College football: Tailgater best and worst of week 6

Whereas week 5’s keyword was survive, week 6’s theme was thrive.  South Carolina, Ohio State, and Florida announced loud and clear that they’re going to be threats to win their respective divisions, though the Buckeyes can’t officially win anything.  West Virginia finished its Big 12 entrance with a road win over Texas that wasn’t quite as close as the 48-45 final would suggest.  The Mountaineers primary competition?  Oklahoma and Kansas State both rolled conference foes .  Oregon torched the somehow-ranked Washington Huskies to remain solidly with idle Alabama as one of the two best teams in the nation.

Rutgers and Cincinnati stayed unbeaten, setting up a potential three-way battle with Louisville in the Big East.  And Louisiana Tech is set up as a BCS-Buster, but will the Bulldogs’ threat end this weekend when they host Texas A&M?

A total of 16 unbeatens remain after the season’s first six weeks.

Best Win of The Week, Week 3: South Carolina 35, Georgia 7, in Columbia

Connor Shaw and the offense handled the scoring, but the South Carolina defense keyed a monster win by shutting down Andy Murray and company (Getty/ Cox)

Talk about a statement game.  For the time being, the Gamecocks look as strong as any team in the nation.  While its difficult to imagine that they won’t have their typical mid-season swoon at some point (we’ve been burned one too many times to ignore that possibility), Steve Spurrier might be looking at his best shot to get to a national title.  Jadeveon Clowney could be the best defensive player in college football…really, he could be the best player period.  Connor Shaw has excelled after bouncing back from a week 1 injury.  Marcus Lattimore is still a monster in the backfield.  This team has receivers, solid lines, and, at least according to Georgia, a defense that can compete in the tough SEC.

The Bulldogs had been looking pretty good prior to this drubbing.  True, the UGA defense had been exposed by Tennessee the week before, and frankly, Georgia was lucky to escape week 5 intact.  But the offense had no such problems, and few fans could have expected such a one-sided affair on Saturday.

An opening touchdown drive of 76 yards.  An Andy Murray interception that led to another touchdown drive of 69 yards.  An Ace Sanders punt return for score.  It took only eight and  a half minutes for South Carolina to put this one firmly out of reach, and doing so appeared effortless.  The Dawgs stiffened in the second quarter, forcing a trio of South Carolina punts and shutting the Gamecocks’ offense down completely, but Murray and his teammates couldn’t make a dent in the score.

Their best chance came on an 80-yard march that got them down to the SC two yardline.  But one goalline stand later, Georgia had nothing to show for all that effort.

In the third quarter Shaw padded his advantage by finding D.L. Moore on a 62-yard strike.  That set up a Lattimore touchdown run and made it 28-0 Carolina.  The only highlight for Georgia in the third was a blocked field goal.

Shaw opened the final quarter with an impressive 14-play, 89-yard campaign that resulted in SC’s final TD.  A garbage-time drive helped the Dawgs avoid a shutout, but even with those seven points and 75 yards, Georgia managed a total of 224 yards from scrimmage.  Simply put, the South Carolina defense refused to allow Georgia to move the ball.

The win set up this weekend’s tilt between the Gamecocks and LSU in Death Valley.  Will it be the seemingly inevitable letdown that we’ve come to expect from the Ol’ Ball Coach, or can this team keep things rolling?  If SC can earn the big road win, its season could come down to the following week’s matchup with Florida in Gainesville.  Georgia isn’t yet out of the running, but would need a big win over the Gators in the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party plus some external assistance.

Honorable Mention: West Virginia 48, Texas 45 in Austin

Though technically an upset, the Longhorns shouldn’t have been favored.  West Virginia was the better team, and despite its defensive woes remains the best bet for a Big 12 title.  Not bad for the Mountaineers’ first year in the league.

*****

Worst Win of the Week: Michigan State 31, Indiana 27 in Bloomington

Michigan State came into 2012 with a golden opportunity.  The Buckeyes and Nittany Lions were out of the way before the year even began and Wisconsin has looked wretched from week 1.  With the “Leaders” division so weakened, the “Legends” winner is practically guaranteed a spot in the Rose Bowl.  

The Hoosiers went up big on MSU before faltering late in the game (AP/ Cummings)

Instead of seizing their chance, the Spartans have flopped hard.

There’s no shame in losing to Notre Dame and Ohio State.  Both are apparently pretty good, and MSU fell to the Buckeyes by only a single point.  But in their three wins, the Spartans haven’t looked like a dominant team.  Despite coming into 2012 with a solid defense and a stout running game (read, Le’Veon Bell), MSU struggled to beat Boise State– which really isn’t as good as it has been in recent years– before limping to wins over Directional Michigan #2 (Eastern) and now Indiana. 

The only convincing victory of the year came against Directional Michigan #1 (Central) in week 2. 

Against the Hoosiers, Michigan State had a ton of penalty yards (eight flags for 115) but didn’t turn the ball over once.  So turnovers can’t be an excuse.  The Spartans were simply out-played for most of the most of the game.  Indy led 17-0 after the first quarter courtesy of drives covering 75, 60, and 80 yards.  Including penalty yardage, Indiana racked up 331 yards from scrimmage by halftime. 

Michigan State did wake up a bit in the second quarter.  A pair of long scoring drives trimmed the lead to 17-14 but must have made Sparty a bit overconfident.  No sooner did they get the lead down to three points than did Indiana orchestrate another 75-yard touchdown drive to go up 24-14.  That score was followed by an onside kick that caught MSU napping and  a halftime margin of 27-14. At the break, Michigan State remembered that it was playing Indiana, and things got back to normal.  Indy had fewer than 50 second half yards as the Spartans chipped away at the lead.  A third quarter field goal set up a tense final frame, and it took a pair of touchdowns for the heavily-favored Spartans to eke out a rather depressing win.

(Dis)Honorable Mention: Stanford 54, Arizona 48 in Palo Alto

The 54 points look good on paper, but this overtime win isn’t going to make anyone forget about the Cardinal’s loss to Washington.

*****

Upset of the Week: NC State 17, Florida State 16 in Raleigh

Florida State has a thing about getting knocked off by the Wolfpack.  This is the fourth time that NC State has beaten a top 10 Seminoles team in the past 25 years.  This victory might have been the most unlikely of all, given how it unfolded.FSU has been regarded as a top 5 all season long, and many considered the ‘Noles to be a national title contender.  The defense was stout, quarterback E.J. Manuel was coming into his own, and Jimbo Fisher was just beginning to write a bit of his own history, post-Bobby Bowden.

The team had some weaknesses exposed against Clemson, but the Tigers are a good team as well.  And yes, FSU looked a bit shaky against South Florida.  But anyone can have an off week, right?

Apparently so, but unfortunately FSU’s off week wasn’t that feeble 30-17 triumph over the Bulls.  A few numbers that jumped out after Saturday night at Carter-Finley Stadium:

  • 16:  The total points scored by a team that came in averaging 13.4 points per quarter.
  •  3.5: The yards per carry average that FSU mustered against a team that had been gashed for 199 rushing yards byThe Citadel
  • 343: Florida State’s total yardage, the team’s worst output of the season by 70 yards.  The previous low of 413 came in a rain-drench game against Savannah State that didn’t even include a fourth quarter.
  • 3: The number of fourth-down conversions allowed by the FSU defense on the game-winning drive.

    Mike Glennon scripted a storybook ending to week 6’s biggest upset with three fourth-down conversions on the game-winning drive (Getty/ Lecka)

It’s almost unthinkable.  Florida State had accrued better than 600 yards of offense three times this year.  The Wolfpack were entirely forgettable, having lost to the only quality opponents (Tennessee, Miami) that they faced.  This should have been as one-sided as any conference game played this year.

Instead, the ‘Noles forgot to show up.

Credit the NC State defense for limiting the damage.  While FSU tailback Chris Thompson had another excellent performance (25 rushes for 141 yards) he was the tema’s only reliable weapon.  Manuel completed fewer than 60 percent of his passes and tossed a costly interception at the close of the third quarter that allowed the Wolfpack back in the game.  Trailing 16-3, NC State not only got the takeaway that stopped an FSU drive at the Wolfpack 30 yardline, it also turned the pick into seven points the other way when Mike Glennon found Shadrach Thornton on a 24-yard catch and run.

Prior to that score, the game had been a story of field goals.  Florida State had managed one long touchdown drive; otherwise four kicks had accounted for the points.  But suddenly the boring, plodding contest had become far too interesting for the favorite.

With the crowd behind them, the Wolfpack dug in for a fourth quarter that, unexpectedly, afforded them a shot at the upset.  The defense force an FSU punt with a crucial sack; Dontae Johnson took down Manuel at the Wolfpack 19 yardline, driving him back 15 yards and out of field goal range.  The game should have been 19-10 at worst, but instead NCSU got the ball back still within a score.

Glennon and company couldn’t maintain the momentum however, and it appeared that FSU was going to grind out an ugly win.  But again the Wolfpack D stepped up, forcing a three-and-out and giving the offense a second chance.  This time Glennon was more successful, marching to the FSU 36 before a failed fourth-down conversion ended the drive.  Surely that was the end, right?

Not so.  The underdog defense forced a three-and-out again, and Glennon was given a third opportunity to surprise.  This time, he pulled it off. 

It took 12 plays on a short field, but after taking the punt at the Seminoles’ 43, Glennon converted three fourth-downs through the air, including one fourth-and-ten.  The last of the three found Bryan Underwood for a two-yard game-winning score.  

Honorable Mention: Florida 14, LSU 6 in Gainesville

It seems wrong to have this game as a footnote rather than a feature.  It was arguably the most important win of the week.  But LSU has been overratedf for the better part of a month, Florida’s offense (other than RB Mike Gillislee) still struggled to move the ball, and South Carolina was more dominant in its critical SEC victory.  Nevertheless, this win was a signature performance for Will Muschamp, and the Gators have to be considered a favorite to win the East given that they host the Gamecocks on the 20th.

Blowout of the Week: Ohio State 63, Nebraska 38 in Columbus

This game began with a first quarter totally and completely dominated by the Cornhuskers.  Then everything fell apart for Nebraska.  Unless Northwestern or Minnesota can somehow run the table (unlikely) the Big Ten is guaranteed to a have, at best, a two-loss champion.

AND THE GAME BALLS GO TO…

Strobl: Jadeveon Clowney, DE- South Carolina

It seemed like every time the South Carolina defense took the field, Clowney was creating havoc in the Georgia backfield.  Jumping blockers, leaving tackles flat-footed, abusing poor Andy Murray…Clowney was playing at a different level than anyone else on the field.  His skills are freakish, reminiscent of a Javon Kearse-type talent.  Officially he had four solo tackles (two for loss) and one sack, but that line does nothing to describe the impact Clowney had on the game.  it was one of those performances that you just had to watch to appreciate; the box score won’t do it justice.  Remember that Clowney is just a sophomore.  That should scare the crap out of the other SEC offenses.

John Mitchell: Mike Gillislee, RB- Florida

Jeff Driskel has gotten most of the credit for Florida’s resurgence in Will Muschamp’s second year in Gainesville, but Mike Gillislee has had a lot to do with it. Over the last couple of years, the Gators have really struggled to find an interior running game, but Gillislee has given Florida just that. While Driskel managed the game against LSU, Gillislee hammered away as the workhorse for the Florida offense. He ran the ball 34 times right into the teeth of one of the best defenses in the nation for 146 yards & two touchdowns. Both of his touchdowns came in the second half as Florida wore down LSU on their way to the 14-6 win. .

Zach Bigalke: Kieran McDonagh, QB- Portland State 

The Vikings faced Idaho State last Saturday in dire straits. The team had lost four straight games, its only victory of 2012 coming against a NAIA school. Oh, and it was homecoming at JELD-WEN Field in Portland. So, as the defense clamped down on the overmatched Bengals, McDonagh gashed the ISU secondary and barreled through their front seven. The 6’5″ true freshman would finish 15-of-23 for 280 yards and one passing touchdown; he added 10 carries for 66 yards and four more TDs, and also caught a 22-yard TD pass from Thomas Carter on the halfback option. Six touchdowns in three different ways… that’s the reason this FCS quarterback gets my game ball this week..

  • Moose

    Love that you call Aaron Murray “Andy” like ten times in this article. Go Gamecocks!