Another week, another LSU game that came down to last-second game management, a crucial replay booth decision and a few inches -- only this time, Les Miles came out the genius on all fronts.
Miles and the 12th-ranked Tigers are 6-0 after a 33-29 win at No. 14 Florida that involved yet another wild finish -- highlighted by an incredibly ballsy play-call by LSU's widely criticized coach. Down three with 35 seconds left, facing a 4th and 1 at the Florida 36, Miles dialed up a vintage fake-field goal play (he ran it against South Carolina during the Tigers' 2007 title season). The only problem: Holder Derek Shelton's over-the-shoulder lateral to kicker Josh Jasper bounced first, making it dangerously close to an incomplete forward pass.
After a lengthy review, officials upheld the first down, and given new life, quarterback Jarrett Lee completed a long slant pass to Terrence Toliver, then, three plays later, a game-winning touchdown throw to Toliver. Even though it took another "Milecle," LSU's offense played its best game since the opener against North Carolina. Lee, alternating with Jordan Jefferson, finished 8-of-9 for 94 yards and two scores. The defense played well, too, with Florida doing most of its damage on a kick return and on short-fields created by LSU turnovers.
The Tigers are still far from a finished product -- but who is in the SEC this year? Who knows -- maybe The Mad Hatter will just keep marching on to Atlanta.
Two sophomore quarterbacks dueled for 3½ hours Saturday in Palo Alto, and a senior placekicker ultimately decided which one prevailed.
In a back-and-forth shootout between USC and Stanford, in which no team ever led by more than a touchdown, Trojans QB Matt Barkley (28-of-45, 385 yards, three TDs) delivered his finest performance to date, with help from studly true freshman receiver Robert Woods (12 catches, 219 yards, three TDs). After Stanford's Nate Whitaker missed an extra point to leave the margin at six, Barkley led a touchdown drive to put USC up 35-34 with just 1:08 left.
No matter. Cardinal star Andrew Luck (20-of-24, 285 yards, three TDs) swiftly led his team down the field (helped in part by a foolish 15-yard personal foul on USC linebacker Chris Galippo) and gave Whitaker a shot at redemption with a game-winning 30-yard field goal at the final gun. Remarkably, it was the second straight week the Trojans lost on a game-ending field goal.
The Pac-10 is incredibly competitive this year, and as both this and the Arizona-Oregon State game showed, it's going to be decided with a whole lot of shootouts featuring a whole bunch of potent passers. Stanford, having already lost to Oregon, would have been pushing its Luck had it lost again this week. The win should be a huge momentum boost, while Lane Kiffin's probation-hampered Trojans need to shake it off and stay motivated.
Florida State (5-1) came into the season touting quarterback Christian Ponder as a Heisman candidate. It turns out the Seminoles' biggest strengths are a much-improved defense and running game.
FSU flat-out mauled archrival Miami, 45-17, with tailbacks Chris Thompson and Jermaine Thomas combining for 233 yards on 30 carries, and the defense holding Miami QB Jacory Harris to 19 of 47 completions. FSU's stunning domination shows either the team has come a long way since its blowout loss Sept. 11 at Oklahoma -- or the Sooners should be ranked even higher than sixth.
In recent years, this game has become a measuring stick as both once-proud programs try to build their way back to national prominence. As such, first-year 'Noles coach Jimbo Fisher should gave his fan base a huge boost of enthusiasm, while a lot of folks in Miami figure to be grumbling about fourth-year coach Randy Shannon.
No. 4 Boise State and No. 5 TCU both handled Oregon State -- but No. 9 Arizona couldn't.
The Beavers (3-2), notorious for their slow starts and midseason surges, notched a huge road win Saturday in Tucson, 29-27, behind a breakout performance from first-year starting quarterback Ryan Katz (30-of-42, 398 yards, two TDs, one INT). Oregon State racked up 486 yards against the nation's second-ranked defense.
In addition to boosting the BCS busters' strength-of-schedule ratings, Mike Riley's team showed it will be a force once again in the Pac-10 race, which many had already reduced to Oregon, Stanford and Arizona. The win came with one huge thorn, however: Star receiver James Rodgers -- after putting up 102 receiving yards -- went out with what looked like a serious knee injury. He spent the second half on the sideline on crutches. Even in his absence, Katz orchestrated an 80-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter to go up 29-20, but it's hard to fathom Oregon State playing the rest of the season without its dynamic all-purpose guy.
Don't count out the Wildcats. They've beaten Iowa and Cal. There's a lot of football between now and Thanksgiving, but keep in mind, the third-ranked Ducks' last two games will come against Arizona and Oregon State.
I can't say I'm surprised by Saturday's Michigan State-Michigan result, a 34-17 Spartans victory (RECAP | BOX). Sooner or later, Wolverines star Denard Robinson was going to run into a defense capable of slowing him down. And when that happened, Michigan's defense was bound to be its downfall.
As has been the case all season (actually, for two years now), big plays doomed the Wolverines, as Michigan State's first three touchdowns came on a 61-yard Edwin Baker run, a 41-yard Le'Veon Bell run and a 41-yard Kirk Cousins pass to Mark Dell. Sparty ran up 532 yards on the nation's 102nd-ranked defense.
For the most part, Robinson didn't have a bad day statistically. He just wasn't otherworldly, as he'd been to this point. He ran for 84 yards and threw for 217. He did, however, throw two costly interceptions in the Michigan State end zone, and a third pick later on. Most notably, MSU's defense held him without a truly "big" run -- his longest rush went for 16 yards.
In coach Mark Dantonio ' s first game back, State notched its first three-game winning streak over its rival since 1967 and asserted itself as a legitimate Big Ten title contender. (Unfortunately, the Spartans and Ohio State don't play this year.) With a powerful rushing attack and solid defense, this looks like the best Michigan State team since Nick Saban coached there.
The golden rule of college football: As soon we start thinking a team is "unbeatable..."
Seven days after No. 1 Alabama garnered every possible form of hyperbole for throttling Florida, Steve Spurrier's South Carolina Gamecocks brought us all back down to earth. All the factors were there for a "trap" game -- the Tide facing their third straight ranked opponent, the Gamecocks coming off a bye week -- but there was nothing fluky about South Carolina's 35-21 victory (RECAP | BOX). The Gamecocks thoroughly suffocated Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson, while their own rushing sensation, freshman Marcus Lattimore, proved the rare physical runner capable of wearing down Alabama's defense.
But the Gamecocks' undisputed MVP was Spurrier's longtime headache, quarterback Stephen Garcia, who, just a game after being benched late in the fourth quarter at Auburn, was a near-flawless 17-of-20 for 201 yards and three touchdowns. His one miscue, taking an intentional safety early in the third quarter, gave the Tide (down 21-11 at the time) momentum, but South Carolina's defense ultimately squashed it.
It's a long season, and I'd hardly rule 'Bama out of the national-title picture. Remember, one- or two-loss SEC teams have won rings three of the past four years. However, the extent of the Gamecocks' dominance Saturday leaves room to wonder whether 'Bama is even the best team in the conference -- or its own state, for that matter. There are a lot of happy folks in Auburn right now -- not to mention Columbus, Ohio; Eugene, Ore.; and, yes, Boise.
While the SEC's golden goose, Alabama, went down, one of its other highly ranked teams, No. 11 Arkansas, notched a nice nonconference victory, 24-17 over Texas A&M (RECAP | BOX). The Hogs -- who suffered a heartbreaking home loss to 'Bama two weeks ago -- again showed that their defense is legit, holding A&M 22.5 points below its season average.
The Razorbacks held Aggies quarterback Jerrod Johnson -- he of the 40-of-62, 409-yard, five-turnover game against Oklahoma State last week -- to just 15-of-40 completions for 212 yards, a touchdown and a pick. Ryan Mallett, on the other hand, had a more typical 27-of-38, 310-yard, three-touchdown performance.
And yet, Arkansas struggled to put A&M away, with Johnson heaving a potential game-tying Hail Mary at the final gun. Penalties -- 13 of them -- killed several drives. Arkansas will need to be more disciplined if it hopes to turn a corner and beat SEC West foes Auburn and LSU.
To all those who freaked out over No. 2 Ohio State's ugly win at Illinois last week -- relax. We have clarity.
First of all, the Buckeyes throttled Indiana, 38-10, on Saturday, with Terrelle Pryror throwing for 334 yards and three touchdowns and OSU's defense holding Indiana's Ben Chappell -- fresh off a 480-yard day against Michigan -- to 108 yards, no touchdowns and two picks (RECAP |BOX). But more notably, Ron Zook's Illini (3-2) went to Happy Valley and spoiled Penn State's Homecoming with an eye-opening 33-13 rout (RECAP | BOX).
Joe Paterno's offense has been abysmal all season, but a rash of injuries have ravaged the Nittany Lions' defense, and Illinois took advantage. With redshirt freshman quarterback Nathan Scheelhasse (15-of-19, 151 yards) looking far more confident than he did early in the season and tailback Mikel Leshoure (27 carries, 119 yards) posting his fourth 100-yard game of the season, the Illini controlled the game throughout. Their defense held Penn State to 234 total yards.
With a very favorable Big Ten schedule (no Iowa or Wisconsin), Zook's team could very well be bowl-bound, which would save the chronically embattled coach's job for yet another year. As for JoePa's 3-3 team? It's going to be a struggle.
There's a reason Vegas installed 1-4 Georgia as a 12-point favorite (to the surprise of some) over 2-3 Tennessee on Saturday: The Bulldogs, while reeling, had been competitive, and a bit unlucky, in all of their games. The Vols are just plain bad, and in this case a sitting duck on which Mark Richt's team took out a month of frustration.
Behind a solid performance from redshirt freshman quarterback Aaron Murray (17-of-25, 266 yards, two TDs, no INTs), a typically big game from receiver A.J. Green (six catches, 96 yards, one TD) and a defense that notched three turnovers, Georgia rolled, 41-14 (RECAP | BOX). This could prove a turning point for the embattled Richt, whose team has a chance to build some momentum if it handles its next two against Vanderbilt and Kentucky.
Nice win for second-year Syracuse coach Doug Marrone, whose rebuilding program notched a small milestone Saturday when it went to Tampa and knocked off USF, 13-9, for the Orange's first victory over the Bulls since that program joined the Big East in 2005 (RECAP | BOX).
In an indisputably ugly contest, Syracuse's defense stifled USF quarterback B.J. Daniels, notching four sacks and two interceptions. The Orange offense was equally quiet most of the game before putting together a 14-play, 98-yard touchdown drive early in the fourth quarter.
The Orange (4-1) still have to work on some things, though. On second down with about a minute left, they got called for a false start penalty while trying to take a knee.