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» OFI: SEC Surprises

In an opening week where even the elite teams in college football looked mortal, the SEC had two big surprises in Texas A&M and Georgia defeating their South Carolinian opponents by big scores.

08 Nov 2010

One Foot Inbounds: How It Ended

by Robert Weintraub

You know those "It Was Over When ..." portions of football coverage on various websites? "It was over when John Q. Letterman intercepted a pass in the end zone with no time left" -- like that? That's about how I felt when TCU and Utah took the field.

This supposedly epic showdown of BCS Top 5 non-Automatic Qualifiers was finished as soon as the equipment flunkies laid out the respective uniforms. The Frogs were dressed in classic all white, with a delightful hint of purple. The Utes took the field in specially designed garb courtesy of Under Armour, the apparel company that makes Nike execs wake up in a cold sweat at night. Now, the Swoosh has dressed schools like Oregon in some hideous unis through the years, but these Under Armour babies made them look like haute couture: horrific ultra-sheen black with a silver star pastiche on the shoulders and running down the side. Oof.

Under Armour is auctioning off the game-worn jerseys to benefit the Wounded Warrior program, a good cause. Each jersey had words like "Service," "Honor," and "Commitment" on the back. But with apologies to our brave fighting boys, these should be buried in a pit and never shown the light of day again. (In fairness, Texas Tech did knock off Mizzou in the same horrid uniforms.)

Also buried were Utah's hopes for a dark-horse BCS bid. TCU outclassed the Utes sartorially and in all manners pigskin, winning 47-7. Andy Dalton, TCU's underrated quarterback, made all manner of NFL-quality throws as the Frogs raced out to a 20-0 lead in the first quarter. The onslaught silenced the Rice-Eccles Stadium crowd, who chose a poor time to go with the "Blackout" (and really -- a blackout in Utah?). Wide receiver Jeremy Kerley threw a touchdown pass from the WildFrog set -- he is now 5-of-7 for 132 yards and two touchdowns as a passer. Not a bad alternative to Dalton.

It was TCU's first win at Utah ever, and the Utes' first home loss since September 2007. Call it the GameDay jinx. As Brian Fremeau put it, the 2012 Big East champ whaled on the 2011 Pac-12 South champ. In so doing, TCU staked a claim to a spot in the BCS Championship Game, at least in my poll (see below).

Out of the title game is Alabama, which will not repeat as champs. In September, most pundits had the Tide competing for the SEC title, but I felt all along that their defense was depleted, especially in the secondary. When Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee combine to go 14-of-20 for 208 yards, a touchdown, and no picks, something is rotten in the state of Alabama -- at least in the defensive backfield.

Reuben Randle caught the two biggest passes of the game. The first was a 75-yard touchdown from Jefferson when it seemed that LSU might not score more than three in the game, and the second was a 41-yarder from Lee on third-and-13 that salted it away for the Bayou Bengals. But the defining moment of the game wasn't either pass, nor was it the fourth-down reverse that set up the go-ahead score midway through the fourth quarter. It was when much-maligned LSU coach Les Miles picked a piece of grass off his shoe and put it in his mouth, a grotesque moment captured nicely by a CBS cameraman. Miles wants to feel part of the field, apparently.

Some talisman was sure working in voodoo country. The Lester put the bye week to good use, outcoaching the man who he is inevitably compared to, Nick Saban. He also brought in Louisiana natives Peyton and Eli Manning to work with his quarterbacks -- something got into Jefferson and Lee.

It also helped considerably that the Tigers sported their classic purple and gold uniforms.

Toedrags

  • The Force was back with Michigan Saturday. Tate Forcier, who pulled out some magic wins a year ago but was dropped to third string earlier this year, came in against Illinois when Denard Robinson was nicked for the fourth time this season (the downside of the spread attack). In a nod to Rex Grossman, Forcier fumbled on his first play, but recovered with some vintage Tate-ness, eluding the rush and zipping a late touchdown pass to force overtime. Eventually, Michigan won a wild 67-65 triple-overtime affair (Robinson looked OK in the post-game celeberation, just in case anyone starts calling for Forcier).
  • No thanks to Wolverines defensive coordinator Greg Robinson, however. The Illini scored a touchdown in the second overtime on a nicely designed play. Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase lined up in shotgun with a back to either side and two receivers left. Both wideouts ran a post, and Scheelhaase faked to the back on his right before sprinting right himself. Meanwhile, the back on his left, Mikel Leshoure, ran a wheel route and was alone for the score. That wouldn't be so bad if Illinois hadn't run the exact same play for a touchdown in the fourth quarter!
  • Daniel Kuehl gets the Lil' Wayne Lollipop Award for the week. The punter is the holder on the kicking team, and when Iowa State faked the extra point to go for the win in overtime against Nebraska, it worked to a T. Kuehl had his receiver open in the end zone for the win. But he lollipopped the throw, and it was intercepted, sealing a 31-30 Huskers win.
  • It was a wacky day all around in the Big 12. Mizzou went down, Baylor fell back to earth with a thud at the hands of Justin Blackmon and Oklahoma State, and Oklahoma was upset in College Station. The Sooners were down early, then scored 17 points in 18 plays to get back into the game in Zenyatta-like fashion. But like the great filly, they fell short. A screwed-up fake kick ruined their night too, as tight end James Hanna dropped an easy touchdown with the score at 19-17 Aggies. Momentum was lost, and the home team won.
  • All those paled in contrast to Kansas' epic comeback. Colorado scored on the first play of the fourth quarter to go up 45-17. Game over, right? Not so fast, my bison friend! Jacob Sims ran for a score. Kansas recovered an onside kick and scored again. 45-31. Kansas then ran in a fumble for a score and were down just seven with half the quarter left, but there was plenty more Buff Meltdown left. An interception set up another Sims touchdown run to tie the game. Colorado then went three-and-out, and KU got yet another Sims touchdown run, his third of the quarter, and the Jawhawks fifth of the period. Just to further utz the Buffs, they drove to the Kansas 7-yard line in the waning seconds, but were re-Buffed. A nice going away present for soon-to-be-unemployed Colorado coach Dan Hawkins.
  • It was Keno Saturday around the nation, with teams posting cray numbers. For perspective, Colorado and Kansas combined for 97 points, which made it only the fifth-highest scoring game of the day. Four others crossed the 100-point mark. Nevada rolled up an incredible 844 yards of offense in a 63-17 whipping of Idaho. Navy ran the ball 62 times for 521 yards (8.4 yards per carry) and scored on 12 of 13 possessions in a 76-35 humbling of East Carolina. That's not only the most points given up by the Pirates since 1932, it's the average number of ribs coach Ruffin McNeill puts away at a BBQ joint near campus (bang! Cheap fat joke). Navy is off to the Poinsettia Bowl.
  • Alabama-LSU was great, but the rest of the SEC took the weekend off. Here are some of the opponents the SEC powers scheduled for the first Saturday in November: Idaho State, Charleston Southern, Tennessee-Chattanooga, Louisiana-Lafayette, Memphis, and Vanderbilt.
  • As for the allegations surrounding Cam Newton -- he's a bargain at any price.
  • Congrats to New Mexico, which beat Wyoming for its first win of the season. And to JoePa for his 400th win, with Penn State erasing a 21-0 deficit against Northwestern to do so.
  • And a massive plotz turned in by my Syracuse Orange. A little success went right to the heads of l'orange, who fell at home to Louisville 28-20. That would be a Cardinals team playing without its starting quarterback and leading rusher. The letters that spring to mind are P and U.

The OFI Top 25

1. Oregon
2. TCU
3. Auburn
4. Boise State
5. Wisconsin
6. Ohio State
7. Stanford
8. Nebraska
9. LSU
10. Arkansas
11. Michigan State
12. Alabama
13. Utah
14. Virginia Tech
15. Iowa
16. Oklahoma State
17. Mississippi State
18. Oklahoma
19. Central Florida
20. Missouri
21. Nevada
22. Temple
23. Arizona
24. Miami
25. Penn State

Why drop Boise now, when all they do is pummel the poor saps put in front of them? Because the only thing separating the four unbeatens is the fact that Oregon and TCU have signal road victories (over USC and Utah, respectively), while Boise has just the neutral field win over Virginia Tech (granted, attendance was 70-30 Hokie fans). Auburn has only played three road games (Ole Miss, Miss State, and Kentucky), but the win on a Thursday night in Starkville looks better and better as the season progresses.

Lowsman Watch

1. Drake Nevis, defensive tackle, LSU. Seven tackles and a huge sack-and-strip that provided the winning points in the Tigers upset win. Nevis collapsed the interior of Alabama's line all afternoon.

2. Michael Hodges, linebacker, Texas A&M. Hodges had 19 tackles, a pair of sacks, and was in on several goal-line stops as the Aggies stuffed Oklahoma on three different occasions.

3. Damaris Johnson, kick returner, Tulsa. Johnson had a huge all-around game (322 yards, three scores), but his 94-yard kickoff return score matters most here. Johnson broke the Conference USA record with the return and needs 64 more to take the NCAA all-time lead in kick return yards.

4. Alex Wujciak, linebacker, Maryland. Wujciak had two picks and a touchdown, in the Terps' near upset of Miami. The blocking on the pick-6 was insanely good -- not only did it create a convoy for Wujciak, it knocked a couple of Hurricanes out of the game.

5. Torin Harris, cornerback, USC. The redshirt freshman picked up a blocked extra point midway through the fourth quarter and took it the other way for the rare defensive two-point conversion. The play set up USC's late win over Arizona State.

Posted by: Robert Weintraub on 08 Nov 2010

19 comments, Last at 10 Nov 2010, 4:52pm by Kevin from Philly

Comments

1
by dryheat :: Mon, 11/08/2010 - 9:48am

Because the only thing separating the four unbeatens is the fact that Oregon and TCU have signal road victories (over USC and Utah, respectively), while Boise has just the neutral field win over Virginia Tech (granted, attendance was 70-30 Hokie fans).

Just a nitpick, since it doesn't change the analysis, but attendance at that game was closer to 99.75-.25 Hokie Fans. There was nowhere close to one-per-hundred Bronco fans there, let alone 30-per-hundred.

3
by dbostedo :: Mon, 11/08/2010 - 9:59am

Having been at the game I'd put it closer to the 70-30, and I was surprised at how well BSU traveled. About a third of the lower deck (all along one sideline) was almost nothing but Boise State fans.

5
by dryheat :: Mon, 11/08/2010 - 11:24am

Maybe I was hallucinating, although I don't recall taking any drugs beforehand. At the pregame tailgate, walking around the stadium during the game, watching from my seats, leaving the game, and at the postgame tailgates, I saw fewer than 50 BSU fans (or at least people easily identified as BSU fans from their dress)...and I'm assuming I saw a few of them multiple times. This wave of blue in the lower deck is news to me.

6
by Travis :: Mon, 11/08/2010 - 11:53am

I was there too, and it seemed somewhere from 85-15 to 90-10 Virginia Tech to me.

Pictures:

Fans waiting to get in, as seen from one of the ramps.

The wave of blue in the lower deck.

The rest of the crowd, shortly before kickoff.

Additionally:

Virginia Tech had a band and cheerleaders; Boise did not.

Virginia Tech controlled the scoreboard and the announcements (introducing the team, playing "Enter Sandman" before kickoff, encouraging the crowd to do the Hokey Pokey after the 3rd quarter, etc.).

7
by dryheat :: Mon, 11/08/2010 - 12:04pm

Huh...thanks for the photographic evidence. I stand corrected on the numbers, but there's no way I'll be convinced that that wasn't a de facto home game for VT. They likely had more fans at FedEx Field than they do at a game in Lane Stadium.

9
by dbostedo :: Mon, 11/08/2010 - 12:07pm

Yeah...70/30 probably isn't quite right, but it's not like the stadium was quiet when Boise State scored. And I was very surprised at the announcer and score board and video replay being controlled completely by VT. I assumed it would seem like a VT home game, but thought they'd try to appear to be more of a neutral site than they were.

10
by Travis :: Mon, 11/08/2010 - 12:15pm

It wasn't quiet when Boise State scored, but the cheering was clearly coming from only one part of the stadium, as opposed to when Virginia Tech scored, when you could hear cheering everywhere.

The only nod to neutrality that I noticed were the differently painted end zones.

8
by dbostedo :: Mon, 11/08/2010 - 12:05pm

EDIT : Post above is much better than mine.

16
by LoqueBSU (not verified) :: Mon, 11/08/2010 - 4:06pm

It may have been 70-30, but there was no semblance of neutrality at FedEx field. The played Enter the Sandman and denied Boise's traditional entrance. The video board operators had VT clips throughout the game. The PA announcer was involved in stoking the VT crowd. If you want, I still have the game in my DVR. Perhaps you can watch and change your mind that a win in Utah was a greater win than across the country.

2
by Derek (Brooklyn) (not verified) :: Mon, 11/08/2010 - 9:51am

I know I shouldn't do this but I found this part of your rankings surprising.

14. Virginia Tech (7-2)
Losses:
Lost to your #4 (Boise State) by 3 points in what was basically a home game.
Lost to FCS team James Madison by 5 points at home.
Best wins:
Beat unranked (in your poll) NC State by 11 points on the road.
Beat unranked (in your poll) Georgia Tech by 7 points at home.

15. Iowa (7-2)
Losses:
Lost to your #5 (Wisconsin) by 1 point at home.
Lost to your #23 (Arizona) by 7 on the road.
Best wins:
Beat your #11 Michigan State by 31 points at home.
Beat your #25 Penn State by 21 points at home.

17
by Matty D (not verified) :: Mon, 11/08/2010 - 4:46pm

Sorry, it is part of life for Iowa. They are going to lose the name-brand battle to a lot of schools in the rankings.

4
by navin :: Mon, 11/08/2010 - 10:22am

Agreed on the rankings. I can get the conventional wisdom by looking at the AP poll. I visit FO for insightful thinking--like ranking a 3 loss team ahead of a 1 loss team.

I'm disappointed to see Ohio State above Stanford as well. And really, no ACC and Big East teams should be ranked until they do anything out of conference. Virginia Tech has basically gotten fat on ACC opponents. I'd rather see Florida in, with losses to your #9, #12, and #17 teams.

11
by ugarte (not verified) :: Mon, 11/08/2010 - 12:34pm

"Here are some of the opponents the SEC powers scheduled for the first Saturday in November: ... Vanderbilt."

Nice.

12
by Nate :: Mon, 11/08/2010 - 12:53pm

What made the wide-openness even more crazy is that Illinois had just run that exact play in the prior week, leading to another wide-open TD. Gregg Robinson is terrible.

13
by Jeff Fogle :: Mon, 11/08/2010 - 1:29pm

This is what you remember about your Alabama thoughts in September?

"In September, most pundits had the Tide competing for the SEC title, but I felt all along that their defense was depleted, especially in the secondary."

Luckily, this site has easy to access archives. Here's the sequence of your coverage of Alabama in September:

*September 6th, you had them #2 in your poll, without any comments that they didn't belong there because of a depleted defense or secondary.

*September 13th, you moved them up to #1 in the poll, and said:

"As for Alabama, the Tide's third string is probably a top five team right now. I thought they might come back to the pack slightly, after such a heavy loss of stud defenders, but they look far better than anyone else after two weeks, admittedly a small sample size. If they don't go wire-to-wire, it would be a surprise."

Yes, you referenced that you thought AT ONE TIME that they would come back to the pack. But, then you lifted them up to #1 in the country and said their third string was a top five team. Doesn't this cancel out the prior thoughts about their defense?

*September 20th, they were still #1 in the poll, and you weren't talking about how their depleted defense was going to cost them the national title.

"Mark Ingram returned from knee surgery and two missed games to breeze through Duke's overmatched defense for 119 yards and two touchdowns ... in the first quarter. Somewhere, Gale Sayers weeps. The poor Blue Devils couldn't even knock the Tide runners out of bounds given 15-yard heads of steam -- the 62-13 massacre was the definition of men against boys."

*September 27th: They're still #1 in your poll, and you're talking about the tide defense harrassed the Arkansas QB.

"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."

That ends September, where YOU were one of the pundits who had them in the frontrunner spot for the NATIONAL title, let alone the SEC title. Moving into October...

*October 4th: still 1st in your poll

"Even if LSU had Bert Jones back under center, they would be underdogs in the SEC West to the dominant Alabama Crimson Tide, who toyed with Florida, winning 31-6. Most ominous for the rest of the country was the fact that the Gators actually had a good plan to move the ball through the air (and plays are there to be made against the Tide secondary). After a strong opening drive, Florida went for it on fourth-and-goal at the 1. Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart could be seen yelling to watch out for the jump pass, even though Tim Tebow is no longer in orange and blue. Sure enough, Trey Burton tried the old Staubach play, but Nico Johnson was there to intercept for Alabama. It was a huge momentum shift -- imagine if Burton hadn't come up inches short of the end zone on second down.

After that, the Tide's ground game chewed up Florida's five-man "heavy" front like a pack of hyenas, gashing the Gators for 170 rushing yards, while Alabama's linebackers controlled the action. Courtney Upshaw might be the least talented of Alabama's linebackers, but he was everywhere from the "Jack" position, with four tackles for loss, a fumble recovery, two pass breakups, and several big sticks. Not bad for a guy who was behind Ed Stinson on the depth chart a couple of weeks ago.

Alabama is clearly better than the rest of the nation at the moment, even if they should get tripped up along the way. The win was Nick Saban's 19th in a row, and his 29th-straight regular season victory. If they were to lose before the BCS game, one possibility is against Auburn in the Iron Bowl."

ALABAMA IS CLEARLY BETTER THAN THE REST OF THE NATION AT THE MOMENT. Why weren't you pointing out how their depleted defense was going to cost them this season.

The next week, Alabama played South Carolina. You picked Alabama to cover the spread over in SDA, making it your top play of the week.

And, THAT'S what you were thinking "all along" about Alabama. This is the kind of thing FO usually makes fun of with mainstream media. IT'S INEXPLICABLE that you would type that sentence given everything you wrote about Alabama before they lost a game...

14
by tadpole (not verified) :: Mon, 11/08/2010 - 2:25pm

Surely you're not expecting consistency out of this column! The whole premise is that it's a parody of lazy mainstream sportswriting, written by someone who doesn't bother to watch the games.

19
by Kevin from Philly :: Wed, 11/10/2010 - 4:52pm

I do expect consistancy. And don't call me Shirley.

18
by glabrous3 :: Tue, 11/09/2010 - 12:43pm

Wonderful response. Robert Weintraub should address your post to explain his apparent selective memory.

15
by Portmanteur :: Mon, 11/08/2010 - 2:30pm

Methinks "the Hat" could do with a little less mercury.