September 17, 2011

Winners and losers: Clemson comes alive

Ten months later, Alabama finally gained its revenge on Auburn.

Sort of.

After continually coming from behind down the stretch during its 17-game winning streak - including a memorable 28-27 victory over Alabama - Auburn encountered a deficit Saturday that it couldn't overcome. The defending national champions instead blew an early two-touchdown lead and scored just three points in the final 38 1/2 minutes of a 38-24 loss to Clemson.

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney played wide receiver on Alabama's 1992 national championship team and worked as an assistant at his alma mater from 1993-2001.

"All the glory goes to God," Swinney told reporters afterward. "He has a funny sense of humor. It's only fitting that an Alabama grad could be in charge of the team that ended the winning streak.''

Auburn trailed or was tied in the fourth quarter of half its 14 victories last season. In its season opener two weeks ago, Auburn scored two touchdowns in the final 2 minutes, 7 seconds of a 42-38 victory over Utah State. Last week, the Tigers stopped Mississippi State's attempt to tie at the goal line on the final play.

That fourth-quarter magic ran out Saturday.

Clemson scored 31 of the game's final 34 points. The only scoring in the fourth quarter came on a 38-yard field goal by Clemson's Chandler Catanzaro with 11:48 left.

"I felt like from the second quarter on, overall as a football team, we were not productive," Auburn coach Gene Chizik told reporters. "We were not making plays when we had opportunities to do so. It's very glaring that defensively, we have a lot of work to do. It's very glaring that offensively, we can't turn the ball over going into the red zone and we have to sustain more drives."

The defensive deficiencies are particularly glaring.

Auburn's offense should be fine as long as offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn is calling the plays. While this was the first game in which the defending national champions clearly missed departed Heisman winner Cam Newton - Barrett Trotter went just 12-of-25 and threw a critical interception in the fourth quarter - Auburn still is averaging 35.7 points per game.

But Auburn's defense hasn't stopped anyone.

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Auburn gave up 38 points to Utah State and yielded 34 points last week to a Mississippi State team that didn't reach the end zone this week against LSU.

Clemson sophomore quarterback Tajh Boyd delivered a star-making performance Saturday by throwing for 386 yards and four touchdowns without an interception.

Clemson racked up 624 yards of total offense - the third-highest total in school history - to end a 14-game losing streak to Auburn. Clemson hadn't beaten Auburn since recording a 34-0 shutout in 1951.

"As the game wore on, I thought tackling became an issue for our defense," Chizik said. "As the game wore on, I thought we were in position to make plays when we went up for the ball and they went up for the ball, and we didn't come up with the football. We had opportunities on third downs. We had opportunities to stop them for a loss or at least for no gain, and they out-executed us.''

If Auburn doesn't solve that problem, it has no chance of getting back to the SEC championship game, let alone the BCS title game. SEC West rivals Alabama and LSU have defenses that are championship-caliber. At this point in the season, Auburn's defense isn't even mediocre.

While Auburn must regroup, Clemson enters the meat of it schedule with plenty of optimism. Clemson already proved it has come a long way since last season's 6-7 disaster, its first losing record since 1998. Clemson's heralded freshmen already are paying dividends.

Sammy Watkins, the nation's No. 15 overall prospect in the 2011 recruiting class, caught 10 passes for 155 yards and two touchdowns against Auburn. Redshirt freshman D.J. Howard, who committed to Auburn before signing with Clemson, rushed for a team-high 86 yards on nine carries.

They helped Clemson move the ball at will while operating at the quick tempo favored by new offensive coordinator Chad Morris, a Malzahn protégé. Morris is a former high school coach who has made a meteoric rise up the college ranks, just like Malzahn. Each got his current job after working as Tulsa's offensive coordinator.

When he arrived from Tulsa, Morris said he would spark Clemson's offense with a no-huddle, hurry-up attack designed to give the Tigers as many snaps as possible. Sure enough, Clemson wore Auburn down by running 92 offensive plays, the most by a Clemson team since 2000.

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"Coming into the season, our goal was to run 80 plays per game," Boyd said. "We ran 92 today, which is where we want to be. We just have to keep working hard."

The next two weeks will show whether Clemson's a legitimate BCS contender. Clemson's victory over Auburn kicked off a grueling three-week stretch that likely will define its season. Clemson plays host to Florida State and travels to Virginia Tech the next two weeks.

"We're 3-0 and we have to stay focused," Swinney said. "It's important how we handle success. We have to remember that it was an 'all-in' commitment that got us here.''

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

WINNERS

Minnesota coach Jerry Kill: One week after suffering a seizure in the closing stages of a loss to New Mexico State, Kill was back on the sideline, guiding Minnesota to a 29-23 victory over Miami (Ohio).

Georgia Tech's offense: Tech rushed for 604 yards and gained 768 total yards to set school records in both categories as the Yellow Jackets breezed to a 66-24 victory over Kansas. The Yellow Jackets' 604 rushing yards - they averaged a whopping 12.1 yards per carry - broke the 36-year-old school record by 46 yards. Georgia Tech's 768 total yards shattered the 63-year old school mark by 62 yards. On Georgia Tech's first play from scrimmage, Orwin Smith raced 95 yards for a TD for the longest run from scrimmage in school history.

Nebraska's offense: This marks the first season Nebraska has scored at least 40 points in its first three games since its 1995 national championship season. The Huskers kept the streak going Saturday with a 51-38 victory over Washington while starting three offensive linemen who joined the team as walk-ons: Mike Caputo, Seung Hoon Choi and Spencer Long.

Florida TB Chris Rainey: Could this guy be the nation's most versatile player? Rainey strengthened his case Saturday by doing a little bit of everything in Florida's 33-23 victory over Tennessee. Rainey blocked a punt and gained 108 rushing yards and 104 receiving yards.

Iowa QB James Vandenburg: His three fourth-quarter touchdown passes helped Iowa erase a 17-point deficit in a 31-27 victory over Pittsburgh. Vandenburg threw for a total of 399 yards, with 162 of them coming in the final period. He capped the comeback by throwing a 22-yard touchdown pass to Kevonte Martin-Manley with 2:51 left.

Notre Dame CB Robert Blanton: When Notre Dame fumbled away a punt deep on its own end of the field with 3 1/2 minutes remaining, the Irish seemed on the verge of another fourth-quarter collapse. Blanton ended that speculation with an 82-yard interception return that sealed Notre Dame's 31-13 victory over Michigan State. Blanton finished the day with six tackles - three for loss - and three pass breakups to go along with that interception.

Duke QB Sean Renfree: Renfree, a junior, went 40-of-52 for 359 yards to match a school single-game record for completions in Duke's 20-19 victory at Boston College. Renfree also threw two touchdown passes - both to Conner Vernon - and ran for a third score.

Wisconsin QB Russell Wilson: He threw for 347 yards and three touchdowns in Wisconsin's 49-7 victory over Northern Illinois.

Army QB Trent Steelman: Steelman, a junior, delivered three touchdown runs for the second straight week as Army upset Northwestern 21-14 in the Black Knights' first game against a Big Ten team since 1988.

North Carolina ending a dubious streak: North Carolina's 28-17 victory over Virginia marked the first time the Tar Heels had won their ACC opener since beginning their 2000 league schedule with a 35-14 triumph over Wake Forest.

Texas TE D.J. Grant: This junior missed each of the past two seasons with a knee injury and entered the week with only one career catch of any kind, but he broke through in a big way Saturday by catching three touchdown passes in a 49-20 rout of UCLA.

Vanderbilt coach James Franklin: The Commodores' stunningly one-sided 30-7 victory over Ole Miss made Franklin the first Vanderbilt coach to win each of his first three games since E.H. Alley in 1943. The 30-7 triumph also marked Vanderbilt's largest margin of victory over an SEC opponent since a 49-19 rout of Mississippi State in 1971.

Penn State DE Sean Stanley: He sacked Mike Gerardi and knocked the ball loose on a fourth-and-10 play from Penn State's 34-yard line with 1:32 remaining to preserve the Nittany Lions' 14-10 victory over Temple. The Owls, who led most of the way, were attempting to beat Penn State for the first time since 1941.

Wyoming DL Gabe Knapton and DE Josh Biezuns: After Bowling Green scored an apparent game-tying touchdown with 2.7 seconds remaining, Knapton and Biezuns blocked Kyle Burkhardt's extra-point attempt to allow Wyoming to escape with a 28-27 victory.

Boise State QB Kellen Moore: He threw for 455 yards and matched a career high with five touchdown passes Friday in a 40-15 victory at Toledo. Moore has completed 78.9 percent of his pass attempts through his first two games of the season.

LSU's defense: No Patrick Peterson? No Drake Nevis? No problem. LSU lost plenty of star power on defense but continues to shut opponents down. The Tigers allowed just 52 rushing yards on 33 attempts Thursday in a 19-6 victory over a Mississippi State team that had rushed for 333 yards and had gained 5.3 yards per carry against defending national champion Auburn a week earlier.

Iowa State (in the fourth quarter): Iowa State's 24-20 triumph over Connecticut on Friday marked the third consecutive week the Cyclones have won after trailing in the fourth quarter. Iowa State is 3-0 for the first time since 2005.

Cincinnati: After getting burned repeatedly last week in a 45-23 loss to Tennessee, Cincinnati's defense redeemed itself by scoring three touchdowns in a 59-14 rout of Akron. Cincinnati scored on a Maalik Bomar 54-yard fumble return, Dominique Battle's 36-yard interception return and Cameron Cheatham's 53-yard interception return.

Oklahoma's defense: On a night when its high-powered offense wasn't operating at peak efficiency, Oklahoma's defense picked up the slack with a punishing performance. The Sooners delivered six sacks, forced three turnovers and knocked Florida State quarterback E.J. Manuel out of the game in a 23-13 victory. The Sooners sent a message that Alabama and LSU aren't the only teams playing championship-caliber defense right now.

South Carolina RB Marcus Lattimore: Meet your Heisman front-runner for the moment. Lattimore rushed for a career-high 246 yards and scored three touchdowns as South Carolina rallied for a 24-21 victory over Navy. Lattimore has rushed for 534 yards and seven touchdowns through his first three games of the season. He's averaging 6.1 yards per carry.

San Diego State RB Ronnie Hillman: While Lattimore unquestionably has been the best running back so far this season, Hillman isn't far behind. Hillman, a sophomore, ran for 191 yards and four touchdowns in a 42-24 victory over Washington State. Hillman has rushed for 497 yards and eight touchdowns this season. Hillman's big game helped San Diego State withstand a brilliant performance from Washington State WR Marquess Wilson, who caught six passes for 236 yards and two touchdowns.

Texas Tech QB Seth Doege: After completing his first 15 passes, Doege went on to go 40-of-44 for 401 yards and five touchdowns in a 59-13 blowout of New Mexico. Doege's completion percentage of .909 set an NCAA single-game record for quarterbacks with at least 40 completions.

Miami RB Lamar Miller: His 54-yard run on Miami's first play from scrimmage set the tone for a 188-yard performance as the Hurricanes rolled to a surprisingly easy 24-6 victory over Ohio State.

Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater: After Will Stein suffered a shoulder injury midway through the first half, Bridgewater, a true freshman, entered the game and threw a pair of touchdown passes to lead Louisville to a 24-17 victory over Kentucky.

California coach Jeff Tedford: California's 63-12 rout of Presbyterian marked the 75th career victory for Tedford, giving him the most wins of any coach in school history. Tedford broke the record Andy Smith had held since 1925.

Missouri RB Henry Josey: He rushed for 263 yards and three touchdowns as Missouri set a school record with 744 total yards in a 69-0 blowout of Western Illinois. Missouri's 74 points matched a school single-game record.

Florida International: This may be the best Sun Belt team in quite some time. FIU followed up its victory over Louisville by knocking off UCF 17-10 to improve its record to 3-0 for the first time in school history. FIU WR T.Y. Hilton justifiably gets most of the attention on this team, but the Golden Panthers proved they're more than a one-man show Saturday by winning even after a hamstring injury sidelined their star receiver/kick returner for much of the game.

Ohio: Tyler Tettleton threw three touchdown passes and ran for a fourth score as Ohio whipped Marshall 44-7, giving the Bobcats their first 3-0 start since 1976.

Houston: After trailing 34-7 midway through the third quarter, Houston scored 28 points in the final 30 minutes to rally for a stunning 35-34 victory at Louisiana Tech. Case Keenum completed the comeback by throwing a 32-yard touchdown pass to Patrick Edwards with less than two minutes remaining.

LOSERS

Boston College: The Eagles dropped five of their first seven games last year before winning five straight to earn their 12th consecutive bowl bid. Boston College will need another late-season surge to keep its postseason streak alive. Nate Freese's 23-yard field-goal attempt with 43 seconds remaining bounced off the left upright to seal a 20-19 loss to Duke that dropped Boston College's record to 0-3. The Eagles are off to their worst start since 1991.

Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt's job security: Most of the talk about SEC coaches on the hot season has focused on Georgia's Mark Richt, but Nutt may have even more reason to worry now that the Rebels have fallen to Vanderbilt by double digits for a second straight season. Ole Miss went 9-4 in Nutt's debut season, but the Rebels are 5-10 since. The five wins have come against Tulane, Fresno State, Kentucky, Louisiana-Lafayette and Southern Illinois.

Big East: Reports that Pittsburgh and Syracuse have filed applications to join the ACC cast doubts about the Big East's long-term viability as a football league amid this shift toward super-conferences.

TCU: The Horned Frogs assumed their move from the Mountain West to the Big East would put them in a league that grants an automatic BCS bid to its champion. Now, who knows what the Big East will look like when - or if - TCU officially joins?

Eastern Michigan's wasted opportunities: Eastern Michigan drove to Michigan territory on each of its first five possessions but had only three points to show for it. The Eagles fumbled at Michigan's 35, lost the ball on downs at Michigan's 1, threw an interception from Michigan's 41 and punted from Michigan's 49. Instead of throwing a scare into the favored Wolverines, the Eagles were well on their way to a 31-3 loss.

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Akron on the road: Akron's setback at Cincinnati marked its 16th consecutive road loss. The Zips haven't come out on top in a road game since winning 42-35 at Eastern Michigan on Oct. 18, 2008.

Maryland WRs Quintin McCree and Ronnie Tyler: After combining to catch 13 passes for 82 yards and a touchdown in a season-opening win over Miami, McCree and Tyler were suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules. Without two of his best receivers in the lineup, Maryland quarterback Danny O'Brien threw three interceptions in a 37-31 loss to West Virginia.

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Boise State's kicking game: Could a botched kick end Boise State's dreams of an unbeaten season for a second straight year? Dan Goodale and Michael Frisina each missed an extra-point attempt against Toledo. The Broncos haven't even tried a field goal this season. Boise State has won each of its first two games comfortably enough that its kicking concerns haven't proved costly, but this could be an issue if the Broncos ever play a close game.

Toledo's red-zone offense: One week after Toledo had two fruitless trips inside Ohio State's 30-yard line in a 27-22 loss to the Buckeyes, the Rockets again killed themselves by failing to make the most of their drives. Trailing 20-9 in the third quarter, Toledo had first-and-10 from Boise State's 11-yard line when Chase Baker picked off a Terrance Owens pass. With the score 27-9, Toledo had first-and-goal at Boise State's 6 when Austin Dantin fumbled the ball away.

Connecticut: It probably goes without saying that Connecticut is the first team ever to lose September games to Vanderbilt and Iowa State the year after playing in a BCS bowl.

Washington's special teams: Washington's special teams breakdowns cost the Huskies any realistic hope of beating Nebraska. Bishop Sankey's mishandling of a kickoff return gave Nebraska the ball at the Huskies' 1, setting up an easy touchdown. A penalty on Washington's Desmond Trufant for interfering with a Nebraska punt returner on a fair catch set up another Huskers touchdown.

Arizona State's offensive line: The Sun Devils thought they had fixed their line, but that unit gave up six sacks in a 17-14 loss to Illinois. One of the sacks resulted in a fumble that set up Illinois' winning touchdown.

Ohio State's quarterback situation: The Buckeyes' first road test of the season showed how much they miss Terrelle Pryor. Joe Bauserman and Braxton Miller went a combined 4-of-18 for 35 yards and never got Ohio State to the end zone. The Buckeyes lost a road game to an unranked non-conference opponent for the first time since 1988.

Western Kentucky: Not only did Western Kentucky lose its 17th consecutive home game, it got waxed 44-16 by FCS program Indiana State. The Sycamores earned their first non-conference road win since 2004 and their first victory over an FBS team since 2001. Western Kentucky hasn't won a home game since a 50-0 triumph over Murray State way back in 2008.

Mother nature: Weather continued to wreak havoc on this season by shortening Baylor's 48-0 shutout of Stephen F. Austin. The game featured a 41-minute lightning delay in the first half and was halted for good with 2:58 left in the third quarter. A thunderstorm delayed the start of the Oklahoma State-Tulsa game by over three hours. That game didn't kick off until after midnight local time. Oklahoma State completed its 59-33 victory at around 3:30 a.m.

BYU: The BYU-Utah rivalry is known for producing games that come down to the final play. This one had BYU fans heading for the exits early in the fourth quarter. BYU committed seven turnovers in an embarrassing 54-10 loss to its archrival. Three of those turnovers came inside BYU's 10 and led directly to Utah touchdowns.

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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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