College FB Week 7: 14 Thoughts From 14 Hours
I don't know about you, but I've already forgotten how great last week's Florida-LSU mega-showdown was, because LSU-Kentucky topped it and then some. And we get to see two of the same three teams match up again next week in Lexington. I'm already pumped.
You knew Kentucky wasn't going to go quietly when they answered LSU's 46-yard scoring drive to put the Tigers up 17-7 with a 31-second drive of their own late in the first half. Even still, LSU started to separate itself in the third quarter, taking a 27-14 lead (nearly 31-14 if not for a dropped pass in the end zone), and we were all ready to slap Kentucky on the butt for trying hard and telling them to try again next week in the finale of their South Carolina-LSU-Florida gauntlet.
But Andre' Woodson started to get hot. The Wildcats began to run between the tackles to some degree of success thanks to Derrick Locke, pressed into duty with underrated tailback Rafael Little out due to injury. Most importantly, the defense picked it up and shut LSU out for the rest of regulation, harassing an inaccurate Matt Flynn and eventually forcing him to throw an interception.
Still, it never really felt like LSU was going to lose this game, even after the missed field goal at the end of regulation and the first Kentucky score in overtime; heck, even after Woodson's pass to Steve Johnson in the top of the third OT.
But then Bad Les Miles got involved in the play-calling once the Tigers got into second-and-4 from the Kentucky 19. Three plays, three runs and three yards later, No. 1 was off its perch and Kentucky was celebrating.
The best game of the season to date is also our top performance of the day from a Kentucky squad that reacted quite well to last week's disappointing showing in Columbia by toppling the one preseason favorite still left unscathed.
Runner-up: South Florida 64, UCF 12
13. Least impressive win of the day: USC 20, Arizona 13
THIS is the game that tells me there's trouble in Trojan land more so than last week's disaster against Stanford. If one of Pete Carroll's previous star-studded teams had suffered an embarrassing feat against a doormat like the Cardinal, it would have responded by kicking the snot out of whichever team dared line up across from them the following Saturday, particularly a mediocre-would-be-a-step-in-the-right-direction team like Arizona.
Instead, the Trojans limped through the first half tied 10-10, trailed through much of the third and early part of the fourth quarter, and didn't put the Mike Stoops show on ice until less than a minute remained.
I know they're battered. I know their heir apparent QB was out. I know it was JUST Arizona. But Pete Carroll's team has more five-stars than a high school auditorium for a final exam, and that includes those who had been waiting in the wings to get their chance due to an injury.
Carroll is famous for his Tuesday scrimmages (which some around USC would claim is often the team's toughest game of the week) where he determines who is good enough to line up on Saturday, but Pete might want to concentrate more on the one that counts in the standings right now. You just beat up on the four worst teams in the Pac-10 (well, three of them), along with Idaho and a Nebraska team that couldn't stop a decent high school J.V. team from ringing up 450 yards of offense.
Here comes Oregon. Here comes Cal. Here comes Arizona State. Heck, here comes a Notre Dame team next week that'll be staging its own Super Bowl and hasn't forgotten about Leinart-to-Jarrett and the Bush Push. It's going to get much worse before it gets better if USC doesn't shape up in the time it takes Joe McKnight to run the 40.
Runner-up: Georgia 20, Vanderbilt 17 (More the fact that you felt the need to stomp on the midfield V after the less-than-inspiring comeback. I don't care if they did it to you before. You're Georgia. They're Vanderbilt. Act like it.)
12. Worst loss of the day: Oregon State 31, Cal 28
Would the Pac-10 please pick up the white courtesy phone? Seriously fellas, just looking for a sign of life. It's been a rough couple of weeks for a conference that, near the end of September, was in the argument (not was, SEC fans) for the best set of teams in America.
In reality, this loss isn't quite as bad as it looks on the surface, considering Cal star QB Nate Longshore didn't play, but New England isn't going to sit around crying in its chowder if Tom Brady misses a game (and with the advance "scouting" they're doing in Camp Belichick these days, why would they?!? - thanks, I'll be here all week).
Kevin Riley played pretty well in his first college start for the Bears, at least up until the play that may rival the Cal-Stanford band fiasco (on the negative end of the spectrum) in Berkley fans' minds for the near, and possibly quite distant future.
In case you missed it, and you probably did considering the game was on a network named for a preposition meaning "in opposition to," Riley was in the midst of engineering a miraculous last-minute comeback when he committed the mental gaffe to end all mental gaffes.
Having engineered the Bears to the Oregon State 12-yard-line with 14 seconds left and ZERO (in caps and italics for a reason) timeouts, Riley decided to scramble when he saw no open receiver on the game's next play. Unfortunately for him, he didn't get anywhere near out of bounds and the clock ran out before Cal could spike the ball to set up a game-tying field goal.
Grizzled NFL vet, redshirt freshman or third-grader, that's a tough pill to swallow.
So just to recap, Cal was set to claim the No. 1 spot in the polls as of about 8 p.m. EST on Saturday, and at 10:39 p.m. it was back up for grabs. It's been that kind of season.
Runner-up: Penn State 38, Wisconsin 7
11. Best game of the day: Northwestern 49, Minnesota 48, 2 OT
Yeah, the best, most compelling game of the day was LSU-Kentucky, but we've hit that. Let's go under the radar a bit, and this is the most poignant way I can put this.
If there were no rankings, no uniforms, no history, no tradition, no ESPN and I just wanted to see an exciting college football game, I'm going wherever Northwestern's playing next week.
In a number of ways, the Wildcats are the perfect microcosm for the kind of year it's been. Sometimes they're up, sometimes they're down, but they're never out of it and it's always exciting. That, in a nutshell, is college football in 2007, and Northwestern's been involved in four games that came down to the very last play of the game, including its last two in overtime, both Big Ten wins.
This time they found themselves trailing a woeful Minnesota team, in Evanston, 35-14, late in the third quarter before reeling off 21 straight, including a touchdown on fourth-and-4 with eight seconds left in the game, to sent it to overtime. C.J. Bacher threw for 449 yards and four scores and also ran won in as Northwestern got back to 2-2 in the conference.
Yeah, they lost by 51 to Ohio State and they stubbed their toe at home against Duke. But if you want must-see TV on a Saturday afternoon, you could do a lot worse than Northwestern.
Runner-up: Louisville 28, Cincinnati 24
10. Craziest game of the day: Auburn 9, Arkansas 7
OK, maybe it wasn't crazy in the conventional sense. In fact, if you want crazy, once again let me recommend Northwestern. But this game actually turned into a track meet considering there was the very real possibility it might end 3-0 for quite a while.
Auburn held that field-goal lead well into the fourth quarter and eventually added a second Wes Byrum boot to go up by six. But after bottling up Darren McFadden and Felix Jones all day, it was Casey Dick who finally got the Hogs on the scoreboard, finding Lucas Miller with less than two minutes left to give Arkansas a 7-6 lead.
After taking the kick to just shy of midfield though, Auburn zoomed down the field in the next 60 seconds, and the tough-nugget Byrum split the uprights for the third time to give Auburn another last-second win.
Heck, come to think of it, maybe Auburn and Northwestern aren't that far apart after all. The Tigers have been involved in four games that came down to the final play as well. You have to wonder where Auburn would be sitting at this point had they not followed up their loss to South Florida with a performance against Mississippi State that resembled a bad hangover, then waking up and getting sideswiped by a bus.
The Tiger defense is scary good right now, and it's about to get another stiff test next week in Baton Rouge against a fellow group of Tigers that is not going to be at all pleased. Let's put the over/under on Auburn-LSU at six. There will be NHL games next Saturday featuring more scoring, but this one will be a thing of beauty.
Runner-up: Hawaii 42, San Jose State 35, OT (Friday)
9. Who beat Pittsburgh this week?
The underlined team means this one is likely to be a revolving door for the near future because we're down to just Marshall, Colorado State, Utah State and Florida International in the winless department, and quite frankly picking on those programs right now is like going straight for the 45-pound fourth-grader with his arm in a sling who's on crutches.
So for this week we turn our attention to Pittsburgh, a once-proud program that had at least been going to bowls on a regular basis recently - that is until one David Wannstedt arrived at Heinz Field. The Pitt alum has steered his Panthers to a 13-16 mark since taking over his alma mater, including submarining his squad by calling for - wait for it - a fourth-down end-zone fade in the second overtime of Pitt's 48-45 loss to Navy.
That Wannstedt went for the win at home against what should have been an inferior opponent rather than taking the sure points and playing on was a curious decision. But calling a lazy, unimaginative, all-my-eggs-in-one-basket-without-a-handle play in that situation was the true disgrace.
Why do coaches keep calling fade patterns in the end zone on third downs, fourth downs, or two-point conversions. This is a play where timing is absolutely essential in every aspect - from the snap to the throw, to the receiver not being jostled at the line of scrimmage, to the placement of the pass and, hopefully, the catch. Why not roll the quarterback out? Why not give your signal-caller ANY play where he has options rather than a chuck-and-pray.
I'm not against the pattern. It can be great when used to take advantage of a taller receiver on a smallish cornerback. But use it on first or second down. Don't use it when everything is riding on the perfect execution of all of the aforementioned elements. I don't care if I have Randy Moss lined up against Verne Troyer - I'm not calling a fade on fourth-and-goal.
8. Who beat Notre Dame this week?
Like we thought, the Irish's win at UCLA last week was certainly more a product of a shield-your-eyes-from-the-sun Bruin performance than anything Notre Dame did right, proven Saturday in another lousy effort, this time against No. 4 Boston College.
Yeah, the Irish hung tough in the third quarter, even picking off a Matt Ryan pass and returning it to cut the Eagles' lead to six. But Jimmy Claussen was dreadful once again under center, Evan Sharpley wasn't much better in his stead, and BC got back on track on its way to a 27-14 win.
That's right - Boston College, ranked fourth in the country, went into South Bend and pushed Notre Dame around for three hours, yet that performance may have been shaky enough that South Florida catapults the Eagles in the polls this week. Once again, welcome to 2007.
If you had spelled out that scenario 10 years ago you'd have been in a 5-foot-by-5-foot holding cell under government watch within 24 hours. Be sure to catch The Biggest Loser at a special time next week on NBC, 3:30 p.m EST Saturday, live from South Bend, with special guest USC.
7. On the rise: Virginia Tech, Michigan, Texas Tech
Virginia Tech got throttled at LSU in the second week of the season, has since beaten Clemson thanks to two special teams TDs and a defensive score, has done nothing else remotely impressive, and here finds itself on the cusp of the top 10 and an upcoming win over BC away from being in the national title hunt.
Michigan (remember them?) waxed Notre Dame, out-uglied Penn State and sleepwalked through Northwestern and Eastern Michigan before hammering Purdue. The Wolverines find themselves on top of the Big Ten along with Ohio State.
Meanwhile, in contrast to the born-again preseason top 10s, Texas Tech keeps chugging along with its stunningly accurate quarterback, Graham Harrell, and its record-setting freshman wide receiver Michael Crabtree. The Red Raiders spanked everyone's favorite punching bag Dennis Franchione and Texas A&M by a 35-7 score, and we'll truly find out what they're made of at Missouri next week.
6. On the decline: Wisconsin, Purdue, Arkansas
Wisconsin was somewhat exposed last weekend against Illinois, but barely got off the bus at Penn State. P.J. Hill fumbled the Badgers' first play of the game and it was fuhgettaboutit from there for Wisky. There is no defense in Cheeseville this year and if their offense is one-dimensional, that's a bad football team.
Joining the Badgers in scouring the classifieds for 11 defenders is Purdue, which has been handed its lunch by Ohio State and Michigan in back-to-back weeks and has seen its offense run away and hide when asked to match points.
Arkansas has to be among the nation's biggest disappointments. They've lost three tough games, but they've also beaten no one special (take away the Troy win and it gets real ugly). Darren McFadden has been good but not great, but the quarterback position is still killing this team. Is Mitch Mustain busy? Oh that's right - he probably has a guest spot on the next episode of Entourage.
5. Which conference embarrassed itself the most this weekend?
Hate to keep picking on the Pac-10, but it's not looking good for the West Coasters in the national picture. Everyone but Arizona State has a loss and as solid as the Sun Devils have been, it's coming sooner or later. USC is a shell of what it once was right now, Cal has to figure out how it will respond after losing, Washington may be getting worse rather than better, Washington State is baaaaaaad, and Stanford, which pulled off the season's biggest miracle a week earlier, responded by losing at home to TCU.
On the plus side, Oregon's moving back into the national title picture, schizophrenic Oregon State got a signature win and UCLA had a bye week.
4. Which conference made itself proud?
Don't look now, but there are nine pretty solid teams in the Big 12. Yeah, Baylor's bad and Iowa State should consider itself lucky this isn't Premiership soccer (otherwise they'd be getting pounded by Division III teams every Saturday), but every week is becoming a dogfight (hey Texas Tech fans!) in the Big 12.
A week ago you'd have said the conference lacks a national title contender, but Oklahoma, left for dead after losing to Colorado, is right in the thick of things, and Kansas has yet to lose (and somehow avoids the Sooners, Texas and the Red Raiders? Go figure).
If Nebraska could get its act together this league could make its case for the premier conference in the country. But business isn't going well at all right now in Lincoln. Looks like Beau Bridges won't have to play Bill Callahan in Callahan's life story after all because, well - no one wants to see Hollywood's take on a good Big 12 coach much less Billy C.
3. Taking a shot at coaching from the couch is easier than it looks, even if the target is the guy whose team engineered Saturday's biggest win...
Kentucky beat Louisville and it all got started. A win at Arkansas solidified the hype. Yeah, South Carolina caught ‘em a week ago, but they rallied and knocked off LSU. The Wildcats are very much for real. All true.
But would they be so real at 4-3 rather than 6-1? No sir. And thanks to coach Rich Brooks, that was closer to being reality than you think.
Trailing Louisville 34-33 late in the fourth, Andre' Woodson shocked everyone by finding a wide open Steve Johnson for a 57-yard TD pass to give the Wildcats a 39-34 lead with 28 seconds left. You can debate the merits of going for two points too early in certain situation or even going for two at all, but up five with under a minute to play you ALWAYS go for two. What good is a six-point lead when you could be up seven? Five and six are the same thing at that time of the game. A touchdown (and assumed PAT) beat you either way. Fortunately for Brooks, his team held on, and his decision, seemingly passed over in the excitement following the big touchdown play, went largely unnoticed.
Fast forward to his team's stunning win Saturday against LSU. Matt Flynn completed a one-yard pass on third-and-10 to Charles Scott with less than 20 seconds to play in a 27-27 game near the end of regulation. That play put the ball at the Kentucky 40-yard-line. But rather than call one of its two remaining timeouts, forcing LSU's hand, Kentucky let the clock tick down to two seconds, where the Tigers were basically given a free shot: try a long field goal or throw a hail mary. LSU opted for the field goal, which was wide left by about a foot.
Had Brooks been paying attention, he would have called a timeout with 15 seconds left. Sure, you're not expecting to get the ball back yourself and do anything before overtime. But by taking the timeout, LSU would have had to punt. Les Miles might be crazy, but he's not going to try a field goal that, had it missed, would have given Kentucky a shot at a hail mary, or try his own long bomb, which, had it fallen incomplete, would have also given Kentucky one last play.
The game was in Kentucky's control at that point. They had the chance to dictate how regulation ended, but they nearly lost by not acting. Take the timeout, make LSU punt, and then put no one back for the punt in order to avoid a potential fumble, then get set for overtime. Brooks nearly turned a win-win situation into a big loss.
2. Top five games to watch next weekend, plus an arbitrary Heisman top five considering picking America's "most enjoyable airport expierence" may be easier at this point:
South Florida at Rutgers, Texas Tech at Missouri, Florida at Kentucky, Michigan at Illinois, Auburn at LSU
1. Andre' Woodson
2. Graham Harrell
3. Mike Hart
4. Matt Ryan
5. Dennis Dixon
1. Top 10 teams through 10/13:
1. Ohio State
4. Boston College
7. South Carolina
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