October 15, 2011

Winners and losers: Pretenders exposed

The second half of the season kicked off by sorting out the national championship contenders from the pretenders.

Thirteen FBS teams headed into Saturday with perfect records. A few of them never were expected to be undefeated this late in the season. For instance, Georgia Tech was 6-7 last season, while Illinois and Michigan went 7-6. None of those teams opened the season in either of the major polls, yet all three were ranked in the top 15 of the coaches' poll this week.

Now we know those teams weren't quite as good as their records suggested.

Michigan fell 28-14 to Michigan State just a few hours before Illinois lost 17-7 to Ohio State, leaving Wisconsin as the Big Ten's lone remaining unbeaten team. Georgia Tech's dreams of a perfect season also vanished with a 24-21 loss to Virginia.

Tech's loss provided further evidence that its high-powered option attack isn't quite as formidable when a defense has extra time to prepare. The 12th-ranked Yellow Jackets fell to 5-9 in Paul Johnson's four-year tenure when facing an FBS team that had at least a week to prepare for them.

Virginia (4-2) needed overtime to squeak past Idaho in its last game, but the Cavaliers had an off week to get ready for Georgia Tech's top-ranked rushing attack. Georgia Tech had been averaging 553.5 total yards per game, but the Yellow Jackets gained just 296 against Virginia. The Yellow Jackets scored on just one of their last six possessions.

The Cavaliers also did a good job of keeping Tech's offense on the sideline. Virginia rushed for 272 yards and averaged 5.8 yards per carry to spoil the return of Tech defensive coordinator Al Groh, who worked as the Cavaliers' coach from 2001-09. Georgia Tech (6-1) has come a long way in the last year, but the Yellow Jackets won't seriously contend for the ACC title unless they dramatically improve their defense.

"They [Virginia] did exactly what they needed to do," Johnson said. "That's the way everyone is going to play us. They are going to run the ball and hold the ball. They were able to get ahead, and in the end it worked. They were able to run the last six minutes off the clock."

Johnson also faulted his team's state of mind.

"We've gotten away with just going through the motions the last few weeks," he said. "You can see it in pregames. There's no intensity. There's no emotion. It's hard to play this game without that."

Ohio State (4-3) didn't complete its first pass of the game until Jake Stoneburner's 17-yard touchdown catch early in the fourth quarter. But its offense prevented the Illini from producing their first 7-0 start since 1951.

Illinois (6-1) was 15th in the coaches' poll and 16th by the AP, but the Illini hardly resembled a top-25 team Saturday. Both of Ohio State's touchdowns came after turnovers, while Illinois was held scoreless until 7:03 was left in the game.

Mistakes on offense also doomed Michigan, ranked 10th in the coaches' poll and 11th by the AP.

Michigan (6-1) opened the game with an 80-yard touchdown drive, but the Wolverines struggled to move the ball the rest of the day. Michigan State (5-1) recorded seven sacks and scored a game-clinching touchdown on Isaiah Lewis' 39-yard interception return with 4:31 remaining.

"I think they were definitely more physical," Michigan safety Jordan Kovacs told reporters afterward. "They pounded us and ate us up. But we're going to take it and improve from here."

[Ahern: Surly Spartans look bent on Big Ten contention]

Here's a rundown of all the winners and losers from the seventh week of the season.


Ohio State RB Daniel "Boom" Herron: In his first game of the season after serving a suspension, Herron rushed for 114 yards and a touchdown to give Ohio State's offense a major list. Herron was suspended for the Buckeyes' first five games as part of the NCAA's investigation into Ohio State's program.

Texas A&M's killer instinct: A&M blew a 17-point halftime lead in a loss to Oklahoma State and squandered an 18-point halftime advantage in a loss to Arkansas. When Baylor rallied from a 31-14 deficit to cut Texas A&M's lead to 34-28, the Aggies seemed up to their old tricks. This time, though, A&M responded to that comeback attempt by scoring 21 unanswered points to complete a 55-28 triumph.

South Carolina WR Alshon Jeffery: South Carolina's unstable quarterback situation has prevented Jeffery from delivering huge numbers this season, but he came up big when it mattered most Saturday. Jeffery's 4-yard touchdown catch on a third-and-goal play produced the go-ahead score with 3:50 remaining in South Carolina's 14-12 victory at Mississippi State. The Gamecocks could be relying even more on Jeffery in upcoming games, as star TB Marcus Lattimore sprained his left knee late in the game.

LSU CB Morris Claiborne: Tyrann Mathieu may have the catchier nickname and the Heisman credentials, but Claiborne showed that LSU has more than one big-play performer in its secondary. Claiborne's 89-yard interception return set up the game's first touchdown in a 38-7 victory over Tennessee.

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Oklahoma State KR Justin Gilbert: His 100-yard touchdown in a 38-26 victory over Texas marked the fourth time in his career that he has scored on a kickoff return, tying a school record.

Washington QB Keith Price: The Huskies are doing just fine without departed first-round pick Jake Locker. Price threw four first-half touchdown passes Saturday in a 52-24 blowout of Colorado to increase his season total to 21. This marks the first time in school history that Washington has scored at least 30 points in each of its first six games.

Penn State LB Nate Stupar: His second interception of the day clinched Penn State's 23-18 victory over Purdue. Stupar caught a fourth-down pass off a deflection to end Purdue's last possession with 1:59 remaining. Stupar also had a 24-yard interception return in the second quarter to set up a Penn State field goal.

Utah (against the Big East): Utah's first season in the Pac-12 hasn't gone smoothly, but the Utes continue to feel right at home whenever they hit the East Coast. Utah's 26-14 victory over Pittsburgh moved the Utes to 9-0 all-time against current Big East members.

Miami QB Jacory Harris: The guy who nearly lost his job because of his penchant for turnovers has played mistake-free football for most of this season. Harris continued his comeback season Saturday by throwing for 267 yards and three touchdowns in Miami's 30-24 victory over North Carolina. Harris has eight touchdown passes without an interception in his past three games. He threw 15 interceptions and 14 touchdown passes last season.

Temple's defense: One week after blanking Ball State 42-0, Temple kept its shutout streak alive with a 34-0 rout of Buffalo. This marked the second consecutive season that Temple has recorded back-to-back shutouts. The Owls beat Buffalo 42-0 and Akron 30-0 on consecutive weekends last season.

Florida State's rushing attack: FSU's lack of a running game has played a major role in the Seminoles' disappointing start, but that dormant ground attack finally is showing signs of life. True freshman Devonta Freeman led the way with 109 yards as the Seminoles rushed for 242 yards and averaged 5.4 yards per carry in a 41-16 rout of Duke. FSU entered the day averaging just 85.6 rushing yards per game, a figure that ranked 112th nationally.

Kansas State: While a few of this season's other surprise teams suffered their first losses this week, Kansas State continued its remarkable run. Collin Klein accounted for four touchdowns and an opportunistic defense produced four turnovers in the Wildcats' 41-34 victory at Texas Tech.

Alabama RB Trent Richardson: While injuries have sidelined Oregon's LaMichael James and South Carolina's Marcus Lattimore, Richardson has emerged as the nation's top running back. Richardson, a junior, scored four touchdowns and rushed for a career-high 183 yards in a 52-7 rout of Ole Miss. His spectacular 76-yard touchdown run in the third quarter will be shown often throughout the rest of season if Richardson remains a Heisman candidate.

Clemson WR Sammy Watkins: The freshman phenom set a school record with 345 all-purpose yards as Clemson erased an 18-point deficit to beat Maryland 56-45 and remain undefeated. Watkins delivered an 89-yard kickoff return that put Clemson ahead for good with 7:24 remaining. He also set up a touchdown with a 70-yard kickoff return and caught eight passes for 105 yards and two scores.

Boise State: In their first Mountain West Conference game, the Broncos racked up a school-record 742 yards of total offense and breezed to a 63-13 victory at Colorado State. Kellen Moore threw for 338 yards and four touchdowns without an interception. Doug Martin ran for 200 yards and three touchdowns. Tyler Shoemaker caught nine passes for 180 yards and two touchdowns.

Virginia Tech QB Logan Thomas: One week after a breakthrough performance against Miami, Thomas continued his hot streak by running for two touchdowns and throwing two touchdown passes as Virginia Tech rallied from a 10-point deficit to win 38-17 at Wake Forest in an ACC showdown.

[Yahoo! Sports Radio: Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer]

Northern Illinois QB Chandler Harnish: Harnish, a senior, threw for 203 yards and ran for a career-high 229 yards in a 51-22 rout of Western Michigan. Harnish became the 10th player in FBS history to throw for at least 200 yards and run for at least 200 yards in the same game.

BYU QB Riley Nelson: BYU has looked like a different team since Nelson replaced Jake Heaps as the Cougars' quarterback. Nelson threw three touchdown passes and ran for 87 yards as BYU won 38-28 at Oregon State. After coming off the bench to rally BYU to a victory over Utah State, Nelson has won all three games he has started.

Texas A&M QB Ryan Tannehill and WR Ryan Swope: Tannehill threw for 413 yards and six touchdowns to outduel Robert Griffin in Texas A&M's 55-28 victory over Baylor. Tannehill also rushed for 55 yards on five carries. Four of Tannehill's six touchdown passes went to Swope, who had 11 receptions for 206 yards.

Oregon's offense: The Ducks showed Saturday that TB LaMichael James and QB Darron Thomas aren't their only big-play performers. James missed the game with a dislocated elbow and Thomas got hurt early in the second half, yet Oregon continued moving the ball at will for much of a 41-27 victory over Arizona State.

Oklahoma WR Ryan Broyles: He caught 13 passes for 217 yards and became the NCAA's career receptions leader in a 47-17 victory over Kansas. Broyles' 326 career catches broke the record previously held by Purdue's Taylor Stubblefield, who caught 316 passes from 2001-04.


Big brothers: Former Michigan TB Mike Hart famously referred to Michigan State as Michigan's "little brother" following the Wolverines' 28-24 victory over the Spartans in 2007. Michigan hasn't beaten Michigan State since. Michigan State now has won four in a row over its in-state rival for the first time since 1959-62.

Pittsburgh's offense: Pitt gained just 120 yards in total offense, committed three turnovers and allowed six sacks in a loss to a Utah team that had given up at least 31 points in back-to-back games. Star TB Ray Graham gained just 46 yards. How did these guys beat USF by three touchdowns?

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Anyone who bet on South Carolina: Facing fourth-and-long deep in its territory as it protected a 14-10 lead in the closing seconds, South Carolina took an intentional safety rather than risking a long punt return or a blocked punt by Mississippi State. That strategy helped South Carolina preserve a 14-12 win, but it certainly didn't benefit anyone who wagered on the Gamecocks. South Carolina was favored by three points.

Illinois coach Ron Zook's fourth-down call: Illinois trailed 17-7 and faced fourth-and-3 from Ohio State's 17 with just over a minute left. The strategy seemed obvious: Make the short field goal and attempt an onside kick. Illinois instead decided to go for the first down. A fourth-down incompletion from Nathan Scheelhaase sealed the Illini's fate.

USF in Big East competition: Don't tell USF the Big East is a weak conference. Every year, it seems the Bulls win high-profile non-conference games but struggle against Big East opponents. The trend is continuing. USF opened the season with four straight non-conference wins - including a 23-20 victory at Notre Dame - but a 16-10 loss Saturday to Connecticut dropped the Bulls' Big East record to 0-2.

Navy: The Midshipmen have won at least eight games in eight consecutive seasons, but that streak is in serious jeopardy now. Navy (2-4) blew a 10-point lead Saturday and fell 21-20 to Rutgers. Navy has lost four in a row, its longest losing streak since 2002.

Ole Miss: The Rebels' 52-7 setback against Alabama was their most one-sided loss since a 49-3 fiasco against Florida in 1981.

Florida's punt returners: Florida muffed three punts, losing two, in a 17-6 setback at Auburn. Chris Rainey had two of the muffs, one of which resulted in a turnover that led to an Auburn touchdown. Robert Clark's fumble on a fair-catch attempt in the fourth quarter resulted in Auburn's game-clinching field goal.

The aftermath of the Georgia-Vanderbilt game: Georgia's hard-fought 33-28 victory over Vanderbilt was marred by a heated postgame discussion between Vanderbilt coach James Franklin and Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham. "What happened at the end is we had a very tough, emotional game, and some things were said that I didn't think were appropriate," Franklin said at his postgame press conference. "I tried to find [Georgia] Coach [Mark] Richt to address it. I couldn't find Coach Richt and happened to have a discussion with one of their assistant coaches, and it didn't go well. I apologized that it escalated from there. ... We are not going to sit back and take stuff from anybody. Those days are long gone, and they're never coming back ever."

Texas Tech QB Seth Doege's fourth quarter: Although Doege threw for 461 yards against Kansas State, his fourth-quarter mistakes proved costly. On Texas Tech's first three possessions in the fourth quarter, Doege lost a fumble and threw two interceptions.

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Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com, and you can follow him on Twitter.


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