Rivalry weekend lived up to the hype, providing a nice mix of competitive matchups and one-sided drubbings. We saw an unlikely Apple Cup upset, Duck dominance in the Civil War, a thrilling finish in Bedlam, and an Alabama Iron Bowl statement. The Game went to the Ohio State, the Egg Bowl to Ole Miss. The Old Oaken Bucket went to Purdue, and Notre Dame earned its spot in the National Championship Game by holding down USC and backup QB Max Wittek.
Not all backups suffered; South Carolina’s Dylan Thompson did just fine in topping Clemson. And out in the desert, Arizona State snatch the Territorial Cup away from Arizona with an improbable rally.
Here’s the best and worst of what week 13 had to offer.
Best Win of The Week, Week 13: Florida 37, Florida State 26 in Tallahassee
This 11-point win wasn’t even that close. The Gators went into Tallahassee as a forgotten team of sorts, highly-ranked and boasting a very solid resume, but out of the SEC Championship game. To stay on the BCS radar, they needed an impressive showing against the rival Seminoles. Florida State had already clinched the ACC Atlantic Division and had home field on their side. Both squads had looked vulnerable in recent weeks, with last-minute wins over Louisiana Lafayette and Virginia Tech, but the Vegas line of FSU -7.5 seemed to show more faith in the ‘Noles.
That faith was, unfortunately for the ACC, misplaced.
Florida controlled this game throughout the first half, using turnovers and ball control to suppress the FSU offense and wear down that vaunted Seminole D. Florida State saw its first 30 minutes go as follows: five-play drive ending in an interception, back-to-back three-and-outs, one-play drive ending in an interception, and a final push cut short by the halftime whistle that yielded a 50-yard field goal.
The Gators could, and probably should, have been up by more than the 13-3 halftime score, and they certainly should have stayed alert in the third quarter. The Gators allowed a third down sack to back themselves up at their own 12 yardline, and the resulting punt was returned 26 yards to set FSU up with a short field. Starting from the plus-25, the ‘Noles managed to find the endzone. A Jeff Driskel fumble followed that score, and FSU scored its second TD after a 17-yard drive.
Two possessions, 14 points, but only 42 total yards. Credit field position rather than offensive rhythm.
To their credit, the Gators re-established themselves and owned the fourth quarter, outscoring Florida State 24-6 to ice the win. It wasn’t an impressive showing by the Florida offense. Driskel finished with only 147 yards on 15 of 23 passing. Tailback Mike Gillislee had a nice performance with 140 yards and two TDs on 24 carries, and his ability to grind out yardage helped give the Gators a 13-minute edge in time of possession.
Defensively, Florida was outstanding, forcing five turnovers and holding FSU to 300 total yards. If not for the fumble and the special teams slip up on FSU’s third quarter punt return, this probably would been a far more lopsided win. Of course, Will Muschamp and company were glad to take it any way they could get it, as they basically played themselves into the Sugar Bowl.
Honorable Mention: Ohio State 26, Michigan 21 in Columbus
The Buckeyes capped a 12-0 season by beating Michigan for the ninth time in the last 11 meetings. Year 1 of the Urban Meyer era couldn’t have been much better. A perfect season and more dominance in The Game? That’s all any OSU fan can ask for. If he can duplicate the feat in future years, Big Ten titles and BCS berths will surely follow.
Worst Win of the Week: Nebraska 13, Iowa 7 in Iowa City
Here’s the set up.
Since earning an unlikely overtime win against Michigan State (the high point of the Hawkeyes’ season), Iowa had lost five straight and was outscored by a collective 66 points. This stretch included losses to Indiana and Purdue; it wasn’t all Michigans and Penn States. In other words, Iowa is not very good this year.
Nebraska was torched in Columbus (the low point of its seasons), but the ‘Huskers came into last week with five consecutive wins, including those over Northwestern, Michigan, Michigan State, and Penn State. In other words, Nebraska and Iowa were headed in polar opposite directions.
So of course this game would turn into an ugly, plodding affair the Nebraska struggled to close out.
Things looked fine for the ‘Huskers early. A first quarter drive resulted in a field goal that opened the scoring and put Nebraska up 3-0. Surely that would be the first of many points against the woeful Hawkeyes, right? Wrong. The remaining Cornhusker first half possessions resulted in a grand total of 14 plays, a fumble, and two punts. To say that they couldn’t move the ball would be a gross understatement.
Iowa took its opening drive down the field for a rushing touchdown to go up 7-3, but also fizzled in the wake of their initial points. Their next four drives yielded 24 plays, a turnover on downs, a couple of punts and a missed field goal.
Scintillating football on both sides.
The third quarter was marginally better as Nebraska managed to post a whopping ten points. That offensive eruption would prove to be the second half’s only points and set the 13-7 final score. After halftime, iowa had the ball seven times. Five of those campaigns resulted in three-and-out. The other two, six-and-out due to a pair of interceptions.
Nebraska mustered only 22 plays in the fourth quarter. This was, quite simply, a war of attrition and the less pathetic team won. But before ‘Husker fans go celebrating, remember that Nebraska couldn’t even gain a first down after intercepting James Vandenberg at the 50 yardline. If the team plays this way in the Big Ten Championship, five-loss Wisconsin is going to be representing the league in Pasadena.
And that would be mighty sad.
For the record, the true highlight of this game was when one of the ABC announcers– I believe it was Mike Patrick, who sounds increasingly inebriated with each passing year, but it may have been Ed Cunningham– said that Iowa’s James Vandenberg has “a pro arm”.
Yes, that happened.
(Dis)Honorable Mention: LSU 20, Arkansas 13 in Fayetteville
LSU loves to appear in this category. Is it really so difficult to be consistent? Really? Arkansas is terrible! By the way, John L. Smith will not be returning as the Hogs’ coach. That was quite the bit of breaking news.
Upset of the Week: South Carolina 27, Clemson 17 in Clemson
No Connor Shaw? No sweat. No Marcus Lattimore? No problem. Jadeveon Clowney not at 100%? It didn’t matter. Steve Spurrier and the Gamecocks rolled into Death Valley as underdogs and rolled out as winners yet again. Dabo Swinney and the Tigers are still looking for way to beat SC.
In 2008, Clemson coach Tommy Bowden left midway through the season, allowing Swinney to step in as interim head coach. That Clemson team topped South Carolina 31-14, and in the offseason, Swinney earned a permanent gig. But since that promotion he’s gone 0-4 versus the school’s arch-rival and been outscored by a collective 124-54. In fact, if Clemson fans are looking for a silver lining to this latest defeat, be happy that the 27-17 final score was the smallest margin of victory for South Carolina since Dabo took over.
Reserve QB Dylan Thompson, in for the ailing Shaw, completed 23 of 41 passes for 310 yards and three TDs, his only real mistake a fourth-quarter interception in the endzone that led to a Clemson touchback. Thompson was also part of the rushing attack by committee; with Lattimore done for the year, he teamed with Kenny Miles and Mike Davis for a hard-won 126 yards on 42 carries.
While the offense was more than good enough, it was the SC defense that won the day. Clowney, though recovering from a sprained foot that kept him out of the game against Wofford, was his usual disruptive self, accruing four and half sacks against Tajh Boyd. As a whole, the Gamecocks’ stop unit held Boyd to 11 of 24 passing for just 183 yards and intercepted him twice. So much for the Heisman-level campaign Boyd was putting together. The defense was so effective in stopping the Tigers that South Carolina possessed the ball for better than 39 minutes.
Calling this win an upset is a little silly given recent history. However, Vegas had the line at Clemson -4 and the feeling among many experts was that Boyd and the Tigers’ offense would overcome. That was not to be.
Honorable Mention: Pittsburgh 27, Rutgers 6 in Pittsburgh
Hilarious. Well done, Rutgers.
Blowout of the Week: Alabama 49, Auburn 0 in Tuscaloosa
This Iron Bowl debacle was Gene Chizik’s swan song. Without Cam Newton, the erstwhile head coach couldn’t get any traction on The Plains and was cut loose just two years after winning a National Championship. That’s the kind of thing that happens when you fail so completely in the SEC, not to mention in a rivalry game with this much animosity.
AND THE GAME BALLS GO TO…
Strobl: Jordan Hill, DT- Penn State
Early in the season the Nittany Lions lost to Ohio and Virginia, two programs that, ordinarily, wouldn’t have presented Penn State with much difficulty. But since those defeats we’ve seen a different team emerge from the shadows of the Sandusky scandal. The new look Lions capped an 8-4 campaign with a huge win over Wisconsin, and no one was more instrumental to that victory than was Hill. His 12 total tackles (eight solo) and two sacks are impressive on their own, but belie the tru impact he had on the Badgers’ offense. Hill was a constant source of pressure, epitomizing the term “living in the backfield”. With his name being called on seemingly every defensive play, it felt like Hill was in multiple places at once. At one point, one of the announcers pointed out how rarely a defensive tackle takes over a game. Yet that is essentially what happened on Saturday. Hill’s effort was the perfect ending to an imperfect year and a fitting exit for the talented senior.
John Mitchell: Jadeveon Clowney, DE- South Carolina
Manti Te’o gets all the media hype for the Heisman Trophy, despite being unworthy of such praise, but there is no better defensive player in college football than South Carolina sophomore Jadeveon Clowney. Clowney was downright dominant in South Carolina’s 27-17 win over rival Clemson in Death Valley. Clowney was unblockable on Saturday night with an absurd 4.5 sacks. He harassed Clemson QB Tahj Boyd, and was the driving force behind the Gamecocks holding the Tigers to 328 yards and 17 points, both well below their average season outputs. Unfortunately for SEC offenses, Clowney is a true sophomore, and will be back in Columbia next season.
Zach Bigalke: Derek Carr, QB- Fresno State
The Bulldogs claimed at least a share of the Mountain West title with a 48-15 drubbing of Air Force. The victory came largely on the cannon arm of Derek Carr, the little brother of former #1 pick David Carr, who has been instrumental all season in Fresno State getting to nine wins. Carr was near-perfect on Saturday, completing 28 of his 32 attempts for 452 yards and four touchdowns. For the season, Carr completed over 68% of his passes with 36 touchdowns and just five interceptions.