Well, week nine didn’t bring us the surprises at the top of the polls that almost became commonplace during October, but they did bring us a rather definitive statement as to who has a shot at playing for the national title in New Orleans. Thanks to numbers nine through twelve all getting knocked off, the line between contenders and pretenders has been neatly drawn under the Kansas Jayhawks (yes, Kansas!) at number eight in the new BCS poll. How many of these teams actually have a chance to win out and either stay put (Ohio State and Boston College) or make a move up into one of those two coveted spots (numbers three through eight)? Well, the season’s final full month will give some definitive answers to those questions. But for now, here’s the lowdown on what happened this past weekend.
1. Heisman winners usually have a “defining moment” somewhere along the way. Matt Ryan may have had his on Thursday night.
The senior Boston College quarterback had all kinds of trouble for about fifty-six minutes in Blacksburg, with defensive coordinator Bud Foster and his defensive unit applying all kinds of pressure to the Heisman contender. It looked to be a formality that BC would fall out of the national title race and even further into the background in the Boston sports scene. But a funny (or upsetting if you’re a Hokie fan) thing happened on the way to loss number one.
Virginia Tech went into almost a prevent defense, rushing only three or four depending on the situation. Two touchdowns within 2:11 later and the Eagles were headed out of town with a 14-10 win that seemed improbable just a half hour prior. Ryan, afforded time to scramble around the pocket and find receivers who were terrible for three quarters, hit Rich Gunnell for the first score, and then Andre Callender for the game-winner with eleven seconds left. The final score, one which featured scrambling, a sneaky running back who saw an opening, and a coach running around in celebration is the one on which Heisman campaigns are built. And while this team may well have been atop the ACC Atlantic with Tom O’Brien, I don’t think they’re sitting at number two had he stayed in Chestnut Hill. Jeff Jagodzinski has brought an excitement to a team noted for its even keeled nature (something that some thought cost them in big games in the past).
2. Speaking of excitement, kudos to Mark Richt for his “demand” after Georgia’s first score.
There’s a reason why Georgia had gone 2-15 in its previous seventeen meetings with rival Florida. A lack of confidence had permeated the program when it came to the “World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party”, leaving the team to tighten up when on the stage. Whether it be a close game in which the Gators made the key plays down the stretch, or a blowout in which the Bulldogs backed down when challenged, it seemed as if at times both teams knew who was going to win before the game even started. Well, that all changed when head coach Mark Richt demanded that his team get a celebration penalty after their first score. So, the entire team stormed the end zone in celebration of Knowshon Moreno’s touchdown dive, racking up two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties in the process (it was meant to be only one, but a lineman decided to put on his “dancing shoes” as well).
Florida tried to respond, getting their bench and fans riled up, but you could tell on the ensuing kickoff what Georgia had accomplished. Kicking off from their seven and a half yard line, the Dawgs were able to corral the Gators at the 32-yard line. To not even cross midfield on the kick may have been a sign of just how surprise Florida was. Georgia eventually got the win 42-30 on the strength of some big plays in the passing game, a standout performance from the freshman (and captain) Moreno, and constant pressure on a banged-up Tim Tebow. Thanks to the win, Tennessee (they beat Georgia 35-14 earlier in the season) now controls their own destiny in the SEC East.
3. Just when you thought Kansas was all offense and little defense, they shut down Texas A&M.
People knew about the Jayhawks’ spread offense and the non-conference schedule thought of as “soft” by many, but did anyone expect their defense to play as well as they did in College Station? While they’re not the most athletic or eye-opening unit in the country (or Big 12 for that matter), they seem to find ways to be in the right place at the right time. The 19-11 win featured the defense holding the Aggies to seventy-four yards on twenty-seven carries. Yes, Stephen McGee threw for 244 yards, but that isn’t Texas A&M’s game. Also, running back Brandon McAnderson went for 183 yards and two scores on twenty-one carries for the now 8-0 Jayhawks. Next up is Nebraska, a team that has practically owned KU since our parents were in diapers. But given how good this team is along with the turmoil in Lincoln, they’ve got a very good chance to move to 9-0.
4. Nebraska held Jamaal Charles in check for three quarters. Then they had to play the fourth.
The Huskers and their much-maligned defense did quite a job on Charles, holding him to 76 yards through three quarters. But in the fourth quarter, a unit that played with eight and nine in the box got tired, and Charles found the holes. In running for 216 yards and three scores in the final stanza, Charles put on the second-best single quarter performance in NCAA history, finishing only six yards behind Corey Dillon’s record-setting mark. For the game, the Longhorns ran for 364 yards (averaging 7.6 per carry), but only won 28-25. Hopefully for Nebraska, they can finish the job when they head to Lawrence next weekend, but it will be tough.
5. In another outstanding individual effort, Arizona’s Willie Tuitama threw for 510 yards in the Wildcats’ 48-41 win over Washington.
When the score hit 41-26 Washington with just under thirteen minutes left in the game, you know Wildcat fans had to be thinking “here we go again”. But thanks to Tuitama and an offensive unit that has improved this season (despite their pedestrian 3-6 record); Arizona was able to pull out a conference win on the road. The 510 yards is indeed a school record, making this the second-straight week in which the Husky defense has either set a dubious school record themselves or allowed an opponent to set their own mark. Last week, U-Dub gave up a school record 465 rushing yards to Oregon.
6. Oregon is now the frontrunner in the Pac-10, even with Arizona State being ranked one spot ahead of them.
While this isn’t to say that the Sun Devils aren’t talented, because they are, but if they continue with their current trend of starting slow and finishing fast, the Ducks will blow them out in Eugene next weekend. Once again, this time against a once thought-to-be capable California team, ASU decided to wait until the second half to take control of the game. Head coach Dennis Erickson must be giving some pretty good halftime speeches, but they’ll be better served with Oregon and USC in the coming weeks if they come out on fire from the start.
As for Oregon, they made some plays on defense in their 24-17 win over USC that must make their program and fans feel good. This unit was thought to be the only thing holding them back in the Pac-10, but they were able to force three USC turnovers, including on in the first quarter after the Ducks had fumbled the opening kickoff. Senior defensive back Matthew Harper had a good day, picking off Mark Sanchez twice in the win. If they can do the same next weekend, it should once again be a good night in Eugene.
7. If things keep going the way that they have been in the Big East, we won’t know who the champion is until November 24th.
The final Saturday in November is when West Virginia hosts Connecticut. West Virginia having the inside track to the conference title would be no surprise…but despite their lofty ranking (7th) they don’t. That distinction goes to the 7-1 Huskies, who moved to 3-0 in the Big East thanks to a 22-15 win over South Florida. While the offense won’t be compared to some of the nation’s best, it is a group that possesses a good running attack (Andre Dixon has more than filled in for the banged up Donald Brown, rushing for 167 yards on Saturday) and a quarterback in Tyler Lorenzen who does a good job of simply managing the game. And when you have a defense that’s ranked seventh nationally, that’s all you have to do.
As for the Mountaineers, they eliminated all drama in their noon showdown with Rutgers, pasting the Scarlet Knights 31-3 at Rutgers Stadium. Pat White and Steve Slaton had good games, and a defense that has quietly become one of the best in the country forced four turnovers. Of course, it didn’t help Rutgers that quarterback Mike Teel is still dealing with a hand injury, but when your receivers fail to show up and catch the football it becomes tough to move the ball. But before either frontrunner gets to November 24th, they’ve got some serious business to attend to along the way. The Mountaineers host Louisville Thursday night, and UConn hosts Rutgers on Saturday night.
8. Trinity (Texas) may have topped “The Play” with their fourteen (or fifteen) laterals in winning at Millsaps College on Saturday.
To be frank, this may have been the most amazing play I’ve ever seen. Only two seconds remained on the clock, and Trinity was way too far away from the end zone to try a Hail Mary, so they simply tossed the ball around for a while, running for the winning score when an obviously tired Millsaps defense left an open lane to the end zone. The interesting side note to this one: Millsaps is coached by former Alabama head coach Mike Dubose, who had to be thanking his lucky stars that this one won’t be as heavily scrutinized by the Millsaps fan base as it would have been had it happened in Tuscaloosa. If you still haven’t seen the play, just go to espn.com and check out the video. Truly amazing.
9. Ohio State is indeed the best team in the country…as of right now.
Unfortunately for the Buckeyes, that caveat is deemed necessary by many fans around the nation thanks to their performance in the BCS Title Game last season. But with defensive and special teams units that are much stronger than last year’s bunch and an offense that seems to be progressing each week, they may very well handle that last bit of business this season. Penn State found out the hard way on Saturday night, hanging on by their fingernails until an Anthony Morelli pass (he was trying to throw the ball away most likely) found corner Malcolm Jenkins, who ran it back for the backbreaking touchdown. Todd Boeckman hit some big plays down the field in the passing game, and Beanie Wells got the job done on the ground. Next week brings Wisconsin, who’s got a banged-up P.J. Hill (and with Lance Smith-Williams suspended for all road games a truly depleted backfield). It will be a physical affair, but I don’t think the Badgers have enough bodies to win in Columbus.
10. My top five after Week 9:
1. Ohio State: Is there really any doubt right now?
2. LSU: The week off could do wonders for a team involved in some nail biters of late.
3. Boston College: Big road win, they get an inconsistent Florida State team at home Saturday night.
4. Oregon: Can Arizona State (ranked 11th in run defense) slow down the Ducks ground attack?
5. Arizona State: Can the Sun Devils leave the slow start at home for next week’s game at Oregon?