Possibly the closest Super Bowl matchup in history also poses the question: how much does it mean when certain aspects of an NFL team improve dramatically in the second half of the season?
27 Sep 2010
by Robert Weintraub
Is it possible to win 45-0 and look bad? Only in context. Iowa needed to rebound from a tough loss in the desert a week ago, and did so by spanking Ball State. But next to the smack downs put on by Big Ten rivals Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Michigan, the Hawkeyes' win looks kind of slack.
On a day featuring some eye-popping individual performances, Terrelle Pryor stood out. He threw four touchdown passes (all to Dane Sanzenbacher, which might lead to an angry receivers meeting during the week -- spread it around, TP!), ran for a fifth, and caught yet another. Ohio State destroyed Central Michigan 73-20, scoring more points than it had in 60 years.
Wisconsin fell short of the Buckeyes' total by a field goal but played better defense, demolishing Austin Peay 70-3. Badgers fans concerned that running back John Clay will be sorely missed when he graduates after (seemingly) 11 seasons in Madison were assuaged by the performance of freshman back James White. White had 145 yards and four touchdowns on the ground. And Michigan trampled Bowling Green 65-21, although an injury scare to "Shoelace" Robinson had the Big House worried for a spell (he's fine). All these points -- 73, 70, 64, 45 -- is this the Big Ten? Thank goodness for JoePa. His Nittany Lions struggled to a 22-13 win over Temple.
I didn't get to see the Alabama-Arkansas thriller, as I was working on the telecast of the far less interesting Tennessee State-Florida A&M game (TSU won the game, but FAMU won the far more important and interesting Battle of the Bands). What I know is this -- Greg McElroy remains money. With a tough but understandable road defeat staring the Tide in the face, McElroy hit on six of nine throws in the fourth quarter to lead the comeback. Meanwhile, no one would ever place Nick Saban on the Bill Walsh coaching tree, but Saban followed Walsh's key to winning football on Saturday -- fourth quarter pass rush. The Tide harassed Ryan Mallet into 4-for-10 passing for just 44 yards and two big picks in the final 15 minutes -- the difference in the game.
Entertaining as that surely was, it would be hard to find a more show stopping team these days than the Tide's greatest rival. For the second straight week, Auburn fell behind against a team from South Carolina, then stormed back and sent the opposition back to the Palmetto State, weeping. Michael Dyer out-frosh sensationed Marcus Lattimore by 100 yards to 33, and Cam Newton continues to bring new meaning to the equation Force = Mass x Acceleration. The Battering Cam (gonna make it catch on) ran for three scores and tossed two more as Auburn handed South Carolina its first loss, 35-27. As with the Clemson-Auburn game last week, this was as good as college footy gets -- loud and proud stadium on the Plains, hard hits, big plays, and the sense that it would go down to the wire even when the Gamecocks led by two touchdowns. Fantastic stuff.
After N.C. State waxed Cincinnati on ESPN a couple of weeks back, the Bearcats were written off. Maybe it was just that the Wolfpack are that good. Russell Wilson had enough time in the pocket to write a semester's worth of essays and used it to pick Georgia Tech apart. N.C. State is undefeated and averaging nearly 38 points per game. Virginia Tech comes to Raleigh next week in what suddenly is a very interesting game.
Meanwhile, Cincinnati almost pulled the shocker against Oklahoma. It was a Dickensian game for wideout D.J. Woods. The best of times came in the fourth quarter when he hauled in a long touchdown pass to cut OU's lead to two points. The Bearcats defense forced a punt, cuing up Woods' worst of times -- a muff deep in his own territory that gifted the Sooners the put away score.
With Texas getting waxed by UCLA in Austin, the bloom is somewhat off the annual Red River Shootout. The Longhorns might want to forget about scheduling the Bruins. The infamous "Route 66" loss came 13 seasons ago to UCLA, and Saturday they were comprehensively outplayed once more. Texas coach Mack Brown wore the disconsolate look of a coach who knows he couldn't run the ball or stop the run. It beggars belief that a school with the pick of the five-star talent in a state like Texas can't find some running backs, but the spread worship appears to have taken some toll. And while the Longhorns took care of Texas Tech's "Guns Up" slogan, they were shot down by UCLA's Pistol, to the tune of 264 yards on the ground for the Bruins.
Also getting the job done on the ground was Houston's Bryce Beall. Beall is one of the nation's unheralded stars, mainly because of the Cougars penchant for throwing the ball. But with Case Keenum and his backup out for the season, the Cougars actually ran for more yards than they passed, 175-174, and Beall hit paydirt four times. Houston beat Tulane 42-23. A couple more games like that from Beall, and Houston might be ready for the Big Ten.
2. Ohio State
3. Boise State
18. South Carolina
21. N.C. State
24. Michigan State
25. Florida State
1. Patrick Peterson, cornerback, LSU. OK, I know I pump the Patrick Peterson bandwagon quite a bit, but when he returns a punt for a 60-yard score and strikes the Heisman pose, as he did against West Virginia, something is happening with the LSU star. Next week, double-P needs to strike the Lowsman pose after a sterling play ... just as soon as we decide what it is. Any suggestions?
2. Nate Irving, linebacker, NC State. He had 16 tackles and a ferocious attack on Georgia Tech quarterback Josh Nesbitt.
3. Sean Spence, linebacker, Miami. The U destroyed Pitt on Thursday night with a suffocating defensive effort, led by Sleepy, who had 2.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks.
4. Dakota Warren, kicker, UTEP. He hit field goals of 50 and 57 yards, then managed not to choke on the 18-yarder that gave the Miners a win at the gun against Memphis 16-13.
5. Robert Lester, safety, Alabama. Two picks of Ryan Mallett, including the crucial one late to set up the game-winning touchdown, in Alabama's first real test of 2010.
17 comments, Last at 29 Sep 2010, 1:30pm by Jeff Fogle