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Sunday Quarterback is the Only One With a Memory Around Here?

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More on this later, but here is the top of the current BCS poll:

Rank Team Harris Coaches Comp. Avg.
1. Missouri 1 2 1
2. West Virginia 2 1 2
3. Ohio State 3 3 3
4. Georgia 4 4 5
5. Kansas 6 T-5 4
6. Virginia Tech 7 T-5 6
7. LSU 5 7 7

LSU has lost two games, both of them in triple overtime. Virginia Tech has beaten two teams in the current rankings; LSU has beaten three. One of those three was a 48-7 victory over Virginia Tech in which LSU outgained Virginia Tech by 449 yards. The Harris USA Today Poll and half of the machines have Virginia Tech ahead of LSU. That is all.

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...with various degrees of vigilance...

Missouri 36 Kansas 28
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This is simultaneously exactly what we expected from Kansas at some point - finally facing  a faster, balanced offense with an almost robotically competent quarterback, the Jayhawks looked hopelessly indecisive and slow on defense - and testament to how a team with such personnel disadvantages can still manage to put itself in a position to win: B-E aggressive. Kansas never stopped or looked like it had any hope of stopping Missouri after the midpoint of the first quarter, but once the Jayhawks junked the sideline-to-sideline game for a more vertical, one-on-one passing game downfield, the Tigers had a hell of a time putting the brakes on Kansas' receivers, too.

In fact, when it seemed like Missouri was literally running away with the game in the second quarter, after the first six possessions ended with four three-and-outs, five punts and a turnover on downs, in reality both offenses opened up and started moving down the field in chunks. The main difference was that more physical Mizzou was finishing drives when Kansas' more conventional spread was bogging down in the red zone, and that only by the hair of Chase Daniel's chin - the Tigers' impressive first half touchdown drives climaxed in the end zone only on a fourth down conversion from a yard out in one case and following a third down, drive-extending holding penalty in Kansas' secondary in the next. The Jayhawks, on the other hand, unable to get Brandon McAnderson rolling at all on the ground, ran into trouble after finding some success in the air: from the second quarter into the first possession of the second half, four straight KU drives penetrated the Mizzou 20, and the results were interception, missed field goal, missed field goal, interception. Any points on those drives would have changed the game in the second half, when the Jayhawks matched Missouri drive-for-drive by taking the fight to the Tigers rather than pick their spots: 13 KU passes went for first downs during its comeback push in the second half, opposed to just three in the first half (all of them on the doomed drives in the second quarter), the direct result of a visible transition from its trademark horizontal dinking and dunking, which equally aggressive Missouri defenders would not allow, to taking advantage of the Tigers' willingness to play man coverage to get the ball up to its lanky wide receivers. The adjustment came quickly and might have been good enough to win if a) Reesing had the arm to complete a tying touchdown pass down the middle of the field in the second quarter, which was instead left a couple yard short and picked off by William Moore, or b) Scott Webb had made his kicks on subsequent possessions, as Jeff Wolfert did to extend the Tigers' besieged lead twice in the fourth quarter.

Chase Daniel enjoys a nice tea, completes another first down.
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Kansas never applied the same kind of pressure on defense, though, prefering to give big cushions and keep Missouri's gamebreakers in front of them, and paid for it dearly - again, once the offenses were rolling, Kansas was Missouri's match, equalling the Tigers in yards per play (both teams picked up 5.5 per snap) and putting up five different plays longer than Missouri's longest gain of the night, which was, incredibly, just 23 yards, on a Tony Temple run in the second quarter; but Missouri held the ball for a full quarter longer (37:25 to 22:35) and ran a stunning 93 plays (to Kansas' 71) because the overmatched, conservative Jayhawk defense could not keep the Tigers off the field.

The zone umbrella might work very well against Cody Hawkins or Bret Meyer or one of Baylor's hapless quintet, but Chase Daniel is clearly a slightly undersized cyborg by comparison: he hit 40 of 49 passes under almost no pressure, virtually all of them taking advantage of the soft underbelly born of KU's respect/fear/lack of athleticism in space. It helped very much that Tony Temple established his presence quickly, after some early KU blitzing hit its mark, ensuring Kansas' lumbering linebackers would have to log more time on the field to be exploited by four-wide sets - Mizzou ran 42 times, very often from the spread, and very often at the stretched-thin middle of the defense - but it was ultimately just a pitch-and-catch clinic. Daniel's longest completion of the night was only 20 yards, and game-breaking Jeremy Maclin's 14 offensive touches netted an average of 5.8 with a long of 18. As far as motion-heavy, four-and-five-wide spread sets go, Missouri was running a pretty conservative ship, but it was versatile enough and executed precisely enough, against a defense that was never confident enough to risk a big play by trying to force Daniel out of his rhythm, the Tigers could do basically whatever they wanted. And did. Even when things broke down, as on Mizzou's second touchdown, Daniel was able to buy time and deliver a third down dagger at the end of a wild scramble drill because Kansas was sitting back, only rushing three. Sometimes that's effective (see below), but not against a quarterback as heady and efficient as Chase Daniel.

Of course, the Jayhawks might have had every reason to fear much worse consequences if they had pressed - their own offense was more successful when it decided to challenge Mizzou's man coverage, and one bad angle against Maclin, Temple, William Franklin, et al can be disastrous. That's what good offenses do to defensive thinking: damned if you do, damned if you don't. Kansas had to back off in part to keep itself from overrunning Temple on those dastardly shotgun traps. When it come to pressuring Chase Daniel on a consistent basis, though, Oklahoma has to be thinking, "Damned if we don't." The Sooners allowed 361 yards passing by Daniel in their win at Missouri in October, but sacked him three times and forced two interceptions that were the difference in a tight game. OU has athletes Kansas does not, able to man up on a more consistent basis. It may backfire, but such is the nature of risk - if Missouri is going to look this good offensively again, and punch its ticket to the mythical championship game in the process, the best guess is that it will have to do it under significantly more fire than it faced Saturday night.

• Missouri lined up several times in the second half in a bizarre formation, with no tackle on the end of the line. In short yardage situations, with Daniel lined up in the pistol, the right tackle moved to the left to create an unbalanced line (four linemen to the left of the center, only one to the right), which was effective in getting Jimmy Jackson into the end zone once  and later in getting him a first down on 3rd-and-1, though he was later turned back at the goal line from the same set. Otherwise, the left tackle disappeared on a couple occasions in more every-down situations, usually signalling a trap to Temple as the right guard pulled to kick out the end who would usually be lined up over the absent tackle. This wasn't really notably effective (or ineffective), just strange.

• Another notch in the argument that penalties don't matter except in the narrowest, specific terms: Missouri was flagged 14 times for 140 yards, Kansas just twice. But one of the Jayhawks' penalties, as mentioned above, was a drive-extending holding penalty on 3rd-and-12 in the second quarter, setting up the Tigers' second touchdown. Missouri has a similar flag on third down a few plays later, preceding a missed KU field goal.

Mississippi State 17 Ole Miss 14 (In person)
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Ed Orgeron is luckier than he is smart, and he's not very lucky. Which is the most polite way I know how to express my complete lack of surprise that Orgeron is no longer employed as Ole Miss' head coach after aggressively giving away a game his team had in the bag Friday - in the bag, against a hated rival, in the fourth quarter - to finish an 0-8 conference season. In the bag, tied up in knots, and beaten repeatedly with heavy sticks until lifeless, up to the point, with a little over twelve minutes left in the game, Orgeron stopped the proceedings, untied the bag, and injected Mississippi State and its tens of thousands of cowbell-ringing, previously moribund partisans with an adrenaline shot and an unobstructed view of Coach O's jugular.

This seems melodramatic for a single, simple call, but my dad and I both saw the tragic story of the Rebels' undoing unfurling in front of our eyes even as UM was just breaking the huddle to try for 4th-and-1 at midfield. Ole Miss led 14-0, and the `0' for Mississippi State was like a glowing, radioactive, lead goose egg that threatened to fall off the scoreboard and injure cheerleaders and assorted passersby. To that point, the Bulldogs had punted, fumbled, or turned the ball over on downs on every possession, crossed the 50 once and failed to gain two consecutive first downs at any point. They tried to run and were stuffed. They tried to throw short and were off target, out of sync. They tried to throw long and were plagued by drops. They tried changing quarterbacks for two series, got nothing done, and changed back. The crowd was impatient, vocally annoyed and beginning to shuffle frustratingly out to the parking lot to figure out what bowl might possibly want an ugly, 6-6 outfit from Starkville off three straight losses with nine other eligible teams in the same league.

Croom, moments before planting the flag in Ed Orgeron's heart.
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This is the opposite of playing aggressive against someone as good as Chase Daniel. Mississippi State's quarterback was either Wesley Carroll or Michael Henig. Let them continue to screw up. The odds of the Bulldogs driving 80 yards if Ole Miss punted were about as good as my camouflage-draped section casting their lot with Hillary Clinton.

Ed Orgeron might still have a job today if the previously effective BenJarvus Green-Ellis had picked up an icing first down rather than being thrown for a three-yard loss, waking up the cowbells and setting in motion the inevitable series of events (short-field touchdown drive, punt return touchdown to tie, last second field goal to win) that seemed completely impossible for three and a half quarters. Orgeron had a bad tenure at Ole Miss - as Phil Steele points out in the "Baylored" section of his analysis of coaching changes, David Cutcliffe had taken the Rebels to five bowl games in six years when he was inexplicably fired, the school's most extended success in decades, and in three full years Coach O had only matched the Rebs' win total (10) from 2003 alone - but after the convincing show of support from university higher-ups over the last few weeks, I'm certain it's this decision and this loss specifically that dropped the axe.

Not that Ole Miss didn't still have chances to win, had the running game that had fuelled so much of Mississippi State's frustration not suddenly disappeared when it was needed most, and Rebel receivers' hands turned to stone on would-be first down catches that would have taken too much time off the clock to allow a State comeback. After the fourth down stop, Ole Miss' next three drives, all critical to stem the growing momentum, were feeble failures in every regard. After it intercepted a pass to end a tortured State drive to tie inside the red zone, with a renewed chance to kill the insurgency, Ole Miss went three-and-out, dropped a first down pass on third down, and let Derek Pegues - a dangerous returner UM had intentionally avoided all game with rugby kicks - take an unfortunately straight line drive up the middle for a frenzy-inducing touchdown that finished what State's previous, gasping effort on offense could not. Just needing to run the clock out and get to overtime with 2:38 to play, the Rebels instead went back to the air, got hit with a delay of game penalty, and had to punt back to MSU with just enough time for the suddenly hot Bulldogs to move into range for the winning kick. Cue a stunned Orgeron waiting at midfield, too humiliated amid a small pond of cameras for any other expression, while bowl-bound Sylvester Croom circled the field waving the MSU flag.

Everything changed with that fourth down call, but then, nothing really changed in the end, which was all too clear all at once, I guess.

Auburn 17 Alabama 10
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There's something very comforting about this tight, conservative push-and-pull opposite the Kansas-Missouri track meet - the SEC: where men are men and men play defense! Or something like that. Missouri had more yards and points and almost as many first downs as the Tide and Tigers combined, but then, no one will ever see either of these teams spreading the field on a consistent basis. Not when there are so many nifty play-action options to the fullback after 30 counter isos from the I.

This was a true field position game, with Alabama starting only one drive in better position than its own 27 (the Tide's only touchdown drive, not coincidentally, from the Bama 47 after a good kickoff return in the first half) and Auburn doing what Auburn always does: take an early lead and wring the hell out of it. The Tigers scored on their opening drive, just as they did against Florida, Arkansas and LSU, played defense and milked the clock with a run-heavy attack before adding the go-ahead/winning points late, just as they did against Florida, Arkansas and LSU. There were two plays longer than 20 yards (both by Auburn), Alabama's long run covered nine and both quarterbacks struggled under pressure just to complete passes. There is very little to this win besides Auburn putting its head down and controlling the line of scrimmage and the clock just enough in the second half to grind out first downs.

I doubt that makes it any easier to take for Alabama, though, not after the Tide's fourth straight loss since the high point against Tennessee. This is not quite like last year's loss to Auburn, or the losses the last two weeks to Mississippi State and UL-Monroe, all of which could be explained away to some degree by turnovers in games the Tide otherwise could have won. This was just an ugly, offensively inept, physical defeat, one that Christmas in Shreveport probably will not erase.

• Poor Auburn DB Jerraud Powers was actually bitten on the hand by a security guard's German shepherd in the fourth quarter while exuberantly waving a John Parker Wilson pass into the end zone incomplete, then spent the rest of the series checking his hand with concern. SportsCenter was all over this disturbing trend of rival dog-on-Tiger violence:


Virginia Tech 33 Virginia 21
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I wrote a requiem for Sean Glennon after his abysmal effort at LSU back in September, when he was replaced seemingly for good by Tyrod Taylor. Two months on, Taylor has clearly solidified his place in the Hokie offense as the nascent dual threat longtime coordinator Bryan Stinespring covets post-Vick, but somehow, quietly, Glennon has come along, matured, evolved into a competent threat. Since re-entering the lineup when Taylor was injured at Duke, Glennon has thrown seven touchdowns to zero interceptions, turned in the two single most impressive starts of his career - both on the road - and, if not for an onside kick and late heroics by Matt Ryan, would be 5-0 taking a majority of the snaps. For the first time Saturday, Glennon seemed less like another guy out there, trying not to screw up, and more like a quarterback worthy of guiding a team to a conference championship; in two years, it was the sharpest I've seen Glennon by far.

I say that not only because of his very good numbers (13-19, 260 yards, 1 TD), but because of his newfound accuracy, first glimpsed on the pretty deep ball he lobbed to Eddie Royal in the first quarter, one he layed off play-action where Royal could streak by the safety and haul in without breaking stride; the Hokies wound up kicking a field goal to go ahead 13-7. In the second quarter, moments after hitting Josh Morgan for 26 yards into scoring position just before the half, Glennon dropped a beautiful, well-timed skinny post into Royal's waiting arms for a 39-yard touchdown, thrown before Royal made his break and threaded perfectly between the trailing corner and the safety over the top. In the fourth quarter, Glennon hit Morgan again for 25 yards, preceding a touchdown run by Taylor, and on the next drive hit Josh Hyman for 32 yards on a third down pass inside the UVA 20, setting up the field goal that closed the scoring. This against a Virginia defense that ranked in the top fifteen nationally entering the game.

Hello, deep ball, my old friend.
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Tech has always had speed outside with Royal, Morgan and Hyman, but never much of a downfield passing game out of design and Glennon's perceived limitations, and it's no coincidence its appearance came in tandem with Branden Ore's best performance of the season - the Hokies showed some rare fire power in a big game, and the Cavs didn't have nearly enough to drag another victim into the mud until the closing minutes. It's the first time all season I feel really comfortable thinking of VT asa top ten, BCS-worthy contender; it's never needed much defense to succeed, and if the two quarterback system is what the offense needed to maximize its dormant skill potential - and it may be, because Glennon is still a statue and has to have  good protection, as Chris Long demonstrated in the second half - the way this season is going, Tech could find itself in really elite poll position after the bowl games. I'd be disappointed to see Glennon and Ore disappear back into their familiar shells against Boston College.

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It was down to the fourth overtime, so the playbook is running a little thin, I suppose, but Kentucky seemed to have no idea whatsoever what it wanted to do on the two-point snap to tie Tennessee after punching it into the end zone. Both teams took timeouts between the touchdown and the two-point try, and during the entire interval, Randy Sanders' face never un-scrunched from probing uncertainty. With all that time to think, UK eventually just sent André Woodson out to throw something up into the end zone - it looked like four receivers took off right for the end line, with none underneath and no quick-hit outlets - or try to escape when they were (very predictably) covered by Tennessee's "picket fence," which was in perfect position to come up and make a play when Woodson decided to run. I don't think Woodson was ever clear on where he intended to go with the ball, but that play, whatever it was, had no hope from the outset.  

Statistically, it's incredible Clemson-South Carolina came down to a last second kick - the Tigers outgained USC by 79 yards and nine first downs, held the ball for 17 minutes longer and were plus-two in turnovers. Yet it was Clemson, down 21-20 in the final minute, that was stuck in a desperate 3rd-and-18 in its own territory, which makes the subsequent lapses in South Carolina's secondary all the more inexcusable. Aaron Kelly is Clemson's go-to receiver under normal circumstances, and had already caught six passes on the night when the Tigers lined up on that third down, the last one a 26-yarder to open the possession two plays earlier. So how do the Gamecocks leave Kelly one-on-one with a backup cornerback not once, not twice, but three plays in a row - Kelly covered 44 yards on consecutive receptions, the last two of them slants, and the Carolina defense was not close on any of them. Mark Buchholz's winning kick was cake. The Gamecocks - presumably the tenth choice now, after Alabama - are probably the first team out of a bowl from the SEC.

At one point in the second half of Florida's relentless beatdown of Florida State, Gary Danielson said Bobby Bowden "made a phone call" to Tim Tebow, but didn't push hard for one of the most consistently overwhelming offensive forces in the country because Papa B knew he had something special at quarterback in Drew Weatherford. As my dad said, "I don't think that's exactly what he meant to say." Even if it is, I'd have FSU's media department running interference on any direct rebroadcasts of said recruiting tales pronto.

Wake up the echoes!
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The only thing keeping Notre Dame from its first ever ten-loss season is Stanford's brick hands: the Cardinal dropped touchdown passes on third and fourth down at the back of the end zone that would have tied the Irish with less than a minute to play. At least ND may have discovered a running back in true freshman Robert Hughes, who had his second straight 100-yard game to close the year...though the games were against Duke and Stanford. Anything positive, I guess.

Box Scorin'
Making sense of what I didn't see.
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How fast they fall. Two weeks ago, I was lauding Oregon's multi-faceted attack as the "offense of nightmares." Since, the Ducks were shut down in a loss to Arizona without their starting quarterback and now, without their backup, engaged in perhaps the most unwatchable Pac Ten of all-time, emerging on the wrong end of a 16-0 clunker at UCLA. With the Rose Bowl on the line, both teams were down primarily to third team quarterbacks, and Cody Kempt and Osaar Rasshan were just horrendous in the most putrid sense of the word, combining to complete 6 of 30 passes (Rasshan was actually 0 for 7 as the winning starter before yielding to gimpy Ben Olson) with three interceptions; the five quarterbacks played overall were 15 of 56 (26.8 percent) with five interceptions, zero touchdowns and three possessions out of a possible 36 that featured consecutive first downs, none of which ended in points. UCLA's four scoring drives covered -5, 14, 6 and 31 yards.

That's, uh...that's pretty good. West Virginia had at least five runs of 30 yards or longer - I'm just looking at the individual long carries on that; somebody could have and probably did had more than one - en route to rolling up 517 yards rushing on UConn, which, it bears mentioning, was playing for the same Big East championship in this game and had not allowed any previous opponent to even half the Mountaineers' rushing total. WVU more than quadrupled the Huskies' average yield on the ground over the first eleven games - and Steve Slaton was relatively contained (just 54 yards on 10 carries, the vast majority on one big run).

What a way to go. Embattled Washington State quarterback Alex Brink closed his career by completing 27 of 40 for 399 yards and three touchdowns with no picks in a comeback 42-35 win over Washington. Two of Brink's scoring passes came in the final half of the fourth quarter, one a 40-yarder to tie the Huskies and the winner a 35-yarder with 31 seconds to play.

More on the disappointingly clear BCS picture in the wee hours. It's not good, Buckeyes.