College football week 7 delivered, in a big way, what we had previously been missing. While much of the first half has been fairly predictable (though certainly not boring), this Saturday yielded a shakeup that stunned multiple ranked teams.
A quick rundown of the highlights:
#20 Texas Tech, #9 Texas A&M, and #3 Clemson all survived close calls to avoid joining the lengthy list of ranked teams suffering defeats. The Tigers have their most important game of the season next Saturday when they host Florida State while the Aggies have a somewhat less intimidating but still vital tilt against Auburn. The Red Raiders are more or less treading water until the meat of their schedule hits on October 26th in Norman, but a sloppy, turnover-filled game in Ames isn’t the tune-up they were hoping for.
#17 Florida (LSU) and #16 Washington (Oregon) both lost matchups against higher-ranked opponents. While neither was considered an upset, both outcomes contributed to the Top 25 remodel going into week 8.
#19 Northwestern was spanked by an unranked Wisconsin team in Madison. To be fair, the Badgers’ position in the grand scheme of things was probably unwarranted. They should be a one-loss team with that lone blemish coming on the road against Ohio State; in all probability they would have topped Arizona State in Tempe if not for gross negligence by the officials. Northwestern has to regroup and search for answers after being handled by two of the Big Ten’s top squads.
Last, but most crucial to 2013′s BCS outlook, were three monumental upsets. Unranked and recently blown-out by Indiana, the Penn State Nittany Lions circled the wagons and topped #18 Michigan in a four-overtime slugfest. It wasn’t the prettiest game, but it was undoubtedly a statement win for PSU coach Bill O’Brien and freshman QB Christian Hackenberg.
Even more shocking was Texas’ dismantling of #12 Oklahoma in the Red River Shootout. Was this the same Longhorns’ team that was routed by BYU? The same team that, by all rights, should have fallen at Iowa State? Somehow, Texas put it all together against the Sooners, who looked awful in Dallas.
At least OU wasn’t alone. #6 Georgia looked battered and beaten for most of the 60 minutes in its upset loss to #25 Missouri. The ‘Dawgs are simply missing too many pieces, and when they allowed the Tigers to post a 28-10 halftime lead, they didn’t have the firepower to complete a comeback. Unfortunately, the win was costly for Mizzou, as the Tigers will be without stud QB James Franklin for the remainder of the year. His separated throwing shoulder has been pegged as a six-week injury, meaning Franklin’s probable outlook has him back in time for a bowl game, but not before.
Still, for all of these unlikely events, the week’s top surprise came in the form of a totally unexpected Utah victory over #5 Stanford. Not surprisingly, this one earns top honors.
Best Win of The Week: Utah 27, Stanford 21 in Salt Lake City
We got a little bit of everything from the Utes on Saturday. Some stellar offense. Stingy defense. A monster goalline stand in the game’s final minutes to preserve an impressive victory. Coming in, the Utes were underdogs by more than touchdown and no one was giving them much of a chance. Stanford has, at times, looked less than totally dominant this season, but the Cardinal were still chugging along as a consensus top 5 team.
Maybe we should have been tipped off by last week’s close call versus Washington. The Cardinal were outgained 489-279 but managed to withstand a late rally by the Huskies, emerging with a three-point win. But even with that tight finish, Stanford had looked extremely strong, averaging 412 yards and 39 points per game over its first five contests. The Utes, not exactly a defensive powerhouse, limited the Cardinal to 389 yards and held them 18 points below that previous average.
A look at the box score won’t reveal anything in particular. Utah has a nice game offensively, but didn’t do anything heroic. Bubba Poole rushed for 111 yards, accounting for most of the Utes’ 176 on the ground. QB Travis Wilson was efficient though not spectacular in compiling 234 yards on 23 of 34 passing. Defensively, the Utes did force a pair of Stanford fumbles than turned into six Utah points, though the first merely balanced the stat sheet after a Wilson interception. Both team racked up roughly 30 penalty yards in what was a pretty clean game.
If the upset had a defining moment it came at the end of the fourth quarter as Stanford was driving for the go-ahead score. Saddled with lousy field position on his own 12 yardline, quarterback Kevin Hogan led an impressive 11-play, 82-march to the Utah six that took more than seven minutes off the clock. It looked for all the world to be the perfect fourth-quarter drive; a balanced, time-consuming march that needed only to find the endzone to give Stanford its sixth win of the year.
But just when the conclusion seemed foregone, the Utah defense made critical back-to-back plays. First, Stanford made the decision to throw the ball on third-and-two. In retrospect, the Cardinal would have been better off treating the situation as four-down territory and using its power ground game to make the line to gain. Instead, Hogan’s pass to Charlie Hopkins fell incomplete. Faced with a must-have fourth down, Hogan sailed his throw through the endzone, missing Devon Cajuste while under heavy pressure at the line of scrimmage.
The finish itself was sudden. Jarring. The entire drive leading up to those final two plays had a feeling of inevitability; it seemed to be only a matter of time before the Cardinal snatched the last-second victory. Hogan and tailback Tyler Gaffney had rushed a combined six times for 24 yards; what made Stanford abandon the run in the red zone? By taking to the air, not only did the risk the incompletion or worse, but the Cardinal also set themselves up to leave time on the clock for Utah even if they were able to score. Of course, that eventuality proved moot.
Perhaps Stanford was looking ahead to next week’s showdown with unbeaten UCLA. Perhaps Utah’s game plan was the perfect mix for confusing the Cardinal defense. In any event, the upset was huge for a Utah team looking to reestablish itself as a Pac 12 threat after years of success as a mid-major.
Honorable Mention: LSU 17, Florida 6 in Baton Rouge
It’s tempting to credit Wisconsin here, because the Badgers blowout win over Northwestern will have a lasting impact on the Big Ten standing. But in truth, the Wildcats may have been a bit overrated; the hype has been tempered. LSU, meanwhile, has shown impressive resilience after th close loss at Georgia. Blasting Mississippi State was one thing, but stifling Florida was a statement.
Worst Win of the Week: Texas A&M 41, Ole Miss 38 in Oxford
Texas A&M is still playing like a Big 12 team.
Although it’s hard to find fault with the production churned out by Johnny Manziel, Michael Evans, and the rest of the Aggies’ offense, the defense is coughing up nearly 31 points and a mind-boggling 474 yards per game. To put those numbers in perspective, A&M ranks 96th and 113th in scoring and total defense.
In some ways, that lack of stopping power is probably attributable to the offense. because the Aggies score quickly and often, the defense is out there for a lot of plays, facing desperate opponents who are rarely interested in controlling the clock. Nevertheless, it’s a distressing weakness that will probably bite the Aggies against stronger opponents.
Consider Ole Miss. The Rebels aren’t particularly good despite the early-season hype, and came into Saturday having lost to Alabama 25-0 and Auburn 30-22. Granted, both defeats were away from Oxford, but that doesn’t change the fact that Ole Miss isn’t the offensive juggernaut many thought it might be. Bo Wallace hasn’t even looked average, much less like a high-end QB, since besting Texas in September.
Against TAMU Wallace threw for more than 300 yards as the Rebels compiled 462 yards of total offense. After a 50-yard throw from Wallace to tailback Jaylen Walton, Ole Miss actually led 38-31 in the fourth quarter before a mini-comeback kept the Aggies from becoming a two-loss team.
As good as Manziel is, he can’t expect to beat elite teams. Not like this. With a home game against Auburn up next and road contests at LSU and Missouri to wrap up the year, TAMU has some work to do if it wants to earn a top-tier bowl berth.
(Dis)Honorable Mention: Clemson 24, Boston College 14 in Clemson
We can cut the Tigers some slack for looking past BC. Florida State looms on the schedule and warrants a great deal of focus. But still, this week 7 win was a rather sorry effort. Despite finishing even in the turnover battle and outgaining the Eagles by more than 200 yards, Clemson was under duress for most of the game. Victory wasn’t assured until a 14-point rally to open the final quarter.
Upset of the Week: Texas 36, Oklahoma 20 in Dallas
With due respect to Missouri, which toppled an injury-riddled Georgia in Athens, Texas’ win over OU was the greater upset. A 14-point spread made some folks consider taking the Longhorns to cover, as rivalry games often bring out the best in the underdog. But no one who had watched Texas play this year had realistic expectations that the ‘Horns would dominate the Sooners from start to finish.
In the end, that’s exactly what happened.
Yardage favored Texas, 445 to 263. The Longhorns easily won both the ground and passing games. Time of possession? Texas, 35:15 to 24:45. The score? That was all Texas once the early 3-3 tie was broken by a Chris Whaley pick-six.
That turning point was the first of two Blake Bell interceptions, and though Texas matched OU with a pair of turnovers, the ‘Horns were never in danger of having this one be close. Oklahoma simply couldn’t find its rhythm offensively as drive after drive ended early. Bell completed fewer than half his passes and the by-committee ground game averaged fewer than four yards per rush.
In contrast to that sustained mediocrity, Texas had moments of brilliance in all phases of the game. Case McCoy went 13 of 21 passing for 190 yards and two scores, though he did suffer an INT. Johnathan Gray and Michael Brown combined for 243 of the ‘Horns’ 255 rushing yards and Daje Johnson tacked on a blazing 85-yard punt return for touchdown.
Perhaps given up for dead before this year’s Red River Shootout began, Texas delivered a stern reminder that the Big 12 is far from decided. If you thought you knew what to expect, think again. If UT could somehow win out– and yes, that’s a big IF considering that the schedule culminates with Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, and Baylor in consecutive weeks– it would represent the conference in the BCS. Let that sink in.
Bad losses to Ole Miss and BYU could be wiped away; it will take a lot of hard work in a league filled with parity, but Texas controls its destiny. As for Oklahoma, its poor performances against West Virginia and TCU may have foreshadowed this loss. Clearly, there’s some work to be done in Norman.