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.
21 Nov 2011
by Robert Weintraub
So, anyone up for an LSU intrasquad scrimmage in the BCS title game?
This was to be a week that was the calm before the storm. Instead, a tempest blew in and demolished the championship hopes of the "O" teams: Oregon, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State. It also likely crippled the chances of avoiding a LSU-Alabama rematch on January 4, which would guarantee the SEC a sixth-straight title.
I was sucked in to thinking USC would have no chance at Autzen Stadium without gifted sophomore wideout Robert Woods, who was supposed to miss the game with injury. Instead, there he was, catching a pair of touchdowns from Matt Barkley and drawing coverage away from the equally gifted Marquis Lee, who went bananas with eight catches for 187 yards and a score.
Barkley was the key as the Trojans built a 38-14 lead: I continue to think that he is every bit as good as Andrew Luck, despite the lack of seasoning. He was excellent on throws to all levels, especially in play action, and he was great at looking off defenders and making quick decisions. Oregon got its offense untracked and made a huge second-half run, cutting the lead to three, 38-35. Barkley then led a very impressive drive that was poised to ice the game when a handoff went awry, and the fumble gave the Ducks a chance at a miraculous win. But the magnificently named Alejandro Maldonado shanked a 37-yard field goal, and Oregon’s shot at consecutive title game appearances ended in the exact manner that Boise State's did.
There’s not much shame in losing to USC. Losing to Iowa State the week before Bedlam is less explainable -- though the plane crash that tragically claimed the lives of the OSU women’s basketball coach and his assistant couldn’t have helped. Oklahoma State fell in Ames on Friday night in a stunner, 37-31 in double overtime. ISU held OK State 20 points under its average offensive output. The key matchup was cornerback Leonard Johnson covering Cowboys standout Justin Blackmon, and while Blackmon’s stats (10 receptions, 99 yards, and a score) look just fine, Johnson did an excellent job frustrating the passing attack. If Blackmon is the Belitnikoff Award frontrunner, then Johnson should be right there for the Thorpe Award.
Oklahoma State was fortunate to get back in the game after falling behind 24-7, and then were unlucky to go to overtime, as (what else?) a missed 37-yard field goal with just over a minute left gave the Cyclones overtime. Where are all the good kickers being recruited to? Iowa State scored on its first play of the extra session on a beautifully-executed wheel route, then intercepted Brandon Weeden on the first play of the second frame to set up the winning score. ISU head coach Paul "The American Dream" Rhoads was pumped after the game, and he has the Cyclones’ arrow pointed up. Rhoads was the defensive coordinator at Pitt when the Panthers pulled off a similar late-season upset of a BCS contender, besting West Virginia in 2007. Coincidence? I think not.
The great Joe Tessitore did the Friday night game for ESPN in Ames, then booked it south to Waco to do the Oklahoma-Baylor game 24 hours later. Sooner State fans have someone convenient to blame for ruining what promised to be a monster Bedlam game on December 3. OU was done in by the September Heisman Trophy winner, the "Waco Wonder" himself, Robert Griffin III. The consensus preseason No. 1 was done in by the arm and legs of the amazing Baylor quarterback, who broke school records for passing (479) and total yards (551).
The signature play was probably the 87-yard touchdown to Kendall Wright that deflected about 20 yards in the air off a teammate’s helmet directly to Wright. It was reminiscent of an NFL play: the 1985 carom that went straight to Mark Clayton, keying the Dolphins upset of the great Bears team that season. Wright's catch tied the game at 24, after it appeared Oklahoma had seized control behind the short yardage unstoppability of Blake Bell, otherwise known as "The Belldozer." The Sooner redshirt freshman is like Tim Tebow 2.0 -- he scored four times, none from more than six yards out, on five carries. One more Broncos victory and Bell may become a first round draft choice...
Baylor scored twice after the Karma Carom, but Oklahoma rallied to make it 38-37 on Blake’s fourth touchdown with under a minute left. Bob Stoops (wisely in my opinion) lined up to go for two and the win, and surely The Belldozer would have gotten OU to 9-1. But a false start penalty on left guard Adam Shead took the tread off, and OU was forced to kick to tie.
Enter Griffin. And Stoops. Baylor looked ready to play for overtime, handing off on first down. But Stoops strangely called timeout, allowing Baylor coach Art Briles to reassess. From there, Griffin ran for 22 yards, then eight, then hit Wright for 12. With the clock rolling off the final seconds, Griffin rolled left, then uncorked a missile across the field to the right corner of the end zone, where Terrance Williams hauled it in for the game-winning touchdown. It was a throw to make NFL scouts drown in their own drool -- Griffin threw it under duress, about 50 yards in the air, right on a dime. The Bears won for the first time in 21 games against Oklahoma.
Arkansas’ easy win over Mississippi State jumps the Hogs up to No. 3 in the rankings behind their SEC West brethren, an unprecedented development. Of course, last year’s champ was yet another SEC West team. In other words, it sucks to be Ole Miss, even more than usual. We’ll get into the Arkansas-LSU game more in Seventh Day Adventure, but even a loss by LSU wouldn’t knock the Tigers from the title game, most likely. The same applies for a loss in the SEC title game to Georgia. Fans not wanting a rerun of the slobberknocker in Tuscaloosa from a couple weeks back should instead pull very hard for an upset in the Iron Bowl: If Auburn can best Bama, we just might see Tyrann Mathieu covering Reuben Randle and Jordan Jefferson trying to elude Barkevious Mingo in a LSU-LSU matchup for all the Tostitos.
6. Boise State
7. Virginia Tech
8. Oklahoma State
11. Michigan State
14. South Carolina
15. Kansas State
19. Penn State
21. Notre Dame
25. Georgia Tech
1. Ron Brooks, CB, LSU. It wasn’t much of a contest, but Brooks ensured the Tigers wouldn’t fall victim to the upset bug sweeping the country by staking out a pick-six on the first Ole Miss possession, then strip-sacking Zack Stoudt later in the first quarter before shutting it down.
2. Jarvis Jones, LB, Georgia. In addition to the big play mentioned above, Jones added another 1.5 sacks, and now leads the SEC with 12.5 of them on the season.
3. Danny Trevathan, LB, Kentucky. We’ve sung Danny’s praises before, but he was truly heroic against UGA: he notched 17 tackles, including three tackles for loss, and also forced two fumbles.
4. Anthony Fera, P/K, Penn State. The Nittany Lions defense was stout in the 20-14 win over Ohio State, but Fera is the one who bottled OSU up, pinning the Bucks deep on several occasions. He also drilled 43 and 46-yard field goals for the decisive points.
5. Brandon Jones, CB, Rutgers. Jones had a strip-sack, recovered a fumble, and intercepted a ball in the end zone as the Knights took down Cincinnati 20-3.
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