College football: Tailgater best and worst of week 12

Just when we thought the National Championship picture was coming into focus, the top two teams in the nation are knocked from atop the standings.  Kansas State was steamrolled by an unexpectedly good Baylor team, and once that game went final Notre Dame fans everywhere went crazy.  Alabama fans had to wait a bit longer for their celebration; Stanford didn’t beat Oregon until nearly midnight, eastern time.  But regardless of the relatively late hour, Tide supporters were ecstatic to see their program climb back into the driver’s seat.

As things currently stand, ‘Bama would face the Irish for the title, but that assumes several things.  First, Notre Dame must beat USC on the road, a feat made easier by last week’s shoulder injury to Matt Barkley.  Next, Alabama has to beat Auburn in the Iron Bowl and Georgia in the SEC title game.  It’s hard to imagine that the Tide won’t finish with the necessary victories.

If they do, they ought to send a couple of nice gift baskets to Art Briles and David Shaw.

Best Win of The Week, Week 12: Stanford 17, Oregon 14 (OT) in Eugene

It wasn’t supposed to be like this.  Not this year.  This year was going to be different.

Stanford Cardinal upset Oregon Ducks

As the Stanford defense controlled mighty Oregon, Stepfan Taylor and the Cardinal offense controlled the clock and emerged with the big upset (Getty/ Dykes)

Over the past few seasons, few programs have enjoyed as much collective success as has Oregon.  Since the start of the 2009 campaign, coach Chip Kelly’s first in Eugene, and prior to Saturday, the Ducks had gone 44-6.  That record would be the envy of 99.9% of programs in college football.

However, in each season one game cast a shadow on UO’s success.  There was always one matchup against a good defensive team that revealed Oregon’s weaknesses.  In 2009 it was the 2010 Rose Bowl loss to Ohio State.  The following year the Ducks were stifled by Auburn in the National Championship.  And the team was crushed by LSU to open last season.  Chip Kelly’s Achilles heel has seemingly been an inability to handle strong defensive fronts.  Fortunately, that typically hasn’t been an issue in Pac 10/ Pac 12 play, and the Ducks have owned the league.

Until Saturday.

Stanford marched into Autzen Stadium boasting one of the nation’s best defenses.  The front, in particular, was exceptional, ranking first against the rush, first in tackles for loss, and first in sacks.  While the Cardinal offense had assembled an up and down season, the defense had only one slip-up: the 617 yards allowed in the overtime win against Arizona.  Other than exception, Stanford had held opponents down all year, including in games at Notre Dame and even in the loss at Washington.

Yet, the Cardinal had yet to see an offense as potent as Oregon’s, and many fans believed that the Ducks would simply steamroll another solid opponent.  Vegas gave a 20.5-point line, favoring the Ducks and setting the nation’s expectations.  But from the start, that spread felt too big.  Even for Oregon.

Although the 17-14 overtime win was impressive enough on its own, it hardly reflects the actual play by both sides.  Stanford missed numerous opportunities to pull away from Oregon early.  In the second quarter, a sure-fire conversion on fourth down in Oregon territory was thwarted by a poor throw from Kevin Hogan and a drop by Ryan Hewitt.  Later in the period Hogan was intercepted at the Oregon 16 and saw another successful drive get cut short.  late in the third, Stepfan Taylor fumbled after a huge 18-yard rush had put the Cardinal in field goal range.  Early in the fourth, kicker Jordan Williamson missed a 43-yard attempt.  The defense, which did manage one interception, courtesy of A.J. Tarpley, could have had at least one more but dropped what might have been a second-half pick-six.

In short, the Cardinal were the better team from start to finish.

Oregon couldn’t seem to unleash its usual weapons.  Tailback Kenjon Barner was held to 3.1 yards per carry.  His long of the day was a mere 12 yards.  in fact, Oregon had only four plays of 20 yards or more, and one of those was a 77-yard scamper by Marcus Mariota.

The turning point of the game came when Stanford trailed 14-7 in the third.  Freshman tailback Kelsey Young caught a Hogan pass but promptly fumbled at the Stanford 39.  Oregon was set up with a golden opportunity to break things open.  But the Stanford D rose up, and with help from a holding penalty and a missed field goal by Alejandro Maldanado, the margin stayed at seven.  From there, Stanford re-asserted itself and emerged with the win. 

The Cardinal outgained the Ducks 411-405.  They held the ball for better than 37 minutes.  And they won despite losing the turnover battle with a -2 margin.  If not for the three giveaways and other botched chances, Stanford might have earned a far easier victory.  But in the end, the Cardinal are surely thrilled with what they did. 

Honorable Mention: UCLA 38, USC 28 in Pasadena

UCLA secured the Pac 12 South by beating up the Trojans and knocking Matt Barkley from the game.  How will his shoulder injury impact Notre Dame’s chances at gaining a National Championship berth?

*****

Worst Win of the Week: Oklahoma 50, West Virginia 49 in Morgantown

I find it difficult to respect imbalanced teams.  A great offense is all well and good, but if you can’t stop the other guy you’re going to have a problem.  On the other hand, you can have a stalwart defense and lose based on an inability to put up points.

West Virginia and Tavon Austin fall to Oklahoma

Though unable to stop Tavon Austin, Oklahoma benefited from playing a defense as awful as its own (Getty/ Aller)

West Virgina only has to worry about one of these problems.  The Mountaineers’ defense, if one can call it that, is an embarrassment.  But the Sooners didn’t look any better on Saturday.  In fact, OU was darn lucky to escape with the win given how their “stop” unit played.

WVU amassed 778 yards from scrimmage and 946 all-purpose yards; that total of 946 was the best of the season, topping the all-purpose output from the infamous 70-63 game against Baylor by 112 yards.  It is inconceivable that a team could surrender nearly 1,000 yards to an opponent and win, yet Oklahoma found some way to make that happen.

Please don’t go congratulating yourselves, Sooners.  This was one of the most pathetic performances ever witnessed.

The Oklahoma D allowed Tavon Austin to go complete berserk.  With 572 all-purpose yards of his own, Austin chruned out a month’s worth of production in just 60 minutes.  He had 344 rushing yards on just 21 carries, good for a 16.4 yards per carry average.  For good measure he added 82 receiving yards on four grabs.  And let’s not forget special teams, where he averaged better than 18 yards on eight returns.  Austin had runs of 31, 47, 54, 56, and 74 yards on the day.

Quarterback Geno Smith and receiver Stedman Bailey hooked up 13 times for 205 of Smith’s 320 passing yards, accounting for four of WVU’s seven touchdowns.  Overall, the Mountaineers averaged just under 9.5 yards per play.

Really, Oklahoma?  Really?

That the Sooner offense had 662 yards of its own doesn’t do much to make me feel better.  QB Landry Jones threw for 554 yards and six touchdowns on a whopping 51 pass attempts.  To put his day in perspective, wideout Kenny Stills’ 91 yards receiving were only fourth best among OU players.  The ground game wasn’t nearly as effective as WVU’s, but it didn’t have to be given that the Mountaineers’ secondary took the day off.

People mock conferences like the Big Ten for posting ugly games of the 10-7 variety.  But this offensive eruption isn’t any better.  More exciting to watch?  Maybe, if you don’t care for defense.  But neither team has anything to proud of after this latest score-fest, a result that has come to typify the Big 12.

(Dis)Honorable Mention: LSU 41, Mississippi 35 in Baton Rouge

The Bayou Bengals needed a last-minute score to avoid overtime against the Rebels.  This was not LSU’s finest hour.  With a pair of barely avoided collapses against Ole Miss and Auburn serving as such bizarre counterpoints to their games against Texas A&M and Alabama, Les Miles and company are surely one of the most unpredictable teams in college football. 

*****

Upset of the Week: Baylor 52, Kansas State 24 in Waco

Number one didn’t just fall, it plummeted.  It was thrown down with extreme force.  We don’t normally see a team that has performed so well over its first ten games get drilled so hard by a mediocre opponent, but Baylor took K-State apart in every facet of the game. 

Collin Klein and Kansas State fell to Baylor

With an ugly loss to Baylor, Collin Klein and Kansas State saw their Heisman hopes and championship dreams go up in smoke (AP/ Otero)

Coming into week 12, Kansas State’shad outscored its opponents 442-177 keyed by blowout wins over Miami (by 39), Kansas (40), West Virginia (41), and Texas Tech (31).  Perhaps more impressive was KSU’s ability to win closer games against better competition, topping Oklahoma State by two touchdowns, and grinding out road wins at Oklahoma, TCU, and Iowa State.  All in all, the Wildcats had put together the best season of any team in college football, leaving only 4-5 Baylor and a two-loss Texas team between themselves and the National Championship. 

Most people thought that if Kansas State was going to lose (and it was a big if, mind you) it would happen in the season finale versus the Longhorns.  Baylor was to be little more than a footnote. 

Obviously it didn’t turn out that way. 

Somehow, a team that had allowed an average of 520 yards per game held Kansas State to its second lowest offensive output of the season (362 yards).  Somehow, a team that was coughing up just under 40 points per game limited the #1 Wildcats to 24.  To say it was Baylor’s best defensive showing would be a gross understatement; the only time the Bears looked this good was against the anemic Jayhawks.  To step up against a team of KSU’s caliber was practically unthinkable. 

Offensively, the Bears had been performing well all year and Saturday was no exception.  Their 580 total yards rperesented the fifth best output of the season, and the win marked the fourth time Baylor exceeded 50 points.  But to do it against K-State?  The Wildcats’ previous defensive low point had been 506 yards allowed in the 44-30 win over Oklahoma State, but that game included some garbage time stats for the ‘Pokes.  The loss to Baylor was far and away the worst defensive result of the year for Bill Snyder’s team. 

Their worst defensive day.  Their second-worst offensive day.  A Collin Klein meltdown that included three interceptions when he had never tossed more than one in any game this year.  Things couldn’t have gone more poorly for the team with a clear path to the national title. The most impressive aspect of the win for Baylor might have been the fact that the Bears dominated throughout the game. 

After breaking a 7-7 tie in the first quarter, the closest they came to allowing KSU back into it was just before halftime when the ‘Cats were able to reel off 10 unanswered points to get the score to 28-17.  This one was all Baylor, all the time. Interestingly enough, Bears’ QB Nick Florence didn’t have a particularly good day.  One would think that in order for Baylor to pull the upset, Florence would have needed the game of his life.  But he tossed a pair of picks and was fairly average throughout.  The Baylor ground game was strong, with Lache Seastrunk and Glasco Martin combining for 298 yards on 38 carries.  And of course the defense locked down a stellar offense. 

It wasn’t conventional, but this upset had a monster impact on the BCS.  

Honorable Mention: Utah State 48, Louisiana Tech 41 (OT) in Shreveport

And the busters become the busted.  The Aggies outplayed the Bulldogs by a greater margin than the final score suggests to knock La Tech out of the BCS discussion.  The win continued a strong season for USU.

Blowout of the Week: Vanderbilt 41, Tennessee 18 in Nashville

The Commodores secured their first winning season since 1982 and have five SEC wins for the first time since 1935.  Better yet, they did it by rolling rival Tennessee by the biggest margin since 1954.  The question going forward will be whether or not coach James Franklin can build on this success and keep Vandy relevant.

AND THE GAME BALLS GO TO…

Strobl: Ryan Shazier, LB- Ohio State

Ohio State, though ineligible for the postseason, locked up a division title and moved to 11-0 in Urban Meyer’s debut season with a win at Wisconsin.  The defense propelled the Buckeyes to victory, and while John Simon’s four sacks had a big impact, no player had a bigger day than Ryan Shazier.  Shazier was shaken up relatively early in the game, and it appeared that he might not be able to continue.  Whatever ill effects he felt, he shook them off to return with a vengeance.  With a team-leading nine solo tackles (12 total) that included three tackles for loss, Shazier played in Wisconsin’s backfield for much of the day.  When he wasn’t forcing negative plays he was patrolling the line of scrimmage, moving sideline to sideline with remarkable effect.  But his biggest play of the day came on a fourth and one from just outside the Ohio State one yardline.  Badger tailback Montee Ball was set to not only tie the game at 14, but also to break the all-time record for most career touchdowns.  Instead, his leap toward the goalline met Shazier.  The ensuing fumble was recovered by the Bucks, and for the moment, Wisconsin’s rally was averted.  Though the Badger would ultimately tie before losing in overtime, Ball didn’t get the record this week and Shazier was the man of the hour.

John Mitchell: Shayne Skov, LB- Stanford

You could really give this game ball to the entire Stanford defense for their performance against Oregon’s high powered offense. The Cardinal held the Ducks to just 14 points, snapping Oregon’s NCAA record 23-straight games of scoring 30 or more points. The Ducks had also scored 42 points or more in 13 consecutive games. Skov led Stanford with 10 tackles (7 solo) and a tackle for loss. Skov made a key fourth down stop of Oregon QB Marcus Mariota in the first quarter that really swung some momentum. Skov and the Stanford defense helped the Cardinal to the 17-14 win in Eugene.

Zach Bigalke: Jordan Lynch, QB- Northern Illinois 

The Huskies quarterback was instrumental in NIU claiming another MAC West title, using his arm and his legs to knock off Toledo during the week. Lynch was stellar passing (25-of-36 for 407 yards and 3 touchdowns) and running (162 yards on 30 carries), setting a new school record in the victory. In a year where Heisman winners keep knocking one another off, could a MAC QB get a visit to Manhattan in December?