Posted by Bryan Fischer
There wasn't a particularly appetizing slate of college football games this week. Sure there was the Red River Shootout Beatdown Blowout Rivalry and a few other entertaining match ups but there truly was not a must watch game from kickoff to the final whistle most of the day. AP Top 25 teams in week 6 won by an average of 24.8 points, with Florida State being the lone upset to an unranked team.
It was another good week of college football, don't get me wrong, but the drama was a bit lacking until late Saturday night when Ohio State-Nebraska took the stage down in Lincoln. The game itself was nothing to write home about in terms of style points but it made up for it in second half theatrics. Taylor Martinez helped lead the storied program's biggest comeback ever, from down 21 points, with three scores, 102 yards rushing and an efficient 191 yards on 16 of 22 passing.
When I watched OSU against Miami, I saw a team that was half a step slower than the Hurricanes and looked like they were going through their first spring practice execution-wise. They were a solid Big Ten team but one who just couldn't execute like previous years. It was much different from when my colleague Gregg Doyel watched the Buckeyes in their opener in early September. There was a sense of relief then after a tumultuous offseason and, just as important to the OSU faithful, hope that they would be ok until most of the 'Buckeye Five' returned from their suspensions. Luke Fickell was a coach to believe in and this was a team that still had seemed to have plenty of talent on both sides of the ball, according to Doyel:
It was Akron, so who really can say, but what the heck -- I'll go ahead and say it:Well, that was Akron and things certainly have changed since Doyel wrote that column (one he'd love to have back, I'm sure), including the step up in competition with Nebraska. Granted this isn't your father's Cornhuskers team. They're 46th in total offense and, even more surprising with the Pelini brothers patrolling the sidelines, 59th in total defense. They got whacked by Wisconsin and have flirted with several close games before putting inferior opponents away late. They are no Akron but they're not a top 10 team either.
Ohio State has two solid quarterbacks in Joe Bauserman and Braxton Miller. Ohio State has a promising coach in Luke Fickell. And Ohio State has a team that won't be as bad as some people (OK, me) would have thought, given the terminations, suspensions and distractions of recent months.
The Buckeyes looked like they were on their way to a win Saturday by a surprising margin, ruining the Big Ten debut of Memorial Stadium. Things weren't going great but they were at least good. Freshman Braxton Miller looked comfortable running the offense, making plays with his feet and doing plenty to stake the team to a 27-6 lead in the 3rd. After the offense had looked pitiful against Miami and Michigan State the previous two weeks, there were signs of life for the scarlet and gray. With about five minutes left in the third quarter, Ohio State led 27-13 and had rolled up 312 yards of offense.
Then Miller sprained his ankle and all hell seemed to break lose.
"I'd like to say no," tight end Reid Fragel told the Cleveland Plain Dealer when asked if Miller's absence affected the whole team, "but it's one of those things at the back of everybody's mind. I'd like to say no, but at the same time, everybody cares about our quarterback and was kind of worried about him."
Senior Joe Bauserman came on to replace him and went 1 of 10 for 13 yards while the team as a whole had just 39 yards of offense the rest of the game. The Buckeyes went from grabbing an uplifting win on the road to a devastating loss; from a good team to mediocre to bad in a span of about 20 minutes of game time. There were mistakes in every phase of the game and at every level. Execution was lacking and any playmakers on the team seemed to be sitting on the bench drinking Gatorade.
Who deserves blame for it? Well there's plenty to go around. Bauserman, certainly, for the interception and stagnant offense. The defense too, for allowing Nebraska to rush for nearly 200 yards in the second half after holding them to just 37 in the first half. Many OSU fans are quick to blame offensive coordinator Jim Bollman and he rightfully deserves the lion's share for one reason: he didn't have a game plan for Bauserman. At all. He bet big on Miller and when it came time for Bauserman to take over at a key point in the game, Bollman seemed to panic and out-think himself.
What makes it interesting is that Bauserman was at one time the starter and he's played in every game this year. You'd think they would adjust the play calling so that he could nurse the lead and allow the senior to manage the game. Following Miller's injury, there were eight rushes and 10 passes, one of which was intercepted.
"No, Joe is not as mobile," Fickell said after the game. "We have to do a better job of putting him in situations he can handle a little better."
"The floodgates kind of opened and we started to panic a little bit and we never got ourselves back on track."
Those are not the words of a head coach. Jim Tressel - despite his compliance issues - was a terrific head coach because he had everybody buy in to what he was doing. More importantly, he knew what he was doing.
Fickell, a Buckeye through and through, seems to be in over his head and the inexperience really came through Saturday. There are plenty of people rooting for him to succeed but there's a reason why so many other names have been mentioned as the head coach of the team in 2012. Fickell has been thrown into the fire, a very hot one, and is doing the best that he can. Knowing how to manage a program, especially one like this, is not something many know how to do. It takes time and it takes a very good coach, one who is in control of everything and knows just what button to push at the right time. At this point in the season, it's hard to say Fickell has total control nor knows what to do. It's unfortunate but it's also life.
Ohio State's 3-3 with six games left, four of which they'll likely be decided underdogs. A bowl game is probably still likely but the program seems like it's adrift and capable of falling off the cliff if the staff isn't careful.
"You've got to rely on some guys," Fickell said. "And it's about leadership. But I don't know. That's what we're going to have to really look back at."
The leadership has to come from Fickell and the upperclassmen on the team, it shouldn't be 'I don't know' coming from the head coach or something that they'll 'have to look at.' There will be a lot of soul-searching going on in Columbus this week as well as some growing up for Fickell and company.
Stat of the week
According to the Associated Press, the state of Florida has been shut out of the AP poll for the first time since December 6, 1982. Not just the big three of Florida, Florida State and Miami, the entire state. There's just one California team (7. Stanford) and four from the state of Texas (20. Baylor, 21. Texas A&M, 22. Texas, 25. Houston).
Stats of the week
- Florida's loss to LSU was the worst loss for the program since 1996.
- Texas A&M is ranked in the top 25 but feature the nation's worst pass defense at 347.6 yards per game. They're behind Kansas and UNLV who have three wins between them.
- There were five SEC conference games and the winning quarterbacks had a combined 10 touchdowns and zero interceptions.
- Mark Richt earned his 100th win at Georgia and has a 100-36 overall record with the program.
- 27 players across the country are averaging over 100 yards rushing per game. Last year, just 19 finished with an average over the century mark.
- Arizona's Nick Foles leads the country in completions per game, is third in yards per game, second in total yards, fourth in total offense and has a 5-1 touchdown to interception ratio. Yet his team is 1-5 because the defense is 115th in total defense, 117th in scoring defense and second to last in the country in sacks.
- With a touchdown catch against Texas, Oklahoma receiver Ryan Broyles is the active leader in career receiving touchdowns with 10 more than the next guy, Notre Dame's Michael Floyd.
- Surprisingly Illinois is tied for the nation's third longest winning streak at seven games. Stanford has the longest (13) followed by Oklahoma (10). Alabama and LSU both have seven game streaks as well but obviously will play each other in November. New Mexico and Florida Atlantic have the longest losing streaks at eight games, while Memphis has lost 15 straight in conference.
- The Pac-12 leads the country in passing and has 31 more passing touchdowns than any other conference (153 total). The Big Ten leads the country in rushing and has 11 more rushing touchdowns than any other conference.
- UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel improved to 9-0 against Washington State at three different schools (Colorado, Washington, UCLA). One of the wins came as a non-conference win while at Colorado. With eight wins in conference play, that would mean 25% of Neuheisel's Pac-12 conference victories have come at the expense of the Cougars.
- According to the Big Ten Network, every time Michigan has started 6-0, they've gone to the Rose Bowl.
- There was plenty of Boomer Sooner at the Cotton Bowl this weekend, enough to cause Bevo to turn away from the field of play so he didn't have to see anymore of the Longhorns. Most saw Texas as overrated, moving into the top 10 largely because they hadn't lost and because they're, well, Texas. They had some momentum coming into the game and thought they had a solid backfield that would be able to make a few plays in Bryan Harsin's offense. Nope. The story of the game wasn't Oklahoma's potent offense, but its spectacular defense that had a coming out party and reminding everyone that though they might not be Alabama or LSU's, they are still pretty good. The Sooners set six defensive school records against the Horns, including eight sacks. Final score: Oklahoma's offense 34, Oklahoma defense 21, Texas 17.
- It really didn't matter what true freshman quarterback took snaps under center for Florida, they were getting fed to the wolves. Or at least one Honey Badger, who picked off starter Jacoby Brissett's deep pass in the third quarter. It's rare for LSU to have the advantage at the quarterback position but it was pretty clear they had the advantage at just about every position in their 41-11 rout at home. The Gators have issues but they're still a solid football that's just trying to find some footing. The Tigers, meanwhile, look like they used the weekend to tune up every phase of their game, controlling throughout and limiting their opponent to 2 of 11 on third down and 213 total yards. The lasting images of the game might have come from a punter and a back up quarterback. Much-maligned quarterback Jordan Jefferson threw a touchdown pass in a manner Florida fans are quite familiar with - a jump pass near the goal line. Brad Wing became an overnight sensation after faking a punt and taking it 52 yards to the house late in the first. Wing, however, raised his arms slightly before crossing the goal line and drew an unsportsmanlike conduct flag that took the points off the board. That was about the only thing that went wrong all day for Les Miles' crew.
"We showed everybody that we are capable of some special things against a really good Florida team," said Tigers defensive end Sam Montgomery. "I want more. I want a National Championship. I want to play the best ever."
- Virginia Tech just doesn't lose back-to-back games at home under Frank Beamer. Perhaps it's the 'Enter Sandman' music the PA announcer puts on late in games but there's not much you can do to stop the Hokies. Miami thought they did thanks to Lamar Miller, who broke off several big runs in the fourth quarter before catching a throwback pass for a touchdown to pull the Hurricanes to within three. He gave them the lead with a 30 yard run late in the game before Tech quarterback Logan Thomas said 'Sorry, I'll take that' on an option on fourth-and-one to scamper 19 yards for the game-winning score. The comeback by Thomas capped an overall great day for him, going 23 of 25 for 310 yards and three touchdowns.
- Staying in the ACC, the surprise team in the league might be Georgia Tech, not Clemson. The 6-0 Yellow Jackets held off a late charge from Maryland after building a 21-3 lead going into the fourth. "They whipped our tail pretty good in the end," Tech coach Bobby Johnson said. Still, his squad is undefeated and among the top 10 in a good number of offensive categories. The passing game wasn't there against the Terrapins like it was in previous games but they still managed to eek out a victory. By the way, it's ok if you missed watching this game on account of Maryland's uniform combination, which featured mustard yellow pants.
- Arizona State has finally started to live up to expectations while Utah hasn't even come close to them. The Sun Devils defense forced three straight turnovers at one point in the third quarter, quick enough that quarterback Brock Osweiler couldn't even get his jersey cleaned in time. "They were cleaning it one second and the next second it was, 'Hey, you got to go,"' he said. "But that's a credit to our defense. They were staying focused, playing with a lot of intensity, creating turnovers." As sharp as the defense has looked the past few games, the offense has shown off an explosive side as well, scoring 18 straight points in four minutes. Dennis Erickson's squad also won a road game, big because they have a showdown and possible championship game preview with Oregon this week. For the Utes, we all worried about the grind of a BCS conference and it does seem like they're wearing down in the second half of games after starting relativly strong. Of course, it helps to have a healthy quarterback but they just haven't had one as Jordan Wynn missed yet another game. They've lost six of their last 10 and need to do something against the back half of their conference schedule to make a bowl.
- Remember when Florida State was fifth in the country and everybody was whispering they were back? Me neither. The only ranked team to lose to an unranked foe, the Seminoles had their issues with Wake Forest. After a previously injured E.J. Manuel returned in the second quarter to replace starter Clint Trickett, he threw a 46-yard touchdown pass to Rashad Greene and many expected FSU to start moving from there. Wake running back Josh Harris had other ideas, breaking off big run after big run on his way to 136 yards and an upset. The Demon Deacons have now won four straight and are undefeated in ACC play even if they are flying under most people's radar. Wake has only five wins against Florida State all-time but have won four of them since 2006 and four of the last six.
- On one hand, it was Kentucky. On the other hand, it was an impressive showing by South Carolina. Steve Spurrier made a change at quarterback and Connor Shaw paid off as the Gamecocks had more yards on offense since the Old Ball Coach started calling plays in Columbia. The 54-3 win was also South Carolina's biggest victory since joining the SEC, thanks in large part to the sharp play of Shaw, who went 26 of 39 for 311 yards and four touchdowns. About the only one who didn't score was running back Marcus Lattimore.
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"That #11 ranking was such a farce. If Texas had Complete Scouting Services they wouldn't lose to OU so bad."
- Infamous recruiting scout Willie Lyles.
Like the AP poll, my top 10 does not change.
4. Boise State
7. Oklahoma State
10. Georgia Tech
Where we'll be this week
Mr. College Football Tony Barnhart will see if Connor Shaw is the real deal as South Carolina heads to Starkvegas to play Mississippi State. Dennis Dodd will take in the sights and sounds of Knoxville as LSU plays Tennessee. Brett McMurphy will see if Texas shows any improvement as they host Oklahoma State while Bruce Feldman will head to the Pacific Northwest to see a possible Pac-12 Championship Game preview with Arizona State and Oregon.
Leaning this way
Michigan at Michigan State
Anything can happen in rivalry games and it would certainly make the Spartans' season if they pulled off an upset of Big Blue and a top 10 team. Mark Dantonio has had a bye week to help prepare to stop Denard Robinson but Michigan's improved defense will be enough to help squeak by in a close game in East Lansing.
Oklahoma State at Texas
Those 55 points Oklahoma scored? Oklahoma State had that by halftime last week. The young Texas defense will have their hands full again this week with what might be an even better passing offense. The defense for the Cowboys is nothing special so the Horns should be able to put up some points of their own but there's just too many weapons for Brandon Weeden to keep it close.
Arizona State at Oregon
Dennis Erickson's squad got a road win and have been playing as well as anyone on defense the past couple of weeks. They've been forcing turnovers left and right and will need to continue that if they're to have a shot against the Ducks. LaMichael James won't play but the offense is still potent with Kenjon Barner and DeAnthony Thomas coming out of the backfield. This could be a championship game preview and Oregon wins thanks to another big second half.