By how many yards did LSU outrush Mississippi State again? Could ESPN flash that number maybe one more time?
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I'm still trying to synthesize the Appalachian State upset of Michigan. If Biff from Back to the Future saw that game in his sportsbook from the past, he couldn't stake his ill-gotten fortune on it, because his secret would be blown. Anyone who bet anything significant on a straight-up ASU win should be immediately pursued, arrested and interrogated about his time travel capabilities. He probably shot Kennedy. Both of them.
And so for now I can only applaud Appalachian State for reaffirming and casting the rest of the season in light of the sport's sublime governing principle : This game makes no sense. Every underdog everywhere, on every level, will lift its eyes to a shrine of Appalachian State every week, every favorite will remember it as a solemn warning, and we will as fans, too, every time an obviously lopsided game pops up on the schedule or scrolling ticker. It will linger as a catastrophic event to power programs, a disaster that - while unprecedented, beyond rare, while so extremely unlikely to happen again - remains so devastating and foundation-shaking in reality that heightened vigilance, shrill warnings and increased security must become the norm for the forseeable future. Everything changed. If a menagerie of anonymous, resource-poor upstarts can bring down an elite, defining symbol of the established order on its own turf, then no one is safe.
Well, maybe. I'm not much of a conspiracy theorist in this or any other realm, but commenter and Buffalo University partisan Calvert takes Appalachian's inspiration as occasion to issue his own mid-major manifesto:
What the events of today should have shown to everyone is that the perceived dominance of the BCS conferences is nowhere near as great as those conferences and their media spokesmen want you to believe and that that has been true for quite a few years now. The gap in talent and coaching ability has been shrinking at an alarming rate and the BCS ADs know it which is why they work as hard as they do to exclude the non-BCS conference teams from title competition. It was only a matter of time before a title-caliber BCS conference team felt secure enough, as Michigan did this year, to put a top non-BCS conference team on their schedule and have it bite them in the ass. Michigan, the Big Ten, the BCS conferences and the national sports media actually started believing their own propaganda, forgetting that dominance isn't something that is given to you, you're not just better because everyone keeps telling you you are...dominance is something you have to earn and fight for every single day. Oklahoma forgot that in January. The Wolverines forgot it today and they will be paying the price for their incompetence and arrogance for a very long time.
The BCS is under attack! Normally, I love this line of thought and jump right on the back of any argument that could conceivably lead to the overthrow of the prevailing order in favor of the more egalitarian, meritocratic end of a playoff. In this case, though, I think Calvert is absolutely wrong about the size of the talent gap and BCS schools' willingness to schedule mid-major programs - they feast on them to inflate win totals and earn bowl eligibility, and will continue to do so, because records and margins of victory of major conference schools against the "little guys" conclusively demonstrate the superiority of the big shots relative to, frankly, a parade of overly-optimistic wannabes. On an opening weekend that will live on for its one great revolution, BCS conference teams were 34-6 against non-BCS and I-AA schools, none of those victories by less than two scores. So, yes, the BCS is a monied, exclusionary club that should be penetrated or, better yet, obliterated, but Appalachian State alone hasn't punched the ticket for the entire underclass, just as Boise State in January only made a name for Boise State. As long as the larger record remains as lopsided as it is, and always has been, those wins are still just high profile anomalies in the big picture.
Michigan, meanwhile, has descended into an epic crisis of identity. After some brief technical difficulties, MGoBlog has devolved into a pink-drenched marriage of kittens and madness. Usually fast-updating Maize N Brew is still stuck on Friday's preview post this morning. Descend into message boards, and you'll find quickly that Lloyd Carr and Ron English have no defenders. And how could they? How could their hulking blue chips fall prey to these cast-offs who didn't warrant a sniff from anyone in the Big Ten? Like, not even Northwestern? "Discipline," "confidence" and "heart" seem less than inadequate explanations. I didn't watch any of the game, not being in a selected Midwestern location (or bar with DirecTV) that carried the Big Ten Network, but I am intensely interested in how, exactly, the Mountaineers overcame such huge physical obstacles to victory.
Whoah. Hubris, guys. Hubr – you know, never mind. Go crazy.
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But how was ASU even in a position for those plays to matter? Lou Holtz was off his rocker when he suggested "this was not an upset," but he was right about the leveling effects of the spread offense, an argument I've made repeatedly this offseason. ASU was smart enough to know it had no chance of matching up with the Wolverines six-on-six in the trenches, and wisely limited its attack to more manageable, less physical one-on-one passing. Where it could be avoided, in other wrods, they didn't let themselves get pushed around. On this front, its scheme and scouting are to be commended - Ohio State shredded the Wolverine secondary the same way, remember - and the very, very short Edwards deserves high praise for his Troy Smith impersonation in the pocket, at least during ASU's 28-point first half and on the winning drive, on which he recovered from a terrible half to complete all four of his passes and deliver a killer 18-yard scramble into Michigan territory. He was the essential, resilient trigger, without which all schemes are moot. Saturday, at least, he was just a very good quarterback.
Given its youth and its failure through the last three games its played, though, all the offseason handwringing over Michigan's secondary and pass rush is morbidly prescient. The stats show it, and even the highlights show a quarterback who had all kinds of time and DBs who were lost in coverage, took bad angles and missed tackles when they finally got there. It was the worst nightmare incarnate, to the extreme. Beyond the extreme. This is a lesson: the next time your team enters the season, or just a game, with questions along the line, or in the secondary, don't assume it's going to be okay. Weaknesses are real. Empathize with the Michigan partisan during the steady stream of highlights and week-long retrospectives about the excitement in little Boone, North Carolina, and updates on the Mountaineers' run to a third straight I-AA championship, and think, "There, but for the grace of God..."
...with various degrees of vigilance...
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California 45, Tennessee 31
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Tennessee knew it would rely on Erik Ainge and otherwise had three significant questions coming into this game: a) How will the very young secondary hold up against a legitimate passing attack? b) How will the running game produce after two years of stagnation? And c) Was the dramatic regression in pass rush and run-stopping ability in last year's front seven a blip or a new trend?
Ainge, as expected, was terrific: 32-47, 271 yards, three touchdowns, zero interceptions working with a bum throwing hand and almost brand new receivers. His one big mistake, the blindside hit and fumble-cum-touchdown on the first possession, was a breakdown on the line and out of his control. Which brings us to the question marks:
- How will the very young secondary hold up against a legitimate passing attack? Nate Longshore completed 19 of 28 for 241 yards and four touchdowns, zero interceptions, averaging a little over twelve and a half yards per completion.
- How will the running game produce after two years of stagnation? On this front, some success: Montario Hardesty found the going tough in the first half, but long lost Arian Foster, last year's would-be star turned also-ran, busted off 89 yards on just 13 carries, including and impressive, perfectly-blocked 42-yarder inside the Cal five moments after the Bears went up 17 to start the third quarter. Foster looked fast and strong and like the potential star he was set up to be last year. The offensive line opened holes for him and only allowed just the one sack, killer that it was.
- Was the dramatic regression in pass rush and run-stopping ability in last year's front seven a blip or a new trend? Tennessee sacks: zero. Cal rushing yards: 230. Cal yards per carry: 6.2. Justin Forsett (156 yards) and Jahvid Best (11.5 yards per on four carries) made the primetime showcase their own coming out party.
Now, I could, if I was so inclined, argue that Tennessee shouldn't be too upset as all that about allowing 45 points, as Ainge let an effective offense and the final margin was the result of two "swing" plays - the early fumble return and a punt return a few minutes later that broke the back-and-forth momentum in favor of the Bears - that don't necessarily bear negatively on the future, especially since DeSean Jackson's preternatural juking doesn't appear again on the schedule. But that would ignore the following possessions by Cal's offense:
In that light, 45 points and 471 yards looks an awful like the numbers Cal put up against Minnesota and generous Pac Ten Ds from Arizona State, Oregon State and Washington last year, units Tennessee would prefer to think it transcends. Clearly it didn't last night, an indication the Vols are in for a long
Cal, on the other hand, was sharp and looked unstoppable at times with Jeff Tedford on full-time play-calling duties before Jackson's huge impact on special teams is even taken into account. Nate Longshore was on time and accurate and looked for all the world like another scout-loving Tedford protege with a lot of weapons at his disposal; LaVelle Hawkins, especially, was a sure-handed go-to guy who can keep secondaries from overplaying Jackson, and the offensive line that was overrun by UT last year was nearly flawless. There are some issues with the defense and consistency (Longshore looked great much of last year, too, but also went into a slump later on in the season) that are going to come back to them later, undoubtedly, but all in all, the Bears' win Saturday - like Tennessee's last year in Knoxville - was the most impressive of the weekend and will probably facilitate their rise to the top of my first resume-based Blog Poll ballot Wednesday. Maybe this is the team I expected last year, and maybe it's an early mirage. I don't think we'll be able to gauge its longevity until Cal visits Oregon in three weeks.
• The title of this post, if you missed it, references Brent Musburger's giddy, amazing call for viewers to stick around in the fourth quarter, which I paraphrase: "You don't know what you're gonna see next, folks. Anything can happen! We've got hippies in the oak trees!"
• Tennessee's Xavier Mitchell, the defensive end carted off the field with a very ugly-looking neck injury in the fourth quarter, is from near my native stomping grounds in Mississippi. I watched him play basketball in high school. The Tennesseean reported this morning that Mitchell was "alert and talking when he left the field," per defensive coordinator John Chavis, and SMQ wished him all the best in his recovery.
Update [2007-9-2 17:55:26 by SMQ]: Joel at Rocky Top Talk reports Mitchell only suffered a concussion and had no damage to his spine, according to a CT scan and X-ray. Hope so.
Colorado 31, Colorado State 28 (Overtime)
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Both quarterbacks, besides sharing initials, were surprisingly effective in what I expected to be a defensive slugfest, so I was a little taken aback to see they finished with average-looking numbers (201 yards, two TDs and one INT for Cody Hawkins, 229 yards, 3 TD and one devasating INT for CSU's Caleb Hanie). It's all in the expectations, I guess, but the first four drives of the game all ended in touchdown passes, and young Hawkins was perfect on the first two possessions of his career. He also connected on a 31-yard completion on 3rd-and-16 that set up the go-ahead field goal before the half and brought the Buffs back from 11 down in the second half to win (more on which below). He struggled a little later on - he locked onto receivers and threw a late interception on a flea flicker, albeit under heavy pressure, that could have submarined CU's comeback hopes if not for the defense - but for a redshirt freshman in his first start, Hawkins was poised and unusually comfortable with the timing of the offense; he knew where his receivers would be and got rid of the ball on time, before breaks, between closing safeties, over the top of linebackers biting on good play-action fakes, with rushers in his face when he turned around on bootlegs, with very little of the double-clutching and late releases typical of a young quarterback in his first start.
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For his part, senior Hanie was very good for Colorado State, matching Hawkins' touchdown passes early on and making a burgeoning star of tight end Kory Sperry, who caught all three of Hanie's touchdowns before running out of gas on some potentially big plays in the second half. The Rams leaned as expected on the reconstructed knees of workhorse Kyle Bell, who had 40 carries, but Bell averaged just 3.4 with a long of 14 yards, and Hanie entered the overtime having completed 20 of 26. Had he not then thrown the decisive interception on the first play of the extra frame, setting up CU's winning kick, the story of the game would be his and Sperry's rather than Hawkins'.
• CSU struggled so much with Colorado's rejuvenated offense in the first half, having given up two touchdowns and a field goal and drives of 22 and 25 yards even when it forced punts, the Rams made their move in the third quarter largely out of paranoia of giving the ball up again. Jason Smith delivered one of the best surprise onside kicks I've ever seen after Sperry's third touchdown catch put the Rams up 21-17 on the opening drive of the second half, bouncing the ball off the facemask of a stunned, retreating Colorado player on the front line for easy recovery by the CSU kicking team. Once Bell scored a few plays later, Hawkins went from being up by four to down by eleven without touching the ball in between.
That kind of momentum swing to start the half might have killed the team that went 2-10 last year, but this one responded by shutting CSU out the rest of the way and clawing back to tie/win, primarily on the merits of a 14-play, 86-yard touchdown drive on which Hawkins completed three passes on third-and-seven or longer, hit another for 19 yards and completed the two-point conversion to cut the game to within a field goal.
• Re: that field goal: the eventual ending obscures the humongous testicles on Dan Hawkins, who, his team down 28-25 and facing 4th-and-4 at the CSU 27 with 1:16 in the game, tried the old, always ineffective draw-em-offsides "play," called the obligatory timeout, and still eschewed the tying kick to try a pass down the sideline when incompletion=certain defeat. CSU blanketed the throw, forcing a catch out of bounds, but drew a game-extending pass interference in the process, setting a much more manageable kick to send the game to overtime. Note that Kevin Eberhart, on for the first time in place of all-everything Mason Crosby and having missed his first attempt earlier in the game, nailed both.
• Obligatory negativity, since I'm going way too positive over Colorado after a three-point overtime win against Colorado State: the Buffs repeatedly ran the Incredibly Surprising Quarterback Draw with running back Demetrius Sumler taking the direct snap to little effect, each time preceded by Cody Hawkins advertising the play by motioning from under center out to wide receiver. CU must be setting something up with this, something it never used Saturday, but it fooled no one from the first attempt. Least of all Colorado State.
Virginia Tech 17, East Carolina 7
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After Virginia Tech's early win last year over North Carolina, I wrote this about Sean Glennon:
A year on, a dozen starts and an offseason later, and it looks very much like the same old song and dance. Glennon wasted no time extending an unintentional middle finger to defenders and presumptions of veteran improvement, underthrowing a check down route directly into the arms of ECU's Pierre Bell on the Hokies' first snap of the season.
The difference, if this game is an indication, is that Tech's offensive line, through its incompetence, appears determined to simultaneously keep the running game stagnating in endless pileups around the line of scrimmage while missing assignments and/or being physically beaten by pass rushers in predictable situations. Much less of the obvious offensive foot-dragging against ECU was directly attributable to Glennon, who recovere from the pick to throw for 245, as it was to the offensive line, which had no answers for anything the Pirates showed and allowed three sacks, where the Hokie defense surprisingly had none. For Tech to struggle so consistently - the offense accounted for all of ten points and 33 yards rushing - against a game but outmatched team as ECU is a sign of doom with LSU coming up next week on the road. If Glennon looks like, well, Sean Glennon, I'd be stunned if we didn't see very hyped scrambler Tyrod Taylor in the lineup to create some sort of spark that's been blatantly missing.
• Harris got the score on an interception return, but Tech's first touchdown really belongs to the punt team, which downed the preceding punt at the ECU one. Harris didn't do anything special here, except receive Brett Clay's comically underthrown ball and make the short lope into the end zone to put the Hokies up 10-7. Clay wasn't under immediate pressure on the throw, but he was rushing to throw upfield out of the back of his own end zone, where the gears of the "internal clock" turn twice as fast.
Missouri 40, Illinois 34
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My first thought on this game is "Illinois is Illinois." Not just because of the abbreviated, anticlimatic comeback effort, but all afternoon, the Illini appeared determined to give a competitive game away in classically random fashion. They stuffed Tony Temple outgained Missouri behind athletic true freshman Eddie McGee, for example, but McGee did his best Juice Williams impersonation in place of the injured starter in the second quarter, with the Illini down just 7-6, when he drove them within a shadow of the go-ahead score, then followed a strike inside the Missouri five-yard line with a fumble into the end zone that Mizzou's Pig Williams returned 100 yards. The two-touchdown swing put the Tigers up 13-6. After Missouri came back with another touchdown right before to go up 20-7, Illinois return man Chris Duvalt gave away a cheap field goal before the break by fumbling the ensuing kickoff. A game that easily could have been tied thus featured a 16-point deficit instead.
It almost seems appropriate somehow that Illinois fought back in the second half, got some breaks in its favor and made a game of it in the second half - at one point improbably completing a desperation, true freshman-to-true freshman pass on a must-convert fourth down late in the game after McGee had bobbled the shotgun snap - only to have its chances go up in smoke on a terrible floater of a pass underthrown into double coverage. The Illini were resilient and showed some pop on offense for a change, and still appear besieged by the self-destructive instinct.
Zook's teams are nothing if not consistent.
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Later, when trailing Illinois forced a critical fumble from Chase Daniel that the Illini recovered inside the Missouri five early in the fourth quarter, the same crew insisted against all visual evidence that Daniel's arm was ever-so-slightly but conclusively coming forward. The officials, rightly and to the shock of the booth, upheld the call, and Illinois cut the score to 37-34 two plays later.
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• One of the weekend's most impressive debuts was by Washington's hyped redshirt freshman quarterback Jake Locker, who ran and later threw all over Syracuse in an absolute blowout of a Husky win in the Carrier Dome Friday night. To be fair, Syracuse appears to have at least as bad a team, if not worse, as it's had in Greg Robinson's first two seasons. The Orange could not block, could not run, could not tackle, and looked thoroughly outmatched in every phase from the second quarter on. Quarterback Andrew Robinson had a couple touchdown passes dropped at the end of the first half, and had no time from that point on to consider getting off a pass before being instantly buried by Washington rushers. Syracuse's defense didn't come close to stopping Locker or running back Louis Rankin. So, while Washington certainly looked impressive against a fellow BCS league bottom dweller, it could be due at least as much to Syracuse's incredible incompetence as to the Huskies' vast improvement. But for now, anyway, it's optimism.
Quintin Groves laughs at your hypothetical left tackle.
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• Auburn is going to win a lot of games without scoring very many points. Quentin Groves is Dwight Freeney, only slghtly more dominating at the college level; I cannot believe how fast he is off the edge, or that Kansas State could leave poor left tackle Alesana Alesana (actual name) alone with Groves in a must-pass situation when Josh Freeman was already having trouble getting off the ground, and KSU paid for its misplaced confidence with an inflated final score caused directly by Groves' culminating, ball-jarring sack.
• Colt Brennan's numbers at halftime of Hawaii's 63-6 win over Northern Colorado: 34-40, 416 yards, six touchdowns, zero interceptions. As a friend points out, that puts Brennan on pace for 144 touchdowns in the regular season, if he finished every game. Alas, his opponent crying mercy, he didn't play in the second half at all Saturday.
SMQ was right about: I thought Cal's offense looked very, very scary going into the game, and obviously still think so:
I have confidence in Ainge, but almost no one else for Tennessee. Longshore is a very different quarterback than the kid who came out so flustered last September, and Tennessee's inexperience in the secondary is the worst possible scenario against Cal's passing game. Jackson will break free for at least one big, tide-turning play the Vols won't be able to answer.
On Georgia Tech's pressure against Notre Dame's inexperienced quarterbacks:
And on Auburn and Kansas State:
My projected score of that game: 20-9 Auburn. Actual final: 23-13 Auburn, after the Tigers' late defensive score.
SMQ was wrong about: Uh, right, that whole thing about Central Michigan upsetting Kansas...
...go ahead and forget that one, if you please. Thanks.
Stream of Consciousness
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Boston College fans probably miss Tom O'Brien a lot less after Jeff Jagodzinski's debut – and after Tom O'Brien's ... Speaking of N.C. State, the most woeful of the ACC's day of woe: losing to Central Florida by two at home, gaining 108 total yards in a three-touchdown loss at Wyoming, or being outscored 34-0 in the second half at home by a first-time starting quarterback from UConn? For my money, come on down, Virginia, you're the next contestant on The Coach is Fired! ... Wisconsin might have made the right choice at quarterback ... Memphis roared back from 23-0 down against Ole Miss, only to lose 23-21 on a missed two-point conversion in the final minute ... As much has been suggested before, but the SEC might want to keep an eye out for Matt Stafford ... Minnesota comes from 21-0 down in Tim Brewster's coaching debut yet still loses to Bowling Green in overtime, and a state wonders: why didn't we recruit this Tyler Sheehan? ... And the Championship Subdivision strikes again: Nicholls State beat Rice 16-14 on a fourth quarter safety.
Interesting/Not Necessarily Relevant Stats
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Wake Forest and Boston College combined for 112 pass attempts, seven touchdowns and six interceptions. Combined rushing yards: 51 on 50 carries ... Kirby Freeman averaged 4.1 yards on 21 attempts, completing just nine im Miami's 31-3 win over Marshall ... West Coast? Nebraska ran 70 times for 413 yards against Nevada. The Huskers held the ball for more than 40 minutes and got off 96 snaps ... Memphis also crammed in 96 snaps and outgained Ole Miss by 209 yards in a loss ... UCLA had 624 total yards and 24 first downs against Stanford, or roughly 26 yards per first down ... Houston and Oregon combined for 646 yards rushing, led by UH's Anthony Alridge (23 for 207, long of 60 yards) and Oregon QB Dennis Dixon (15 for 141 with an 80-yarder), both over nine yards per carry. Houston had a 70-yard edge in total yards but lost by three touchdowns ... Montana State gained over 400 yards at Texas A&M and scored seven points ... Big shock: Arkansas ran for 350 against Troy ... Sam Bradford's first start: 21-23, 363 yards, 3 touchdowns. Are you kidding me? A lot of quarterbacks couldn't do that in practice, against air. Who does this kid think he is, Brian Brohm?