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LIFE ON THE MARGINS, WEEK NINE

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Weekly obsessing over statistical anomalies and fringe idiosyncracies. Don’t get carried away by these scores from last weekend...

(As always, click here for a definition of 'Swing points')

South Carolina Tennessee
Total Offense 501 317
1st Downs 31 16
Yds./Play 5.6 4.3
Yds./Possession 37.1 24.4
Turnovers 4 1
Swing Points 0 +10

Final Score: Tennessee 27, South Carolina 24 (OT)
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There was the ending, of course, which is still driving me crazy three days after the fact:
I don't care who wins, but endings like this one almost make me sick for the utter randomness of it all. It's one thing to lose a game in which you outgain your opponent by 200 yards, hold the ball for almost an entire quarter longer and earn twice as many first downs - Carolina did, after all, turn the ball over four times, and that's what happens to a team that turns the ball over four times no matter what other good it does. But to lose because one of your opponent's linemen flinched before its kicker badly missed a field goal in overtime and nobody happened to break any rules when your kicker missed...that's the kind of ending that would drive me insane if I was Steve Spurrier.
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Tennessee currently controls its own destiny in the East and has traditionally dominated its November schedule, which this year consists of UL-Lafayette, Arkansas, Vanderbilt and Kentucky – a 4-0 finish puts UT in the SEC Championship. And still I don’t think we saw anything different from the Vols Saturday and find it difficult to be optimistic about this team’s fate. They’ve played one really impressive game to date, against Georgia, and have been trounced three times by good teams (Cal, Florida and Alabama). On paper, the win Saturday was much closer to those embarrassing defeats than it was to the UGA win, with the exception of a few timely breaks: the fumble that set up UT’s first touchdown, an atrocious, unforced interception by Blake Mitchell that killed a potential USC scoring drive in the fourth quarter, a Mike Williams fumble that killed another long drive (65 yards) on the next possession and, of course, the opportune flag in overtime that gave Daniel Lincoln a second chance that Ryan Succop did not get.

Otherwise, when you get down to blocking, tackling, execution and moving the ball, Tennessee didn’t do much to suggest it’s really the team to beat in the division – as opposed to Georgia, for example, which played probably the biggest game of its regular season like a team taking control of its destiny. The Vols still hold the tiebreaker, but at some point in the next month they have to look more like the team that earned it by hammering the Bulldogs to keep it, don’t they?

Michigan State Iowa
Total Offense 468 283
1st Downs 23 13
Yds./Play 4.9 4.8
Yds./Possession 37.1 24.4
Turnovers 1 0
Swing Points +7 0

Final Score: Iowa 34, Michigan State 27 (2OT)
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The yardage numbers are somewhat skewed because MSU ran about 35 more plays, but it’s still kind of shocking how little Iowa did offensively in this game: the Hawkeyes had four scoring drives in regulation, of 54, 30, 75 and 11 yards, and didn’t manage a single first down on any of their other nine possessions – that’s eight three-and-outs and a missed field goal on a short field in 13 possessions. Jake Christensen finished when 53 yards passing. For the game: 53 yards passing. And 30 of those were in overtime. This is the totality of Iowa’s passing game in regulation:
Jake Christensen pass incomplete.
Jake Christensen pass incomplete.
Jake Christensen sacked by Ervin Baldwin at the Iowa 14 for a loss of 11 yards.
Jake Christensen pass incomplete.
Jake Christensen pass incomplete.
Jake Christensen pass complete to Colin Sandeman for 9 yards to the MchSt 11.
Jake Christensen pass incomplete.
Jake Christensen pass incomplete.
Jake Christensen pass complete to James Cleveland for 10 yards to the Iowa 35 for a 1ST down.
Jake Christensen pass complete to Brandon Myers for 5 yards to the Iowa 19 for a 1ST down.*
Jake Christensen pass incomplete.
Jake Christensen pass incomplete.
Jake Christensen pass incomplete.
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* - The play-by-play says "pass complete for 1st down," but it was a five-yard completion on 3rd-and-5 and the next play is somehow listed as a Hawkeye punt on 1st-and-10 (for 81 yards!), so I think we can assume that’s a typo. Possibly a spot overturned on review?
I’ve never seen a line like that from a scholarship quarterback. But where Brian Hoyer passed for 309 yards on the other side and the Spartans totally dominated the clock, Christensen was at least able to avoid turning the ball over, Albert Young had one of those classic workhorse games (34 carries, 179 yards, 2 touchdowns) and the Hawkeyes took advantage of their few opportunities, the big one coming in the third quarter after a 41-yard punt return by Aaron Bates and a tacked-on personal foul penalty, setting up a 26-yard touchdown for Young two plays later.

Notes: By first downs and yardage, Texas Tech wiped the field with Colorado in a 31-26 loss, but besides one interception return, the Buffaloes’ points came on mostly long offensive drives (touchdown marches of 91, 75 and 75 yards) and the yardage disparity didn’t emerge until the Buffs went into a hole in the fourth quarter as the Raiders were still in comeback mode. Colorado led this game 31-13 late in the third and doesn’t appear to have ever been in much jeopardy.