There's no avoiding another good march in the great national parade of shock this season is throwing weekly now, but maybe we can agree that, as insurgents, Kentucky and Oregon State are not Syracuse and Stanford. We've known Kentucky is good, we've seen OSU pull off bigger shockers against starting quarterbacks. To be completely honest, the score that most shocked me Saturday was Penn State 38, Wisconsin 7. And I picked Penn State to win.
But I'm pretty certain when it comes down to it that South Florida's going to top my next BlogPoll ballot. So does this season make any sense? In its own way, maybe, but that way is not of the illuminated variety. The next week's going to be about assessing the landscape at midseason, and I'm a little afraid of what we might find under some of the more obscure rocks. Curious, for science, but still afraid.
...with various degrees of vigilance...
KENTUCKY 43 • LSU 37
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I thought Florida paid for bailing too quickly on a successful running game against LSU last week, when it abruptly stopped handing off to Kestahn Moore at precisely the point the Gators needed to begin pounding time off the clock with a two-score lead. I don't know if Kentucky took anything specifically from that game, but playing from behind, two scores down with a legitimate all-American to pass them back into it, the Wildcats stayed patient and ran their way back into the game on a 29-10 run fuelled by an anonymous true freshman who couldn't have walked on at LSU. Derrick Locke finished with 20 carries for 64 yards, all in the second half and overtime, but the numbers don't mean as much here as his ability to put the best defense in the country on its heels and keep the entire playbook open for the UK offense when the ferocious Tiger line would usually be teeing off in the pass rush. Before he entered the game for the first time, Kentucky was down 27-14 and had scored twice in seven possessions; after, UK scored on three straight possessions to get the game into overtime, then on three more to win. Locke didn't nearly account for all of that, but once he established his presence as a threat, everything else opened up. (There's also the matter of the key block on the winning third down pass in overtime - see right - on which Locke was crushed. But crushed for the team).
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LSU's quarterbacks, in the meantime, were only as reliable as their receivers' hands, which is to say, not very reliable. Matt Flynn was 17-35 with a bad interception from which he did not roar back - it came on just the second play of a would-be clock-killing drive midway through the fourth, setting up Kentucky's tying field goal - and Ryan Perrilloux went nowhere with UK effectively keying him as a runner. In that light, and the fact Kentucky didn't stop LSU from running straight ahead for any sustained period of time, it would be easy to criticize the amount of passing the Tigers continued to call after they went up two scores. From the point the offense got the ball back with a 27-21 advantage, though, the distribution on first down wasn't bad (8 runs, 6 passes, and only 2.5 per carry on the runs) and it's impossible to suggest LSU didn't try to win the game physically: in the third overtime, harkening back to the straight-ahead identity it established in a similar must-score situation last week, the Tigers sent their big backs plunging into the line on four straight plays. The first three went to tree stump Jacob Hester, the short-yardage hero of the triumph in Florida; the last carry was Charles Scott, who had averaged 15.5 yards on his first six carries and needed two more to extend the game. For the only time all afternoon, Kentucky just stopped him.
Last week it was Les Miles' world. This week it's André Woodson's. Next week...?
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• That last play - like any Texas Tech game, for the outrageous offensive line splits - is a great argument for the end zone camera angle, which clearly showed the developing hole, the missed assignments (hello, Herman Johnson, it benefits to touch someone when the team is running behind you with the game on the line) and Braxton Kelly stepping down to fill and make a strong tackle. The standard camera angle showed a big pile and a guy slamming into it with no rhyme or reason. There's no way to tell what's happening or supposed to be happening on the lines, where the play develops, from a sideline angle. Broadcasts would be infinitely more interesting if they put the cameras in a position to show what's actually going on. Well, maybe not inifinitely more, but more. Substantially more.
• Dumb situational penalties killed LSU, and I'm not being generic or cliché by describing them as dumb. Craig Steltz's drive-extending pass interference penalty prior to a Kentucky touchdown in the fourth quarter is forgivable/debatable, but I'm not sure Kentucky wins without the "illegal touching" call in the second overtime or Tyson Jackson's tomahawk chop to Woodson's head well after the throw in the third, and those are basic mental mistakes. On the former, the receiver (Terrance Tolliver) was ineligible because he was covered up by a split end - only the last man on the line of scrimmage is eligible for a pass, and Tolliver wasn't the last man. All he had to do was take one step back to establish himself off the line, and therefore eligible, which is his responsibility to recognize before the snap. That very avoidable flag cost the Tigers first-and-goal with a chance to win and forced them into a long field goal to tie instead. A few plays earlier, at the start of the first overtime, a false start had Kentucky in 1st-and-15 from its own 30, from whence Woodson proceeded to throw an incomplete pass with Tyson Jackson in his face, setting up a 2nd-and-long in sketchy field goal range. It wasn't Jackson's initial hand to the face that got the call, as it was part of the action of his rush, but the overhand chop he brought down on Woodson after that was almost comically illegal. First down, Kentucky, and touchdown five plays later.
IOWA 10 • ILLINOIS 6
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Maybe arch option hater Stampede Blue should have tuned into Iowa for a clinic in amateur option defense. The pros couldn't have done much better: where Wisconsin last week was lost, overpursuing, out of position, uncertain of responsibilities, Iowa handled the option like the familiar, decades-old concept it is. Put a guy in the quarterback's face - Illinois conceded this by refusing to block the playside end or employ a dive that might force him to step inside - and bring the corner hard to handle the pitch man. The Hawkeyes were in the right place every time, and only once - on a reverse to Arrelious Benn in the fourth quarter that picked up a first down - did they see anything from the action other than the standard down-the-line-pitch. Which gained nothing.
Its bread and butter throughly kiboshed, Illinois was able to cobble together a little success between the tackles but virtually nothing in the passing game - there was the long touchdown that was called back and the late heave to Benn for 33 yards on the sideline, but no consistency of any kind. I'm not sure if Eddie McGee came into the game to give the Illini a better passing presence, but he doesn't seem to offer anything Juice Williams doesn't, down to the killer interception that ended the potential winning drive on Illinois' last possession. McGee seems like a taller version of Williams: good athlete, dangerous on the option, not much in the way of getting the ball downfield. The long, negated touchdown on McGee's first series seemed to be at least as much the result of Iowa not believing he would or could throw (he didn't in relief against Wisconsin), and the final interception was positively Williams-esque in its head-slapping futility. I'm not sure what Illinois gains from McGee, only that it isn't a passing game capable of picking up the slack when the option hits the skids. This is a bad precedent for the Illini moving into the second half of the season.
Option football, Iowa style.
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• Missouri's offense is so similar to Florida's in the way it relies completely on its quarterback to be all things at all times, and I would have said before Saturday the Tigers could never win with Chase Daniel being held to -1 yard rushing. They came surprisingly close, though, mainly because even Oklahoma couldn't keep Mizzou from nickel-and-diming its way up and down the field - Daniel completed 37 of 47 for 361 and a touchdown and led the Tigers to 31 points without a viable running game to speak of; most of Missouri's rushing yards came on reverses to Jeremy Maclin (4 for 32, long of 14). It was turnovers that doomed the Tigers, not production: they fell on an interception that set up an easy field goal in the first half, a short fumble return for touchdown in the second and a quick icing drive following another interception.
• Arkansas doesn't have much chance of winning, either, when Casey Dick is throwing more (26) than Darren McFadden and Felix Jones are running (23), even when the other team is missing field goals and fumbling away its longest drive of the night. Auburn's defense forced nine punts on Arkansas' first ten possessions, and thus moves into a tie with LSU and Alabama for the SEC West lead. Stick a fork in Arkansas' chances of appearing in January.
Making sense of what I didn't see.
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• Live by the turnover, die by the turnover. Cincinnati led the nation in turnover margin going into Saturday, and so of course proceeded to give the ball away four times while taking none from Louisville of all teams, which struck an ironic blow from the underdog role in a 28-24 road win that ruined the Bearcats' perfect season. What made it worse was not only the turnovers, but the points Cincy left on the board: the Bearcats fumbled after a 60-yard drive to open the game (UC outgained Louisville 204-75 in the first quarter but only led 14-7) and fumbled in the red zone to end a 59-yard drive in the third quarter. The Bearcats also turned the ball over on downs in UL territory in the fourth.
The Cardinals missed opportunities too, though, without turning it over: they punted twice in Cincinnati territory, missed a field goal in the second quarter and were stopped on 4th-and-1 from the Cincy one late in the game.
Remember: Louisville is 1-1 in the Big East and has its BCS fate in its own hands with Rutgers, West Virginia, UConn and South Florida to come. Three of those four teams also control their own destiny, but West Virginia and Cincinnati do not.
• Massacre of the day. Javon Ringer averaged double digit yards per carry in each of Michigan State's back-to-back losses to Wisconsin and Northwestern, but only had 22 combined carries. MSU finally decided to ride him against Indiana Saturday, and Ringer responded with 209 yards on 29 carries and combined with Jehuu Caulcrick for five touchdowns in the Spartans' 52-27 win.
The score cannot convey how lopsided this game looks from the numbers: Indiana was 1-8 on third down, had nine first downs, held the ball for a little less than 19 minutes to MSU's 41 and was ultimately outgained by 365 yards, a margin almost three times what the Hoosiers produced their own selves (193). IU pulled out all the stops to only lose by twenty-five.
Ringer is averaging 7.1 per carry for the season and has gone over 140 yards in four straight games.
• Speaking of Wisconsin... Whatever the circumstances, 438 yards and 38 points to Penn State is an embarrassment for a team that still considered itself a darkhorse mythical championship contender as late as two weeks ago. The Badgers' run defense over the last three weeks:
So the performance against Penn State was actually something of an improvement.
• On the other end... I'm not sure if Texas rolling up Iowa State is the result of Texas getting its act together or Iowa State being Iowa State, but Michigan's unmitigated shellacking of Purdue is another sign of the Wolverines looking like we expected them to look back in September. Michigan lost to Appalachian State and is on track to contend for the Big Ten right through the finale with Ohio State. For now.
How crazy is this season? Michigan is good again.
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Interesting/Not Necessarily Relevant Stats
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Ohio State gained more on one interception return (70 yards) than Kent State gained in six completions to its own receivers (62). For OSU, Todd Boeckman completed 13 of 16 ... South Florida had ten plays of 20 yards or longer against UCF ... Adam Weber and C.J. Bacher combined to throw for 756 yards and seven touchdowns in regulation of Northwestern's double overtime win over Minnesota. This game belongs on Mid-Major Monday ... In between opening and closing punts at Purdue, Michigan scored on eight of twelve possessions and never went three-and-out ... Rutgers was two yards from doubling up Syracuse in total offense (538-270) ... Ohio U. of Ohio finished minus-four in turnover margin against Eastern Michigan and won ... James Starks became the first Buffalo back to rush for 200 yards in eleven years with 231 and three touchdowns in the Bulls' shootout win over Toledo ... Mississippi State punted just once in the second half but turned the ball over on downs on three of five possessions ... Bowling Green was held to almost half its season average in total offense against Miami, Ohio ... Utah outgained San Diego State by 303 yards ... Boston College held the ball for 18 minutes more than Notre Dame ... North Carolina outgained South Carolina by 116 yards, and lost ... Oregon scored on seven of its first nine possessions and led Washington State 40-0 at the half ... Houston racked up 748 yards total offense in a wild comeback win over Rice. The Owls have entered two straight fourth quarters with multi-touchdown leads and been outscored in those final quarters 43-0 ... UConn had three scoring drives of 26, 9 and 6 yards, and lost ... Dan LeFevour accounted for three touchdowns in one quarter for the second straight week ... Michael Crabtree caught 8 passes for 170 yards and slightly lowered his season averages in both categories. He failed to catch a touchdown after grabbing at least two in each of the first six games ... Northern Illinois was 1-13 on third down conversions and combined with Western Michigan for 13 straight scoreless possessions to end a 17-13 WMU win ... East Carolina and UTEP lit it up in a single OT game: 87 points, 55 first downs, 1,096 yards total offense and seven turnovers in a 45-42 ECU win ... Air Force's Chad Hall, officially listed as a wide receiver, ran for 256 yards and four touchdowns in the Falcons' 45-21 win over Colorado State ... Temple outscored Akron 21-0 in the fourth quarter and won on a touchdown pass with 27 seconds to play ... LaVelle Hawkins caught nine passes for 192 yards and two touchdowns, including a 64-yarder with less than minutes to play, in Cal's loss to Oregon State. DeSean Jackson caught four for five yards ... Matt Forte ran for 209 and Tulane outgained UAB by 132 yards and nine first downs in a 26-20 loss ... Good old Tulsa: the Hurricane combined with 0-6 Marshall for 69 points, 51 first downs and 1,112 total yards in a 38-31 win.