Monday, November 14, 2011
College Football Recap: The 8 Best Finishes of Week 11
By Shane Ryan
Here are the main takeaways from Saturday:
1. It's tough to be a kicker.
2. The 2-point conversion is a cruel mistress.
3. The marquee games disappointed, but everything else delivered.
I feel bad giving the Oregon-Stanford blowout short shrift, but the result can really be summed up in two words: speed kills. The Stanford run defense, which had been one of the nation's best prior to facing Oregon, gave up 232 yards. From the size of the holes LaMichael James was exploiting, it felt like Stanford was playing a prevent defense all game. In fact, if you'll let me brag for a moment (and I hope you will, because I'm so often wrong), everything I predicted in the preview essentially came true. The words of the prophet:
I think Oregon plays a brand of fast, blinding football that Stanford frankly might not be ready to handle. The Ducks will concede points -- a lot, probably -- but I'm expecting something along the lines of last year's 52-31 win.
Put simply, Stanford was overrated. The Ducks had dropped from the national discourse because they opened with a loss to LSU, but Oregon was always the superior team. And now the Ducks have a faint shot at the BCS title game with a Rose Bowl appearance as a safety net. Not bad. Meanwhile, I'd like to make the early case for a Stanford-Houston bowl game. That would easily be the most exciting non-BCS match-up. Stanford couldn't handle Oregon, but maybe it will have a shot against Oregon-lite.
The next ranked clash featured no. 15 Georgia embarrassing no. 20 Auburn 45-7. Georgia QB Aaron Murray had another efficient game, with four touchdown passes, but it was the Bulldogs' running attack that really took the heart out of Auburn. Isaiah Crowell, a freshman, ran for 132 yards, and Carlton Thomas had 127 more. On defense, Georgia was stingy and mean, holding Auburn to 2 yards per rush and 6.3 yards per pass.
So, this Bulldog resurgence is tantalizing. I brought it up to thoughtful friends (real life) and reactionary enemies (Twitter), and both camps dismissed me out of hand. But I'm going to ask the question anyway: can Georgia beat LSU in the SEC championship? I know both teams have work to do before it comes to that, but let's assume they win out. Remember, the game's going to be in Atlanta. Georgia hasn't lost since Week 2. And the offense keeps getting better and better. I know it's not likely, but I don't think LSU scores enough to be considered totally infallible. Stay tuned.
Last, David Wilson ran for 175 yards (7.6 per carry) as no. 10 Virginia Tech beat no. 21 Georgia Tech 37-26 on Thursday night. This game, like Oregon-Stanford, followed formula. The Yellow Jackets can't defend the run, and that's (by far) the strongest part of the Hokies attack. Wilson's strength freed up Logan Thomas to throw just 13 passes, three of which went for touchdowns. The Hokies are at their best when the run sets up the pass, which is why they matched up so well in this game. It's also why they'll probably be doomed to lose the ACC title game to Clemson and fall again in bowl season, but for now they've all but wrapped up the Coastal Division.
The Eight Best Finishes
You read that right, my friends. In games involving ranked teams, eight came down to the final play. I lack the means and energy to check if this kind of thing is unprecedented, but it's certainly not normal. Here now, from worst to best, are the key plays from each.
Here's a weird irony of the Jerry Sandusky scandal timing: Penn State, though it came into this game 8-1 and 5-0 in the Big Ten, was simply not that good. When you look at the schedule, the Nittany Lions won six close games against mediocre teams. Six! They didn't have to play Michigan or Michigan State. Nebraska, Ohio State on the road, and Wisconsin on the road were yet to come. The team was due for a football reckoning in a big way. The timeline of coach Joe Paterno's ousting serves up a facile storyline sure to be used ad nauseam in about two weeks: Penn State hasn't won a game since Paterno left. But the truth is, it wasn't going to win those games anyway.
But I digress. This is a countdown. The game itself was a typically godawful Big Ten slog, and this was the final play, with Penn State trailing 17-14. Warning: you're about to see the saddest "Hail Mary" in college football history.
I keep picking Florida to come through with an upset win, and the Gators keep falling achingly short. South Carolina kept the Florida offense off the board, and were up 17-12 when Hail Mary time came around:
After fumbling at the 10, Southern Miss gave UCF one last chance to tie the game. With two seconds left, they scored the game-tying touchdown … BUT WAIT! The Knights are on the road, and they're going for 2! 2:50 mark:
I love the guts. I didn't love the pass by Blake Bortles, who had his man wide open in the back of the end zone. Spoiler alert: This would not be the last time a crazy 2-point conversion was attempted.
The surprising Bearcats were the last remaining team with an undefeated record in Big East play. But because the conference is incredibly topsy turvy (a result of lacking a single elite team), you knew that couldn't last. It was a strong effort by the Bearcats, and they had this chance to tie it on the final play from 31 yards:
The missed FG took the heat off West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen, who opted to attempt a highly questionable 47-yarder on the previous drive. It was a miss, and it gave Cincinnati great field position and a chance to win with two minutes left.
Lately, Clemson loves to play with fire. With the ACC Atlantic on the line (and an ACC championship bid, and a BCS bid), the Tigers trailed 28-14 midway through the third quarter. They rallied with two Tajh Boyd touchdown passes to tie the game, and gave Chandler Catanzaro a chance to win it from 43:
Hey, look! It's a kicker actually succeeding at his job -- take a picture.
I love Baylor. The Bears have absolutely no defense, and definitely don't deserve to be in the Top 25, but they play high-scoring, exciting games, and they have Robert Griffin III. They fell behind to lowly Kansas 24-3 in this one, but then Griffin was unleashed. He accounted for 21 points in the fourth quarter to tie it up and give the Bears a chance to become bowl eligible with their sixth win. Baylor had first possession in overtime, and scored. Then Kansas scored the tying touchdown ... BUT WAIT! They're at home, and they're going for 2!
The rest of that video is worth watching for the celebration. Spoiler alert: This would still not be the last time a crazy 2-point conversion was attempted.
There's a special abhorrence in my heart for A&M coach Mike Sherman. This year, he's been the master of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, and he's done it by retreating into a cautious shell whenever his team has a chance to win a game. In three of the Aggies' four losses heading into Saturday, they held a double-digit lead in the second half before Sherman reverted to a bunker mentality and tried to protect the points. Hint: it never worked. Such was the case with Kansas State. After blowing a 10-point fourth-quarter advantage, Sherman found himself with fourth-and-1 in the fourth overtime. Kansas State's offense would have their shot regardless, and in six of eight possessions since the fourth quarter began, the Wildcats had scored. Four of those possessions had resulted in touchdowns.
So what does that mean? It means that there was at least a 50 percent chance KSU would end up in the end zone in the fourth overtime. I say “at least” because the Aggie defense was clearly fatigued, so much so that in the third overtime, it took Kansas State QB Collin Klein exactly one play to run for 25 yards and a score. Facing those kind of odds, what would you do on fourth-and-1 at the 3-yard line? Well, if you were Mike Sherman, you would have kicked a field goal. A useless, cautious, gutless field goal. Five plays later, Klein became the latest opponent to shove that caution right back in Sherman's face:
Aggies fans have been curiously quiet on Sherman all season, but at this point they must be calling for his head, right?
In this wild, back-and-forth game, the Boise State Broncos looked like they'd finished the job. With two and a half minutes left, Kellen Moore was marching his team downfield, already up seven, on the brink of cementing the win. Then Drew Wright fumbled, TCU recovered, and Casey Pachall led a clinical drive for the game-tying touchdown ... BUT WAIT! They're on the road, and coach Gary Patterson's going for 2!
Finally, it paid off! Just like that, Boise State's undefeated season was done. The national title hopes went up in smoke. Ditto the BCS bowl.
To be fair, Boise's kicker missed a game-winner as time expired, but that was after the world's worst pass interference call bailed the Broncos out on fourth-and-10, so it felt like justice.
The Remaining Undefeateds
And then there were three:
1. LSU -- Still has no. 6 Arkansas on the schedule, and will face no. 14 Georgia in the SEC championship.
2. Oklahoma State -- After decimating Texas Tech, only Iowa State and no. 5 Oklahoma remain. Like LSU, the Cowboys control their BCS title game destiny.
3. Houston -- With Boise's loss, the Cougars should get an at-large BCS bid if they can run the table, but their hardest games are yet to come.
BCS Title Game Drama
As mentioned, LSU and Oklahoma State will definitely meet if both run the table. Here are five other teams with a chance:
Alabama -- As of now, the Crimson Tide are third. With an Oklahoma State loss, they could move up to second. If LSU loses to Arkansas, it would also create a weird three-way tie situation for the SEC title game (see below).
Oregon -- Currently fourth. It's a tough road for the Ducks, since they have no marquee games remaining, aside from unranked USC this Saturday and a lackluster Pac-12 title game. They'll probably need Alabama and Oklahoma State to lose.
Oklahoma -- Ranked fifth, the Sooners have a deceptively great shot. The nation's appetite for rematches is low, and with a win over Oklahoma State, Stoops' boys might get the help they need in the individual polls to rise above Alabama and Oregon for second place.
Arkansas -- The Razorbacks need to beat LSU and hope for help from the tiebreaker. Here's what it would come down to, and congratulations if you can follow this: Among the three tied teams, the SEC West championship would go to the winner of the head-to-head game between the two highest-ranked teams in the BCS standings. In other words, Arkansas would need to beat LSU and jump Alabama in the rankings. Not a likely scenario, but if the Razorbacks managed that and won the SEC title game, you have to imagine they'd be playing for a BCS championship.
Defensive Hopeful Who Will Never Win: Merrill Noel, Wake Forest. Noel has broken up the most passes (16) out of any defensive back in the country. Does that mean he's really good, or just that people throw at him a lot? Not an easy stat to interpret. But let's give him the Heisman anyway.
5.David Wilson, Virginia Tech. As always, this spot is reserved for the nation's leading rusher, and Wilson is the man with 1,360 yards.
4. LaMichael James, Oregon. With 7.9 yards per carry, James would be the nation's leading rusher if he hadn't missed two and a half games with injury. As it is, he's just 153 yards behind Wilson, and easily the best runner in the country.
3.Russell Wilson, Wisconsin. Still leads everyone with a 201.6 QB rating, averages 11.1 yards per attempt (also no. 1), has thrown 25 touchdowns to three interceptions, and holds the fifth spot in completion percentage (73.4). He's hurt by his two interceptions in the loss to Michigan State and the low overall yardage total (2,416).
2.Robert Griffin, III. He has a 74.2 completion percentage and is one of three players to average ten yards per attempt. He passed the 3,000-yard mark against Kansas, has 29 touchdowns, and has the third-highest QB rating in the country. He's also a serious running threat, with 489 yards and five touchdowns on the ground.
1.Case Keenum, Houston. The only remaining Heisman candidate (unless you count Brandon Weeden) with an undefeated record. Keenum is second in QB rating and yards per attempt, first in overall yards (3,951), first in touchdowns (37), and first in touchdown-to-interception ratio (37:3). The man is a machine, and nobody else comes close.
With BCS bowls on the line, the conference races are starting to heat up. See you Thursday for the Week 12 preview.