September 10, 2011

Winners and losers: Defense carries Tide

Alabama might not have the makings of a championship-caliber offense. But its defense is so good that it may not matter.

Alabama's suffocating defense flexed its muscles for a second week in a 27-11 victory at Penn State that wasn't as close as the final score indicated.

Penn State made a field goal on its opening drive, reached the end zone on its final series and didn't do much of anything in-between. Penn State quarterbacks Rob Bolden and Matt McGloin went a combined 12-of-39 against Alabama's star-studded secondary.

"Pretty much every game we play, a team has something new for us, something that we haven't seen before," Alabama star strong safety Mark Barron told reporters. "We just need to go to the sidelines, make adjustments and adapt to different situations."

Alabama basically made one of the nation's most storied programs look not much different from Kent State, which gained 90 total yards (minus-9 net rushing yards) in a 48-7 loss to the Crimson Tide last week. Through its first two games of the season, Alabama is allowing 1.8 yards per run and 2.8 yards per pass.

While Alabama is awesome on defense, it has been merely adequate on offense.

Trent Richardson showed his 13-carry, 37-yard performance against Kent State was a fluke by rushing for 111 yards and two touchdowns Saturday against a solid Penn State defense. He could prove every bit as productive as former teammate Mark Ingram was during his Heisman-winning season two years ago.

Alabama won the national title that season by relying mainly on Ingram and its defense. The Tide could use the same formula this season.

The Tide don't have a Julio Jones to stretch the field. They also don't have an experienced quarterback, though it appears they now have a clear-cut starter.

A.J. McCarron and Phillip Sims split time at quarterback last week and each threw two interceptions. McCarron went the whole way Saturday and went 19-of-31 for 161 yards and a touchdown in an efficient and poised performance that helped the Tide wear down Penn State.

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McCarron will need time to develop, but the schedule gives him one more glorified audition next week against North Texas before the Tide open SEC competition Sept. 24 against Arkansas. McCarron probably will be more of a caretaker than a playmaker, but that may be enough to get Alabama into the BCS championship game if its defense keeps playing this well.

"The whole offense did a great job of not allowing turnovers, and the defense got us turnovers," McCarron told reporters. "That's the way we have to play. If we keep playing like that, it's going to be a special team."

Alabama's certainly in better shape than Penn State, which continued its recent history of struggling against elite teams. The Nittany Lions have lost their past nine games against top-five teams since beating No. 3 Arizona 41-7 in their 1999 season opener.

Penn State remains a quality program. It's just no longer elite. Alabama spent Saturday afternoon illustrating how far Penn State is from reclaiming that status.

"We certainly deserved a whooping," said Penn State coach Joe Paterno, who coached from the press box. "I think we've got a lot of work ahead of us."

Here's a rundown of other winners and losers from this weekend's college football action.

WINNERS

Ohio State DT John Simon: Although he struggled with Toledo's veteran offensive line for much of the afternoon, Simon delivered the biggest play of Ohio State's 27-22 escape of Toledo. The Rockets faced fourth-and-5 from Ohio State's 16 when Simon burst through the line and pressured Terrance Owens into a game-sealing incompletion with 48 seconds remaining.

[Yahoo! Sports Radio: Ohio State RB Carlos Hyde]

South Carolina DT Melvin Ingram: He scored two touchdowns - one on special teams and one on defense - in South Carolina's wild 45-42 triumph over Georgia. Ingram converted a fake punt into a 68-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, and he scored on a 5-yard fumble return in the fourth quarter to give the Gamecocks a 10-point lead.

Auburn S Ryan Smith: The backup safety brought down Mississippi State QB Chris Relf inches shy of the end zone as time expired to preserve Auburn's 41-34 victory. Mississippi State had driven to Auburn's 2 on its final drive by relying exclusively on its rushing attack, and Relf's option keeper on the game's final play fell just short of the goal line.

[Dienhart: Auburn wins another wild one]

Iowa State QB Steele Jantz: If Jantz continues his penchant for orchestrating come-from-behind victories, Iowa State may have to change its name from the Cyclones to the Steelers. One week after scoring the winning touchdown with 40 seconds left in a 20-19 victory over FCS member Northern Iowa, Jantz threw for 279 yards and four touchdowns as Iowa State rallied to beat Iowa 44-41 in triple overtime. Jantz hurt Iowa all day with his scrambling ability, which gave his receivers more time to get open. His final touchdown pass was a 4-yard completion to Darius Reynolds on fourth-and-goal to force a second overtime.

Michigan State WR B.J. Cunningham: His five catches for 73 yards in a 44-0 rout of Florida Atlantic gave Cunningham 153 receptions, making him the career record holder at a school that has produced the likes of Plaxico Burress, Mark Ingram, Derrick Mason, Andre Rison and Charles Rogers. Cunningham broke the record formerly held by Matt Trannon, who caught 148 passes for Michigan State from 2003-06.

[Yahoo! Sports Radio: Michigan State WR B.J. Cunningham]

FIU WR T.Y. Hilton: For much of his career, Hilton has been one of the nation's most underappreciated players because he plays for a team that rarely gets much attention. Hilton made the most of a rare nationally televised showcase Friday by catching seven passes for a school-record 201 yards and scoring twice in a 24-17 upset of Louisville. Hilton helped give FIU its first victory over a school from one of the six major conferences.

TCU: One week after its 25-game regular-season winning streak ended with a 50-48 loss to Baylor, TCU showed the moxie that helped it build that streak in the first place. TCU had to face Air Force on the road without injured TB Ed Wesley and LB Tanner Brock - both All-MWC selections last season - but the Horned Frogs raced to a 21-0 lead and breezed to a surprisingly easy 35-19 triumph.

Tennessee QB Tyler Bray: He threw for 405 yards and four touchdowns and also delivered a touchdown run in the Volunteers' 45-23 victory over Cincinnati. Through his first two games of the season, Bray has completed 78.5 percent of his passes for 698 yards and seven touchdowns without an interception. He and the Vols play at Florida next week.

California QB Zach Maynard and WR Keenan Allen: Maynard's 5-yard touchdown pass in overtime to Allen, his half-brother, gave California a 36-33 victory over Colorado. Maynard threw four touchdown passes and Allen had six receptions for 104 yards as California withstood a monster performance from Colorado's Tyler Hansen, who threw for a school-record 474 yards.

Wake Forest (in the first three quarters): Wake Forest has outscored opponents 60-34 over the first three quarters so far this season and has led by two touchdowns in the fourth quarter in each of its first two games. The trend continued Saturday as the Demon Deacons raced to an early 27-6 lead and hung on to beat North Carolina State 34-27 in their ACC opener.

Virginia Tech's defense: The Hokies allowed just 112 total yards in a 17-10 victory at East Carolina, which averaged 36.8 points per game last season and didn't have much trouble scoring in a 56-37 loss to South Carolina last week. East Carolina's minus-15 rushing yards represented the Pirates' second-lowest single-game total in school history.

Oregon freshman De'Anthony Thomas' redemption: One week after he lost a couple of fumbles that led to touchdowns as Oregon fell to LSU in his college debut, Thomas bounced back by scoring twice - on a 69-yard catch and a 24-yard reception - in a 69-20 destruction of Nevada.

Rice: Rice's 24-22 victory over visiting Purdue ended the Owls' string of 22 consecutive losses against major-conference opponents. Rice hadn't beaten a Big Six team since edging Duke 15-13 in 2001. Rice clinched its win when Justin Allen blocked Carson Wiggs' 31-yard field-goal attempt.

New Mexico State: The Aggies got a rare victory over a Big Six opponent when they won 28-21 at Minnesota. New Mexico State rushed for 6 yards in last week's loss to Ohio U. and had lost 12 road games in a row. New Mexico State coach DeWayne Walker played cornerback at Minnesota from 1980-81.

Michigan QB Denard Robinson: After struggling to do much of anything for the first 43 minutes against Notre Dame, Robinson spent the last 17 minutes showing why he's the most electrifying player in college football. Robinson threw three touchdown passes and ran for a fourth score in the fourth quarter alone to give Michigan a 35-31 victory over Notre Dame. Robinson's last two touchdown passes came in the game's final 82 seconds, including a game-winning 16-yard completion to Roy Roundtree with two seconds remaining.

[Photos: Michigan rallies past Notre Dame]

Washington State QB Marshall Lobbestael: Washington State might be able to survive starting QB Jeff Tuel's absence. With Tuel sidelined after fracturing his collarbone last week, Lobbestael - a senior - stepped in and threw for 361 yards and five touchdowns in a 59-7 rout of UNLV.

Ole Miss RB Jeff Scott: Scott, a 5-foot-7 sophomore, came up big while replacing an injured Brandon Bolden in the Rebels' backfield. Scott ran for 118 yards and three touchdowns on 16 carries, and he also scored on a 67-yard punt return in Ole Miss' 42-24 victory over Southern Illinois.

Florida's defense: Florida's 39-0 victory over UAB gave the Gators their first shutout since a 62-0 blowout of Western Carolina in 2006. Florida has allowed just three points in its first two games, the fewest it has allowed in its first two games since 1933.

Georgia Tech's offense: Could the Yellow Jackets actually have a balanced attack this season? One week after throwing for 365 yards in a 63-21 trouncing of Western Carolina, Tech threw for 214 more yards in a 49-21 rout of host Middle Tennessee. That gives Tech 579 passing yards in its first two games. The Yellow Jackets threw for 1,091 yards last season.

Texas' quarterback switch: After Garrett Gilbert threw a couple of early interceptions and Texas fell behind 13-0 against BYU, the Longhorns decided to use Case McCoy and David Ash at quarterback the rest of the night. McCoy and Ash went a combined 9-of-11 for 92 yards while helping Texas rally for a 17-16 victory.

Kansas QB Jordan Webb and WR D.J. Beshears: Webb and Beshears connected on a 6-yard touchdown pass with 14 seconds left to give Kansas a thrilling 45-42 victory over Northern Illinois. Webb threw for 282 yards and three touchdowns without an interception, while Beshears caught seven passes for 70 yards and two touchdowns.

USC OT Matt Kalil: USC was leading Utah 17-14 when Kalil clinched the victory by blocking Coleman Petersen's 41-yard field-goal attempt on the game's final play. Torin Harris returned the blocked field goal for a touchdown to make the final score 23-14.

LOSERS

Georgia coach Mark Richt's job status: The whispers about Richt's future will get much louder now that Georgia has dropped its first two games. Georgia played much better against South Carolina than it did in a 35-21 loss to Boise State last week, but the Bulldogs made too many critical mistakes. Richt still could keep his job if Georgia regroups from here and wins at least nine games, but how are the Bulldogs going to deal with all the distractions involving their coach's future?

Central Michigan's fourth-down gamble: Central Michigan led Kentucky 13-6 and faced fourth-and-1 from its 34 late in the third quarter when Chippewas coach Dan Enos chose to go for the first down instead of punting. The plan backfired when RB Tim Phillips was stopped short. Kentucky's Morgan Newton threw a 34-yard touchdown pass to WR La'Rod King on the next play, sparking the Wildcats to a 27-13 victory.

Army's lack of ball security: Army fumbled eight times in a 23-20 loss to San Diego State. Although the Black Knights only lost three of those fumbles, their inability to protect the football prevented their offense from establishing much of a rhythm.

Hawaii (on the mainland): Hawaii's season-opening victory over Colorado continued the Warriors' tradition of giving major-conference teams all sorts of headaches at home. But the Warriors aren't nearly as dangerous on the mainland. Hawaii's 40-32 loss at Washington dropped the Warriors to 1-8 against major-conference teams on the road since 1998.

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FAU's offense: The Owls mustered only one first down in a 44-0 loss at Michigan State. The Owls are paying the price for their ambitious non-conference schedule, as they've gained a grand total of 185 yards in their first two games while being outscored 85-3 by Florida and Michigan State.

Wake Forest (in the fourth quarter): One week after blowing a 15-point lead in the final 8:30 minutes of the fourth quarter and losing to Syracuse in overtime, Wake Forest nearly did it again. Trailing 34-13 in the last minute of the third period, North Carolina State cut the margin to 34-27 when Mike Glennon found T.J. Graham for a 63-yard touchdown pass on a fourth-and-10 play with 5:41 left. The Wolfpack then drove into Wake territory again before the Deacons hung on to win.

Arizona State's and Missouri's lack of composure: Arizona State and Missouri played an exciting Friday night overtime game that gave both teams plenty of reason for optimism, but neither squad will live up to expectations unless they do a better job of avoiding penalties. Arizona State was penalized 12 times for 110 yards in its 37-30 overtime victory. Missouri was flagged 11 times for 114 yards.

Notre Dame: It seemed impossible that the Irish could suffer a more brutal defeat than last week, when they committed five turnovers and had four scoreless trips to the red zone in a 23-20 loss to USF. Yet they somehow pulled it off. Notre Dame blew a 17-point, fourth-quarter lead against Michigan, marking the third consecutive season the Wolverines have beaten the Irish by scoring the winning touchdown in the final minute. Notre Dame once again showed its utter inability to handle prosperity by committing five more turnovers. And remember all that preseason talk about how Notre Dame finally had a quality defense? The Irish gave up 28 points in the fourth quarter and somehow allowed Michigan to drive 80 yards for the winning touchdown in the final 30 seconds.

Boston College: The Eagles' string of 12 consecutive bowl appearances could be in jeopardy if they don't turn things around soon. The Eagles went 1-of-12 on third-down conversions and fell 30-3 to UCF, dropping their record to 0-2.

Connecticut: The Huskies certainly don't look like a team that played in a BCS bowl last season, as they committed four turnovers in a 24-21 loss to SEC doormat Vanderbilt. The Commodores scored the tying touchdown on a 50-yard interception return by CB Casey Hayward midway through the fourth quarter.

Indiana: Just when it appeared Indiana was about to steal a victory from Virginia, it allowed Virginia to steal it back. After rallying from 20 points down to take a 31-23 lead, Indiana allowed a game-tying touchdown with 1:36 left. Indiana QB Edward Wright-Baker then fumbled at his 14, which set up Robert Randolph's game-winning, 23-yard field goal as time expired.

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




 

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