Week 3 Recap

September 21st, 2009

USC does it again and BCS bubbles burst


Pete Carroll’s USC program tends to play its best on the biggest of stages. Whether it the Rose Bowl or a game in which they have to beat back their greatest challenger in the Pac-10, the Trojans usually leave with a win. But they’ve had trouble with the “little games”, ones that most expect them to coast right through. As the old coaching adage goes, if you don’t think the little games matter you should try losing one. Yesterday’s loss at Washington was another to add to the USC rap sheet, a loss that at the end of the season will most likely be the reason why they’re playing in Pasadena on January 1st instead of January 7th.


Having starting quarterback Matt Barkley miss the game due to a shoulder injury definitely made a difference, but how well would he have performed against the game plan put forth by Washington defensive coordinator Nick Holt? Holt spent years at USC with now-Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian, and his scheme forced three Trojan turnovers and shut them out (0-for-10) on third down. USC did get out to a 10-0 lead in the first quarter, a development that likely lulled them into a false sense of security. But it’s not a good idea to sleep on anyone, especially when they opponent has a player the caliber of Jake Locker.


The wide margin in the running game (USC rushed for 250 yards, Washington 56) was nullified by the three turnovers and the Huskies controlling the football for nine more minutes. Kicker Erik Folk made three field goals, including the game winner with three seconds to go. If the trend from seasons past replicates itself, USC will roll through the rest of the conference schedule and play arguably the best football of anyone in the country at season’s end. And once again they’ll likely have to settle for sixty minutes of domination in the Rose Bowl.


As for the Huskies, who thanks to the win jumped to 24th in the AP Top 25 (really?), they and their fans have to understand that there’s a lot of work to be done. Remember, the Huskies are just three games removed from a 0-12 season. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is a successful college football program. The test in front of Coach Sarkisian and his staff could be tougher than what was in front of them this past week: getting 100% of their focus on Stanford and moving on from Saturday’s win.


ACC: Florida State and Virginia Tech give the conference a boost.


Not sure if there was a conference that took more of a beating in the national media than the ACC in the first two weeks of the season, and Maryland losing to Middle Tennessee surely didn’t help matters. But the wins by Florida State (at BYU) and Virginia Tech (against Nebraska) were sorely needed, especially the Seminoles’ impressive romp in Provo. Hardly anyone gave Bobby Bowden’s team a shot, citing their struggles against Jacksonville State and their porous defense. But rushing for more than three hundred yards can make a big difference, as it did in their 54-28 pasting of the Cougars. And the much-maligned defense forced five BYU turnovers, picking off Max Hall three times.


The Hokies had their fair share of issues at home, giving up more than two hundred yards on the ground and rushing for just eighty-six themselves, but they were able to hang around. Eventually Tyrod Taylor hit Dyrell Roberts, who had a crucial drop earlier in the game, with the game-winning score with twenty-one seconds to go. After this weekend ten of the twelve teams in the conference have at least one loss with North Carolina and red-hot Miami being the lone holdouts. This makes the Hurricanes’ trip to Blacksburg next weekend that much bigger.


Big 12: Landry Jones looks more and more comfortable with each passing week.


The thought here was that Tulsa would be able to challenge the Sooners in Norman. I apologize for thinking such an outlandish thought. The defense was dominant in the 45-0 pasting of the Golden Hurricane, as was the redshirt freshman quarterback. Jones (25-37, 336 yards) did throw a pair of interceptions but the six touchdown passes (a school record) more than made up for that. The Sooners were 11-for-17 on third down, and they rushed for 193 yards as a team.


WR Ryan Broyles led the team with eleven receptions, and eight players had at least one reception on the afternoon. It’s one thing for Landry Jones to be a game manager; Oklahoma can win the majority of their games with him doing just that. But if Sam Bradford were to miss even more time than expected (ex. - the trip to Miami in two weeks) Jones will likely need to make some things happen. Saturday was a good sign.


Big East: No bad losses in terms of games, but USF did lose a key player.


That player happens to be quarterback Matt Grothe, who tore the ACL in his left knee in the second quarter of the Bulls’ 59-0 win over Charleston Southern. One of the key players in the program’s national rise, and the Big East’s all-time leader in total yardage, the senior went down at the worst possible time for both he and the program. Next week brings the trip to Tallahassee to take on Florida State, a game that people surrounding the USF program had circled on their calendars for quite some time.


There’s also the visit from Miami in late-November that Grothe will miss, and given how much he’s meant to the program makes it hurt that much more for USF. But in redshirt freshman B.J. Daniels they’ve got a dual threat quarterback who may have a better arm than Grothe. Whether or not he’s got the same presence in the huddle will ultimately determine which direction this team heads.


Big Ten: So much for the newly-found confidence in West Lafayette.


The word out of the Purdue camp in the days following their 38-36 loss at Oregon was that the team emerged feeling more confident in their abilities, thinking that they can play with anyone in the country. Well, they didn’t exactly show up on Saturday when faced with an opponent that isn’t considered to be a “national” name. The Boilermakers lost three fumbles and gave up 280 yards rushing in a disappointing 28-21 loss to Northern Illinois. Make no mistake about it: Jerry Kill has a hard-nosed, fundamentally sound football team that gave Wisconsin all it wanted two weeks ago.


But if you’re going to talk about having the idea that you can play with anyone you’d better take care of business when you’re supposed to. The Huskies reeled off twenty-eight unanswered points on Saturday and outgained the Boilers 454-335. That should not happen. Purdue has had this tendency to play to the “name” of their opponent in recent years, a trait that may net them an upset in conference play. But it could also saddle them with a couple of losses in games they should win.


Conference USA: Not a good weekend at the top of the conference.


It’s one thing to get beat by ranked opponents from BCS leagues but another to be outclassed by a wide margin. East Carolina couldn’t slow down a North Carolina offense that looked downright pedestrian in their win over Connecticut, and the way in which Tulsa was handled in Norman was borderline criminal. The Pirates managed just fifty-five yards rushing on thirty attempts in their 31-17 loss in Chapel Hill while giving up 433 yards of offense. Some of the numbers in the Tulsa loss have already been mentioned, but you cannot visit a team like Oklahoma and expect to have a shot when you: get outgained 529-269, turn the ball over three times and commit eleven penalties.


These showcase games, and the conference’s poor showing in them, is why they get ignored in the argument as to who deserves automatic BCS berths. Now Conference USA is down to Houston (Southern Miss may be too far out of the national consciousness right now) in regards to the chase for a BCS slot. And given how wild the conference race has traditionally been since reconfiguration there’s no guarantee the Cougars escape unscathed.


Independents: Notre Dame loses a key weapon in a big win.


The talk heading into Notre Dame’s game with Michigan State was about the fact that they Irish couldn’t afford to drop to 1-2, for both their BCS hopes and the future job status of Charlie Weis. History also wasn’t on their side, with the Spartans having won the last six games in South Bend dating back to 1993. But Jimmy Clausen and company survived, clinching the 33-30 win on a Kyle McCarthy interception in the game’s final minute.


But the result didn’t come without a negative as WR Michael Floyd was lost for the season due to a broken collarbone suffered on a catch that should have been ruled a touchdown. His loss puts more pressure on the shoulders of Golden Tate, TE Kyle Rudolph and the rest of the receiving corps, most notably Duval Kamara and Robby Parris. Tate and Rudolph have been consistent options for Clausen, so look for Kamara and/or Parris to step up if Notre Dame wants to realistically hold onto those BCS dreams.


MAC: Does anyone in the East besides Buffalo have a chance to win the conference?


The answer to this question could end up being a resounding “no” given the way some of the teams in that division have played thus far. By no means was Temple expected to beat Penn State this past Saturday, but it’s still difficult to get past the fact that they turned over the ball five times in their loss to Villanova in the first game of the season. Akron had an opportunity to knock off a Big Ten opponent in Indiana yet shot themselves in the foot with four turnovers, losing 38-21.


Kent State also hosted an opponent from a BCS conference, and they wasted four Iowa State turnovers by giving the ball back five times and going 1-for-12 on third down in what was a winnable game on paper but ended up 34-14 Cyclones. And lastly there was bowling green, who also blew what appeared to be a winnable contest in falling to Marshall 17-10. The Falcons finished the game with ten yards rushing on twenty attempts. Outside of the defending champion Bulls the biggest challenge for the top of the Western Division may be deciding which team makes the trip to Detroit for the conference title game.


Mountain West: BYU and Utah blow opportunities, leaving TCU as the conference’s only hope.


Maybe the Cougars still have an outside shot at the BCS due to their win over Oklahoma and the overall schedule, but it’s going to be tough for them to get back into the conversation given how they lost. Turnovers cost them in each of their “big game” losses a year ago, and five more cost them dearly against Florida State. Utah, on the other hand, forced four Oregon turnovers but shot themselves in the foot with penalties (ten) and their third down struggles (5-for-18).


The Utes were inconsistent offensively, and some credit for that should go to the Oregon defense. But you can’t rack up 100 yards in penalties and expect a favorable result. Now the hopes slide over to TCU, who has a tough game of its own next week at Clemson. How healthy Tigers RB C.J. Spiller (ankle) is for that game remains to be seen, but the two big losses on Saturday didn’t help the conference’s argument for an automatic slot in the BCS.


Pac-10: It’s about time to talk up Jahvid Best in regards to the Heisman.


There was a lot of talk regarding the “Big Three” (Bradford/McCoy/Tebow) when it came to preseason favorites for the Heisman trophy. To be fair the Cal running back was discussed as a likely dark horse, but he was pushed to the backburner due to the national love affair with the likes of Matt Barkley, Tate Forcier and Jacory Harris. If Best’s performance (131 yards rushing and five touchdowns) in the Golden Bears’ 35-21 win at Minnesota was any indication of what’s in store, he should be in New York on the second Saturday in December. And it isn’t like his next two games will be cupcakes in which to pad the stats either. At Oregon followed by USC visiting Berkeley and those are both defenses that he can have good days against. If he does well in those two games and the Bears win you’d have to include him in the Heisman conversation, and Cal would be the clear favorite to win the Pac-10.


SEC: Tennessee defies the critics, losing by just ten at Florida.


It certainly wasn’t a winning moment for the Volunteers, but in the future it could be looked at as the moment that pointed the entire program in the same unified direction. Thanks to some comments by head coach Lane Kiffin prevailing wisdom had his first trip to “The Swamp” getting out of hand. But it didn’t thanks to a defense that stymied Tim Tebow and company, holding the Gators to twenty-three points. But the question remains: was the game plan to win the game or simply keep it respectable?


There were a few instances of Coach Kiffin calling for a run on third and long when most coaches would have put the ball in the air. Then again given Jonathan Crompton’s performance against UCLA throwing the ball may not have been the best idea after all. Tennessee left Gainesville with confidence along with a newfound belief in each other that wasn’t there in the aftermath of their loss to the Bruins. No such finger pointing following the loss to Florida, something that should help them the rest of the way. As for the Gators, it’s hard to think that they were happy with the margin of victory.


Sun Belt: Middle Tennessee knocks off Maryland for the second consecutive season.


The postgame comments from Maryland head coach Ralph Friedgen could be described as disturbing in some circles, with him noting that this coming week he’d get tougher with his team. They didn’t recognize the threat that the Blue Raiders would pose before the 32-31 defeat? All MTSU did last season was control the game in a 24-14 win in Murfreesboro, and you would have thought that the Terrapins would be ready to go following their disappointing performance the week prior against James Madison.


But thanks to QB Dwight Dasher (324 yards passing, three total touchdowns) and a defense that forced four turnovers and sacked Chris Turner four times Middle Tennessee made the trip back home victorious. Kicker Alan Gendreau made the game-winner as time expired, and punter David DeFatta dropped five of his eight punts inside the Maryland twenty yard-line. Middle Tennessee had an average field position nine yards better than the Terps (38-yard line to 29-yard line), which also contributed to the win. It isn’t a win that will make waves nationally, but it’s a good one for a conference that has struggled in the non-conference thus far.


WAC: Is there anyone else in this conference that can challenge Boise State?


Fresno State fought long and hard on Friday night but ultimately lacked the offensive firepower necessary to keep up with the Broncos, losing 51-34. That may be the most that Chris Petersen’s team has to work within the conference the rest of the way because the other expected challengers haven’t looked very good to this point in the season. Louisiana Tech did pick up their first win of the season, but their games with Auburn and Navy were much closer to Boise State than Nicholls State when it comes to the caliber of athlete they’ll see on November 6th when the Broncos come calling.


And Nevada has been a bitter disappointment through two games, and they turned the ball over five times in a 35-20 loss at Colorado State on Saturday. Through two games Chris Ault’s team has eight turnovers (minus-8 margin) and reigning WAC Player of the Year Colin Kaepernick has already thrown four interceptions; he threw seven all of 2008. While the path of least resistance would help ensure an undefeated Boise State, it could also hurt them due to the national perception that they haven’t been challenged should the rest of the conference not pick things up.