Week 6: Catching Up, Part 1

Howdy everyone,

After a trip to the east coast, I have finally returned and have three weeks of college football to update.  I’m going to write the next two (catch up) posts without knowing what has happened in the weeks to follow, so some of the “predictions” will already be proven correct or wrong.  That’s fine.  I don’t mind predicting something that’s already happened if I haven’t heard the result.

Anyway, down to business.

I. National Notes: Summaries

I watched four games this weekend, the first three on TV and the last in person: Notre Dame vs. Miami at Soldier Field, Arizona at Stanford, West Virginia at Texas, and UCLA at Cal.  All four are worthy of comment, but for completely different reasons.  I’ll get to the Pac-12 games at the bottom.

Let’s start with Notre Dame vs. Miami.  Call this the “woulda coulda shoulda game” for the Hurricanes: they had their chance, right off the bat, to dictate the course of the game; but they failed to take advantage, and never recovered.  On the first play from scrimmage, Miami’s star receiver got behind the Irish secondary and was wide open — but dropped a certain touchdown pass.  A couple of plays later, the same receiver AGAIN got behind the defense and AGAIN dropped a sure touchdown.  Later in the first quarter, Miami scored on a QB run, but that too was nullified by a holding penalty, and the Canes had to settle for a field goal.  On the ensuing possession, Miami forced the Irish to punt from their own end zone, but a roughing penalty allowed Notre Dame to keep the ball, leading to the only touchdown of the first half.

Thus, instead of being ahead 14-6 at the break, Miami was behind 13-3.

In the third quarter, the Irish took to the ground.  They completely dominated the second half, shutting out the Hurricanes while racking up rushing TD after rushing TD.  Three different Irish running backs got into the act, leading to a 41-3 final score.  Just about the only thing uglier than Miami’s missed opportunities were Notre Dame’s outrageously disgusting helmets:

Notre Dame’s second half rushing attack was impressive, but it must be pointed out that the game could have taken an entirely different course had Miami converted on their chances.

Then again, this is Miami, and I’m always happy to see them lose.

Moving on…how about that barn burner in Austin?  West Virginia traveled to Texas to see if Geno Smith could continue his high-flying ways and keep his team on track for a potential Big 12 championship in its inaugural season in the conference.

Mission: accomplished.  The Mountaineers overcame two first half fumbles to overwhelm a Texas defense that simply could not stop all their weapons.  In addition to a potent passing attack, West Virginia added a ground game that saw Andrew Buie pile up the yardage, keeping the Longhorns off balance.  The final score of 48-45 was somewhat deceptive; the Mountaineers were the better team, and Texas was fortunate to be close at the end.

So, you may ask, is West Virginia a legitimate top five team?  The answer: maybe.  Offensively, they are a juggernaut, but their defense is awful.  You can’t give up 45 points to Texas and 63 points to Baylor and expect to win all the time.  At some point (see Georgia vs. South Carolina below), their defensive issues will catch up to them.  The question is, when?


II. National Notes: Quick Hits

  • BYU 6, Utah State 3: my goodness, what happened to the high flying offenses of BYU past?  Utah State is a dangerous team and has lost two road games by a total of five points.  They could easily be undefeated and ranked at this point.  The WAC battle figures to come down to San Jose State and the Aggies.
  • Ohio 38, Buffalo 31: the Bobcats remain undefeated, but they are hanging on against inferior competition.  Unless they shore up their defense quickly, someone in the MAC is going to take them down.
  • Penn State 39, Northwestern 28: there goes the undefeated season for the Wildcats.  It seems that Northwestern just can’t get through the month of October intact.  We’ll see if they can right the ship – which the Nittany Lions seem to have done quite well after a slow start.
  • Rutgers 19, UConn 3: another undefeated team on the east coast?  Hmm.  Is Rutgers actually good, or has their schedule been easy?  We’ll find out more in the coming weeks.
  • Arkansas 24, Auburn 7: holy mackerel, what has HAPPENED to Auburn??!  Losing by 17 points, at home, to a team that was in complete freefall?  Gene Chizik, get your retirement plans in place, because unless something dramatic occurs in the next 5-6 weeks, you won’t have a job at the end of the season, recent national championship notwithstanding.  (Translation: it’s a lot easier to win when Cam Newton is your quarterback.)
  • Kansas State 56, Kansas 16: the Wildcats (Kansas State, not Northwestern) are a legitimate undefeated team.  Can Bill Snyder finally lead them to the promised land of an undefeated season?  The Big 12 will be difficult to navigate unscathed.  Collin Klein is #2 behind Geno Smith in the Heisman race, at present.
  • Boise State 40, Southern Miss 14: Boise won this game in Hattiesburg.  USM keeps their perfect season intact: no wins.  Ouch.
  • North Carolina 48, Virginia Tech 34: the main story line from this game is that Virginia Tech must not be very good this year.  Frank Beamer is an excellent coach; his team’s defense is almost always stout.  Not this season.
  • Duke 42, Virginia 17: say what?  DUKE is 5-1?  Stop the presses!
  • Toledo 50, Central Michigan 35: did you know that Toledo plays its home games at the Glass Bowl?  Well, now you do.
  • Clemson 47, Georgia Tech 31: nice bounce-back win for Clemson.  This result does not change the fact that the ACC is a weak conference, however.
  • Florida 14, LSU 6: I saw some highlights; I’m glad to say that I didn’t watch the entire game.  LSU’s regular season winning streak comes to a close; Florida reestablishes itself as a national contender.  The Tigers still have a strong defense that will make them a tough opponent against any team, but their offense remains weak.  As for the Gators, they have more challenges to come with Georgia, South Carolina, and potentially Alabama on the schedule, but a win over LSU gives them tremendous confidence.
  • Iowa State 37, TCU 23: you lose your QB due to substance abuse, and what happens?  You lose a critical conference game at home.  We’ll see if the Horned Frogs can recover in time to save their season.  Meanwhile, Iowa State continues to impress in the Big 12; can they hit the 8-win mark this season?
  • Oklahoma 41, Texas Tech 20: a big win for Oklahoma after the loss to Kansas State.  Texas Tech falls from the ranks of the unbeaten; how will they respond to this defeat?
  • Idaho 26, New Mexico State 18: do I have to?
  • South Carolina 35, Georgia 7: darn darn DARN!  I knew this was going to happen, but I didn’t say anything in my last blog post!!!  (Angry.)  I was certain that Georgia’s shaky defense would eventually catch up to them.  Throw in a staunch South Carolina defense and wham!  Blowout in Columbia.  I am impressed with the Gamecocks, but still want to wait a few more games before declaring them one of the top teams in the SEC.  We’ll see how they fare with their conference road schedule in the coming weeks.
  • Louisiana Tech 58, UNLV 31: are the Bulldogs the best team in the state of Louisiana?  They’re 5-0, and their offense has been flying high all season.  The downside: defense.  You can’t expect to win games by outscoring the opponent (i.e. relying solely on your offense) each week.  Someone should take them down.  Someone….
  • Texas A&M 30, Mississippi 27: that’s four straight wins for the Aggies after the close season-opening loss to Florida.  Kevin Sumlin seems to have this team heading in the right direction.
  • North Carolina State 17, Florida State 16: FRAU-DU-LENT!  I said it earlier this season, and now I can say it with proof: the Seminoles are a fraud.  Their undefeated season, based as it was on a ridiculously easy schedule, came to a stunning end in Raleigh.  Worse still, FSU had a 16-0 lead at halftime, and still led 16-10 late in the 4th quarter.  But the Wolfpack completed three (!) fourth-down passes on the final drive to snatch a glorious victory from what seemed like certain defeat.  With this loss, all ACC teams are out of it for national title consideration – or at least they should be.
  • Ohio State 63, Nebraska 38: yikes.  Is Nebraska’s defense THAT bad?  Ohio State has been winning ugly the last several weeks, and I believe they too are a fraud – but unlike Florida State, they are still undefeated.  For now.  As for the Huskers, jeesh.  UCLA’s win over them at the Rose Bowl suddenly doesn’t seem that impressive.

 

III. Pac-12 Rundown

ASU and Colorado had byes this week in advance of their Thursday night ESPN special.  It ain’t gonna happen for the Buffs, whether at home or away.  The Sun Devils are just a better team.

Oregon State 19, Stupid Washington State 6: WSU decided that giving the Beavers four interceptions and a fumble might help Oregon State’s cause.  It did.  QB Sean Mannion was not sharp for the home team, but his defense did more than enough against a Cougar offense that can’t seem to figure itself out.  In just four games this season, Oregon State has proven that it can win with offense (at Arizona), defense (vs. WSU and Wisconsin), and both (at UCLA).  Can the Beavers keep this up?  And if so, for how long?  I hope they are ranked in the Top 10 after this win.

Oregon 52, Washington 21: the beat goes on.  Can ANYONE stop the Ducks?  It was 35-7 at halftime.  Goodbye Huskies, hello #2 ranking.  It’s going to take a monumental effort for any team – including Alabama, if it comes to that – to stop Oregon.

Stanford 54, Arizona 48, OT: far and away the conference game of the week.  Arizona’s spread offense was practically unstoppable, and the Wildcats held a 48-34 lead in the fourth quarter at Palo Alto.  Just when things looked bleakest for the Cardinal, Stanford’s offense, which had been stymied the previous two games, got healthy against a suspect Arizona defense.  Jush Nunes led a poised drive down the field to tie the score at 48.  Arizona, however, still had 45 seconds left; but to everyone’s surprise, RichRod decided not to take advantage of the final possession.  Why he decided to do this, having watched Arizona’s offense shred Stanford’s defense all game, is beyond my comprehension.  The result was predictable: Stanford intercepted Matt Scott in overtime (U of A’s only turnover of the game), then scored on their possession to end it.

Arizona goes to 0-3 in conference, but two of those losses were in the last minute (vs. Oregon State) or in overtime (at Stanford).  This is a good team; they are probably a year away from being able to close the deal in games like this.

USC 38, Utah 28: a character win for the Trojans, who – it should be noted – were the only team in the conference to win on the road this week.  After a disastrous start (two fumbles which led to Ute touchdowns), USC righted itself, overcoming a 21-10 second quarter deficit by scoring four unanswered touchdowns to win going away.  Utah is a difficult place to play (just ask UCLA), but USC kept the crowd out of it in the second half.  Simply put, the better team won, and showed poise doing so.  This should give the Trojans momentum heading into the second half of the season.  Despite the head-scratching loss to Stanford, USC remains the team to beat in the South.

Dumb Cal 43, UCLA 17: a classic – or should I say typical – Cal-UCLA game.  The team that played dumber lost, and this time, it was the Bruins, who committed six (!) turnovers to go along with 12 costly penalties to effectively hand the game to Cal, much as the Bears had done for the Bruins last season at the Rose Bowl.

Where do we begin…I had said in the previous post that UCLA needed to get off to a hot start and take Cal out of the game early.  This almost happened: the Bruins intercepted Zach Maynard’s first pass of the game and led 7-0 after converting the short field into a touchdown.  After Cal responded with a field goal, UCLA opened the second quarter by driving to Cal’s 28 yard line and had it first and ten with a chance to go up 14-3.  Score there, and the wheels might come off for Cal.

Instead, Hundley threw a backwards pass – a play the Bruins have consistently failed at this season, yet stubbornly continue to use – that, predictably, was not well thrown.  Cal recovered, scored, and never trailed thereafter.

The rest of the game was a litany of UCLA errors.  In order: a missed field goal, a miscommunication on a punt return that led to a fumble and a Cal touchdown, an interception in the end zone near the end of the first half, and then the most horrific sequence of the season: trailing 29-17 (and with the game still in reach), UCLA forced Cal fumbles on consecutive possessions.  But Hundley responded by giving the ball back to Cal each time.  Those two interceptions snuffed out any desperate chance the Bruins might have had.  Cal’s last two touchdowns accounted for the final margin of victory.

In a sense, this game was the opposite of UCLA’s loss to Oregon State.  In that game, the Beavers won 27-20, but were much the better team; in this game, Cal won 43-17, but the game was much closer than that – although I use the word “closer” loosely, since both teams played poorly in stretches.

Thus, UCLA continues its losing streak at Strawberry Canyon, having lost every game there since 1998.  Actually, I should have seen this coming from the outset.  Memorial Stadium’s unspectacular “upgrade” – a new press box, and…wait, what exactly did they do? – could not possibly have been worth the $321 million price tag.  The public address announcer shouted out all the final scores of the day’s games, depriving me of the excitement of watching the highlights later in the evening without knowing the results.  Finally, in line with tradition, the scent of Bill Clinton’s favorite illegal substance permeated the air of downtown Berkeley (unavoidable as I took the long walk back to the BART station).

Nevertheless, all of these occurrences pale in comparison to what transpired in the UCLA student section, where I was seated for this game.  Two coeds, apparently not the biggest of football fans, began a discussion about relationships.  “Everyone says it’s easier just to be single.”  “I know seriously, you should just dump him.”  “What are you wearing?  It’s so different.”  Despite my Christian background, the Lord chose not to show me any mercy on this day, as this irrelevant discussion went on for TWO QUARTERS.  Given how UCLA played, perhaps I would have been better served joining the conversation.

 

IV. Conference Power Rankings

South

1. USC

2. Arizona State

3. Arizona, UCLA

5. Utah

6. Colorado

 

North

1. Oregon

2. Oregon State

3. Stanford

4. Washington

5. Cal

6. Washington State

 

V. On Deck (Next Week’s Schedule…and Predictions)

ASU at Colorado: Sun Devils, easily.

Utah at UCLA: after their worst performance of the season, will UCLA have the maturity to bounce back?  If this game were being played in Utah, I’d be taking the Utes, but playing at home, I think UCLA should pull it out.  I like the way Hundley handled himself after the loss to Cal, not blaming anyone but himself, and keeping his nose to the grindstone.  Still, this is a young team.  Utah tried to keep up with USC but fell short; will they regain their footing at the Rose Bowl?  This could be a close one.

Oregon State at BYU: the Cougars offense has been nonexistent this season.  If Oregon State simply avoids mistakes, they should win this game, even on the road.  Having said that, the Beavers must play well, because BYU’s defense has been pretty good also.  I expect this to be a hard-fought, low scoring affair.

Stanford at Notre Dame: the Irish are undefeated, but their wins have been close.  The offense goes up and down from game to game; the defense, however, has been excellent.  Stanford has been all over the map, playing a fantastic game against USC followed by a clunker against Washington followed by this week’s wild win over Arizona.  It seems that you never know what you’re going to get with Stanford, whereas you know exactly what to expect from Notre Dame.  If this game were in Palo Alto, I’d be taking the Card, but it’s in South Bend.  Slight edge to the Golden Domers – but I wouldn’t be entirely surprised to see Stanford win their fourth straight in the series.

USC at Washington: USC is a better team!  They should win this game!  If they don’t get in their own way, they probably will.  Washington still hasn’t managed to get over the hump; this week’s pasting at Oregon proves that.  If USC executes the same basic game plan as Oregon, it could be a runaway.  On the other hand, if the Trojans continue to turn the ball over, UW could steal another ugly win, as they did against Stanford.  Something tells me that’s not going to happen.  This USC team reminds me a bit of the 2008 team, which had every chance to win the national championship (the defense on that squad was terrific), but got tripped up early in the season on the road vs. Oregon State.  Unfortunately for SC, that sole loss defined the season, much as the Stanford loss could define this season.  Or not.  We’ll see.

Dumb Cal at Stupid Washington State University: I am not going to dignify this matchup with a comment.

See you later this week.

–Mr. G.


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