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Mid-Major Monday: Fallen Wolfe Edition

A requiem for Garrett Wolfe: the diminutive running back entered Saturday averaging more than eight yards per carry and on pace, if his team could get two postseason games, to easily break the impossible 3,000-yard barrier. By Sunday, Wolfe's pace, depressed by his team's dismal December prospects after its 16-14 loss at Western Michigan, shifted downward by about 900 yards. Wolfe had 25 yards on 18 carries against the Broncos, none longer than eight yards, and, after figuring in three sacks of Phil Horvath, NIU's grand rushing total was a nice, round zero. Unless Wolfe hits 450 and six scores at Iowa, Heisman - and Maxwell Pundit - speculation won't even deign to dismissively brush him off anymore.

Nice knowing ya, Garrett

The Mid-Major Record Against BCS Conferences
Last Week: 1-5
Season to Date: 17-90

Mid-Major Game of the Week
From the box score: Having cut separate 14-point and 9-point disadvantages to a 28-26 deficit in the fourth quarter, a field away from paydirt after a Rice punt stuck its offense at the two with 7:41 remaining, UAB began an epic, season-defining 98-yard march to stay undefeated in C-USA play by...fumbling. Possibly the snap, possibly in the end zone; this is not clear. But the relevant information is, the Blazers got it back at the two, hit consecutive passes of 18 and 19 yards for first downs, and eventually completed a 49-yard scoring pass from Chris Williams to Steven Brown to go up 33-28, leaving the Owls just under three and a half minutes to answer for the win.

So Rice comes back with a dinking, dunking, scrambling, 12-play drive to the Blazer eight, where, on second down, needing a touchdown with 40 seconds left, the Owls are intercepted by UAB's Kris Guyton. Game over, drive home safely, come back next...Not so fast, my friends!, Rice Football Webletter style:

Fate and the UAB Blazers attempted to jam the script for another demoralizing loss down the collective throats of the Rice Owls here Saturday evening, but the Boys from the Institute spit it right back up and papered the Rice Stadium north end zone with the pages.
Inexplicably, rather than falling on the pill, Guyton, seeing nothing but green space ahead of him, lit out for the opposing goal line. But after he covered about ten yards, as he was trying to move the ball from right arm to left -- or perhaps trying to do a little premature strutting -- the spheroid simply slithered out of his hands, and Rice OL Lute Barber was right there to recover it at the UAB 18.

"When I saw the ball on the ground," Lute said, "my mind flashed back to those drills in fall camp when we practice recovering the ball. I was so glad that I got to it and held on."

Of course, premature strutting, that would be just like those cocky Blazer bastards! Good thing the Owls ran those drills! The UAB fumble was a deserved fate, anyway, as the Webletter notes, because UAB's "bizarre" go-ahead drive from its own end zone "shouldn't have happened to begin with," and, as noted by Rice coach Todd Graham, "it felt like we'd outplayed them all night, but we kept on just giving cheap touchdowns." And while SMQ agrees that the "cheap" variety should probably only count for four points, max, the situation still demanded a touchdown from the Owls to win. Back to the not-at-all-biased Webletter:

One can imagine the theatrics that transpired in the huddle during that interlude. At first, it seems, the Rice coaching staff was inclined to avoid going to the well too often. Jarett Dillard had already picked up two TD receptions on the evening, and everybody in the stadium knew he'd be Chase's prime target.

But Jarett wasn't afraid to make a suggestion of his own. "Game on the line, who wants the ball?" Dillard asked. "I went to coach Graham and told him they're double-covering me, but I want the ball. Throw the fade. I told him I'm going to catch it, we're going to score; we're going to win the game."
Double-teamed, Jarett circled out until he reached his favorite end zone sweet spot, camped up against the out-of-bounds line about three yards deep in the pay station. Chase made the quick drop, wheeled and threw a line drive scheduled to hit that sweet spot, about ten feet in the air, a split-second later. Jarett leaped high, fading only slightly, and snagged the ball with both hands at the top of his leap, sandwiched between two white-shirted defenders.

Blink your eyes, and you'd have missed it. But you wouldn't have missed just about the loudest roar that possibly can emanate from the partisan crowd that was announced as a shade over 10,000.

One can imagine such a deafening roar from Rice Stadium, but actually, that was just the sound from Southern Miss fans following the USM's win and the much-appreciated defeat of its previously first place division rivals.

Actual Rice Football Webletter caption: "Rice future All-American receiver Jarett Dillard comes down with winning TD catch with 3.5 seconds to play." Check the deafening maniacs on hand in America's fourth-largest city.

Rolling Boise State remains the little guys' sole envoy to any major poll. The lone mid-major win over a BCS conference school this week came via totally sober Frank Solich's boys at Ohio U., who rallied from a weak offensive effort at Illinois to win on a 32-yard Matt Lasher field goal with five seconds left. The Illini, winners over Michigan State and big leaders over not-so-awful-anymore Indiana last week, outgained Ohio by more than 150 total yards (QB Juice Williams' total alone outpaced the entire Bobcat offense by about 45 yards), but were doomed by three turnovers, the most deadly being a fumble that set up the game-winning kick with under a minute left.

...and Frontin'
So, like, Navy lost its starting quarterback and all due to the Curse of Future Notre Dame Opponents, but given the success of first-year starter Lamar Owens as a senior last year, and of Brian Hampton to date as a senior this year, SMQ thought it was a plug-and-play kind of situation, like Texas Tech but with the crazy running in place of crazy passing. At any rate, he did not think, despite his prediction for the game, the identity of the person directing endless fullback dives for the slightly favored Midshipmen would justify their being completely stymied and shut out.

But enter the improbably-named Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada, who had 22 carries in Hampton's stead, well over twice as many as any teammate, despite failing to take a single one of them further than five yards past the line of scrimmage; he had 11 total yards rushing, 28 passing. Navy subsequently finished with 113 rushing yards, less than a third of its season average coming in.

Mid-Major Players of the Week
Garrett Wolfe virtually eliminated from the national conscience for the remainder of the season, numerical sensationalism shifted westward, where Fresno State's ongoing roller coaster of shame picked up Colt Brennan (32-39, 409 yards, 5 TDs, 0 INTs) for a quick joyride in Hawaii's 68-37 evisceration of FSU Saturday. It used to be the Bulldogs who were near-unbeatable at home and Hawaii who needed time zone magic to deal with anyone with a pulse, but Fresno's heart apparently thumped its last in any locale during its opening - and lone - win over Nevada.

The aforementioned Chase Clement (21-33, 191 yards, 3 TDs, 2 INTs, 17 carries, 141 yards, 2 TDs) frustrated UAB on the game's first play (a 57-yard touchdown run), last play (the ten-yard game-winning pass) and, apparently, most plays in between. Guiding the inexplicably explosive Kent State offense to its 40-14 win over Toledo, Eugene Jarvis (31 carries, 179 yards, 3 TDs) delivered easily the best performance of his young career.

An Entirely Subjective Mid-Major Top Ten
Boise's death grip on that top spot couldn't be stronger and won't be relinquished, but the rest of the Mid-Major Top Ten best be wary of fast-rising Kent State, yet to be seriously challenged in-conference. The perpetually inept Flashes, 1-10 last year but insanely forecasted by one Phil Steele to win the MAC East this preseason, have outscored their last three league opponents - bellwethers Bowling Green and Toledo and defending champion Akron - by an average of 38-11. In 2005, Kent was outscored in MAC games by an average of 30-13 and scored just six in a loss to otherwise winless Buffalo.

The short waiting list includes Western Michigan, Ohio U. and San Jose State.

This is more of a power poll...
1. Boise State (7-0)
2. BYU (4-2)
3. Tulsa (5-1)
4. Southern Miss (4-2)
5. Navy (5-2)
6. Air Force (3-2)
7. Hawaii (4-2)
8. Kent State (5-2)
9. TCU (3-2)
10. UTEP (4-2)

This Week
Good facetime for the Sun Belt on the Worldwide Leader 2 Tuesday when league favorite Louisiana-Lafayette visits Florida Atlantic, which is, for the record, not the one that got Lamar Thomas all jacked up by the perpetration of multiple misdemeanor assaults at Miami Saturday...Southern Miss goes to represent at reeling but vengeance-sworn Virginia Tech, its soul wounded and bloodshot eyes emitting rage in search of innocent and sharply-dressed prey...First of three elimination games among the C-USA West's frontrunner, between Houston and UTEP, a pair of almost winners against BCS conference mediocrity (Miami and Texas Tech, respectively)...Boise State makes the short trip to Moscow - Moscow, Idaho, that is (gotcha!), to face fellow WAC unbeaten Idaho, resplendent under Dennis Erickson; the third league member undefeated in conference play, San Jose State, is hitting the road to Nevada, where quarterback Adama Tarfralis is set for a guest spot on Reno 911...Don't call the inexplicable and barely-advertised Sunday night game this week a mid-major contest: South Florida and Cincinnati are members of that sudden BCS cardholder, the Big East.