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?
17 Oct 2011
by Robert Weintraub
As the rabblerousers over at Occupy Herbstreit might point out, the canyon between college football’s top one percent and the great unwashed continues to widen, as LSU and Alabama didn’t let their outmatched opposition breathe on Saturday. Tennessee and Ole Miss fell by a combined 90-14. The fifth of November, when the Tigers and Tide get it on in Tuscaloosa, can’t get here quickly enough.
The Oklahoma unbeatens had to struggle a bit. OU beat Kansas 47-17, but given the struggle the nation’s worst defense gave Landry Jones and company, a 30-point margin qualifies as a moral defeat. It was actually a fairly even first half, with Bob Stoops’ gang needing a late field goal to lead 27-17. Oklahoma State probably figured Texas was good for a sizable beating as well, given how the Sooners rampaged a week ago, but the Horns’ corners held up well, and their run game was surprisingly effective, racking up 231 yards. That was enough to keep Texas in the game until the end, before they fell 38-26. The Cowboys don’t have the deep strike capability that their in-state rivals do, and though Brandon Weeden is very accurate, a defense that can squeeze the field without giving up a big run at the same time (as Texas did when Jeremy Smith went 74 yards for a pivotal score) could be enough to oust them.
As for the other blemish-free teams, Boise, Wisconsin, and Stanford are all in the same boat: apparently outstanding squads that require better competition to truly get a gauge on just how good they are. Houston is Houston -- good and exciting in the context of Conference USA, but that’s about it. That leaves Kansas State and Clemson. Bill Snyder continues to be the most unappreciated coach in the nation -- it may amuse fans of the Keep Chopping Wood Award to read that Snyder’s favorite aphorism is “Keep Sawing Wood.” It seems the saw is mightier than the axe, for the Wildcats are buying in and keep winning games. Saturday they got a kickoff return for a touchdown, intercepted Texas Tech QB Seth Doege three times (he’d only been picked once coming into the game), and withstood a scare at the end of the game. Tech recovered an onside kick with a little over two minutes to play while K-State was holding a seven-point lead. It seemed the perfect opportunity to crumble, but the ‘Cats four-and-outed Tech to win the game. It was reminiscent of the stand against Robert Griffin and Baylor a couple of weeks back. No one thinks K-State is on the level of the teams above them, but they play smart, situational football, especially after halftime. Here is what the Red Raiders' possessions in the second half looked like:
That’s after the Red Raiders put up 366 yards in the first half, to go with 28 points (and had a pair of field goals blocked). A strip sack by Meshak Williams early in the third quarter seemed to rattle Doege, and it was a different game after that.
Clemson faced a strikingly similar hurdle in keeping their round number in the right-hand column. Maryland changed quarterbacks from 2010 ACC Rookie of the Year Danny O’Brien, a pro-style tosser, to spread maestro C.J. Brown, who is a mid-Atlantic version of Taylor Martinez -- raw in the passing game but with speed that sizzles. Brown is a more effective fit in Gary Crowton’s zone read-heavy spread, and he showed it against Clemson, running them dizzy for the better part of three quarters.
Like K-State, Clemson gave up 28 first quarter points, and then came back to win, in this case 56-45. One difference -- it wasn’t anything the Tigers defense did, but the enduring greatness of Sammy Watkins. Orange-hued fans everywhere are asking themselves, "C.J. Spiller--who was he again?"
Watkins busted Spiller’s total offense record with 345 yards and dropped three touchdowns on the Terps. The third was the biggest: an 89-yard kickoff return just when Maryland had regained control and the lead. Kicking to Watkins, who had a 70-yarder earlier in the game, will be an error that keeps coach Randy Edsall up into the wee hours this week. Clemson’s defense was atrocious, but I was less down on the Tigers than impressed with Maryland, who with Brown under center (or, more accurately, in the shotgun) will be a very tough out from here on out.
Just like Clemson and Kansas State, so long as they stay in their tax bracket and stay away from LSU and Alabama.
3. Boise State
6. Oklahoma State
11. Kansas State
12. West Virginia
13. Virginia Tech
14. South Carolina
17. Texas A&M
19. Michigan State
21. Notre Dame
22. Arizona State
23. Georgia Tech
25. Penn State
1. Corey Lemonier, DE, Auburn His name makes him sound like he should be playing for LSU, and Saturday, he played like he belonged there as well. Lemonier was all over Florida and its admittedly hindered offense: he finished with two sacks, three tackles for loss, and four hurries.
2. Raphael Guidry, DT, Kansas State. Guidry lost a close friend during the week, dedicated the game to him, then blocked two field goals against Texas Tech. It was a feat that Raiders coach Tommy Tuberville credited with turning the tide of the game. Guidry's blocks were emblematic of K-State’s season thus far -- a different, often unlikely, hero every week.
3. D.J. Swearinger, S, South Carolina. The Gamecocks win it entirely on defense these days, and it was Swearinger who sealed the game with a late interception. Oh, and he also chipped in a bit before that with his twelve tackles.
4. John Simon and Storm Klein, DT/LB, Ohio State. Simon had a pair of sacks, and Klein a forced fumble and a fumble recovery, as the Buckeyes squashed Illinois 17-7. Storm Klein! The Jewish meteorologist I always knew was out there.
5. Dion Bailey, LB, USC. Two picks and eight tackles as the Trojans made easy work of Cal up north, 30-9.
7 comments, Last at 18 Oct 2011, 12:08pm by Adam H