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Life on the Margins, Week Twelve

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')

Oregon Arizona
Total Offense 463 322
1st Downs 24 16
Yds./Play 4.8 4.7
Yds./Possession 27.3 24.8
Turnovers 4 2
Swing Points +3 +14

Final Score: Arizona 34, Oregon 24
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The obvious mitigating factor here was Dennis Dixon’s collapse late in the first quarter, but the game might have turned just before that, when his receiver bobbled a sure touchdown that instead popped into the arms of Nate Ness, setting up a quick turnaround scoring drive by Arizona that made a burgeoning blowout – if the receiver had hung onto the ball, Oregon would have led 15-0 five minutes into the game – into a tight struggle. After Dixon went down, the Wildcats parlayed the Brady Leaf Experience into a touchdown on an interception return and broke the game wide open on a punt return (a blocking-in-the-back flag was picked up on the play) that stretched the margin to 20 points in the second quarter; in the end, that was what both offenses accounted for: two touchdowns and two field goals apiece. After Willie Tuitama’s second touchdown pass, Arizona punted eight times and fumbled once in its last ten possessions.

Going forward, though, I wouldn’t disregard Oregon’s lack of production without Dixon. Arizona is not a pushover defensively, but it’s impossible to envision the same offense that came out rolling with its star quarterback going three-and-out six times in two quarters if he’s in the game, which it did with Leaf, or turning it over twice more in pretty ugly fashion. There’s no way to know what UCLA might or might not do Saturday, but with the Bruins and Oregon State ahead, the Ducks are still 0-6 the last two years when Leaf attempts more than ten passes.

UL-Monroe Alabama
Total Offense 282 409
1st Downs 17 23
Yds./Play 4.1 6.2
Yds./Possession 23.5 31.5
Turnovers 0 4
Swing Points +7 0

Final Score: UL-Monroe 21, Alabama 14
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The classic turnover-driven upset, though the War Hawks do deserve credit for their response to Alabama’s response to ULM’s initial touchdown in the second quarter: down 7-0, the Hawks picked off John Parker Wilson (this is a recurring theme in the Tide’s three-game slide), setting up a one-play, one-yard touchdown march to tie, and were immediately hit with a 63-yard ‘Bama drive that included runs of 15 and 12 yards and another pass that covered 21 to push the lead back out to seven, and could have said "Good try, we had our shot" and called it a day right there. Instead, Monroe came back with an 80-yard drive to tie and kept the Tide off the board the rest of the game.

Not that ‘Bama didn’t still have its chances in the second half: the offense moved 56 yards only to miss a field goal on the last play of the third quarter, anda few drives later moved 69 yards into the Monroe red zone before fumbling away its best chance to tie. Cue visual summary:

That’s just how things go when you play the turnover game.

Wisconsin Minnesota
Total Offense 443 501
1st Downs 19 23
Yds./Play 7.0 7.0
Yds./Possession 34.2 41.8
Turnovers 1 3
Swing Points +14 0

Final Score: Wisconsin 41, Minnesota 34
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Backup quarterback/coach’s son Clint Brewster sounds like a man after LOTM’s own heart, allegedly telling Wisconsin kicker Taylor Mehlhaff after the game, "You guys are terrible...we're 1-10 and we should have beat you." If not for a pair of coverage breakdowns in the second half, the Gophers could have pulled one of the upsets of the year.

The first, with Minnesota up 13-10 early in the third quarter, was a 56-yard punt return David Gilreath to the Gopher 18-yard line, setting up a quick and dirty touchdown run by Zach Brown to put the Badgers up 17-13 two plays later. The second, with Wisconsin now up 34-27 in the fourth quarter and punting after a rare three-and-out forced by the most generous defense in Big Ten history, was a muffed punt by Harold Howell at his own 15, quickly recovered by the Badgers and turned into another easy score by Brown that effectively put the game and the Gophers’ first conference win of the season out of reach. It takes a special team to average 42 yards per possession and lose, folks.

Notes: Rutgers-Pittsburgh is probably the most bizarre game I’ve looked at all season, statistically: neither team did anything on offense, but the Panthers ultimately outgained the Knights by about 40 yards, had a nine-minute advantage in time of possession, were plus-two in turnover margin, had scoring drives of twelve, seven and six yards following said turnovers, and lost, 20-16. Pitt slightly "outplayed" the Knights down-to-down (more yards, more first downs) and had the benefit of multiple short field, turnover-induced scores...and lost. I don’t think I’ve seen another game this season where that was the case.