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The team never seemed to get any momentum. The Hoyas lost to Northeastern, then beat Kansas State and VCU. They lost six of seven Big East games in January, then beat Michigan State. And just when it looked like Georgetown could make a case for the NCAA Tournament, it lost five of its last seven — with the wins coming over Creighton and Xavier, of course.
There were availability questions surrounding Greg Whittington at the start of the season and Josh Smith in the middle of the season — plus various injuries. With fewer question marks heading into this season, Georgetown should be back in the mix for an NCAA Tournament invite.
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Like last season, the key for the Hoyas will be the availability of Smith. He played just 13 games before being ruled academically ineligible, costing Georgetown in Big East play. He played fewer than 20 minutes per game, but was third on the team in scoring. Smith was a force at times in November and December, opening the season with 25 points against Oregon and also notching six straight double-figure scoring outings in non-conference play. The talent has never been the question for Smith; it’s his conditioning. Can Smith stay on the floor? When he gets the ball on the block, he’s nearly unstoppable.
Nate Lubick and Moses Ayegba are gone from last season, but John Thompson III won’t lack for options. Mikael Hopkins was something of an unsung presence inside for the Hoyas, leading the team in blocked shots and providing Georgetown with a capable passer. Sophomore Reggie Cameron might be the team’s best pure outside shooter.
Two reasons for excitement, though, are freshmen Paul White and Isaac Copeland. White is a 6-8 forward who can stretch the floor and also put the ball on the deck and get to the rim. He has the ability to be a matchup problem. Copeland has a higher ceiling than White, and is another versatile forward who can knock down shots from the perimeter.
Georgetown Hoyas Facts & Figures
Last season: 25-7, 8-10 Big East
Last NCAA Tournament: 2013
Coach: John Thompson III (227-104 at Georgetown, 107-62 Big East)
Big East Projection: Second
Postseason Projection: NCAA Round of 64
Georgetown bids farewell to point guard Markel Starks, a four-year player. Over the last two seasons, Starks was a scorer and playmaker who cemented himself as one of the Big East’s best guards.
Without Starks, the onus will fall on junior D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera. Smith-Rivera led the Hoyas in scoring last season and could be ready for a Big East Player of the Year-type of campaign. He finished last season on a tear, averaging 25.0 points in his last three games.
Jabril Trawick might not put up big scoring numbers, but the team is different when he’s not on the court. He missed five games due to a broken jaw last season — and Georgetown went 1-4 in his absence. He’s an athletic guard who also might be the team’s best perimeter defender. Aaron Bowen had his moments last season as a backup on the wing, using his athleticism to bring energy off the bench.
Two freshmen will also play roles on the perimeter. L.J. Peak is a bigger wing who has plenty of athleticism. Tre Campbell is the only pure point guard on the team, and could have to play an immediate role if Smith-Rivera is more comfortable off the ball.
Outside of Villanova, the Big East is wide-open — and Georgetown will be right in the mix for that second tier. If Smith is eligible, healthy and in shape — or at least able to play 20 minutes a night for an entire season — the Hoyas probably will be the second-best team in the league. Smith is that important.
When Smith brings consistent scoring to the post, all the other ingredients are there for Thompson. Smith-Rivera is one of the best guards in the country; Hopkins and Trawick bring experience; and there is depth across the roster. The Hoyas’ four-man recruiting class brings a little bit of everything.
It’s difficult to say an 18–15 team that lost its do-it-all senior point guard will be significantly improved the next season, but that should be the case for Georgetown. Expect a bounce-back season in the nation’s capital.
Georgetown had one of the better recruiting classes in the country, and it’s a four-man group that helps shore up different areas — with a nice mix of immediate impact and future potential. Paul White and Isaac Copeland are both versatile forwards who will certainly help with their ability to stretch the defense. Tre Campbell is a pure point guard, and L.J. Peak is a strong, athletic wing.
Multi-car teams working together: it’s a modern NASCAR philosophy that began in the 1980s, failed miserably, and was redefined during the 1990s by Hendrick Motorsports. Built with Jeff Gordon, massaged by Terry Labonte and perfected by Jimmie Johnson, the organization has won 11 championships based on multiple cars sharing information, turning from rivals on the racetrack into individuals openly helping one another. It’s a motto of “one for all, all for one” that HMS has even employed through its engine and chassis-sharing partnerships with teams like Stewart-Haas Racing and Chip Ganassi’s two-car effort — both considered “strong allies” to aid their growing information library.
Yet here we are, with four races remaining in the Sprint Cup Series season and “one” refers to the number of Hendrick-owned cars still in contention for a title. Johnson? Gone. Dale Earnhardt Jr.? Toast (and facing a crew chief change in 2015, to boot). Kasey Kahne? Well, one could argue he should never have made the Chase in the first place. But considering the organization’s long history of success, along with wins in 11 of the season’s first 32 races, going 1-for-4 in this new playoff format has to be considered a minor shock. Johnson has a history of winning titles, knowing when to peak at the right time; Earnhardt, in his final season with Steve Letarte, appeared to be at his Hendrick peak. Now 40, one wonders if NASCAR’s most popular driver will have another season as good as this.
Brad Keselowski knows a thing or two about that teamwork. After all, he was brought up within Hendrick Motorsports, being groomed to one day fill a seat within its Cup roster. When he left for Penske Racing on his own timetable, he did things his own way but never forgot the power of sharing information. After handpicking his teammate, Joey Logano, Penske’s two-driver effort has become closer than ever, a formidable foe fighting organizations that have twice as many cars on the track (and, in theory twice the resources).
It was that Keselowski-Logano duo — knowing former was in trouble as the lap[s wound down at Talladega — that worked together over the frantic final laps. With the No. 2 team needing a win to make the Chase, there was Logano’s No. 22 fighting to hit Keselowski’s back bumper at every turn. Glued together every chance they got, their teamwork achieved the goal of getting both drivers into the final eight, as Keselowski earned the victory in a green-white-checker finish where even fierce rival Matt Kenseth — who would have loved to have turned him sideways instead of drafting with him — fell short at the finish line.
Where was Hendrick’s effort, whose drivers Johnson and Earnhardt combined to lead 115 of 194 laps? Twenty fourth and 31st, respectively. In the final 10 laps, and with both drivers needing a victory to advance, the modus operandi on the radio was “every man for himself.” Especially in Junior’s camp, where an outright refusal to work together left both men vulnerable before Greg Biffle did his part in finishing off Junior’s Chase the way his Kansas bump — while also accidental — left Johnson in the same boat. Hendrick had two teams, housed in the same shop acting as individuals. Meanwhile, Penske’s two produced perfect synergy.
Surely in the days to come we’ll talk about bad luck, bad formatting and all the little things that kept Johnson, Earnhardt and Kahne from moving on. But on a day where teamwork reigned supreme, Hendrick emerged without a top-10 finish and it seemed, as the champagne rained down on Keselowski, that NASCAR’s multi-car king was beaten in the game he created.
“Through the Gears,” post-Talladega, we go …
FIRST GEAR: Keselowski’s great save
Much of the last week’s news was focused around Brad Keselowski’s on-track behavior. After a $50,000 fine following his actions at Charlotte which included separate incidents with Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth and Tony Stewart (who got docked 25K himself), the 2012 champion was under a microscope. The old theory of “getting kicked when you’re down” came into play, and it seemed plenty of pundits both inside and outside of the garage were ready and willing to pile on.
Here’s the problem for them: Keselowski and his team didn’t stay down for long. Despite a spin by Jamie McMurray, one where his No. 1 car slammed into Keselowski’s passenger side door, the bunch never lost focus. In both repairing the damage, aligning the driver with teammate Logano and practicing strong pit stops, the team never lost its fire. So when the pack shuffled a bit entering the final lap, Keselowski was in perfect position to seize control of the race. Here’s the irony of it all: rival Kenseth, one week after locking Keselowski in a headlock, charged to second and was right behind his adversary at the checkered flag.
“It was funny how this racing world works out,” Keselowski said. “I don't know why it is that way. I don't know why it seems like every week where there's either a fight in the garage or a mishap or something like that happens, those two cars and people end up together, whether it was our cars were parked together in the garage area, or on the racetrack for the win in the closing laps at Talladega. I don't know why that happens.”
“You have to do what’s best,” added Kenseth. “That's where I felt I had to put my car for my best chance at the best finish.”
So Keselowski survived, bouncing back from two tough weeks, and once again has an excellent shot to win a title. Two championships in three years, after zero in twenty-plus years for owner Roger Penske, is a good way to earn unconditional, lifetime support from your organization.
“He's a great driver,” said the owner. “We have a long-term relationship with him. If he wants to get a little upset sometimes, that's OK with me. We'll let NASCAR figure out if he's over the line or not. I guess it cost us 50 grand. I'll take 50 grand and the win this week, wouldn't you?”
SECOND GEAR: Kyle’s great fall
For the first time in his 10-year career, Kyle Busch entered Talladega sitting on five straight top-10 finishes inside the Chase. For a driver who’s been doomed by self-inflicted wounds, it appeared he’d finally learned the consistency needed within NASCAR’s championship format to contend. At ninth in the standings, 26 points ahead of teammate Matt Kenseth, it would take an epic fail for Busch to miss the final eight. Announcing his wife’s pregnancy this weekend, very little could bring Busch crashing down to earth with a simple strategy: run at the back, stay out of trouble and pick your drafting partners wisely.
And along came rookie Austin Dillon. The No. 3 car became the demise of Busch’s best ever Chase. Riding in the back, trying to stay out of trouble, the No. 18 Toyota was in perfect position to avoid “The Big One” when it inevitably happened on lap 104. Following contact between J.J. Yeley and Aric Almirola, the track was blocked and Busch slowed immediately. Everywhere, cars scattered but there were only a handful running behind Busch. Surely Dillon, who’s completed more laps on the circuit than anyone else this season, would see the wreck unfolding in front of him.
The answer came in the form of scrunched sheet metal, Busch’s car getting spun hard into other cars and his Chase bid officially becoming toast. Due to a weird scenario of other contenders avoiding wrecks and a limited amount of attrition (at least for ‘Dega) from the big wreck that did happen, Busch could do no better than 40th, allowing several others to pass him on points and ending his bid for this year’s title.
“There is no safe place in here,” claimed crew chief Dave Rogers. “Everyone, every time we come to a speedway everyone will strategize — we’re going to ride in the back, we’re going to ride in the front, we’re going to do this. The truth is that if you’re out there on the racetrack at Talladega or Daytona, you have a pretty good chance that you’re going to get in a wreck and today was our day. It’s unfortunate, but that’s the way it is.”
Busch left the track without comment; a bad time for immaturity to rear its ugly head. With a believed new crew chief coming in 2015, it would have been a good moment for the 29-year-old to show some leadership. While he had a right to be frustrated, we didn’t see Kahne, Johnson or Earnhardt ducking the cameras. Whatever crew chief assumes the reins in 2015 (Rogers is said to be promoted within JGR) keeping Busch’s mood swings in line will clearly be their number one assignment.
THIRD GEAR: Underdogs triumph again at ‘Dega
NASCAR’s most unpredictable track has always been a prime place for David to slay Goliath (see: David Ragan, pulling the upset of the decade last year for underfunded Front Row Motorsports). On Sunday, none of NASCAR’s lower-tier teams was a true threat to win but several made it through with exceptional performances. Landon Cassill, passed over for top-tier rides in the free agent market, gave the best impression, forcing owners to give a second look with a fourth-place finish driving for a small-time Hillman Racing team that built its equipment from the ground up. That’s right, no major team support, making the achievement for the No. 40 bunch that much more impressive.
“We don’t have a lot to work with. But what we do work with, we set out to run good at these four superspeedway races,” Cassill said. “And we proved that this year. Fourth place is just amazing.”
Cassill’s pseudo-teammate, Travis Kvapil, came home sixth driving a Circle Sport car for just the second time all season. It’s the best effort for owner Joe Falk since returning to the Cup circuit in 2011 after a decade away. And Casey Mears, while better funded with single-car Germain Racing, earned a serviceable 10th-place finish. In all, six non-Chasers crept into the top 10, the most for any playoff race this season.
FOURTH GEAR: What happens now?
With the Chase field cut to eight, there’s a clear separation between favorites and underdogs in position to make NASCAR’s first ever “Final Four.” The two Penske cars, Logano and Keselowski, have won 11 races and are the clear favorites to advance. Kevin Harvick, with over 1,800 laps led, has been dominant at times during the postseason and has the full support of Stewart-Haas Racing. Same for Gordon, has all of Hendrick Motorsports at his disposal and would lead the points without NASCAR’s Chase format.
The other four drivers, Carl Edwards, Ryan Newman, Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth, have combined for just three wins this season. Anything can happen, of course, and each one has victories at Martinsville, Texas or Phoenix since 2012. But if any of them did it this time, knocking out the four contenders above, it would have to be considered a minor upset.
NASCAR’s new qualifying format took its toll on Ricky Stenhouse Jr. The Roush Fenway driver failed to qualify after a misunderstanding on timing left the No. 17 Ford heading out too late during his session. With so many “underdog” cars timing into the field, Stenhouse was too low in owner points to earn a provisional to start the race (among those needing a provisional: five Chasers, Tony Stewart and talented rookie Kyle Larson). It’s the second time in two weeks an RFR team, once the pride of Ford’s stock car racing effort, has failed to qualify. (Trevor Bayne missed the show at Charlotte.). … Rookie Justin Allgaier in the single-car No. 51 effort also missed his first race of the season. It’s the first time two cars inside the top 30 in owner points have failed to qualify all season, causing critics to attack NASCAR’s provisional system. My question: Why? If a car couldn’t get up to speed and has had a difficult season it deserves to go home, no matter how many sponsors adorn it or fans are in town to see it race. It is an athletic competition, after all. … Two cautions for debris — the second of which set up a green-white-checker finish — makes you wonder what will happen at Homestead. (To be fair, the second one at Talladega, occurring just after a spin, had a less dramatic effect on the outcome rather than if it happened after a 60-lap green flag run.) You would think NASCAR would go caution-free in the final laps unless there’s a wreck or a giant bull is running around at the start/finish line. There would be no silly cautions for debris to decide a winner-take-all race for the championship … right? Right?
Follow Tom Bowles on Twitter: @NASCARBowles
Photo by Action Sports, Inc.
These San Francisco Giants have been here before. Twice recently, actually. Having won the World Series in 2010 and ’12, this team oozes postseason experience. No stage is too big for these guys, no spotlight too bright. In contrast, the American League champion Kansas City Royals have two players with World Series experience. James Shields made one start in the 2008 Series for Tampa Bay and tossed 5.2 scoreless innings. Second baseman Omar Infante had one plate appearance off the bench for Detroit in 2006, and was the Tigers’ full-time second baseman in 2012. The experienced Giants have eight players who were part of both the 2010 and ’12 champions. Another six players were part of one or the other. San Francisco had won 40 postseason games prior to this season since the Royals last played in October in 1985.
Before his arrival in San Francisco, manager Bruce Bochy led the San Diego Padres to the World Series in 1998. Bochy managed the Padres for 12 seasons and guided the team to four division crowns. He just completed his eighth season in San Francisco. Kansas City skipper Ned Yost is managing in the postseason for the first time this year.
Both teams feature terrific bullpens and win with determination and grittiness. Opportunistic is probably the best way to describe the offenses, and the Royals will create opportunities with speed, while the Giants won’t.
The experienced Giants will not likely beat themselves. They make very few mistakes in the field and on the bases. The young, brash Royals may be susceptible to a little overexcitement causing a few mistakes. With such good bullpens and both managers playing a conservative style, one mistake could cost a game.
San Francisco Giants
The quartet of Panik, Posey, Pablo and Pence anchors an opportunistic lineup that went through a stretch of scoring 13 of 20 runs in the postseason that weren’t produced by a hit. Specifically, it’s Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval, the 2010 World Series MVP, that will carry the team. Travis Ishikawa led the Giants with seven RBIs in the NLCS, three of them coming on the final swing of the series. He won’t start against left-handed starter Jason Vargas, but Ishikawa could be a factor in late innings against the right-handed-heavy Kansas City bullpen.
The rotation begins with one of the best in baseball in lefthander Madison Bumgarner. The NLCS MVP won the wild-card play-in game and Game 1 of the NLCS. Tim Hudson and Jake Peavy have pitched well recently, but are basically six-inning pitchers. Should Peavy, Hudson or Game 4 starter Ryan Vogelsong falter early, expect a short leash with Yosmeiro Petit and Tim Lincecum available in the bullpen.
The Giants’ success rides on the relief corps. Lefties Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez set up the late innings for Sergio Romo, the closer in the 2012 World Series, and Santiago Casilla, the current closer. With lefties Affeldt and Lopez, Bruce Bochy has more matchup options than the Royals. With the exception of allowing Jean Machi face Oscar Taveras in Game 2, Bochy pretty much controlled all the late-inning matchups in the NLCS.
There are few names most fans will recognize, but outfielder Juan Perez will see some time in left field vs. lefties and in the late innings, and Michael Morse provides serious pop off the bench as evidenced by his game-tying homer in the clinching game of the NLCS.
The Giants aren’t as spectacular defensively as the Royals, but they make all the plays and will not beat themselves. Brandon Crawford is a gem at shortstop.
Keys to Winning
The bullpen, no doubt, will carry a heavy load. Other than Bumgarner, Giants starters will not go deep into games. Bochy is a master at getting the matchups he wants, and the relievers know their roles. Catcher Posey must control the Royals’ running game, or Kansas City could create big innings.
Posey may be the most important cog for the Giants because he anchors the lineup and he’ll be responsible for thwarting the Royals’ best offensive asset — their ability to steal bases. Lefty reliever Lopez will face Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas with games on the line.
Kansas City Royals
Their recent power surge in the postseason belies the fact that the Royals were last in the majors in home runs this season. Their hallmark is the stolen base, not the long ball. KC defeated the A’s in the wild-card game with seven steals and no homers. Then they tagged the Orioles for four homers in four games with only one steal. Centerfielder Lorenzo Cain was named ALCS MVP and he must be involved in the offense. Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer and Billy Butler all can be streaky. Now is not the time for slumping.
Ace James Shields was acquired from the Rays in 2013 for this moment. He has been a horse and can go toe-to-toe with Madison Bumgarner of the Giants. Flamethrower Yordano Ventura will likely pitch Game 2 at home with vets Jeremy Guthrie and Jason Vargas going at San Francisco. All the Royals ask is that these guys get a lead into the seventh inning.
There is no doubt that the pen is the strength of this team. Closer Greg Holland has saved six of their eight wins this postseason, including all four wins in the ALCS. He is reliable and can be dominant. Setup man Wade Davis is the best in the business and earned a pair of wins over Baltimore. Kelvin Herrera owns the seventh inning. The three each made 65 or more appearances with ERAs better than 1.50. No team in history has ever had two relievers accomplish that in the same season, let alone three.
Manager Ned Yost won’t use his bench to pinch-hit much, but he loves calling on speedsters Terrance Gore and Jarrod Dyson to pinch-run.
The only hint of weakness on defense is Mike Moustakas at third. Otherwise, Gold Glove candidates flash leather all over the field.
Keys to Winning
Similar to the Giants, the Royals will ask the pen to do some heavy lifting. The starters must keep the team in the game through five innings. Kansas City cannot afford to abandon the running game. Speed is the club’s best asset, and they must keep pressure on the Giants’ defense.
Starters Jeremy Guthrie and Jason Vargas, who both pitched well at home in the ALCS, must step up on the road now. Lefty swingers Gordon, Hosmer and Moustakas will see a steady diet of lefthanders out of the San Francisco bullpen.
Giants in 5
This past weekend in the SEC lacked some of the drama we had seen in previous weeks, but there were some very interesting results. Alabama was a heavy favorite over Texas A&M, but who could have predicted such a dominant performance from the Tide? And how about Georgia? Many had the Dawgs on upset alert at Arkansas, but Mark Richt’s team was very impressive in its methodical beatdown against Arkansas. Here are some interesting stats from the week that was in the SEC.
10 Amazing College Football Stats from Week 8 in the SEC
Interceptions thrown by Bo Wallace, in 108 attempts, against SEC competition in 2014. In his first two seasons at Ole Miss, Wallace threw a combined 20 INTs in 567 attempts against SEC opponents. In all games this season, Wallace ranks second in the league in passing yards per game (271.3), second in touchdown passes (17) and third in yards per attempt (9.1).
Yards per play allowed by the Mississippi State defense, ranking 64th nationally. Among teams in the current AP top 10, only Oregon (5.59) has allowed more. The Bulldogs have given up more than 5.0 yards per play in all three SEC games and allowed UAB to average 7.12 per snap in State’s 47–34 win in Week 2.
Times this season Alabama has had at least 600 yards of total offense in a game — 602 vs. Texas A&M, 672 vs. Florida and 620 vs. Florida Atlantic. The Crimson Tide hit the 600-yard mark a total of three times in Nick Saban’s first seven years in Tuscaloosa — 668 vs. Kentucky in 2013, 615 vs. Ole Miss in 2011 and 626 vs. Duke in 2010.
Years since Tennessee has won back-to-back SEC games. The Vols won consecutive games against Ole Miss, Vanderbilt and Kentucky in November 2010 in the first season of the Derek Dooley era. Since that stretch, Tennessee is 4–23 in league games.
Rushing attempts by Georgia freshman Nick Chubb in the last two games. No player in a Power 5 conference has more carries over a two-game stretch this season. Chubb had a total of 31 rushing attempts in five games before Todd Gurley was suspended.
Times Florida has thrown for at least 300 yards against an SEC opponent in Will Muschamp’s three-plus years at Florida. The Gators had 305 yards passing in last year’s 34–17 loss at home to Vanderbilt.
Yards per play averaged by the Missouri offense in three games against SEC opponents — yet the Tigers are 2–1 in the league with wins at South Carolina and Florida. Nationally, only Wake Forest is averaging fewer yards per play (2.24) against its league competition.
Total points scored by Texas A&M in its past two games — 59–0 at Alabama and 35–20 to Ole Miss. It is the fewest scored by the Aggies in a two-game stretch since the end of the 2004 season when they lost to Texas 26–17 in the regular-season finale and 38–7 to Tennessee in the Cotton Bowl.
Completed passes by the LSU offense, the fewest in the SEC. The Tigers have also attempted the fewest passes per game (22.0) in the league. Among non-option-based teams, only Boston College (20.7) and Minnesota (17.3) have attempted fewer passes per game.
Touchdown-scoring drives of at least 70 yards by the Arkansas offense against Georgia on Saturday. In its first six games, Georgia had allowed a total of only seven such drives — one vs. Vanderbilt, and two vs. Tennessee, South Carolina and Clemson.
There used to be somebody fast and fierce enough to make LeBron James look over his shoulder. His name was Derrick Rose.
The Chicago Bulls point guard, and famed Chicago native, topped James for MVP voting in the 2010-11 season, becoming the youngest player to ever win the award as the then-22-year-old Rose led his team to a league-best 62-20 record. LeBron and the Miami Heat, however, ended up besting the inexperienced Bulls in the Eastern Conference Finals that year, four games to one. But a message was sent: This was going to be one of the best rivalries in the league for some time.
Fate, of course, had other ideas. Since Rose tore his ACL on the first day of the 2012 NBA playoffs, he’s played just ten regular season games over two seasons. The Indiana Pacers, not the Bulls, became Miami’s biggest hurdle in the East as they returned to the Finals for three straight years.
Now LeBron’s back in Cleveland, though, and Rose is back on the court. The time Rose has missed means he can’t operate near The King’s level anymore — not yet, anyway. But he is an integral part of a strong roster, featuring a much-improved Joakim Noah, Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson and newcomer veteran Pau Gasol. Behind the leadership of ever-intense coach Tom Thibodeau, Chicago promises to be LeBron’s harshest Eastern enemy yet again.
With the talent James has around him, it’s hard to believe anyone will be able to beat the Cavs in the long run. Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, Mike Miller, Shawn Marion and Co. make for a far stronger, deeper cast than the game’s best player has ever had to work with — even if they’re not quite as experienced as his Heat running mates. In his time away from home, LeBron was able to rearrange the NBA talent market to make his birthplace a magnet for winners. James’ offseason team-building campaign was quite the coup.
If anyone in their conference can take down Cleveland before they find their rhythm and become a juggernaut, though, it’s the indomitable Chicago Bulls. Make sure to catch tonight’s game for a preview of the East’s new power structure.
— John Wilmes
About a month ago, the schedule for Week 9 of the college football season probably didn’t look all that meaningful.
At that time, Baylor and Oklahoma were the clear cut favorites in the Big 12, so games like Texas-Kansas State and West Virginia-Oklahoma State probably carried little weight.
Ohio State was still stinging from a loss to Virginia Tech, so a game at Happy Valley probably didn’t carry much buzz.
And USC-Utah may have looked like a formality for USC rather than a matchup featuring a Pac-12 South upstart.
Recent weeks have changed the stakes.
The Big 12 is one of the most wide-open leagues in the country with Kansas State and West Virginia moving into the role of contenders. Ohio State’s offense has topped 50 points in four consecutive games. And Utah has picked up back-to-back Pac-12 wins over UCLA and Oregon State to position the Utes as a factor in the division.
The Week Ahead: Oct. 25
All games Saturday. All times Eastern.
Texas at Kansas State
When and where: Noon, ESPN
We’re watching because... Kansas State can further solidify its Big 12 credentials against an improving Texas team. The Wildcats squeaked by Oklahoma thanks in part to two missed field goals and an extra point in Norman. If K-State is truly a national contender, the Wildcats should be able to handle Texas at home. The Longhorns, though, may end up as one of the most improved teams during the second half of the season. Tyrone Swoopes is a rising star after passing for 321 yards and rushing for 95 against Iowa State on Saturday.
Vegas says: Kansas State by 10
West Virginia at Oklahoma State
When and where: 3:30 p.m., ESPN
We’re watching because... this game has the best chance for weekly Big 12 fireworks. West Virginia is a sneaky-good 5-2 team. The Mountaineers have a win over Baylor on the resume and the two losses came to Alabama and Oklahoma in games decided in the second half. After building a 3-0 record against the worst teams in the league, Oklahoma State received a rude awakening win a 42-9 loss to TCU. The Cowboys will need to bounce back from a two-turnover, 258-yard effort on offense.
Vegas says: Oklahoma State by 2 1/2
Ole Miss at LSU
When and where: 7:15 p.m., ESPN
We’re watching because... LSU is starting to look like LSU again. After starting 0-2 in the SEC, the Tigers picked up back-to-back wins over Florida and Kentucky. Does that signal a team ready to beat No. 3 Ole Miss? No. But this does look like a much tougher game that it seemed at the start of the month. The Rebels’ defense is dominant, but LSU returned to its running back-by-committee for 303 rushing yards against Kentucky.
Vegas says: Ole Miss by 3 1/2
Ohio State at Penn State
When and where: 8 p.m., ABC
We’re watching because... Ohio State is starting to round into Big Ten title form. If the Buckeyes’ are legitimate contenders, they won’t have too much trouble with an undermanned Penn State team, even on the road. Redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett has accounted for 10 total touchdowns in two Big Ten games, and Ohio State’s defensive line should be no match for the poor Penn State offensive front.
Vegas says: Ohio State by 13
USC at Utah
When and where: 10 p.m., Fox Sports 1
We’re watching because... Utah is creeping into the Pac-12 South picture. The Utes should be kicking themselves for coughing up a one-point loss to Washington State at the end of September. The Utes have since defeated UCLA and Oregon State. A win over USC would be a clear signal that Utah is ready to contend in the Pac-12. Otherwise, this will be a matchup of two of the best running backs in the league. Utah’s Devontae Booker is averaging 188 rushing yards per game in league play. USC’s Buck Allen is averaging 149 yards.
Vegas says: USC by 1
Talk Back on U-verse Game of the Week
Each week, AT&T U-verse and Athlon Sports will host a live interactive experience for an SEC game in which two greats from each school will take fan questions live throughout the game.
This week, former South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia and former Auburn wide receiver Ben Obomanu will join Athlon Sports’ Braden Gall at the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta for the fun.
Visit att.com/talkback during South Carolina-Auburn to watch the game with us.
South Carolina at Auburn
When and where: 7:30 p.m., SEC Network
We’re watching because... we haven’t written off Auburn as an SEC West contender. Mississippi State and Ole Miss remain undefeated, and Alabama flexed its muscles. Auburn can't be dismissed, even after the loss to Mississippi State two weeks ago. The Tigers still have Ole Miss, Georgia and Alabama on the road, so they can’t squander an opportunity against a vulnerable Carolina team at home.
Vegas says: Auburn by 17 1/2
Athlon Sports brings the most intriguing, important, historic and bizarre stats from around the weekend of Pac-12 football action:
187.7: Devontae Booker yards per game in the last three games
After three weeks of the season, the junior college transfer had rushed for 179 yards on 31 carries. In the three games since, Booker has rushed for 563 yards (187.7 ypg) and five touchdowns on 89 carries. This includes his 229-yard, 3-TD effort in the double overtime win over Oregon State on the road in Week 8. A performance that was topped with Booker being named Athlon Sports' national player of the week.
33.0: Sacks by the Utah defense
It’s not just the offense that has been getting it done for the Utes, however. Utah is one win away from reaching a bowl for the first time since joining the Pac-12 because of a nasty defensive front seven. Kyle Whittingham’s bunch registered five sacks against Oregon State and are leading the nation with 33.0 QB takedowns this fall. The Utes are averaging 5.5 sacks per game, which nearly two more than the next best team in the nation (Virginia Tech, 4.0).
25.4: Oregon’s average margin of victory over Washington since 2004
Oregon has won 11 consecutive games against Washington. What’s more impressive is how the Ducks have dominated the Huskies. Following the 45-20 win on Saturday, Oregon has now defeated Washington by an average of 25.4 points per game over the last 11 meetings. The Huskies have lost by 20 or more points in 10 of the those games and have never kept the final outcome within two scores. The average score between these two over the last 11 years is Oregon 43.7, Washington 18.3. That’s 481 to 202.
238: Consecutive Marcus Mariota passes without an INT
Marcus Mariota set a Pac-12 record by going 353 attempts without an interception between the end of 2012 and most of '13 (Arizona picked him off twice last year). But since tossing two INTs against Oregon State last year, Mariota has now gone 232 attempts without an INT, including all 188 this season. Those are the two longest streaks without an interception in conference history.
72: Consecutive weeks Stanford was ranked in the AP Poll
With a tough road loss to Arizona State over the weekend, Stanford dropped from the AP Poll for the first time since Week 2 of the 2010 season. The Cardinal had been ranked by the AP for a school-record 72 consecutive weeks but fell out of the Top 25 following Saturday night's loss. Speaking of the Sun Devils…
1,243: Mike Bercovici passing yards in three starts
After completing 23-of-33 passes for 245 yards and a touchdown in a critical upset win over Stanford’s snarling defense, Arizona State’s backup quarterback now has 1,243 yards passing in three starts. That’s more passing yards than 24 FBS teams have for the entire 2014 season. Taylor Kelly is the starter but Bercovici has been brilliant with huge wins over USC and Stanford and may make Todd Graham’s decision a tough one once Kelly is healthy.
Listen to the Week 8 recap podcast:
7: Cody Kessler’s USC single-game TD record
Matt Barkley owns nearly every major passing record in USC history. But one he no longer holds is the Trojans' single-game record for touchdown passes. Kessler, who backed up Barkley in 2011 and '12, set the new standard with seven touchdown tosses in the win over Colorado. The Trojans' current quarterback is getting overlooked nationally despite ranking 10th in the nation in passer efficiency (162.08) and trailing only Mariota (19:0) with an 18:1 TD:INT ratio.
43.9: Jared Goff’s passing efficiency increase from last year
Cal’s Jared Goff completed his first season in Berkeley last year with a passing efficiency mark of 123.4. He finished Week 8 of this season ranked fifth in the nation with a 167.3 rating following a near upset of UCLA. With a passer rating that's currently 43.9 points higher than last season, Goff is the nation's most improved QB with respect to this statistic. Western Michigan’s Zach Terrell is No. 2 (41.2 points higher) and Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott is No. 3 (39.0).
2: Pat Haden sideline altercations
After his bizarre sideline argument with officials against Stanford (who could forget), USC athletic director Pat Haden got into his second in-game dust-up of the year this past Saturday. This time the other party was former Trojans running back LenDale White, who had some choice tweets about defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox (they’re NSFW) during USC's 28-26 victory over then-No. 10 Arizona two weeks ago. Which bring us to Saturday, when Haden and White engaged in conversation, presumably about the former star running back's earlier commentary, as the Trojans were putting the finishing touches on a Homecoming victory over Colorado. The discussion quickly turned from friendly to heated, and White eventually wound up getting a personal escort out of The Coliseum.
0: Number of players on USC’s roster from Colorado
USC has players from 19 different states, including Idaho, Massachusetts, South Dakota, Minnesota and Delaware, on its roster but none from the state of Colorado. Meanwhile, the Buffaloes have 55 current players on their roster from the state of California. The Trojans beat the Buffs 56-28 in Los Angeles Saturday night.
Hosts Braden Gall and David Fox recap all of Week 8's action in college football. This week's edition features Florida State's win over Notre Dame, the entertaining Big 12, a Will Muschamp debate, Oregon's return and much more. The fellas also give you their playoff poll as well.
Stanford has established a tradition of playing tough defense, the best in the Pac-12, but at some point even the best defensive teams need to find a way to score some points. The days of Andrew Luck and Toby Gerhart now seem like distant memories for Stanford football. The Cardinal has to hope the offense can pick things up soon, because a road trip to Eugene, Oregon is creeping up in two weeks.
Stanford has now been held to 20 points or fewer in four games this season. The Cardinal are 11th in the Pac-12 in total offense, but Stanford has been ranked in the bottom half of the conference in total offense each of the past two seasons as well. This season, no team in the Pac-12 has a lower first downs-per game average than Stanford (19.0 first downs per game). The Stanford offense converts on third down just 38.2 percent of the time, 11th in the Pac-12.
The red zone has also been unkind to Stanford this season. In 30 red zone trips, Stanford has scored just 20 times, the worst success rate in the Pac-12. As hard as it may be to believe, that statistic gets a bit uglier when discussing touchdown percentage inside the 20-yard line. Stanford has scored 14 touchdowns in 30 red zone trips in seven games. That is next-to-last in the Pac-12, just a few percentage points ahead of Oregon State.
The most likely reason Stanford’s offense has been struggling this season may be due to the fact the Cardinal had to start an almost entirely new offensive line this season. Stanford lost four starters up front, as well as a starting tight end from 2013. Good teams tend to have experience and depth on the offensive line, and that does not appear to be the case for Stanford this season and it is showing. Stanford has allowed 15 sacks this season, which ranks 73rd nationally.
This week Stanford faces Oregon State. Like Stanford, Oregon State’s offense has been struggling on a regular basis this season, perhaps missing the big play ability of wide receiver Brandin Cooks. The next week Stanford will face Oregon, a team the defense has shown the ability to slow down. The Ducks though have kept their offense on track this season despite taking a loss. This year, the Stanford defense may only be able to carry the Cardinal so far.
Stanford has already lost three games this season, equaling last season’s total loss total. David Shaw may still be one of the better coaches in the game, and he has plenty of experience coaching offense. If any coach can find a way to get Stanford’s offense turned around, it would figure to be Shaw. But time is starting to run thin, if it has not already.
- By Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB)
Two weeks ago, Utah scored a victory over a top 10 UCLA program that let the rest of the Pac-12 know the Utes had finally arrived to compete in the conference. After a bye week, the Utes showed true resiliency by edging Oregon State in double overtime on the road on a Thursday night. This week Utah will once again to make a statement in the Pac-12 as the Utes host USC, another ranked opponent. At 5-1, Utah is showing signs of being able to compete in the Pac-12 South, a division with more ranked teams than the vaunted SEC West at this point in the season.
The question remains though, how much faith can be placed in Utah to keep this going? Is Utah here to stay on this competitive field in the Pac-12, or will this be a blip on the radar? All signs seem to suggest Utah is not going anywhere just yet in the Pac-12 South. The recruiting has been improving since moving to the Pac-12, and the talent coming in is beginning to help the program go toe-to-toe with their new conference rivals. TCU’s rise in the Big 12 may be a bit more noticeable and respected nationally, but Utah’s transition to big time football is not to be overlooked either.
For Utah, it starts on defense and running the football, a solid foundation for any winning program in college football. Utah is averaging 210 rushing yards per game with Devontae Booker leading the way with 742 yards and seven touchdowns so far. That ability to run the football has helped take the pressure off quarterback Travis Wilson to do everything he can, although Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham has now started to give Kendal Thompson a chance to play under center as well, while searching for a way to turn the passing game’s results around. Wilson has not thrown an interception this season, but his completion percentage has been less-than-inspiring in recent weeks.
While the running game keeps the offense going, it is the Utah defense that seems to have carried the team early on. Utah has the Pac-12’s third best defensive unit, allowing 379.0 yards per game and just 4.74 yards per play. The Utes lead the Pac-12 in sacks with 33.0 in six games, an average of 5.50 sacks per game. Senior Nate Orchard has led the effort to bring pressure into the opposing backfield with 10.5 sacks. Orchard has stepped up to replace last season’s defensive leader, Trevor Reilly (team high 8.5 sacks in 2013).
The biggest area of improvement on the defensive side of the football though has come in the secondary. Last season the Utes were last in the nation with just three interceptions all year long, tied with Kentucky, Illinois, Temple and UTEP. This year is quite a different story for defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake’s secondary. Through six games, Utah has picked off seven passes.
The world is noticing what Utah is doing, but there is still work to be done in Salt Lake City. The schedule sitting in front of Utah includes four games against teams currently ranked in the top 25 (No. 20 USC, No. 14 Arizona State, No. 6 Oregon and No. 15 Arizona), and a match-up with unranked Stanford sits in that stretch. At this point in the college football season though, why not Utah?
- By Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB)
Numbers and statistics are a huge part of college football. Every Sunday, reading updated box scores and stats is like Christmas for fans and media members. Some stats like total offense and total defense are overrated but each help paint a picture for a team or particular game.
Whether the stats are historic, advanced or just an observation from a box score, Athlon Sports brings the most intriguing, important, historic and bizarre stats from around the weekend of Atlantic Coast Conference football action:
With its 31-27 victory against fifth-ranked Notre Dame, second-ranked Florida State has now won eighth straight games against teams from AP's Top 25, tying the FSU teams that did that in 1992 and 1993. The Seminoles are currently riding a 23-game win streak.
In its win against Notre Dame, Florida State was 5-for-5 in the red zone, and has now scored on 32 straight trips inside the opponents' 20-yard line. The Seminoles scored four TDs and a field goal against the Irish. They are 33-of-34 in the red zone this season.
The 58 points that FSU and Notre Dame combined for are tied for most in the series' history with Notre Dame's 34-24 win in Tallahassee in 2002. It also marked the first time in the eight times these teams have met that both teams scored at least 27 points.
The Clemson-Boston College tilt saw neither team turn the ball over as the Tigers posted a 17-13 road victory. It is the first time Clemson has played in a game in which neither team committed a turnover since the 2010 season; the Tigers lost that game, 20-16 to host North Carolina. The Boston College game marked the second time in the last three games Clemson has not turned the ball over.
Louisville's Gerod Holliman collected his nation-leading eighth interception of the season on the final play of the Cardinals' 30-18 win against N.C. State. Holliman is now tied with Ray Buchanan (1991) and is two behind Anthony Floyd (2010) for most interceptions in a season by a Cardinals player. Louisville still has four regular-season games remaining.
Virginia Tech entered its game at Pittsburgh second in the conference in third-down conversions at 49 percent (51-of-104). That success did not translate at Heinz Field as the Hokies were held to 2-of-14 for a 14 percent conversion rate in a 21-16 loss. Virginia Tech also entered the game eighth in the ACC in fourth-down conversions at 50 percent (2-for-4) but failed on both tries against the Panthers.
Syracuse fell behind 7-0 to host Wake Forest 9:31 into the game before reeling off the next 30 points unanswered in a 30-7 victory. The 30 points scored are the second most for the Orange in ACC play since scoring 34 against Boston College in their 2013 regular-season finale. Syracuse entered the game having averaged 15.5 PPG in its first 11 ACC contests.
After a field goal with 7:11 remaining in the third quarter tied its game with Duke at 13 apiece, Virginia never advanced beyond the Blue Devils' 33 yard line in five more drives on the way to the 20-13 defeat. Duke only advanced past its side of the field once more in its five drives after the 13-13 tie, but once was a enough as it turned out to be a nine-play, 65-yard, game-winning TD drive with 7:23 left in the fourth quarter.
After averaging 20.4 PPG in the second half in its first five games, Virginia has averaged just 1.5 second-half point in its last two contests. The Cavaliers scored three points in the third quarter in its loss to Duke, and were shutout in its win over Pittsburgh on Oct. 4. UVa had scored 51 points in each the third and fourth quarters entering last week's Duke game.
North Carolina quarterback Marquise Williams had a school-record 38 completions in the Tar Heels' 48-43 victory against visiting Georgia Tech. Williams was 38-of-47 with an interception for 390 yards and four touchdowns. He added 73 yards and a touchdown on the ground. North Carolina scored touchdowns on seven of its 11 drives, while Georgia Tech had TDs on six of its 11.
- Corby A. Yarbrough
@Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter
A healthy Braxton Miller on the field was supposed to make the 2014 season one that was all about making the first College Football Playoff for the Ohio State Buckeyes. Those hopes are effectively toned down before the season ever got started with news of Miller needing to undergo shoulder surgery that would sideline him for the entire season. Enter freshman J.T. Barrett, a dual-threat quarterback from the state of Texas who enrolled early at Ohio State in 2013. As it turns out, that early enrollment may be what saves Ohio State’s seemingly derailed playoff train.
Barrett is a redshirt freshman that had a full year and a half to study Urban Meyer’s offense before being asked to take over the offense this season. This is hardly a true freshman stepping right into the spotlight, although early on it was looking as though Barrett was a tad star-struck under the bright lights. Barrett’s first career home game came against Virginia Tech in primetime. It was a significant spotlight and it came with a dose of bad timing. Virginia Tech was the perfect team to rattle a young quarterback starting his second game in a big match-up, and the Hokies managed to take advantage of a Miller-less Buckeye squad. Barrett was held to just nine completions out of 29 attempts and the Hokies picked off three passes from the redshirt freshman quarterback. The early season loss was forecasted as an elimination game for Ohio State in the playoff race, but it should have been seen as nothing more than a valuable learning experience for Barrett and the rest of the Buckeyes.
Since that 35-21 setback to Virginia Tech, Ohio State has outscored its opponents by a combined score of 224-69. Granted, those wins have come against Kent State (1-6), a struggling Cincinnati (3-3) and Big Ten newcomers Maryland (5-2) and Rutgers (5-2). In that span, Barrett has had three games with a completion percentage over 72.2 and he has been intercepted just once. He has thrown 17 touchdowns and added another three on the ground.
Barrett was a four-star recruit out of high school for a reason, and he is showing why right now. By now it is clear the biggest test the rest of the regular season for Ohio State will be a road trip to Michigan State on November 8. The 2013 Big Ten Championship Game rematch should ultimately determine the favorite in the Big Ten and keep potential playoff hopes alive for the winner. Ohio State, and Barrett, may be playing the best football in the Big Ten right now, but Michigan State is still the team to beat. Barrett has been piling up huge numbers against teams without a defense on par with what Michigan State can offer. The Spartans have not been the tightest on defense in recent weeks, and their late-game struggles have been seen at times this season, but it should be expected Michigan State will tighten up at home against Ohio State in a few weeks.
For now, Barrett and Ohio State have to keep plugging away. That continues this week on the road at Penn State and next week at home against Illinois. Odds are favorable Ohio State will roll into East Lansing with a 7-1 record. Barrett is a huge reason why.
- By Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB)
This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for October 20:
• Happy 26th birthday to Victoria's Secret model Candice Swanepoel. Celebrate by reliving her year in Instagram photos.
• Peyton Manning made history last night. He did not make "H18TORY." Can we stop using numbers as letters now? Plea5e?
• Celebrities took to Twitter to celebrate Peyton's accomplisment, although Giants kicker Lawrence Tynes broke out the ring-check in congratulating "Eli's brother."
• You've seen it by now, but yesterday, the Rams pulled off possibly the greatest fake-out in NFL history.
• Things got heated in the locker room after the Bears' disheartening loss to Miami. Not shockingly, Brandon Marshall was the one doing much of the yelling.
• Had the little keep-away game with Peyton's record-setting TD ball been spontaneous, it would have been cute. It wasn't spontaneous, though.
• This will put a dent in the J.J. Watt for MVP campaign: His play doesn't have much to do with whether the Texans win or lose.
• The World Series starts tomorrow. Here's a position by position breakdown.
• So did Notre Dame get screwed the other night? No, not really.
• The pressure of a bad start is getting to Saints coach Sean Payton.
--Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
Another year, another bowl trip for the Duke Blue Devils. This has become the norm in college football, and who knows when it will end. With a 20-13 victory over Virginia this past weekend, Duke improved its season record to 6-1 to become eligible for postseason play for a third straight season.
Whatever head coach David Cutcliffe is doing, it seems to be working. Perhaps this should not have been so unexpected though. Duke came into this season with eight returning starters on offense and six on defense. That included three returning starters on the offensive line, Anthony Boone back at quarterback after showing some promise in 2013 and one of the top wide receiver sin the ACC, Jamison Crowder. The defense had some reworking to do up front on the defensive line, but three starting players at the safety position and linebacker David Helton provide senior leadership in the middle of the field.
Injuries were supposed to take a toll on Duke, but that has not affected them to this point. All-ACC linebacker Kelby Brown was lost for the season with a torn ACL before the season started. Duke also lost returning starting tight end Braxton Deaver for the season with a torn ACL. Duke was also without the services of five other players against Virginia, a supposed hit to the depth of the roster.
Before the season started the general consensus seemed to be Duke would once again be in the middle of a crowded ACC Coastal race, but the question was would there be enough breaks to fall their way to make a return trip to the ACC Championship Game again this season after getting everything to fall into place in 2013. Rather than let outside forces determine what the fate of Duke football is, the Blue Devils are taking manners into their own hands.
For Duke, it begins with the turnover margin. At this point in the season Duke leads the AC in turnover margin with a +8. No ACC team has fewer turnovers lost than Duke, with two lost fumbles and three interceptions. Duke’s 13 forced turnovers is around the middle of the pack among ACC schools, but when the offense is doing a good job holding onto the football, those extra turnovers come in handy. Take Saturday for example.
Virginia ran two plays before fumbling away to Duke. Miles Gooch’s fumble at the Virginia 33-yard line was soon cashed in for seven points by Duke’s offense. Virginia still went on to find ways to move the football on Duke, with 465 yards including 325 through the air. Virginia also owned the edge in time of possession, but Duke won the turnover battle and took advantage of the lone turnover by scoring a touchdown on the free possession. As it turned out, it may have been the difference in the game with Duke winning by seven.
Duke gets a week off to prepare for a road trip to Pittsburgh, with the Panthers off to a solid start in ACC play this season. Duke is the only bowl-eligible team in the ACC Coastal at the moment, but is stuck in a crowded division tie at 2-1 thanks to a loss to Miami. Duke is currently tied with Virginia and Pittsburgh for the division lead, but one win at Pittsburgh can change the entire outlook. Duke won 10 games last season, and they look as capable as ever to actually be able to improve on that this season. Duke’s supposed ceiling may not rival the height of the Sistine Chapel, but it may have been a bit higher than most would have expected. Most of us not wearing a Duke football jersey, at least.
By Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB)
Texas A&M’s 59-0 loss to Alabama on Saturday was easily the worst of Kevin Sumlin’s three seasons in College Station. The Aggies had little margin for error coming into Tuscaloosa and were simply dominated in every facet of the matchup with the Crimson Tide.
The numbers and box score are not something most Texas A&M fans want to revisit this week – on both sides of the ball.
In Saturday’s loss, quarterback Kenny Hill turned in his third straight subpar outing. The sophomore has seven interceptions over his last three games and threw for just 138 yards against Alabama. The Crimson Tide’s defense had a lot to do with the lack of offensive production, but in the last two meetings against Nick Saban’s defense, Texas A&M scored 71 points.
Hill isn’t solely to blame for all of the offensive issues. The rushing attack has just 85 yards on 59 attempts over the last two weeks. That’s a paltry 1.4 yards per carry.
Getting more production on the ground would help to alleviate some of the pressure on Hill’s shoulders, but the sophomore needs better protection from a touted offensive line (15 sacks), and a receiving corps dealing with inconsistent performances and drops.
While the offense shares blame for managing only two drives of more than 21 yards and punting on its first six possessions, Texas A&M’s defense is once again a major concern.
The Aggies were dominated by an Alabama offense that scored just 14 points in the win over Arkansas last Saturday and scored 17 on Oct. 4 against Ole Miss. The Crimson Tide scored on their first eight possessions and averaged 7.5 yards per play on 80 snaps.
Alabama’s domination on the stat sheet was showcased on the ground (298 yards, 6.6 yards per carry) and through the air (304 yards, four touchdowns).
It’s hard to find positives for Texas A&M’s defense after Saturday’s game, especially when you consider the Crimson Tide’s first punt came almost midway through the third quarter.
After five SEC games, the Aggies are giving up 6.9 yards per play. That’s a small increase from the 6.7 mark last year. Also, conference opponents are scoring 39.6 points per game in 2014. Last season, Texas A&M allowed 37.9 per contest.
Improvement on defense has been somewhat noticeable in the trenches, as true freshman Myles Garrett leads a pass rush that has generated 22 sacks (one more than all of 2013) through eight games. Additionally, it’s hard to expect this unit to be a shutdown group with the quick-strike offense in place.
After picking up the pieces from Saturday’s loss to Alabama, Texas A&M’s overall record stands at 5-3 and 2-3 in the SEC. An upcoming bye week is critical to fixing some of the areas that have plagued this team through the first half of 2014. After the open date, the Aggies host ULM and end the season with a road trip to Auburn, followed by home games against Missouri and LSU.
Considering the upcoming schedule is favorable, Texas A&M still has a legitimate shot to finish 8-4 and hit .500 in SEC play. But this post-Alabama moment is arguably one of the biggest in Sumlin’s three-year stint in College Station.
Transitioning to the SEC wasn’t supposed to be easy. The Aggies exceeded initial expectations due to emergence of quarterback Johnny Manziel, and now have to continue to recruit and develop elite talent to compete with Alabama, Arkansas, LSU, Auburn, Ole Miss and Mississippi State in the SEC West. 2014 wasn't supposed to be Texas A&M's year to contend. Most expected that would be 2015 or 2016.
After going 11-2 in Sumlin’s debut (2012), Texas A&M is poised to see a reduction in its win total for the second consecutive year.
By all sources, recruiting is going well. Momentum within the state of Texas has shifted College Station – for now. There’s plenty of young talent – Garrett, safety Armani Watts, receiver Speedy Noil and linebacker Shaan Washington – waiting to develop.
That’s the good news.
The bad news? To some degree, Texas A&M is a team in transition. The Aggies are trying to recruit at a higher level to compete in the rugged SEC West and are having success. But with the attempts to upgrade the roster come moments like there was on Saturday. Right now, Alabama is simply on a different level than Texas A&M. In order for the Aggies to go higher, recruiting, player development and coaching all have to improve.
With a plethora of young players getting snaps on both sides of the ball, there should be noticeable improvement next year. The key word in that sentence: Should.
But what changes will Sumlin make over the next few weeks? Will he give true freshman Kyle Allen an extended look under center? Will defensive coordinator Mark Snyder still have a job in College Station next year? Why has the offense regressed despite returning one of the nation’s top offensive lines and receiving corps?
Beating South Carolina in the opener changed some of the 2014 expectations for Sumlin’s team. But after eight games, it's clear there are question marks that must be answered – and potentially some difficult coaching staff decisions this offseason.
Texas A&M ran into a buzzsaw known as Alabama on Saturday, and the Aggies were simply no match in 2014. But in 2015? A more-experienced roster and improved depth on defense should help Sumlin’s team take another shot at the top teams in the SEC West.
Again, the key word: Should. The talent and pieces are there to improve.
The rest of the SEC will be watching Sumlin and this team’s development over the last four games. Winning the West title isn’t going to be easy in the current climate of the division. After three consecutive losses, it’s fair to say Texas A&M’s is reeling just a bit headed into the bye week.
Can Sumlin and his staff evaluate both sides of the ball and find answers before the next game?
Momentum isn’t easy to define. But after three consecutive losses, Texas A&M’s momentum in the SEC West seems to be up in the air heading into a critical bye week.
Two teams that missed the playoffs last season aiming to get on the right side of .500 will finish off Week 7 in the NFL when the Houston Texans take on the Pittsburgh Steelers on ESPN’s “Monday Night Football.” The Texans (3-3) are hoping to put an end to their two-game losing streak while the Steelers (3-3) are looking to bounce back at Heinz Field after a somewhat surprising 31-10 divisional setback to Cleveland last week.
After going 2-14 last season, results that netted Houston both a new head coach (Bill O’Brien) and the No. 1 pick in the draft (Jadeveon Clowney), the Texans got off to a 2-0 start, but have lost to the Cowboys in overtime and at home to the Colts in their last two games. Pittsburgh has gone 8-8 in each of the last two seasons, missing the playoffs both times, and has started this season by alternating wins and losses. Both teams are looking up in their respective divisions, but a win tonight would allow the victor to keep pace with the current leader.
Houston Texans at Pittsburgh Steelers
Kickoff: 8:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Pittsburgh -3.5
Three Things to Watch
|Houston 2014 Schedule|
|9/7||vs WAS||W 17 - 6||Recap|
|9/14||@ OAK||W 30 - 14||Recap|
|9/21||@ NYG||L 17 - 30||Recap|
|9/28||vs BUF||W 23 - 17||Recap|
|10/5||@ DAL||L 17 - 20||Recap|
|10/9||vs IND||L 28 - 33||Recap|
|10/20||@ PIT||L 23 - 30||Recap|
|10/26||@ TEN||W 30 - 16||Recap|
1. J.J. Watt, 2014 NFL MVP?
With apologies to early MVP contenders like DeMarco Murray (league’s leading rusher by a wide margin), Andrew Luck (1,987 yards passing, 19 total TDs), and Philip Rivers (117.6 passer rating, 15:2 TD:INT ratio for 5-1 Chargers), there’s a guy on the other side of the ball who’s putting together an impressive award-worthy season of his own. Six games into the season, not only is J.J. Watt well on his way to taking home his second Defensive Player of the Year award (2012), he also is on the short list of MVP candidates. Houston’s All-Pro defensive end has four sacks and a league-leading 20 quarterback hits, but he’s much more than just a pass-rushing specialist, as evidenced by his six pass breakups (tied with Baltimore DT Haloti Ngata for most by a DL), two fumble recoveries, an interception and a blocked extra point on special teams. Watt also has three touchdowns – one on an 80-yard interception return, another on a 45-yard fumble return and the last coming on a one-yard catch when he lined up as a tight end. So not only has Watt scored more touchdowns thus far than the likes of Calvin Johnson, Frank Gore and many others, he also has as many receiving touchdowns as Reggie Wayne, Larry Fitzgerald and teammate Andre Johnson. Watt is making the six-year, $100 million contract extension he signed in September look like a bargain. And if Pittsburgh’s offensive line, which has already given up 17 sacks, and Ben Roethlisberger (3 INTs, 2 lost fumbles) aren’t careful, they may inadvertently end up endorsing Watt’s MVP candidacy tonight.
|Pittsburgh 2014 Schedule|
|9/7||vs CLE||W 30 - 27||Recap|
|9/11||@ BAL||L 6 - 26||Recap|
|9/21||@ CAR||W 37 - 19||Recap|
|9/28||vs TB||L 24 - 27||Recap|
|10/5||@ JAC||W 17 - 9||Recap|
|10/12||@ CLE||L 10 - 31||Recap|
|10/20||vs HOU||W 30 - 23||Recap|
|10/26||vs IND||W 51 - 34||Recap|
2. A More Balanced Pittsburgh Offense?
Entering Week 7, the Steelers rank sixth in the NFL in total offense (396.5 ypg). Their ground game is fifth (137.3 ypg), while the aerial attack checks in at No. 11 (259.2 ypg). Mike Tomlin’s offense is in good hands with Ben Roethlisberger orchestrating things and Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown leading the way, but this unit needs to figure out how to get more production from others, especially in the passing game. Bell is second in the league in rushing (542 yards) and Brown is second in receiving (629) and they also are their team’s leading pass-catchers (Brown 41 receptions, Bell 28). Combined, this duo has been responsible for 60 percent of the team’s total offense and nearly half (6) of the offensive touchdowns (13). Tight end Heath Miller has been a reliable and productive target for Roethlisberger for years and wide receiver Markus Wheaton was expected to emerge following an injury-plagued rookie season, but both have had minimal impacts thus far. They have combined for 50 catches and just one score. This is one of the reasons why despite all of the yards gained, the Steelers are just 23rd in the league in scoring offense (20.7 ppg). Others need to step up on offense or else Bell and Brown’s Pro Bowl-caliber efforts could wind up going to waste. And the same could be said for the Steelers’ postseason hopes too.
3. Houston, We’ve Had a Problem… Passing the Football
The Texans are a top 10 team when it comes to running the football (128.5 ypg), but languish in the bottom five in passing offense (208.5). This is why Bill O’Brien’s squad is middle of the pack or worse in both total (337.0 ypg, 19th in NFL) and scoring (22.0 ppg, tied for 21st) offense and is seeking to put an end to its two-game losing streak. Despite missing some time because of a hamstring injury, Arian Foster is third in the league in rushing (513 yards) and has five touchdowns, which is already more than all of last season (two TDs in eight games). Ryan Fitzpatrick on the other hand, hasn’t been near as productive in his first season as Houston’s starting quarterback. Fitzpatrick is averaging 211 yards passing per game with as many touchdowns as interceptions (six each). He’s ranked 12th in completion rate (65.0), but only 24th among starters in passer rating (86.1). All-Pro Andre Johnson and 2013 first-round pick DeAndre Hopkins have combined for just four touchdown catches and only 11 plays of 20 or more yards. And after Foster’s 16 receptions, the only other Texan with at least 10 is tight end Garrett Graham. Houston’s offense has been effective on the ground, but that could change if the passing game continues to sputter. It’s very hard to win in the NFL with a one-dimensional offense, unless that one dimension is throwing the football. And even then you need a Pro Bowl-caliber quarterback to get the job done. Care to guess how many Pro Bowls Fitzpatrick has been invited to?
J.J. Watt is a grown man and one of the few players in the NFL who is capable of winning a game by himself. Pittsburgh doesn’t have a defensive playmaker close to Watt’s level, but the Steelers are a more talented, well-rounded team. As talented as Watt is, even he can’t do enough as a tight end to make up for Houston’s inefficiencies on offense. Another heavy dose of Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown will be enough to counter a big night from Arian Foster on the ground and Watt’s unrelenting and imposing presence on defense. Pittsburgh sticks to the script it has written thus far by following up last week’s disheartening loss with a satisfying win in front of the home crowd.
Prediction: Pittsburgh 24, Houston 20
It was an eventful weekend for Los Angeles Clippers MVP candidate Blake Griffin. Friday, he was on the wrong end of a hard foul committed by Utah Jazz forward Trevor Booker, with whom Griffin has a colorful history. Booker hit Griffin with a little extra mustard as he went to the rim, and Blake wasn’t happy about it:
These two previously engaged in extra-physical rasslin' when Booker was with the Washington Wizards, trying to deny Griffin his space in the lane. Booker quickly collected fouls in the game, later saying that Griffin was the beneficiary of “superstar treatment” from the refs.
After Friday’s game, Clippers coach Doc Rivers said that Griffin receives more cheap shots than anyone in the league. Griffin himself, according to Orange County Register, said he would “probably” retaliate for one of these brash fouls eventually.
Then, on Saturday, Griffin reminded us just how majestic he can be in the open court:
Note Denver Nuggets big man Timofey Mozgov, trailing the play, reticent to step into Blake’s path. It’s the preseason, yes, but this lapse is also a reminder that Mozgov was one of Griffin’s original, most indelible posterization victims. That sensational tomahawk, delivered during his rookie season, was the play that announced Griffin as a new, rising superstar to many fans of the league. It’s not hard to see why Booker would want to avoid wearing Blake’s dunce hat and becoming Griffin’s latest clickable YouTube patsy.
Love him or hate him, Griffin has become one of the more integral figures in the league. He’s a magnet for viral attention with his thunderous, artistic style, which is no ruse; pretty and awesome as Griffin looks on the court, he’s also just flat effective. Blake has a strong overall game now, and he’s one of the best ballers in the world. Lesser players like Booker are always going to swat away at the kind of basketball unicorn the Clippers’ superstar is — let’s just hope that nothing happens to deprive us of Griffin’s glitz.
— John Wilmes
Numbers and statistics are a huge part of measuring performance and marking milestones in the NFL. With that in mind, Athlon Sports rounded up the most intriguing, important, historic and bizarre stats from Week 7 of the NFL season.
Denver quarterback Peyton Manning moved to the top of the list in all-time touchdown passes as he threw for four touchdowns and 318 yards in a 42-17 win against San Francisco. His second TD toss moved him past Brett Favre's 508 for No. 1 all time. Favre surpassed Dan Mario's mark of 432 passing TDs in his 245th game while Manning surpassed Favre's 508 in his 246th game.
Peyton Manning's four passing touchdowns in the win over San Francisco gave him 11 games with at least four TD passes since the start of last season. No other quarterback has five such games during that span.
He's been in this stats article every week for his 100-yard rushing performances, and now he owns the top spot alone. Dallas running back DeMarco Murray's 128 yards on the ground in a 31-21 win against the Giants made him the first player in NFL history to rush for at least 100 yards in each of his team's first seven games to start a season. He surpassed Jim Brown's six from 1958.
Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson became the first player in NFL history with 300 passing yards and 100 rushing yards in a game when he threw for 313 and ran for 106 in a 28-26 loss at St. Louis.
Buffalo rookie wide receiver Sammy Watkins finished the Bills' 17-16 win against visiting Minnesota with nine catches for 122 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winner with two seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. He became the second rookie with at least 100 receiving yards and a game-winning TD with one second or less remaining in the fourth quarter since Tennessee's Kenny Britt did so against visiting Arizona in 2009.
Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who completed 25 of 32 passes (78.1 percent) for 277 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions, and 48 rushing yards in a 27-14 win at Chicago, became the third player in NFL history with at least 275 passing yards, a completion percentage of 78+ percent and 45+ rushing yards in a single game. He joined Ken Anderson (Nov. 3, 1974) and Jeff Garcia (Dec. 14, 2003) in accomplishing the feat.
Aaron Rodgers joined Tom Brady as the only two quarterbacks in NFL history to have passed for at least three touchdown passes and no interceptions in four straight games when he threw for three in a 38-17 win against Carolina. Rodgers became the only player in league history with at least 18 touchdown passes and one or zero interceptions through his team's first seven games to begin a season.
Indianapolis running back Ahamad Bradshaw caught his sixth touchdown pass of the season, making him the first running back with six touchdown catches in his team's first seven games of the season since San Diego's Gary Anderson in 1986.
Detroit coming back from a 14-point deficit to defeat New Orleans 24-23 marked the 10th time this season a team has come back from 14 down to win. That ties the second-most such comebacks since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, and we're just in Week 7.
Cincinnati punted on 11 of its 14 drives in a 27-0 loss at Indianapolis. The Bengals opened the game with eight straight three-and-out drives and finished with 10 such possessions. They only finished two drives on the Colts' side of the field all day.
With Kansas City's 23-20 win at San Diego, head coach Andy Reid improved his record coming off a bye week to 14-2. The 14 wins are the most victories of any NFL coach in games following a bye week.
Indianapolis receiver Reggie Wayne pulled in four catches for 15 yards in the team's 27-0 win over Cincinnati and it made him the ninth player in league history with 14,000 career receiving yards.
@Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter
Art Briles has brought Baylor to new territory for most of his tenure. On Saturday, he’ll be in another place he’s rarely been.
He’ll field questions asking what’s wrong with the Baylor offense.
The Bears’ College Football Playoff hopes were derailed Saturday with a 41-27 loss at West Virginia in a game in which Baylor did something that has been rare in recent years. The Bears struggled to move the ball.
Baylor averaged only four yards per play against West Virginia on Saturday, the Bears’ lowest average since a loss to Texas in 2009. The quarterback for Baylor that day was Nick Florence.
The stakes then, of course, were much lower. Baylor entered Saturday as a legitimate playoff contender and the de facto Big 12 favorite.
The Bears’ schedule had been lacking, but they remained one of the six undefeated teams still standing. Bryce Petty entered the week back in the Heisman race after a comeback effort against TCU a week earlier.
Against West Virginia, Baylor’s offense was as pedestrian as it has been since Robert Griffin arrived on campus.
Penalties didn’t help. Baylor was flagged 18 times for 215 yards. Only five of those calls came against the offense, including two offensive pass interference calls. West Virginia was flagged 14 times.
Penalties derailed the offense, but not nearly as much as West Virginia’s 3-3-5 scheme.
Petty completed only 16-of-36 passes for 223 yards and two touchdowns. A year ago, the raw numbers would have been halftime statistics for the Bears.
Petty completed nine of his passes to Antwan Goodley and five to Corey Coleman. In a deep receiver group, those were the only players with multiple catches.
And at a critical juncture in the second half, K.D. Cannon dropped a key deep pass play in West Virginia territory.
Baylor’s run game was even more ineffective. The Bears rushed for 95 yards on 42 carries and didn’t break a run of longer than 10 yards until the fourth quarter.
Most troubling, this may be part of a trend.
Petty is two weeks removed from a 7-of-22 performance against Texas and a week removed from a two-interception day against TCU. Petty threw three interceptions all of last season.
The Bears have time to assess the damage with an off week and then a home date with Kansas. Baylor’s next major test will be Nov. 8 at Oklahoma.
If Baylor remains a Big 12 and playoff contender, the Bears will have two weeks to figure it out.
On its face, perhaps Kansas State’s 31-30 win at Oklahoma doesn’t put the Wildcats in anyone’s playoff picks next week.
The Wildcats remain a one-loss squad, and its win over the Sooners included a certain amount of good fortune.
Kansas State won in part because Sooners kicker Michael Hunnicut looked nothing like an All-America-type kicker from short range. A missed 19-yard field goal and a blocked extra point were major gifts in a game decided by one point.
At the same time, though, Kansas State can’t be ignored in the Big 12 or perhaps the playoff race after a win in Norman only weeks after a close call with Auburn.
Give Kansas State an inch, and the Wildcats will swipe a victory.
The Wildcats were outgained by 148 yards, but Bill Snyder quickly dismissed such numbers.
“Those numbers are not significant,” Snyder told the media. “Turnovers, those are significant. In all reality, that is the difference in the ball game. ... The right numbers can tell you something, but not yardage.”
This was a vintage effort by a Snyder team, reminiscent of the 2012 team that won the Big 12 title and flirted with the BCS title game.
Yardage differential doesn’t matter. A perceived edge in talent doesn’t matter.
Leaving the door just slightly ajar against Kansas State, though, is treacherous.
Auburn tried earlier in the year. The Tigers won a sloppy 20-14 game on Sept. 18. Auburn averaged only 2.8 yards per carry and had a handful of dropped passes that day, but Kansas State had more miscues with three turnovers to cost the Wildcats a landmark win.
On Saturday, Kansas State played the kind of opportunistic game that has been the foundation of Snyder’s best teams. The Wildcats didn’t turn the ball over and committed only two penalties for 20 yards.
Quarterback Jake Waters went 15-of-23 for 225 yards with two touchdowns, and his 51-yard run was the longest of the game. Meanwhile, Oklahoma threw an interception on an ill-advised out route near its own end zone for a pick six. A wide receiver pass in the third quarter ended a drive with an interception in the end zone.
As for the road ahead, Kansas State now has a signature win this season. Even if it came against an Oklahoma team that already lost to TCU, the Wildcats showed they have the ability to contend in the Big 12.
If they can win in Norman, Kansas State can win at TCU, West Virginia and Baylor. Even with one loss, Kansas State should will have plenty of opportunities to continue a climb into the playoff race.
Despite the return of coach Bobby Petrino, Louisville’s offense wasn’t incredibly prolific in the first half of the season. While the Cardinals weren’t meeting lofty preseason expectations for the offense, it’s easy to understand why this unit was averaging only 5.0 yards per play and ranked eighth in the ACC in scoring offense. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is taking snaps for the Minnesota Vikings, and the offensive line struggled mightily through the first half of the year.
But in Saturday’s win over NC State, Louisville’s offense got a spark from the return of receiver DeVante Parker.
The senior was regarded as one of the top receivers in the ACC this preseason but was sidelined by a foot injury through the first seven weeks.
Parker made his debut against the Wolfpack and caught nine passes for 132 yards (14.7 ypc), which places the senior fifth on the team after eight games in receptions (nine).
With Parker back in the lineup, Louisville averaged 5.4 yards per play, which was its highest total in an ACC contest this year.
The Cardinals also scored 30 points – one off their top mark of 2014 in ACC games (31).
Quarterback Will Gardner also responded with one of his better performances of 2014, completing 21 of 36 passes for 203 yards and two scores. Gardner’s 203 passing yards ranked just three yards behind his season best mark of 206 (Miami).
A struggling NC State defense certainly has something to do with Louisville’s offensive improvement, but it’s a notable improvement for a team that is still a work in progress in Petrino’s first year.
Now, the Cardinals have a bye before taking on Florida State on Thursday, Oct. 30.
After taking on the Seminoles, Louisville plays at Boston College and Notre Dame and ends the season against Kentucky.
The offense is still developing for Petrino but getting Parker for the final four games is a huge positive and should help Gardner’s performance.
With a defense holding opponents to just 3.9 yards per play, Louisville needs more from its offense to have a shot at beating Florida State and Notre Dame.
With Parker back in the lineup, the Cardinals have one of the nation’s top 10-15 receivers in the mix, giving the offense another weapon to a unit that already features running backs Michael Dyer (238 yards, 1 TD) and Brandon Radcliff (5.2 ypc).
Louisville is set to embark on arguably its toughest stretch of the season. But the Cardinals now have a No. 1 receiver to pair with improving quarterback Will Gardner. Assuming the defense continues to perform at a high level, the offensive improvement – at a critical time – will be enough for Louisville to potentially play spoiler against Florida State or Notre Dame.
West Virginia is a Big 12 title contender. That seems strange to say after the Mountaineers finished 4-8 with losses to Iowa State and Kansas last year, but Saturday’s win over Baylor showed coach Dana Holgorsen’s team will be a factor in the conference race over the second half of the season.
West Virginia played one of the nation’s toughest schedules in the first half of 2014, and the Mountaineers fell short in upset bids against Oklahoma and Alabama. But on Saturday, the Mountaineers delivered to earn a key conference victory over Baylor.
Quarterback Clint Trickett continued to make his case as one of the top quarterbacks in the Big 12 this year, throwing for 322 yards and three scores on 35 attempts against a Baylor secondary that allowed only five passing touchdowns through its first six games.
Trickett’s favorite target was receiver Kevin White, and the senior extended his streak of 100-yard receiving games to seven by catching eight passes for 132 yards. The senior had one of the weekend’s top catches by scoring on a 12-yard pass from Trickett to give West Virginia the lead for good in the fourth quarter.
While the offense deserves plenty of accolades, the performance by Mountaineers’ defense shouldn’t go overlooked.
Sure, Baylor recorded 318 yards and scored 27 points. But a closer look at the numbers suggest coordinator Tony Gibson and assistant coach Tom Bradley deserve a ton of credit for the performance on Saturday.
The Bears’ 318 total yards were the least since a 2010 matchup against TCU. And Baylor’s offense averaged only 4.0 yards per play, which is only the third time since 2010 Art Briles’ high-powered attack has averaged below five yards per play.
West Virginia unleashed FCS transfer Shaq Riddick against a banged up Baylor offensive line, and the senior responded with five tackles (four for a loss) and three sacks.
In addition to Riddick’s production, the Mountaineers constantly pressured Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty in the second half and held the Bears to just seven points over the final two quarters.
Also, only one Baylor drive in the second half lasted longer than 32 yards.
And here’s a critical note: West Virginia had to play without starting cornerbacks Daryl Worley and Terrell Chestnut for a good chunk of the game.
After seven games, West Virginia’s overall record stands at 5-2 and 3-1 in the Big 12.
It’s clear this Mountaineer team has exceeded preseason expectations, as most predicted Holgorsen’s team would struggle to make a bowl.
However, a healthy Trickett at quarterback, combined with the emergence of receiver Kevin White has helped West Virginia average 6.2 yards per play and 37.3 points per game, and the defense has made strides and timely stops under new coordinator Tony Gibson.
Since West Virginia has already played two of the preseason favorites (Baylor and Oklahoma), don’t overlook this team in a wide-open Big 12 title picture. The Mountaineers host TCU and Kansas State – arguably two of the contenders now – and still have to play Iowa State. Road trips to Texas and Oklahoma State won’t be easy, but it’s clear West Virginia will have an impact on the Big 12 title picture.
Saturday night in Gainesville, we witnessed a statistical anomaly when Missouri somehow scored 42 points despite gaining only 119 yards of offense in a 29-point win at The Swamp.
Earlier that day in Tuscaloosa, Alabama also won in convincing fashion, but the Crimson Tide scored their points in a more conventional fashion — by matriculating the ball down the field (to steal a phrase from the great Hank Stram) with stunning ease. On the heels of a sluggish performance in a one-point win at Arkansas the previous week, the Alabama offense rolled up a staggering 602 total yards in a 59–0 win over Texas A&M.
The Crimson Tide opened the game with a field goal (after a 71-yard drive) and then proceeded to score a touchdown on their next seven possessions, with all but one drive covering at least 57 yards. For the game, Alabama averaged 7.5 yards on its 80 snaps and came two rushing yards shy of accumulating 300 yards on the ground and 300 yards through the air.
Quarterback Blake Sims averaged 9.9 yards per passing attempt, and the top two running backs, T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry, combined to average 8.0 yards on their 23 carries. Amari Cooper, the team’s best offensive weapon, averaged 17.5 yards on eight catches and scored two touchdowns.
The skill players were responsible for the flashy highlights, but the key — according to coach Nick Saban — was the play of the Alabama offensive line.
“We had a little gathering with the offensive line this week and said, ‘Look guys, you guys are starting to feel pressure and you’re being criticized. You’re not being the sergeant-at-arms that we need you to be in terms of how you control the line of scrimmage and how you dominate the line of scrimmage. Really, our guys aren’t going to make plays unless you do that. I believe in you, and I trust in you.’”
Alabama has now topped the 600-yard mark on three occasions this season, something that happened only three times total in the first seven years of the Nick Saban era. The Tide have also run at least 80 plays from scrimmage in three games under first-year offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin. Previously, that happened only once — last year vs. Kentucky — under Saban.
Excuse the double negative, but it’s not easy not to be good at Florida.
Somehow that is what has happened in three of Will Muschamp’s four seasons as the head coach of the Gators. Florida did not have a losing record in the SEC one time from 1987 through 2010. Muschamp has managed to accomplish this difficult feat in two of his three full seasons as the boss, with a 3–5 mark in both 2011 and 2013. And through five league games in ’14, the Gators are 2–3, with the wins coming over Kentucky in triple-overtime and Tennessee by one point.
And even when Florida was “good” under Muschamp — the Gators went 11–2 overall and 7–1 in the SEC in 2012 — it was far from a satisfying season for the locals. That year, Florida ranked 12th in the SEC in total offense (334.0 ppg), lost to rival Georgia for the second straight season (for the first time since the late ‘80s) and was dominated as a heavy favorite in a Sugar Bowl loss to Louisville — a team coached by former Gator defensive coordinator Charlie Strong. Give that Florida team credit for winning close games, but there was a bit of smoke and mirrors with the ’12 Gators.
Florida fans can debate which season has been the worst. Was it last fall, when the Gators lost seven straight to end the season, including losses at home to Vanderbilt by 17 points and FCS foe Georgia Southern? Or has it been this year, when the offense has continued to be “abysmal” — that’s Muschamp’s word — despite another change at offensive coordinator? What was worse: Giving up 600-plus yards in a 42–21 loss at Alabama in September, or Saturday’s debacle in which Florida lost to Missouri at home, 42–13, despite giving up only 119 yards?
One thing isn’t up for debate: This is the most underachieving program in college football. Most fan bases believe their school should contend for national titles on a consistent basis. Most fan bases are wrong. The folks in Gainesville, however, are not.
There is no excuse for Florida football to be irrelevant on the national scene.
The losers of the past two Super Bowls will take the next step in their quest to get back to that stage when the San Francisco 49ers and Denver Broncos face off tonight on NBC. Jim Harbaugh’s 49ers (4-2) have won three in a row while John Fox’s Broncos (4-1) have won both of their games since their Week 4 bye.
These two franchises have spilt their previous 12 regular-season meetings, but it’s the one postseason affair that will always be remembered. San Francisco destroyed Denver 55-10 in Super Bowl XXIV, a title game rout that still holds the record for largest margin of victory.
San Francisco 49ers at Denver Broncos
Kickoff: 8:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: NBC
Spread: Denver -6.5
Three Things to Watch
|San Francisco 2014 Schedule|
|9/7||@ DAL||W 28 - 17||Recap|
|9/14||vs CHI||L 20 - 28||Recap|
|9/21||@ ARI||L 14 - 23||Recap|
|9/28||vs PHI||W 26 - 21||Recap|
|10/5||vs KC||W 22 - 17||Recap|
|10/13||@ STL||W 31 - 17||Recap|
|10/19||@ DEN||L 17 - 42||Recap|
|11/2||vs STL||L 10 - 13||Recap|
1. Manning Makes More History?
After throwing three touchdown passes last week against the Jets, Peyton Manning has 506 in his career. He needs just three more to pass Brett Favre for No. 1 on the all-time list. Even though Manning is well off of his record-setting pace from last season, he’s still tied for second in the NFL in touchdown passes (15) and is third in passer rating (110.5). He’s thrown just three interceptions while completing 67 percent of his passes. Manning is averaging three touchdowns per game, so he just needs an “average” game against San Francisco to get the record. Will it come tonight? While Manning is focused more on winning than breaking records, it should be pointed out that the 49ers are just one of two teams (Browns the other) Manning has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns against in his career. In four regular-season games, Manning is 2-2 versus San Francisco with six picks compared to five touchdowns and an 81.8 passer rating. Based on his past history, it will take a career-best showing against this 49ers defense for Manning to stake his claim to yet another record.
|Denver 2014 Schedule|
|9/7||vs IND||W 31 - 24||Recap|
|9/14||vs KC||W 24 - 17||Recap|
|9/21||@ SEA||L 20 - 26||Recap|
|10/5||vs ARI||W 41 - 20||Recap|
|10/12||@ NYJ||W 31 - 17||Recap|
|10/19||vs SF||W 42 - 17||Recap|
|10/23||vs SD||W 35 - 21||Recap|
|11/2||@ NE||L 21 - 43||Recap|
2. San Francisco’s Spilt Personality on Offense
A signature of John Harbaugh’s teams has been an offense built around running the football. In each of his three seasons as the 49ers head coach, the team has ranked eighth or better in the NFL in rushing offense. San Francisco currently ranks seventh in that category, averaging 135.7 yards rushing per game and trails only Dallas in rushing attempts (192). The formula for the 49ers thus far has been pretty simple – run the ball 30 or more times and win. In four wins, Harbaugh’s team has averaged nearly 36 carries and 151.3 yards rushing per game. In the two losses those numbers drop to 25 and 104.5. While that seems pretty straightforward, San Francisco flipped the script on Monday night when the 49ers had more passing attempts (36) than rushing attempts (30) in the win in St. Louis. To be fair, Colin Kaepernick was more than effective throwing against the Rams’ defense, finishing with a season-high 343 yards and three touchdowns, while the team gained just 89 yards on the ground. The issue is that prior to Monday night, the 49ers had lost the two previous games in which they threw the ball more than they ran it. So as tempting as it may be to let Kaepernick throw it all over the field, the more effective strategy for San Francisco has been to establish the run and use it to wear down the opposition. However, this may be easier said than done tonight. For one, Denver’s offense is certainly capable of striking early and often, putting teams in a position where they are forced to throw to try and keep up. Secondly, the Broncos’ remade defense has been very effective against the run, checking in at No. 4 in the league at 76.8 yards per game. In fact, they are just ahead of the 49ers (79.8) in that category. So while good things tend to happen when San Francisco runs the ball, the question becomes will tonight’s opponent and/or game flow allow the 49ers to do just that?
3. Broncos Finding Balance?
Everyone knows about Peyton Manning and Denver’s potent passing attack. And even though the Broncos’ offense is not piling up the yards or points at the record-setting pace it did last season, it’s still been highly effective. Denver is averaging 389 yards (9th in the NFL) and 29.4 points per game (3rd), while wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders both rank in the top 10 in the league in yards receiving and tight end Julius Thomas leads the NFL in touchdowns (nine). But everyone also remembers how Seattle manhandled the AFC champions in Super Bowl XLVIII, which made it painfully clear to Broncos general manager John Elway that he needed to beef up his defense and develop a more balanced offense. Elway spent a lot of money in free agency on the defensive side of the ball, while pinning his hopes of a more effective ground game on second-year running back Montee Ball. Even though Ball suffered a groin strain two weeks ago and wasn’t that productive when he was on the field, Elway’s master plan is starting to bear some fruit. Denver’s defense currently ranks fourth in the league in yards allowed, which is better than the offense. The Broncos are giving up less than 21 points per game and also have been very solid against the run (76.8 ypg, 4th). And while the rushing offense is well back in the pack (91.2 ypg, 26th), Denver has averaged 115 yards per game since its Week 4 bye and has done this against two pretty decent defenses (Arizona and the New York Jets). Ronnie Hillman rushed for 100 last week in his first start as Ball’s replacement and the more success he and the other backs have moving forward will only make things easier on Manning and the passing game. But again, if the defense continues to play as well as it has, the offense won’t need to carry this team by itself. In other words, the Broncos are sticking to the blueprint that Elway laid out in the offseason.
After an early rough patch, San Francisco has turned things around in large part by doing what it does best – run the football. Denver meanwhile has started to change its image, as the defense has kept up with the offense in terms of statistical success. The 49ers’ defense is still pretty good in its own right, but its depth has been tested constantly due to injuries and Aldon Smith’s nine-game suspension. Even with Peyton Manning on the verge of breaking Brett Favre’s record for career touchdown passes, the key to this game is the other side of the ball. In that respect, I think Jim Harbaugh’s defense is just too banged up and will eventually wear down in the thin air at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Manning may not break Favre’s record tonight, but he’ll still get the chance to celebrate after the game.