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Sunday Morning Quarterback

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Real quickly:

Time Plays Yards 1st Downs Result
1:22 3 -13 0 Punt
0:42 2 -14 0 Fumble
3:17 6 -5 1 Punt
1:37 4 13 1 Fumble
1:34 4 9 1 Interception
3:10 7 5 2 Punt
2:13 3 9 0 Punt
0:25 2 2 0 End of Half
4:21 6 11 1 Punt
1:41 5 12 1 Punt
1:15 3 -2 0 Punt
0:35 0 19 1 Interception
2:39 6 38 2 End of Game

I'm not a Notre Dame hater - in an ND-centric publication I contributed to this offseason, I was described succinctly as the only American football fan who is completely neutral toward the Irish. And it's true.

But that, that that you see immediately above? That is against a defense that yielded 34 points to I-AA and 39 points to a team that could have scored 70 if it had any inclination to the last two weeks. Pardon me, but freshman quarterback or not, new line starters or not, inexperience, good competition, whatever - that is pathetic. In three games, Notre Dame has amassed -6 yards rushing. Completely pathetic.

Onwards...

SMQ WATCHED...
...with various degrees of vigilance...

ALABAMA 41 • ARKANSAS 38
- - -
Mike Patrick's closing spiel concerned Alabama "waking up the echoes," but I don't know what Alabama victory in the past this one was supposed to echo. Never in Crimson Tide history has a team had an identity as anything but a fundamentally sound, trench-tough, run-and-defense-centered team, but Saturday was the exact opposite of that. `Bama had 327 on 45 passes, well over half its total snaps, while yielding 301 on the ground to the unstoppable force that is the Arkansas running game. Terry Grant was effective, especially early on, but by the time the Razorbacks went up for the first time midway through the fourth quarter, the physical dominance that has always been the catalyst of Alabama's success had been thoroughly ceded. There was no real passing threat, and they didn't need one: Arkansas was physically dominating and Saban's defensive ninjas couldn't do anything about it.


The man of the hour, but the same defense has to play Georgia next week...
- - -

At that point, Arkansas had scored four touchdowns in a twelve-minute span over the end of the third and first half of the fourth quarters, and it was John Parker Wilson's game to win or lose. I think this is the story for Alabama: taken with Major Applewhite's successful aggression in the first quarter, and Wilson's cool response on Alabama's final two drives, the Tide may well have morphed out of necessity into a passing team.

And the closing drive really was Wilson's finest hour, because Arkansas wasn't in a prevent-you-from-winning umbrella at any point, even after the switch to the zone had stopped the precise dicing Wilson and D.J. Hall administered against man coverage early in the game. Reggie Herring walked his corners up in the receivers' faces throughout the final minutes, brought the heat to Wilson off the edge, and Wilson made the quick, accurate decisions you'd expect of a second-year starter. Earlier, he'd thrown two potentially debilitating picks, one at the start of the fourth quarter that had definitively turned the momentum in Arkansas' favor by setting up the tying touchdown, but moving for the winning touchdown, Wilson completed eight of ten and drew twp flags for pass interference, a near-perfect finish when his team had no other options.

• Houston Nutt had better have a good explanation for sitting Darren McFadden on Arkansas' last real possession, when it relied on third-stringer Michael Smith to run out the clock. Smith was good for one first down, a really impressive run on 3rd-and-4 that bought the Razorbacks, total, 28 seconds between two timeouts and an incomplete pass and their next punt. McFadden never put on his helmet, and Felix Jones, who started the drive, watched Smith finish with a loss of two and a run for no gain after making the lone first down.  

• Damn it, ESPN, damn it to hell: next time your network is broadcasting a pivotal game between two very serious, undefeated programs in the SEC, and that game is tied in the fourth quarter, do not rely on a member of the U.S. women's soccer team in freaking China to bring your attention back to said game, the one you force your announcers to momentarily pretend is not unfolding in front of their faces. I may not have the means to start a boycott that anyone will notice, but to whatever extent possible, the next time something like this happens, there will be ramifications for advertisers. Somehow, even if it's only personal, symbolic vengeance. I understand the network is trying to cross-promote the stupid World Cup - the one that virtually no person in America, especially an SEC football fan, has the slightest sliver of interest in - but there is no excuse for that worthless interview at that point in a tense game. Shame.

FLORIDA 59 • TENNESSEE 20
- - -
The Vols' complete lack of defensive prowess was expected, but not to such an absurd extent as that. After a slow start, Tebow really is a force of nature: 14 of 19, 299 yards, two laser-guided deep touchdowns. The bullet third down throw he made en route to a key touchdown in the second quarter, while falling down, with no base from which to propel or guide the ball, was unreal. The one mistake he made, that briefly gave Tennessee some hope in the third, wasn't even his fault: Riley Cooper bailed on the square-in, giving Eric Berry an easy pick.

That's the only chink I see in Florida's offense. Friday, I vowed to keep an eye on the Gators' offensive creativity, which was overrated for the better part of Urban Meyers' first two seasons but started to show in the stretch run to last year's championship. The versatility was blatantly obvious to a blind man Saturday: with Tebow, the defense has no choice but to respect the middle, even if - especially if - the rest of the speed players are spread out all over the place; his presence alone gives UF a power running game, essentially an extra player in the backfield when a simple hesitation, one little step forward, suffices for play-action without sacrificing the running back in the fake. You hear this rhetoric all the time, but with Tebow's arm, bullish running mentality and stockpiles of speed all around him, this offense as much as any I can remember really does force defenses to cover the entire field. This is a luxury very few quarterbacks can provide, and, when it comes to using Percy Harvin as the anti-Tebow dagger in the running game, very few receivers, too. He and Tebow combined for 136 yards rushing on 27 carries, and they're both just sophomores.

• I do think we learned a little less about the Gator defense, which played well - only 13 points allowed, and under 300 yards - but for the most part faced a predictable Tennessee offense forced to throw early on. The Vol offensive line had no push whatsoever, but this isn't surprising given Tennessee's ongoing struggles up front, and a team that can manage to make some gains on the line of scrimmage (maybe LSU?) will present far greater challenges. Man, those kids still look really good over there, though.


The nightmare descends with a smile...
- - -

• Good insight by Gary Danielson: Erik Ainge caused Arian foster's killer fumble in the third quarter by trying to hand the ball backwards, as a lefty, because of the injury to his right pinky. This was a critical momentum play, after Berry's interception made it a one-score game and the defense had responded with a stop, and Dustin Doe's touchdown return opened the floodgates. There's no way Ainge can go on claiming the pinky isn't affecting him when he's attempting backward, extremely fundamentally un-sound handoffs that lead directly to opponent touchdowns.

MICHIGAN STATE 17 • PITTSBURGH 13
- - -
It was funny, in the post-game, when Mark Dantonio was asked about the "turning point" in the Spartans' win. "I don't know," he said, "was there a turning point? I thought we just kinda hung on there."

He was right in the sense that MSU never relinquished its lead, but if there was a late moment that turned the game, it was probably a holding call on Pittsburgh with about eight minutes to play. Down 14-13, the Panthers had just held Michigan State in a goal-to-go situation - on a terrible, predictable third down flood call by MSU that put too many receivers in too small a space in that part of the field, and wasn't blocked to begin with - then blocked the subsequent field goal attempt and quickly moved into scoring position by running revelatory tailback LeSean McCoy from the shotgun in Wildcat-esque fashion - McCoy and receiver T.J. Porter, on a 31-yard speed sweep that added a 15-yard facemask penalty, picked up 57 yards on three plays, down to the MSU eight. On first down there, though, Pitt was hit with a 15-yard facemask of its own, and the doom of a 1st-and-25 situation with Kevan Smith at quarterback was obvious. Smith threw an incomplete pass under pressure that should have been intercepted, and the Panthers conceded a potential go-ahead touchdown by running McCoy on second and third-and-long. As ever, overall penalties do not matter - Michigan State was penalized in this one eleven times for 125 yards - but situational penalties, if your offense is one-dimensional and bound to staying in front of down-and-distance, do.

• As mentioned, Pitt has serious quarterback issues, so much so that, when it got the ball back on its own 31, down 17-13 with 2:54 remaining and no timeouts, I wrote: "Can't throw well enough to move for a TD." As it turned out, I was wrong: Smith completed a well-conceived 19-yard pass Darrell Strong and then, improbably, a 26-yard completion to Marcel Pestano on fourth-and-17 as he was falling over two MSU linemen at his feet. Instead, the Panthers couldn't block - Smith was in 4th-and-17 because Jonal Saint-Dic had abused Pitt's right tackle on consecutive plays, causing a fumble on second down and forcing Smith into another loss on third. After the redshirt freshman made his best throw of the day on the fourth down conversion, all hope for anything but a hail mary was lost when Kaleb Thornhill sacked Smith again back at the MSU 40. The hail mary didn't work.

• Pittsburgh has ostensibly found the running back it's been missing in Dave Wannstedt's tenure - and brother, do they need him - but Michigan State couldn't have made the 64-yard touchdown run McCoy broke in the first quarter any easier. The Panthers faked a run right with McCoy while bring a split end around for the now-standard fake reverse action to the left, then running a counter to McCoy back to the left. It's a well-conceived play, and one MSU was determined to see go the distance - the linebackers bit hard on the initial fake to McCoy, easily getting caught in the wash, while the playside end flew upfield to handle the reverse, leaving a massive hole for McCoy to accelerate through to the secondary. No one laid a hand on him, or came close, really.

It should be noted that this is just about all Pitt accomplished offensively in the first half - the Panthers punted four times and Smith threw two interceptions, one returned for a touchdown.

• The numbers don't completely bear this out - MSU ran for 144 yards on just 2.8 per carry- but my sense was that the Spartans could pound Pitt's defensive line into submission if they commited to the run. But they didn't, really, although Javon Ringer (92 yards on 4.6 per carry) and genocide-surviving short-yardage mauler Jehuu Caulcrick (71 on 3.4) wound up with 41 carries between them. When the Spartans handed off, they were largely effective. When they passed, Brian Hoyer was largely sacked - six times, not accounting for hurries. The Panthers' smaller quicker line missed starting tackle Gus Mustakas against the run, but MSU didn't commit to exploiting that advantage up front.

Glimpses
- - -
• It was inevitable that Louisville's defense was going to cost the Cardinals a game, but did it have to be as blatantly pathetic as that? Bill Curry is disgusted by a lot of things, way too many things - it's like crying wolf, really - but his bafflement over how the Cardinal secondary lets a man run completely free down the sideline with a two-point lead in the final minute is seconded. What happened? What could have possibly happened, other than sheer indifference, that allows highly-trained athletes to give themselves up so freely to defeat?


Doesn't know what happened to Louisville's coverage, either.
- - -
• Texas should be rolling, but again it struggles with a very beatable team for the third consecutive week. The second half success against TCU does not appear to have affected a significant turnaround. Also: Mack Brown's teeth are really yellow.

• Matt Ryan: 30-44 for 435 and no picks with no supporting running game against Jon Tenuta's swarming, quarterback-mauling bandits? Let us agree that you are for real, sir. Oh yeah, and the BC defense: held Tashard Choice to 31 on 15 carries, putting the game on inexperienced Taylor Bennett. That helps.

Boston College ravaged its three-game opening conference run and now has a stretch against Army, UMass, Bowling Green and Notre Dame. The Eagles visit Virginia Tech in late October, probably 7-0 and probably ranked in the top ten for the first time since...when? Flutie? Longer?

• Washington had all the momentum on Ohio State after scoring seconds before halftime, going up 7-3, then taking the opening possesion of the second half into field goal range to go up a full touchdown. OSU proceeded to block the kick, immediately launch a bomb to Brian Robiskie to regain the lead, force a fumble on the ensuing kickoff, and ride Beanie Wells over the shattered psyche of everyone in Husky Stadium. The air went out of that place in a hurry, and maybe Washington's season - U-Dub has consecutive games with UCLA and USC to salvage its confidence.

• I have very little to take away from USC's ass-kicking night in Lincoln other than "OMG dominance!!," since I turned at halftime to drama on the higher channels and didn't come back, but what was the call on Rey Maulauga on the Nebraska field goal attempt on 4th-and-2 in the first quarter, which set up an early tying touchdown? "Disconcerting"? Unless that's code for calling out the snap count - usually identified by officials as "calling out the snap count" - I have no idea what happened in that potentially crucial situation. Sketchy.

And John David Booty didn't look very much like a candidate for the Trophy Which Must Not Be Named, did he? Though Stafon Johnson and every other Trojan back certainly did behind that offensive line. OMG dominance!!

Upwards...

Shocked. Shocked!
Attempting to explain upsets and other nonsense
- - -
On the Saturday Michigan started to shrug the gorilla from its back, three of its conference comrades took stunning nose dives:

• Minnesota officially hit rock bottom Saturday at Florida Atlantic, not only turning the ball over four times in five possessions in the first half - the Gophers had seven giveaways for the game - but also allowing touchdown drives of 69, 80, 99, 61 and 43 yards for a neat, damning 35-14 hole after just two quarters. Again, to Florida Atlantic. Minnesota came flying back with four scoring drives in the second half, but threw an interception on its last gasp drive in the final minute and lost 42-39. To Florida Atlantic.

The Owls emerged from the smoking debris of the Gopher defense with 580 yards total offense, 463 passing, and no turnovers. Three games into the Tim Brewster administration, Minnesota is 1-2 and allowing more than 550 yards per game to FAU, Bowling Green and Miami, Ohio.

• Iowa State was neck-and-neck with Syracuse and Stanford for the title of "Worst Major Conference Program" after relatively bad losses to Kent State and I-AA Northern Iowa, and so of course completely stifled undefeated Iowa Saturday in a 15-13 upset. Hey, anything can happen in these rivalry games! And almost did: the Cyclones' go-ahead field goal went through with one second on the clock, and ISU proceeded to give up a 65-yard return with no time on the clock on the ensuing kickoff. They finally brought down Derrell Johnson-Koulianos at the twenty-five.

• Northwestern moved the ball as expected against completely hapless Duke - the Wildcats had 508 total yards and six drives of 58 yards or longer - and completely shut down the Devil offense after three long, surprising touchdown drives in the first half. But this one is explainable: Northwestern threw two interceptions and turned the ball over on downs after marches of 67, 61, 79 and 58 yards, the latter a final flame-out in a goal-to-go situation for the tying/winning touchdown. And thus the Devils' epic losing streak ends at 25 games against I-A opponents.

  • There's nothing that shocking about Utah beating UCLA, in general, but there is only one explanation for the team that was blown out by Oregon State and downed by Air Force in its first two games to utterly destroy a top 15 team by 38 points: turnovers. Five, to be exact. The Bruins and Utes were virtually dead even in total yardage - Utah had 386, UCLA 373 - but the Utes' Brett Ratliff had three touchdowns and no interceptions, where Ben Olson threw three interceptions and no touchdowns. The end result of that is 44-6.

• In one sense, Auburn's self-destruction vindicates my skepticism about the Tigers' in the preseason:

Al Borges typically does a good job, but the entire operation broke down with Kenny Irons' ankle injury early in the year, and Brandon Cox never found a rhythm. God, he never had time - against decent defenses, Washington State sacked Cox four times, LSU four times, South Carolina three, Arkansas six, Florida five, Georgia four, Alabama two and Nebraska five in the bowl game; that's four sacks a game against everybody's who's not Arkansas State, Tulane and Buffalo. And on top of that debacle of protection, four members of this year's line will be new. These are dark times.
- - -
But even that cynicism didn't descend to the level of losing to Mississppi State when the Bulldogs' quarterbacks combined to complete 5 of 18 passes for 41 yards. Again, to intentionally repeat the repetitive beat of repetition: it's all about turnovers. Auburn outgained MSU by 110 ten yards, but the Tigers had five giveaways, the Bulldogs only one. And so Mississippi State is 2-1, and Auburn is 1-2.

• Guess what was behind Oklahoma State's 41-23 loss to Troy Friday night? Well, horrible defense, yes - the Trojans racked up 562 yards - but also, turnovers! OSU could not stop Troy at all, which is kind of shocking in the sense that the talent differential should allow the Cowboys to hold a Sun Belt offense (even a very good offense, by SBC standards) to 400 at most, right? So a lot of guilt falls on the OK State defense, and credit to the Troy O, etc. But it's a different game, too, if the OSU offense doesn't turn the ball over five times or fail to score on drives of 77, 43 and 63 yards and another that began on the Troy 21 in the first half.


The house of turnovers fell on the wicked witch of defeat!
- - -

Conceit...
SMQ was right about: Friday's picks went 12-4 straight-up, but I'm most proud by far of the upset pick of New Mexico at ten-point favorite Arizona:

UNM's Rodney Ferguson has been a workhorse and is on pace to run for 1,500 yards, which doesn't exactly count as exploiting a weakness, since UA's held up okay against lesser backs early on, but it should be effective in keeping the ball out of the hands of Willie Tuitama, if he's going to do much with it when gets it, anyway. Competent Mountain West teams - which should include the Lobos - have matched up well with the Pac Ten the last couple years; Mike Stoops, specifically, is 1-3 against the MWC in his tenure, the struggles stemming in every case from the Wildcats' ongoing inability to score...
[...]
New Mexico 23 • Arizona 18

Tuitama threw for a career-high 446 yards in his first real display of the promised passing fireworks, but Ferguson ran for 94 yards and the Lobos had a seven-minute time of possession advantage in a 29-27 win.

Elsewhere, I projected a final score of Boise State 24, Wyoming 14. Actual final score: Boise State 27, Wyoming 14. Boston College scored 24 points, as expected, though the Eagles held Georgia Tech to just ten, half the total I predicted.

...and Contrition...
SMQ was wrong about: The "visibly sinking ship[s]" of Iowa State and Utah are addressed above with appropriate levels of incredulity as evidence of my pre-weekend opinion on those teams. Elsewhere, I cautioned against panic concerning Louisville's defense when in fact panic was a completely justified, accurate response to the Cardinals' defensive meltdown against Middle Tennessee. I was right about Oregon winning straight up over Fresno State, but you would have lost money if you'd bet on my advice to take the Bulldogs against the 17-point spread; Oregon won by a helthy 31 points. Luckily nobody would put money on anything I said, right? Right?

The Crunch
Interesting and Not Necessarily Relevant Stats
- - -
Malzahnification: BYU and Tulsa combined for 44 points in the second quarter alone, and for 1,300 total yards and 59 first downs in the game. The Cougars got off 94 snaps for 694 yards, but gave the ball away four times and lost, 55-47 ... Indiana quarterback Kellen Lewis had 199 yards rushing on 11 yards per carry in the Hoosiers' win over Akron ... Virginia out-possessed North Carolina almost two-to-one, 39:14 to 20:46, but only won on a failed two-point conversion by UNC with 1:57 left in the fourth quarter ... Illinois had three different players over 90 yards rushing against Syracuse, all of them on more than seven yards per carry. The Illini also matched its win total in each of Ron Zook's first two seasons ... Cincinnati's turnover parade continued: the Bearcats collected four takeaways from Miami, Ohio, in a 47-10 rout ... Purdue had five possessions for 295 yards and four touchdowns in the first quarter against Central Michigan. That's 10.5 yards per play ... Furman outgained Clemson and held C.J. Spiller to -1 yard rushing in a four-touchdown loss ... Tyrod Taylor threw  for 287 yards in his first start, but zero touchdowns or interceptions against Ohio U. of Ohio ... Wake Forest won 21-10 despite a meager 213 yards total offense against Army. The Deacons scored touchdowns on punt and interception returns in the first half ... Navy had an incredible 521 yards rushing on eight yards per carry against Ball State, and lost in overtime ... A week after gaining more than 550 yards at Louisville, Middle Tennessee was outgained 505-90 in a shutout loss at LSU ... Colt Brennan held under 300 yards! Brennan went 26-32 for 298 and two touchdowns (no picks) in Hawaii's 42-14 win at UNLV ... Wow: perpetually awful Stanford gained 506 yards in a shutout win over San Jose State, a team that ran 342 against the Cardinal last year. Stanford backup running back Toby Gerhart gained 140 yards on 11.7 per carry.