November 20, 2010

Winners and losers: Hokies hang tough

Virginia Tech seems to have at least one big stumble each September. Just about every other month of the season, the Hokies can do little wrong.

After opening 0-2, Virginia Tech has won nine in a row, including a 31-17 victory over Miami on Saturday to clinch the ACC Coastal Division title. The Hokies will play for their third BCS slot in four seasons Dec. 4 in the ACC championship game in Charlotte.

While the Hokies have grown accustomed to ringing in the New Year in the Orange Bowl, a conference title would be particularly satisfying this season because of the early adversity.

Virginia Tech opened the season with a 33-30 loss to Boise State and followed that up with an embarrassing 21-16 setback against James Madison, an FCS program that has dropped five games since.

"I don't think you come back from that unless you have really good people on your football team and really good people leading your football team," Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer told reporters after the game. "I think that's very obvious and very evident. They've hung in there and kept battling, and somehow we found a way to win together."

Preseason All-America candidate Ryan Williams, who rushed for 1,655 yards last season, battled inconsistency early in the season and later missed four games with a hamstring injury. A young defense wasn't playing up to typical Virginia Tech standards. But the Hokies turned everything around in conference play.

Senior quarterback Tyrod Taylor has led an offense that has erased double-digit deficits against East Carolina, North Carolina State and Georgia Tech, and the defense found new stars in cornerback Jayron Hosley and end Steven Friday.

Hosley recorded his NCAA-leading eighth interception Saturday, while Friday recorded two sacks to increase his season total to 7.5.

Virginia Tech could overcome Williams' injury on offense because of its extraordinary depth at running back. Taylor and tailbacks Darren Evans and David Wilson give the Hokies plenty of running threats. Williams showed signs of recapturing his 2009 form as he rushed for a tie-breaking 84-yard touchdown with 13:24 left in the game.

The Hokies' surge won't allow them to get back in the national title race, but they may have an indirect role in determining who plays in the BCS championship game. Every Virginia Tech win is cause for celebration at Boise State, which is attempting to overtake TCU for third place in the BCS standings.

TCU's Mountain West Conference schedule has provided more of a test than Boise State's Western Athletic Conference, but Boise State's win over Virginia Tech is more impressive than any victory on TCU's resume.

Virginia Tech has lost an early game to the eventual national champion in three of the past six seasons (USC in 2004, LSU in 2007, Alabama in 2009) - and Boise State just might continue that tradition this season.

Here's a recap of other winners and losers from the 12th week of the season.

WINNERS

Illinois RB Mikel Leshoure: LeShoure, a junior, set a school single-game record by rushing for 330 yards as Illinois became bowl-eligible with a 48-27 victory over Northwestern at Wrigley Field. LeShoure's 330-yard outburst was the fifth-highest total in Big Ten history and the most by an FBS player since Navy's Shun White ran for 348 yards in a 41-13 blowout of Towson on Aug. 30, 2008.

Wisconsin: The Badgers continue to run the ball just fine without John Clay, who is injured. Montee Ball and James White became the first Wisconsin teammates since 1973 to rush for at least 150 yards in the same game Saturday as the Badgers rolled to a 48-28 triumph over Michigan. Ball ran for 173 yards and four touchdowns, while White had 181 yards and two touchdowns. Wisconsin has rushed for 40 touchdowns this season to break a 36-year-old school record. "We're playing as good as anybody out there," Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema told reporters afterward.

Michigan QB Denard Robinson: Although his team lost to Wisconsin, Robinson set an NCAA record for rushing yards by a quarterback in a single season. He also became the first player ever with 1,500 rushing yards and 1,500 passing yards in the same season. Robinson has run for 1,538 yards this season to break the record previously owned by former Air Force star Beau Morgan, who rushed for 1,494 yards in 1996.

Stanford QB Andrew Luck's redemption: Luck went 10-for-30 passing and threw a critical interception last season when Stanford fell to California. He redeemed himself by throwing two touchdown passes as Stanford crushed Cal 48-14 and matched the highest point total either team has recorded in this rivalry. Stanford scored on each of the eight drives engineered by Luck.

Ohio State QB Terrelle Pryor's moxie: Pryor struggled for much of the day, but he delivered a 14-yard run on a fourth-and-10 play to set up the winning touchdown in a 20-17 victory over Iowa.

Pittsburgh RB Dion Lewis: Lewis, a preseason All-America candidate, hasn't lived up to expectations this season, but he delivered a big performance. He ran for 105 yards - just his second 100-yard game of the season - and scored a touchdown in a 17-10 victory over South Florida that allowed Pitt to remain in sole possession of first place in the Big East.

Northern Illinois: The Huskies pounded Ball State 59-21 for their eighth consecutive victory, which marks Northern Illinois' longest winning streak since 1965. This latest win also guaranteed Northern Illinois a spot in the Mid-American Conference championship game.

Michigan State special teams: The Spartans beat Notre Dame in September with an overtime touchdown on a fake field-goal attempt. A fake punt sparked Michigan State to a come-from-behind victory over Northwestern last month. Michigan State's special teams came up big again, as the Spartans recovered a blocked punt at Purdue's 5 midway through the fourth quarter to set up the winning touchdown in a 35-31 triumph over the Boilermakers.

North Carolina State WR Owen Spencer's alertness: The Wolfpack trailed North Carolina 19-10 and faced fourth-and-goal from the 2 late in the third quarter when Russell Wilson's pass into the right corner of the end zone was tipped by North Carolina SS Da'Norris Searcy and North Carolina State WR Darrell Davis before Spencer made a diving catch just before the ball could hit the ground. Spencer's improbable touchdown sparked the Wolfpack to a 29-25 victory that put them one win away from an ACC Atlantic Division title.

Colorado RB Rodney Stewart: He rushed for a career-high 195 yards, caught two passes for 49 yards and even threw for a 23-yard touchdown in Colorado's 44-36 upset of Kansas State. If Colorado beats Nebraska next weekend, the Buffs will become bowl-eligible.

Tulsa WR Damaris Johnson: His two kickoff returns for 87 yards Saturday gave him 3,141 career kickoff-return yards to break the NCAA record formerly held by Western Michigan's Brandon West, who gained 3,118 yards in kickoff returns from 2006-09. Johnson, a junior, also had six catches for 146 yards in Tulsa's 31-28 victory over UTEP.

Texas A&M RB Cyrus Gray: He rushed for 137 yards - the fifth consecutive time he has exceeded the 100-yard mark - in the Aggies' 9-6 upset of Nebraska. The win was the Aggies' fifth in a row.

Notre Dame's defense: The Irish followed up their surprising 28-3 rout of Utah with a 27-3 rout of Army that showed they had learned quite a bit about defending an option attack since their disastrous loss to Navy last month. This marks the first time Notre Dame has held back-to-back opponents without a touchdown since its 1988 national championship season.

Arkansas QB Ryan Mallett: His third touchdown pass of the night - a 7-yard completion to Knile Davis - provided the winning margin in Arkansas' 38-31 double-overtime victory over Mississippi State. Mallett's touchdown pass bailed out his teammates. Davis had fumbled late in the fourth quarter to set up Mississippi State's tying touchdown, and Zach Hocker missed a 38-yard field goal that would have won the game in the first overtime session.

LOSERS

Michigan's defense: The Wolverines have allowed at least 34 points in six of their past seven games, and they've given up at least 41 points in three of the past four weeks.

Miami's ball security: Miami outgained Virginia Tech by nearly 100 yards, but the Hurricanes still lost by two touchdowns because of their inability to take care of the ball. QB Stephen Harris threw three interceptions in the last nine minutes of the game, and the Hurricanes also fumbled on fourth-and-1 from Virginia Tech's 12.

Iowa's killer instinct: Giving up the winning touchdown in the final two minutes shouldn't have come as much of a surprise to Iowa. The Hawkeyes' four losses have been decided by a total of 15 points, and all four came about because the opposing team made a long drive in the fourth quarter. Six of their seven wins have featured double-digit margins.

East Carolina's defense: East Carolina won the past two Conference USA titles largely because of a defense that led the league in scoring defense in each of those seasons. The Pirates aren't stopping anybody this season. ECU has allowed a whopping 229 points over their past four games and has given up at least 42 points in each of those contests. East Carolina allowed 410 rushing yards in a 62-38 loss to Rice, which headed into the weekend ranked just 80th nationally in scoring offense and 88th in rushing offense.

Ole Miss' mental errors: Ole Miss deserves credit for providing a gutsy effort in a 43-36 loss to LSU, but the Rebels might have pulled the upset if they had avoided critical mistakes that gave LSU favorable field position on each of its final two touchdown drives. A kickoff out of bounds helped set up a touchdown that put LSU ahead 35-30. Markeith Summers answered with a 65-yard touchdown catch that allowed Ole Miss to regain the lead, but his unnecessary dive into the end zone resulted in a personal foul. Sure enough, LSU started its next drive near midfield and went ahead for good on Stevan Ridley's 7-yard touchdown run with 50 seconds remaining.

California's hangover: One week after the Golden Bears allowed only one offensive touchdown in a 15-13 loss to top-ranked Oregon, they offered little resistance at all and got blown out 48-14 by Stanford.

Maryland's turnovers: Maryland headed into the weekend ranked third in the nation in turnover margin and had just eight giveaways all season. But the Terrapins picked the worst possible time to start getting careless with the ball. Maryland committed four turnovers in a 30-16 loss to Florida State that knocked the Terrapins out of ACC Atlantic title contention. Three of the turnovers came in the last nine minutes of the game and led to the Seminoles' final 10 points.

Baylor: The Bears deserve plenty of praise for posting their first winning season since 1995, but they won't be heading into their bowl with much momentum. Baylor's 53-24 loss to Oklahoma capped a three-game skid to end the regular season. The Bears have been outscored 150-82 during this losing streak.

Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights (4-6) have lost four in a row and won't become bowl-eligible unless they sweep their two remaining games against Louisville and West Virginia. This latest loss could jeopardize Rutgers coach Greg Schiano's reputation as a defensive guru. Cincinnati trounced Rutgers 69-38 in the highest-scoring game in Big East history.

Nebraska's lack of discipline: Nebraska committed 16 penalties for 145 yards in its loss to Texas A&M. The Aggies were penalized just twice for 10 yards. Some of the penalties on Nebraska were questionable - a roughing-the-passer call that set up the Aggies' winning field goal seemed particularly suspect - but the Huskers must do a better job of staying disciplined and controlling their emotions.

USC: So much for all that momentum USC supposedly had gained with its back-to-back victories over Arizona State and Arizona. The Trojans fell 36-7 to Oregon State - their third consecutive loss in Corvallis - and got more bad news when QB Matt Barkley sprained his left ankle late in the second quarter. USC delivered its lowest point total since a 10-6 loss to Utah in the 2001 Las Vegas Bowl.

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




 

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