Four overtimes. Eight overtime field goal attempts. The kick that missed? That was the difference in this week’s Diamond in the Rough.
1. DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH: PITT 36, NOTRE DAME 33 (4 OT)
For Notre Dame kicker Brandon Walker, most of the afternoon had gone perfectly. Walker was 3-3 on extra points as his team headed into overtime against Pitt on a picture-perfect day in South Bend, and his field goals in the first, second, and third extra periods were enough to keep the Irish in the game.
Then the fourth overtime came around.
In a marathon game that featured eight OT possessions and zero touchdowns, Walker shanked a 38-yarder that ended up costing the Irish a 36-33 home defeat.
In a football game, the kicker can either be the goat or the hero. On the other sideline, Pittsburgh kicker Conor Lee was the picture of jubilation, finishing a perfect 5-5 on his field goal tries to help his squad escape the shadow of the Golden Dome with a hard-fought victory.
While both teams came in at 5-2, Pitt used a stellar game from standout running back LeSean McCoy (169 yards and a touchdown) to become bowl-eligible and send the Irish fans home disappointed. With starting quarterback Bill Stull sidelined due to a concussion, the Panthers were able to lean on their running game and come away with the win.
Here’s my random thoughts on this week’s “Diamond in the Rough”:
-Notre Dame QB Jimmy Clausen is improving quite impressively. Clausen fooled me with his play fakes, managed the Irish offense effectively (until they stalled out in the overtimes), and showed the ability to make tough throws (especially out routes on the far side of the field).
He has the arm strength to play at the next level, no doubt about it. Watching Clausen, I was reminded of Brady Quinn’s development from when I first saw him play (as a freshman in his first career ND start) to his eventual top-round draft status.
- Irish wide receivers Golden Tate and Michael Floyd each had at least 100 receiving yards in a losing cause. Tate is the big-play guy, averaging over 18 yards a grab (with most of the highlights, including one mentioned later in “Thank Goodness for My DVR”).
Floyd, on the other hand, earned himself the nickname “Mr. Out Route” in my notes…he was always available for a Clausen pass on the wide side of the field, and finished with a team-high 10 catches.
-Both teams use an effective combination at running back. Pitt has McCoy and LaRod Stephens-Howling, while Notre Dame boasts a trio of solid ballcarriers: Armando Allen (main guy), James Aldridge (physical pounder), and Robert Hughes (a mix of the other two). Each of the three Irish tailbacks got at least eight carries.
-Pitt did a great job of creating as many opportunities as possible for its playmakers to get the ball in space. While McCoy got the lion’s share of handoffs (he had 32 rushing attempts on Saturday), Stephens-Howling caught screens, ran back kicks, and both he and McCoy took snaps in the latest-craze Wildcat formation.
At one point, the Panthers ran a Wildcat direct snap on four straight plays! (Who would have ever thought my PlayStation RB direct snap would become a fad in both the NFL and NCAAF?)
-A couple notes from the “just in case you care” random category…Pittsburgh linebacker Scott McKillop led the nation in tackles last year. I didn’t know that. Oh, and Panther punter Dave Brytus transferred from Purdue. And yes, any time I can work the Boilers into my column, I will. Get used to it!
-Pitt scored the game-tying touchdown with just over two minutes to play in the fourth quarter by running the exact same play three times in a row. They threw fade routes in the right corner of the end zone to wideout Jonathan Baldwin on second down, third down, and again on fourth down. The first attempt landed out of the end zone in a band member’s waiting hands…the second was caught, but way out of bounds…and the third was actually thrown in the right place, where the 6’5” receiver had a chance to make a play. Touchdown. Third time’s the charm, right, Pitt?
-While the Panthers were forced to play backup QB Pat Bostick, it wasn’t his first experience in a hostile environment. Bostick was actually the signal-caller in Pitt’s stunning victory last year at West Virginia that denied RichRod and company a trip to the BCS title game.
-How do you know the football game has gone on too long? The sprinklers came on in the middle of the first overtime. Somebody needs to reset that timer to account for an extra period! (Or four…)
Diamond in the Rough is an in-depth profile of a game outside the national media spotlight. If you want to see your team in an upcoming edition, send an e-mail to email@example.com and tell me why!
2. LOU HOLTZ SPECIALS
(MAYBE BROADCASTING IS EASIER THAN I THOUGHT)
After a wide receiver dropped an easy pass:
“Don’t let him hold your newborn.” – Pat Haden
After Walsh, the Georgia kicker, missed a field goal:
“The Blair Walsh Project is not successful.” – Rece Davis
“He hit the post. He went postal.” – Lou Holtz
Reader submission from Dave:
"Listening to the Michigan State radio broadcast against Wisconsin, with the Badgers up 24-22 late in the game, the color commentator said that Wisconsin should take a safety to put them up by four with less than 2 minutes to play. He obviously missed the small fact that MSU would get the two points, not Wisconsin."
When Lou Holtz tried to compare Connecticut to Penn State:
“You’re comparing UCONN’s offense to Penn State?” – Mark May
“Well, okay, they may not have the same talent at the skill positions.” – Lou Holtz
“Or the linemen.” – May
“Both teams put eleven on the field at a time wearing blue...that’s about it” – Rece Davis
“I’m not going to compare them to the team I’m about to bring up…but the comparison is still there.” – Charles Davis
And last but not least, Wayne Larrivee and the Big Ten Network had a pretty awful day on Michigan/Purdue. Where should I begin?
The first words out of Larrivee’s mouth on the telecast: “Two tradition-rich programs…”.
And he was talking about Purdue. While I may be the biggest Boilermaker fan ever, even I won’t call them a “tradition-rich program”, Wayne.
“Michigan won the toss.” – Wayne Larrivee
“Pardon me, I mean Purdue won the toss.” – Wayne Larrivee.
First play of the game:
“Kickoff returned out past the 20-yard line.” – Wayne Larrivee, as return man gets tripped up at his own 18 or 19.
Still in the first minute of the game;
“Complete out across the thirty. I mean, the twenty-five yard line.” – Wayne Larrivee
On Purdue’s first play:
“Brandon Siller coming out at quarterback.” – Wayne Larrivee
Hmm…the roster says Justin Siller. But at least Mr. Play-by-Play shows the same accuracy with names that he does with spotting the ball…
To prove it’s not just the announcers…
The on-screen Big Ten Network graphic going to commercial said: MICH 7, IND 0. I think that’s the first time I’ve ever seen Purdue abbreviated I-N-D.
Don’t forget to write down the wacky stuff you hear (or see)! If you come up with an announcer quote worthy of “Maybe Broadcasting Is Easier Than I Thought”, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org: you could make it into next week’s column!
3. THAT CAN’T BE RIGHT
The ridiculous stat lines and improbable scores that make you think the sports ticker has malfunctioned...
Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin set a national record by throwing 210 straight passes to start his freshman season without an interception. Then, down 31-28 in the last two minutes against #14 Missouri this weekend, he picked a really bad time to end that streak.
Football in the state of Washington can’t get much uglier, can it?
USC 56, Washington 0
Stanford 58, Washington State 0
Random trivia question of the day:
Quick, name all four bowl-eligible teams in the SEC East.
When both teams come in at 2-6, the final should be closer than this, right?
Southern Miss 70, UAB 14
Special recognition to Southern Miss QB Austin Davis, who had five RUSHING touchdowns.
Speaking of rushing touchdowns, congratulations go to Florida QB Tim Tebow for breaking Emmitt Smith’s school record of 36. (Tebow had 37, 38, and 39 against Georgia Saturday.)
Here’s the trivia answer (and no, Vanderbilt isn’t on the list)
Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and Kentucky.
Admit it, you had no idea Kentucky was bowl eligible.
Phil Fulmer is out as Tennessee Volunteers coach, effective at the end of the season. His career record at UT? 150-51. If a near-.750 winning percentage isn’t enough to keep your job as long as you want it, maybe coaching isn’t as easy as I thought.
One last thought on Fulmer and the SEC…how ironic is it that Fulmer’s final loss before UT pulled the plug came against longtime nemesis Steve Spurrier and South Carolina?
As Spurrier famously said, “You can’t spell Citrus without U-T.”
4. THANK GOODNESS FOR MY DVR
Here’s the jaw-dropping highlights that were worth rewinding for this week:
Actor Will Ferrell showing up at the USC Trojans’ practice in a superhero costume to pull a Halloween prank. Ferrell “caught” someone that jumped off a camera lift, and later threw a Gatorade cooler on a man who had mysteriously “caught fire”. You have to hand it to Pete Carroll; he finds a way to keep things interesting and loose in SoCal.
Purdue WR Desmond Tardy taking a lateral from Greg Orton to score the winning touchdown in the final minute against Michigan. The Boilers borrowed a play from Boise State’s Fiesta Bowl playbook, and the resulting hook & lateral finished off the Wolverines, 48-42.
Notre Dame WR Golden Tate working against Pitt’s secondary in this week’s DITR game. Tate and Panther DB Aaron Berry went up to play the ball, safety Dom DeCicco tipped it away. Tate stayed with the play and grabbed it out of the air on the dead run ten yards farther down the field.
Arkansas RB Michael Smith’s back-to-back carries against Tulsa, featuring a spin move, stiff arm, stepping out of at least one more tackle, and finally running over a defender to get in the end zone.
And in the “too good to ignore” category, I have to highlight the fact that Urban Meyer called not one, but two timeouts in the final minute against Georgia with a 39-point lead. Hilarious.
If you don’t think that had anything to do with last year’s well-publicized excessive celebration, I have some swampland in Florida to sell you.
5. SINCE I DO LIVE IN OHIO... (news from around the Big Ten)
The last time Michigan stayed home for the holidays? 1975. In case you don’t remember back that far (and since I wasn’t born at the time)…Saturday Night Live had just aired its first episode (no, they didn’t have Sarah Palin or Tina Fey at that point), Watergate was the country’s biggest news, and some guy named Bill Gates had founded a little company called Microsoft.
33 years later, the Wolverines will finally have another winter without a bowl game. In the biggest story of the Big Ten weekend, Purdue quarterback Justin Siller (a Michigan native), made his first career start and led the Boilermakers to a 48-42 win that sent his hometown Wolverines to their seventh defeat of 2008.
Other Big Eleven storylines include Indiana losing to Central Michigan (even though the Chippewas were without starting quarterback Dan LeFevour) and Minnesota throwing an ill-advised “pick-six” interception in the final 30 seconds to drop a heartbreaker to visiting Northwestern. The Wildcats got 217 rushing yards from backup quarterback Mike Kafka and improve to 7-2 on the season, while the Gophers’ stay in the Top 25 ends after only a single week.
6. MAYBE COACHING IS EASIER THAN I THOUGHT
With Michigan State scrambling to get off a potential game-winning field goal in the final 30 seconds, Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema called timeout with 12 seconds to go, a 24-22 lead, and the Spartans facing their pivotal fourth-down play. I understand icing the kicker and all, but when MSU is in “mayday” mode, why bail out a hurrying, panicking squad with a chance to calm down and take a breath?
The only logical reason I could come up with (which I almost agree with) is trying to save time for a final Badger possession if the kick is good. After all, if MSU kicker Brett Swenson knocks the field goal through, Bielema’s team would be behind and need to come up with a miracle score.
Okay, I get that. But if that’s the reasoning (and like I said, it’s the only possibility I could figure out), call timeout as soon as possible to save as many precious seconds as you can. The third-down play ended with 32 seconds to go. Michigan State ran their offense off…their kicking unit came on…chaos seemed to reign...and Bielema wasted a full 20 seconds before he decided to stop the clock.
Either let Michigan State execute the mayday kick flawlessly and take your chances that they miss…or call timeout as soon as possible to save the final 30 seconds for a last-second drive if you need it.
But don’t split the difference.
Maybe coaching is easier than I thought.
7. EVEN THOUGH SEVENTEEN IS A RANDOM NUMBER
Here’s the Top 17 ballot I submitted earlier today:
2. Penn St.
3. Texas Tech
8. Oklahoma St.
10. Boise State
11. Ball State
16. Michigan State
Remember, you can have an impact on the Top 17 – but you have to take the time to write! Send an e-mail to email@example.com and make the case for your favorite team!
8. COMING ATTRACTIONS
I don’t know why anyone would need a reason to be excited about the upcoming college football weekend. But if you do, here’s three:
a. “Worth buying a ticket for”: a matchup that deserves the hype. I think I’ll have to rename this section the “Big 12 Challenge”, because it seems like every week, there’s a huge Big 12 game that’s worth buying a ticket for. This weekend, it’s Oklahoma State and Texas Tech. Watch out for a Red Raider letdown after the biggest game in program history…
b. “Heat check”: this team’s playing great, but faces a serious test. After winning their past five games by a ridiculous combined score of 214-20, USC gets a stiffer Pac-10 challenge from in-state rival Cal.
c. “Diamond in the rough”: an in-depth profile of a game that deserves a closer look. Hopefully, TCU and Utah (Thursday night) won’t be overlooked by the media, what with both teams being ranked in the BCS Top 12 and all. But knowing ESPN’s love for all things SEC and major-conference, I’m going to make sure this Mountain West showdown gets the coverage it deserves. Check back Sunday night for the latest edition of “Carrying On”…and an in-depth profile of one of the biggest games of the year. (And while I’m at it, accept my apologies for how late this week’s article was posted. I didn’t exactly plan to be sick in bed on “deadline-day”…but hey, better late than never, right?)
“There’s no one in the country that can man up Crab [WR Michael Crabtree]. And 1:29 is too much time for this offense. They left us too much time.” – Texas Tech QB Graham Harrell
Before we finish today’s edition, I have to spend some time on one of the best college football games I’ve ever seen, a 39-33 thriller that ended with Texas Tech scoring in the final seconds to stun #1 Texas.
First of all, if you didn’t get to see the finish, make sure you check it out on ESPN Classic Tuesday night. The game was that good.
Or let me put it this way: if the students come on the field three different times, you know it’s an incredible football game.
After leading virtually the whole night, the Red Raiders calmly drove down the field in the last minute and a half to erase a 33-32 Texas lead and earn the 500th victory in school history.
Tech’s star receiver Michael Crabtree caught the game-winner with one second left on the clock, and the Texas player that dropped a certain interception one play earlier will live with that memory for the rest of his life.
The students flooded the field after the Crabtree catch…then again after the review upheld the touchdown…then again at the final horn. The final kickoff came from the 7 ½ yard line because of the back-to-back unsportsmanlike penalties. Kicking off in the shadow of their own goalposts, it reminded me of an Arena game.
Anyway, just make sure you check out the re-broadcast Tuesday if you didn’t get to see the thrilling finish live. And I’d be curious to get your thoughts on the answer to this question: if the game had come down to a game-winning field goal attempt for Texas Tech, who would have taken it?
Donnie Carona? The Red Raiders’ kicker for most of the year, who had already buried a 42-yarder in the game?
Or Matt Williams? The walk-on who won a kicking contest to catch the attention of Mike Leach, and had taken over the extra point duties? He was 4-4 on PATs and 2-3 on FGs against Texas.
I think Coach Leach is glad he didn’t have to make that decision.
Thank you, Michael Crabtree.
Tim Cary (yes, Cary…as in “Carrying on”) is a resident of Springfield, Ohio and a die-hard college football fan (especially when it comes to the Purdue Boilermakers). To submit thoughts, ideas, questions, arguments, or anything else for “Carrying On About College Football”, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Send in your ideas throughout the week...and check out the latest installment of COACF each Sunday night on BleacherReport.com.
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