College football: Tailgater best and worst of week 8

Ordinarily, holding a team to 183 total yards is a good recipe for success.  Ordinarily, allowing 55 points is not.  Both of the teams that accomplished these feats lost on Saturday, and both losses are equally damaging.  That’s proof that sometimes it doesn’t matter how you get there.

South Carolina’s defense limited Florida to fewer than 100 passing and fewer than 100 yards rushing, but three turnovers and a blocked field goal allowed the Gators to dominate on the scoreboard.  The 33-point margin of victory was in many ways completely misleading, though Florida did control this one throughout.

West Virginia lost in a much more conventional way– by being unable to move the ball and unable to stop the opponent.  Now the Mountaineers and Gamecocks are essentially out of the BCS conversation.  West Virginia’s last two weeks, combined, amount to 104-28.  And the next four weeks feature TCU, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, and Iow State.  Things could get ugly for WVU.  Well…uglier.

South Carolina now has a pair of SEC losses to Florida’s zero, putting the Gamecocks out of the running for an SEC title.  We shouldn’t be surprised; hot starts followed by painful flops are the SC way.  But still, 2012 could have been different given the overall makeup of the team.

Best Win of The Week, Week 8: Duke 33, UNC 30 in Durham

1994 was a great year.  I launched my college career.  Pete Sampras (Wimbledon) and Andre Agassi (U.S. Open) both captured major tennis titles.  We enjoyed both Winter Olympics and a World Cup, the latter hosted right here in the U.S.A.  1994 was also a great year for Duke football, though it’s unlikely that the team knew just how great.  It would be the last season in which the Blue Devils would qualify for a bowl game…until 2012. 

That’s right sports fans.  The Duke Blue Devils, erstwhile doormats of the ACC, are going bowling.  And it’s not even November yet. 

With a solid victory over UNC, Duke is bowl eligible for the first time in 18 years (AP/ News & Observer/ Liddy)

Everyone expected big things from coach David Cutcliffe when he came to Durham from the SEC.  Given what he has to work with, Cutcliffe has made great strides and is currently enjoying his best season with the program.  His Devils have played roughly 100 minutes of lousy football; a full game against Stanford that went awry from the opening whistle, and an awful three quarters against Virginia Tech that allowed the Hokies to come back from a 20-7 deficit.  Otherwise, Duke has looked amazingly competitive.  With the win over local rival UNC, Duke now sits at 3-1 in the ACC Coastal Division; that’s first place.

Granted, Florida State and Clemson are looming on the schedule, but if the Devils could find a way to win just one of those tough matchups, we could start talking about the possibility of a potential ACC Championship appearance.  It’s almost unthinkable. Saturday’s matchup against the Tarheels looked a lot like the VT game.  Duke got off to a hot start, jumping all over UNC in the first half.  Duke put together four scoring drives of eight plays or more, amassing 252 yards before the break.  Only a Sean Renfree interception and the halftime whistle itself could stop Cutcliffe’s offense. 

The defense limited UNC to a pair of field goals while forcing a fumble and three UNC punts.  Duke went to the lockerroom up 20-6. But just as they did with the Hokies, the Devil allowed North Carolina back in the game.  After a third quarter stalemate took the score to 23-9, the ‘Heels scored on three consecutive fourth-quarter possessions sandwiched around a Duke field goal to take the lead at 30-26.  But this time, faced with allowing a potential comeback, Duke had an answer. Refree drove 87 yards on 14 plays to set up the game-winning score, a five-yard touchdown pass to Jamison Crowder that set the 33-30 final.  The Duke defense iced the win with a forced fumble; UNC wideout Erik Highsmith was stripped in his own territory.  With that final play, Duke ensured its post-season for the first time in nearly two decades.  

Honorable Mention: Texas Tech 56, TCU 53 (double overtime) in Ft. Worth

LSU’s road win over Texas A&M was critically important, and Florida quite possibly earned itself a trip to Atlanta by besting South Carolina at home.  But Texas Tech’s win was just as vital and was far more exciting.  On the road against a ridiculously resilient TCU team– who needs Casey Pachall?– Tech won a shootout and kept itself just one game out in the Big 12.  Seth Doege tossed seven touchdowns and the Tech defense nabbed three turnovers (which almost made up for the 516 yards allowed).  Could this team possibly upset K-State next week and make a run at the BCS?

*****

Worst Win of the Week: Various

I can’t limit myself to just one choice here.  There were simply too many teams that fell on their faces.  Somehow each managed to escape with bruises and embarrassment as their only consequences, but the collective ignominy can’t be ignored.  Instead of one selection and a Dishonorable Mention, I’m sharing the wealth, so to speak.  Oddly enough, these four games all occurred within 330 miles of one another. 

Ohio State looked awful for 58 minutes before a game-saving drive by backup QB Ken Guiton allowed the Buckeyes to get to overtime.  Once in the extra period, OSU looked more like OSU and topped Purdue 29-22, but getting there was painful.  Even before Braxton Miller was knocked from the game with what appeared to be a head or neck injury, the Buckeyes could do nothing with the ball.  They were sloppy (four turnovers), ineffective (outgained 347-342), and unable to sustain drives (lost time of possession battle by nearly ten minutes).  Keep in mind all of this happened in Columbus.  Purdue has a recent history of ruining Ohio State’s day, but this was still unacceptable.  Kudos to the Boilermakers for playing a heck of a good game.

In South Bend, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish had all they could handle from another three-loss team.  BYU, which had scored a grand total of 36 points in its last three meaningful games, actually led for much of the game.  Only a fourth-quarter touchdown drive saved the Irish from a season-changing defeat.  The resulting 17-14 win was anything but impressive.  Oddly enough, Brian Kelly’s team was saved by its ground game (270 total rushing yards) and defense (243 yards allowed) while the passing game floundered.  Tommy Rees missed more than half his pass attempts (7 of 16) and threw for only 117 yards.  With Oklahoma as its week 9 foe, Notre Dame better figure things out quickly.

Louisville has to have the most pathetic 7-0 record of any AQ-conference team in recent memory.  That quality win over UNC is a fading memory, and since then the Cardinals have barely beaten FIU, Southern Miss, and South Florida.  Those three teams are a combined 3-19 on the season.  3-19!  Louisville’s total margin of victory in the three games is 13 points.  The week 8 win over the Bulls at home was the closest call yet, a 27-25 comeback victory that more or less saved the Cards’ season.  Louisville, which was outgained 386 yard to 384, enjoyed leads of 14-3 and 21-10 before coughing up 15 unanswered points late in the game.  Even after Teddy Bridgewater led an eight-play, 75-yard drive the lead wasn’t secure thanks to a blocked PAT.  It took a B.J. Daniels’ interception to end this horror.

Our Midwestern tour ends in Lexington, where the Georgia Bulldogs barely survived Kentucky.  Despite dominating the Wildcats in every statistical category, it took a rather bizarre fourth-quarter, clock-killing drive to ice the 29-24 win.  That drive saw Georgia try and throw for a fourth-down conversion deep in UK territory rather than kicking a field goal to go up by eight points with under ten seconds remaining; an odd decision, but hardly stranger than the disconnect between the scoreboard and the numbers.  Georgia outgained the ‘Cats 504-329, posses the ball for nearly five more minutes than Kentucky, and still came within a couple plays of losing.

*****

Upset of the Week: Toledo 29, Cincinnati 23 in Toledo

Okay, so it’s not like Cincinnati is a powerhouse.  But with Lousiville’s shaky play, the Big East might well have come down to the Bearcats and Rutgers.  In fact, it still could.  But some of the shine of that matchup was worn off when UC’s unblemished record was wiped out by the Rockets.

David Fluellen and the Rockets kept Cincinnati under wraps, earning a big week 8 upset win (AP/ Richard)

Instead of a pair of Big East unbeatens going at it, the Bearcats will face the Cards and Knights (and enter the toughest stretch of their schedule) with at least one loss.  However weak the Big East might be compared to the other automatic qualifiers, it still gets a guaranteed BCS berth.  And its top teams aren’t supposed to lose to the MAC.

Toledo had this game from the outset, shutting out the Bearcats in the first quarter thanks to an opening drive field goal and a pick-six at the expense of Cincy QB Munchie Legeaux.  UC rebounded in the second to post 13 points, but a pair of Toledo field goals kept the Rockets ahead at the break.  Tailback David Fluellen deserves a nid for his big day; 161 yards on 25 carries helped Toledo stay in control.

That was the story of the game.  Every time it looked like Cincinnati would wake up and take the lead (and the Bearcats did lead briefly at 20-19), Toledo had an answer.  Up by three at the break, Toledo opened the second half with another field goal.  And after Cincinnati’s best drive of the day put the favored ‘Cats up by one, a 91-yard kickoff return by Bernard Reedy swung the momentum back to the underdogs.

The teams traded field goals in the fourth, but Cincinnati couldn’t find a way to pull back in front.  Legeaux’s second interception locked up the loss.

Cincy outgained Toledo 478-355, so overall production wasn’t the problem.  The two turnovers and the special teams breakdown certainly didn’t help, but ultimately, the Bearcats lost due to their inability to sustain drives.  UC fell short of the endzone on ten possessions, settling for field goals, punting, or giving the ball away.

Honorable Mention: Penn State 38, Iowa 14 in Iowa City

It figures that one week after toppling Michigan State in East Lansing, Iowa would lay an egg at home.  But all credit goes to Penn State and Bill O’Brien, now winners of five straight.  This program appeared done for early on, but have bounced back in an extremely impressive way.

Blowout of the Week: Kansas State 55, West Virginia 14 in Morgantown

Collin Klein laughs at your measly 49-14 win over WVU, Texas Tech.  He surpassed it with a monstrous road effort that has vaulted KSU into the National Championship discussion.

AND THE GAME BALLS GO TO…

Strobl: Seth Doege, QB- Texas Tech

I love giving credit to defensive players whenever possible.  But I also can’t ignore it when quarterbacks steal the show.  Doege completed better than 71 percent of his passes (30 of 42) against a strong TCU defense.  He threw for 318 yards and accounted for seven of the Raiders’ eight touchdowns.  Seven touchdowns, zero interceptions.  That’s the kind of dream ratio that every QB wants in a big game, and it couldn’t have been more timely.  Texas Tech came into this matchup with one of the nation’s top defenses but the Horned Frogs were able to move the ball at will on Saturday.  If not for a trio of turnovers, TCU might well have won at home.  Doege did his level best to turn those takeaways into points and to make sure that the Raiders escaped with the win.

John Mitchell: A.J. McCarron, QB- Alabama

While Tennessee was trying to step on AJ McCarron’s knee, McCarron was busy stepping on Tennessee’s throat as he put together the best passing day of his collegiate career and his best overall performance since the BCS National Championship Game. McCarron threw for a career high 306 yards on 17-of-22 passing and 4 touchdowns without an interception. It’s time for McCarron to get some praise for the way he has played this year. McCarron is the nation’s most efficient passer with a QB rating of 183.6. He has 16 touchdown passes and 0 interceptions this year, joining Louisiana Tech’s Colby Cameron as the last two quarterbacks without an interception in 2012.

Zach Bigalke: Collin Klein, QB- Kansas State

I’ve been hyping Klein for the past few weeks as my favorite for the Heisman presentation. While his numbers haven’t been as eye-popping as some other quarterbacks around his conference or the nation, Klein has his team on a collision course for a Big XII title and a potential spot in the BCS Championship. And in Morgantown this Saturday, he showed by he — and not WVU’s Geno Smith — should be the favorite field general in the league. Klein accounted for seven touchdowns in the Wildcats’ 55-14 victory…  he went an ultra-efficient 19-of-21 for 323 yards, 3 TDs and no picks, and added 41 yards and 4 more TDs on 12 carries. In just 33 plays, Klein generated 42 points on seven scores… three times as many points as the Mountaineers managed as a team..