October 9, 2010

Winners and losers: Spurrier, S.C. break through

The ol' ball coach still knows how to win the big game.

Fourteen years after he won his lone national championship with Florida, Steve Spurrier has delivered the long-awaited statement victory of his South Carolina tenure.

The No. 19 Gamecocks knocked off defending national champion Alabama 35-21 in an upset that ended the top-ranked Crimson Tide's 19-game winning streak and reshaped the national title chase.

Spurrier should be getting bottles of champagne from addresses in Columbus and Eugene. He ought to receive flowers from Lincoln, Boise and Fort Worth.

"This was a fun game," Spurrier told reporters afterward. "Our defense played their hearts out, and our offense had the best game we've ever had here.''

While this loss doesn't eliminate the defending champions from title contention, the Tide no longer control their destiny.

If Alabama (5-1, 2-1 SEC) wins the conference title without losing again, should the Tide end up ahead of an undefeated Boise State or TCU in the BCS standings? That's an issue we could be debating the rest of the season.

But there's little question that Nick Saban's squad would remain behind an undefeated Big Ten, Pac-10 or Big 12 champion for the rest of the season. At this point, Alabama needs to worry more about competing for an SEC title than a national title.

Their performance Saturday showed the Tide aren't quite the same team as last year.

Without Leigh Tiffin around to kick field goals, Jeremy Shelley missed a 31-yarder and an extra-point attempt against South Carolina (4-1, 2-1). Alabama also botched a fake field-goal attempt on fourth-and-11 from the Gamecocks' 25 with the Tide trailing 28-21 early in the fourth quarter.

Alabama's young defense also finally showed vulnerability following the offseason departures of first-round draft picks Rolando McClain and Kareem Jackson and second-round selections Javier Arenas and Terrence Cody.

The Tide entered the game with the nation's top-ranked scoring defense, but they had no answers for South Carolina's Alshon Jeffery.

Jeffery caught seven passes for 127 yards and scored two touchdowns to help the Gamecocks build a 21-3 advantage. Jeffery also had a key 45-yard reception that set up Marcus Lattimore's game-clinching 2-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.

South Carolina also got a huge performance from its defense, which limited Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson to a combined 64 rushing yards.

Alabama's path toward a potential second consecutive national title doesn't get any easier from here. Each of Alabama's six remaining regular-season opponents has a bye week before facing the Tide.

If Alabama wins all those games, the Tide could end up facing South Carolina again in Atlanta.

South Carolina traditionally fades late in the season and has never played in the SEC championship game. The Gamecocks' only league football title in school history came when they won the ACC in 1969. But they're playing as well as any team in the SEC Eastern Division right now and showed they're eager to change this program's history of frustration.

"Hopefully,'' Spurrier said, "we can keep going.''

Here's a look at the other winners and losers from the sixth week of the college football season.

WINNERS

Ohio State QB Terrelle Pryor: One week after straining a left thigh muscle, Pryor didn't run very much in a 38-10 victory over Indiana that allowed Ohio State to stake its claim to the No. 1 ranking. Pryor instead showed how far he has come as a passer by completing 80 percent of his attempts while throwing for three touchdowns and a career-high 334 yards.

Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio: After missing two straight games while recovering from a heart attack, Dantonio returned to action Saturday and worked from the coaches' box as Michigan State beat Michigan 34-17 to remain undefeated.

Nebraska QB Taylor Martinez: Michigan's Denard Robinson isn't the only dual-threat quarterback in Heisman contention. Martinez continued his remarkable redshirt freshman season Thursday by rushing for 241 yards - the most ever by a Nebraska quarterback - and throwing for 128 yards in a 48-13 rout at Kansas State. The redshirt freshman rushed for four touchdowns and threw for a fifth score. Martinez has 12 touchdown runs and three touchdown passes this season.

Freshman quarterbacks: The big performance from Martinez headlined a week full of remarkable efforts by freshmen quarterbacks. Redshirt freshman Nathan Scheelhaase went 15-of-19 through the air for 151 yards and also ran for 61 yards as Illinois beat Penn State 33-13 for its first-ever win at Beaver Stadium. Redshirt freshman Aaron Murray threw two touchdown passes and rushed for two more scores as Georgia ended its four-game losing streak with a 41-14 triumph over Tennessee. And true freshman Chas Dodd threw for 322 yards and two touchdowns in his first career start Friday as Rutgers rallied for a 27-24 victory over Connecticut.

Texas Tech QB Taylor Potts: Potts threw for 462 yards and four touchdowns as Texas Tech defeated Baylor 45-38 to avoid falling to 0-3 in league competition for the first time in two decades. Potts completed 15 straight passes at one point and helped Texas Tech gain 635 yards in total offense.

Syracuse: Ryan Nassib led a 98-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter as Syracuse beat USF 13-9 in its Big East opener. Syracuse (4-1, 1-0) is off to its best start since 1999 - when the Orange finished 7-5 - and already has matched its conference win total for each of the last four seasons.

TCU defense: TCU's 45-0 victory over Wyoming gave the Horned Frogs back-to-back shutouts for the first time since 1955, when they blanked three consecutive teams on their way to a 9-2 finish. The Frogs had whipped Colorado State 27-0 last week.

Georgia Tech running game: The Yellow Jackets finally are starting to run the way they did in the first two seasons of Paul Johnson's tenure. Anthony Allen ran for 195 yards and quarterback Joshua Nesbitt added 109 yards to lead a 477-yard rushing attack - the fifth-best total in school history - as Georgia Tech won 33-21 at Virginia.

Notre Dame K David Ruffer: The walk-on kicker went 3-of-3 on field-goal attempts, including one from 50 yards out, in a 23-17 victory over Pittsburgh. Ruffer has made a school-record 16 consecutive field-goal attempts over the last two seasons.

Oklahoma State WR Justin Blackmon: He continued his breakthrough season Friday by catching 13 passes for 190 yards and two touchdowns in a 54-28 victory over Louisiana-Lafayette. Blackmon has caught 47 passes for 748 yards and 11 touchdowns through the first five games of the season. He headed into the week leading the FBS ranks in receiving yards per game and tied for the lead in touchdown catches.

LSU coach Les Miles: The Mad Hatter hit the jackpot on one of the biggest gambles of the season. LSU was trailing Florida 29-26 when it faked a 52-yard field goal attempt in the final minute. LSU holder Derek Helton tossed the ball over his right shoulder, and kicker Josh Jasper picked it up off the bounce and ran for the first down. The successful lateral - it was extremely close to being an incomplete forward pass - set up Jarrett Lee's game-winning 3-yard touchdown pass to Terrence Tolliver with six seconds left in the Tigers' 33-29 victory.

Oregon PR/CB Cliff Harris: Consider him the West Coast version of versatile LSU superstar Patrick Peterson. Harris' 67-yard touchdown in a 43-23 victory over Washington State marked the third time this season he has scored on a punt return. Harris also picked off two passes last week against Stanford.

Boise State: South Carolina's upset of Alabama boosted the Broncos' national title hopes and left them with the nation's longest winning streak. Kellen Moore threw three touchdown passes as Boise State throttled Toledo 57-14 for its 19th consecutive victory over the last two seasons.

Auburn QB Cameron Newton: Not only did Newton rush for 198 yards and four touchdowns, he also engineered a long drive that resulted in Wes Byrum's game-winning 24-yard field goal in the final play of a 37-34 victory over Kentucky.

Oregon State QB Ryan Katz: He threw for 393 yards and accounted for three touchdowns in a 29-27 victory over previously unbeaten Arizona. Katz withstood the loss of star receiver James Rodgers, who suffered a knee injury in the second quarter after catching seven passes for 102 yards and a touchdown.

Utah: Boise State and TCU aren't the only potential BCS busters. Utah also remains unbeaten after recording its highest point total since 1983 in a 68-27 blowout of Iowa State. Reggie Dunn scored on a 100-yard kickoff return and Jordan Wynn threw for 325 yards, while Shaky Smithson delivered a touchdown pass and a touchdown catch.

Stanford K Nate Whitaker's redemption: When USC took a 35-34 late in the fourth quarter at Stanford, it looked as if Whitaker's missed extra-point attempt in the fourth quarter would cost the Cardinal the game. Whitaker instead got a shot to make amends, and he made a 30-yard field goal as time expired to give Stanford a 37-35 victory.

Florida State: If the Seminoles keep playing this way, they could be returning to Miami in a few months as Orange Bowl participants. Florida State running backs Chris Thompson and Jermaine Thomas formed a dynamic duo in a 45-17 trouncing of Miami.

LOSERS

Penn State: One week after falling 24-3 to Iowa, the Nittany Lions lost 33-13 at home to Illinois. This marks the first time Penn State has dropped two straight games by at least 20 point since ending a 6-5 season in 1984 by losing 44-7 at Notre Dame and 31-11 to Pittsburgh. "We stunk," Penn State coach Joe Paterno said afterward. "I did a lousy job. I thought we were ready. We just didn't play well.''

Michigan QB Denard Robinson's Heisman candidacy: Robinson remains one of the top contenders for college football's top individual prize, but the Wolverines' do-everything performer finally looked human in a loss to Michigan State. Robinson threw for 215 yards and ran for 86 more, but he also threw three interceptions as the Wolverines suffered their first loss of the season.

Sportsmanship in Wisconsin-Minnesota game: Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema made the questionable decision to go for a two-point conversion while leading 41-16 with 6:39 remaining in a game the Badgers eventually won 41-23. Minnesota coach Tim Brewster made the equally questionable choice to complain about that after the game instead of concentrating solely on his own team's five-game losing streak. "I thought it was a very poor decision by a head football coach, and he'll have to live with that," Brewster told reporters afterward. "It was wrong. Everybody in here knows it, and everybody in college football knows it.''

Boston College's quarterback situation: The Eagles haven't found consistency at this position all season. Dave Shinskie was benched in favor of true freshman Chase Rettig before last week's game with Notre Dame, but an injury to Rettig allowed Shinskie to regain the starting job this week. Shinskie went 7-of-24 for 89 yards with one touchdown pass and two interceptions before getting benched again Saturday in a 44-17 loss to North Carolina State.

UCLA rushing attack: UCLA had won three straight games largely because of a rushing attack that ranked 10th in the nation, but the Bruins gained just 26 yards on 26 carries in a 35-7 loss to California.

Kansas State defense: Taylor Martinez has made plenty of defenses look bad this year, but Kansas State didn't deliver the type of performance you'd expect from a team that came into the game unbeaten. Nebraska's 451 rushing yards were the most allowed by a Kansas State team since 1989.

Pittsburgh special teams: Pittsburgh K Dan Hutchins missed a 27-yard field goal in the first quarter, and a fumbled snap foiled a 36-yard attempt late in the first half of its loss to Notre Dame. Pittsburgh also made an unsuccessful fake punt attempt on fourth-and-3 from its own 35 that led to a Notre Dame field goal in the third quarter.

Wake Forest pass defense: Wake Forest has led nearly the whole game each of the last two weeks while facing the option attacks of Georgia Tech and Navy. Both times, Wake Forest has lost by allowing these run-oriented teams to throw a game-winning touchdown pass in the final minute.

USC defense: For the second straight week, USC's defense allowed a Pac-10 opponent to drive down the field and make a game-winning field goal as time expired. The Trojans followed up their 32-31 loss to Washington by falling 37-35 at Stanford. The latest loss wasted a brilliant performance from Robert Woods, who caught 12 passes for 219 yards and three touchdowns.

Northwestern's ill-timed penalty: Northwestern trailed Purdue 20-17 in the closing minutes when a holding penalty nullified Jacob Schmidt's run to the Boilers' 4-yard line. Instead of having first-and-goal, Northwestern faced third-and-15 from the Purdue 36. One play later, Stefan Demos missed a 45-yard field goal to wrap up the Wildcats' first loss of the season.

Miami: Two years ago, Miami fell behind Florida State 24-0 and nearly came all the way back before falling 41-39. When the Hurricanes fell behind the Seminoles 21-0 on Saturday, they never showed any signs of staging a similar rally. As soon as Florida State jumped to that early lead, Miami had the look of a defeated team.

Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com.




 

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