by Robert Weintraub
A couple of unbeaten dynamos got it done this weekend with incredible offensive displays. A couple of Big Ten title hopefuls got it done by faking punts.
Hey, whatever it takes.
We'll start with the continuing brilliance of the Battering Cam. The big fella demolished a stout LSU defense, carrying 28 times for 217 yards and two touchdowns as the Tigers beat the Tigers 24-17. The second score, a 49-yarder around and through the Bayou Bengals, was enough to make John Heisman himself pop up from the grave and yell "War Eagle!" In what the PR-types like to call "optics," the sight of the enormous quarterback accelerating past my other Heisman (and Lowsman) front-runner, LSU defensive back Patrick Peterson, was extremely compelling.
It might seem sacrilegious to have a player approach Saint Timmy of Gainesville territory, but Newton is having the best season since Tebow shattered every touchdown record over his knee in 2007. Newton has 27 touchdowns in eight games, 14 on the ground. Tebow had a ridiculous 55 touchdowns (23 rushing, 32 passing) in 13 games in '07, so his place in the books seems secure. But Newton's numbers are astounding. For the third-straight game, he ran for 10 or more first downs, a critical stat given the tightness of each contest. He's already broken the single-season SEC record for quarterback rushing yards. He has 1,077 now and five or six games left. He's gone 96 attempts without a pick and is deadly accurate when throwing the short-to-medium ball.
There was more to the win than Newton. Auburn piled up an absurd 440 yards on the ground, perhaps the most amazing number of the season, considering the opponent. LSU had been allowing 83 yards per game on the ground. Forget this season -- it was the most ever gained on an LSU defense. The biggest run came not from Newton, though that 49-yarder was Mozart. Onterio McCalebb followed several perfect blocks by his wide receivers to scoot 70 untouched yards for the winning score with 5:05 remaining. It was a nice reminder of the help downfield that Newton & Co. have been "receiving" all year.
But the player of the game might not have been Newton or McCalebb, but Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley. We've talked him up here at OFI before, but he outdid himself Saturday, with 3.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, a knockout sack of Jarrett Lee, and the whipping of continuous double-teams all day.
Meanwhile, the Ducks, always potent on Thursday nights at Autzen Stadium, manhandled UCLA, rolling up 60 points and 582 yards. This baby was over before the Bruins even got off the team bus. The sensational LaMichael James had a ho-hum 123 yards and a pair of scores. When James got dinged early, backup Remene Alston had three more.
Should Oregon play Auburn in Glendale, insert pinball metaphor here.
Of course, we have a ways to go before that happens. Michigan State remains undefeated, surviving its first trip outside the state of Michigan. The mean streets of Evanston, Illinois, were almost a minefield for Sparty. They fell behind Northwestern 17-0 before realizing they weren't in Kansas anymore, so to speak. But MSU is made of steel, in the fashion of coach Mark Dantonio. They got within 10, then tossed a pass on a fake punt (with the help of a blown coverage by the Wildcats) to keep a fourth-quarter drive alive. Dantonio gamed Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald, accepting a delay of game penalty in the old "get a little more room for the coffin corner punt" move, then faked the kick. On the very next play, Kirk Cousins threw a touchdown pass. He tossed another later in the quarter to give his team the lead, converting a fourth down on the way. MSU got a cover-the-spread score late and stayed alive for all the postseason trimmings.
Wisconsin seemed to be in the letdown zone after the emotionally cathartic takeout of Ohio State last week. The Badgers engaged in a back-and-forth affair at Iowa and seemed to be about to come up shy, facing a fourth-and-15 late in the game. But Brad Nortman ran a fake punt right up the back of a retreating Iowa return team for 17 yards, and Wisconsin was alive. Like Michigan State, the Badgers converted a key fourth down before punching in the go-ahead score, capping a 15-play drive.
Iowa had a shot at a winning field goal, but coach Kirk Ferentz pulled a Lester, refusing to spike the ball and calling a timeout -- the Hawkeyes' last -- with 12 ticks left when confusion reigned on the sideline. Sure enough, the next play ended with a tackle in-bounds, and the game was over.
- In the storyline section of last week's Seventh Day Adventure, I wrote that Oklahoma needed to defraud themselves with a win at Mizzou. Oklahoma's place in the polls felt like a deliberate slap at Boise State, actually. So it wasn't much of a shock to see the Sooners lashed in the rain, 36-27. Turns out the game was actually about Mizzou's legitimacy as an unbeaten -- Blaine Gabbert torched the OU back seven between the hash marks all night.
- Next week, the Missouri Tigers go to Nebraska to settle the Big 12 North. The Huskers bounced back nicely Saturday, roughing up previously unbeaten Oklahoma State State 51-41 -- as though uncannily aware I picked against them this week. I've yet to catch the Nebraska roller coaster this season, and if you think I'm going to get the game right next Saturday, well then you just are an incurable optimist.
- Missouri's win almost -- almost -- undoes the damage done by Don Draper (played by Missouri grad John Hamm) impulsively planning to marry to his secretary.
- Utah 59, Colorado State 6. TCU 38, Air Force 7. The two Mountain West powers tangle in two weeks in Salt Lake. There will be blood.
- I know I have fun with my Syracuse Orange in this column, but after Saturday's gutty 19-14 win at West Virginia, the old alma mater may get some national love. The explosive Mountaineers were held to fewer than 300 yards on 72 plays and shut out for the last three quarters by an undersized but smart and well-coached SU defense. It was the first road win over a ranked team for the 'Cuse since 2004. I am officially a Marronista now.
- You won't see a more athletic play than the one Cincinnati's Isaiah Pead made in a losing effort Friday night. On a key third-and-18 late in the game, the Bearcats down by eight, Pead caught a dumpoff pass, was sawed in half by a South Florida tackler, and somehow maintained balance by putting his hand down and essentially doing a cartwheel. He then spurted ahead to move the sticks. Unfortunately for Cincy, starter Zach Collaros had been knocked out, and backup Chazz Anderson couldn't quite punch in the tying score.
- Washaun Ealey of Georgia has been a bad actor this season, but he's figuring it out on the field. He ran for five touchdowns against Kentucky, something no one at Georgia has done, not even Herschel Walker.
- Three wins in four years for Navy over Notre Dame. Only 40 more to go ...
- Bowl eligible -- Baylor and Mississippi State. Well done, lads. Baylor leads the Big 12 South, by the way. The winner of that division should play the winner of the SEC East in the postseason.
The OFI Top 25
1. Boise State
7. Michigan State
10. Ohio State
13. Florida State
19. Virginia Tech
21. Oklahoma State
22. South Carolina
23. Virginia Tech
24. Mississippi State
1. Nick Fairley, defensive tackle, Auburn. See above.
2. Allen Bailey, defensive end, Miami. He destroyed North Carolina's blocking, even when double-teamed, to the tune of 3.5 sacks in the Hurricanes romp.
3. Aaron Bates, punter, Michigan State. He's thrown two pretty big passes this season, this one bailing out the undefeated dream at Northwestern.
4. Doug Hogue, linebacker, Syracuse. Didn't think I wasn't going to give Hogey some love, did ya? Two picks, half a sack, 10 tackles, and sideline-to-sideline hustle to corral West Virginia's speedsters in the Cuse upset.
5. Ben Lamaak, center, Iowa State. The Cyclones rolled up 199 rushing yards in their stunning win over Texas after getting blasted by Utah and Oklahoma in successive weeks. Lamaak was exceptional all day, at least until the final drive, when his injury prevented Iowa State from running out the clock. But Iowa State's defensive line, which could have made this list this week as well, stuffed the Longhorns desperation drive. The Cyclones beat Texas for the first time ever. Go check out coach Paul Rhoads postgame speech (around 1:12 on the video) -- it's awesome.