On the Right Track
Much of the buzz last week surrounding the Big East had to do with expansion and a possible invitation to TCU. Odds are, that will continue to be the case this week, but the league’s teams did go a combined 4–1 in the last full week of non-conference games.
There were no matchups like the previous week, when league teams faced opponents like LSU and Oklahoma, but Connecticut managed a victory over the SEC’s Vanderbilt. For the second straight week, the Huskies found themselves tied at halftime before delivering in the second half in moving to 3–2 with a 40–21 win at Rentschler Field. Now it’s on to league play for UConn, starting with Rutgers on Friday.
“I think we’re heading into (league play) in the right frame of mind, in the right direction,” said Connecticut coach Randy Edsall. “I think in these last two games we’ve done things to get better.”
The Huskies scored the last 21 points in last week’s win against Buffalo and closed against Vandy with 26 unanswered points. Jordan Todman had a career-high 37 carries for 190 yards and two touchdowns against the Commodores.
The league’s biggest disappointment came via Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights suffered the loss of both quarterback Tom Savage and a 17–14 decision at the hands of Conference USA opponent Tulane, which entered 1–2. Green Wave coach Bob Toledo’s staff called a trick play — backup QB Joe Kemp threw a 10-yard lateral to wideout D.J. Banks, who then fired another pass back to Kemp for a 24-yard score — that left Rutgers coach Greg Schiano taking blame afterward. “It’s on me,” Schiano said. “I was unable to get our team ready to go... So as the head coach, everything falls on me.”
Savage didn’t return after being tackled out of bounds in the second quarter.
Otherwise, league teams had few problems against Florida Atlantic, Florida International and Arkansas State. South Florida, now 3–1, defeated FAU 31–3 at Raymond James Stadium. The Bulls registered seven sacks, forced three turnovers and scored a touchdown on a blocked punt return. Bulls QB B.J. Daniels threw for 155 yards and a touchdown while completing 14-of-19 passes. Running back Moise Plancher had 20 carries for 93 yards and two TDs.
Pitt had no trouble despite the absence of incumbent Big East offensive and defensive players of the year Dion Lewis and Greg Romeus, both sidelined with injuries. Panther tailback Ray Graham ran wild, rushing for 277 yards and three touchdowns — the second-best effort by a Pitt runner in school history. Graham added 78 yards on kickoff returns and 19 receiving yards to finish with 374 all-purpose yards in the 44–17 victory over FIU.
Louisville, meanwhile, raced to a 31–7 halftime lead on its way to a 34–24 win at Arkansas State. The Cardinals reeled off 575 yards of offense — their best performance in more than two years. Quarterback Adam Froman completed 20-of-33 passes for 308 yards and three touchdowns. The U of L had two 100-yard rushers in tailbacks Bilal Powell (157 yards) and Victor Anderson (108 yards).
Connecticut 40, Vanderbilt 21
Tulane 17, Rutgers 14
Pittsburgh 44, Florida International 17
Louisville 34, Arkansas State 24
South Florida 31, Florida Atlantic 3
A real rush
The Big East may not have a lot going for it this season, but it does have two of the nation’s top four rushers. The 277-yard outburst by Pitt back Ray Graham helped lift him to third among this week’s national rushing leaders, behind only Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson and Oregon tailback LaMichael James. He’s now averaging 164 yards a game. Connecticut’s Jordan Todman, meanwhile, is fourth nationally, averaging 159.5 yards. In all-purpose running, Graham is No. 1, while Todman is No. 5.
A grand return
South Florida’s Dontavia Bogan returned from an ankle injury in style against Florida Atlantic. Bogan caught a 38-yard touchdown pass on a flea-flicker, had five receptions for 66 yards and moved passed the 1,000-yard career receiving mark in the victory.
A grand return II
When Connecticut tailback Jordan Todman ran for 190 yards — two fewer than his career best — against Vanderbilt, it wasn’t just another day at the office. Todman missed last week’s game against Buffalo with a hyper-extended left elbow, but didn’t rest much against the Commodores, carrying the ball a career high 37 times.
Tag this a season of defense within the Big East. While offense usually grabs the headlines, three league teams have performed well on the other side of the ball. West Virginia is ranked eighth nationally in total defense, allowing an average of 249.25 yards. In scoring defense, Rutgers is fourth, allowing an average of 12 points. Connecticut, meanwhile, is tied for seventh in interceptions (nine) and ninth in tackles for loss (8.2 per game).
A sigh of relief
When Louisville held off Arkansas State on Saturday, it snapped a 10-game road losing streak that had been going on since defeating Memphis on Oct. 10, 2008.
Rutgers quarterback Tom Savage’s status is uncertain for Friday night’s game against Connecticut because of an injury to his throwing hand. On Monday, RU coach Greg Schiano said Savage would be a “game-time decision for sure.”
Connecticut offensive tackle Jimmy Bennett hurt his hand last week. Running back Robbie Frey had arthroscopic surgery on his knee Monday.
The Big East is the only league yet to start conference play. That changes this week when Connecticut visits Rutgers Friday for a 7:30 p.m. ESPN game. Syracuse returns from a bye to visit South Florida noon Saturday.