quarterback Tevin Washington is the triggerman but unlike previous players at the position under Paul Johnson, he looks like he can legitimately get the ball down the field accurately. Of course, it helps to throw the ball to 6-foot-5 receiver Steven Hill. There were times where he looked just like Calvin Johnson while making one-handed catches on his way to 151 yards and a touchdown. Hill might be the best receiver no one's really talking about but with Washington throwing the ball and running back Orwin Smith helping out on the ground, expect to hear more about Georgia Tech going forward.

- Poor N.C. State fans. As if it weren't enough to see former quarterback Russell Wilson at the helm for a top 10 team, Thursday's blowout loss to Cincinnati couldn't have given anybody any confidence in what's to come this season. The offensive line gave up six sacks to go on top of three turnovers, two of which were interceptions thrown by Wilson's replacement Mike Glennon without much thought. There's some talent on the team but clearly not enough in a much tougher ACC this year. It's going to be a long season until North Carolina's Committee on Infractions hearing for Wolfpack fans.

- I thought the Clemson game would be a bit of a letdown game for Florida State and while they made it close, the execution just was not there for the Seminoles. Of course they wanted to win and definitely were without some key players, but they invested so much into the game against Oklahoma one would have to think that they spent a little too much time watching film from last week instead of film of the Tigers. Just when it seemed like the defense was ready to make a stop or the offense get going, there'd be a penalty (they finished with 11 for 124 yards). On the other side, it finally appears that Clemson is getting the hang of offensive coordinator Chad Morris' new hurry-up system. Tajh Boyd still has moments that must make Morris rip out some hair but he is looking much more comfortable behind center. With electric freshman Sammy Watkins making plays every time you tune in, it's easy to see why there's plenty of optimism in Death Valley.

"I'm super excited about how our players keep growing this offense and executing. And we're only four games into this offense," Morris said. "It's crazy."

- Penn State beat Eastern Michigan 34-6 as part of the Big Ten's weekend of home games against directional schools to raise money for themselves. The Nittany Lions might have come out with a victory but it was a costly one - starting outside linebacker Mike Mauti will miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL. Considered to be the team's best backer, this is needless to say a big blow to a team that already has struggled some on both sides of the ball. Mauti missed the 2009 season with an ACL injury to his other knee and was limited at times last year due to a shoulder injury. Senior corner D'Anton Lynn was also hurt and had to be transported to the hospital to have his head and neck examined after a hit.

- Speaking of Penn State, the team that almost beat them last week, Temple, ended up routing Maryland 38-7. Steve Addazio has quietly taken what Al Golden left him and turned the Owls in a forced to be reckoned with. Junior back Bernard Pierce is the Northeast's best kept secret, as he rushed for five touchdowns and 149 yards to power Temple's first road win over a BCS foe in nine years.

- How bad is Oregon State? The Beavers lost 27-19 to a UCLA team that is not without their own issues on both sides of the ball. Many expected them to get a boost - they were favored at home - with the return of all-purpose threat James Rodgers and tight end Joe Halahuni but it was to no avail. It's the worst start of the Mike Riley era and unlike many of his previous teams, there's just no execution. There's been issues behind the scenes and at quarterback on offense while the defense is still breaking in plenty of new players. As Pac-12 play continues, don't expect things to get any easier until the Beavers get back to their roots of playing smart football and keeping the turnovers to a minimum. For UCLA, it was a game they just had to have if they're to sneak into a bowl game this year. According to the LA Daily News , a joyous Rick Neuheisel told a group of fans after the game  "Anybody have fun on the flight here? Not as much as you'll have on the flight home!" Of course, he also added that the Bruins haven't been 1-0 in the conference, "in a long time."

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Related links
Quote of the week

"Big 12! Big 12! Big 12!" - Oklahoma State fans after their victory at Kyle Field. Perhaps it was also fitting that Texas A&M had two 12th man penalties on defense early in the game.

Quote of the week, part II

"The speed of the game, it's kind of lighting struck the outhouse and we were in it." - Kentucky defensive coordinator Rick Minter after the Wildcats' 48-10 loss to Florida.

Tweets of the week

"Arizona will always be a basketball school.. So Child please!" and "If one more person EVER tells me Arizona is turning into a "football" school .. Can kiss the baby"

- Former Arizona forward Derrick Williams during his football team's blowout loss to Oregon. Ouch.

Fisch's Finest

1. LSU

2. Alabama

3. Oklahoma

4. Boise State

5. Stanford

6. Wisconsin

7. Oklahoma State

8. Oregon

9. Virginia Tech

10. Nebraska

Where we'll be this week

The big CBS primetime matchup between Alabama and Florida from the Swamp will have Mr. College Football himself, Tony Barnhart, in attendance. Dennis Dodd will be at Camp Randall for Nebraska's first Big Ten conference game against Wisconsin while Brett McMurphy will be listening to 'Enter Sandman' as Clemson plays at Virginia Tech. I've got early duty as I'll be at Texas A&M's first SEC conference game (well, first unofficial one anyway) against Arkansas at Cowboys Stadium.

Leaning this way

Alabama at Florida (8 p.m. ET, CBS)

The past three meetings has featured one of two teams ranked number one overall and while neither will be in the top spot in the polls this year, a top 12 matchup awaits down in the Swamp. Both the Gators and Tide have tough defenses that are ranked in the top five nationally in the three big defensive categories (total/rushing/scoring defense) so each offense figures to have a little more trouble moving the ball than they have so far this year. Alabama's speed will be the difference as they bottle up Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps to come out with a victory.

Nebraska at Wisconsin

Welcome to the Big Ten Nebraska. Camp Randall should be jumping around as they welcome in the Cornhuskers and Taylor Martinez. Look for Russell Wilson to continue to be sharp and not turn the ball over and the Badgers' defense to make just enough plays to win. Martinez should be able to move the ball though, Wisconsin's defense hasn't really been tested - much less by an offense like Nebraska's.

Clemson at Virginia Tech

The first big test for both teams as Clemson goes on the road to take on Frank Beamer's squad. Clemson made several key mistakes that kept Florida State in the game last week and if they turn the ball over, that plays right into the Hokies game plan. Virginia Tech should win but don't be surprised if this is a close ACC battle.

Category: NCAAF
Tags: ACC, Air Force, Al Golden, Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Army, Ball State, Baylor, BCS, Bernard Pierce, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Boise State, Brandon Weeden, Braxton Miller, Brett McMurphy, Bruce Feldman, Bryan Fischer, Bryant Moniz, Calvin Johnson, Camp Randall, Chad Morris, Chris Rainey, Cincinnati, Clemson, Cowboys Stadium, Cyrus Gray, D'Anton Lynn, Dana Holgorsen, Denard Robinson, Dennis Dodd, DeQuan Menzie, Derrick Williams, Dont'a Hightower, Eastern Michigan, FAU, Florida, Florida Atlantic, Florida State, Frank Beamer, Geno Smith, Georgia Tech, Greg Mattison, Gregg Doyel, Hawaii, Heisman, Illinois, James Rodgers, Jeff Demps, Joe Halahuni, John Chavis, Kentucky, Kirby Smart, Kyle Field, LaMichael James, Les Miles, LSU, Luke Fickell, Marquis Maze, Maryland, Melvin Inrgam, Michigan, Michigan State, Mike Gundy, Mike Mauti, Mike Riley, Mississippi State, Morris Claiborne, N.C. State, NCAA, Nebraska, NFL, Nick Saban, Non-BCS, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Oregon, Oregon State, Orwin Smith, Pac-12, Patrick Peterson, Paul Johnson, Penn State, Rice, Rich Rodriguez, Rick Minter, Rick Neuheisel, Robert Griffin III, Ronnie Hillman, Russell Wilson, Sammy Watkins, San Diego State, SEC, SEC, South Carolina, Stanford, Stephen Garcia, Steve Addazio, Steven Hill, Stewart Mandel, Tajh Boyd, Taylor Martinez, Temple, Tennessee, Terrelle Pryor, Tevin Washington, Texas A&M, Tony Barnhart, UC Davis, UCLA, USC, Vanderbilt, Virginia Tech, West Virginia, Western Michigan, Wisconsin
Posted on: September 19, 2011 11:18 am
Edited on: September 19, 2011 12:47 pm

Surveying the Field: Reviewing Week 3

Posted by Bryan Fischer

A longtime Floridian told me Friday he couldn't remember the last time the state was the center of college football like it was this past weekend. Sure there have been big games and plenty of teams in championship contention, but it's hard to think of a time when each corner of the state had a big primetime match up. Equally surprising, he said, was that traditional rivalry Florida-Tennessee was only the third most interesting game on the docket.

The spotlight was indeed on the Sunshine State and things couldn't have gone better for the most part. At the northern end, number one Oklahoma rolled into Tallahassee to play Florida State and there were moments when you genuinely stopped and said, "FSU's back." A loss is a loss but the way the Noles played was encouraging.

The storyline coming out the game seems to be all about Big Game Bob Stoops' team getting their first non-conference road victory over a top-five team in over three decades. The Sooners were gritty, responding to scores like a top-ranked and championship team should. Quarterback Landry Jones had several clutch throws and it seemed like linebacker Tom Wort was making every other play on defense. Oklahoma looked the part and survived with a victory.

The key word being survived. Yes their road woes are well documented but the reason the game was close - closer than most thought - was that Florida State looked the part of a top five team as well. For three quarters at least, it was a knockdown, drag out fight between two high profile head coaches. After FSU freshman Rashad Greene caught a beautiful 56 yard touchdown pass to tie the game, Doak Campbell was rocking. As more than one writer said on Twitter, it was partying like it was 1999.

One wonders what might have been had quarterback E.J. Manuel not gotten hurt. Could he have pulled off the upset? Who knows? But the biggest take away was the defense held an explosive, veteran-laden OU offense to just 23 points and showed they are close to having the athletes at every position like they used too when things were rolling. They were kids last year in Norman and it took less than a year for them to grow up into men. The offense still needs some work - especially along the line - but the defense should help carry the Seminoles through ACC play.

Jimbo Fisher has Florida State making waves on the recruiting trail and there are plenty of signs that the on the field product is coming along as well. The next step is winning games like the one on Saturday but, by all indications, that's coming. Party like it's 1999 indeed.

A couple hours down the road in Gainesville, two teams showed they still need work if they're to take the next step. It looked like Florida was going to run away with the game up 30-7 late in the third but the defense seemed to take the foot off the accelerator. For the most part though, the defensive line was active and did a great job of shutting down the Vols' running game. Completely. Florida's defense held Tennessee to just -9 yards on the ground, the third best mark in the country so far. The offense took a hit once receiver Justin Hunter went down but it was the young offensive line that just couldn't handle the pressure Florida was generating.

All-purpose threat Chris Rainey was everywhere Saturday for the Gators' offense. He had 233 all-purpose yards and recorded his fifth career blocked punt. The Gators are still adjusting to Charlie Weis' offense and Will Muschamp's defense but Rainey is a constant playmaker that the team will have to lean on as they get into the thick of the SEC schedule. Is this team in the same class as Alabama or LSU? Not even close. But there's enough there on both sides of the ball to put up a fight with Georgia and South Carolina for the East title.

Further South, some observers would have had no issue with vacating the Ineligibowl. It just wasn't a pretty game. Ohio State was a step slow all night and Miami struggled on offense outside of their scoring drives to open and close the game. Both teams got back several players from NCAA suspension and Miami's certainly made the difference in the game: Jacory Harris was efficient outside of two boneheaded interceptions and linebacker Sean Spence truly transformed the defense into a much stouter unit that was able to apply pressure on nearly every snap.

Sophomore running back Lamar Miller set the tone early with a big run on the first play of the game en his way to a career night that made him the fourth leading rusher in the country at 151.5 yards per game. There's plenty of talent on this team to get nine or so wins but there's still moments when the Hurricanes revert to last year's form and make a boneheaded mistake. It will be curious to see how they use this game as a momentum builder going forward. At full strength and with some confidence, the Hurricanes have a little bit of swagger back.

On the other side, Ohio State is lacking an identity and has to figure out their quarterback position and do so soon. The Buckeyes have no clue about what kind of team they want to be and there could be some doubt amongst the players about head coach Luke Fickell if post game comments are to be believed.

"I felt like me and Jordan (Hall) were doing a great job in the run game, so I felt we should have just come out and ran at them," tailback Carlos Hyde told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "We should have manned up and ran straight at them, see if they could stop us."

Also, don't overlook the other game in Miami on Saturday: FIU following up it's big win over Louisville with a solid victory over in-state foe UCF to start 3-0 on the season. Many had pegged the Knights as a possible BCS buster at the beginning of the season so for FIU to knock them off does wonders for a program that was the definition of a rebuilding job just a few years ago. Yes it's a Sun Belt team but with the schedule like it is, don't be surprised if FIU keeps things rolling. The defense recorded six sacks against UCF and did a great job the week before against the Cardinals. Plus they did everything without all-everything star T.Y. Hilton, who missed most of the game with a hamstring injury. Take note, the program in the state with the most upside is the one that's not in a BCS conference.

The state of Florida won't be the center of the college football universe like it was this past weekend for some time. But while it was, it delivered.

Stat of the week

Auburn's win streak was snapped at 17 games by Clemson on Saturday, which was the longest in the nation. It was the 10th longest streak in the past decade and amazingly, 10 of the 17 games were decided by eight points or less. Stanford now has the longest win streak in the country with 11, just two seasons removed from a losing record and five seasons away from the school's 1-11 mark.

Biggest reason why the Tigers' streak ended? They're 117th in total defense, 100th in pass defense, 116th in rush defense, 107th in scoring defense and dead last in the country in third down stops. Yikes.

Other stats of note

- Texas Tech quarterback Seth Doege broke the NCAA record for highest completion percentage for 40 or more completions in a game. He completed 40 of 44 against New Mexico for a healthy 90.1 percent clip. He also hit 15 passes in a row at one point, tying a school record on his way to a 401 yard and five touchdown day.

- Kellen Moore's 457 yards of offense against Toledo was third most in the country this year and he averaged nearly 10.39 yards a play. His completion percentage on the season is at a remarkable 78.9 percent.

- With the loss to LSU on Thursday, Dan Mullen fell to 2-10 versus the SEC West as head coach at Mississippi State. Both wins are over rival Ole Miss. While the Bulldogs have been much more competitive under Mullen, they still haven't quite gotten over the hump just yet. He was 8-6 against the West while an assistant at Florida.

- There are beat downs and there's what Missouri did against Western Illinois. The Tigers defense allowed just one first down and 44 total yards on the day while the offense rolled up 744 total yards to set a school record that had been set just after World War II. Tailback Henry Josey ran for 263 yards and three touchdowns, the most in a game this season. The mark was also good enough to move him into sixth place on the national rushing list.

- Of the five players to top 200 yards rushing in a game so far this year, three did so on Saturday (Josey, Marcus Lattimore and LaMichael James).

- Georgia Tech's game against Kansas was pretty amazing to take a look at after the fact. The game delivered the longest run from scrimmage of the season (Orwin Smith went 95 yards for a touchdown), featured two 100 yard rushers and had five players with over 70 yards on the ground. The Yellow Jackets also piled up a school-record 768 total yards, 604 of them via the running game. The 12.1 yards per rush also set an NCAA record for highest in a game.

- Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly has games with 18, 17 and 23 tackles to lead the nation in that category. His 58 total tackles are 19 more than the next player.

- Jeff Fuller became Texas A&M's all-time receptions leader against Idaho while Cyrus Gray topped the 100 yard mark rushing for the ninth time in a row.

- Via senior writer Bruce Feldman, Baylor's Robert Griffin III has eight touchdowns and just eight incompletions.


- Impressive, impressive comeback by Iowa from down 24-3 in the 3rd quarter to Pitt. James Vanderberg has been a little underrated early in the season in the face of replacing a longtime starter and doing so with plenty of fresh faces around him. The junior quarterback is 31st in the country in passing efficiency and 25th in total offense after Saturday's game in which he had several impressive throws in the second half in route to a 399 yard and three touchdown day. The lack of a running game has to be concerning if you're Kirk Ferentz, especially as the begin Big Ten play in two weeks with a trip to Penn State. A heck of a comeback but it's apparent there's plenty of flaws in the Hawkeyes.

- Why hello there Sammy Watkins. While it has taken some time for the Clemson offense to adjust to Chad Morris' new system, Watkins has been an explosive playmaker for the Tigers they really haven't had since C.J. Spiller left for the NFL. Yes it was against a porous Auburn defense, but this week was Watkins' coming out party to the nation with 10 catches for 155 yards and two touchdowns. He shows an explosiveness you just can't teach whenever he gets the ball in his hands and was the spark that allowed Clemson to turn things around. A former five-star recruit, he was ranked behind fellow Tiger frosh Charone Peake coming out of high school by Maxpreps which should give you some indication what kind of young nucleus Dabo Swinney has assembled when you add in running back Mike Bellamy and quarterback Tajh Boyd. Speaking of Swinney, he channeled his inner-Howard Dean in his post game remarks on television.

- Al Golden didn't leave the cupboard bare at Temple as the Owls almost beat Penn State for the first time since Joe Paterno started coaching in Happy Valley. Despite giving up the lead late, Steve Addazio's club showed they can play with bigger and stronger team and should have no problem contending for a MAC championship this year.

- Kudos to James Franklin and what he's been able to do with Vanderbilt. After a close, 4th quarter win against defending Big East champ UConn, the Commodores embarrassed Ole Miss on Saturday 30-7. Franklin has really gotten the team and the rest of the community to buy into what he's building there and it's starting to pay off with the team's 3-0 start. Quarterback Larry Smith isn't sharp enough in the passing game yet but the offense is moving the chains on the ground and playing good defense - they're currently 10th in the country in total D. Things will get much tougher as they head on the road to face South Carolina and Alabama but with home games against Army and Kentucky and a date with Wake Forest, bowl eligibility is possible in Franklin's first year.    
- It looked like West Virginia finally started to get their rushing attack going against Maryland this weekend. Geno Smith is putting up great numbers from the quarterback position but head coach Dana Holgorsen knows that if the team wants to win the Big East - or beat LSU this week - they're going to have to be able to run the ball. Whether the answer at tailback is Vernard Roberts or Andrew Buie still remains to be seen but it can't just be all Smith, all the time. Tavon Austin is a dynamic threat who adds a few wrinkles but there still needs to be a consistent rushing attack so the defense can't play nickel the entire game. The Mountaineers did have an impressive three players top the 100 yard receiving mark last Saturday though.

- It was not pretty at the Rose Bowl as critics briefly turned their attention from overrating Texas to remarking on how hot UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel's seat is. He's an alum who probably cares more about the program winning than anyone there yet there's been hardly any progress to show for it. The defense was supposed to be much better this year and strength of the team but it was anything but in the blowout loss to the Longhorns. Case McCoy (with a little David Ash mixed in) appears to be the answer for UT at quarterback and freshman tailback Malcolm Brown showed flashes on his way to a 110 yard day.

- I am not a believer in Nebraska's defense after playing Washington last week but they'll still do just enough to make it to the title game in their first year in the Big Ten. Still, the effort against the Huskies had a lot to be desired of a top 10 team.

- After returning from Sun Life Stadium late in the Miami night, I was surprised to find out there was not one, but two football games on and I managed to stay up for Oklahoma State-Tulsa late, late, late into the night. I couldn't believe they kicked off after midnight local time, much less that Brandon Weeden was still throwing to Justin Blackmon late in the fourth quarter - and well past 3 AM Central - with the game well in hand. Mike Gundy is not only a man, he's all in on this Cowboys team it appears. All or nothing, this is the most talented squad since Barry Sanders was in Stillwater and everybody is onboard. Why Gundy still had his stars on the field that late in the game for a blowout continues to baffle me however.

- I thought Navy's offense in the middle of the season always spelled trouble for teams that weren't ready for it - especially those coming off an emotional victory like South Carolina. The Midshipmen had a chance late but ultimately the Gamecocks ended up winning 24-21 thanks to a last minute interception. As one head coach told me, you schedule option offenses early or play them in a bowl game or else you'll end up upset. South Carolina wasn't upset but they nearly were with the way they played.

- I couldn't believe the score when I first saw it but here it was, Utah 54, BYU 10. A week ago in the Coliseum, I saw the dejected faces on the Utes sideline as their rally came up short against USC. I thought it would be another tough battle in the Holy War but the Utes smacked everybody around Saturday. Don't count out Utah as representing the Pac-12 South with USC ineligible for the title game and Arizona State still Arizona State.

- Kudos also go out to Wyoming, who blocked Bowling Green's extra point to win 28-27. The thrill of victory, the agony of defeat…

Quote of the week

Craig James during LSU-Mississippi State: "You play four quarters in the SEC."

Tweet of the week

Myself following the second ESPN account to feature the word Genocide in place of West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith. Not a bad nickname if he keeps putting up passing numbers in Dana Holgorsen's offense however.

"Company-wide memo about Geno & autocorrect on Monday. RT @McShay13: WVU QB Genocide Smith off to a fast start."

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Related links
Fisch's Finest

My top 10 after week 2:

1. Oklahoma

2. LSU

3. Alabama

4. Boise State

5. Stanford

6. Wisconsin

7. Texas A&M

8. Oklahoma State

9. Florida State

10. Oregon

Where we'll be this week

Tony Barnhart will be at the big Arkansas-Alabama game, Dennis Dodd will be in College Station for the top 10 matchup between Oklahoma State and Texas A&M. Brett McMurphy gets another great game this weekend, showing up at LSU-West Virginia Saturday night.

Leaning this way

Arkansas-Alabama: The secondary for Alabama will be flying around and turnovers will doom an explosive Arkansas offense.

Oklahoma State-Texas A&M: The Aggies defense is underrated but this game will still be a shootout. The home crowd will give them the edge in a close one.

LSU vs. West Virginia: LSU's defense is just too much late in the game for Dana Holgorsen's offense to break through.

Across the goal line

I was going to write about conference expansion in this space but figured things would change by the time I finished writing the final paragraph. 

Category: NCAAF
Tags: ACC, Al Golden, Alabama, Andrew Buie, Arizona State, Arkansas, Army, Auburn, Barry Sanders, Baylor, BCS, Big 12, Big East, Big East, Big Ten, Big Ten, Bob Stoops, Boise State, Boston College, Bowling Green, Brandon Weeden, Brett McMurphy, Bruce Feldman, Bryan Fischer, BYU, C.J. Spiller, Carlos Hyde, Case McCoy, Chad Morris, Charlie Weis, Charone Peake, Chris Rainey, Clemson, Craig James, Cyrus Gray, Dabo Swinney, Dan Mullen, Dana Holgorsen, David Ash, Dennis Dodd, Doak Campbell, EJ Manuel, FIU, Florida, Florida State, Geno Smith, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Henry Josey, Idaho, Iowa, Jacory Harris, James Franklin, James Vanderberg, Jeff Fuller, Jimbo Fisher, Joe Paterno, Justin Blackmon, Kansas, Kellen Moore, Kentucky, Kirk Ferentz, Lamar Miller, LaMichael James, Landry Jones, Larry Smith, Louisville, LSU, Luke Fickell, Luke Kuechly, MAC, Malcolm Brown, Marcus Lattimore, Maryland, Miami, Mike Bellamy, Mike Gundy, Mississippi State, Missorui, Navy, NCAA, Nebraksa, New Mexico, NFL, Non-BCS, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Ole Miss, Oregon, Orwin Smith, Pac-12, Penn State, Pitt, Rashad Greene, Rick Neuheisel, Robert Griffin III, Rose Bowl, Sammy Watkins, Sean Spence, SEC, Seth Doege, South Carolina, Stanford, Steve Addazio, Sun Belt, Sun Life Stadium, Surveying the Field, T.Y. Hilton, Tajh Boyd, Temple, Tennessee, Texas, Texas A&M, Toldeo, Tom Wort, Tony Barnhart, Travon Austin, Tulsa, UCF, UCLA, UConn, USC, Utah, Vanderbilt, Vernard Roberts, Wake Forest, Washington, West Virginia, Will Muschamp, Wisconsin, Wyoming
Posted on: September 15, 2011 1:25 pm
Edited on: September 15, 2011 1:41 pm

Mister Jones leaving Texas A&M

Posted by Tom Fornelli

Mister Jones wants to be a big, big star, and it seems he don't know how at Texas A&M. When he looks at the Texas A&M depth chart he sees two immovable objects in front of him in the form of Cyrus Gray and Christine Michael, so it's not all that surprising that Mister Jones has decided to leave College Station.

Head coach Mike Sherman released a statement on Wednesday that said Jones would be transferring from Texas A&M.

“Mister came to me and expressed a desire to withdraw from school due to personal reasons,” Sherman said in a statement. "I granted his request. He is a quality young man and we wish Mister and his family all the best.”

As for where Mister Jones winds up, Sherman gave no word. Though it should be pointed out that the redshirt freshman from Littleton, Colorado originally committed to Colorado coming out of high school before eventually signing with Texas A&M. So it's possible that Jones could return home, or he could hook up with Adam Duritz again and dance with that black-haired flamenco dancer.

You never really know.
Posted on: September 4, 2011 11:20 pm
Edited on: September 4, 2011 11:21 pm

QUICK HITS: Texas A&M 46 SMU 14

Posted by Tom Fornelli

TEXAS A&M WON. This game was a rather interesting one for Texas A&M as SMU was an opponent capable of giving the Aggies a headache to start the season. Well, Texas A&M won't be needing any Tylenol tonight. While the Mustangs hung around in the first half despite two turnovers that resulted in 14 Texas A&M points, the Aggies dominated the final 30 minutes. The Aggies used a balanced attack on offense and racked up 458 yards of total offense (212 rushing, 246 passing) while cruising to an easy victory. Ryan Tannehill looked very good, completing 21 of his 26 passes for 246 yards and 2 touchdowns, while Cyrus Gray rushed for 132 yards and 2 touchdowns of his own. Ryan Swope had a nice opener as well, catching 8 passes for 109 yards and a score.

WHY TEXAS A&M WON. While the offense had itself a strong night, Texas A&M's defense was the true deciding factor. The Aggies were facing an SMU offense that returned its entire offensive line, its quarterback and it's top rusher and receiver from a team that averaged nearly 30 points a game last season and held it to 14 points. The Aggies also forced two turnovers early that got Kyle Padron pulled from the game, and had 7 sacks on the evening, including 3 from defensive end Tony Jerod-Eddie. So much for dealing with the loss of Von Miller.

WHEN TEXAS A&M WON. The Mustangs were hanging tough despite turnovers and having their backup quarterback in the game, but when Christine Michael scored his second touchdown of the night a minute before halftime to make the score 33-14 it put an end to any realistic hopes that SMU might have had. It was the proverbial foot on the throat moment.

WHAT TEXAS A&M WON. Well, if the SWC were still around, the Aggies would have won a conference game. Instead the Aggies got to show everyone why they deserved to be ranked at #8 to start the season. It was exactly the type of performance you expect to see from a top ten team that is considered a candidate to win the Big 12.

WHAT SMU LOST. Stability at the quarterback position. Kyle Padron threw for 3,828 yards, 31 touchdowns and 14 interceptions for the Mustangs last season. He only threw 4 passes and had 2 interceptions before June Jones gave him the hook for J.J. McDermott, who played pretty well in his stead. Now the Mustangs have a question mark at a key position they thought they already had an answer to going into the night.

THAT WAS CRAZY. Nothing out of the ordinary really happened in this one, though I suppose the fact we had an entire game played this weekend without a lightning delay could be considered a bit of a novelty. Of course, the irony there is that the state of Texas is in the midst of a terrible drought and would more than welcome the rain that hit the midwest and east coast this weekend.
Posted on: August 16, 2011 12:10 pm

CBSSports.com Preseason All-Big 12 Team

Posted by Tom Fornelli

As part of the CBSSports.com season preview, here are my choices for the Preseason All-Big 12 team.



Landry Jones, Junior, Oklahoma

This is the rather obvious choice, as while there are some good quarterbacks in the Big 12, there's only one who plays for the team many see as a favorite to win the national title, and one whose name comes up in the Heisman Trophy discussion. That would be Landry Jones, and he deserves the hype. In his first two seasons with the Sooners, Jones has thrown for 7,916 yards, 64 touchdowns and only 26 interceptions. 

Also watch for: Though he didn't claim the starting job until half the season had passed, Ryan Tannehill was a big part of Texas A&M's strong finish in 2010. There's also the supremely talented Robert Griffin III at Baylor, and you can't forget about Brandon Weeden at Oklahoma State.


Cyrus Gray, Senior, Texas A&M

While the Aggies deployed a two-headed monster at running back last season, Cyrus Gray was the most productive of the bunch. Gray rushed for 1,133 yards in 2010 and had 12 touchdowns. I wouldn't count on seeing Gray's production drop off at all as he enters his final season in College Station.

Roy Finch, Sophomore, Oklahoma

Finch didn't get a lot of playing time last season, but now that DeMarco Murray has moved on, the speedy back is going to see a lot of action this season, and in an offense as potent as Oklahoma's, that means we're likely to see some big numbers from the little man.

Also watch for: Christine Michael was part of Texas A&M's dynamic duo with Cyrus Gray last season, and he's going to have a big role in 2011 as well. There's also Eric Stephens at Texas Tech who could open some eyes with Tommy Tuberville implementing a more balanced attack and five returning starters on the offensive line. There's also Bryce Brown at Kansas State, and if Brown can live up to all the hype he had coming out of high school, then he may end up being the best back in the entire conference. Texas will be hoping that Malcolm Brown can be the feature back it's been looking for as well.


Justin Blackmon, Junior, Oklahoma State

It's going to be hard for Justin Blackmon to match his 2010 numbers in 2011, but the fact is that his production was so insane last year, that he won't have to. Take away 500 yards and 5 touchdowns from his total last year and Blackmon still finishes with 1,282 yards and 15 touchdowns. The craziest thing of all, however, is if he surpasses last year's numbers, nobody will be all that surprised either.

Ryan Broyles, Senior, Oklahoma

Broyles could have left for the NFL last year, but he decided to return for another season in Norman and Landry Jones couldn't be happier about it. Broyles is coming off his second consecutive 1,000-yard season with at least 14 touchdowns, and a third straight year with those numbers is likely on its way.

Also watch for: The Big 12 is not hurting for strong wide receivers. While Broyles and Blackmon will get the most attention, Kenny Stills and Josh Cooper are excellent second options for their respective squads. Then there's Kendall Wright at Baylor, Ryan Swope and Jeff Fuller at Texas A&M, T.J. Moe at Missouri, and don't forget about Mike Davis at Texas.


Michael Egnew, Senior, Missouri

Egnew is listed as a tight end, but realistically, he plays more like a wide receiver. Egnew caught 90 passes for 762 yards last year with five touchdowns, and he should see plenty of balls coming his way again this year as James Franklin looks to fill Blaine Gabbert's shoes.

Also watch for: While wide receiver catch most of the balls in the Big 12, there are some solid tight ends. Keep an eye on Oklahoma's James Hanna, Nehemiah Nicks with Texas A&M and Tim Biere at Kansas.


Center Ben Habern, Junior, Oklahoma

After redshirting in 2008, Habern has started 24 games at center for the Sooners over the last two seasons. He led Oklahoma with 123 knockdowns in 2010, including 16 against Colorado and was an honorable mention on the All-Big 12 team last season.

Guard, Lonnie Edwards, Senior, Texas Tech

Edwards is a key part of the Texas Tech offensive line that returns every starter this season. He'll play an even larger role this season as Texas Tech will likely run more than we've seen in the past. The 6-foot-4 320 pounder has started 23 games in Lubbock and was an All-Big 12 second team selection in 2010.

Guard, Lane Taylor, Junior, Oklahoma State

Taylor is the most experience member of the Oklahoma State offensive line, as he was the only returning starter in 2010. He's made 24 consecutive starts for the Cowboys, and aside from keeping Brandon Weeden off his back, Taylor was an first team academic Big 12 selection as well.

Tackle, Levy Adcock, Senior, Oklahoma State

They don't come much bigger than Adcock, and the 6-foot-6 322-pound tackle used his size awfully well in 2010. Adcock was a first-team All-Big 12 selection by both the coaches and the AP last season (a unanimous selection by the AP) after winning the starting job in August last year and never letting it go.

Tackle, Kelechi Osemele, Senior, Iowa State

Oh wait, they do come bigger than Adcock. Osemele checks in at 6-foot-6 and 347 pounds. Osemele got his start playing both guard and tackle in 2008 but moved to left tackle full time in 2009 and hasn't moved since, starting 30 straight games. This will be a name you hear called early in the NFL draft next spring.

Also watch for: Offensive lineman may spend most of their time living in anonymity and working as a unit, but Texas A&M's Luke Joeckel and Oklahoma State's Grant Garner are a couple other names you should get familiar with. Missouri's Elvis Fisher definitely would have made the list if not for his season-ending knee injury.



DE Frank Alexander, Senior, Oklahoma

Alexander only started in nine games for the Sooners last season, but still managed to finish second on the team in tackles for loss (13) and sacks (7). In other words, he spends a lot of his time in backfields disrupting plays before they even get a chance to start.

DE Brad Madison, Junior, Missouri

Madison had a break out season in 2010 and proved to be one of the top playmakers on Missouri's defensive line. Madison ended the season leading the Tigers defense in sacks (7.5) and tackles for loss (11).  He was named to the All-Big 12 second team for his efforts, and now that he'll be replacing Aldon Smith his name is one that many opposing quarterbacks will have drilled into their brains as they prepare to face Missouri.

DT Kheeston Randall, Senior, Texas

An anchor on the defensive line for the Longhorns, Randall was an honorable mention for the All-Big 12 last season. This year I believe he'll be moving up the ladder and having an even bigger impact.  Randall finished second on the team with 13 tackles for loss in 2010, and also had a big impact on special teams, blocking two kicks.

DT Tony Jerod-Eddie, Senior, Texas A&M

In Texas A&M's 3-4 defense, Jerod-Eddie sees a lot of time at defensive end, but he's a defensive tackle in purpose. Think of Marcell Dareus at Alabama last season.  While Jerod-Eddie doesn't spend a lot of time in the backfield blowing up plays, he uses his size and strength to stuff the run at the point of attack and allow Aggie linebackers to flow freely to the ball.

Also watch for: Oklahoma's Ronnell Lewis only started the final four games for the Sooners last season, but he was incredibly productive in those four games. Starting all season could see him put up some ridiculous numbers. Jacqueis Smith of Missouri combines with Madison to give the Tigers a big push on the edges.


Jake Knott, Junior, Iowa State

There weren't many plays run against the Iowa State defense last season in which Jake Knott wasn't in on the tackle. He led the conference with 130 tackles last season and was a first-team All-Big 12 selection because of it. He'll be bringing that same nose for the football back to the Iowa State defense this season, and though he broke his arm in spring camp, he should be good to go when the season starts.

Garrick Williams, Senior, Texas A&M

Williams tallied 112 tackles in 2010, and now that Michael Hodges and Von Miller are no longer in College Station, he'll be playing an even larger role in 2011. I'm not sure Williams will be able to completely fill Von Miller's shoes in the Aggie defense, but he may end up being just as important to the defense as Miller was.

Keenan Robinson, Senior, Texas

Robinson was all over the place for the Longhorns in 2010. He finished the season with 113 tackles, 2 for a loss, and also had 2 sacks, 2 interceptions, 2 fumble recoveries and a touchdown. Oh, and he's also a standout on special teams. He is literally all over the field on defense, and he's poised for another big season in 2011.

Also watch for: It was hard to pick just three linebackers in this conference, as there are plenty of other good options. Names like A.J. Klein (Iowa State), Arthur Brown (Kansas State), Caleb Lavey (Oklahoma State), Emmanuel Acho (Texas), Sean Porter (Texas A&M), Zaviar Gooden (Missouri) and Huldon Tharp (Kansas) are some of those options. Also, if it weren't for an injury that is going to keep him out for eight weeks, Oklahoma's Travis Lewis would have been an easy selection to the team. However, due to that injury, Lewis' replacement Corey Nelson is another name to watch out for.


CB Jamell Fleming, Senior, Oklahoma

Big 12 quarterbacks will test Jamell Fleming at their own risk in 2011. In his first full season as a starter last year Fleming had 5 interceptions, and proved himself quite the playmaker in the Oklahoma secondary. He's also not afraid to create some contact, tallying 71 tackles with 8.5 for a loss.  He's a very good player in what may be the best secondary the Big 12 has.

CB Coryell Judie, Senior, Texas A&M

Judie finished second in the Big 12 in interceptions last season behind Fleming with 4.  He also broke up 4 passes and made 57 tackles for the Aggies. His impact is also felt on special teams, as he proved to be one of the most explosive kick returners in the conference last season, averaging over 30 yards a return with 2 touchdowns.

S Markelle Martin, Senior, Oklahoma State

This is not a man that wide receivers want to have a rendevous with over the middle of the football field, as Martin can bring the wood with the best of them.  What makes Martin more dangerous, though, is that he improved his coverage skills in 2010 and picked off three passes. He's the type of safety that can separate you from the ball physically, or just take it away from you in the air.

S Tony Jefferson, Sophomore, Oklahoma

2010 may have been Jefferson's first season of college ball, but you couldn't tell by watching him play. The Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year started 9 games for the Sooners in 2010 and finished the season with 65 tackles (7 for a loss) with 2 sacks, 2 interceptions and 7 passes broken up. I expect those numbers to improve in 2011 as this kid is only beginning to tap into his potential.

Also watch for: Oklahoma's Demontre Hurst could have been on my first team and given the Sooners secondary three of the four spots, but just because he didn't doesn't mean he's somebody quarterbacks should test too often. Keep your eyes on Blake Gideon (Texas), Trent Hunter (Texas A&M), Leonard Johnson (Iowa State) and Prince Kent (Baylor) too.


K Grant Ressel, Senior, Missouri

P Quinn Sharp, Junior, Oklahoma State

KR Coryell Judie, Senior, Texas A&M

PR Ryan Broyles, Senior, Oklahoma

Posted on: January 8, 2011 3:09 am

Bowl Grades: Cotton Bowl

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

LSU takes an 11-point lead into halftime after a critical Ryan Tannehill interception, and never looks back in a 41-24 victory.


Offense: Where on earth did that come from? "That" meaning: the nation's 87th-ranked offense, taking on an explosive and talented Big 12 defense, unloading a 446-yard, 41-point barrage that looked more like something we'd expect to see Monday night than tonight. For 60 minutes, the usually error-prone and conservative LSU attack -- remember, this is the same team that gained only 282 yards and scored just four touchdowns against Alcorn State -- lived up to every ounce of its vast potential.

Shall we count the ways? Jordan Jefferson had what may have been the best game of his career, throwing for three touchdowns to MVP Terrance Toliver and terrorizing A&M with his legs; aided by a dominant line, running backs Stevan Ridley and Spencer Ware each went over 100 yards, the latter on just 10 carries; and offensive coordinator Gary Crowton, less-than-popular amongst the LSU faithful these days, kept the Aggies off-balance all night with an expertly-called game. The Grade here is an easy A.

Defense: The LSU defense had a few shaky moments early on, as the Aggies showed a little bit of balance of their own to score 17 points (and miss a field goal) on their first four possessions. But from there, it was all Bayou Bengals as the Aggies' final seven drives ended interception, interception, punt, punt, touchdown, interception, fumble.

Leading the way was, predictably, an LSU cornerback ... but maybe not the one you're thinking. Freshman Tyrann Mathieu clinched the game with a pair of second-half turnovers, the first a diving interception of Tannehill and the second a smooth strip-and-recovery that would have given him a fumble returned for touchdown if not for an LSU penalty. And it was fellow freshman defensive back Eric Reid that made the play of the game, intercepting Tannehill and returning the ball to the Aggie 2, setting up the touchdown that would stretch LSU's lead to two possessions for good. By that point, any sins to open the game had long since been forgiven. Grade: B+

Crowton had arguably his best game since the 2007 national championship, and despite the lingering concerns that Les Miles might be plotting an escape to Michigan, the Mad Hatter had his team ready to play their best game since at least the win over Alabama. No complaints here. Grade: A

Texas A&M

Give A&M some credit: as athletic, well-coached, and just plain fast as LSU's defense is, 24 points and 351 yards aren't anything to sneeze at. Despite the presence of Drake Nevis and Kelvin Sheppard in the front seven, Cyrus Gray still got his school-record seventh-straight 100-yard rushing game, and the Aggies finished with only one fewer first down than LSU, 24 to 23.

But none of that mattered half as much as the four turnovers, particularly the backbreaking Reid pick just before the half, which robbed the Aggies of a shot to take the lead and instead sent them in at halftime down 11 with LSU getting the ball. Tannehill had a tremendous half-season after taking over the starter's job, but this wasn't his best night. Grace: C+

It's pretty simple: when you've let an offense as moribund as LSU's walk all over you the way LSU's did -- when Jordan Jefferson has looked like a world-beater, when Gary Crowton looks like a genius, when with the game slipping away in the third quarter you allow them to embark on a 12-play, 59-yard march that eats up 7 minutes of clock -- then you have had bad, bad night. Von Miller was his usual self -- a sack and three tackles-for-loss -- but even he couldn't do it alone. Grade: D+

Not many in-game decisions from Mike Sherman and his crew seemed like particularly egregious mistakes, but clearly something went awry in the Aggies' defensive game-planning for LSU to put together the kind of performance they did. And while the attempt to keep Gray involved and the offense balanced in the fourth quarter makes a certain kind of sense, a little more desperation (read: passing) would have been needed to actually turn the thing around. Grade: C

The first quarter made it seem the game would be a classic; the second quarter made it seem it would still be competitive; the third made it look like A&M would need a miracle; the fourth was just garbage time. Oh well. Grade: B-

Posted on: January 7, 2011 7:07 pm
Edited on: January 7, 2011 7:22 pm

CBS Bowl Bonanza: Cotton Bowl

Posted by Adam Jacobi

The Basics: Texas A&M (9-3) vs. LSU (10-2), Jan 7., 8:00 ET

Why You Should Watch: If you're going to the game, you can enjoy the spectacle and experience that is Jerry Jones' masterpiece, Cowboys Stadium. Of course, if you're going, you don't need to be told why to watch, so you can probably click to another article now. EVERYBODY ELSE: Watch this game. Not only is it the only college football game of the day, but its bookends are Thursday's Miami University - Middle Tennessee State pillow fight and tomorrow's clash of the titans between Pittsburgh and Kentucky. Two 6-6 teams facing two teams replacing their coaches. Yeah, you'll want to watch A&M-LSU.

But past all that, LSU has been one of the most must-see teams of the season, with head coach Les Miles turning his endgames into odd exhibitions of anarchy and chaos that end up working out 60% of the time. Imagine this: one-possession game in either favor, ball at either 40-yard line, and 3:45 left on the clock. Are you turning this game off? Of course you're not.

Keys to Victory for LSU: For all the disorder that has characterized the 2010 season, one immutable constant has been LSU's stingy defense. When the Tigers haven't been facing the T-1000 Cam Newton Cyborg, they've been shutting down opponents at prodigious rates; on the entire season, LSU is tenth in the nation in scoring defense and eighth in overall defense, while ranking in the top 20 in passing efficiency defense, rushing defense, sacks, and tackles for loss. This team does not have systemic deficiencies on defense.

That's good, because the Tigers will be tested on defense by a physically talented but inconsistent Aggie offense. Texas A&M has achieved more offensive balance with Ryan Tannehill at QB than when Jerrod Johnson was healthy, but while that's usually just a euphemism for "he's a worse quarterback," Tannehill is actually competent under center, and it's no surprise that A&M has gone on a six-game winning streak (including wins against four bowl teams) with him back there. If the LSU secondary can force mistakes and turnovers, the Tigers will be in good shape, but that's easier said than done; Tannehill hasn't thrown a pick in over 100 straight attempts. That streak may come to an end tonight, but it's not like 13-30 with 4 INTs is a plausible final line.

Keys to Victory for Texas A&M: For all the struggling the Aggies did against Nebraska 's defense in that 9-6 atrocity, they did manage 19 first downs in the affair, and odds are that if the Aggies replicate that effort in moving the chains, they'll score enough to stay in the game for four quarters. And, again, that's when the fun begins when Les Miles is on the other sideline.

The real challenge, then, is going to be getting the ground game going with Cyrus Gray against elite front-level defenders like Drake Nevis and Kelvin Sheppard -- two guys who have made running between the tackles a nightmare for opponents all season long. The Aggies aren't exactly a spread-and-shred type of team, so they'll have to get their yards by grinding and breaking tackles, or anything else in their repertoire to keep LSU from sitting back and taking away the passing game. Want to see how this game goes for Texas A&M? Just watch where the point of attack moves during the first quarter; if Nevis and company are in the backfield with any regularity, it's going to be a long day for the Aggies.

The Cotton Bowl is like: the senior prom. Prom isn't the apex of one's high school arc, and neither is the Cotton Bowl for the bowl season. But they're awfully close, calendar-wise, and this is one of the last chances to see something magical happen. Everyone's getting all dressed up, they're headed to one of the fanciest places in town, and they're going to have one crazy night while they can. Further, if you've ever seen the way a typical high school senior talks to girls, it's remarkably similar to how Les Miles coaches at the end of the game: it's desperate, astonishing, and far more successful than it has any right to be.

Posted on: November 30, 2010 5:52 pm

Cotton Bowl takes Texas A&M

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

The first major bowl domino to fall has fallen, as the Cotton Bowl has announced via Twitter that Texas A&M has accepted an invitation to play in the Jan. 7 game against an SEC opponent to be named later.

The announcement doesn't come as much of a surprise: our J. Darin Darst had the Aggies pegged for Arlington in this week's edition of CBS's bowl projections. Their likely opponent? LSU , which would set up a matchup of two of the country's most explosive defensive lineman in Drake Nevis and Von Miller and a pair of thunderous running backs in Stevan Ridley and the red-hot Cyrus Gray . A&M might have a sliught leg up thanks to their familiarity with the Cowboys Stadium setting; the Aggies have already played their twice the past two seasons in nonconference matchups with Arkansas .

With the Cotton having made its decision, the other top-tier Big 12 bowls look likely to fall in line with the rest of Darst's projections, if Oklahoma defeats Nebraska in the Big 12 title game: the Sooners to the Fiesta , the Huskers to the Alamo , Oklahoma State to the Holiday , and Missouri to the Insight . A Huskers victory could send the Sooners to San Antonio, or cause other shake-ups down the line.

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com