Week 7: Catching Up, Part 2

Welcome back, sports fans.

This is part two of my “catch-up” blog, in which I will cover the top stories in college football from Week 7.  I feel like going straight to the Pac-12, so guess what?  That’s where we’ll begin.

I. Conference Collisions

Arizona State 51, Colorado 17: It was 20-17 at the half.  ASU then blew up the Buffs to win the second half 31-0.  Final yardage stats: ASU 593, Colorado 255.  Nuff said.

UCLA 21, Utah 14: a tight, defensive game in which both offenses tried not to give it away.  Each side committed just one turnover, but UCLA’s was incomprehensible.  With the Bruins leading 7-0 and having just forced a Utah punt, returner Steven Manfro backed up from his 20 all the way to his 3 (!) in order to attempt a ridiculous over the shoulder catch.  The punt never should have been fielded in the first place, but to compound the error, he fumbled it into the end zone.  Touchdown Utah.  I appreciate effort, but this was either pure selfishness or horrific coaching.  That kind of mistake CANNOT happen.  UCLA was fortunate to score a minute later to take a 14-7 lead into halftime.

Truth be told, the Bruins fairly dominated this game — especially on defense — but Utah was allowed to close within a touchdown when UCLA could not put it away late in the 4th quarter.  With the win, the Bruins move to 5-2, but their wins have not been particularly impressive.  UCLA has defeated Colorado, Rice, Utah, and Houston, all of whom are at or under .500.  The win over Nebraska seemed spectacular at the time, but the Huskers have not been stout on defense this year.  UCLA has lost to Oregon State and Cal and has yet to play USC, Stanford, and Arizona State.  So…what to say?  Is UCLA a good team or just an average team?  The jury is still out.  UCLA is a young team with talent and could be a problem for some of the better teams on the schedule in the second half of the season, but until the Bruins develop more consistency, we won’t really know where this team stacks up in the conference.  Let’s call ’em the wildcard team.

Oregon State 42, BYU 24: how do you spell impressive?  O-S-U.  The Beavers lost starting QB Sean Mannion indefinitely earlier in the week, forcing backup Cody Vaz into service — despite the fact that he had not taken a snap since 2010.  Worse, he faced the challenge of playing at crazy Provo, against a BYU defense that had held its previous 12 opponents to under 300 yards per game.

He didn’t even blink.  Oregon State racked up 450 yards and had no turnovers in what has to be a delightfully satisfying victory for the Beavers, who are now 5-0 for the first time since — are you ready for this? — 1939.  This team just gets better and better!  Is there any chance they could make it to 10-0 and set up a showdown of the unbeatens against Oregon for not just the conference championship, but a berth in the national championship?  Not likely (games vs. Arizona State and at Stanford make that difficult), but here’s hoping.

Notre Dame 20, Stanford 13 (OT): yes I know, there is going to be a lot of discussion about whether Stepfan Taylor made it into the end zone on 4th down.  Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t.

Bottom line: both teams made a lot of mistakes in this game.  I don’t care if it’s rainy, wet, and sloppy.  Bad passes, missed blocks, lost fumbles, and botched snaps on field goals are mistakes, regardless of the weather.  Although both teams played hard, neither was sharp — on offense or on special teams.  I still don’t know if Notre Dame is “for real” yet.  Their defense has been excellent, but does anyone really think this team can beat someone like Alabama, Oregon, or Oklahoma (or Kansas State)?  The Irish have been very fortunate to win several close games this season.  I have a feeling that the roof is going to cave in against either USC or Oklahoma, or both.

As for Stanford, they have been wildly inconsistent since the upset over USC: first losing at Washington (no offense), then escaping against Arizona (no defense), now losing in overtime to Notre Dame (no offense, questionable special teams).  Stanford has not played a complete game against anyone this season other than perhaps Duke.  Also, the Stanford coaching staff proved extremely predictable — and stubborn — in the overtime possession.  With first and goal at the 4, Stanford ran Taylor FOUR STRAIGHT TIMES.  I can understand once or twice, or maybe even three times, but didn’t anyone pay attention to the game vs. Arizona last week?  Nunes scored three times on QB keepers against the Wildcats!  If you refuse to run a play action pass or an option play or a bootleg or a fade, can’t you at least have the QB try a sneak on one of those four plays?  If I’m Notre Dame, I’m stacking the box to stop Taylor in the middle.  Stanford’s last two plays were simply too uncreative, and given that the strength of the Irish defense is their front seven, I do not understand the insistence on running up the middle.  Stanford did not deserve to win this game, and this time, they paid for their mistakes, both physical and otherwise.

USC 24, Washington 14: a wonderful road victory for the Trojan defense and special teams, which allowed USC to win despite not scoring in the second half.  With the offense bogging down, USC’s defense held UW to under 300 yards and forced four turnovers.  The Trojans are beginning to realize that the identity of this year’s team is not what most of us expected.  With Barkley, Woods, Lee, and a pair of 1,000 yard rushers, almost everyone (myself included) believed USC would be an offensive juggernaut.  Games against Stanford, Cal, and now Washington have proven otherwise.  The great news (for USC fans) is that the defense has been consistently excellent all season: every Trojan opponent has been held to 21 points or fewer, save for Syracuse (I do not count the Utah game because two of their TD’s were set up or scored by the defense).  You don’t win consistently without a great defense.  The Trojans have titanic contests remaining against Oregon and Notre Dame — both at home — so who knows?  There still may be time to salvage something.

Having said that, the Stanford loss is still a bad loss — and I expect ASU, UCLA, and maybe even Arizona to give the Trojans a run for their money before all is said and done.

Dumb Cal 31, Stupid Washington State 17: if two teams play and no one cares, did the game actually take place?  Golden Bears win the Insipid Bowl.

Oregon, Arizona: byes.  The Ducks travel to Tempe on Thursday to face ASU.  How good are the Ducks?  And is ASU back?  I can’t wait to find out!

II. Conference Power Rankings; Week 8 Previews

South

1. USC
2. Arizona State
3. Arizona, UCLA
5. Utah
6. Colorado

North

1. Oregon
2. Oregon State
3. Stanford, Washington
5. Dumb Cal
6. SWSU

Oregon at ASU: if this game is relatively low scoring, ASU has a chance.  If it’s high scoring, Ducks win.  Can the Devils make a fight of it?

Stanford at Cal: it is criminal that the Big Game is in the middle of the season.  I hope both teams lose, and the Pac-12 scheduler suffers multiple injuries.

Colorado at USC: don’t shoot!

Washington at Arizona: a desperation game for both teams.  Arizona needs a conference win in the worst way.  Washington just wants to play someone who isn’t ridiculously difficult (the Huskies have already played LSU, Stanford, USC, and Oregon).  Arizona has an outstanding offense but no defense; the opposite is true for UW.  Strength against strength — or weakness against weakness?  This game could go right down to the wire.

Utah at Oregon State: come on Beavers!  So what if the Utes move to 0-4 in conference?  Oregon State has been waiting for this opportunity (i.e. a chance to go 6-0) for years.  No — for decades!  They deserve it — and they’re a better team.  If they don’t lose their focus, Oregon State should win this game fairly easily.

UCLA and WSU: byes.

III. Around the Nation: Five at a Time

1. Western Kentucky does it again, winning a difficult conference game at Troy, Alabama to move to 5-1.
2. Tulsa defeats UTEP 33-11.  I’m including that game only because I find the score interesting.
3. Louisville moves to 6-0 by defeating Pitt 45-35.  Is Louisville for real?  No.  Get a defense.
4. Rutgers also moves to 6-0 by defeating Syracuse 23-15.  Is Rutgers for real?  Maybe.  They have a defense.
5. Kansas State wins a very difficult road game, holding off Iowa State 27-21 to (also) move to 6-0.  This team deserves to be ranked higher than #6 in the country, given their victory at Oklahoma — and what Oklahoma did to Texas.  Speaking of which:

6. Oklahoma annihilated Texas — again — 63-21, in the Red River Obliteration.  (I know, it doesn’t have the nice alliteration, but 63-21 can’t be called a “rivalry.”)  If there is a one loss team that could sneak back into the BCS title game, it might be the Sooners.
7. Northwestern FINALLY won a game in October, defeating Minnesota 21-13.
8. Auburn lost ANOTHER game, this time to Mississippi, 41-20, to fall to 0-4 in SEC play.
9. Darn.  Duke couldn’t get it done against Virginia Tech, losing in Blacksburg, 41-20.
10. Tulane snapped the nation’s longest losing streak — 15 — by upending SMU 27-26 in the final minute.

11. Ohio moves to 7-0 with another escape act, this time against lowly Akron, 34-28.
12. North Carolina did a wonderful thing handing Miami its third loss of the season, 18-14.
13. Oklahoma State got ahead 20-0, but almost lost to Kansas anyway.  They held on, 20-14.
14. Alabama beat Missouri 42-10.  Ho-hum.
15. Texas Tech pulled off the major upset at home, shellacking previously unbeaten West Virginia 49-14, and bringing high-flying Geno Smith back to earth a bit.  You can’t win with just offense.  Until the Mountaineers put together a defensive unit that can keep them in the game, they will not be an elite team.

16. Utah State helped clarify the WAC by defeating San Jose State, 49-27, on the road.  The Aggies are one of the best 2-loss teams around.
17. Boston College had the misfortune to be playing Florida State.  On the road.  After the Seminoles had blown a 16-0 lead to NC State the previous week.  The result?  You guessed it: ugly, as in 51-7.
18. Florida took care of Vanderbilt — not an easy task on the road — 31-17, to remain undefeated and in the thick of the national title picture.
19. Cincinnati moved to 5-0 with its 49-17 victory over…Fordham?  They could at least have played Chevyham.
20. TCU responded to the loss of their QB with an important win over Baylor, 49-21, in Waco.

21. LSU showed why they have been one of the top teams in the nation for several seasons, defeating #3 South Carolina 23-21.  The Tigers pounded the Gamecocks on the ground, winning the rushing battle 258 to 34.
22. Mississippi State — the “other” undefeated team in the SEC — continued its winning ways with a 41-31 victory over Tennessee, its first win over the Volunteers since 1994.  Derek Dooley’s seat is heating up again.  If he values his job, the Vols must come up with at least one quality win before the season is through.
23. Ohio State maintained its fraudulent undefeated status by allowing 49 points to Indiana, but still winning, 52-49.  Please, someone beat this team?!  Hopefully trips to Penn State and/or Wisconsin will knock the Buckeyes from the ranks of the unbeaten.  Coach Urban Meyer has already stated that his team is not good against spread offenses.  It would leave a terrible taste in my mouth if Ohio State goes 12-0 — particularly this year, when they wouldn’t be able to prove how weak their schedule is by playing someone like Oregon or USC in a bowl game and getting hammered.
24. Louisiana Tech…what was that I said about defense?  That’s right: man cannot live on bread alone.  Or rather, football team cannot win on offense alone.  Louisiana Tech scored 57 points in regulation — and gained 615 yards! — but could not defeat Texas A&M, who racked up 678 yards to squeak out a 59-57 victory, knocking the Bulldogs from the ranks of the unbeaten.

Enough for now.  Almost caught up!  See you again soon with the Week 8 Blog.

–Mr. G.

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