Week 5 Football Recap

    
October 5th, 2009
The first weekend of October didn't provide a glut of marquee matchups, making up for the lack of quantity with quality in some contests. At the top of the list has to be Miami's 21-20 comeback win over Oklahoma at Land Shark Stadium. Things didn't look good for Randy Shannon's team early on; Jacory Harris threw a pair of early interceptions that helped the Sooners run out to a 10-0 lead. But once he and the rest of the Miami offense figured out what Oklahoma was doing schematically the Hurricanes controlled the game, scoring twenty-one unanswered points.

Overall this was an evenly played game, with the Hurricanes outgaining Oklahoma by just one yard (342-341) and possessing the ball for a little more than a minute longer. The differences: 150 yards on the ground from Javarris James, who seemed to run as hard as he's ever run in a Miami uniform, and a defense that limited the Sooners to 5-of-15 on third downs.

Linebacker Sean Spence led the way with ten tackles and freshman safety Ray Ray Armstrong played his best game as a Hurricane with seven stops. The team that some feared would start the season 0-4 because of their tough schedule gets through with a 3-1 record.

The good thing about Miami is their ability to remain focused on the task at hand; they don't seem to worry about what the nation is saying about them. "When I came in Jacory told the team, ‘listen, the only thing we're going to watch on TV from now on is SpongeBob...if SpongeBob is talking about us then we deserve it'", said head coach Randy Shannon following the game (quote courtesy of hurricanesports.com).

Miami was "back" with wins over Florida State and Georgia Tech, only to be dropped down a peg following last week's beating in Blacksburg. Now many of those same people will once again declare the Hurricanes "back"; it's important for Miami to remain focused on the things they can control and opinion isn't one of them. And if the sight of SpongeBob Squarepants accomplishes that then so be it.

WAC: Where does Hawaii go from here?

The Warriors' 27-6 loss at Louisiana Tech on Wednesday night was bad enough. But to lose quarterback Greg Alexander, who leads the nation in total offense, to a torn ACL could end up being the straw that broke the camel's back. Alexander was rendered by and large ineffective by the Bulldog defense, which picked him off twice and sacked him five times in the win. Add to that a defense that gave up 160 yards and two touchdowns to Daniel Porter and you have to wonder if bowl eligibility could be out of reach.

Louisiana Tech went into the game ranked 103rd nationally in rushing offense, and in two of their next three games the Warriors face Fresno State (led by RB Ryan Mathews) and Boise State. Greg McMackin now turns things over to inexperienced sophomore Bryant Moniz, who will need help from his teammates if Hawaii is to keep this season afloat. And in between those two games is a trip to an Idaho team that's no longer a pushover in the WAC.

Sun Belt: Does losing the turnover battle guarantee a loss? No, especially if you can put up nearly 600 yards of offense.

That's exactly what the UL Monroe Warhawks did in their 48-35 win over Florida International on Saturday. As a team UL Monroe racked up 577 yards of offense, including 304 yards rushing, with QB Trey Revell (362 total yards, 3 total TDs), RB Frank Goodin (163 yards rushing and 3 TDs) and WR Darrell McNeal (108 yards and two touchdowns) leading the way. UL Monroe also posted thirty-one first downs in moving to 2-0 in the conference.

Troy and Florida Atlantic, the picks of many to finish in the top two of the conference, haven't exactly impressed in the early going so there may be room for an interloper or two. If Charlie Weatherbie's team can get past Arkansas State on the 13th they become an interesting possibility to win the conference.

SEC: LSU survives once again, setting up a showdown with Florida next weekend.

The Tigers controlled play in the first half, rendering the Georgia offense ineffective while moving the ball themselves. However they had just six points to show for their efforts and you can't blame anyone if they were worried that leaving all those points on the board would come back to haunt Les Miles' team. And that was nearly the case as the Bulldogs took a 7-6 lead early in the fourth quarter. The teams then proceeded to trade touchdowns in the game's final three minutes with Charles Scott's 33-yard run with less than a minute to go being the difference in the 20-13 LSU win.

Now comes their annual showdown with Florida, a game that will feature the two programs that have accounted for the last three national titles. But will LSU find an offensive "calling card" in the next week? The running game (156 yards) was substantially better than it was in their close win at Mississippi State last week, but it still hasn't reached the desired level of consistency. And the passing game had the same issue; when Jordan Jefferson had time he was able to find Terrence Toliver and Brandon LaFell. But the offensive line wasn't consistent, which lent itself to Jefferson lacking consistency as well. If LSU can get everyone going at the same time look out; they'll need that kind of effort to beat the defending national champs next weekend.

Pac-10: Don't ever count out USC.

People had questions about the Trojans following their loss at Washington two weeks ago and it was hard to get a good answer from their win over Washington State. Not to mention the fact that some outright questioned the Trojans heading into their game at Cal. Not a very good idea; Pete Carroll's team rarely drops games within the Pac-10 against teams thought to be their chief challenger and they made quite the statement in Berkeley. With RB Stafon Johnson watching from his hospital room following a horrifying accident in the weight room earlier this week, USC rolled Cal 30-3 and let everyone know who's should still be the favorite to win the conference.

USC held Jahvid Best to just forty-seven yards rushing, forcing Kevin Riley to beat them in a manner similar to what Oregon did to the Golden Bears last week. Riley couldn't get it done, completing just 37.5% of his passes and Cal was just 5-of-16 on third down. USC racked up nearly 500 yards of offense with Joe McKnight rushing for 119 yards and two touchdowns. WR Damian Williams ran back a punt for a score and before Cal knew it the score at the half was 23-0. The moral of the story: the only thing accomplished by anointing someone as the "next big thing" in the Pac-10 is serving them up on a platter for USC.

Mountain West: Wyoming picks up the first road win in the Dave Christiansen era.

Florida Atlantic (0-4) may be without a win on the season, but picking up a road win is a good start for Dave Christiansen as he looks to build a contender in the Mountain West. Despite twelve penalties (128 yards) and a pair of turnovers the Cowboys managed 421 yards of offense in the 30-28 win, and freshman QB Austyn Carta-Samuels accounted for 292 of those yards. Wyoming held the ball for eleven minutes longer than the struggling Owls, showing improvement on a side of the football that couldn't stay out of its own way in 2008.

But the return to Mountain West play will ultimately decide whether or not Coach Christiansen can get the Pokes to a bowl; after next week's game against New Mexico they hit the road to take on Air Force and Utah. They'll then host BYU in Laramie. Go 2-2 in their next four and a bowl game is a distinct possibility.

MAC: The biggest challenger to Central Michigan in the West is Northern Illinois.

Much of the national attention went to Toledo's wild win over Ball State on Saturday; but the biggest result has to be the Huskies' 38-3 pasting of Western Michigan. Offensively NIU racked up 255 yards rushing with RB Chad Spann (132 yards, 3 TDs) leading the way. But for as well as they moved the ball on the ground check out what the Husky defense did to the Broncos. WMU turned the ball over four times, with Tim Hiller tossing three interceptions, and the running game was neutralized by the tough NIU defense. QB Chandler Harnish and company won't light up the scoreboard on a weekly basis but they will run the football and play sound defense. That's likely the best way to go about challenging the Chippewas for MAC supremacy.

Independents: Notre Dame survives...again.

The Fighting Irish have survived in three of their four victories this season with the most recent escape coming in their 37-30 overtime win against Washington. Jimmy Clausen has shown significant signs of improvement as both a passer and a leader in 2009, so much so that it's not out of line to throw his name into the Heisman mix. The junior threw for 422 yards and a pair of touchdowns against the Huskies with Golden Tate being the chief benefactor with Michael Floyd out with a broken collarbone.

Tate set a school record with 244 yards receiving on nine receptions, and tight end Kyle Rudolph is a dependable option underneath. The Irish did put up 530 yards on the team that knocked off USC in September but there's a lot of work to be done in the two weeks leading up to the Trojans' visit on the 17th. Notre Dame rushed for just 108 yards, averaging 3.7 yards per carry, and went a subpar 2-for-10 on third down. Defensively they allowed 457 yards of offense; numbers like those won't get the job done against USC.

Conference USA: UTEP circles the wagons and whips Houston.

To simply focus on the Cougars' BCS hopes being dashed would be blatantly unfair to a program that's been criticized in the past for lacking both heart and discipline. Head coach Mike Price stated in the days leading up to the game that the Miners would figure things out; many responded with chuckles and eye rolls. Yet on Saturday night UTEP unleashed an offensive onslaught that the potent Cougars couldn't keep up with, ultimately winning by a 58-41 final. Leading the way was none other than RB Donald Buckram, who rushed for 262 yards and four touchdowns.

He'd alternated 100-yard games with subpar showings in the first four games of the season so maybe he was due following a 46-yard showing at Texas last week. But to go off like this exposes a weakness that the Cougars need to remedy if they're to win the West Division. Trevor Vittatoe made up for his horrendous showing in Austin with 276 yards passing and a pair of touchdown passes, leading the Miner offense to 581 total yards. All that made up for a remarkable performance from Houston's Case Keenum (51-76, 536 yards 5 TDs), but a pair of fumbles combined with the defense's inability to get off the field led to the upset.

Big Ten: Michigan State may have saved their season on Saturday.

The Spartans went into their game with bitter rival Michigan with a 1-3 record and while they had just one conference loss (to Wisconsin) Mark Dantonio's team needed to get back on the right track. And they did just that, surviving a furious Michigan rally to win 26-20 in overtime on a Larry Caper touchdown run. The Spartans had three turnovers and eight penalties but they outgained the Wolverines 417-251 and won the time of possession battle by more than nineteen minutes.

The difference for Michigan State was that two areas that have been much-maligned, the defense and the running game, came up big in retaining possession of the Paul Bunyan Trophy. Michigan rushed for just twenty-eight yards for the game while the Spartans rushed for 197. Caper and Larry Winston didn't gain much in the way of yards (86 yards on thirty-seven carries) but they did account for three touchdowns.

Those two will need to up their production as the season wears on, and it did help that Kirk Cousins rushed for seventy-five yards, but Saturday was a nice push in the right direction for a team some thought would be a sleeper in the Big Ten.

Big East: Louisville (and Steve Kragthorpe) may be in serious trouble.

Things were looking OK at the half of the Cardinals' Big East opener against Pittsburgh with Louisville leading 10-7. But when the teams came back out for the final thirty minutes the roof caved in. Pittsburgh burned the Louisville defense for a pair of touchdown passes and the rout was on. The final was 35-10 and a "blackout" took on a nearly funereal feel for the Louisville faithful. Ten penalties, 3-for-15 on third down and a defense that couldn't make a play when needed and that's essentially been the theme for Louisville this entire season.

The natives are getting restless and you can hardly blame them. AD Tom Jurich remains firmly in Kragthorpe's corner but for how long? Next week brings a solid Southern Miss team that's also banged up so it's a game the Cardinals go into with a better shot of winning than originally anticipated. To say the least it may be the biggest game in the two-plus seasons at the school for Coach Kragthorpe.

Big 12: Texas A&M found out just how far they have to go as a team.

Many wondered just how good the Aggies were; they were 3-0 but who had they really played of consequence? Arkansas was their first shot at a quality opponent and in front of a national audience things went from good to bad in a hurry. Jerrod Johnson and company got out to a 10-0 lead in the first eight minutes of the game, only to watch the Razorbacks rip off thirty unanswered points in the palace built by Jerry Jones (an Arkansas alumnus) on their way to a 47-19 win. A&M did account for 458 yards and twenty-six first downs but the defense was no match for Ryan Mallett.

The Michigan transfer threw four touchdown passes and the running game accounted for 163 yards despite the fact that Michael Smith had just eleven of those yards. The question for Texas A&M is how they will deal with the more potent offenses in the Big 12 South; the defense had its fair share of issues on Saturday night against a team nowhere near as prolific as some of the teams they'll run into in conference play.

ACC: Is it time to replace Bobby Bowden?

Columnist Paul Finebaum was besieged with negative comments for suggesting seven years ago that it was time for the famed Florida State head coach to go. After Saturday's 28-21 loss at Boston College that dropped the Seminoles to 2-3 (their worst record after five games in almost thirty years) many more were asking the same question. Does the legendary coach deserve to make the call on his own terms? Absolutely, but it also needs to be pointed out that Florida State has won ten games just once since playing for the national title following the 2000 campaign. And on Sunday the chair of Florida State's Board of Trustees, Jim Smith, told the Tallahassee Democrat (Tallahassee.com) that "I think enough is enough".

Not a good time in the state capital, beginning with the reports (disputed by coaches) that there was in-fighting among the coaching staff. Then came the poor showing in the first half in Chestnut Hill, falling behind 21-6 due in large part to an impotent offense that couldn't stay on the field. Now they did fight to tie the game at 21 but the Eagles were able to seal the win with a Montel Harris 42-yard touchdown run. The offense that many thought was "back" after their win at BYU has a lot of work to do; they benefitted from the defense handing them short fields in forcing five BYU turnovers.

And the defense that defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews declared to be the fastest he'd seen in all his years at Florida State? It doesn't help to be fast if guys don't always know where they need to be running to. Not sure if it's a matter of the schemes being used of the players' ability (or lack thereof) to perform what's required of them but something needs to change. Coach Bowden won't be stepping down before the end of the season and he won't let anyone go before the season ends either.

Essentially Florida State's season comes down to each member of the team, players and coaches, realizing that they're in this together until the bitter end (whether some like it or not) and they can go out one of two ways: swinging or lying down. For a program (and school) that has embraced the Seminole Tribe's ideal of being "unconquered", they'd better choose the former.