Statement games littered the Saturday football lineup. For South Carolina, a statement of dominance. For Florida, a statement of a return to the national scene. For Ohio State, a statement the Buckeyes are the Big Ten’s best, postseason or no postseason.
Elsewhere, other statements were less positive, but still loud and clear. Florida State isn’t back among the national title contenders, but back to the status quo of disappointing in ACC play with another loss to a conference underdog on the road. And suddenly, LSU looks like it may be in trouble after its offense could muster only two field goals against Florida before the Tigers face South Carolina, Texas A&M on the road, Alabama and Mississippi State.
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MOVING THE CHAINS
South Carolina’s dominance. What was billed as the biggest game in South Carolina history may hold that title for a few weeks or months. A matchup against a fellow top-six team was all but over in the first quarter when South Carolina took a three-touchdown lead in a 35-7 win. The Gamecocks defense was dominant up front, limiting Georgia’s freshman tailbacks, Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, to 76 yards. The duo averaged nine yards per carry in SEC games entering Saturday but averaged three yards per carry against South Carolina. Another highlight-reel punt return from Ace Sanders and a brutally efficient effort from quarterback Connor Shaw and running back Marcus Lattimore completed a dominant effort in all three phases of the game. And suddenly the schedule that seemed to be tilted against South Carolina in the SEC East doesn’t look quite as bad. Florida, not LSU, may be the tougher away game in South Carolina’s upcoming two-week road swing.
Florida in the second half. Most of the credit to the Gators’ turnaround goes to Florida’s resilience in the second half. On Saturday, Florida broke open a defensive stalemate in the second half with a few key second-half adjustments. The absence of LSU linebacker Kevin Minter (20 tackles, three tackles for a loss, one sack, one forced fumble) for parts of two series didn’t hurt, either. LSU’s defensive line dominated the first half, but the Gators’ unbalanced line look caused the Tigers problems, starting when Mike Gillislee went untouched in a 12-yard touchdown run to give the Gators the lead. Against LSU, Will Muschamp doubled down on the power run game in the second half to earn the signature win of his career. After trailing at halftime against Texas A&M, Tennessee and LSU, Florida outscored those three opponents 51-6 in the second half on the way to a 4-0 start in the SEC.
Landry Jones in Lubbock. Oklahoma’s veteran quarterback had been off to an unspectacular start, but the Sooners may have vanquished some demons with a dominant win on the road against Texas Tech. With a 41-20 win, Jones became the first Sooners quarterback to win in Lubbock since Jason White in 2003. The Sooners’ offense wasn’t explosive, but it was effective. Jones finished 25 of 40 for 259 yards with two touchdowns against the national leader in pass efficiency defense.
Florida State. Like clockwork, Florida State raised expectations only to lose to a nondescript ACC team on the road. This season, the the Seminoles reached the top three in the AP poll for the first time since 2003 yet lost to NC State 17-16. Florida State was shut out in the second half, but handed the Wolfpack chance after chance late in the fourth quarter, first on a blocked punt and then on a personal foul penalty to move NC State into the red zone. And, somehow, NC State’s offensive line held Florida State to one sack despite the Wolfpack missing three starters. This was as mystifying as any of Florida State’s ACC upsets.
Texas defense. West Virginia’s going to score on anyone, but it’s past time to be suspicious of the Texas defense, a unit that was expected to the best in the Big 12. The Longhorns held Geno Smith to a season-low 268 passing yards and four touchdowns, but Texas’ run defense allowed an opposing back to thrive for the second consecutive week. Andrew Buie rushed for 207 yards and two touchdowns only a week after Oklahoma State’s Joseph Randle rushed for 199 yards and two touchdowns in Stillwater.
Nebraska. The Cornhuskers failed to build on the momentum from a second-half comeback against Wisconsin and collapsed in a 63-38 loss to Ohio State in what was supposed to be a game between the Big Ten’s two best teams. If that was the case, the Buckeyes erased any doubt. The Cornhuskers defense gave up 300 rushing yards for the second time this season (UCLA was the other team to do so). The Huskers gave up a touchdown in all three phases of the game (one interception return, one punt return, seven on offense). For Nebraska’s sake, at least every team in the Big Ten Legends Division is vulnerable.
Aaron Murray, Georgia. The Bulldogs quarterback entered the game against South Carolina ranked third nationally in pass efficiency. He left with one of the worst games of his career, going 11 of 31 for 109 yards with an interception. His 35.5 completion percentage against the Gamecocks was the lowest of his career.
EJ Manuel, Florida State. Two weeks after his second-half heroics against Clemson, Manuel had trouble putting NC State away as the Seminoles were shut out in the second half. Manuel was 17 of 29 for 218 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
Braxton Miller, Ohio State. Matt Barkley had trouble overcoming USC’s bowl ban to reach New York as a Heisman finalist. Will Miller face the same fate even if his play merits inclusion. Miller was 7 of 14 passing for 127 yards with a touchdown against Nebraska, but as usual did most of his damage in the ground game. He rushed for 186 yards, including a 72-yard rush and a 31-yard touchdown run. Miller has topped 100 rushing yards in seven of his last 11 games.
182:12. Notre Dame has not allowed a touchdown in more than 12 quarters, dating back to a Purdue touchdown in the final 2:12 on Sept. 8. A first-quarter field goal was the only scoring from Miami in Notre Dame’s 41-3 win.
3,905. Poor performances against Alabama and Notre Dame probably cost Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson some national recognition, but he’s still rewriting record books. With 234 rushing yards against Purdue, Robinson passed Indiana’s Antwaan Randle El for the Big Ten’s rushing career rushing record for quarterbacks with 3,905 career yards. Robinson is 575 yards short of the national record held by West Virginia’s Pat White.
36. Geno Smith can win a Big 12 road game, we learned that much Saturday. The West Virginia quarterback threw four touchdown passes against Texas to give him 36 touchdown passes since his last interception, including 30 this season. Smith did have his first turnovers of the season, however, with two lost fumbles. West Virginia’s only other turnover this season was an interception by backup quarterback Paul Millard.
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UCLA. The Bruins’ late-night 43-17 loss to Cal was one of the most surprising scores of the day with the Bruins enjoying a rebound year under Jim L. Mora and Cal starting the season 1-4. UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley finally looked like a freshman with four interceptions and five sacks. Cal quarterback Zach Maynard’s performance was just unexpected as he finished 25 of 30 for 295 yards with four touchdowns.
Losing streaks end. Three eight-game losing streaks ended Saturday with Army defeating Boston College 34-31, Idaho defeating New Mexico State 26-18 and Memphis defeating Rice 14-10. The nation’s longest losing streak still belongs to Tulane, which has lost 15 in a row with a 41-13 loss to Louisiana-Lafayette.
Another crazy finish in Navy-Air Force. Navy offensive guard Jake Zuzek fell on a fumbled snap in the end zone in overtime to give the Midshipmen a 28-21 victory for another unorthodox finish in this series. A year ago, Air Force won 35-34 in overtime when officials flagged Navy unsportsmanlike conduct on an OT touchdown. Th extra point from 35 yards out was blocked, and Air Force won on the second frame of OT.
THREE WILD FOURTH QUARTERS
Stanford 54, Arizona 48. The Wildcats ran their offense at a breakneck pace, including 69 pass attempts from Matt Scott and 103 total plays. But Stanford’s more traditional offense got the last laugh. After an Arizona fumble, Stanford quarterback Josh Nunes led two scoring drives to erase a two-touchdown deficit in the final 6:34. An interception followed by a 21-yard Stepfan Taylor touchdown in overtime sealed a 54-48 win.
NC State 17, Florida State 16. The Wolfpack narrowed the deficit to 6 points early in the fourth quarter, but the game took its turn on NC State’s blocked punt in the final 2:30. Mike Glennon then converted three fourth-down plays on the final possession including the game-winning touchdown pass to end FSU’s national title hopes.
Texas A&M 30, Ole Miss 27. Yet another page in the legend of Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel. Early in the fourth quarter, the Aggies had turned the ball over six times and trailed by 10 in Oxford. Manziel led two scoring drives, capping them with a 29-yard touchdown run and 20-yard touchdown pass to give the Aggies their first SEC road win.
THREE COACHES WORKING MIRACLES
Bill O’Brien, Penn State. Say this for O’Brien’s first team at Penn State: It doesn’t give up easily. The same group that fell apart in the second half against Ohio and endured a kicking debacle against Virginia, overcame an 11-point deficit in the final 10 minutes against Northwestern to win comfortably 39-28. Quarterback Matt McGloin may be the most improved quarterback in the nation with 10 touchdown passes and two interceptions this season. He had eight touchdowns and five interceptions all of last season. The Penn State offense topped 30 points for the third time in the last four games, a feat the Nittany Lions accomplished only three times all of last season.
David Cutcliffe, Duke. What kind of hex does Cutcliffe have on Virginia? The Duke coach is 4-1 against the Cavaliers at Duke, but no win was bigger than Saturday’s. After defeating Virginia 42-17, the Blue Devils are a win a way from bowl eligibility for the first time since 1994. Even more remarkable than a rout in an ACC game, is that Duke did it without three-year starting quarterback Sean Renfree. Backup Anthony Boone replaced the injured Renfree to complete 18 of 31 passes for 212 yards and four touchdowns.
Kyle Flood, Rutgers. The signature win came last week against Arkansas, but there was no hiccup the Scarlet Knights’ 19-3 win over Connecticut. Jawan Jamison rushed for at least 100 yards for the fifth time this season, and the defense forced five turnovers, including four interceptions, to extend Rutgers’ 5-0 record in Flood’s first season.
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Gene Chizik, Auburn. Can a coach who won a national title two seasons ago really be under this much pressure? It sure looks that way. Auburn’s offense was listless against Arkansas despite a halftime change at quarterback. The Tigers were sacked eight times and committed five turnovers -- against a team that had seven sacks and two takeaways all season. Auburn is 4-7 in the SEC since Cam Newton’s last game. Meanwhile, Auburn has scored three offensive touchdowns in its last five SEC games, including two in three games this season.
Skip Holtz, USF. The Bulls may be among the two or three most talented teams in the Big East. Yet despite a veteran quarterback and a speedy defense, USF has the worst record in the league the two seasons. A 37-28 loss to Temple gave the Bulls a 1-8 mark in the Big East since the start of last season and a 3-11 mark overall since starting the 2011 season 4-0. Riding a four-game losing streak, the Bulls are minus-12 in turnover margin this season.
Frank Spaziani, Boston College. The Spaziani tenure at Boston College hit its lowest point with a 34-31 loss to Army. Quarterback Trent Steelman ran for a 29-yard touchdown with 45 seconds left to end an eight-game losing streak for the Black Knights. With an option offense, Army will get its rushing yards, but 516 against Boston College is a little much, to put it mildly. A week before defeating Boston College, Army lost 23-3 to Stony Brook. Not a good sign for Spaziani and Boston College, which is 5-12 since the start of 2011.
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Michigan State. The Spartans had seven penalties in the first half against Indiana, all of the personal foul or 15-yard variety. The Hoosiers took a 27-14 lead that took Michigan State the entire second half to overcome. The Spartans won 31-27, but it was another close call for a team that also struggled to put away Eastern Michigan two weeks ago.
Clemson. Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson has Clemson’s number, a trend that continued into the fourth quarter Saturday. The Yellow Jackets led 31-30, but Clemson scored 17 unanswered points for a key ACC win, especially when Florida State lost to NC State. Sammy Watkins didn’t have a play from scrimmage longer than nine yards, but Tajh Boyd passed for a career-high 397 yards in the win.
Oregon State. The Beavers had their worst game of the season on offense since the opener against Wisconsin. Sean Mannion threw three interceptions, and the Beavers rushed for 100 yards on 40 carries. Good thing Oregon State was playing Washington State. The Cougars threw four interceptions, including three to Jordan Poyer, in the 19-6 loss.
By David Fox