October 3, 2009

Winners and losers: Canes climb; Sooners sink

MIAMI - Miami's gutty 21-20 win over Oklahoma on Saturday night was the triumph the Hurricanes needed to validate their return to national prominence. It also showed how far Miami has come since the last time these programs met in 2007, when Oklahoma romped 51-13 in Norman.

This is the biggest victory in coach Randy Shannon's three-year tenure, and it even made the stoic former "U" linebacker smile in the postgame afterglow.

Quarterback Jacory Harris kept his poise after a rocky first half that saw him toss two interceptions. Harris completed 19 of 28 passes for 205 yards, with three touchdowns in guiding the 'Canes back from a 10-7 halftime deficit.

Miami rallied in the second half behind a precision, short passing game. A key was the blocking of Miami's offensive line, led by tackle Jason Fox. A week ago, the Hurricanes' front was manhandled in a 31-7 loss at Virginia Tech, with UM rushing for just 59 yards. Miami's defensive line was gashed, too, with the Hurricanes allowing 272 rushing yards.

Miami answered the challenge against the Sooners, rushing for 139 yards. Javarris James led the way with 148 yards. The 'Canes finished with 344 yards of offense, while Oklahoma had 343.

Miami now can exhale after completing a four-game, season-opening run against four ranked teams. The Hurricanes beat Florida State, Georgia Tech and the Sooners. Still, Miami's loss to Virginia Tech means it will need some help in the race to win the ACC Coastal Division.

The 3-1 start means Miami is in the running for at least a BCS at-large berth even if it doesn't play in the ACC title game. And that possibility looks strong, considering Miami doesn't have any truly tough games left.

Shannon deserves credit for his hiring of offensive coordinator Mark Whipple. Whipple has tweaked a pro-style attack, and his work with Harris - a sophomore who has made just six college starts - has been excellent.

This was seen as a pivotal season for Shannon, who needed to show progress after compiling a 12-13 record, including 6-10 in the ACC, over his fist two seasons.

The Sooners (2-2) missed quarterback Sam Bradford, who missed a third consecutive game because of a shoulder injury. Redshirt freshman Landry Jones was 19 of 31 passing for 193 yards, with a touchdown and no interceptions. On OU's first second-half possession, Jones was sacked and fumbled deep in OU territory. Harris threw a TD pass on UM's first play, and the 'Canes led the rest of the way.

The Sooners also were hurt by a first-half injury to wide receiver Ryan Broyles, their best deep threat, who left with a shoulder injury and did not return. OU was unable to stretch the field and UM moved up its safeties, which had an impact on OU's rushing attack.

Oklahoma, which was shocked in the season-opener by BYU, now is out of the national championship hunt. The Sooners, who lost the BCS title game on this field in January, still could win the Big 12, assuming Bradford returns soon. But OU's defense has a few tests remaining, not the least of which is the Oct. 17 showdown with Texas.

Tigers prevail

Most of the talk before LSU's game at No. 18 Georgia centered on whether the Tigers were overrated at No. 4 in the polls. After all, Les Miles' bunch didn't look like an elite team on offense in building a 4-0 record that featured less-than-impressive wins over Vanderbilt and Mississippi State.

LSU quieted its critics in winning at Georgia 20-13, with Charles Scott capping a wild fourth quarter with a 33-yard scoring run with 46 seconds left. The Tigers snuffed a solid Bulldogs passing offense, but the real story was LSU's much-maligned offense. The Tigers entered the game ranked last in the SEC and 110th in the nation (310 ypg) in total offense. The Tigers ran for just 30 yards in a win over Mississippi State the week before, and LSU's offensive line has come under fire.

But in the win over the Bulldogs, LSU gained 368 yards, with 156 coming on the ground. Scott led the way with 95 yards and two late touchdowns. Sophomore quarterback Jordan Jefferson took a big step in his development by completing 18 of 27 passes for 212 yards. Defenses had been stacking the line and daring Jefferson to pass, but against Georgia, he made plays with his arm.

The big victory came just as the Tigers are entering the meat of their schedule. Next Saturday night, LSU welcomes No. 1 Florida into Death Valley. Auburn comes to LSU on Oct. 24. But the big game comes Nov. 7, when LSU plays at Alabama in what could be a de facto SEC West title game.

The slide continues

Are we witnessing the final season of the Bobby Bowden era at Florida State?

Saturday's 28-21 loss at Boston College might be rock bottom for the Seminoles. Yes, it was worse than last week's home loss to South Florida because FSU fell to 0-2 in the ACC, which puts a huge crimp in any ACC title plans.

From 1987-2000, Florida State won at least 10 games each season. It never ranked lower than No. 5 in the final AP poll over that span and won national titles in 1993 and 2000.

After a 5-0 start in 2005, Florida State has gone 28-24, including 14-17 in the ACC. In the past 11 games, FSU is 5-6, with four of those losses at home.

The offensive inconsistency this fall has been maddening. The offense played well in the opener, a home loss to Miami. The next week, FSU gained 402 yards but had to score twice in the final 35 seconds to win 19-9 at home over FCS member Jacksonville State. The next week, the Seminoles looked like contenders in rolling up 512 yards in thrashing BYU 54-28. But last week, FSU lost 17-7 at home to USF and had just 288 yards of offense.

Now comes the loss to BC. FSU gained 405 yards, but ran for just 65 yards on 28 carries.


Alabama: The Crimson Tide overcame a slow start to thump the Wildcats 38-20 and now head to Ole Miss for a big game in the SEC West.

The Big East: The league chase is shaping up as one of the best in the nation. Cincinnati... USF ... Pitt ... Connecticut... West Virginia. All five won this week. And all will be in the title hunt.

Michigan State: The Spartans beat Michigan 26-20 in overtime to halt a three-game losing streak and restore hope. It was the first time Michigan State had beaten Michigan in successive seasons since winning three in a row from 1965-67.

USF: So much for experiencing a letdown after that big win at Florida State. Rather, the 5-0 Bulls took care of business by dispatching Syracuse 34-20 on the road.

Notre Dame: For the third game in a row, it wasn't pretty or impressive. But the Fighting Irish escaped with a 37-30 overtime win over visiting Washington to push their record to 4-1. The Irish are off this week before playing host to USC. Will Charlie Weis finally get that signature win?

Penn State: The Nittany Lions piled up 504 yards in a 35-17 victory at Illinois. Stephfon Green (120) and Evan Royster (105) topped the 100-yard rushing mark.

Stanford: The Cardinal moved to 4-1 overall and 3-0 in the Pac-10 with a 24-16 triumph over previously unbeaten UCLA. Toby Gerhart ran for three scores and 134 yards. He ran for 200 yards last week in a rout of Washington.

Wisconsin: The Badgers started 4-0, but all four contests came at home. Wisconsin played its first road game, traveling to Minnesota and prevailing 31-28. Wisconsin is a legitimate Big Ten title contender behind junior quarterback Scott Tolzien.

Arkansas: The Hogs bounced back nicely from that drubbing at Alabama to thump Texas A&M 47-19. Is Arkansas ready to battle for the SEC West title? No, but the Hogs continue to build under Bobby Petrino.

Auburn: The Tigers ventured away from home for the first time and scored a workmanlike 26-22 victory at Tennessee. Now, will Auburn (5-0) finally be ranked?

USC: Now that the Trojans have that inexplicable early loss to an unranked team out of the way, they look good. The Trojans' latest conquest of Cal could send them on to at least a share of their eighth Pac-10 title in a row.


Clemson: The Tigers suffered a brutal 24-21 loss at Maryland. Clemson has lost two in a row and is 2-3.

Georgia: The Bulldogs foundered on offense, gaining just 273 yards and failing to score in the first three quarters of a 20-13 home loss to No. 4 LSU. The issue: running the ball, as the Bulldogs picked up just 44 yards on the ground.

Illinois: It's going from bad to worse for the Fighting Illini. They yielded 504 yards to Penn State.

Michigan: The Wolverines' 4-0 start was an early season headline. But Michigan stumbled in overtime at Michigan State. Michigan ran for just 29 yards on 28 carries.

North Carolina: A humiliating 16-3 home loss to Virginia makes it official - UNC isn't on the precipice of a breakout season under Butch Davis.

Purdue: For the third time this year, the Boilermakers lost a game in the waning moments. This time, Purdue fell at home to Northwestern 27-21, after blowing a 21-3 lead.

SEC referees: There were two dubious excessive celebration penalties in the final two minutes of the Georgia-LSU game. The one on the Bulldogs proved extremely costly, as it helped LSU get great field position en route to its game-winning touchdown.

California: First, a 42-3 loss at Oregon. Now, a 30-3 defeat at home to USC. Remember when Cal was a Pac-10 title contender? It's now time for Golden Bears fans to make reservations for the Las Vegas Bowl.

Texas A&M: The Aggies officially were exposed as a mediocre team by Arkansas. Seems those A&M wins over New Mexico, Utah State and UAB really didn't mean much.

Houston: Forget all that talk about busting into the BCS. The Cougars were hammered on the road by UTEP 58-41. Their shaky defense, which had held up in victories over Oklahoma State and Texas Tech, was shredded by the Miners. Now, the Cougars must regroup as they prepare for a game at Mississippi State.

Top story lines for next week

Will Tim Tebow play? His status remains iffy after he suffered a concussion in a rout of Kentucky last Saturday. The Gators were off this week and play at LSU next Saturday night. If he can't go, the Gators will turn to sophomore John Brantley.

Big week in the Big Ten: There are two big battles that will go a long way toward determining the league's pecking order - Wisconsin at Ohio State and Michigan at Iowa.

A big one for Stanford. The Cardinal have been one of the best stories, jumping to a 4-1 start overall and 3-0 in the Pac-10 behind running back Toby Gerhart. Next week, Stanford gets a big test at Oregon State.

Auburn at Arkansas: Let's call this the "Gus Malzahn Bowl." Auburn's offensive coordinator returns to the stadium where his college coaching career began. Malzahn was hired by Houston Nutt to run the Hogs' offense in 2006. Malzahn's offense never was a good fit with Nutt, and each ended up leaving Arkansas.

Big 12 North showdown: Is Missouri for real? The Tigers have impressed by shooting out to a 4-0 start, but Missouri has beaten no one. Nebraska comes in Thursday night. The Huskers also are in search of a victory over a legitimate opponent.

Hot seat

Jeff Tedford, Cal. Going into Saturday, Cal had won 12 in a row at home dating to a loss in 2007 to USC. But couple the thumping Cal took Saturday from the Trojans with the beating it took last week from Oregon, and this season is beginning to look a lot like 2007 in Berkeley, when the Bears lost six of their last seven regular-season games.

Dienhart's weekly awards
Wish I were him: Les Miles, LSU
Glad I'm not him: Dabo Swinney, Clemson
Lucky guy: Mark Dantonio, Michigan State
Poor guy: Steve Sarkisian, Washington
Desperately seeking a clue: Mike Sherman, Texas A&M
Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Jim Harbaugh, Stanford
Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Bobby Bowden, Florida State
Thought you'd kick butt, you did: Alabama
Thought you'd kick butt, you didn't: North Carolina
Thought you'd get your butt kicked, you did: Indiana
Thought you'd get your butt kicked, you didn't: Maryland
They're good: Alabama
They're bad: Illinois
Did the season start? Colorado
Can the season end? California
Can the season never end? Wisconsin
Play this again: Notre Dame 37, Washington 30 OT
Never play this again: Oregon 52, Washington State 6
Ticket to die for: Florida at LSU
Best non-Big Six matchup: Utah at Colorado State
Upset alert: Wisconsin over Ohio State in Columbus
Must win: Nebraska over Missouri in Columbia on Thursday
Offensive explosion: Oklahoma State at Texas A&M
Defensive struggle: Oregon at UCLA
Great game no one is talking about: Stanford at Oregon State
Intriguing coaching matchup: Michigan's Rich Rodriguez vs. Iowa's Kirk Ferentz
Why are they playing? Eastern Illinois at Penn State
Plenty of good seats remaining: Indiana at Virginia

Tom Dienhart is the national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com.


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