Our offseason Four Downs series ends with a look at the NFC West's biggest remaining holes and their most notable UDFA signings. The Rams and 49ers have to kick-start their passing games, Arizona's offense lacks a big dimension, and the Seahawks continue to rely on Russell Wilson's magic tricks.
03 Oct 2011
by Robert Weintraub
It was Damp Squib Saturday, as the big showdowns in Gainesville and Madison followed a similar script. The underdogs came out punching, took an early lead, but then were relentlessly ground into a fine powder by the Alabama and Wisconsin offenses. The main takeaway from Alabama and Wisconsin's respective victories was that a Tide-Badgers matchup in the BCS title game (or anywhere else) would be a mouthwatering collision between two teams that border on NFL-level physicality. Nick Saban is still the master, Will Muschamp the Padawan. It means apprentice, Coach, as if you didn’t know, you Dungeons & Dragons-playing liar, you.
We did learn something from a third cross-conference meetup -- that Clemson is for real. Virginia Tech is limited offensively, but that didn’t take away from the impression that Clemson was faster and stronger than the Hokies. Winning in Blacksburg is always an achievement, and the Paw Paw Patrol made it look easy. Clemson moved it against VaTech’s highly-ranked defense, while the defensive coaches in Orange moved impact pass rusher Andre Branch around, and he was unstoppable against any protection scheme.
Clemson’s late October visit to Atlanta now becomes a potential conference title game preview. Georgia Tech is 5-0 after roaring to a 45-35 win over N.C. State, who don’t miss Russell Wilson in the slightest. Tech’s blocking in the triple-option is a work of art thus far this season. Embry Peeples came out of his A-back position to make a textbook cut down of the free safety and spring Orwin Smith on the first of his three rushing touchdowns, a counter play run to perfection. With VaTech unable to score enough, and Florida State unraveling (star corner Greg Reid was arrested early in the week, then asked whether the arresting officer had family, and vowed "payback"), the Tigers and Jackets seem to be the class of the conference.
The Saturday was rescued by the great state of Texas, and some wild games involving teams that play therein. Baylor’s Robert Griffin lived up to his Waco Wonder moniker for 55 minutes against Kansas State, tossing five touchdown passes and racking up 346 yards, 201 of which went to the incomparable Kendall Wright The last Wright catch was an unsane diving grab to give the Bears a nine-point lead.
But then Griffin remembered that Baylor -3.5 was my lock this week, and stopped mainlining awesome juice. His fumble early in the fourth quarter took Baylor out of field goal range, allowing K-State to stay within nine. They went down and scored, making it 35-33. Then Griffin made, literally, his first bad pass of the season, hitting linebacker Arthur Brown right in the numbers. It was his first pick on the season (against 18 touchdowns), and set up the winning field goal. Griffin had a last shot, but went four-and-out for a crushing loss.
Meanwhile, Texas A&M blew another big lead, frittering an 18-point bulge to choke away another one, this time to Arkansas in the Southwest Classic, 42-38. Say it with me -- "SEC! SEC!" In the last two first halves, the Aggies have a 55-20 edge. In the last two third quarters, however, it’s 31-0 against.
TCU came back from a huge deficit against resurgent SMU. A 23-6 fourth quarter got the Frogs into overtime, but the ‘Stangs got the extra time score, and won 40-33. Farewell, TCU’s 22-game home winning streak, as SMU brings that Iron Skillet home. Texas Tech was down 20-0 against Kansas, but that lead was wiped out by the middle of the second quarter. Guns were indeed up as the Red Raiders won it 45-34.
Two offenses need serious work. South Carolina, despite the presence of Marcus Lattimore, Alshon Jeffery, and various lesser playmakers, was stymied by a horrendous Auburn defense, and lost at home 16-13. Give credit to Tigers quarterback Barrett Trotter, who hung in despite getting blasted by Gamecock superhero Melvin Ingram to throw the game-winning pass. It’s inexcusable that a team so loaded is this futile.
Futility would be a step up for Ohio State. The Bucks lost at home to Michigan State, 10-7. The garbage touchdown came in the final seconds. OSU is running some semblance of the Kramer offense, from the Seinfeld episode where the K-Man goes into a corporate office every day for the hell of it. His boss calls him in and redresses him. "It’s almost as if you have no business training whatsoever. I have no idea what this is supposed to be." That’s the Buckeye offense. You can’t even tell what many plays are designed to accomplish. And the execution? I’m in favor of it, as John McKay would say.
Ohio State hosts Wisconsin October 29. It could get ugly.
3. Boise State
6. Oklahoma State
11. Georgia Tech
15. West Virginia
17. South Carolina
18. Kansas State
19. Virginia Tech
22. Arizona State
24. Florida State
25. Texas A&M
South Florida, Nebraska, and TCU drop out. Alabama's big road win jumps them over Boise, giving the SEC the top two spots.
1. Melvin Ingram, DE, South Carolina I’d play him at quarterback myself. But the Gamecocks can’t complain about his defense -- ten tackles, six of them for a loss, 3.5 sacks, yet another touchdown on a fumble recovery, and an interception on a fake field goal. When he went down for a moment in the third quarter, the whole state sucked in its breath in terror, drawing Georgia all the way up to Spartanburg. Melvin Ingram is having a more impactful season than Mark Ingram did in winning the 2009 Heisman Trophy: Discuss.
2. Tyrann Mathieu, CB, LSU. I said last week this could become a weekly entry. Sure enough, Seven went out and forced a pair of fumbles (setting a school record for strips) and returned one for a score in LSU’s rout of Kentucky. Across the field, Danny Trevethan, the unheralded star linebacker playing for a poor Wildcats team, could only watch and weep.
3. Courtney Upshaw, LB, Alabama. More SEC wonderfulness. Upshaw single-handedly ended any hope Florida had of an upset, taking the pick-six to the house that put 'Bama up for good. He later sacked John Brantley viciously enough to knock him out of the game, ending the competitive portion of the contest.
4. Arthur Brown, LB, Kansas State. When you stop Robert Griffin, you’ve earned a spot on the Lowsman List.
5. Andre Branch, DE, Clemson. 5. Three sacks, 11 tackles, and utter demolishment of Virginia Tech’s offensive line.
Honorable mentions for center Peter Konz of Wisconsin and left tackle Phillip Price of Clemson. Both led excellent offensive line play for their respective teams.
9 comments, Last at 04 Oct 2011, 4:11pm by Adam H