Saturday November 13th, 2010

We've been asking the question all season, and now we have the answer: Yes, Oregon's "point-a-minute" offense can be stopped. But you need an offense -- and a kicker -- to actually beat the Ducks.

The nation's No. 1 team (10-0) survived a massive road scare Saturday night, beating Cal 15-13 (RECAP | BOX). Its previous season-low score: 42. And mind you, one of the Ducks' two touchdowns came on a punt return. So, Oregon's Quack Attack managed a lone offensive score.

Cal (5-5) entered the game with the nation's 12th-ranked defense and an overwhelming disparity between its performances at home (8.5 points per game allowed) versus the road (31.6). Give credit to the Bears' front seven for stuffing the Ducks' running game, pressuring quarterback Darron Thomas and, most importantly, slowing down Oregon's preferred breakneck tempo. At times, they resorted to dubious measures (numerous "injuries" and "cramps" by defensive players), but eventually the Ducks became just plain frazzled.

But Cal, which lost quarterback Kevin Riley to a season-ending injury a couple weeks back, couldn't capitalize offensively, and, in the game's defining moment, wasted an opportunity to go up 16-15 to start the fourth quarter when an illegal-motion penalty wiped out a 24-yerd Giorgio Tavecchio field goal. Moved five yards back, Tavecchio missed. The game ended with the bizarro sight of the Ducks using as much time as possible between plays and eventually bleeding the last 9:25 off the clock with a scoreless, but effective 18-play drive.

Ultimately, Ducks coach Chip Kelly should look at Saturday's scare as a positive. Every national champion gets tested at some point, and Oregon hadn't yet won a close game. It may have to again, though I'd certainly expect a much sharper performance in two weeks against Arizona. LaMichael James (29 carries, 91 yards), who missed much of the fourth quarter with an injury, certainly looked like he could use the break.

It's just over 200 miles from Columbia, S.C., to Atlanta, but it's taken the Gamecocks 18 years to get there. Thanks to the work of a familiar man in a visor, a transcendent freshman running back and, with all due respect, the worst set of contenders in history, South Carolina clinched its first SEC East title on Saturday with a 36-14 rout of Florida (RECAP | BOX) at the Swamp.

We weren't sure what to expect of the Gamecocks (7-3) after last week's 41-20 debacle at the hands of Arkansas, but that game had no consequences for Steve Spurrier's team, and they played like it. They also played most of the night without a banged-up Marcus Lattimore. The freshman sensation returned in full form Saturday night, grinding out 207 yards and three touchdowns on 41 carries to help the Gamecocks build a 22-7 lead by early in the third quarter.

That was about all South Carolina needed, because Florida's purportedly revamped offense returned to early-season form. Rotating quarterbacks John Brantley, Jordan Reed and Trey Burton helped the Gators (6-4) gain less than 100 yards during the first three quarters. Reed's 26-yard touchdown pass to Chris Rainey in the fourth quarter was too little, too late to keep Urban Meyer from suffering his first four-loss season.

South Carolina has its annual game against rival Clemson on Thanksgiving weekend, then will meet No. 1 Auburn in Atlanta for a rematch of their Sept. 25 game, in which the Tigers erased an early 20-7 deficit to win 35-27. That gives the folks in Columbia a good two weeks to celebrate.

With just over two minutes left in the third quarter, No. 3 TCU appeared to be on its way to yet another defensive masterpiece. The Frogs, overcoming an early 14-0 deficit to San Diego State (7-3), had run off 34 unanswered points and held the Aztecs to just one first down for the game's first 42 minutes. They had also overcome a stunning event on the sideline, when offensive line coach Eddie Williamson suffered a heart attack early in the game. Williamson was said to be in stable condition.

But San Diego State did not quit. Highlighted by several long passes from quarterback Ryan Lindley, its offense racked up three late-game touchdowns. Meanwhile TCU's offense, with playmakers Jeremy Kerley and Josh Boyce banged up and sidelined, went stagnant. The Aztecs wound up scoring 35 points against a TCU team that hadn't allowed even 10 points in its six previous conference wins, but fell 40-35 (RECAP | BOX).

Technically a win's a win, especially against a 7-2 team that nearly won at Missouri -- but not when a BCS berth is at stake. Expect to be bombarded with arguments about "style points" in the ongoing TCU/Boise State debate, and expect the Horned Frogs to lose some ground in the polls Sunday. With only a Nov. 27 road game at 1-8 New Mexico remaining, TCU (11-0) will almost certainly complete its second straight undefeated regular season. But Boise State (9-0), which dispatched Idaho 52-14 on Friday night, will continue to state its case. The Broncos got another unexpected lift Saturday when...

Notre Dame fans haven't had a lot to smile about this season, so you'll have to excuse them for rushing the field to celebrate beating a Mountain West foe.

But the Irish's 28-3 rout of No. 15 Utah (8-2) was significant for several reasons (RECAP | BOX). In Notre Dame's first game since a humiliating home loss to Tulsa, and with the death of student videographer Declan Sullivan still hovering over the program, freshman quarterback Tommy Rees led the school to its first win over a ranked team since 2006. The victory put Notre Dame (5-5) back on track to clinch a bowl berth if it can beat Army next week -- a modest accomplishment, but one that looked unlikely two weeks ago.

But the biggest ramifications may have been felt in Fort Worth. Skeptics looking to downgrade TCU's 47-7 rout of then sixth-ranked Utah last week contended the Utes were overrated. Well ... they were right. Outscored 75-10 the past two weeks, Utah will now likely fall out of the Top 25 completely, leaving TCU without a win over a currently ranked team. Virginia Tech, which Boise beat in Week 1, won its eighth straight Saturday to continue climbing the polls. Advantage, Broncos.

Then again...

Both TCU and Boise had been counting Oregon State among their biggest wins of the season. Saturday, the Beavers (4-5) were on the wrong end of one of the most stunning scores of the season: Washington State 31, Oregon State 14 (RECAP | BOX). It marked the Cougars' first Pac-10 win since the 2008 Apple Cup against winless Washington, and their first conference win against a team other than Washington since 2007.

Congratulations to Wazzu coach Paul Wulff, whose team has gradually been getting better despite what his career 5-31 record would indicate. Mike Riley's Beavers, on the other hand, lost their second straight game to a team with a losing record and appear in danger of missing a bowl for the first time since 2001.

The most amazing stat I've seen in a long time came during the first quarter of Saturday's Penn State-Ohio State game. After Matt McGloin's 23-yard touchdown pass to Justin Brown, ABC noted it was Penn State's first-ever touchdown pass in Columbus under Joe Paterno, a drought spanning 11 games.

McGloin threw another one in the second quarter to give the resurgent Nittany Lions a 14-3 lead, and appeared in position to knock off the No. 8 team in the country. By the second half, however, McGloin was producing touchdowns for the other team, with the Buckeyes scoring on two pick-sixes. Throw in a spectacular 58-yard touchdown catch by Dane Sanzenbacher off a deflection and a career day from tailback Dan Herron (21 carries, 190 yards) and you have another decisive victory for 9-1 Ohio State (RECAP | BOX).

So here's the situation: The Buckeyes go to Iowa City next week. Win, and they could force a three-way tie for the Big Ten title with Michigan State and Wisconsin; however, the Badgers still have the edge in the BCS standings. Lose, and the Spartans will be sitting pretty. Ohio State may be playing for a co-championship and a BCS at-large berth at this point.

You'll have to excuse Iowa fans if they gag at the sight of purple. For the fifth time in six years, Northwestern (7-3) knocked off the Hawkeyes (7-3), this time by the score of 21-17 (RECAP | BOX). For the second straight season, it marked a crushing blow for a highly ranked Iowa team. Last year the Wildcats ended 9-0 Iowa's undefeated season; this time they ended any hopes the Hawkeyes had of a BCS berth.

Against both Michigan State and Penn State, Pat Fitzgerald's team opened big first-half leads only to watch its opponent win going away. This time, Northwestern pulled the comeback. Quarterback Dan Persa (31-of-42, 302 yards; 17 rushes for 59 yards) led fourth-quarter touchdown drives of 85 and 91 yards, the latter of which culminated with a 20-yard cross-field touchdown pass (with Iowa star Adrian Clayborn closing in on him) with 1:22 left to complete the rally from what had been a 17-7 deficit.

Unfortunately for Northwestern, the celebration was muted. Persa was hurt on the final play (though strangely, replays showed no one touched him, and he seemed fine until after the play was over), and Fitzgerald announced afterward that the junior -- who would have been a prime contender for Big Ten player of the year -- will miss the rest of the season with a ruptured Achilles' tendon. That's a devastating blow for a team looking to raise its bowl stock. Meanwhile, the result doesn't affect the Big Ten race too much, other than by reducing the contenders to three. Iowa needed a lot of help to begin with, including a loss by...

Tell us again why the BCS felt the need to remove margin-of-victory from the BCS computers? Coaches still know style points matter in the human polls, and No. 6 Wisconsin (9-1) scored a whole bunch of them in an 83-20 -- yes, 83-20 -- rout of Indiana (RECAP | BOX). The Badgers did this, mind you, despite star running back John Clay's absence due to a knee sprain. In his place, sophomore Montee Ball and freshman James White combined for 311 yards on 41 carries.

Badgers coach Bret Bielema will inevitably take heat (again) for poor sportsmanship, but short of taking a knee the entire fourth quarter, I'm not sure what the Badgers could have done. Their three fourth-quarter touchdowns came on a pick-six, a pass from a redshirt freshman quarterback to a redshirt freshman receiver and a run by a fourth-string tailback. Either way, I don't entirely blame Bielema for keeping his foot on the gas knowing Wisconsin's circumstances.

If Ohio State beats Iowa next week, the Badgers are looking at a possible three-way tie for the Big Ten's Rose Bowl berth with the Buckeyes and Michigan State. The Badgers beat Ohio State, but because the Spartans and Buckeyes don't play, the tie would be determined by highest BCS ranking, and Ohio State is just two spots behind Wisconsin. Bielema may have been playing defense with his offense.

If the Hawkeyes beat the Buckeyes next week, Michigan State will be in the driver's seat due to its win over Wisconsin.

In an otherwise miserable debut season for Tennessee coach Derek Dooley, freshman quarterback Tyler Bray has been a bright spot. Saturday, in his third start, Bray lit up Ole Miss for 323 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Vols (4-6) to their first SEC win (RECAP | BOX).

Bray was a lanky, lightly recruited prospect out of San Diego who former coach Lane Kiffin took a chance on due to the program's dire quarterback depth. Kiffin may have left scorched earth on his way out of Knoxville, but at least he left behind a budding star.

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