College Football: Saturday Touchdowns
Wow. This weekend offered up much more suspense than many fans expected. Six ranked teams fell to unranked opponents on Saturday, and when the carnage was done three Top 5 teams dropped as well. The biggest surprise? If looking at the sheer result, I'd go with Ole Miss winning at #4 Florida 31-30. As for margin of victory, how good did #8 Alabama look between the hedges in the first half? The Crimson Tide jumped out to a 31-0 halftime lead before hanging on to beat #3 Georgia 41-30. Now the question is who should be #1 when the new polls come out, with Oklahoma looking poised to move into the spot vacated by USC. Here are seven key points for this Saturday.
1. Alabama's line play is the main reason why they're a national title contender.
The Crimson Tide physically whipped Georgia up front on both sides of the football in the first half. An experienced offensive line allowed the running game to churn out yards at a 5-6 yards per play clip, and a stout defensive line led by "Mt. Cody" (he weighs 365 pounds) gave Georgia little room to get anything done. By the time the two teams headed into their respective locker rooms after thirty minutes, viewers would be hard-pressed to find a reason why the Bulldogs could still win the game.
But give the Dawgs credit for fighting back to within fourteen points, but the physical beating up front was simply too much to overcome. Combining the line play with some exciting skill position players (I bet the Seattle Seahawks could use Julio Jones right now) and arguably the best coach in college football, you have a national title contender in Tuscaloosa.
2. Ole Miss finds a way to get the first signature win of the Houston Nutt era.
If there's one thing you can give the "Rigth Reverend" credit for, it would be for knowing how to utilize the best players on his offense. Enter the "Wild Rebel" formation, that took full advantage of RB Dexter McCluster along with fellow backs Cordera Eason and Brandon Bolden, and it was a formation the Gator defense had a hard time containing all day. But the play of the day was made by defensive end Kentrell Lockett, who was able to block the potential game-tying extra point.
How he did it was nothing short of amazing, going from a three-point stance to hurdling the Gator line in no more than two steps then jumping a second time to block the kick. If anyone else has seen a play of that caliber, please let me know. Do the Rebels have a shot at winning the SEC West? I don't think so, but winning in "The Swamp" will do wonders for the confidence of a team that lost heartbreakers to Wake Forest and Vanderbilt earlier in the season.
3. Once again, Clemson finds a way to lose a game with something on the line.
What was on the line in their 20-17 loss to Maryland? The position as early frontrunner in the ACC Atlantic race. But thanks to their home loss, which can't be blamed on the number of touches for backs James Davis and C.J. Spiller (they combined for 288 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns), the Tigers find themselves in an unenviable position. Of course, the ACC has been such a mess that they're definitely not out of things, but when you turn the ball over three times (two fumbles) you're not going to be too successful in close ball games.
As for the Terrapins, they've got as good a shot at the crown as anyone. They were +3 in turnover margin in their win today, and they were able to shut down the "Thunder and Lightning" combo in the second half, holding Davis and Spiller to 31 yards. Clemson kept Maryland in the game in the first half with the two fumbles, and to their credit Maryland took advantage of their opportunities in the second half. What we're finding out is that you don't have to be great for sixty minutes in order to win games, but you'd better be opportunistic.
4. Just like the Top 25, it's hard to make sense of the ACC race right now.
Florida State whipped Colorado thanks to a good day from RB Antone Smith, who ran for 154 yards and three scores in the Seminoles' 39-21 victory. The passing game still leaves something to be desired, but the run has been an issue in Tallahassee for years. Wake Forest turned the ball over five times in the first half as a furious second-half rally fell short at home, losing to Navy 24-17. North Carolina drove down the field late to score but needed a Trimane Goddard interception on the game's final play to hold off Miami 28-24. Duke whipped a poor Virginia team 31-3 and you already know what happened Death Valley.
So who's the best team in the ACC? It's probably the reigning conference champion Virginia Tech, who took a break from league play and won at Nebraska 35-30. The Hokies put up 377 yards of total offense, with the key number being the 177 yards through the air. Yes, they ran the ball fifty-five times, but they won the turnover battle (+2 TO margin) and didn't shoot themselves in the foot. Virginia Tech won time of possession by nearly ten minutes tonight, and that's a good enough recipe to get them to Tampa for the ACC Championship Game. The decision to remove Tyrod Taylor's redshirt after the loss to East Carolina was a pretty good one.
5. Revenge of the Academics? Duke and Northwestern win their league openers.
Sorry, but I can't bring myself to call them "nerds", especially with how well the two teams have been playing of late. Northwestern moved to 5-0 (1-0 Big Ten) with a come from behind 22-17 win at Iowa today. QB C.J. Bacher threw for 284 yards and three touchdowns, and the defense came through by forcing five turnovers on the day. Now Pat Fitzgerald's team sits one win away from bowl eligibility, and the way things are looking right now they could find themselves in a warm locale come late December.
As for Duke, the Blue Devils were expected to beat Virginia and they did with a 28-point second half outburst. The Cavaliers didn't have much in the way of offense, so it was just a matter of time before Duke punished their defense. Six Virginia turnovers on the day, which you would have to think was a combination of good Duke defense and dreadful Cavalier offense. But the Devils got the win, moving to 3-1 on the year. And it was nice to see the larger student turnout as well.
Lastly, guess who leads the SEC East? Yes, Vanderbilt.
6. A big win for Michigan...and a bad loss for Wisconsin.
You can look at the Wolverines 27-25 win over the Badgers from two points of view. Giving credit to Michigan, they never quit despite falling behind 19-0 at the half. Steven Threet didn't play well under center (but had a huge 58-yard run to set up the gamewinning touchdown), but they were still able to score twenty unanswered points to take a 27-19 lead with 5:11 left in the game. The heroes would have to be the defense, who scored a touchdown off of an inteception and held the Badgers to 34 yards in the third quarter to get back into the game, setting the stage for a thrilling final stanza.
As for the Badgers, what more can you say. After thirty minutes, it looked like they were well on their way to showing themselves to be a frontrunner in the Big Ten race. Now, I'm not so sure even though they've got a shot in a league that looks to be wide-open (except for Penn State, of course), but they now take on Ohio State and Penn State the next two weeks. At least those games are in Camp Randall.
7. So who should be #1 come tomorrow night? Oklahoma.
The Sooners may not have taken on a popular name on Saturday, but they did a good job in nullifying any thoughts of another TCU upset in the first quarter. Oklahoma jumped out to a 21-3 lead and didn't look back, taking care of the 23rd-ranked Horend Frogs 35-10. Sam Bradford had another outstanding day, throwing for 411 yards and four touchdowns without an interception, three (touchdowns) of which went to Manuel Johnson. Although Alabama was impressive, I don't see them jumping seven slots. And Oklahoma has done more than enough so far to earn the right to be number one in the new polls.
Offensive Performance of the Day: Rice QB Chase Clement (22-28, 298 yards and 5 TD, 0 INT; 10 rushes for 69 yards and 2 TD).