September 24, 2011

Winners and losers: Cowboys state case

Oklahoma State's defense found the best possible way to honor a grieving coach.

The Cowboys forced four second-half turnovers - including a game-clinching interception by James Thomas in the closing minutes - to rally from a 17-point halftime deficit in a 30-29 victory over host Texas A&M.

Oklahoma State's inspired performance in a game between top-10 teams came a week after the death of Angela Spencer, the wife of Cowboys linebacker coach/co-defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer. Angela Spencer had a history of heart problems and had heart-transplant surgery last year. The Cowboys learned of her death Sunday morning.

The Cowboys, ranked sixth in the coaches' poll, had talked about playing Saturday to celebrate her memory.

"They reminded each other of that at the half," Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy told reporters after the game. "I think that had a lot to do with [the comeback]."

This matchup featured two of the nation's most explosive offenses, and both produced plenty of fireworks. Although Oklahoma State scored just three points in the first half, Brandon Weeden regrouped after the intermission and set a school record for completions (47) and passing yards (438).

Oklahoma State got at least 10 catches from three receivers: Josh Cooper (11 catches, 123 yards), Justin Blackmon (11-121) and Hubert Anyiam (10-92). Never before had Oklahoma State even had two players with as many as 10 catches in a game.

"I'm really pleased with the way we adjusted," Weeden said. "We came out in the second half and battled our butts off."

But the Cowboys wouldn't have won without big plays from their defense.

A&M, ranked eighth in both polls, had 20-3 advantage at halftime. But after two long touchdown drives by Oklahoma State cut the lead to 20-17, the Cowboys' defense took command of the game.

Justin Gilbert's fumble recovery at Oklahoma State's 44 set up a 4-yard touchdown pass from Weeden to Tracy Moore that put the Cowboys ahead for good.

And after a shocking mistake by Oklahoma State's best player gave Texas A&M the momentum, the Cowboys' defense came through again. A Brodrick Brown interception gave Oklahoma State the ball deep in A&M territory; then, a Weeden pass to Blackmon seemed certain to result in a touchdown. But Blackmon inexplicably lost control of the ball inside the 5 and allowed it to slip out of bounds in the end zone for a touchback that allowed the Aggies to regain possession.

Oklahoma State wouldn't let that play become the turning point of the game. Gilbert instead erased the Blackmon mistake by picking off a Ryan Tannehill pass and returning it to A&M's 34, setting up a field goal that extended the Cowboys' lead to 27-20. A&M closed the gap to 30-27 late in the fourth quarter, but Tannehill's third interception of the day ended the Aggies' comeback hopes.

"Our players are very mature," Gundy said. "They have a lot of faith in each other. We had hurt ourselves in the first half. We knew penalties hurt us, and missed tackles. Our players have a lot of heart."

They showed it in the second half.

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

WINNERS

Alabama RB Trent Richardson: Richardson ran for 126 yards and also caught a 61-yard touchdown pass in Alabama's 38-14 rout of Arkansas.

Temple RB Bernard Pierce: He set a school single-game record by rushing for five touchdowns in visiting Temple's stunning 38-7 blowout of Maryland. Pierce ran for 149 yards on 32 carries as Temple earned its first road win over a major-conference opponent since a 20-17 triumph at Rutgers in 2002 and its first-ever victory over an ACC team.

Kansas State defense: Kansas State's status as the nation's top-ranked team in total defense and scoring defense was seen by many as the by-product of facing Eastern Kentucky and Kent State in the first two games. But this defense proved it's for real Saturday by delivering a huge goal-line stand against Miami. After a pass interference penalty gave Miami first-and-goal at the 2 in the closing minutes, K-State kept the Hurricanes out of the end zone to preserve a 28-24 upset.

Clemson WR Sammy Watkins: Could a true freshman become the ACC player of the year? It's obviously early in the season, but no ACC player has made more of an impact than Watkins, a five-star recruit. He had his second consecutive two-touchdown game against a ranked opponent Saturday in Clemson's 35-30 victory over Florida State. Watkins caught eight passes for 141 yards, including touchdowns from 24 and 62 yards away.

Michigan QB Denard Robinson's legs: Robinson rushed for 200 yards and three touchdowns as Michigan defeated San Diego State 28-7 to give Wolverines coach Brady Hoke a victory over the team he coached the past two seasons. Robinson has rushed for 506 yards and five touchdowns through his first four games of the season.

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Georgia Tech: After putting up video-game totals against overmatched opponents the first three weeks of the season, Georgia Tech proved it also could move the ball effectively against a star-studded defense. The Yellow Jackets rushed for 312 yards and gained 496 total yards in a 35-28 victory over North Carolina; the win gave Georgia Tech its first 4-0 start since 1990, when it won a share of the national title. Tech gained 5.4 yards per carry against a defense that was allowing only 2.4 yards per rush.

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Rutgers WR Mohamed Sanu: He set a Big East single-game record by catching 16 passes in Rutgers' 38-26 victory over Ohio. Sanu also had 176 receiving yards and scored two touchdowns. In his past two games, Sanu has caught 30 passes for 295 yards and three touchdowns.

Washington's goal-line defense: California had first-and-goal from the 2-yard line in the closing minutes with a chance to tie the game with a touchdown and two-point conversion. Washington wouldn't let it happen. After a first-down incompletion, Washington stuffed two running plays and forced another incompletion on fourth down to preserve its 31-23 victory.

Bowling Green RB Ashton Samuel: Samuel, a true freshman, clinched Bowling Green's 37-23 victory over Miami (Ohio) with a 96-yard touchdown, the longest run from scrimmage in school history.

Air Force offense: The Falcons gained a school-record 792 yards of total offense in a 63-24 blowout of Tennessee State. Air Force's onslaught included 595 rushing yards on 66 carries.

LSU CB Morris Claiborne: Already known as one of the nation's best defensive backs, Claiborne showed Saturday he also is a dynamite special teams performer. After West Virginia staged a third-quarter rally to trim a 20-point deficit to six, Claiborne brought the momentum back in LSU's favor by scoring on a 99-yard kickoff return. LSU never was threatened again in a 47-21 triumph.

Oklahoma QB Landry Jones and WR Ryan Broyles: This duo connected on three touchdown passes as Oklahoma erased an early 11-point deficit in a 38-28 triumph over Missouri. Jones ended up throwing for 448 yards, and Broyles caught 13 passes for 154 yards.

Troy coach Larry Blakeney: On the same day Troy's home field was named in Blakeney's honor, the Trojans defeated Middle Tennessee 38-35 in their Sun Belt opener. Blakeney owns a 162-84-1 record in 21 seasons as Troy's coach.

Baylor QB Robert Griffin: He went 29-of-33 for 338 yards and five touchdowns in 56-31 victory over Rice. Griffin has thrown more touchdown passes (13) than incompletions (12) through his first three games of the season.

Nebraska RB Rex Burkhead: Burkhead, a junior, rushed for a career-high 170 yards and scored two touchdowns in Nebraska's 38-14 victory at Wyoming.

Florida RBs Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey: Demps rushed for 157 yards and two touchdowns on just 10 carries and Rainey gained 105 yards in Florida's 48-10 blowout of Kentucky. Demps' 84-yard touchdown run was the longest by a Gator since Emmitt Smith's 96-yard dash against Mississippi State in 1988. Florida rushed for 406 yards; UK had allowed 410 rushing yards in its first three games.

South Carolina's defense: South Carolina recorded six sacks and gave up just 73 yards of total offense in a 21-3 victory over Vanderbilt. The Gamecocks' defense needed that kind of dominant performance on a night when South Carolina QB Stephen Garcia threw four interceptions.

San Jose State RB Brandon Rutley: He ran for 209 yards and two TDs to help San Jose State end its nation's-longest 13-game losing streak with a 34-24 victory over New Mexico State.

Texas Tech QB Seth Doege: His 3-yard TD pass to Eric Ward on a fourth-and-goal play with 44 seconds left gave Texas Tech a 35-34 victory over Nevada. Doege threw three touchdown passes as Texas Tech rallied from a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit.

Oregon RB LaMichael James: James set a school single-game record with 289 rushing yards and scored twice in Oregon's 56-31 triumph over Arizona. Oregon ran for 414 yards.

Arizona State RB Cameron Marshall: He rushed for 141 yards and three touchdowns as Arizona State took a giant step toward winning the Pac-12 South with a 43-22 victory over USC. The triumph ended the Trojans' 11-game winning streak in the rivalry. USC committed four turnovers.

LOSERS

Syracuse-Toledo controversy: An officiating decision late in the fourth quarter overshadowed Syracuse's 33-30 overtime victory over Toledo. Although Syracuse's Ross Krautman's extra-point attempt with 2:07 remaining appeared to sail wide left, officials ruled it good and it wasn't overturned on replay. Toledo's Ryan Casano tied the game with a 20-yard field goal on the final play of regulation. Had Krautman's kick been ruled no good, Casano's field goal would have won the game rather than merely forcing overtime. About three hours after the game ended, Big East coordinator of football officiating Terry McAulay released a statement that admitted the call should have been overturned.

Maryland: Maybe the Terps should switch back to their old uniforms. They certainly haven't looked good the past two weeks in the new gear they've been wearing for each game this season. Maryland followed up last week's loss to West Virginia by laying an egg against Temple. Maryland trailed 31-0 at halftime and didn't score until 4:31 remained in the game. "What happened today is unacceptable and really embarrassing," Maryland coach Randy Edsall told reporters afterward. "We didn't rise to the challenge, pure and simple."

ACC: North Carolina State gets blown out by Cincinnati. Maryland gets swamped by Temple. Miami loses at home to Kansas State. Virginia falls at home to Southern Miss. Maybe the ACC should announce even more expansion plans to take the attention off its performance on the field.

Oregon State: This may be the worst major-conference team in college football. Oregon State's 27-19 loss to UCLA dropped the Beavers to 0-3 for the first time since 1996. One of those losses came against FCS program Sacramento State.

Pittsburgh's fourth-quarter defense: The Panthers blew a fourth-quarter lead for the second consecutive week as Notre Dame capped an 85-yard drive with a 6-yard touchdown pass from Tommy Rees to Tyler Eifert with 6:48 left in the Irish's 15-12 victory. After struggling all afternoon, Rees went 8-of-8 on that winning drive. Pittsburgh has been outscored 29-3 in the fourth quarter during its two-game losing streak.

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Florida State's lack of discipline: FSU was playing without injured quarterback E.J. Manuel and struggled to slow Clemson's offense all day, but the Seminoles still might have won if they had done a better job of avoiding penalties. Florida State was penalized 11 times for 124 yards. The Seminoles' final penalty was a false start that turned a fourth-and-4 situation into a fourth-and-9 on their last drive of the game.

Penn State LB Michael Mauti's luck: Mauti had been one of the nation's top linebackers for the first month of the season, but he might not play again this season. Mauti injured his left knee in the first quarter Saturday. Penn State coach Joe Paterno said after the game that Mauti likely would miss the rest of the season with an ACL injury. Mauti missed the 2009 season with a torn ACL in his right knee.

Michigan QB Denard Robinson's arm: Robinson has run the ball well enough to emerge as a Heisman Trophy candidate, but Michigan won't seriously challenge for a Big Ten title unless he improves his passing. Robinson 8-of-17 for 93 yards with no touchdown passes and two interceptions against San Diego State. He is 26-of-59 with six touchdown passes and six interceptions this season.

Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt: In a game that was billed as the "Hot Seat Bowl," Georgia coach Mark Richt departed in much better shape than Nutt. Georgia won 27-13 to hand Ole Miss its 10th loss in its past 11 SEC games.

North Carolina LB Zach Brown: The Tar Heels' leading tackler played only on special teams Saturday because of a disciplinary matter. North Carolina sorely missed him on defense as it attempted to slow Georgia Tech's high-powered option attack.

The state of New Mexico: Consider it the "Land of Disenchantment." New Mexico, which has gone 1-11 in each of the past two seasons, may have blown its best shot at winning a game this season by falling 48-45 in overtime to FCS program Sam Houston State. New Mexico State fell 34-24 to San Jose State, allowing the Spartans to snap a 13-game losing streak that started last season.

The bottom of the Big Ten: Wisconsin, Nebraska and Michigan are off to nice starts, but the Big Ten's also-rans aren't helping the conference's depth at all. Minnesota fell 37-24 to FCS program North Dakota State on Saturday, while Indiana lost 24-21 to previously winless Sun Belt school North Texas.

Louisiana Tech's third-down gamble: Louisiana Tech was tied 20-20 and had moved into position for a go-ahead field goal when it faced third-and-5 from Mississippi State's 20 with less than four minutes remaining. Rather than playing it safe and relying on a field goal, true freshman QB Nick Isham threw a pass that was intercepted by CB Johnthan Banks in the end zone. Mississippi State went on to win 26-20 after recording another interception in overtime.

Utah State's gamble: After scoring the apparent game-tying touchdown in double-overtime against Colorado State, Utah State decided to go for the win rather than kicking an extra point that would have forced a third extra session. The plan backfired when Robert Turbin was stopped short of the end zone, giving Colorado State a 35-34 victory.

Kentucky (whenever it plays Florida): Kentucky has lost each of its past 25 meetings with Florida. That's not even Kentucky's longest losing streak against an SEC East rival. The Wildcats have lost to Tennessee 26 consecutive times.

UNLV: One week after upsetting Hawaii, UNLV found itself on the wrong side of an even more surprising result. Caleb Herring threw three interceptions that were returned for touchdowns as UNLV fell 41-16 to FCS program Southern Utah. The Rebels were outscored 31-6 in the second half, with the lone UNLV second-half touchdown coming in the game's final minute.

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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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