by Robert Weintraub
The other day I watched my 15-month-old son as he spent five full minutes (an eternity in toddler terms) trying to snap together two halves of a ball. Finally, he got the dang thing together, held it aloft triumphantly as I laughed and clapped -- then tossed it down the stairs, smashing it apart once more.
The point is, the boy stuck at it, overcame frustration and adversity, and made the thing happen when he had to. Similar stick-to-itness was seen across the college football landscape on Saturday.
Terrelle Pryor had reason to give up and move on to the Weebles Playcenter. With Ohio State trailing Iowa late in the game, 17-13, Pryor had just found a wide-open DeVier Posey with a bomb. Snag is, Posey dropped it, sending the receiver to his knees in shame, clutching his helmet. That brought up fourth-and-10. Pryor could be forgiven for checking out right there.
But instead, he galloped for 14 yards and a crucial first down. Moments later, the Buckeyes were in the end zone. After a Cameron Heyward sack, they had the 20-17 win, and are in BCS position again at 10-1 with Michigan next week. Iowa is now a disappointing 7-4, though they are the anti-LSU, losing all four in the final minutes. Get Kirk Ferentz a lucky hat!
In contrast, Michigan State continues to pull out games. Saturday they trailed Purdue 28-13, and quarterback Kirk Cousins was struggling. He'd been helped off the field twice, battling painful shoulder and ankle injuries, threw an interception, and later said he was close to pulling himself out of the game. But he stayed in there, and led Sparty back to a dramatic 35-31 victory with 22 fourth-quarter points, scoring the game-winning touchdown himself on a short scramble.
The turning point, however, wasn't a play by Cousins, but a terrible interception thrown from his own end zone by Purdue quarterback Rob Henry with the Boilers up 28-13. He had no business throwing the pass, and it had horrific consequences. So too did terrible blocking on a punt by Purdue's Austen Moret, who ignored Denicos Allen until it was too late. The blocked punt set up Cousins for his winning run.
Few outside Baton Rouge have been as tough on LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson as I have, and with good reason -- he's stunk this season. But since the bye week, Jefferson has been a changed man. JJ was sharp in LSU's wild 43-36 win over Ole Miss, going 13-17 for a career high 254 yards and a touchdown (he also ran for a score and a two-pointer). The Tigers didn't do much to stop another beleaguered quarterback, Jeremiah Masoli, who had the Rebs on the verge of the upset. He hit Markeith Summers with a long touchdown pass to put Ole Miss ahead with just fewer than five minutes left.
But Summers was called for an unsportsmanlike penalty for somersaulting into the end zone. Now, we all agree it's an asinine rule, but every week someone gets flagged for doing it, so there's no excuse for Summers doing it in this critical situation. Sure enough, the great Patrick Peterson returned the kickoff from the 15-yard line back into Rebs' terrain, and LSU punched in the winner with less than a minute remaining.
And in a game that Pittsburgh needed to stay atop the Big Least, cornerback Antwuan Reed struggled mightily. He committed four pass interference penalties on the day, each one more blatant than the next. The infractions allowed South Florida to stay in the game. But Reed got a little redemption on the game's final play, intercepting B.J. Daniels to put away a 17-10 win. The Panthers were helped by some tragicomic clock management near the end by the Bulls.
Next up -- I challenge Antwuan Reed to snap together my son's ball.
- We were on the road favorites meme in Seventh Day Adventure, and for the most part, they came through. The main exception was Nebraska, which fell at Texas A&M 9-6, denying the Huskers the Big 12 North title, and me an unbeaten week in the picks department. Thank the Aggies defense and a set of awful referees for preventing the world from coming to a premature end.
- Fun and crazy ball game at Wrigley Field -- let's play two! You know about the crazy field placement that meant Illinois and Northwestern were forced to play in the same direction. At one point, Northwestern returned a pick-6 for a score. The PAT team ran in to kick, and had to be re-routed to the west end zone for the try. Illinois' offense was all one way all right -- downhill. They ran roughshod over the Cats, as Mikel Leshoure trod for 330 yards, a school record, in the 48-27 win.
- Other great individual efforts -- Justin Blackmon of Oklahoma State continued his awesome season, scoring in his 10th-straight game. The NCAA record is 11-straight games by Aaron Turner, who played for University of the Pacific, which beat schools like Tonga, Yap State, and Guadalcanal University. In fact, Pacific doesn't even play football any more. Across the state, Ryan Broyles of Oklahoma had a dozen catches in a rout of Baylor, giving him 106(!) receptions on the season, just fewer than 10 per game.
- Stanford's Andrew Luck dominated the California Schizo Bears, which went from a near-upset of Oregon to getting steamrolled by the Cardinal. Luck had the play of the day, capping a 58-yard scramble with a forearm shiver of Cal corner Sean Cattouse that knocked him on his keister. Luck will almost certainly be the top pick in April.
- Coming off last Saturday's destruction of Indiana, Wisconsin rolled over Michigan, 48-28. At the half, the Badgers were up 24-0, giving them 107 points, 977 yards, and 44 first downs in six quarters of football. They continue to do it without starting runner John Clay, who has been Wally Pipped by the likes of Montae Ball and James White. The pair combined for a ridiculous 354 yards and six touchdowns.
- Wisconsin, Ohio State, and Michigan State are all 10-1. Assuming all win out, the Badgers will be the Big Ten champion on account of their higher BCS ranking. All three are good teams, but the Badgers and their unstoppable offensive line are a shade above the others -- even if Sparty beat them in early October.
- Jacory Harris of Miami was on the sideline with a concussion, but his spirit was alive in backup Stephen Morris, who threw three interceptions in the final quarter, allowing Virginia Tech to capture a spot in the ACC title game with a 31-17 win. Can't feel sorry for the hard-hitting Hurricanes. They deserved to lose after donning horrid Nike-issued uniforms.
- Lehigh-Lafayette was among the best parties I've ever attended, and that was back in the 1980s. I'll assume the streets of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, were rocking after the Mountain Hawks wrapped up a perfect Patriot League season with a 20-13 win over Lafayette in the 146th meeting between the schools.
- As for Syracuse -- oy. Another bad home loss, this time to UConn 23-6.
The OFI Top 25
4. Boise State
6. Ohio State
10. Michigan State
12. Virginia Tech
13. Oklahoma State
15. South Carolina
17. Texas A&M
20. Northern Illinois
21. Florida State
22. North Carolina State
24. Central Florida
The Lowsman Watch
1. J.J. Watt, defensive end, Wisconsin. The offensive line gets plenty of love around here, but give the defensive line some props. Watt had six tackles and two pass deflections, one of which he intercepted himself to squash any hopes Michigan had of a comeback.
2. Nick Moody, safety, Florida State. The 13 tackles were nice, but it was Moody's 96-yard interception return in the final minute that iced a big win at Maryland. Moody's coaches and teammates were yelling at Moody to go down, but the safety ignored them and sprinted to pay dirt.
3. Jordan Delegal, linebacker, Northern Illinois. Delegal blocked two punts in a rout of Ball State that wrapped up the MAC West for the Huskies. One punt was returned for a touchdown, and the other set up a score. UNI blocked a third punt on the afternoon -- tell David Letterman to spring for a special teams coach for his alma mater!
4. Stephen Paea, defensive tackle, Oregon State. The senior run stuffer was unblockable as the Beavers whacked USC, with nine tackles and a forced fumble. Paea said afterward he was offended that the Trojans went for it on fourth down six times. They were 2-6.
5. Patrick Peterson, corner, LSU. The great P-squared played what was likely his last game in Tiger Stadium. In addition to his big kick return, he intercepted the game's final pass to seal the win. Off to the NFL with ye, Patrick!