Saturday September 25th, 2010

Texas had offensive issues when I saw the Longhorns last week in Lubbock, but I figured the defense would bail out the offense against everyone but Oklahoma and Nebraska. Whoops.

UCLA sliced through a Longhorns defense that entered Saturday ranked No. 1 in the nation in rushing defense, running for 264 yards in a 34-12 win (RECAP | BOX). Obviously, five Texas turnovers didn't help the Longhorns' D, but there is no excuse for allowing Bruins quarterback Kevin Prince to break loose for a 38-yard touchdown run. If Texas can't plug its holes on defense, quite a few Big 12 teams will give the Longhorns trouble -- because their offense is weak.

It's easy to blame sophomore quarterback Garrett Gilbert, but that would be unfair. Texas was supposed to develop a downhill running game in the offseason, but it has yet to materialize. Saturday, Texas ran for a pathetic 59 yards. Two weeks ago, Stanford -- a team that deserves a top 10 ranking far more than Texas -- ran for 211 in a 35-0 win against the Bruins.

The bottom line is that Texas' offensive line can't open holes. That shouldn't be, since Texas has its pick of recruits and should be able to build a capable line, but that's the way it is. Maybe years of finesse blocking for Colt McCoy has rendered the Longhorns incapable of getting in a three-point stance and blowing someone off the ball, but something has to change. Either the Longhorns need to take their chances with a shotgun-based, spread, two-point stance, slap-and-tickle blocking offense, or they need to utilize their superior athletic ability and open some holes.

Otherwise, it's going to be up to Will Muschamp and the defense to win every game.

Texas didn't completely give the game away. UCLA won with opportunistic defense and an offense that would look more at home in Lincoln than in the Rose Bowl. Still, Rick Neuheisel was smart enough to stick with what worked.

UCLA attempted just nine passes. Prince completed five of those for a whopping 27 yards. Tailback Jonathan Franklin did most of the damage, gaining 118 yards (6.3-yard average) and scoring a touchdown.

Of course, it didn't hurt that Texas couldn't keep the ball. Thanks to turnovers, the Bruins had a touchdown drive of four yards and a field goal drive of two yards. Still, UCLA dominated the Longhorns in a soul-crushing touchdown drive to open the second half. After Prince hit Morrell Presley for a six-yard gain, the Bruins ran seven consecutive times for 74 yards.

That's called ramming the ball down Bevo's throat.

Oregon escaped Tempe with a 42-31 (RECAP | BOX) win Saturday, but the Ducks lost their aura of invincibility. That tends to happen when you give up 597 yards of total offense.

Video of Saturday's game will travel throughout the Pac-10. Offensive coordinators will attempt to recreate the Sun Devils' success minus the seven turnovers. Meanwhile, Oregon coach Chip Kelly has to know that Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck will not make as many mistakes next week as Arizona State quarterback Steven Threet made on Saturday.

The good news for the Ducks? They can still score as quickly as lightning strikes, and the Arizona State turnovers werent all unforced errors. The defense got gashed, but it also made some plays. But remember, of the glut of teams we discussed at the start of the season that had a realistic shot at the Pac-10 title, Arizona State wasnt one of them.

So we probably shouldnt cede the conference title to Oregon. The Pac-10 race is going to be interesting and high-scoring.

The SEC west race is going to be a ton of fun. Auburn outdueled South Carolina on Saturday. Arkansas took Alabama to the wire. LSU continued to combine flashes of brilliance with a mystifying inability to execute on offense in a win against West Virginia. Mississippi State whipped Georgia, proving that the men from StarkVegas may have the chops to spoil some contender's season.

Alabama is clearly the best team in the division -- if not the nation -- but Arkansas proved the divide between the Crimson Tide and the rest is not that great. If LSU happens to put everything together on the day the Tigers happen to play the Crimson Tide, anything is possible. Ditto for Auburn.

This next month will be wild in the west -- with a little help from the best teams in the east. Next week, Alabama plays Florida. The following week, Bama plays South Carolina and LSU plays Florida. Oct. 16 brings Arkansas at Auburn. Then Oct. 23 will feature LSU at Auburn. If anyone from the west emerges unscathed from that stretch, that team will have a legitimate shot at playing in Glendale in January.

Can someone please put Tim Brewster out of his professional misery in Minnesota? The Golden Gophers lost, 34-23 (RECAP | BOX), to Northern Illinois on Saturday, the second time in three weeks that Minnesota has lost to a team it scheduled as a cupcake. How bad is it? When word spread in the Boise State press box that Northern Illinois might win, one wag just shook his head and said, "Boy, I really thought Minnesota had a chance to pull off the upset."

Minnesota is the shame of the Big Ten. It has a beautiful new stadium that cost donors a lot of money. They should get more for their investment, and Brewster clearly can't give it to them.

A lot of Georgia fans e-mail bombed me after I wrote this column in August suggesting Bulldogs coach Mark Richt -- along with LSU's Les Miles -- might find themselves on the hot seat if things didn't go as planned this season. They called me a fool for suggesting that Richt might have problems on the horizon.

I wonder how many of those people feel the same way now.

Georgia's 24-12 ( RECAP | BOX ) loss at Mississippi State probably would have been the end for a coach who hasn't been as successful as Richt -- Ron Zook's Florida career was doomed in Starkville in 2004 -- but Richt has earned more rope. But he'll have to turn things around soon.

Richt will get receiver A.J. Green back from a four-game NCAA suspension, which should help. Still, even one of the nation's best receivers can't solve all of Georgia's problems.

To be honest, I thought Richt was OK. But I remember how quickly things turned for Tennessee's Phillip Fulmer and Auburn's Tommy Tuberville in 2008. When the big-money donors decide a guy can't get the job done, he's toast.

Richt is not at that point yet. But he's getting closer with each loss.

Stanford just keeps rolling, meaning next week's matchup between the Cardinal and Oregon in Eugene might be the most important game in the Pac-10 this year.

Saturday, the Cardinal defense mauled Notre Dame quarterback Dayne Crist play after play in a 37-14 win (RECAP | BOX). Meanwhile, quarterback Andrew Luck threw for 238 yards and tailback Stepfan Taylor ran for 108 yards.

Stanford's physicality might slow Oregon. It certainly slowed the Fighting Irish, who are 1-3 and headed for a looooong season if they can't win games against Boston College and Pittsburgh in the next two weeks.

With the frequency Michigan uses quarterback Denard Robinson as a runner, the scene shouldn't have been surprising. Robinson writhed in pain on the sideline in the first quarter of Michigan's 65-21 win against Bowling Green (RECAP | BOX), clutching his left knee. Wolverines coach Rich Rodriguez looked equally pained. His franchise -- and possibly his job -- was down, and for a few moments, it wasn't clear whether Robinson could play again.

Robinson did eventually get up, and he could have returned to the game if the Wolverines had needed him, but his injury underscored the need for Michigan to develop a few more playmakers. Fortunately for the Wolverines, they had three quarters against an obviously overmatched opponent to do just that.

Even though he played less than a quarter, Robinson's Heisman Trophy campaign remains intact. He gained 129 yards on five carries and ripped off a jaw-dropping 47-yard run for Michigan's second touchdown. More importantly, Michigan got quality snaps from backup quarterbacks Devin Gardner and Tate Forcier. Forcier, last seen on transfer watch, completed all 12 of his pass attempts for 110 yards and a touchdown. Receiver Roy Roundtree caught nine passes for 118 yards, and the Wolverines also got 66 yards and a touchdown on two carries from redshirt freshman Fitzgerald Toussaint, who only sounds like he should be the villain in a Peter Sellers Pink Panther movie.

All this is good news for Michigan, which is going to need others gaining yardage if Robinson is expected to stay upright for the remainder of the season. With the stretch Michigan has coming up after next week's trip to Indiana (Michigan State, Iowa, at Penn State), Robinson is going to get pounded if he has to carry 25-to-30 times a game. If the Wolverines want their dynamic playmaker to survive the season, the supporting cast will have to chip in the way it did Saturday.

We may need to add another quarterback to those Heisman watch lists. NC State's Russell Wilson followed a 333-yard, three-touchdown passing performance against Cincinnati last week with a 368-yard, three-touchdown performance in a 45-28 win at Georgia Tech (RECAP | BOX).

The Wolfpack also might be the best team in the ACC. (Insert your own ACC joke here, but seriously, NC State could be pretty good.) We'll know more next week when NC State faces Virginia Tech, which seems to have finally shaken off the doldrums that led to a loss to James Madison and an ugly first half in a win against East Carolina.

A win against the Hokies would further raise NC State's profile, but the team's conference hopes likely will come down to a two-week stretch in which the Wolfpack face Atlantic Division rivals Florida State (Oct. 28) and Clemson (Nov. 6).

The worst week of games in Big Ten history started as expected -- with one notable exception.

In six early games, five Big Ten teams devoured their scheduled cupcakes by a combined score of 255-56. Purdue was the exception, embarrassing the conference on an already embarrassing day of scheduling by losing, 31-20, to Toledo (RECAP | BOX).

Even worse for the Boilermakers, quarterback Robert Marve re-injured his left knee. If Marve is out for an extended period, things could get really ugly in West Lafayette.

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