College football: Tailgater best and worst of week 5

This wasn’t a week of good wins.  This was a week of survival.  Alabama and Oregon were typically nonchalant in dispatching Ole Miss and Washington State, respectively, but their competition was busy sweating out close calls.  Texas, Georgia, and West Virginia came away unscathed, but one or two plays could have turned those wins into losses.  Defensively, those three were beyond horrific; Baylor totaled 700 yards, Tennessee 478, and Oklahoma State 576.  In fact, the Cowboys outgained the Longhorns by more than 130.

Meanwhile, LSU and Florida State had larger margins but looked vulnerable nonetheless.  The Ohio St.- Michigan St. affair could have gone either way.  Southern Miss very nearly knocked Louisville off of the national stage while Washington succeeded in doing so to #8 Stanford.

So who managed to impress amid this mess?

Best Win of The Week, Week 3: Oregon State 37, Arizona 34 in Tucson

Sean Mannion and the Beavers earned another Pac 12 road win as Oregon State continued its early season success (Getty/ Petersen)

Prior to the season no one was talking about Oregon State.  The Beavers were overshadowed in their home state by the Ducks’ electrifying offense, and even beyond those borders were other Pac 12 powers more worthy of our attention.  However, this young season has already seen USC, Stanford, and UCLA fall from the ranks of the unbeaten, and perhaps the conference won’t stack up exactly how we thought it would.

OSU has taken advantage of its under-the-radar status.  Few thought the Beavers would top Wisconsin despite the Corvallis setting.  Few expected the team to march into Pasadena and knock off the rising Bruins.  It took until week 5 for many of us to start expecting great things from this Oregon State team.

Heading into Tucson, the Beavers were presented with the opportunity to vault several teams in the conference standings.  Although Arizona had been crushed by Oregon in Eugene, the Wildcats still presented a legitimate challenge.  After all, ‘Zona destroyed Oklahoma State, a team that gave Texas all it wanted on Saturday.  It wasn’t so surprising to see this desert dual turn into a shootout; the teams combined for 1,158 yards on a weekend that saw unprecedented offensive explosions.  But when the dust settled, Oregon State moved to 3-0 on the year and now sits as one of only two undefeated teams in the Pac 12.

Quarterback Sean Mannion was outstanding on Saturday night, connecting on 29 of 45 pass attempts for 433 yards and three touchdowns. Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks continue to be reliable and dangerous targets; the duo hauled in 19 catches for 315 yards and two scores.  Tailback Storm Woods had a workmanlike performance, turning 29 carries into 161 yards and a TD.

The Oregon State defense did surrender 545 yards, and for a time it appeared that Arizona might defend its home turf.  Ka’Deem Carey rushed for 115 and Matt Scott threw for 403.  But a pair of second half interceptions were too much for the ‘Cats to overcome.  The second ended a drive late in the fourth, allowing OSU to hang on for the victory.

Aside from the defensive woes, Oregon State’s main problem was penalties.  Ten flags for 94 yards is hardly what Mike Reilly was looking for.  But overcoming mistakes is critical to winning tight games, and credit the Beavers for getting that done.

It’s not that this was an elite win.  But Oregon State is now clearly established as a threat and has a strong chance of being 8-0 prior to its November matchup with Stanford. 

Honorable Mention: Cincinnati 27, Virginia Tech 24 in Landover, MD

It was listed as a home game on paper, but playing Virginia Tech in Landover, MD was nothing like enjoying the friendly confines of Nippert.  And while the Hokies aren’t really that good, this was a big win for Butch Jones as he tries to return the Bearcats to national prominence.  The game looked lost as VT scored late, but a heave and a prayer from Munchie Legaux to Damon Julian shifted UC’s fortunes.

*****

Worst Win of the Week: Boise State 32, New Mexico 29 in Albuquerque

New Mexico rallied in the second half, coming within three points of the #24 Broncos before running out of time (AP/ Oswald)

I really should pick on LSU again here…38-22 over Towson should count as a loss for a team of that caliber.  And the way their defenses played, Texas, West, Virginia, and Georgia belong here too.  Let’s not forget #19 Louisville either; a four-point win over Southern Miss isn’t much to look at.

But the dubious distinction this week has to go to Boise State.  The Tailgater has spent a great deal of time lauding the Broncos for their various achievements and lobbying on their behalf against the powers that be in college football.  But if we’re going to say that they belong with the big boys during the times that they actually do, we’re obligated to point out the moments when they’re simply not very good.

Ranked #24, Boise State very nearly lost to one of the worst programs in the FBS.  The Lobos have endured three consecutive 1-11 seasons coming into 2012.  And while they’ve already earned as many wins this year as in the past two seasons combined, those two wins have come at the expense of the FCS Southern Jaguars and the even more hapless New Mexico State Aggies.

There’s no excuse for the breakdown that occurred in this matchup.  Boise staked itself to an entirely expected 25-0 lead at the half only to fritter away its advantage until a nailbiter remained at game’s end.  A failed fourth-down conversion at the New Mexico 33 ended the Lobos’ rally, but the underdog still outscored BSU 29-7 in the second half.

Among the lowlights for the Broncos were two fumbles that led to UNM scoring drives, a failed fourth and one deep in Lobo territory, a missed field goal, and poor defensive play that allowed New Mexico to orchestrate touchdown drives of 75 and 96 yards.

Had UNM not coughed up three fumbles of its own early on, this ugly win might well have been a beautiful upset.

(Dis)Honorable Mention: TCU 24, SMU 16 in Dallas

Let’s take a closer look at TCU for a moment.  Granted, the Horned Frogs have had amazing success in recent years, but this season is simply not impressive.  TCU is ranked #15 on the strength of wins over Grambling (FCS), Kansas, Virginia, and SMU.  Not exactly a who’s who of football success.  The Frogs’ FBS opponents are a combined 4-9 on the year, and TCU’s average FBS game ends 24-10.  Fine, they’re getting the job done.  But is that resume really worthy of a #15 ranking?  Is beating the Mustangs by eight in a “road game” less than 50 miles from its own Ft. Worth campus supposed to tell us anything?

*****

Upset of the Week: Washington 17, Stanford 13 in Seattle

The Huskies’ defense clamped down on Stanford and earned a major upset victory in week 5 (AP/ Warren)

Talk about your lapses in concentration.  You go out and smother USC only to be toppled by the Huskies a week later?  Come on, Stanford.  We expect more from you now. 
 This is a Washington team that was murdered by LSU on the road, an LSU team that subsequently soiled itself in consecutive weeks against lesser foes.  It’s a Huskies team that managed only a single-digit margin of victory against San Diego State to open the season.  No disrespect to the Aztecs; the point is, simply, that Washington wasn’t…isn’t all good. The #8 Cardinal fooled us a bit. 

After looking eminently beatable against San Jose State in week one, they bruised and battered the Blue Devils before knocking off the Trojans.  And it appeared, as the team improved week to week, that Stanford would once again be a power player in the Pac 12.  Instead, the anemic offense mustered a grand total of 235 yards against the Huskies and was held to 65 yards on the ground. 

Junior QB Josh Nunes was on the verge of escaping  Andrew Luck’s shadow, but week 5’s shoddy display removed the spotlight.  Completing fewer than half than passes (18 of 37) and tossing a pick, Nunes was ineffective against the Washington defense.  Heck, the Big Sky Conference’s Portland State racked up more yards against the Huskies than did Stanford. And it’s not like the Huskies’ offense had a banner day. 

Tailback Bishop Sankey (20 carries for 144 yards) and wideout Kasen Williams (10 catches for 129) accounted for more than 87% of the team’s offense with their superb individual efforts.  And credit QB Keith Price for finding Williams whenever he was needed.  But with an interception of its own and a total of 313 yards, Washington didn’t exactly play lights out. 

This upset was an example of the better team coming in unprepared and off its game.  Stanford lost this won more than Washington won it.  Still, that doesn’t detract from the importance of the victory.

Honorable Mention: Middle Tennessee State 49, Georgia Tech 28 in Atlanta

So much for home field advantage there, Yellow Jackets.  You were dismantled by a Sun Belt ground game.  Enjoy that feeling.

Blowout of the Week: Texas A&M 58, Arkansas 10 in Fayetteville

It seems like just yesterday that the Hogs were being decimated by the likes of Alabama.  Now look at them…giving SEC mediocrity a chance to impress the home crowd.  That’s equal opportunity awful.  Very thoughtful, John L. Smith.

AND THE GAME BALLS GO TO…

Strobl: Benny Cunningham, RB- Middle Tennessee State

The year started off fairly well for the Georgia Tech defense.  Paul Johnson’s stoppers held Virginia Tech to 326 total yards in an overtime loss and limited Virginia to 297 in a lopsided win.  Even when the wheels came off against Miami, most of the damage was done through the air by QB Stephen Morris.  In short, one would expect a team that lives and dies by its ground game to understand the importance of defending the run.  So naturally, Cunningham’s performance was a shocker, and not just because the Blue Raiders hail from Sun Belt conference and had to come to Atlanta.  Cunningham erupted for 217 yards on 27 carries.  That’s 8.0 yards per rush, folks.  He found the endzone five times.  MTSU dropped the hammer on Tech in its own backyard and Cunningham did most of the pounding.  In fact, he came close to single-handedly out-rushing the vaunted GT triple option attack, which finished with 238 yards on the day.

John Mitchell: Geno Smith, QB- West Virginia

Even if it was just against air, what Geno Smith did on Saturday was impressive. He eviscerated the Baylor defense going 45/51 passing for 656 yards with 8 touchdowns and no interceptions. He had more touchdown passes (8) than incompletions (6). It was a wild shootout in Morgantown, but Baylor’s Nick Florence couldn’t quite match the Heisman Trophy front runner. For the season, Geno Smith has thrown 20 touchdown passes and no interceptions. The Heisman appears to be his to lose right now.

Zach Bigalke: Kain Colter, QB- Northwestern

Technically listed as a quarterback, Colter was the jack-of-all-trades for the Wildcats as they advanced to 5-0 on the season and remained the only bowl-eligible undefeated team left in the Big Ten. Why would I pick a quarterback who threw just three passes, completing one for 2 yards and another to the Hoosiers?! It wasn’t his arm but the other ways he attacked Indiana that earn Colter this week’s game ball. Colter carried the ball 14 times, gaining an absurd 161 yards (11.5 YPA!) and scoring four touchdowns. He also caught nine of Trevor Siemian’s passes for 131 yards. The junior from Denver outscored Indiana’s offense singlehandedly and kept Northwestern in the hunt for their first Rose Bowl berth since New Year’s Day 1996. (Editor’s note and fun fact: Colter’s first name is Theodis.)

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