September 27, 2008

Saturday produces many winners and losers

Conventional wisdom went out the window in a wild week that featured six ranked teams suffering their first losses of the season.

USC once again stubbed its toe against a seemingly overmatched Pac-10 opponent. Ole Miss felt right at home in the Swamp. The team with the most takeaways in the nation decided to start playing giveaway. And a beleaguered program delivered the biggest comeback in the history of one of the game's most hallowed venues.

A week of action with this many surprises naturally featured plenty of winners and losers. We'll point out a few.


WINNERS

Michigan's pluck. The Wolverines seemed all but dead after committing five first-half turnovers to fall behind 19-0. Instead of folding, they delivered the biggest comeback in the history of the Big House to stun Wisconsin 27-25. Michigan quarterback Steven Threet came of age in the second half, while Michigan's veteran defense produced all sorts of big plays. Maybe the Wolverines don't have to write off the first season of the Rich Rodriguez era as a rebuilding year.

Ole Miss special teams. The blocked extra-point attempt that provided the final margin in Ole Miss' 31-30 upset of Florida was only fitting. All day, Ole Miss got the better of a Florida special-teams unit that had dominated the Gators' previous opponents. Ole Miss faked a punt to set up its first touchdown and held Florida punt returner Brandon James relatively in check even before Kentrell Lockett swatted away a potential game-tying extra point with 3:28 left.

Florida WR Percy Harvin. Technically, Harvin was a loser Saturday. But his presence was the main reason Florida had a chance to win. Harvin did lose a fumble, but he also ran 10 times for 82 yards, caught 13 passes for 185 yards and scored twice.

Connecticut RB Donald Brown. The NCAA rushing leader gained 190 yards Friday night to help the Huskies withstand an injury to quarterback Tyler Lorenzen and remain undefeated with a 26-21 victory at Louisville. Brown has rushed for at least 146 yards in each of Connecticut's five games. Not bad for someone who was only expected to split carries this year until teammate Andre Dixon suffered a preseason ankle injury.

Nick Saban: The guy might have the personality of a garage door, but he can coach. He's getting huge bucks and huge results. Saturday's game at Georgia was supposed to be an SEC nail-biter. Instead, it was a yawner as the Tide rolled to a 31-0 halftime lead and cruised home. Will he become the second second-year coach to win a national title in the past three seasons (Urban Meyer did it in 2006)?

Alabama: In one day, the Tide went from SEC hopeful to SEC front-runner. They hammered Georgia, Florida lost, LSU struggled to put away Mississippi State and Auburn still can't play offense. Roll Tide, indeed.

Galen Hall: We don't want to say the long-time Penn State offensive coordinator sometimes is reined in by Joe Paterno, but he sometimes is reined in by Joe Paterno. This season, Nittany Lions coaches have a quarterback Daryll Clark they believe in, and the result is a 5-0 start, with at least 38 points scored in every game, after Saturday's victory over Illinois. Are the Nittany Lions the best team in the Big Ten? We don't know that yet. We do know that four of their next five are on the road, though, including treks to Wisconsin and Ohio State.

Tyrod Taylor: Virginia Tech coaches let him throw and what do you know? Taylor did a nice job in guiding the Hokies to a 35-30 victory at Nebraska. In the wide-open ACC, the Hokies have as good a shot as anyone at the title.

Mike Gundy: The Oklahoma State coach has co-offensive coordinators Gunter Brewer and Trooper Taylor but Gundy calls his own plays. He's doing something right: His Cowboys trounced Troy 55-24, the third consecutive game they've reached the 50-point plateau.

Matt Grothe: The quarterback who's playing the best in the state of Florida? It's this guy. He threw for 259 yards and a touchdown to lead USF to an easy 41-10 victory at North Carolina State. Grothe, a junior, completed his first 11 passes for the Bulls, who were the only Big East team in the polls last week.

The Rodgers brothers. James Rodgers and Jacquizz Rodgers are listed in Oregon State's roster as 5-foot-7, but the brothers from Richmond, Texas, stood tall Thursday night while helping the Beavers deliver a huge upset. Jacquizz, a freshman, showed his toughness by carrying the ball 37 times for 186 yards, while James, a sophomore, caught two touchdown passes in Oregon State's 27-21 victory over 25-point favorite USC.

Academic-minded schools. Wake Forest and Vanderbilt already are in the national rankings, though Wake Forest will fall out after its 24-17 loss to Navy. The way they're playing, Northwestern and Duke could soon get their moments in the spotlight. Unbeaten Northwestern continued its fastest start in 46 years with a 22-17 victory at Iowa by forcing four consecutive incompletions after the Hawkeyes drove to the Wildcats' 8. Duke (3-1) ended a 25-game ACC losing streak with a 31-3 thrashing of Virginia. In its first year under David Cutcliffe, Duke already has exceeded its combined win total from the final three seasons of the Ted Roof era.

Military academies. Navy's back-to-back victories over Rutgers and Wake Forest show that the departure of Paul Johnson to Georgia Tech won't necessarily end the Middies' run of bowl appearances. Navy's win over Wake was the Midshipmen's first over a ranked team in 23 years. Army's a long way from getting to Navy's level, but the Black Knights nearly pulled off a huge stunner Saturday before falling 21-17 to Texas A&M.

North Carolina SS Trimane Goddard. He made two fourth-quarter interceptions, including a play that rescued the Tar Heels' ACC title hopes. North Carolina was clinging to a 28-24 lead over Miami when Goddard snatched the ball from the hands of a diving Kayne Farquharson in the end zone on the game's final play.

Ball State's heart. The Cardinals honored injured teammate Dante Love by remaining just as explosive in his absence. Ball State remained unbeaten with a 41-20 victory over Kent State in its first game without Love, the star receiver who suffered a career-ending spinal injury last week.

Rice: The Owls eviscerated defenseless North Texas 77-20 behind three touchdown passes from Chase Clement to Jarett Dillard. That gives the duo 41 career touchdown connections, an NCAA record; the mark had been 39 (Louisiana Tech's Tim Rattay to Troy Edwards and Hawaii's Colt Brennan to Davone Bess). The Owls led 56-20 at halftime. That sets up a potential offensive orgy next week at Tulsa. Neither team plays good defense, which means expecting 100 or so combined points seems reasonable.

Ohio State RB Chris Wells. After missing three games with an injured right foot, Wells came back in a big way by rushing for 106 yards on 14 carries in a 34-21 victory over Minnesota. The one-sided loss to USC two weeks ago likely ended Ohio State's national title hopes, but the combination of Wells and freshman phenom Terrelle Pryor in the backfield could make the Buckeyes the team to beat in the Big Ten.

Notre Dame's offense. For at least one day, the Irish made it seem like 2005 all over again. Notre Dame scored on each of its first four second-half possessions on its way to beating Purdue 38-21. The team that gained just 16 yards on 22 carries in a 23-7 loss to Michigan State last week rushed for more than 200 yards against the Boilermakers.

Texas QB Colt McCoy. Throw one more Big 12 quarterback into the Heisman conversation. McCoy has been every bit as effective as Missouri's Chase Daniel, Oklahoma's Sam Bradford and Texas Tech's Graham Harrell. McCoy went 17-of-19 with three touchdown passes and also ran for 84 yards and two scores in a 52-10 demolition of Arkansas. McCoy has 14 touchdown passes, four touchdown runs and only one interception this season.

Florida State RB Antone Smith. This former five-star prospect hasn't lived up to the fanfare that accompanied his arrival, but Smith finally may be on the verge of turning that around. He ran for 154 yards and three touchdowns in a 39-21 victory over Colorado.


LOSERS

USC RB Joe McKnight. After rushing for 105 yards in a rout of Ohio State, McKnight never managed to establish a rhythm against an Oregon State defense that had allowed Stanford's Toby Gerhart and Penn State's Evan Royster to run wild earlier this year. McKnight ran for 10 yards on seven carries and caught three passes for 29 yards. He also had a fumble in Oregon State territory that set up the Beavers' third first-half touchdown.

Clemson coach Tommy Bowden. We know Clemson gave him a contract extension in December after Arkansas came courting, but the Tigers' sluggish start has put Bowden right back on the hot seat. The overwhelming preseason ACC favorite, Clemson blew an 11-point lead to fall 20-17 to Maryland at home. For whatever reason, quarterback Cullen Harper isn't the same player he was last year.

Georgia: Bulldogs fans had been grousing their team dropped from No. 1 to No. 3 despite starting 3-0. Oh, if only that were all that had to grouse about this week. Falling behind 31-0 at halftime at home in a showdown game was downright embarrassing for the Bulldogs, whose touted defensive front was abused in the first half.

TCU: There were some who thought the Horned Frogs were a potential BCS-buster. Those folks were wrong. TCU traveled to Oklahoma and got whipped 35-10. Now, all TCU can do is try to ruin BCS hopes for Mountain West rivals BYU and Utah.

Virginia. In their three games against FBS foes, the Cavaliers have been outscored 128-20. It's getting harder and harder to remember this team went 9-4 last year.

Indiana's luck. Indiana had to play part of the day without star quarterback Kellen Lewis, who injured his left leg in the first half of a 42-29 loss to Michigan State. But the worst break for the Hoosiers came when guard Cody Faulkner was called for holding in the end zone, turning quarterback Ben Chappell's 97-yard touchdown pass to Terrance Turner into a Michigan State safety. Instead of taking a 35-34 lead, the Hoosiers trailed 36-29 and never threatened again.

Florida's defense. I guess we can stop comparing these guys to the 2006 Florida defense that carried the Gators to a national title. All too often, these guys looked more like the 2007 Florida defense that allowed 32.8 points per game in each of the Gators' four losses last season.

Iowa's hands. Why did Iowa lose to Northwestern despite outgaining the Wildcats? It's tough to win when you commit five turnovers. Northwestern scored touchdowns after two of Iowa's five fumbles to rally from a 17-3 deficit.

East Carolina. Two weeks ago, these guys were the talk of college football. Now that they've dropped back-to-back games to North Carolina State and Houston, we probably won't hear from them again until they're playing in a second- or third-tier bowl in December.

Wake Forest. The team that entered the weekend with an NCAA-leading 15 takeaways seemed eager to even things out Saturday. Wake Forest turned the ball over six times in a 24-17 loss to Navy.

Colorado's special teams. The second-quarter breakdowns of Colorado's kicking game helped Florida State beat the Buffaloes. Aric Goodman missed a 27-yard field goal with the score tied. Dekoda Watson blocked a Matt DiLallo punt in the end zone for a Florida State safety. Then Colorado allowed Bert Reed to return the ensuing free kick to Colorado's 23, setting up a Graham Gano 36-yard field goal that gave the Seminoles a 19-7 halftime advantage. Colorado also allowed Michael Ray Garvin to return a kickoff for a touchdown in the second half.

Arkansas. The Razorbacks needed to come from behind to squeak past Western Illinois and Louisiana-Monroe at home. They lost to Alabama and Texas by a combined score of 101-24. Is there any doubt this is the worst team in the SEC?

Tennessee's offense. Last week, the Vols couldn't hang on to the ball when they got inside Florida's 5. This week, they messed up inside their 5. Jake Ricks' recovery of a Jonathan Crompton fumble in the end zone made the difference in Auburn's 14-12 victory that dropped Tennessee's record to 1-3.

Tim Tebow's Heisman candidacy. Even before Saturday's stunning result, he hadn't delivered the overwhelming statistics that helped him win the Heisman last season. Tebow's inability to convert a fourth-and-1 in the final minute of the loss to Ole Miss might have sealed his fate this season.

Nebraska: The Huskers were supposed to be better on defense this season under new coach Bo Pelini. It sure didn't look like it Saturday, as Virginia Tech which you never will hear mentioned in a sentence that contains the words "explosive offense" rang up 35 points on them. Uh-oh: Missouri is next. And "Missouri" and "explosive offense" go together quite well.

Idaho: Not that we necessarily like piling on, but the Vandals are bad. They were crushed by San Diego State a week after getting hammered by Utah State; both SDSU and Utah State came in winless. Idaho is the worst of the 120 teams in the FBS.


DID YOU SEE THAT?

Pity poor Temple. The Owls' 7-3 loss to Western Michigan means that three of their four losses have been decided by a total of nine points.

Hardy is back. The performance of Ole Miss quarterback Jevan Snead will garner much of the attention in the wake of the Rebels' big upset, but don't overlook the performance of Ole Miss defensive end Greg Hardy. After missing the Rebels' first three games with a stress fracture in his right foot, Hardy played at an All-America level Saturday with 2 1/2 tackles for loss and 1 1/2 sacks.

Third-stringer stars. North Carolina quarterback Cameron Sexton's performance Saturday indicates the Tar Heels might do just fine without T.J. Yates, who is out six weeks with a broken left ankle. After replacing an ineffective Mike Paulus with the Tar Heels trailing Miami 14-0, Sexton who began the season as the third-stringer threw for 242 yards and tossed two touchdown passes in the final nine minutes.

The game-breaker. He didn't catch a single pass or score a touchdown, but do-everything wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey still produced the play that might have changed the course of Maryland's season. Maryland trailed Clemson 17-6 when Heyward-Bey went 76 yards on a reverse to set up a touchdown. Maryland went on to win 20-17.

Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com.
Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.




 

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