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17 Oct 2011

One Foot Inbounds: Lonely at the Top

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:

  • Punt
  • Field Goal
  • Fumble
  • Interception
  • Interception
  • Field Goal
  • Turnover on Downs.

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.


  • Three unbeatens went down Saturday, none of them shockers. Illinois and Georgia Tech were exposed by Ohio State and Virginia, respectively. Michigan fell 28-14 at East Lansing in a game that, judging by the uniforms the teams sported, was an homage to the 1925 battle between the Decatur Staleys and the Dayton Triangles. Denard Robinson’s backwards dance step is more dangerous than just about anyone’s forward-step, but he couldn’t get it done against the relentless Sparty pass rush. The big moment came in the fourth quarter, when Robinson was sacked on fourth down by Johnny Adams, who were two of Al Swearingen’s henchmen on Deadwood, I believe. The Wolverines’ unbeaten season died with its back to the door.
  • Just so you all know, I rooted for MSU thinking I had picked them in our weekly selections on Seventh Day Adventure, only realizing much later that I had picked Big Blue. That’s how addled I am. In that vein, I now heartily protest the lack of a flag on Spartan corner Isaiah Lewis, who clearly taunted Robinson during the pick-six return that ended the game.
  • The other Great Lakes State derby was more exciting. Eastern Michigan blew a two touchdown lead to Central Michigan, then went 64 yards in three plays to win it with 37 seconds left. Western Michigan spent all week preparing for Northern Michigan before realizing it didn’t exist. Unsurprisingly, the Broncos were crushed by Northern Illinois 51-22.
  • If you thought the Texas Rangers supplied an offensive onslaught Saturday, you should have checked out what was happening in College Station. Texas A&M demolished Baylor 55-28 in the Battle of the Brazos behind six, count ‘em, six touchdown passes by Ryan Tannehill. For once, Griffin was the second-best quarterback on the field. There were no fewer than five scoring passes of 43 or more yards in this one. I believe Nelson Cruz caught a couple, or was that Josh Hamilton?
  • The SEC East has been imploding nicely the last couple of weeks, especially if you root for the red and black. Georgia barely hung on to beat Vanderbilt 33-28. All the Dawgs needed to ice it was to punt the ball with about ten seconds to play, but Drew Butler’s kick was, incredibly, blocked. An unfriendly bounce (and, it should be noted, Walsh getting his body in the mix) kept the Commodores from the game-winning return. Georgia stopped two heaves to end it. Afterward, Vandy head coach James Franklin and UGA defensive coordinator Todd Grantham nearly came to blows in a much more serious confrontation than the Jim Schwartz-Jim Harbaugh nonsense. It was a very chippy game, and Bulldog defender Baccari Rambo got stomped on as time elapsed. You’d think a guy named Rambo wouldn’t need others to fight for him.
  • Meanwhile, Florida is terrible without John Brantley at quarterback, Tennessee without Tyler Bray is unwatchable, and then Marcus Lattimore limped to the clubhouse with one of those long casts on his knee. Late, depressing word out of Columbia is that the brilliant Lattimore is lost for the season. The Gamecocks managed to eke out an unsightly 14-12 win at Starkville, but the long-term prospects for the Dawgs bookending the season with appearances in the Georgia Dome are looking good.
  • No Syracuse game this weekend, so I’ll sub in the wife’s alma mater: Wake Forest. She traveled up to Winston-Salem for homecoming this weekend, only to find that some sub-genius scheduled Virginia Tech for the game. The Hokies whipped Forest, 38-17. It’s a great school -- can’t anyone there find Elon’s number?


1. LSU
2. Alabama
3. Boise State
4. Wisconsin
5. Oklahoma
6. Oklahoma State
7. Stanford
8. Oregon
9. Clemson
10. Arkansas
11. Kansas State
12. West Virginia
13. Virginia Tech
14. South Carolina
15. Washington
16. Houston
17. Texas A&M
18. Nebraska
19. Michigan State
20. Michigan
21. Notre Dame
22. Arizona State
23. Georgia Tech
24. Georgia
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.

Posted by: Robert Weintraub on 17 Oct 2011

7 comments, Last at 18 Oct 2011, 12:08pm by Adam H


by nuclearbdgr :: Mon, 10/17/2011 - 4:07pm

Northern Michigan is a D-I hockey school in the CCHA. D-II for other sports.

by justanothersteve :: Mon, 10/17/2011 - 7:58pm

Tom Izzo and Steve Mariucci thank you.

by Keith(1) (not verified) :: Mon, 10/17/2011 - 5:08pm

I do not watch much college football, so maybe I am just wrong -- in your opinion, is LSU actually that good? LSU seemed really flat 90% of the time. Their two-headed quarterback monstrosity was really not good enough to really warrant having different packages. Every time Lee was out there, expect mostly passes and the infrequent handoff; every time the other guy was, expect mostly designed quarterback runs and the the infrequent handoff.

That screen to #11 was really the only time I saw a "good" play from LSU.

The only other reason LSU really looked like they played well is because Simms was just awful. Tauren would have had a good game if there was any threat of a pass, which there never was; see the first sentence.

I was just not impressed, and sort of expect them to fall before the Alabama game unless they pick it up.

by Kal :: Mon, 10/17/2011 - 5:35pm

Their offense has never looked particularly impressive, and if you can simply play clean football and do well in special teams you can beat LSU.

But that's very hard. LSU thrives on getting turnovers, short field and getting enough points to beat you while stifling any offense. They're creative and gain a lot from hidden yards. LSU's method is basically to look fairly inept but at the end of a game make you wonder why you got beat so bad. They aren't pretty, but they're very, very effective.

If I were Alabama I'd worry about having basically a one-pronged attack.

by lionsbob :: Mon, 10/17/2011 - 6:33pm

The good news is that Alabama's defense is better than LSU's offense by a nice margin as well. LSU averaging 4 YPC right now...yeah have fun running against Alabama than.

Alabama's offense is the same it has been the past couple of seasons. That is good enough to beat LSU.

The special teams is the biggest concern. Brad Wing has perhaps been the most important player for LSU.

by usedbread(unregistered) (not verified) :: Mon, 10/17/2011 - 9:16pm

LSU's won two titles in the BCS era. The QBs of those title teams? Matt Mauck & Matt Flynn. The one year that LSU has had a prospect running things, no title.

Also, excellent WRs in Randle and Beckham, Petersen the TE is good, and Ware & Blue will be also be playing on Sundays... along with 3/4 of the defense.

CFB != NFL . A team can and has won titles with a stout, playmaking D and a good ball-control offense.

-full disclosure: i am an LSU fan.

by Adam H (not verified) :: Tue, 10/18/2011 - 12:08pm

LSU simply makes teams look bad.